Colombia is a nation bursting with self-confidence and popular with travelers because of the hospitality of the locals. Above all, however, it is a land of contrasts: Nature in particular is very diverse, offering snow-capped Andean peaks, deserts, Caribbean coasts and Amazon jungles. Due to the varied landscape and the tropical climate, Colombia is suitable as a travel destination all year round.
However, not only rural Colombia, but also the country’s cities are full of great attractions that you shouldn’t miss. We present you some of the most important sights in Colombia with our list of the 28 best places to visit in Colombia.
Once upon a time, Medellin, a metropolis of 2.4 million people in the Aburra Valley, was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Nowhere were more people shot every day than here. Drugs and violence ruled everyday life and the city was firmly in the hands of drug lord Pablo Escobar, once the most wanted man in the world. The government and police were considered corrupt. Thus, the city was about the last place you would want to visit as a tourist.
Fortunately, Medellin has now completely left those dark times behind. In just two decades since the death of Pablo Escobar, the city has become one of the most modern and safest cities in South America. Wall Street magazine even named Medellín the most innovative city in the world in 2012. Today, Medellin has a subway, fantastically developed bike paths, and the poorer neighborhoods in the mountains are connected to the center in the valley via state-of-the-art gondolas. In addition, the city’s universities enjoy a very good reputation.
“The City of Eternal Spring” is especially popular with English-speaking party tourists of younger ages. However, Colombia’s second largest city has much more to offer than fantastic bars and exciting nightclubs and certainly does not have to hide behind the capital Bogota. The Centro offers interesting sights like the Plaza Botero or the Museo Casa de la Memoria. In El Poblado, you should just let yourself drift through the streets and browse in the pretty boutiques or enjoy a meal in one of the small restaurants. And then there’s Comuna 13, once the city’s most notorious neighborhood, now a neighborhood full of street art and music.
27. San Andres
Located approximately 230 kilometers east of Central America and 750 kilometers north of the Colombian mainland, San Andres offers some of the Caribbean’s best beaches, an enviable blue backdrop and gorgeous landscapes. San Andres Island is one of the destinations that you must see once in your life. Moreover, this archipelago is made up of islands and bays that make up 10% of the Caribbean Sea.
La Piscinita is one of the most famous places in San Andres, since it is one of the best snorkeling spots in the whole San Andres Island. It is a natural pool with great depth and an abundance of corals and marine species. Thanks to the transparent water, diving in the small pool is one of the best experiences in San Andres. There is also a water jump from a platform 5 meters high and access to the water through a staircase. Undoubtedly, a unique place where it is worth taking a good swim.
Barichara, which means “place of relaxation” in the local language, is located in the middle of green Andean hills and is probably the most picturesque village in the country. It feels like everything here still looks like it did 300 years ago: The colonial buildings, whose balconies and windows are planted with greenery, the winding cobblestone streets and the friendly people make a visit almost obligatory, especially if you are looking for some peace and quiet away from the big cities like Bogotá or Medellín. You should definitely stop here to experience authentic Colombia.
In this place people are proud of their country, Colombian flags hang everywhere and it is said that the happiest people in the country live here.
25. San Agustin
The main attraction of the department of Huila, located in the Andes, is certainly the city and municipality of San Agustín, one of the most mysterious archaeological sites in Colombia. Indigenous peoples used the terrain, which extends over several small villages, for their ceremonies and left majestic treasures such as the 300 stone sculptures of gods and demons, burial sites, petroglyphs of humans and animals, earthen mounds and terraces.
Since 1995, the archaeological park in San Agustín has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity.
24. Coffee Triangle
Colombia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coffee and cocoa. The coffee region is home to many wonderful places and a variety of attractions. Probably the most popular destination in the coffee triangle is the pretty little town of Salento in the department of Quindio. With its colorful traditional architecture, excellent selection of restaurants and coffee tours, Salento is already established as a must-see on the Colombian travel trail. Visiting one of the numerous coffee farms thus becomes almost a must. In addition to a guided tour of a coffee plantation, you can learn about the process of production, make your own chocolate, or simply enjoy the tranquility of the seclusion of a hacienda.
Other tourist highlights of the coffee triangle include the beautiful hot springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal, trekking in the mountains of Los Nevados National Park, bird watching in the many different bird sanctuaries in the region – including Rio Blanco, Otun Quimbaya and Montezuma. A ride in a hot air balloon over the breathtaking landscape is dreamlike and unforgettable.
In this region is also the Cocora Valley. There you can see the tallest wax palm in the world: the Quindio wax palm.
23. San Gil
As a city, San Gil is not particularly attractive and therefore not really worth visiting. But what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in outdoor activities. Paddling, rafting, rappelling, bungee jumping, paragliding, caving – for all sports with an adrenaline kick, San Gil is the hottest adventure playground in Colombia. Famous is the breathtaking rafting on the Río Suárez (difficulty level IV and V), of which one can be proud. Whether in the water or in the air, courage is a must – San Gil is not for the faint of heart.
The capital of the Departamento del Cauca is Popayán, also called “Ciudad Blanca” (White City). It is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Colombia, along with Cartagena and Mompox. This university town, rich in history, has produced many intellectuals, bishops, presidents, poets, writers and other personalities of Colombia.
The historic heart of the entire region is Parque Caldas, which is surrounded by numerous colonial buildings. The snow-white cathedral impresses both from the outside and the inside. The clock tower with only one hand is also a special feature of the city. Popayán is also one of the most important religious centers in the country. Holy Week is one of the most important ceremonies in the country. The processions that take place during Semana Santa have been part of the oral and spiritual world heritage since 2009.
21. Villa de Leyva
A wide, high valley and a bright blue sky form the backdrop for the atmospheric village of Villa de Leyva. It is located 165 km north of Bogotá. Colonial style characterizes the sleepy village with a Plaza Major that is one of the largest and most beautiful village squares in South America. The picturesque village center overflows with international gastronomy, historic buildings, old churches, interesting museums and stores selling handicrafts. And the surrounding area invites moderate outdoor adventures.
Most visitors to Colombia inevitably begin their journey in the country’s largest city – and vibrant heart – Bogotá. The capital often divides opinion: some complain about the congested streets and dreary weather, others are thrilled by the unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way, this city of eight million grows on you if you give it enough time.
Start your sightseeing in the historic center of La Candelaria, where you’ll find the impressive buildings along Plaza de Bolívar and cultural attractions like the dazzlingly bright Gold Museum (Museo del Oro). If you’re interested in art, you should pay a visit to the Museo Botero. Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists with a unique style that depicts people and animals with large, exaggerated and voluminous facial features.
If you like street art, you should join a graffiti tour. On this tour, you’ll visit the murals of some of Bogotá’s most famous street artists, which feature powerful depictions of the city’s culture, its struggles and people. For a good view, climb Cerro Monserrate, which rises 3152 meters above sea level and offers breathtaking views of the city, day or night.
19. Tayrona National Park
Some of Colombia’s best beaches are found in the protected Tayrona National Park, known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most of the beaches are set against the dramatic Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains, whose rain-forested hills make for a great side trip during your beach vacation.
Tayrona is also a fantastic place for snorkeling or diving in the protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan. Here you can discover a fantastic underwater world. Since these remote beaches are not exactly an insider’s tip, it is best to visit them in the low season (February to November) to avoid the big crowds. In style, you can spend the night on site in one of the many hammocks.
Cartagena de Indias, the capital of the department of Bolívar, is also called the “Pearl of the Caribbean”. And this is really not surprising. The city on the Caribbean coast is one of the most popular destinations in Colombia and is considered the most beautiful colonial city in South America. Cartagena will really enchant you from the first moment. Through the streets of the city blows a breath of Caribbean feeling. Reggaeton and Latin rhythms sound from the houses on every street corner.
Numerous beautifully restored and colorful colonial buildings with enchanting balconies, lovely patios and pretty door knockers can be found in the narrow streets. In addition, many monuments, picturesque squares and beautiful churches can be discovered in the neighborhoods of El Centro and San Diego. The colorful old town is simply picturesque and you can hardly escape the flair of the city.
When you think of the Amazon, Colombia may not be the first country that comes to mind. And yet, a third of the country is covered by its dense (and often impenetrable) jungle. The capital of the vast Amazon basin is the small border town of Leticia, which sits on the banks of the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia meets Brazil and Peru.
Leticia is a great base for ecotourism, wildlife safaris or hiking into the Amazon to learn more about the indigenous tribes that call this area home. The only way to get here is by plane from Bogotá, and you can then continue by boat, either downriver to Manaus in Brazil or upriver to Iquitos in Peru.
16. The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
Colombia’s most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and inhabited by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is believed to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.
Much of the site is buried under a thick jungle cover – the indigenous inhabitants of the area have banned excavations – but you’ll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in excellent condition. It’s not possible to visit this site on your own, so you’ll need to book a tour in advance from Santa Marta.
15. Islas del Rosario
Located about 40 kilometers off the coast of the city of Cartagena, Islas del Rosario in the Caribbean is characterized by a very relaxed atmosphere and is known for great beaches with crystal clear water.
Since there are also numerous coral reefs around the Islas de Rosario, the area is popular with divers and offers excellent opportunities to explore the unique underwater world on Colombia round trips.
Of the 28 islands of the Islas del Rosario, which can be reached in under 2 hours by speedboat from Cartagena, Isla Grande, which is also home to several hotels, is the largest island.
14. Santa Marta and Taganga
Founded in 1525 and the first Spanish city on the American mainland, Santa Marta is nestled in a bay between the Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountain range on earth. The distance between the beach and the snow-covered, almost 6,000 meter high mountains is no more than 40 km.
In addition to the historic center, several museums and various tourist entertainment districts, Santa Marta and the neighboring Taganga are the scene of romantic sunsets and ideal starting point for exciting tours such as the Tayrona National Park with its extensive and pristine Caribbean beaches and the ruins town of Cuidad Perdida, a pre-Columbian heritage of the former Tayrona culture and still a sacred place of the Kogui Indians.
Other destinations can be found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, such as Minca, less than 10 km from Santa Marta, a tranquil artist village with enchanting waterfalls in the dense tropical vegetation in its surroundings, or Nabusimake deep in the mountains, home of the Arhuaca Indians.
Discover the still little developed Pacific coast of Colombia. Nuqui in the Chocó region offers a high biodiversity, which allows visitors to experience nature in its originality. Here you will find the perfect combination for excursions to the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean. A visit between June and October is especially worthwhile: the warm and shallow water offers the best conditions for humpback whale mothers to spend the first time with their newborn offspring. Experience the gentle giants of the seas in their natural environment on optional whale watching tours. The size of the nevertheless graceful animals is always fascinating. You can also simply relax in a hammock and enjoy the sweet idleness of the rushing sea.
The world capital of salsa and a place full of flavors, nuances and vitality; Cali in Colombia will surprise you. Discover everything there is to see in Cali, the capital of the Valle del Cauca and also one of the most important economic centers in Colombia.
Founded in 1536, Cali is known as the “branch of heaven” because it enjoys an incredible climate, great gastronomic wealth and exquisite culture. Get into the rhythm of this city and get to know its traditions, atmosphere and dance.
The sights in the city center are close together and can be easily explored during a walk along the river. The best place to start your tour is at the Monumento Jairo Varela, dedicated to the founder of the salsa combo “Grupo Niche”. The monument is a giant trumpet, if you stand under it you can even hear salsa music.
Next, walk through Simon Bolivar Park to the beautiful “La Ermita” church before strolling west along the river through the park. You can now either turn off to San Antonio or continue directly to “El Gato del Rio” Park. This small park is home to numerous, colorful cat statues designed by various well-known Colombian artists.
San Antonio is not only the hippest, but also the most traditional part of Cali. In colonial times, this became an extension of the city center. The entire district is located on a hill, with San Antonio Park at the very top.
At the top of San Antonio Park you will find the church of the same name, from there you have a great view over the city. In the immediate vicinity there are also many good restaurants and cafes!
11. Las Lajas Cathedral
Along with the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, also located in Colombia, the Santuario de Las Lajas is one of the most worth seeing churches in South America. The special thing about this basilica is that it is located in the middle of a canyon. It stands here on a bridge over the Rio Guáitara and connects the two sides of the canyon. The village of Las Lajas belongs to the town of Ipiales, which is located in the southwestern state of Nariño and is a border town with Ecuador.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin of Las Lajas Ipiales and is therefore called, in full, “El Santuario de la Virgen del Rosario de Las Lajas en Ipiales.” Along with Montserrat, it is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Colombia.
The most spectacular thing about the church is certainly its location and shape. Nevertheless, the church is also worth seeing from the inside. Especially the picturesque window panes can be admired here. Likewise the altar, which was chiseled here into the rock.
10. Providencia Island
This unusual Caribbean island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For one thing, it is much closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia. And then there’s the fact that the inhabitants don’t speak Spanish, but an English Creole. Of course, none of that matters when you’re basking on the most stunning Colombian-flagged beaches.
This remote island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve and boasts some of the greatest marine biodiversity in the world, just waiting to be explored. To reach Providencia, you’ll first have to stop off at the better-known San Andrés Island and take a three-hour catamaran ride.
Lovers of magical realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charm of Mompox. The place plays an important role in the Nobel Prize winner’s book “The General in his Labyrinth” and is considered the inspiration for the fictional town of Macondo in his most famous novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.
Mompox was once a prosperous cog in the trade route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes, and famous as the place where “El Libertador” Simón Bolívar recruited his army to gain independence from neighboring Venezuela. Today, this colonial relic on the muddy banks of the Magdalena River is truly a city that time has forgotten.
Although there’s not much to do here, many visitors spend much more time than planned strolling the cobblestone streets, enjoying the ambiance of the colonial architecture, or taking a boat ride through the Pijiño Swamp, a popular attraction for birdwatchers.
8. La Guajira Peninsula
The peninsula of La Guajira is the northernmost point on the mainland of South America and home to the Wayu Indians. This proud people attaches great importance to traditions and has preserved many customs to this day. The Wayus live in typical dwellings (rancherias) in small rural villages and are known for their handicrafts.
The peninsula has virtually no infrastructure, which keeps advanced tourism away and allows for an authentic travel experience of a special kind.
One of the most famous places in the Guajira are the dunes of Taroa. After hiking to the top of the huge sand hills, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Caribbean coast.
Cabo de la Vela is also a very popular excursion spot and is known for its dreamlike Caribbean beach, which transitions from dry desert to the sea.
Those who love adventure should take an exciting tour into the untouched landscapes of the Alta Guajira. This area can only be explored by jeep and you should be guided by a guide. An unforgettable experience!
The adjacent mountain range is home to many different species of animals and has an incredible variety of plants. The ideal place for nature lovers and those who want to experience the authentic Colombia. However, La Guajira is also considered a diving and snorkeling paradise, and due to its idyllic beaches, it is also the ideal place for a beach stay.
7. Hacienda Nápoles
If there’s one man who looms large in Colombia’s recent history, it’s billionaire drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. What few people know is that you can actually visit the lavish estate Escobar built and owned in Puerto Triunfo, about 110 miles east of Medellin.
The sprawling complex, known as Hacienda Nápoles, fell into disrepair in the decade following Escobar’s death in 1993, but in the mid-2000s the local municipality took control of the property and transformed it into an ever-growing amusement park with a diverse mix of themed areas, hotels, a water park and a safari-like zoo.
The amusement parks and hotels may be new, but traces of Escobar are everywhere. His vintage car collection is on display next to the ruins of his former mansion, one of the Cessna planes he used to smuggle drugs into the U.S. is perched atop the entrance gate, and there’s a small museum dedicated to his legacy.
There’s also a Jurassic Park of sorts, with life-size dinosaur replicas he bought for his son. Beware the wild hippo herd, which after years of intensive reproduction has grown from four to 40 animals and is now the largest herd outside of Africa.
6. Caño Cristales
Caño Cristales is a famous river in Colombia, known as the “River of Five Colors”, also called by many the most beautiful river in the world. The river is also titled as “liquid rainbow”.
During several months of the year, Caño Cristales becomes a rainbow of vibrant colors in a display said to be found nowhere else on earth.
Caño Cristales is located in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park, which is in the Meta Department of Colombia. In addition, Caño Cristales is a tributary of the Guayabero River.
Serranía de la Macarena is a protected national park in Colombia that covers 6,200 square kilometers. The region is considered one of the most biodiverse regions in Colombia. The region is reportedly home to over 500 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles, over 2,000 species of plants and over 1,200 species of insects. Visiting Caño Cristales is more of an adventure trip, as it is not easily accessible.
5. Salt Cathedral
Zipa is located 48 kilometers from Bogotá at an altitude of 2650 meters and was founded in 1600. Zipa is known for its Salt Cathedral and also has a beautiful colonial old town with numerous buildings from the 18th century. This city is also a popular destination for Bogotá residents.
The underground Salt Cathedral is one of the largest religious buildings in the world: it has three naves, is 120 meters long and its domes, blasted into the salty rock, arch over an area of around 8,500 square meters.
It is indescribable. To the sounds of “Ave Maria” everyone becomes contemplative.
Guatapé is a colorful small town in Antioquia. It is located about 2 hours east of Medellin. Guatapé is especially known for El Peñón de Guatapé (also known as el Peñol), a rock about 200 meters high. The top is reached by 649 steps. It was probably formed more than 70 million years ago. From the top you can enjoy an incredible view over the landscape around. Supposedly the best view in the world, that claims at least, the sign which is located at the foot of the rock.
The landscape around Guatapé is characterized by a large reservoir. This was created by flooding the valley, and is used for the production of electricity and tourists for entertainment. At the lake there is a wide range of water sports.
The village of Guatapé is very colorful and therefore popular with tourists and photographers alike. Enjoy the small cobblestone streets and sit down for a tinto in one of the cafes in town. Relax on the outskirts of the village with a lunch by the lake.
Jardin is a beautiful colorful village surrounded by imposing mountains, beautiful nature and lots of coffee and plantain plantations. The village (pueblo) is located in the Colombian coffee zone (eje cafetero) and is about 124 km from Medellin, the capital of Antioquia.
Jardìn is a very beautiful pueblo that has hardly changed for 100 years. Life takes place in the central square, where the Basilica is located and which is surrounded by several cafes, bars and restaurants.
The best thing to do in Jardin is to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere or go hiking in the nature. Jardin is surrounded by several coffee and banana (plantain) plantations.
Apart from Jardin itself, you should definitely visit La Cueva del Esplendor, a waterfall that flows into a cave.
2. Tatacoa Desert
With its ocher and gray sands, jagged rocks and clusters of cacti, the Desierto de la Tatacoa looks like an otherworldly landscape. The semi-arid area is surrounded by mountains and lies in the rain shadow of the towering Nevado de Huila. Silence and an almost spiritual flair permeate an ecosystem here that is found nowhere else in Colombia. With neither clouds nor pollution clouding the sky, the Tatacoa Desert is excellent for stargazing, with the naked eye or at the local observatory.
The Carnival in Barranquilla transforms the city for four days each year before Ash Wednesday into a huge celebration attended by partygoers from all over the world. It is the second largest carnival in terms of size, surpassed only by the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The exact origins of Carnaval are unknown, but legend has it that it celebrates the welcoming of renewal and spring.
The records of this event date back to 1888, when King Momo became one of the main actors of the celebration. He is the patron of all those who like to have fun.
Carnaval is an intense four-day celebration packed with dance, music and colorful parades. The first day is marked by the Batalla de Flores (Battle of Flowers) parade. A street parade, which is led by the Carnival Queen and lasts 6 hours. The next day is the Gran Parada de Tradición (Great Traditional Parade), marked by traditional folklore groups, dance and cumbia groups.
The next day is the Great Group Parade, a more international, stylish version of the other parades, supported by many different genres of music. The last day of Carnival is marked by the “Death of Joselito.” A symbolic funeral is played out at the end of the 4-day celebration.