Colombia Travel Guide
Why visit Colombia?
Colombia is very diverse, with amazing beaches, dense jungle, arid deserts, vibrant cities and charming towns. There is so much to do in Colombia and the people will make you feel right at home. This Colombia Travel Guide outlines the best places to visit across this incredible South American country.
Eating vegan in Colombia?
I found no shortage of vegan options in Colombia. Every destination I visited had restaurants with vegan options and places like Medellin and Jardín made me wish I had more time to try every single dish!
Colombia also has drinkable tap water in a lot of places so it’s easy to avoid plastic bottles.
Is it safe?
The most common knowledge of Colombia often relates to drug trafficking and Colombia’s reputation is often tainted by its past. Over the past few decades, Colombia has changed a lot and is now a safe tourist destination. I spent two and a half months in Colombia with one month as a solo female traveller and never felt unsafe although normal caution is recommended.
Please check current information as there is protests and violence happening in Colombia (June 2021).
Colombia is very welcoming to tourists and it is great to support the industry. Creating jobs in the tourism industry keeps Colombians away from crime. Seeing tourists in Pablo Escobar t-shirts, idolising someone who brought nothing but pain and destruction to Colombia is awful to see. The mansion of the drug-lord is open to visitors for paintballing which seems insensitive at best. Try to be considerate and respectful to the locals when travelling.
Where are the best places to visit in Colombia?
There is no shortage of places to visit. Here are my top 11 destinations:
- Cocora Valley – Salento
- Tayrona National Park – Magdalena
- Comuna 13 – Medellin
- Parque Arqueológico – San Agustin
- Cueva del Esplendor – Jardín
- Getsemani – Cartagena
- Minca – Magdalena
- Las Lajas – Ipiales
- Tatacoa Desert – Villevieja
- Laguna De La Cocha – Pasto
- Guatape – Antioquia
Cocora Valley – Salento
You will find Salento in the coffee-growing region south of Medellin. The coffee is a big drawcard but the Valle de Cocora is the absolute standout here. It is one of the most spectacular displays of plant life you will find in the world. The wax palms reach dizzying heights of over 60 metres. You can do a 5-hour hike which loops through the valley and gives you beautiful views of the palms. It is nice to go in the morning to avoid the crowds but I went later in the day to enjoy golden hour and a cracking sunset.
Tayrona Park – Northern Colombia
Tayrona National Park is one of the most magical places in all of Colombia. Hiking through the dense jungle filled with wildlife to reach the most spectacular beaches is an unforgettable experience. You can even stay the night in this paradise with hammocks and tents available to rent.
A top destination for nature lovers, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world behind Brazil. Over 1,878 species of birds have been recorded in Colombia, 456 species of mammals, 771 amphibian, 601 reptiles and 2,053 fish*. You can find many species in the Tayrona National Park.
Comuna 13 – Medellín
A visit to Comuna 13 as part of a walking tour will pull you right into Colombia’s history. Listening to the stories of the people who lived through horrific violence is a heartwrenching experience but essential to see how strong and resilient Colombians are. You can really appreciate how happy and welcoming they are to visitors. The Insiders Foundation provides super insightful tours and the money you pay goes to help the children living in Comuna 13 have a bright future. Check out their website for all the info: https://www.insidersfoundation.org/
Parque Arqueológico- San Agustin
The carved statues in San Agustin are a sight to behold. As beautiful as they are mysterious, the conflicting theories will leave you thirsting for more information.
The museum at the Parque gives a great insight into the lives of the people who created these fantastic sculptures as well as the archaeologists who uncovered them.
Cueva del Esplendor- Jardín
It’s hard to pick a favourite out of the wonderful places I visited in Colombia but I think Jardín takes first place. Jardín translates to garden in English and the name could not be more fitting. The plant and animal life is incredible, with the famous Andean Cock of the Rock, one of the strangest birds on earth, being the star of the show.
There are so many epic hikes around Jardin but the Cueva del Esplendor (The Cave of Splendour) is as impressive as the name would suggest. A waterfall flowing right through the middle of a cave? Fabulous! Don’t miss this one, when travelling in Colombia.
Getsemani – Cartagena
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, there are not enough painted buildings in Australia. I mean if you had the choice to paint your house in every colour of the rainbow why would you not?
There are colourful towns aplenty in South America but Cartagena is a stand out display of street art and culture.
Minca – Magdelena
The views from Minca are absolutely breathtaking. It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to sunsets, with the spectacular mountains and the city lights of Santa Marta twinkling in the distance.
Minca is home to many coffee farms which you can visit and learn about production. Hikes to waterfalls, bird watching and even a brewery. You won’t be short of things to do in Minca. That’s if you can peel yourself away from the infinity pool at Casas Vieja.
Las Lajas – Ipiales
This is one of those photos you see on Instagram and add straight to the bucket list. This spectacular Cathedral is built in a deep canyon and is a mind-blowing display of architectural prowess. Construction took 33 years between 1916 and 1949.
This is a great stop if you are crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador. You can leave your bags at the bus station for a small fee for a quick detour to this wonderful church.
Tatacoa desert – Villavieja
It’s hard to believe this type of landscape can be found in Colombia. Although technically not a desert and actually a dry tropical forest, the Tatocoa Desert scenery looks like something straight out of an old western movie.
Easily done as a day trip from Neiva, a tour will take you to the grey and red desert, startling in their intense colour difference and to the Astronomical Observatory for some epic stargazing, just be sure to avoid the full moon.
Laguna De La Cocha – Pasto
This is a hidden gem in Colombia, often bypassed by travellers on their way through to Ecuador. This adorable town is definitely worth a stop in Pasto on your way south.
Just 45 mins in a collectivo (shared mini-bus) from Pasto, La Cocha makes for a perfect day trip. You can hire a boat, meeting other travellers and splitting the cost works a treat, to explore the narrow riverways and venture out to the laguna. You can visit the Isla de La Corota Fauna and Flora Sanctuary which is a nature reserve on the tiny island in the middle of the lake and is the smallest protected area in Colombia.
Guatape – Antioquia
I fell in love with Guatape at first sight. Possibly the cutest town I have ever laid eyes on, the brightly painted buildings detailed with “zócalos” which are beautiful 3D depictions of village life.
Guatape is surrounded by the most phenomenal lake. It’s hard to believe nature could create such a form and in this case, it didn’t. The lake is actually man-made, flooded in the ’70s to create a hydroelectric dam.
For the best views of the lake, you can climb El Peñol a granitic rock formation towering 200 metres above the surrounding bedrock. A 649 stair climb will take you to the top for spectacular panoramic views.
I hope this Colombia Travel Guide gives you some inspiration for your own adventure to my favourite South American country. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments! Happy Travels!
*These figures were reported by mongabay.com which is a great resource for environmental science and conservation news.0