Colombia is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of South America. Shedding its previous reputation of being “dangerous”, Colombia now is a country filled with amazing things to do and see for tourists.
I recently spent 6 weeks traveling in Colombia, and to be completely honest, I could’ve spent way longer! The beautiful landscapes, the pristine Caribbean Sea, vibrant culture, and friendly people made it all too easy to fall in love with the country. Reflecting on my travels through South America, Colombia always stands out in my memories as a place I loved and will definitely return to.
With so much to see and do in Colombia though (it I quite a large country) it is hard to know exactly where to go and where to focus your time. Based on my experience, I have narrowed it down to what I consider to be the 7 best places to visit in Colombia.
Salento is a small town in southern Colombia. This quiet little town is different than most of the other tourist destinations in Colombia in the sense that it isn’t on the coast. Salento is completely landlocked and is actually famous for the luscious rolling valleys that surround it. Salento sits at 1,900m above sea level!
If you are a coffee lover, then you may have already heard about Salento. Just outside of Salento are many coffee farms that are famous for producing some of the highest quality coffee in the world! As a tourist, you can take a tour around these farms and try the coffee for yourself!
The Cocora Valley is also only a short 30-minute drive away from Salento town center. If you visit Salento, then a day trip out to the Cocora Valley is definitely a must. In this area, you can hike several different trails or go horseback riding. And among the grass-covered valleys are the notorious wax palm trees. These trees are huge and to see these towering palms in the valley is just a magnificent sight to see!
2. San Andres Island
San Andres Island is a small, not very well-known island in Colombia. Strangely enough, San Andres Island isn’t very close to Colombia at all and actually sits in the Caribbean Sea closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. The only way to get to San Andres Island is with a flight, but luckily, flights from major cities like Cartagena and Bogotá are very common and often cheap. When I went, I managed to snag a return flight for $70 USD from Cartagena!
The most common things to do on San Andres Island is to relax at the beach! This small island has a 26km long ring road that goes all the way around it. And from this road, there are too many amazing beaches to choose from! White sand, untouched corals, and vies of the ocean and other islands are just some of the sights you’ll see.
Because of how secluded San Andres is, the corals around the island have been very well preserved. San Andres is one of the top spots in the world for scuba diving, and scuba divers travel far and wide to get their chance to explore the calm waters!
But besides relaxing and scuba diving, there are a few other interesting things to do on the island. You can rent a buggy and explore all the different areas, going hiking, check out old churches, go shopping, or go to Rocky Cay beach where when the tide is low a sandbar allows you to walk out to another tiny island!
3. Tayrona National Park
If you love the outdoors then you are guaranteed to love Tayrona National Park. This park is best explored by walking through the park and then camping overnight at one of the many campsites on the beach.
Tayrona National Park has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. You can swim, snorkel and relax at one of the many different bays along the walking trail.
The walking trail itself is also very noteworthy. It is an incredible hike as every 10 minutes or so the landscape around you completely changes! You walk through different areas of the jungle and along beaches, and the scenery is just so diverse – it’s amazing! You just have to see it with your own eyes.
The walkthrough Tayrona National Park is also very easy. If you want to stay at the most popular campsite and beach called Cabo San Juan you will need to walk for about 2 hours one way to get there. This walk is mostly flat along a well-maintained trail, just be sure to bring plenty of water because in the heat you will need it!
I’m not typically a “city-person” in the sense that small towns and the outdoors are usually more preferred destinations. However, Medellin was different. I planned on only staying for two days, and ended up staying for ten! And, after talking to many other travelers, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who got stuck in this city!
The culture and excitement and comfort of Medellin draws people in and keeps them there! In Medellin, there is always soothing going on. Oftentimes there are festivals and celebrations and every night of the week good nightlife can be found.
One of the best ways to see the city is to join a free walking tour. On these tours, you will be given insight about Medellin’s dark past and how the city has transformed over the years. Learning about history while seeing some important sights will really open your eyes and make you appreciate the gorgeous country even more.
Minca is a small town that has become popular with backpackers. There are various hikes, waterfalls with swimming spots, and even a massive hammock looking out in the mountains.
While this town is only a 40-minute drive from the city of Santa Maria, it is right in the mountains making it much cooler than the coast. And to be honest, the lower temperature was a bit of a relief after so many days in the sun.
In Minca, there are only a couple of places to stay and most places are budget backpacker accommodation. But if staying overnight isn’t your thing, it’s also possible to just go on a day trip from Santa Marta!
No trip to Colombia could be complete with seeing this charming and extremely colorful town! It is colorful both in culture and quite literally with brightly painted buildings lining the streets! Walking around Guatape almost seems surreal because of how colorful the streets are – it is a photographers dream!
Besides walking the streets and taking pictures, Guatape is also popular for its surroundings. There is an unusually large rock which you can climb to the top of (if you dare to conquer the 740 stairs!) If you do manage to muster up to energy to get to the top, you will be rewarded with views of the surrounding lakes and islands and Guatape itself!
Guatape is most easily reached by bus from Medellin. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and buses depart regularly throughout the day every day from Medellin’s main bus station. Because of the short distance from Medellin, it is possible to go to Guatape on just a day trip. But if you want more time in the town you can stay in one of the many hostels or small hotels. If you do have the time to spare, I recommend spending a night in Guatape in order to really enjoy it!
Taganga is another small town close to Santa Marta. This little town is only a 20-minute drive from Santa Marta but seems to be in a world of its own. With only small shops, dirt roads, and stray dogs everywhere it takes a second look to understand the charm of Taganga, which may not be apparent right from the start.
If you spend a couple of nights in Taganga you will understand why it is so special. The locals are some of the friendliest people and walking around the sleepy town is a peaceful and authentic experience. In Taganga, there are no fancy hotels or tourists attractions, just a chance to enjoy a small beach town with the locals who live there.
If you are looking for something to do while in Taganga though, scuba diving is a great option! You can also go out fishing in the ocean or explore nearby secluded beaches.
Another tip is that if you want to go to Tayrona National Park, you can actually take a boat from Taganga right to the most popular campsite and beach!
Overall, Colombia is such an incredible country with so much to offer visitors. If you only have time to check out a few of the 7 places I listed in this blog you will still be impressed! There is no wonder that Colombia is becoming such a popular tourist destination – it is definitely worth exploring!