Colombia travel guide
2 minute summary
It could be the potent coffee of the lowlands, the mind-bending heat and humidity of the coast, or the lack of oxygen in the Andes – but somehow, when you travel around Colombia everything feels a little dreamlike, and the distinction between truth and fiction starts to blur. Begin in Bogotá, where hipster youths lean on political graffiti-clad walls of colonial buildings, against a breathtaking Andean backdrop. Move on to cobbled colonial villages, where you’ll believe time stopped 300 years ago, as you sip sweet coffee con queso in whitewashed cafes.
Canoe through the Amazon, where pink dolphins frolic in the flooded forests as monkeys and macaws shriek in the background. Then head to the coast, where the country’s highest mountains overlook calm, Caribbean waters. Nearby, the streets of candy-coloured Cartagena echo to the sound of beating congas, the clatter of hooves, and the calls of Afro-Colombian women balancing bowls of pineapple and papaya on their heads.
Read on in our Colombia travel guide.
home to around 10 percent of all the earth’s species – making it the second most biologically diverse country in the world.
dangerous. The few pockets of trouble are far from the tourist trail, leaving you to wander worry-free.
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colombia map & highlights
make the most of your time
Colombia’s huge size (you could fit the UK into it almost five times), combined with its stunning but often impenetrable landscapes – from thick jungle to 5,000m+ mountains – mean you’re just not going to see it all in one trip, so do your research and decide which places inspire you the most. The good news is that every destination has several attractions: colonial villages are also gateways to hiking and biking havens; the Zona Cafetera is the hub of some heady salsa, and the magnificent cities of the Caribbean coast are just a short boat ride or hike away from stunning beaches. Roads are generally good, and comfortable to travel on – though you’ll still be dependent on the short, cheap flights to whisk you off to the coast, mountains or Amazon; they’ll save you several days’ travelling.
The Amazon covers over a third of Colombia; the gateway town of Leticia on the Peru-Brazil border is only accessible by air. Start your jungle exploration at the Ethnographic Museum, before travelling along rivers to isolated lodges and private reserves, past macaws and pink dolphins. Take jungle treks, look down from canopy walkways and visit the village of Mocagua for a different perspective of this rainforest.
Time seems to have stood still in Old Cartagena, a magnificent, colonial, Caribbean city where every candy-coloured building presents a photo opportunity. Bougainvillea tumbles down the wooden bars on the double height windows, and the sound of hooves on the cobbled streets is eerily evocative. If you can tear yourself away, take daytrips to the mangroves, mud volcano or tiny offshore islands.
Salento & the Zona Cafetera
Tucked away into Colombia’s lush Zona Cafetera, Salento is very pretty – and friendly – base for excursions out into the surrounding cloud forest and coffee plantations. You’ll learn how these potent beans are grown, harvested and processed – often by hand. A top activity is a hike through the lush, green Corcora Valley, lined with spindly, 60m-tall quindío wax palms, the symbol of Colombia.
San Gil is Colombia’s undisputed capital of adventure sports. Use the town as your base and take daytrips out to the Chicamocha Canyon – which has South America’s longest cable car; trek to the Juan Curi Waterfall; kayak or raft along rivers; or explore the nearby caves. If you’re after calmer adventures, visit colonial Barichara. Just 45 minutes away, it’s said to be Colombia’s prettiest village.
Tayrona National Park
Dreamy, tropical coastline, lush rainforest and soaring mountains, all within sight of one another; Tayrona is a dream destination. Over 400 bird species, from parrots to condors, inhabit this park; keep an eye out for monkeys and iguanas too. The secluded Caribbean beaches with their offshore reefs have no road access so you’ll have to hike, though you can drive to pre-Colombian ruins in the mountains.
Villa de Leyva
This gorgeous, whitewashed town looks pretty much as it did when it was founded in 1572, with its chunkily cobbled streets, tiled roofs and enormous plaza – the largest in the country. It’s great for people watching with a coffee or cold Águila beer, but make sure you get out into the surrounding landscapes, great for trekking and mountain biking. Check out the dinosaur fossil and tranquil blue “pozo” pools, too.