Must see destinations in Colombia!

Colombia is fast shaking off the image of the past. It’s no longer seen as dangerous, and is top of the list for many travellers. With the friendly locals, party like atmosphere and cheap prices for accommodation and activities, it is easy to see why! Here I have listed the very best places to visit in Colombia!

Minca

A tiny little town nestled in the hills of the Sierra Nevada, chances are somebody has already told you that you have to visit Minca! It frequently tops the list of backpackers favourite destinations in Colombia and once you visit you will understand why. Minca is the kind of place you intend to stay for a day and end up being there a week. The town itself is small, with a few restaurants and shops set around the river. You can use this as your base. To take hikes to the nearby attractions. There is Marinka Waterfall, around an hours walk away. Or if you fancy something more strenuous, continue up to Casa Elemento to enjoy the Instagram famous, worlds largest hammock. You can of course stay here too. There are also lots of coffee and chocolate plantations, and you can visit the farms for a demonstration. I highly recommend Finca La Candelaria in Minca, where I watched how chocolate is made and was rewarded with a chocolate face mask and a cup of pure rich Colombian hot chocolate at the end. All that for only 20,000 cop! One word of warning though, Minca is notorious for sandflies and mosquitoes so bring your repellent!

Marinka waterfall minca
Marinka waterfall is stunning!

Isla de Providencia

If you’re looking for the clearest blue sea, white sandy beaches, and non-touristy Caribbean culture… then Isla de Providencia is definitely one to add to the list. With a sea that’s also known as “The Sea of Seven Colors”, it’s arguably home to the bluest sea ever in the world. This may sound like an exaggeration but the whole island is surrounded by sea like this…

providencia colombia
Isla de Providencia, from HatsOffWorld

Despite belonging to Colombia, Isla de Providencia is actually located closer to Nicaragua – around 140 miles off the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast. To get there, you have to take a flight to the neighbouring island, San Andres – and then from there, take a small flight or catamaran to Providencia. It may seem like a bit of a trek to get to but that’s how it retains its non-touristy beauty. The flight is only about 15 minutes but it can cost around $200, which is why a lot of people don’t bother to go that extra mile. But the difference between San Andres and Providencia is so huge, I would massively recommend seeing Providencia. The island feels very Rastafarian and the locals are so friendly and warm. Watch the sunset at La Sirenita cocktail bar or have a coco loco around the fire at Rolands Bar, and you’ll be sure to make some friends with some other tourists.

So if you’re looking for some chilled island vibes with some pristine white beaches, turquoise sea, and welcoming locals, check out Providencia. But don’t tell too many people about it or it will lose it’s untouched, unique beauty!

Cali

Filled with sun and contagious smiles you should feel welcome in seconds. Cali is famous worldwide for it’s Salsa and dance schools. The city is also well known by many Colombians as the sporting capital of Colombia. However, no matter what your interests are, you can find many activities here to keep you occupied.

I was travelling from Bogota and found it fairly easy to arrive in Cali by bus. You can also get domestic flights from Medellin, Cartagena or Santa Marta. If you are lucky enough to travel in December I highly recommend you get a ticket to the Feria de Cali. Other things to do in Cali include trying a Cholada, which is a mixed fruit dessert that is very popular with locals. You can find the best Choladas Cali has to offer at the Canchas Panamericanas on Calle 9, right next to the basketball courts.

Cali, from Layerculture

So, whether you’re cruising down Avenida Sexta, partying in Granada or getting the perfect Instagram shots in San Antonio, you’ll find that it’s easy to connect with locals. It’s no secret that the people of Cali dress better, dance better and love to have fun; now you have the perfect reason to embrace the sunshine of Cali.

The Lost City Trek

The Lost City Trek to La Ciudad Perdida was one of the highlights of my trip to Colombia. The city was built around 800 AD, which dates it as 650 years older than Machu Picchu, and the Teyuna people who built it left the city during the Spanish Conquest.  The Spanish didn’t find the city, deep in the jungle, and it was only re-discovered in 1972 when local treasure hunters came across the steps to the city by chance.

lost city trek
The lost City, from talesofabackpacker

The trek is not an easy hike, but it is definitely worth the effort.  It is quite an adventure trekking through the jungle for in 4 or 5 days, crossing rivers and climbing up and down the mountains.  The trek has to be done with a local tour company which is easily arranged in nearby Santa Marta.  You’ll spend the nights in camps with basic bunk beds or hammocks and can take a swim in the river by each camp.  On the third day, you will reach the ruins of the city, climbing up the same stone steps as the Teyuna people did when they built their homes here hundreds of years ago.  As you explore the site you may get to meet the shaman from the indigenous community, a descendant of the original inhabitants who still lives in the city today.

Guatape

The colorful little holiday town of Guatapé is located on the shores of the Embalse Guatapé, a beautiful artificial lake. Situated about two hours from Medellin by bus this nice little town is perfect for a short visit, I would recommend you stay at least one night to enjoy the festivities after dark. Wander around the streets of what must be one of the most colorful colonial towns in South America, take plenty of photos and stop to enjoy some of Colombia’s world famous coffee. The enormous rock, El Penol, is the most famous attraction in town and it is impossible to miss this 200 meter high, 66 million ton rock just outside Guatapé. Climbing the 700 steps to the top of the rock is great for working up a sweat and the view of the lake filled with small Islands is spectacular.

guatape colombia
El Penol Guatape, from stingynomads

For adventure junkies there is a lot to do; hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking or go paragliding for 360 views over the rock of Peno. The lake itself offers some great activities; scenic boat tours, paddle boat rentals, kayaking, fishing or sign up for yoga on the shore. Looking to do something unique to the location? Join a paintball game around Pablo Escobar’s mansion! Guatape is one of the most fun and unique places we traveled while backpacking in Colombia. Top of the list for many tourists, this really is a must visit destination in Colombia.

Taganga

Generally people have mixed reviews about Taganga, due to some problems a few years ago. I recently spent a month here though, and can testify I never felt unsafe. The small town is popular with both foreign and domestic tourists, and can become packed around Colombian holiday times. Whilst there isn’t a whole lot to do here, you should definitely visit to take advantage of the Scuba Diving! Taganga is right on the fringe of Tayrona National Park, and so you can experience diving in Tayrona Park at some ridiculously cheap prices! For new divers, Open Water courses start around $270, and for those certified it will cost around $55 for a two tank trip. Expect to see a lot of colourful Caribbean coral, reef fish, Eels and seahorses. For the best service and experience, check out Ocean Lovers.

Dive tayrona park

Diving in Taganga

Medellin

Whilst Bogotá may be the capital, it’s Medellin that remains the backpackers favourite destination in Colombia. Once named the worlds most dangerous city, Medellin has changed drastically in the last decade, and for the better. Most backpackers choose to stay in upscale El Poblado, with many bars and restaurants nearby and a very safe feeling all round. You can easily hop on the metro into the city centre, something that locals are very proud of! Take a free walking tour of Comuna 13, once the most dangerous area in the city. It is now bustling with dancers, street art and music, and is home to the infamous escalators that transport you up the hills.

Comuna 13 Medellin
Street art at Comuna 13

Ride in the cable cars to get a birds eye view of city life. These cable cars were built so citizens on the outskirts of the city could easily gain access to the metro and city centre. They make a great tourist attraction too! In the city centre, there’s plenty of parks and museums to keep you occupied, my personal favourite is Botero square. Here you will find bronze statues from the artist Botero, whose work I love!

Cocora Valley

A firm favourite among tourists, Cocora is home to the huge wax palm trees as far as the eye can see! It’s an absolute must see destination in Colombia. I used Salento as a base, a beautiful little town with narrow streets and brightly painted buildings. From Salento, head to the main square, where there is a ticket booth for the shared jeeps to Cocora Valley. A ticket for a ride in a willy (jeep!) is 3600 cop per person each way. The jeeps are frequent in the morning, and depart when full usually, however there is a kind of timetable on the wall of the ticket booth. Once you arrive, you can make a circuit which takes several hours, over rickety bridges and though the fields of wax palm trees. There are entrance fees to pay at 2 manned stations, so bring a little cash. For us it was 3000 cop at each station, however I have heard from some sources that if you hike counter clock wise you don’t get stopped for this fee (unsure if this is true!).

There are several view points and photo opportunities on the way, as well as Acaime. Acaime is a little cafe/hut off the trail. Entrance is 5,000 cop and you get a free hot chocolate, a place to sit and relax a while, and unrivalled experiences with hummingbirds! They have small hanging feeders all around, and the humming birds all congregate here! It’s pretty spectacular!

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is a beautiful national park on the northern coast of Colombia.  I visited there after doing the Lost City Hike and so was looking for some rest and relaxation. I was staying in Taganga and got the boat from there to the park which takes about 1 hour, there is also the option of the local bus or a private transfer to the entrance to the park, its then a 2/3 hour hike with beautiful views to Cabo San Juan. I stayed in Cabo San Juan as that is where the boat goes and it has a beach you can swim at. Tayrona is all about chilling, in most places there is no wifi so it’s a great place to get away from the world, spend your days snorkelling  
and swimming in the sea, though you can only do this in 3 of the beaches (Mirror Beach, La Piscina & Nudist Beach) as the currents are too strong in other places.
If you do want something a bit more energetic then there are a couple of hikes you can do within the park. It’s also great to stay over and sleep in a hammock or a tent (or a hotel if you have a spare $150 ) and relax and read your book and enjoy the beach. You should definitely visit Tayrona as it is a beautiful spot in the world, amazing beaches, lots of wildlife and a great place to relax for a few days.

Tayrona park Colombia

Tayrona Park, by Clare from travelsinperu

Visitors should be aware that the park is closed once a year. Generally it is for the month of February, in 2019 it was from 28th January until 1st March.

What else?

With such a huge, diverse and evolving country, I have only just scraped the surface! Is there somewhere I have missed that you think should definitely be on the list? What are you must see destinations in Colombia?! Let me know in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “Must see destinations in Colombia!

  • January 26, 2019 at 8:42 pm
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    This is super helpful!!! Unfortunately, I’m visiting during the time Tayrona will be closed (Sad face) But thanks for the tips on Cocora Valley and Minca in particular. Looks like you had the best time!!

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 1:57 pm
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    Amazing! What type of camera do you use to take underwater shots? They are absolutely stunning.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 10:20 pm
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    Great Post! Will definitely save and keep this in mind for my trip in August.

    Reply

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