Best Places to Visit in Colombia
Colombia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. With its rich history, beautiful landscapes, heavenly beaches and colorful architecture, it’s a must-see. It’s an intriguing place with over 1,900 miles of coastline stretching from the Caribbean Sea to the Amazon jungle. Inland, you’ll find vast mountain ranges like the Andes and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It’s a beautiful place.
The best places to visit in Colombia
There are hundreds if not thousands of awe-inspiring places to visit in Colombia. In this article, we’ll focus on 15 destinations loved by locals and foreign tourists alike. Let’s get started!
Pereira is located in the heart of the coffee axis (Eje Cafetero) and is the capital of the department of Risaralda. It is considered an economic hub but is not a well-known tourist destination. Not many people speak English in the region but if you’re able to communicate Pereira is one of the best places to visit in Colombia. Here’s why.
The Cocora Valley, Salento, Manizales, Santa Rosa and Filandia are all within an hour of Pereira. The city has a large bus terminal for ease-of-access and hosts an airport that accepts incoming flights directly from the United States. There are a plethora of hotels and Airbnb’s available for short or extended stays and the cost of goods is low when compared to other Colombian cities.
There are hundreds of cafes, restaurants and stores to explore but what really makes Pereira special is its proximity to so many beautiful destinations. It’s easy to arrange a day-trip from Pereira and the options are endless. The coffee triangle is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia and Pereira is at the center of it all.
Bucaramanga – La Ciudad Bonita de Colombia (Colombia’s Beautiful City). I think Bucaramanga is one of the most overlooked destinations in Colombia and one of my favorite cities. It’s modernized and the economy is healthy. There’s over 150 parks and the streets are full of high-quality art and beautiful foliage. The weather is perfect and the city is vibrant with life. Aerobics classes are held in local parks and there are areas designed for youth to skateboard and Rollerblade. There are a lot of good restaurants and the city itself is very clean when compared to other cities throughout the country.
Popular tourist destinations including San Juan de Girón, La Mesa de Los Santos, Parque Nacional de Chicamocha and Ecoparque Cerro del Santismo are all easily accessible from Bucaramanga. The best arepa de choclo I’ve ever eaten was in La Mesa de Los Santos.
Do yourself a favor and check out Bucaramanga, I promise you won’t be disappointed. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
Leticia is Colombia’s gateway to the Amazon. It’s the capital of the department of Amazonas and Colombia’s southern-most city. It’s a well-known tourist destination for adventurers looking to explore the Amazon River and surrounding Rain Forest. It’s also considered a cultural bastion due to the amount of indigenous tribes in the area and yearly Amazon Fellowship Festival. If you’re a nature lover looking for adventure, Leticia is an excellent place to start.
There are a plethora of Amazonas Jungle Tours available. Monkeys, reptiles, pink river dolphins and thousands of plant species inhabit the area. Reptiles bask on warm rocks near the river banks while birds fly through the surrounding jungle and plants dance between the tropical winds.
If you’re looking for a true Amazon experience, Leticia is one of the best places to start your journey.
Medellín – (City of Eternal Spring) is the 3rd most populated city in Colombia and the capital of the department of Antioquia. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the city because it offers not only gastronomic variety, but also cultural and artistic diversity. Medellin is full of emblematic landmarks and beautiful views. The Botanical Garden, Pies Descalzos Park, Berrío Park, Lleras Park, and Pueblito Paisa located on Nutibara Hill are just a few examples. On the outskirts of the city you’ll find places like Guatapé, where the famous Piedra del Peñol is located. Guatape hosts some of the most picturesque views in all of Colombia.
As for art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Antioquia, which hosts the works of Colombian painter Fernando Botero (amongst others) are great places to check out. In addition, Medellín has Parque Explora, the museum of science and technology where children and adults alike can take part in various interactive exhibits. Medellin also hosts The Festival of Flowers (Flower Fair) which is considered one of the most important festivals in the country. During the festival, Colombian’s recognize silletas (beautiful flower arrangements made by farmers and florists) by lining up in the thousands along Medellin’s music-filled streets to watch parades full of flowers, horses, art and culture. It’s a site to behold.
Lastly, Medellin has a range of accomodations to fit any budget. There are hostels that cost a few dollars a night and extravagant hotels for the super-rich. There are hundreds if not thousands of Airbnb’s for rent and it’s easy to find local transportation. Jose Maria Cordova International Airport is located about 30 minutes from downtown and is one of the busiest flight hubs in the country.
Medellin is a magical city and truly one of the best places to visit in Colombia. It’s hard to understand until you experience it for yourself.
Salento is one of the most important municipalities for tourism in the Quindío region of Colombia. On one hand, it brings together the beauty and conservation of its architecture bequeathed by the colonization of Antioquia in the mid-19th century. On the other, it exhibits the impressive landscape of the Cocora Valley. The streets of Salento preserve the tradition of the initial settlers, who are still perceived by the color of their balconies adorned with flowers. Salento truly is a glimpse in to the past.
Salento also has a great cultural atmosphere that makes it more attractive to tourists that are seduced by its charm. Some of the most iconic places to visit are: El Parque Principal, La Calle Real, Ecoparque El Mirador, Los Nevados National Natural Park and Valle De Cocora (a nature reserve where the famous wax palm grows). Salento is also home to El Mirador Alto De La Cruz, a permanent destination of pilgrimage. The municipality is also distinguished by its great diversity of birds that adorn the countryside, such as the chusquero jumper, Parakeet and Bush Chicken. If you’re looking for something to eat, try the trout, it’s a classic dish in the region.
In short, Salento is a quaint little town nestled in the Andes mountains that allows a glimpse into the colorful past of Colombia. The views are breathtaking, the architecture is stunning and the people are kind. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting.
Santiago de Cali
Santiago de Cali – (the branch of heaven) is the capital of the Valle department and the 2nd most populous city in Colombia. It’s distinguished for being the economic and cultural center of the country. It was founded on July 25, 1536 by the explorer and conqueror Sebastián Belalcázar, It’s one of the oldest cities in South America and if you like food it’s the place to be. The local cuisine brings together traditional Spanish, indigenous and African elements which give it an exquisite authentic taste and flavor. Atollado rice, valluna empanadas, chicken sancocho, aborrajado and Cali tamales are all well-known and renowned local dishes. If you’re looking for something sweet, try the white manjar or cocadas made with cane sugar harvested from the surrounding region.
The musical rhythms of Cali include salsa and currulao from the Pacific Coast which denotes the ethnic richness of the city making it an excellent place to visit. People from all over the world visit Cali to see local architecture. The Hermitage church is one example. Cali is also full of colonial era architecture that’s been preserved. One example is the Granada neighborhood and Cristo Rey, which is a statue of Jesus similar to “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio de Janeiro and “El Santísimo” in Floridablanca, Bucaramanga. There are several museums in the area including La Tertulia, the Calima Gold Museum and the Archaeological Museum if you like art and history.
Cali is also home to numerous festivals and fairs including the Cali Fair, the Petronio Álvarez Pacific Music Festival and the World Salsa Festival which is and extremely well-known and popular festival in Colombia. As if that were not enough, Valle del Cauca was the scene of “María”, one of the most emblematic stories of Latin American literature which was developed at Hacienda el Paraíso and written by Jorge Isaacs. What immortalizes this work is the imposing beauty of its landscape and environment.
To conclude, Cali is not one of the most traveled tourist destinations in Colombia but it is one of the best places to visit.
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and one of the largest cities in the world. Standing at an elevation of almost 9000 feet it’s known as Colombia’s chilly city. In fact, it’s one of the only large cities in Colombia where you might want to bring some long-sleeved shirts. The city is often described as a melting pot of culture and diversity due to its large population of over 8 million people. When visiting the bustling metropolis you will see old colonial buildings nestled amongst modern skyscrapers, lush green parks and trendy eateries. Bogota is located in the center of Colombia which makes it a great place to begin exploring the country.
Plaza de Bolivar is the main square in Bogota and considered the center of the city. It’s surrounded by churches, historical architecture, palaces and government buildings. It hosts the largest church in Colombia and is a must-visit destination when touring the city. Another must-see destination in Bogota is La Candeleria which is a historic neighborhood in the downtown district. The neighborhood is filled with shops, museums and a rich history that will captivate any visitor including Colombians and foreigners alike.
It’s impossible to discuss all the destinations available to visit in Bogota as it’s South Americas equivalent to New York City but a few popular places include: Monserrate, Museo del Oro, Jardin Botanico de Bogota (botanical garden), Parque 93, Museo Santa Clara, Iglesia de San Francisco and Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo.
Bogota has a little bit of everything and is definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
Monteria isn’t a tourist destination per se but I really enjoyed the city and think it’s worth a visit. Here’s why. The Sinu River (Rio Sinu), which is located on the west side of town provides a fascinating glimpse into the local ecosystem and culture. Covered rafts called planchones act as a ferry system transporting passengers across the river throughout the day. Planchones have become a symbol of the region due to their colorful roofs and open-wood builds.They are a cool site to see.
Ronda del Sinu Park runs along the rivers edge and is a great place to see iguanas, monkeys and sloths. That’s right, Monteria is full of iguanas. Monkeys tend to travel up and down the river looking for ripe fruit but there is a chance to see them on a local boating tour or maybe even in Ronda del Sinu Park if you’re lucky. The park is absolutely beautiful and hosts multiple ice cream stands, restaurants and places to sit and enjoy the weather. Monteria is a warm city with daily temperatures averaging 90 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure to find some shade and wear a sombrero!
Monteria also has some nice restaurants and hotels. There’s even a few malls if you want to do some shopping for authentic Colombian clothes/products. If you’re into history, there are a few statues and churches to check out. There’s also an airport and bus station making onward travel a breeze.
I would describe Monteria as a calm city where taking walks along the river bank and having a nice dinner are the preferred activities. It’s worth a visit.
Cartagena is a historically significant port city located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It’s one of the most visited places in South America. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, tropical weather, colonial architecture and lush accommodations, Cartagena is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
If you enjoy the beach, Cartagena has a famous hotel zone full of accommodations that offer top-notch services and experiences. You can also explore the Rosario islands just off the coast that are easily accessible via boat by local tourist companies. The walled city (old town) is a well-preserved colonial masterpiece entrenched within a 7 mile long stone wall constructed during the 15th century. It’s colorful pueblos and flower-draped balconies are also worth a look. Next, check out Castillo San Felipe Fortress. You can explore the fortress alone or join a group for an additional fee. You could easily spend 2-3 hours walking around the impressive structure which gives its viewers a first-hand look into the past.
Cartagena is also well-known for its seafood and nightlife. Fried fish is a favorite on the menu and there’s plenty of dance clubs and bars to visit after dinner. For a more in-depth look at things to do in Cartagena check out this article by Cartagena Explorer.
Lastly, since Cartagena is a famous port city, it also has a rich naval history and hosts one of the coolest naval museums in South America, the Museo Naval del Caribe. If you like history and/or anything to do with the navy, it’s a must-see.
To conclude, Cartagena is one of the most popular destinations in South America and definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you like beaches and history.
The Cocora Valley is a popular destination for photographers, hikers and locals. It’s located in the central cordillera of the Andes mountain range in the coffee axis just a short distance from Salento. The valley was named after a Colombian princess named Cocora meaning “star of water” and it doesn’t surprise me at all because it’s one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. The hiking trail is well-known as it covers farmland, cloud-covered forests and lush jungle.
The Cocora Valley also hosts the largest palm trees in the world, the wax palm which can grow to over 200 feet tall. There are also multiple coffee and wildlife tours available that are surprisingly interesting and fulfilling. Lastly, you can ride horses through the valley as several local companies offer guided horseback tours.
The valley and surrounding area is a magical place. A trip to Colombia is not complete without visiting the Cocora Valley and if you’re a photographer, you will not be disappointed.
Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)
Ciudad Perdida (the lost city) is a famous archeological site in Colombia that is believed to have been built around 800 AD. It is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in northern Colombia and is not a destination for the faint of heart as a multi-day hike through dense jungle is required to reach the location. However, if you are willing to hike for a few days, Ciudad Perdida is well worth the effort.
The city was discovered in 1972 when local treasure looters stumbled across the site while hunting but archeologists did not take interest until 1976 when ancient artifacts started to appear on the black market. The city contains several plazas, tiled roads, stone staircases and terraces which scientists believe used to be platforms for wood statues. The entire area is surrounded by dense jungle and the excursion itself is reminiscent of an India Jones movie.
If you enjoy exploring, hiking and archeology, Ciudad Perdida is the place to visit.
Santa Marta was founded in 1525 by the Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas and is the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. It is the gateway to Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida (the lost city). It’s known for its beautiful beaches, local street vendors and scuba diving.
Parque de Los Novios is considered the historical center of Santa Marta and hosts a plethora of cafes, restaurants and boutiques. It’s a good place to spend the afternoon exploring and relaxing. The city also has a vibrant nightlife and is a popular tourist destination for Colombians and foreigners alike. There are a lot of hotels in the area but make sure to book a room ahead of time as they are often sold out on weekends.
In closing, Santa Marta is considered a beach town. Most tourists visit to explore Tayrona National Park or to spend the day soaking up sun on one of the cities numerous beaches.
Due to it’s proximity to so many natural wonders, I consider Santa Marta one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
Manizales (the city of open doors) is a charming little town that was founded in 1849 by settlers from Antioquia. It’s also the Capital of the department of Caldas. One of its main attractions is the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary which was created by Frenchman Julien Auguste Poltihence. The Cathedral is a prime example of gothic Antioquian architecture in which materials like guadua (tropical bamboo) and wood are used. It’s an interesting sight to see and a good representation of the architecture used throughout the region.
Manizales stands out both for its great economic, cultural and tourist activity, as well as for being the epicenter of coffee cultivation. The Manizales Fair is one of the most interesting events to attend in the region because it highlights a range of local customs and traditions. The fair is filled with parades, folklore, music, pageants (queen of coffee) and crafts. It’s a fun fair. The International Theater Festival is another important event in Manizales that highlights grand theater projects from different countries all over the world. It’s a popular festival for locals and tourists alike. As for food, the most representative dishes are the paisa tray, corn porridge, aguapanela with cheese and corn arepas. Aguardiente and rum are two of the most popular liquors in town.
El Nevado del Ruiz (volcano), Río Blanco Nature Reserve, the local Bird Observatory and the Metropolitan Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary are all well-known tourist destinations and worth a visit. Manizales is also close to other cities in the coffee axis including Pereira, Salento, Filandia and Santa Rosa. For this reason, I consider it one of the best places to visit in Colombia. The people are also very friendly and helpful.
Tayrona National Natural Park
Tayrona National Natural Park is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range just outside the city of Santa Marta. It’s one of the most important parks in Colombia due to its wide range of habitats which allow a plethora of species to thrive. The park has a tropical climate with temperatures ranging between 77 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit on an average day. It was created in 1964 and has a high biological and archaeological value due to the presence of indigenous Tayronas (the Chairama) who inhabited the region before the colonization of Colombia. In fact, Tayrona National Park is considered one of the most important ecological reserves in South America. Its natural beauty, the whiteness of its beaches, thick mangroves and blue lagoons make it a prime tourist destination for nature lovers. The park also hosts an abundance of flora and fauna. On top of the aforementioned, four feline species also stand out (the Jaguar, Ocelot, Tigrillo and Puma). You might see some monkeys during the journey too!
Some of the main points of interest in the area include the Archaeological Museum of Chairama, Sendero Los Naranjos, Playa del Muerto, Sector Arrecifes, La Piscina, Playa Boca de Saco and Ciudad Perdida (the lost city). The Piedras riverbed is also located in the area and flows to Cabo San Juan de Guía (El Zaino), a pristine beach that can only be reached by foot and/or horseback. Motor vehicles are not allowed in the park so the only way to enjoy the areas majestic feel is by foot, boat or horseback. The area also hosts a large variety of tropical fish making it a prime destination for scuba divers. Tayrona also has some of the most beautiful beaches in South America.
If you’re planning on visiting Tayrona National Park make sure to plan ahead as a yellow fever vaccine is required to enter the park. Also, if you really want to see everything the park has to offer it will take a few days of walking/hiking but if your up for the adventure it’s well worth it!
Santa Rosa is located on the slopes of the Andean Mountain Range in the heart of the coffee axis near Pereira. I really enjoyed visiting Santa Rosa, it’s a beautiful little town known for its world-renowned hot springs (Termales) and is also home to a plethora of unique eateries & cafes. On top of that, you will find a well-kept garden square full of birds and ice cream vendors in the center of town but wait, there’s more. On any given day, you may witness a classic car show full of old ford trucks and/or Volkswagen bugs and BMW’s. I’m talking 1950s and 1960s American/European vehicles in pristine condition.
Santa Rosa is also home to one of Colombia’s most famous kinds of chorizo (chorizo santarossano) and there’s a surprisingly vibrant nightlife for a city of its size. You’ll hear music echoing throughout the streets as friends, family and lovers smile and laugh under the moonlight. There are a few hotels in the area but the selection of Airbnb’s is what stands out. I found dozens of beautiful & cheap Airbnb’s in Santa Rosa with a personality all their own. It really is a great place to visit. The city also has a good bus system for ease of travel. There is no airport but Pereira is only 30-45 minutes away by bus. Santa Rosa is also in close proximity to Manizales, Salento, Filandia, Armenia and the Cocora Valley which makes it one of the best places to visit in Colombia!
Lastly, the coffee is delicious and the views are breathtaking. It does rain on occasion, but if you happen to visit Santa Rosa on a nice sunny day, it’s an amazing place to be. Not many people speak English in the region so make sure you brush up on your Spanish and/or have a translator with.
Best places to visit in Colombia
There you have it, 15 of the best places to visit in Colombia. A few honorable mentions that did not make the list include Barranquilla (home to the biggest folklore carnival in all of Colombia), Filandia (a small town in the coffee axis with unparalleled scenery), Hacienda Napoles (a luxury estate formerly owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar), San Gil (the adventure hub of Colombia) and San Agustin Archeological Park (an archeological park known for its megalithic monuments and sculptures).
Do you know a place that deserves to be on our list? Leave a comment below and share your experience with us, we would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!