Touring Colombia is an amazing experience. When you consider the size of the country and the different regions including the coast, the mountains, the Amazon, and the grassland plains-there are places that capture the imagination everywhere you look. Over the last decade, the country has become a go-to tourist destination for its culture, natural beauty, and the warmth of its people. Keep reading for 10 places to see when in the country.
Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, the port city on the Caribbean coast boasts a UNESCO recognized historic center where, wandering the streets grabs your attention at every juncture, nearby islands where postcard-perfect beaches lead to afternoons in the sun, and a castle overlooking the city-standing guard for centuries.
Exploring the capital brings you face to face with the art, history, and culture of the country. Often the point of entry and exit when visiting Colombia, the La Candelaria district draws travelers for its eclectic collection of bohemian bars and eateries, historic landmarks, and narrow streets that open into parks where musicians and artists hold court.
Mount Monserrate, Bogotá
The Sanctuary of Monserrate dates back to 1640 when pilgrims carried stones up the mountain to build a small chapel-brick by brick. Over the years the sanctuary expanded-a monastery was added and a local craftsman created the Santo Cristo caído a los azotes y clavado en la Cruz statue inside the church. The complex is seen in the distance from most vantage points in the city and the statue is one of the most important icons to the people of Colombia.
San Agustín Archaeological Park
For those who want to delve into the vast history and culture of South America, the San Agustin Archaeological Park in Southern Colombia has the largest collection of religious statues dating from the 1st to the 8th century, showcasing the skill and creativity of the Northern Andes cultures.
San Gil, Santander
San Gil in northern Colombia is the outdoor adventure capital of the country. Nearby canyons and rivers are perfect for white-water rafting, climbing, trekking, paragliding, caving, and rappelling.
The towns of Salento and Armenia in the province of Quindío are at the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region. Coffee and banana plantations abound in the surrounding landscape, and historic haciendas and monasteries appear on the horizon dating back to the Spanish occupation.
Caño Cristales, Vista Hermosa
For a few weeks from September through November, the Caño Cristales River changes from a normal looking tributary to an explosion of color. A species of plant called Macarenia clavigera turns a vibrant red while yellow sand, green moss, and blue water make the area a sought after tourist destination. The area is remote, but a few agencies in the area offer tours from the nearby town of La Macarena.
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Often visited on day trips from Bogotá, the whole town of Villa de Leyva is a historic monument where cobblestones streets and colonial buildings take you back to another era in Colombia’s history. Located high in the Andes, this is a place where flowers cascade down whitewashed walls, catching the sunset over the mountains from Plaza Mayor frames the churches and plazas of the area in a resplendent glow, and a growing crop of cafes and restaurants are perfect places to sit and people watch while soaking in the history.
Tayrona National Park
One of the top destinations for travelers from all walks of life is Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast. The park covers12,000 hectares of land that includes long stretches of tropical beaches, dense rainforest, and archaeological ruins- making it a must-see spot while in the country.
Hiking through the jungle opens up the natural world teaming with monkeys, exotic birds, and even jaguars. On the coast, sleep in a hammock in a hut, scuba dive and snorkel, or just soak in the sunshine. A strenuous trek uphill to Pueblito opens up to reveal the ruins of an ancient indigenous city of the Tairona culture, dating back to the 1st century.
Salt Cathedral, Zipaquirá, Colombia
Reached from Bogota on 32-mile trips north, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is a stunning structure in the center of a salt mine. Rising 70 feet and plunging to depths of 250 ft, the cathedral is reached by following a tunnel into the former mine where you pass 14 room-sized devotional chapels, created by 127 of Colombia’s artists. The chapels and cathedral are still in use, parishioners gather each Sunday for mass and congregate in numbers on holidays like Easter and Christmas.