12 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colombia

Put aside all your old ideas like drug wars and gangsters, and you will find that Colombia is a nation full of confidence and marching towards a more peaceful and prosperous future. In this land of contrasts, you'll encounter snow-capped Andean peaks, tropical Amazonian forests, turquoise Caribbean coasts, and two sun-kissed deserts. You'll find a number of great attractions in the middle of the day, from the bustling cities of Cartagena and Medellin to the quiet colonial villages of Salento and Mompox

Above all, the renowned Colombian hospitality will undoubtedly have you coming back for more. Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Colombia.

1. Cartagena

Cartagena is the crown jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast and one of the best-preserved colonial sites in the Americas. Take a walk through the historic walled city, and you might feel like you've stepped into a different era in time.

Perhaps it's the 13 kilometers of age-old walls, or the colorful colonial architecture, many of which are now beautifully restored restaurants and luxury hotels. Maybe it's the bougainvillea-covered balconies along the labyrinthine streets or the Catholic churches towering above each plaza. Whatever the case, visitors can't help falling for this Caribbean attraction.

Just beyond the old town center is Getsemani, and by the sea is Bocagrande, a new part of town where upscale condos and hotels fight for prime seafront real estate. And less than an hour away by boat are the islands and beaches, providing ideal getaways and day trips.

2. Medellin

Bogotá may be the capital of Colombia, but it is the smaller and more manageable city of Medellin that captures the hearts of visitors. Medellin was dubbed the world's most dangerous city in the early 1990s, but a quarter of a century later, it has earned a reputation for something completely different: innovation.

The city boasts cable cars that connect settlements in its hills to a modern metro system in the valley below, lush "eco parks" and striking libraries and community centers in some of the poorest areas.

A good day of sightseeing can begin in the Old Quarter at Botero Plaza, where you'll find a collection of 23 partial sculptures donated by beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the plaza is the fascinating Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace, the Museum of Antioquia and Culture. Then, head into the hills above the city by riding the sleek escalator system through Comuna 13 to explore this neighborhood's colorful homes and elaborate street murals.

End your day in Medellin's trendiest commune, El Poblado, where you'll find buzzing eateries, boutique shops, and most of the city's hotels.

3. Eje Cafetero

The world's third largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a great country for tasting and tourism. The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota, between the small towns of Armenia, Pereira and Manizales. The area, known as EJ Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations that have opened their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and living on the gorgeous farm.

These small (and often organic) plantations are places where farmer-owners can take an hour out of their day to explain how a humble "cherry" turns into a coffee bean that can one day be roasted and ground. A latte back home.

The small resort town of Salento is easily the most attractive place to base yourself, with many agricultural tours and lots of things to do nearby. You also have easy access to attractions such as the Kokora Valley, home of the world's tallest palm trees. You can rent a bicycle from Salento to explore the area under your own steam or take a ride on the old-fashioned Willy Jeeps that serve as the city's actual taxis.

4. Leticia

Imagine the Amazon, and Colombia might not be the first country to come to mind – which is strange, as nearly a third of the country is blanketed in its dense (and often impenetrable) forests. The capital of the vast Amazon basin is the small frontier city of Leticia, which sits along the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia collides against Brazil and Peru.

Leticia makes a great base for eco-tourism, wildlife safaris, or hikes in the Amazon to learn about the indigenous tribes that call the region home. The only way to get here is by plane from Bogota, and you can proceed by boat to Manaus, Brazil, or Iquitos, Peru, to Apivar.

5. Tayrona National Natural Park

You'll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park, which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most of the beach is set against the dramatic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforest hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.

Tayrona is also a great place for snorkeling in the protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan. Although remote, these secluded beaches aren't exactly a secret, so it's best to visit in the low season (February to November) to avoid huge crowds. Plus, unless you're paying for the gorgeous Ecohabs Tayrona, be prepared to sleep in a tent (or hammock) at one of the beach's many campgrounds.

5. Bogota

Most visitors to Colombia will inevitably begin their journey in the country's largest city – and heartthrob – Bogotá. It's a city that often has divided views, with some complaining of its gridlocked streets and dreary weather, and others falling head over heels for its unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way, this city of eight million thrives on people who give it enough time.

Begin your sightseeing tour in the historic center of La Candelaria, where you'll find the impressive buildings of Plaza de Bolivar and cultural attractions such as the blindingly bright Museum of Gold. Then, head to the affluent areas of northern Bogota for some of the best boutique shops and chef-run restaurants in the country.

7. The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

Colombia's most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost town hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and occupied by the Tarona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is believed to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.

Most of the site is buried under a blanket of dense forest – the area's modern indigenous inhabitants have banned excavations – but you will find that the stone terraces and stairs are in excellent shape. It's not possible to visit this site alone, so you'll need to book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.

8. Providencia Island

This quaint Caribbean island is a surprise to many first-timers. For starters, it is much closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Then there's the fact that its residents speak English Creole, not Spanish. Of course, none of this really matters when you find yourself drowning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag.

Little more than a dollop of golden sand and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with some of the world's greatest marine biodiversity yet to be explored. You'll need to stop at the more popular San Andres island first and catch a short hopper plane or a three-hour catamaran ride to get to Providencia. Once there, you'll find the largest collection of cottages and hotels in the small village of Aguadulus on the island's stunning west coast.

9. Mompox

Lovers of magic realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charms of Mompox. It features prominently in the Nobel Prize-winning book The General in His Labyrinth and is considered the inspiration for the fictional town of Macondo in his best-known novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Mompox was once a prosperous force in the trade route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes, famous as the place where "El Libertador" Simon Bolivar recruited his army to gain independence for neighboring Venezuela. Now, this colonial relic with the muddy banks of the Magdalena River is truly a city that time has forgotten.

Although there isn't much to do, consui visitors find themselves spending a lot more time than they plan to wander the cobbled streets; soaking in the ambiance of colonial architecture; Or take boat tours through Pidino Swamp, a popular attraction for birders.

10. La Guajira Peninsula

It is the northernmost point in South America, so perhaps it is only fair that La Guajira is not unlike anywhere else on the continent. This remote and little-visited peninsula is a serene oasis of broad sand dunes, bird-covered mangrove swamps and vast stretches of empty land where the orange-brown La Guajira Desert meets the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Indigenous beliefs are the law of the land here, as the peninsula is home to the proud Waue people, who were never under Spanish rule and maintain a vibrant culture to this day.

Keep in mind that tourism is still new in La Guajira, and rides from the regional capital Riohacha require both patience and a sense of adventure. The windsurfing mecca of Cabo de la Vella has the most touristy infrastructure and will likely be your best entry point into the region.

11. Hacienda Napoles

If there is one person who keeps abreast of Colombia's recent history, it is billionaire drug smuggler Pablo Escobar. Few people realize that you can actually visit the grand property built and owned by Escobar in Puerto Triunfo, about 110 miles east of Medellin.

In the decade following Escobar's death in 1993, the sprawling complex known as Hacienda Napoles fell into disrepair. But the local municipality took control of the property in the mid-2000s and turned it into, of all things, an ever-growing amusement park with an eclectic mix of themed areas, hotels, a water park, and a safari-style zoo.

Entertainment and hotels may be new, but Escobar signs are everywhere. His antique car collection sits on display next to the ruins of his former mansion, one of the Cessna planes used to smuggle drugs into America is located above the entrance, and there's a small museum that grapples with his legacy. .

There is also a Jurassic zone filled with life-size dinosaur replicas that he bought for his son and a wild hippo herd which, after years of heavy breeding, has grown from four to 40 and is now one of the largest herds outside Africa. represents.

12. Cano Cristales

Cano Cristal was closed for decades while being hit by guerrilla fighters, but is officially back in business and welcoming more tourists than ever before. Most visitors come to this remote river valley in the Orinoquia region to hike among its waterfalls and bathe in its natural swimming holes.

While worth a visit in any season, the canyon is especially prismatic between July and November, when an algae bloom occurs that turns the river's colors into a rainbow. The isolated outpost of La Macarena is your base for trips to Cano Cristales, and is only accessible by air from Bogotá or Villavicencio.

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