Why Colombia should be your next travel destination

Colombia has an incredible biodiversity, rich culture and long history. In this article you will find 10 good reasons to visit Colombia for your next holiday.

Barichara, Santander
1. All in one country

Colombia is a huge country where you can find completely different landscapes and climates: dense rainforests, tropical coastlines, exotic beaches, imposing mountains and snow peaks, stunning deserts, buzzing modern cities and beautiful colonial-style towns. 

The Amazon rainforest, that expands over the southeast Colombia and covers nearly 40% of the national territory, is a truly unique and majestic place filled with amazing biodiversity, natural resources and ancient ways of life. In the impressive savannah of the Orinoquia or Eastern Plains you can go on a memorable safari to meet the wildlife or go horse riding and experience the culture of the region. The off-the-beaten-track Pacific coast offers isolated virgin beaches, amazing marine biodiversity, dense jungle and Afro-Colombian traditions. In the north, there is Cartagena, a colonial gem located in Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The islands of San Andrés, Providencia, Barú and Rosario feature white-sanded beaches and crystal waters. There is also Tayrona, a paradise of tropical beaches and lush vegetation. In this region, you will also find Colombia’s largest desert, La Guajira, where you can explore primitive landscapes covered by sand, relax on a hammock, get to know the culture of the indigenous people and enjoy fresh fish.

Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira
Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira

In the Andean region the mountains create the perfect landscape for long hikes and adventure sports with plenty of forests and paramos to visit. You can travel to the famous coffee triangle and its picturesque towns that reflect the tradition of coffee growing on the foothills of the Andes. In the hot city of Cali, you will be immersed in the salsa music and be impressed by the dancing skills of the locals. If you’re more into history and archaeology, the San Agustin Archaeological Park and the colonial city of Popayán in the southern part of the region are worth a visit. Last but not least, the cosmopolitan cities of Bogotá and Medellín will introduce you to the best of the country through a mix of culture, history and arts. 

View from Monserrate Hill, Bogota
View of Bogotá from Monserrate Hill
2. The cultural diversity

Thanks to its long history, Colombia is known for the rich cultural diversity. The country has been inhabited by people of different origins and cultures, including indigenous, afro, mestizo, European and Arabic. These cultural influences are represented in gastronomy, music, dancing, fashion, and everyday life. 

Of nearly 50 million of the Colombian population, the ethnic groups represent 14% from which 10.5% are afro-descendants and 3.5% indigenous. The black and Afro-Colombian populations, descendants of the African slaves who were taken to Colombia during the Spanish colonisation in the 16th century, are concentrated mainly in the coastal areas of the Pacific (mostly in the departments of Chocó and Valle del Cauca) and the Caribbean (mostly in the departments of Bolívar and Sucre). Colombia’s indigenous peoples belong to 87 different tribes and inhabit several regions of the country, most of them remote,  like the Guajira desert by the Wayúu , the mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta by the Koguis and Arhuacos, the Pacific coast by the Nasa, Emberá and Pastos, and the Amazonia by the Tikunas and other groups. 

Wayúu community, La Guajira

Besides Spanish, 64 Amerindian and 2 creole languages are spoken in Colombia as well as a diversity of dialects. Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities have contributed to a great extent to Colombia’s cultural diversity by keeping their heritage alive through their language, traditional foods, music, festivals and cultural events.

3. The music and dance

In Colombia music is passion. There is probably no other country where music and dancing are engraved in the DNA of its people. Colombia is not only a country of regions but also of music genres. To name a few, there is cumbia, champeta, vallenato and porro in the Caribbean coast, currulao in the Pacific, bambuco in the Andean highlands, salsa in Cali and joropo in the Eastern Plains. There is also reggaeton, one of the most popular contemporary genres not only in Colombia but the whole world, which is perfect for dancing and partying. It features mainly synthesized electronic sounds and rap-style beats. It is worth mentioning that two of the world’s most recognised reggaeton singers, J Balvin and Maluma, both come from the city of Medellín.

Bahia Malaga, Pacific Coast
Afro-Colombian group of performers, Pacific coast

Today, there are various artists who have transferred those traditional rhythms to the international music scene by mixing different sounds. Among other renowned Colombian music groups, ChocQuibTown, Bomba Estéreo and Systema Solar form part of this trend, with their music that combines elements of traditional and modern genres. There are also international artists, like Quantic or Sidestepper, who after having spent long time in Colombia studying and immersing in its music culture, they got inspired and currently produce a repertoire that is known in different world scenes.

Colombia’s cultural diversity and different lifestyles make it the “land of a thousand rhythms”. Much of the Colombian music is a blend of Spanish and European influences with African beats and native sounds. In the Pacific coast, the afro-descendant sounds from the tambores (local drums) and the marimba (palm-wood xylophone) are integral to the communities and present in most of their cultural manifestations. In the Caribbean you will listen to the gaita (a traditional type of flute), tambores, maracas, trumpets and accordion. In the Eastern Plains there are harps, maracas and bandolas (stringed instruments). 

Tambores and marimbas

Colombia boasts a dynamic, exciting and unforgettable musical environment. A great way to experience this atmosphere is through the various fairs and festivals that take place in different regions every year. For example, the Carnival of Barranquilla and the Blacks and Whites’ Carnival in Pasto are among the most celebrated festivals in the country, both recognised by UNESCO as cultural masterpieces. During the festivities, everybody comes together and celebrates with lots of dancing, music and joy. It can be said that Barranquilla’s world-famous carnival is the biggest celebration of folklore in Colombia. The dance groups prepare long in advance for their masked parades and street performances. On the other hand, the Blacks and Whites’ Carnival is one of South America’s oldest festivals that dates back to the time of Spanish rule celebrating the racial heritage and cultural diversity. 

4. A remarkable culinary experience

The geographic, ethnical and climate conditions make Colombia’s gastronomy so diverse. Colombian food combines mostly European and indigenous ingredients but has also African and Arabic (in some areas) influences. Corn, potato, yucca, beans, rice, pork and chicken compose the basis of many national dishes. The culinary traditions vary according to the region, as it happens with other cultural manifestations. For example, in the Caribbean and Pacific coast you will find an abundance of fish and seafood-based dishes, due to the proximity to the sea. In the Andean and Orinoquia regions, meat and tubers are more prevalent, while the preparations vary from grilled and fried dishes to stews and soups. 

Colombian Food
Colombia’s gastronomic offer

Something that is very common in Colombia and you can find it almost everywhere is the arepa (corn dough that comes in different preparations and shapes according to the region). In Colombia there is also great street food. Empanadas (fried pastries usually filled with beef and potato or chicken), pandebono (cheese and yucca bread), tamales (corn dough filled with meat and vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves and slowly steamed) and cocadas (coconut-based sweets) are only some of the best street food you can try here. Fresh juices are also very popular among Colombians. They come in different combinations and colours as a result of the great variety of exotic fruits that exist in the country.

Colombian Fruits
Exotic fruits of Colombia

In the department of Antioquia, you will find probably the most famous Colombian dish, the bandeja paisa. This is a hearty platter that consists of a variety of flavours, including minced beef, fried pork crackling, beans, rice, fried egg, chorizo, avocado, ripe plantain and arepa. Another typical dish, traditionally from the high plains of Cundinamarca and Boyacá, is the ajiaco santafereño. A thick soup made with three kinds of potato, chicken, corn and local herbs called guascas. Traditional preparations from the Caribbean region include cazuela de mariscos (seafood casserole), sancocho de pescado (fish soup) and mote de queso (yam soup with cheese and coconut). In the Pacific coast you will taste shrimps and prawns, jaiba or cangrejo (type of crab), piangua (local shellfish found in the mangroves of the coast) and fried fish. 

Colombian dishes

In major cities like Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena, there is a leading culinary movement that has emerged recently. Various chefs are redefining Colombia’s gastronomic offer by combining different cooking techniques with local products. This movement has also contributed to a stronger ecological and social consciousness through the recovery of native ingredients that otherwise would disappear as a result of the industrial production. 

5. The rich biodiversity

Colombia is one of the megadiverse countries in the world and a hotspot of ecotourism. Home to 10 percent of the Earth’s flora and fauna, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country behind the much larger Brazil. In Colombia you will find more bird and orchid species than any other country, incredible ecosystems, endemic animals and plants, as well as a large number of national parks and protected areas.

Colombian Wildlife
Birds of Colombia

The different climates and altitudes found in Colombia contribute to this amazing biodiversity. Some of the best places to experience sustainable and community-based tourism include La Serranía de la Macarena or San José del Guaviare, where the infinite savannah of the Orinoquia meets the wild jungle of the Amazonia, Nuquí in the Pacific coast and Puerto Nariño in Amazonas.

Bird watching in Amazonas

This contrasting environment creates the perfect destination for many outdoor activities and unique experiences in the nature. There are endless choices, including white-water rafting, paragliding and rock climbing in Santander, bird watching in the Andean mountains and Amazonas, kitesurfing in La Guajira, surfing and whale watching in the Pacific coast, scuba diving and snorkelling in San Andres and Providencia islands. Colombia’s numerous national parks also offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors, such as great hikes and horse riding. Some of the most spectacular hikes can be experienced in the Cocora Valley, the Gorgona island, Caño Cristales, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the National Parks of Amacayacu, Los Nevados, El Cocuy and Chingaza. 

Santander, Colombia
Paragliding in San Gil, Santander
6. The colonial architectural heritage

Colombia’s colonial architectural heritage dates back to the 16th century and is reflected all over the country. From small villages to bigger towns, it is still alive in its magnificent buildings and respected by its inhabitants. In that times, the structure of the main plaza consisted of three main buildings surrounding the plaza: the church, the town hall and the courthouse. This pattern is still present today and repeated in almost every Colombian town. Cobblestoned streets, historic buildings, magnificent plazas and ancient churches and cathedrals are well-preserved in some of Colombia’s most beautiful heritage towns, such as Villa de Leyva, Honda, Barichara and Mompox, in the stunning Walled City of Cartagena as well as in Bogotá’s historic centre. Rich in heritage and charm, Colombia’s colonial gems will take you back to a different era where you can soak up their history and remarkable architecture.

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
7. Fascinating art

The most celebrated Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, got inspired by the beauty and large history of this nation. In his novels, García Márquez invented the literary genre that is commonly known as magical realism, combining aspects from the real life with fantasy, dreams and surreal situations. One can notice these elements by simply travelling to Colombia. 

Street Art, Cartagena
Mural of Gabriel García Márquez, Cartagena

What García Márquez is to the country’s literature, is Fernando Botero to Colombian painting. Botero, the figurative painter and sculptor, is famous for his satirical works with the characteristic oversized subjects. His sculptures can be found scattered around his hometown, Medellín, where there is also a permanent collection in the Museum of Antioquia. The Botero Museum in Bogotá also hosts a vast collection of his art. Botero although overshadows all others, is not the only distinguished Colombian painter. Omar Rayo, known for his geometric drawings, Alejandro Obregón for his abstract paintings, and Pedro Nel Gómez for his murals, watercolours and oils, are often overlooked but absolutely worth to discover. Colombia has even a well-known pop artist, Antonio Caro, who is also known as the “Colombian Andy Warhol”. Caro became famous in the artistic scene of the 70s and 80s for his representations and iconic elements of the Colombian popular culture.

Plaza Botero, Medellín
Plaza Botero, Medellín

There is also an exceptional street art present in major urban centres. In Bogotá and Medellín you will come across impressive and provoking artwork that reveals the cities’ current situation, their social movements and recent history.

Street Art, Medellin
Street art in Comuna 13, Medellín
8. The premium quality coffee

Colombia produces coffee of finest quality and is one of the world’s top coffee exporters. But what is that makes people love Colombian coffee?

Colombia’s coffee is characterised by a smooth, well-balanced flavour and rich aroma. The secret behind its success is the geographic and climate conditions that exist in different regions of the country. Coffee plants grow best in volcanic soil and at an altitude between 1,200 and 1,800 metres above sea level. Another factor to the success is the coffee beans. In Colombia you will only find arabica beans that are known for the mild and acidic flavour. Additionally, it is important to mention that coffee farmers use non-industrialised techniques of harvesting as they still pick the grain manually. As opposed to other major coffee producing countries, in Colombia manual harvesting predominates which guarantees its high quality and rich flavour.

Coffee Plantation, Coffee Region
Coffee plantation in Colombia

Colombia’s coffee region or triangle, which consists of three departments (Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío), produces most of the national seed. However, there are other regions as well, including Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca and Nariño, that produce equally great quality of coffee which varies in flavour according to the origin. In these regions there is a good touristic offer where you will have the opportunity to visit family coffee farms, learn about the harvesting and production process, take part in tasting experiences and surely enjoy a good cup of coffee that can’t be any fresher!

9. A perfect cycling destination

While the most popular sport in Colombia is football, cycling has been winning more and more fans. Over the years, this country has produced world-class cyclists. Trained on the challenging mountain roads of the Andes, they’ve stood out in some of the world’s biggest cycling championships. 

Colombians love cycling. In the main cities you will find extensive cycle roads, known as ciclorutas, that have incentivised the culture around cycling. A remarkable event that demonstrates this passion is ciclovía. Every Sunday and national holiday Bogotá’s main streets are closed to the car traffic and get filled with hundreds of people who go out with their families and friends to cycle. There are also plenty of Colombians who take part in long-distance rides in rural areas away from the big cities where they can also enjoy spectacular mountain views. The culture around this sport combined with the diversity of landscapes and ecosystems make Colombia the perfect cycling destination.

Ciclovía in Bogotá
10. It’s not as people believe, Colombia is safe to travel

Forget about drug cartels, guerrillas and bombs. The stereotypes that Colombia is an unsafe and high-risk destination belong to the past. The country has moved on from the 90s and is turning into one of the coolest countries in the world to visit. 

Colombia faced a lot of violence and sad situations in the last half of the 20th century, but today is not like then. After the peace process negotiations and the final agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla group, the country has recorded the biggest drop in crime and violence rates and has become much safer for travel and tourism. You can rest assured that travel to big cities and other tourist destinations is trouble-free.

You will be surprised by the vibrant cosmopolitan cities; the beautiful landscapes and how welcoming and friendly people are. In 2019 Colombia welcomed more international tourists than ever before and, surely, this record is yet to be broken the years to come.

Bocagrande, Cartagena
Bocagrande, Cartagena de Indias

The 7 most beautiful heritage towns in Colombia

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá

Colombia offers a great number of beautiful small towns (pueblos) across its territory, rich in architecture, culture and history. From colonial centres founded in the 16th century during the Spanish colonisation to traditional unique-style coffee towns dating back to the 19th century, there are unlimited options to explore. What make these places so special is their identity and cultural heritage that are still prevalent today. This article outlines seven of our favourite heritage towns in Colombia.

Villa de Leyva

This is probably one of the most visited heritage towns which dates back to 1572. Villa de Leyva is located just three hours away from Bogotá, in the department of Boyacá. Due to its high altitude (2,149 metres above sea level) the weather can be quite chilly, especially during the night. The town is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture and the rural surrounding landscapes. 

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Plaza Mayor, Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva offers various activities to do and things to see, that’s why it’s worth to stay at least one night. Walk around the cobblestone streets with the whitewashed buildings and the brick tile roofs. Visit the Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square and largest in Colombia, surrounded by restaurants, cafés and tourist shops. On the eastern side of the square you will find the old church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, built in 1604, of colonial baroque architecture. You can also visit the Fossil Museum which features remains of prehistoric animals, or the Paleontological Museum that houses a great collection of treasures and fossil discoveries. 

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Colonial heritage, Villa de Leyva

Another interesting attraction is the Terracotta House. This extraordinary piece of pottery, a 500 square metres brick coloured building, is made entirely of clay and can be fully habitable. Lastly, treat yourself to a delicious home-cooked style meal in one of the traditional family-run restaurants of the town.

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
Terracotta House, Villa de Leyva

Not far from Villa de Leyva, about 24 kilometres away, there is Ráquira – a small village famous for its pottery products. In Ráquira you can visit the local stores with handicrafts or take a tour to one of the traditional pottery workshops and watch the artisans working with clay.

Ráquira, Boyacá
Ráquira, Boyacá
Ráquira, Boyacá
Ráquira, Boyacá
Honda

Honda is one of Colombia’s oldest towns, founded by the Spanish in 1539. It’s also known as the “city of bridges” as it features more than 40 bridges that cross the Magdalena River. The town is located in the department of Tolima, about a four-hour drive from Bogotá. In the 16th and 17th century, Honda was a port town of great commercial importance due to its strategic location on the banks of the Magdalena River – one of Colombia’s major rivers that crosses almost half the country from the southwest, where the Andes split into the three cordilleras, to the north reaching the Caribbean Sea at the city of Barranquilla. 

Honda, Tolima
Honda, Tolima

Wander around its narrow roads, such as the famous and most visited Calle de las Trampas, to appreciate the architecture of the old colonial buildings in the historic centre of Honda. You can also walk along the Magdalena River and get to know some of its most emblematic bridges. Another good plan is to visit the most striking building in the town, the Plaza de Mercado. Painted in green and white colours, decorated with archways and large columns, this former convent today offers great varieties of fruits and vegetables as well as clothes.

Honda, Tolima
Honda, Tolima
Honda, Tolima
Honda, Tolima
Colonial town of Honda, Tolima

Keep in mind that the weather in Honda is very hot. We recommend you use sun block, comfortable shoes, light clothes and keep yourself hydrated.

Honda, Tolima
Magdalena River, Tolima
Mompox

Mompox is another important town that makes part of the touristic network of the heritage towns of Colombia. Located in the department of Bolívar near the Caribbean coast, this magical remote little town makes you feel that is frozen in time. The famous Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel García Márquez, makes a reference to this absence of time in his book The General in his Labyrinth: “Mompox does not exist. Sometimes we dream about it, but it does not exist”. Although it’s a long way to get to Mompox (about 6 hours by car from Cartagena), it’s definitely a place not to be missed.

Mompox was one of the first towns founded by the conquistadors in the 16th century on the banks of the Magdalena River. It also played a major role during the Spanish colonisation in the growth of trade from the 17th to the 19th century due to its key location.

The town will impress you with its beautiful buildings, the old cobbled streets, the Caribbean vibe, the exquisite gastronomy and fascinating culture. The historic centre of Mompox is declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO, as it preserves its authenticity and offers an exceptional sample of the Spanish colonial architecture. Contrary to the majority of Colombian towns that have one central plaza, Mompox has three plazas lined up along the river, each one with its own church. When you walk around the streets of the town, you’ll notice the distinct religious heritage portrayed in its various churches, including the church of Santa Barbara, the Immaculate Conception and San Francisco. 

Lastly, you cannot leave Mompox without tasting the local gastronomy and traditional dishes. Among other foods, here you’ll try queso de capa (cheese in layers), fresh fish, butifarra (local sausage) and lemon delicacies. This is a place where you need to open your senses, talk to its people, get lost in the streets and, eventually, discover it yourself. 

Santa Cruz de Mompox, Bolívar

Ps. If you’re planning to travel to Mompox in October, don’t miss the famous International Jazz Festival that takes place that month every year.

Barichara

In the department of Santander, in the northeast of Colombia, you’ll find one of the most photographed and enchanting places in the country, the heritage town of Barichara. The historic centre of Barichara preserves its colonial architecture since the beginning of the 18th century and the authentic atmosphere of that period with the beautiful cobblestone streets and the Andalusian style buildings.

There are plenty of attractions in Barichara worth to visit: the impressive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception located in the main plaza, the Santa Barbara church and the open-air museum at the Park for the Arts Jorge Delgado Sierra that hosts several stone-carved sculptures. There is also the mirador of El Salto del Mico -one of the best viewpoints in Barichara- which offers stunning views over the canyon of the Suarez River, the National Park Serranía de los Yariguies, and the towns of Galán, La Fuente and Zapatoca. The best way to explore Barichara is either walking or by tuk-tuk which will take you to the most iconic streets of the town.

Barichara, Santander

Another great activity is to walk the old road of Lengerke (Camino Real de Lengerke), a cultural journey that connects some of the most beautiful colonial towns of Santander: Barichara, Guane and Zapatoca. The walk from Barichara to Guane takes 2-3 hours (about 6 kilometres) depending on your pace. In Guane you can visit the Archaeological and Paleontological Museum that exhibits millions of years old fossils, ceramics and other objects of the Guane indigenous people. The route from Guane to Zapatoca is more challenging, as it takes 8-9 hours (about 23 kilometres) and requires very good physical condition. If you decide to do it, we recommend you spend the night before in Guane and set out to Zapatoca early in the morning.

The Santander region is famous for its gastronomy and in Barichara you’ll find various restaurants where you can try its traditional dishes. Among those are the famous hormigas culonas or “big-bottomed” ants (roasted ants, previously cleaned and seasoned), the mute (thick soup made of beef ribs, pork, intestines, corn and other vegetables), the arepa santandereana (yellow corn cake grilled on charcoal), the cabrito (lamb or goat meat roasted, grilled or fried) and the sabajón (sweet and creamy liquor).

The fastest way to get to Barichara is to take a flight from one of the major cities of Colombia to Bucaramanga, the capital city of Santander. The distance from Bucaramanga to Barichara is 120 kilometres (about 3 hours’ drive). On the way you will have the opportunity to enjoy the amazing landscape, as you will be surrounded by the Andean mountains of the eastern cordillera.

Santander, Colombia
Colombian Andes, Santander

In short distance from Barichara you’ll find the small town of San Gil, famous for the extreme sports and adventure tourism. The imposing mountains, rivers and canyons of the region offer the perfect setting for activities like paragliding, white water rafting, caving and rock climbing.

Santander, Colombia
Extreme sports in San Gil, Santander
Guatapé

Easy to reach from Medellín, Guatapé is one of the most colourful towns in Colombia located in the department of Antioquia. Founded in the 19th century, today Guatapé is an important centre of hydroelectric power production thanks to its large reservoir. It’s famous for the colourful houses decorated with extraordinary embossments on their façade, known as zócalos, which display scenes from the history and everyday life. The best way to explore this town is to walk around the charming streets, such as the Calle del Recuerdo, visit the main square of Guatapé and the Plazoleta del Zócalo with the elaborate craft stores and cafés around it. 

Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé, Antioquia

Guatapé is also renowned for the massive 200 metres-high rock, Piedra del Peñol. This impressive monolith is located in short distance from the main town square and it’s definitely worth to try climbing up to its top. The ascent is quite challenging, as you’ll need to go up the 675 steps that lead to the viewpoint, but your effort will reward you with an incredible panoramic view over the reservoir. Don´t miss to try a local michelada (cold beer served with lemon and salt) or a fresh juice by the end of your visit. The Piedra del Peñol is open to visitors from 8:00 to 18:00 every day.

Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé reservoir
Guatapé, Antioquia
Piedra del Peñol, Guatapé

The area around the reservoir is ideal for enjoying some moments of relaxation and tranquillity in the nature. You can also spend the night in one of the inviting ecolodges that are built on the shores of the lake and offer great views to the surrounding landscape.

Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé, Antioquia
Salento

Salento is an enchanting coffee town in the department of Quindío characterised by its colourful houses and hospitable people. It’s built at nearly 1,900 metres above sea level and has a mild climate with temperatures ranging between 10°C and 20°C. From June to August and December to February it’s mostly sunny while the rainy season is observed from March to May and September to November.

Salento, Quindío
Calle Real, Salento

You can get to Salento in less than an hour from Pereira or Armenia. Both cities have regional airports with regular flights to and from other major Colombian cities. As soon as you arrive to the town you’ll notice the land by being mountainous, with continuous uphills and steep inclines. This is something typical of the coffee towns, as they’re built on the slopes of the Andean mountains where the coffee cultivation expanded during the 19th century.

Salento, Quindío
Salento, Quindío

In Salento you can explore its picturesque streets, visit the Plaza de Bolívar, enjoy a classic tinto (black coffee) and walk all the way up the main road, Calle Real, filled with restaurants, cafés and souvenir stores. Calle Real leads to the highest point of the town where you’ll find the first viewpoint, Alto de la Cruz. From here you can enjoy the panoramic view of Salento surrounded by impressive mountains and endless fields of green. Just next to Alto de la Cruz and before you take the steps to go down, there’s a small path that leads to the second viewpoint, Mirador de Salento. From here you can observe the Cocora Valley and the Quindío river.

Salento, Quindío
Salento, Quindío
Salento, Quindío

Hiking in Cocora Valley

One of the most beautiful landscapes in the country can be found in the Cocora Valley, renowned for the vast fields of Colombia’s national tree, the Quindío wax palm tree, which at the same time represents the world’s highest palm. This tree can grow as high as 70 metres and has a long lifespan of up to 200 years. The valley is a protected natural park and is located in the central cordillera of the Colombian Andes.

Valle de Cocora, Quindío
Valle de Cocora, Quindío
Valle de Cocora, Quindío

From the main plaza of Salento, you can transport in one of the typical Jeep Willys and get to the Cocora Valley. The journey takes less than half an hour. Once you arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to hike through the palm forest, get to viewpoints to enjoy the view of the entire valley, take great photos of the natural environment around you and visit the Acaime natural reserve of hummingbirds (Casa de los Colibrís). The whole circuit is about 12 kilometres long and you can spend the day at your own pace to explore and enjoy the beautiful landscape. You’ll need comfortable clothes and shoes for hiking, a raincoat, camera, water and snacks. Horseback riding is another way to discover the valley, if you prefer not to hike.

Salento, Quindío
Valle de Cocora, Quindío
Valle de Cocora, Quindío
Filandia

Filandia is another beautiful coffee town, just 30 kilometres away from Pereira. Its name comes from the combination of the Latin fila and the word Andean, and it means the Andean daughter. Although it shows many similarities with the neighbour town of Salento, Filandia attracts not many tourists. If you enjoy less crowded places, this is the one for you.

Salento, Quindío
Filandia, Quindío

In the heart of Filandia you will come across the Calle del Tiempo Detenido, one of the streets with great architecture where you can appreciate the cultural value of the town. In the main plaza you’ll find the old church of Maria Inmaculada dated back to 1905. What makes this building so special is the technique of bahareque that was used in its construction. This technique has been applied since the old times and is based on a mixture of raw materials, such as wood, bamboo, mud and straw, which people use to build their houses.

Another place worth to visit is the Illuminated Hill Viewpoint (Mirador Colina Iluminada Del Quindío) that offers great panoramic views. From this 27-meter-tall hill you can observe the town of Filandia and the beautiful landscapes of the surrounding mountains. If the sky is clear, you can even see other towns of the departments of Quindío, Risaralda and Valle del Cauca.

Birds of Colombia
Birdwatching in Quindío, Coffee Region

The best of Santa Marta and around

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta
Santa Marta

During your stay in Santa Marta you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of the city’s most iconic attractions. The Tairona Gold Museum is one of them. Housed in the impressive Casa de la Aduana, in front of the Bolívar Park, this historic building of the 16th century is of great cultural and architectural interest. One of the reasons that makes it so special is the fact that over the years this building has survived big fires, various conquests and pirate attacks. The museum exhibits a large collection of archaeological pieces from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains which highlight the cultural heritage of the indigenous communities of the region. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and the entrance is free. 

Tairona Gold Museum, Santa Marta
Casa de la Aduana, Santa Marta

Another attraction that can be of your interest is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino where Colombia’s liberator, Simón Bolívar, spent his last days in 1830. In the area around the old residence you can visit the botanical garden, the sugar cane mill and the museum of contemporary art. The Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is located approximately 5 kilometres away from the city centre. The space is open daily from 09:00 to 17:30.

Of course, Santa Marta’s historic centre doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s characterised by picturesque little streets and colonial style buildings. Among the main attractions we recommend you to visit is the Santa Marta’s Cathedral, the Bolívar Park and the Santander Plaza, places that invite you to explore every corner of them. In the afternoon hours it’s worth taking a stroll along the Malecón de Bastidas by the sea and enjoying the beautiful sunset. You can choose to end your night with a traditional dish or a tropical cocktail in one of the various restaurants and bars around the famous Parque de los Novios. 

San Francisco Church, Santa Marta
Old town, Santa Marta
Old city of Santa Marta

Due to its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, Santa Marta’s gastronomy is characterised mainly by fish and seafood. Among other local dishes, here you’ll try cayeye (plantain puré with local cheese), chipi chipi (local shellfish), cazuela de mariscos (seafood soup cooked in coconut milk) and carimañolas (cassava pastries stuffed with cheese and meat or chicken). Make sure you taste some of these foods, they’re delicious!

Traditional dish from Santa Marta
Gastronomic offer in Santa Marta
Tayrona National Natural Park

The Tayrona Park is located about 34 kilometres away from Santa Marta and makes part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as its lowest zone. This protected park of 12,000 terrestrial hectares and 3,000 marine hectares is one the most biodiverse and beautiful not only in Colombia but also in all South America. Its abundancy in flora and fauna attracts hundreds of nature and ecotourism friends every day. The Tayrona Park is perfect for bird watching with more than 350 species that inhabit this place, among others, the white eagle, macaws and curassows. Also, it features pristine beaches, crystalline waters and coral reefs. 

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta
Tayrona National Natural Park, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

In the park you’ll have the opportunity to engage with different activities. For example, you can walk for hours in the nature, swim in tropical beaches, get to know the indigenous culture and enjoy the beautiful scenery, where the dense jungle meets the clear waters of the Caribbean. 

To get to the Tayrona Park you can take the local bus from the central station of Santa Marta, with shuttle service every half an hour, from 06:30 to 18:00 every day. For more convenience, you can get a taxi or a private car, however, the cost would be much higher. Keep in mind that the park is open from 08:00 to 17:00. 

There are two main entrances to the park, each one leading to different beaches. The choice of the entrance point normally depends on the time you have available and your mood for exploration and hiking. You can visit the biggest part of the park within a day, however, the time you’ll spend in each beach will be limited if you want to see as many beaches as possible. For a day trip to the park is recommended to enter from the entrance El Zaino, so you can visit some of the most famous beaches, including the Playa Arrecife, Piscina, Cabo San Juan and Nudista. From the entrance Calabazo you can reach the archaeological village of Pueblito and then continue until the Playa Brava beach. The entrance ticket has different prices according to the season. 

Cabo San Juan, Tayrona Park

If you want to spend more than one day in the park and take your time to enjoy the nature and the beautiful landscape, you can stay in one of the most organised beaches, such as the Playa Arrecife or Cabo San Juan. Don’t expect to find luxury suites, but there are camping tents or hammocks on the beach available for rent.

The park requires you to stock up on basic equipment, as the distances are pretty long, the weather can be unpredictable and there are limited places where you can buy things. We recommend you to bring comfortable clothes, boots for hiking, a light raincoat, mosquito repellent, sun block, swimming suit and cash. The best season to visit the park is from November to April, as during these months it rains rarely. 

It’s important to keep in mind that not all of the beaches are ideal for swimming due to the strong currents. Pay attention to those beaches where swimming is not allowed. Also, sometimes the park closes the doors to the public for short periods every year for recovery. Before your visit check with us the closing dates. Lastly, even if it’s not mandatory, it’s recommended to get vaccinated against yellow fever at least 10 days prior to your visit. 

Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

Santa Marta is the starting point for a fascinating trek to the archaeological wonder of the Lost City of Teyuna, where the pre-Columbian tribe of the Tairona used to live. The duration of the tour can take from 4 to 6 days and trekking is the only way to reach the site by land, as there is no access by any means of ground transportation. You’ll also need to be accompanied by a local guide for the duration of the trek. Overnight accommodation and food services are offered in small camps with hammocks or single beds with a mosquito net. 

Ciudad Perdida is hidden deep in the jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The trek is quite challenging and requires good physical condition. Be prepared to pass through rivers, jungle, steep ascents and 1,200 steps that lead to the lost city. On the way you’ll also meet the descendants of the Tairona indigenous group, known as the Koguis and Arhuacos.

Ciudad Perdida, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

As soon as you arrive to Ciudad Perdida, you’ll face its ruins dating back to 800 AD, about 650 years older than Peru’s Machu Picchu. The ruins consist of about 170 stone terraces carved on a mountain, with numerous little plazas and connecting streets. It’s possible that Ciudad Perdida was the political and economic centre for the Tairona people and that it played an important role in trade thanks to its location on the banks of the Buritaca river. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 people lived once in the region, who were forced to abandon it during the Spanish conquest. 

It’s said that in the ‘70s a couple of guaqueros (mineral hunters) were found accidentally in front of the ruins of Ciudad Perdida, covered in moss, soil and roots, while they were exploring ancient settlements in the region. Few years later and after some rumours about illegal treasure trade, a team of archaeologists arrived at the area and started the excavations for the restoration of the lost city. 

Minca

Just 14 kilometres away from Santa Marta and on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada you’ll find the peaceful small village of Minca. Minca is famous for the beautiful mountain landscape, the impressive waterfalls, the rich biodiversity, the organic coffee and cocoa plantations and the stunning sunsets. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve since 1980, it’s definitely the perfect place for those seeking to connect with nature. 

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

There are plenty of outdoor activities that you can practise here. For example, you can follow the mountain trails and set out on an exciting hike, go on a coffee or chocolate tour to a family farm, go bird watching, or visit the natural spa created by the waterfalls of Marinka and Pozo Azul. 

You can get to Minca by taxi or the local bus, which you can take from Santa Marta’s Public Market. The journey to Minca normally takes about half an hour, however, on weekends or public holidays it might take longer. 

Minca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Minca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Insider’s guide to the best of Bogotá

Street art, Bogotá
Discover the beauty of Bogotá’s historic centre

The neighbourhood of La Candelaria is definitely one of the most beautiful parts of Bogotá’s historic centre and a major tourist attraction. Here you’ll find old streets with beautiful colonial buildings and also the legendary Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo filled with street performers and the traditional chicherías. These are local producers of a fermented corn drink which is consumed by hippies and local artists.

La Candelaria, Bogotá
La Candelaria, Bogotá

One of the most popular activities for tourists and locals is the graffiti tour. Bogotá as well as Medellín are artistic epicentres and one of their principal manifestations is the street art. Through the graffiti tour you can experience the capital’s great urban artwork and learn about Bogotá’s past and present, its social movements and the recent history that has moulded the city.  

Street Art, Bogota
Street art, Bogotá

The Plaza de Bolívar is also located in the area, where you can admire Bogotá’s Primary Cathedral and other neoclassical buildings surrounding it, including the National Capitol, the Palace of Justice and the Liévano Palace, seat of the mayor. If you’re interested in the religious art, in about three blocks on the southern side of the plaza you can visit the Santa Clara Museum. The museum is located in an old church, just next to the presidential building Casa de Nariño. On the other side, north-east of the Plaza de Bolívar, you can visit the Independence Museum – Casa del Florero. A historic place where the battles that lead to Colombia’s independence originated from. Just a few steps from this museum you’ll find the old restaurant Puerta Falsa with more than 200 years of history. This restaurant is famous not only for the Colombian tamales (corn dough with pork or chicken wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed), but also for the traditional Bogotanian dish ajiaco (chicken soup with different kinds of potatoes, corn and guasca herbs garnished with sour cream, capers, rice and avocado). The area around the Plaza de Bolívar is full of history and activities for every taste. 

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá
Plaza de Bolívar, Bogotá

The bohemian neighbourhood of La Macarena is another place in the historic centre worth visiting. In this area you can find plenty of restaurants with different types of cuisine, including Asian, Italian and Spanish. In case you haven’t tried the famous Peruvian cuisine, there are a couple of good options as well. You’ll also find restaurants serving Colombian dishes, and a good place to try the typical beverage chocolate con queso: small pieces of sweet cheese submerged in hot chocolate (it’s not as appalling as it sounds!). This is a Bogotanian kind of beverage that you can’t miss.

Learn about the history and art through excellent museums

One of the most visited museums in Bogotá is the Museum of Gold featuring large collections of unique archaeological objects and thousands of gold pieces. In this museum you can learn about the indigenous societies, like the Muisca people that lived in today’s territory of Bogotá and its surroundings. The Museum of Gold is located on the east side of Santander Park in the city’s downtown and is open daily except Mondays.

Museum of Gold, Bogota
Museum of Gold, Bogotá

Another outstanding attraction is the Botero Museum, housed in a beautiful colonial style house in La Candelaria. It was founded in 2000 after a donation by the famous Colombian painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. The artist handed over a private collection of 208 pieces of art, from which 123 are of his own making and the other 85 are of other international artists, including Picasso, Dalí and Monet. The museum is open daily except Tuesdays and the entrance is free.

Botero Museum, Bogota
Botero Museum, Bogotá

In the city centre and across the Park of Independence you’ll find the Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá (MAMBO) housed in a four-storey building of postmodern architecture. The museum exhibits pieces of contemporary art mainly of artists from Latin America. You’ll find it open from Tuesday to Sunday. 

Just next to the museum there is an open-air local market taking place every Sunday and public holiday. At the Mercado de las Pulgas you will find unusual handicraft items, books, old furniture, clothes and antiques. For more than 30 years this market has been considered as a cultural meeting place.

Enjoy the view of the city from the top of Monserrate Hill
View from Monserrate Hill, Bogota
View over Bogotá from Monserrate Hill

During your stay in Bogotá, don’t miss the opportunity to go up the Monserrate Hill to enjoy the panoramic view of the city from an altitude of 3,152 metres. The best time to visit this site is at the late afternoon hours so you can also spot the beautiful sunset and enjoy the view of the entire city with its lighted buildings. 

Monserrate Hill, Bogota
Monserrate Hill, Bogotá

The easiest and shortest way to reach the top of the hill is by cable car or the funicular railway. If you feel adventurous enough and you’re in a good physical condition, you can also hike the trail that leads to the top. The path is open from 05:00 to 16:00 (last entry to go up is at 13:00) and it takes roughly an hour. As soon as you get to the top you’ll find various restaurants and stores selling handicrafts and souvenirs. You can also visit the church Basílica del Señor de Monserrate and the restaurants of Casa Santa Clara and San Isidro, both housed in beautiful buildings. Lastly, pay attention to the nature around you, as it’s very likely you can observe adorable hummingbirds flying free in short distance.

Monserrate Hill, Bogota
Monserrate Hill, Bogotá
Discover an incredible variety of exotic fruits

If you want to have an authentic experience and get to know a great local market, the Paloquemao Market is the best choice. Local farmers come together in this place from 04:00 to 16:00 to sell their products. Here you’ll find yourself surrounded by endless amounts of exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers among other products. It’s about an explosion of colours and smells, with plenty of vendors selling all kinds of fresh produce, street food and local handicrafts.

Don’t forget to try delicious empanadas (fried pastries filled with beef or chicken and potato), a portion of lechona (an entire pork stuffed with rice and vegetables and roasted for hours) or the classic meal corrientazo: soup for starter, a piece of meat with plantain, potato, rice and legumes for main, served with a glass of fresh fruit juice (a dish particularly popular among workers which is worth to try).

Paloquemao Market, Bogota
Paloquemao Market, Bogota
Paloquemao Market, Bogotá
Have fun like locals

In the northern part of Bogotá you’ll find the district of Chapinero, famous for hosting some of the best restaurants in the country, shopping malls with international brands, trendy hotels, and also renowned for the good nightlife. Among others, there’s Tejo Turmequé, a trendy playground that brings together the traditional habit of having a beer and playing tejo – a traditional Colombian game that’s about exploding small triangles of gunpowder with a metal disk on a surface of clay. If you’re into an experimental and contemporary cuisine, you might like to try one of the city’s innovative restaurants, such as Villanos en Bermudas, Salvo Patria or El Chato. For brunch lovers, Club Colombia by Harry Sasson (one of the most prestigious chefs in the country) is a good option where you’ll find a wide range of traditional dishes. 

Colombian food
Colombian empanadas

Further to the north of the city there’s the upscale neighbourhood of Usaquén. Here you can try good quality Colombian coffee in one of its lovely coffee shops. We recommend Colo Coffee, Catación Pública or Café San Alberto. The latter is a good option as well if you want to have a coffee tasting experience and learn about the collection and production process. Lastly, Usaquén is famous for its fancy flea market where people sell handicrafts and local products every Sunday.

Usaquen, Bogota
Usaquén, Bogotá