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 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

Cartagena: the city of magical realism

Colonial Cartagena

Cartagena is an exceptional destination where you can transport in time by wandering its well-preserved historic centre. You’ll find yourself in the city’s colonial heart, walking around a place that still preserves in its streets plenty of stories that have marked Colombia’s past. 

Walled City, Cartagena
Walled city, Cartagena
Historic Centre, Cartagena
Cartagena’s historic centre
Historic Centre & Getsemaní

In the historic centre you can visit the Museum of Gold. Here you’ll find a great collection of precious pieces, shells, gold and ceramic objects from the Zenú indigenous community. The culture of Zenú was one of the most prominent that was developed in this part of the country in the pre-Columbian times, from 200 BC until 1600 AD. 

Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena

Additionally, it’s worth visiting the impressive Palace of Inquisition, a place of great importance during the Spanish colonisation. This is one of the city’s finest buildings, as it preserves its colonial architecture with its baroque style entrance and its long wooden balconies in the façade. Today it houses the Historical Museum of Cartagena de Indias.

As you enter the old town of Cartagena from the east, you’ll come across the famous monument of India Catalina, a tribute to an indigenous woman who served as interpreter for the Spanish in the time of conquest. Continue your tour by visiting some of the oldest religious temples of the city, including Cartagena’s Cathedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría, the San Pedro Claver Church & Convent and the Church of Santo Domingo. Take some time to rest in some of the best plazas in the city. The Plaza of Santo Domingo in the historic centre or Getsemaní’s Plaza de Santísima Trinidad are always filled with energy, music and life. The bohemian neighbourhood of Getsemaní is characterised by its vibrant streets, colourful buildings, creative street art and an exciting nightlife scene. 

Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
India Catalina, Cartagena
Monument of India Catalina, Cartagena
Old City, Cartagena
Part of the walled city, Cartagena
Food & Drink

The food scene in Cartagena reflects indigenous, African and European influences. Make a stop in one of the traditional restaurants in the historic centre or in Getsemaní to try the delicious Caribbean cuisine. Fish and seafood are prevalent in this region due to its proximity to the sea. Taste some of the most typical dishes, such as the sancocho de pescado (fish soup), coctel de camarón (prawn cocktail), arroz con chipi chipi (a type of local shellfish) and mote de queso (yam soup with cheese and coconut). Also, in various spots throughout the city you’ll find several exotic fruit sellers – among those the palenqueras – and street food like empanadas, arepas de huevo (corn dough with an egg inside), papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), carimañolas (cassava pastries stuffed with meat and cheese) and cocadas (coconut based sweets).

Caribbean Food
Gastronomic offer in Cartagena
Colombian Fruits
Tropical fruits, Cartagena
Tropical fruits of Colombia
Street Art, Cartagena
Street art, Cartagena

By the end of the day, get immersed in the magical sunset from the walls surrounding the old town and view the sun vanishing into the Caribbean waters. Try to get here as early as possible to find a good spot. You can also enjoy the sunset from one of the wall corners where the famous Café del Mar is located – make sure you ask for a tropical cocktail! Sooner or later you’ll realise that the music and dance are always present in the life of the costeños – as the people from the coast are called. One of the most iconic bars in Cartagena is the Café Havana where you can enjoy your drink dancing in the rhythms of salsa, cumbia or champeta.

Old City, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas

One of the most iconic attractions in Cartagena is the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, built in 1657 on the hill of San Lázaro. Once you’re in, explore the ramparts and underground passages, learn about its long history and enjoy the stunning view over Cartagena from the viewpoints. The castle is just a 10-minute drive from the historic centre and is open daily from 08:00 to 19:00 (except the last Sunday of each month that is open until 17:00). We recommend you take a taxi to the castle and avoid going on foot, as the surrounding area is not the safest. Also, try to get here early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the strong sun and midday heat. 

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Bocagrande

To experience the modern side of Cartagena you can visit the district of Bocagrande, located about three kilometres away from the city centre. In Bocagrande you’ll find contemporary tall buildings, luxury hotel brands, casinos, shopping malls, high-end restaurants as well as a long coastline with sandy beaches. There’s a big architectural difference between Cartagena’s historic centre and Bocagrande that doesn’t go unnoticed – perfect for an alternative plan to the classic stroll in the walled city.

Bocagrande, Cartagena
Bocagrande, Cartagena
Beyond Cartagena

If you feel like escaping from the city and the heat and want to relax on a Caribbean beach, go on a day trip to one of the beautiful islands just off the coast of Cartagena. You can take a boat from the pier (Muelle de la Bodeguita) and in less than two hours you’ll find yourself in front of an exotic beach enjoying a coconut cocktail. The most popular are the Islas del Rosario and the Isla Barú.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

The archipelago of Rosario consists of 27 small islands and is located southwest from Cartagena. The biggest of the islands and one of the most popular is Isla Grande, where you can not only enjoy the fantastic beaches but also explore the amazing natural environment. If you’re looking for something more exclusive and tranquil, the Isla del Pirata is one of the smallest of the archipelago and is ideal for enjoying the nature without distractions.  

The Isla Barú, which you can reach by land, is well-organised with restaurants, bars and accommodation places to spend the night. Its most famous beach is Playa Blanca with white sand, palm trees and blue waters. To extend your holiday and spend a night in the island is a great idea, as you’ll be able to appreciate the beach without the noise of the crowds, who normally go back to Cartagena by 5pm. When the night comes you’ll have the chance to swim or go in a kayak among bioluminescent plankton that glow in the dark.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

As of the menu in the islands, the typical dish is fried fish that comes with coconut rice and patacones (fried pieces of plantain). Give it a try, it’s delicious!

Caribbean food
Fried fish with coconut rice and patacones

In these islands are found the best beaches of the area around Cartagena. Like in many Caribbean islands, be prepared to come across not only idyllic beaches with crystalline waters, coral reefs and palm trees but also forests of mangroves and lush vegetation.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

After all, there are not enough words to describe the beauty of Cartagena. You just need to witness it with your own eyes!

Historic Centre, Cartagena
Old Town, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
City Hall, Cartagena
Cartagena’s City Hall
Old City, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena

Medellín: a city transformed

Medellín

You’ll never have enough of Medellín. This vibrant and fascinating city offers endless options of places to visit and things to do.

Parque de los Deseos, Medellín
Parque de los Deseos, Medellín
History, Art & Culture

Start your tour from the Plaza Botero, an open-air public gallery where you can admire the magnificent rotund statues of the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Botero donated 23 of his bronze statues to Medellín, his hometown, as a tribute to the city. In this way, people can connect with art in a space that is attractive and pleasant to walk. In front of the Plaza Botero you’ll have the opportunity to visit Medellín’s most popular museum, the Museum of Antioquia, and also, the landmark building of Rafael Uribe Cultural Centre. In the south of the city, where previously was a steelmaker factory, you’ll find the edgy Museum of Modern Art, an important art space of the city. This museum was founded by artists and local entrepreneurs and has the largest selection of Débora Arango’s paintings, one of the most outstanding Colombian artists. Another thought-provoking museum is the Casa de la Memoria where you can meet and contemplate the city’s violent past through the eyes of the victims. 

Plaza Botero, Medellín
Plaza Botero, Medellín

Another great plan is to visit Medellín’s botanical garden, a 13-hectares space featuring a lake, a tropical forest, a garden of palms and a desert. You cannot leave Medellín without visiting the city’s most trendy neighbourhood, El Poblado, home to top-notch restaurants, boutique hotels, bars and nightclubs. In case you’d like to have a more relaxed plan, you can go up to Nutibara hill to see the sunset and enjoy an incredible panoramic view over Medellín. On the top of the hill there’s also the Pueblito Paisa. In this 33-hectares space you’ll find a replica of a typical Antioquia style town of the 20th century. 

Pueblito Paisa, Medellin
Pueblito Paisa, Medellin
Pueblito Paisa, Medellín
Medellín
Medellín by night
Gastronomy

Medellín’s most representative dish and maybe the most famous in Colombia is the bandeja paisa. It’s about a massive platter that traditionally includes minced beef, fried pork crackling, beans, rice, fried egg, chorizo, avocado, ripe plantain and arepa. It might sound like a bomb of carbs and fats but is definitely worth a try as it represents the region’s flavours. Other typical dishes of the department of Antioquia are the mondongo soup (thick soup made from pork, intestines and chorizo), the arepa paisa (made from corn dough and usually topped with butter, salt and cheese), the patacón (fried green plantain served with a variety of sauces) and the sancocho antioqueño (beef soup with potato, tapioca, carrot, corn and green plantain). Now, if you’d like to try the Antioquenian gastronomy, the Hacienda restaurant offers some good options of typical dishes from this part of the country and has various outlets across the city.

Colombian Food
Gastronomic offer in Medellín
Urban Transformation

The innovative character of Medellín can be noticed all over the city. From the development of modern transport systems, like the Metro and Metrocable (cable car system) that directly connects poor neighbourhoods with central parts of Medellín, to the transformation of the Comuna 13 district from a no-go place to a must-visit tourist site.

Medellín
Metrocable, Medellín’s cable car system

During your stay in Medellín you can go on a guided walking tour to Comuna 13 and learn about its history and dark past through fascinating street art, music and dance performances by the local people. Once considered as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellín, today Comuna 13 attracts increasing numbers of visitors every day. As soon as you arrive, you’ll come across a great novelty of the district – the open-air escalators. This public transit system allows people to easily ascend extremely steep inclines and hundreds of exhausting steps. The escalators are definitely one of the most effective and inclusive social projects ever put into effect in the city. They serve as a symbol of solidarity, hope and demonstrate a great example of Medellín’s rebirth.

Comuna 13, Medellin
Comuna 13, Medellín
Street Art, Medellin
Street Art, Medellín
Street art, Medellín

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