It’s easy to fall in love with Colombia, with its beautiful beaches, quaint colonial towns, ancient historical sites, bustling cities and colourful countryside, it literally has it all.
Colombia is an amazing country and its popularity as a tourist destination has increased over the last few years. So, don’t let its past put you off visiting and let my 19 reasons to visit Colombia persuade you to go see it for yourself.
Losing yourself in Historic Cartagena – leave your map at home and just ramble around the colourful cobbles streets and plazas of this stunning UNESCO world heritage site. Don’t forget to bring water; this Caribbean gem can get very hot! If you are feeling hungry, stop at Portón de San Sebastián and try the steak or if seafood is your thing head over to La Cervicheria (but expect to wait if you don’t have a reservation).
Eating street food – go on a street food tour with Cartagena connections. Street food in Colombia is the best I’ve ever tasted you just have to try arepas, empanadas and bunuelos.
Mixing with the locals in Getsemani – just across the bridge form the historic centre of Cartagena you will find Getsemani, Cartagena’s grittier brother. Come at the weekends after dark and drink Aguardiente while Zumba dancing at Plaza de la Trinidad or come during the day and drink the nicest coffee you will have in Colombia at Café del Mural. There are also plenty of cheaper accommodation options here from AirBNB’s to boutique hotels.
Lounging on hammocks at Playa Manglares – I tell everyone visiting Colombia to come here, it’s a small 3 room hotel on Isla Baru and to me it was the perfect place to unwind and to explore Isla Baru from.
Mud bathing in Cartagena – Take a trip to Volvan de Lodo El Totumo, a mud volcano situated about 45 minutes from Cartagena. The naturally formed mud bath is full of warm liquid mud, heated up from the volcanic activity beneath. There are plenty of photo opportunities as the locals hold on to your camera and take lots of pictures for a tip. Don’t worry; it’s impossible to sink in the bath as the mud is so dense! Make sure to get here early to avoid crowds as they really do cram as many people as they can into the bath!
Hiking in Parque Tayrona – the beaches at Parque Tayrona on the Caribbean coast are some of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia. There are two options to get here, get the boat from Taganga or head to the entrance at El Zaino and head off on your hike through the national park stopping at various beaches along the way finishing up at the iconic Cabo San Juan. Camping or hammocks seem to be the main option for those wishing to stay overnight just remember to pack bug spray and water. We didn’t stay in the Parque, instead opting for Yuluka Eco Hostel 5 minutes from the main entrance on El Zaino, the pool here was a nice place to cool down after the days hiking.
Whitewater rafting in San Gil – rafting down the Rio Fonce will cost about $30,000 cop for 1.5 hours.
Eating burritos for breakfast at Gringo Mikes in San Gil – or French toast if burritos for breakfast isn’t your thing. Even if you don’t do anything else in San Gil go to Gringo Mikes the food is delicious and you certainly won’t leave hungry.
Walking the ‘Road to Guane’ in Barichara – 40 mins from San Gil you will find the stunning town of Barichara, one of the most picturesque towns I have set foot it, from the moment you arrive you will feel like you have stepped back in time. At the north end of the town at Calle 4 you will find the start of the ‘El Camino Real’ or the Road to Guane, this 9km hike through the Colombian countryside will bring you to the sleepy town of Guane.
Catching cable cars in Medellin – Despite its dodgy past Medellin is a firm favourite for visitors to Colombia due to its bustiling nightlife centred about El Poblado. Medellin’s metro system makes it easy to get around and if you want amazing views over the city you can catch the Metrocable up to Parc Arví (Linea L). Downtown Medellin is a place to be seen to be understood but don’t go after dark and make sure your valuables are kept someplace safe.
Paragliding in Medellin – Medellin is situated in the Aburrá valley and paragliding above the cities gives spectacular views of the Andes Mountains surrounding Medellin and the city beneath, built in the depths of the valley.
Taking the Pablo Escobar tour – The chance to learn about the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar is one not to be missed. There are many Pablo Escobar tours from Medellin which teach you about his history and visit his grave, and some even visit his old house with the chance to meet and get a photo with his brother Roberto, once one of the most wanted criminals in the world.
Climbing to the top of El Penol – About 2 hours from Medellin’s Terminal de Norde (ask to be let off at La Piedra) you will find the El Penol a 200m rock near the edge of a lake, climb the 649 steps to the for spectacular views over the surrounding area.
Wandering around Guatape – after you’ve climbed El Penol grab a tuktuk to bring you to the most colourful town I’ve ever seen, Guatape. Before hopping on the zip line that takes you across the lake for $12,000cop (Cable Vuelo Guatape), wander the streets of Guatape while taking time to stop for empanadas and photographs.
Exploring the cobblestone streets of Villa de Leyva – Two to three hours north of Bogota (catch the Flota Valle de Tenza bus from Bogota’s La Terminal) you will find the stunning colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Take your time exploring this town frozen in time, with its whitewashed buildings and cobblestone roads. For a bird’s eye view over the town take the path that starts at the back of Renacer guesthouse, the round-trip hike takes about 2hours.
Biking around Bogota – Mike’s bike tour is one of the top things to do in Bogota and it’s easy to see why, in 6 hours you will get to see so much of what Bogota has to offer and learn about its history and present.
Playing Tejo – basically Tejo involves throwing rocks at gunpowder while drinking beer and it’s a lot of fun. The Colombian game is based on a game developed by indigenous warriors more than 450 years ago and it’s played in most Colombian towns. (We stopped for a game while on the bike tour in Bogota.)
Admiring the street art in La Candelaria – spend some time in Bogota walking the streets in and around La Candelaria and take time to admire the street art which is some of the most impressive art that you will ever see.
Catching the sunset at Monserrate in Bogota – grab the cable car up to the top of Monserrate for some gorgeous views (the station is about a 20 minute walk from La Candelaria) and watch the sun go down over Bogota.
Right so, there are my reasons to visit, there are more, I just didn’t have the time to experience them like trekking to the Lost City, drinking coffee in Salento, marvelling at the size of the wax palms in the Valle de Cocora, diving in Providencia and salsa dancing in Cali, so I’m just going to have to use them as my reason to return some day. Also, if you are planning to venture further north towards Panama or Central America, a trip through the beautiful San Blas islands is something that should be experienced. The boat leaves from Cartagena and spends about four days travelling through the islands before touching down on Panamanian soil. We will be looking at Panama and the San Blas islands in a future post, although if you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to get in touch.
Now that you have decided to visit Colombia here are some tips to help you plan your trip.
Money – Colombia is not an expensive place; we travelled pretty comfortably for about €120 a day for two people – this included food, accommodation, travel and other expenses. They use the COP (Colombian Peso) €1 is about $3,380cop/£1 is about $4,255cop/$1 is about $2,995cop. ATMs are everywhere in Colombia and credit cards are widely accepted.
Getting around– We got quite a lot of buses in Colombia (including the ‘Berlinas’ overnight bus from San Gil to Santa Marta) and found them to be all fairly reliable. All buses are owned by private companies in Colombia and they all go from the local bus stations. Since some bus journeys were very long and expensive and since internal flights are relatively cheap in Colombia we decided to fly on two occasions with Avianca (booked at a travel agency in Santa Marta) and VivaColombia (booked online).
Food – I’ve already spoken about Colombian street food, which is just amazing. If street food isn’t your thing there are so many food options in Colombia, most of our main meals with drinks cost €25-€30 for 2 people.
Visa – A visa isn’t required if you are visiting for 90 days or less (if you are travelling from most of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, South Africa and Japan). If you are not from one of these countries contact your local Colombian embassy.
Internet – Wifi is widely available in Colombia in hotels and B&BS and some restaurants. In Cartagena it was available for free in most tourist areas.
I hope you enjoyed our post and if you have any questions regarding Colombia just drop us an email and we’ll get back to you.