Thinking about visiting Colombia? Here are the top 12 famous places in Colombia you don’t want to miss from your itinerary. Make sure to scroll down to the end for my top tips for visiting Colombia.
Lush green mountain tops, steamy Amazon jungles, pristine Caribbean beaches, turquoise waters, vibrant cities, moon-like desert landscape, salsa, need I go on? These are just some of the experiences that await you on a trip to Colombia.
Colombia is one of the most varied countries I’ve ever been to both geographically and culturally. There should be nothing stopping you from putting Colombia right there at the top of your bucket list. Here are some of the most famous places in Colombia to relax on pristine beaches, explore colonial villages and dance the night away.
No doubt that Colombia’s recent, violent past gave it a bad reputation for travellers, however, things have now changed and Colombia is a safe place to travel to, even for solo females, but as everywhere you need to take certain precautions and have your wits about you.
There are definitely more than just these famous places in Colombia and it was a true mission to narrow this list down to 13 but these are, in my opinion, the unmissable sights of Colombia- make sure they are on your Colombia bucket list!
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FAMOUS PLACES IN COLOMBIA NOT TO MISS:
ISLA GRANDE/ROSARIO ISLANDS
A slice of paradise on the Caribbean coast, Isla Grande is where you take a break from it all and relax on a beach in a hammock sipping coconut water. Isla Grande is the largest of the Rosario islands located just off the coast of Northern Colombia, about a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena de Indias.
There is almost nothing to do here but explore the tiny island on foot (cars don’t exist here) and relax on the beach. Most beaches have their own accommodation located around them with basic restaurants serving local fare.
Bring your favourite book (wifi here isn’t reliable by any means), swimwear and sunscreen- That’s all you’ll need to live the island life for as long as you please.
Salento is a peaceful, colonial town, in fact, it’s one of Colombia’s official ‘heritage towns’ located deep in the heart of the coffee region of Colombia, Quindio.
The town itself is extraordinarily colourful and heaving with local artisans, narrow, hilly streets and it’s surrounded by coffee farms and lush jungle. It’s a beautiful place to wander around and get lost in.
It’s also full of things to do, such as learning about coffee and the coffee-making process through visiting a finca, horseback riding and of course the famous Cocora valley. Salento also has some really great restaurants, many of which incorporate local coffee into their dishes.
VALLE DE COCORA
The Cocora Valley is one of the only places in the world where you can see forests of the remarkable Quindio wax palms that can grow up to 60 metres in height. Trekking through this lush, green valley is a sight you won’t forget for a while.
It’s especially magical in the early morning when the mist rolls through the hilltops and into the valley. This tremendously stunning valley can be visited on a day or half-day trip from Salento.
Towards the South-East of Salento lies another secret valley full of wax palms but without the crowds and even denser palm forests. I remember when I visited I was taken there by a local who wanted to show us an alternative to the Cocora Valley. It was mind-blowing, and the name was Valle Carbonera. Ask the locals to point you in the direction of it but you will need your own transport to get there.
VILLA DE LEYVA
Colombia isn’t all beaches, jungle and cities. Some of the best places to visit in Colombia are the colonial towns not too far from the largest cities.
On the surface, Villa de Leyva may sound like another colonial town but it’s much more than that. This beautifully quaint village has been substantially preserved; cobbled streets, painted-brick buildings, squat-looking churches and unlike some of the other colonial towns in Colombia isn’t painted colourfully.
Among the beige and brown hues, lose yourself in the labyrinth of alleys, shop for trinkets, people watch in the Plaza de Armas or take a tour of the surrounding area. Villa de Leyva will transport you back to colonial times from the moment you arrive. The town really is one of the most charming in Colombia but as it is one of the most famous places in Colombia make sure not to visit at the weekend.
If for whatever reason, you can only visit one colonial town in Colombia make sure it’s Barichara.
With a beautifully set central square boasting a statuesque church, narrow, cobbled streets and hilly viewpoints, Barichara is the type of place you could see in half a day, but you wouldn’t want to. This town is so alluring you just want to stay.
Explore the surrounding countryside taking the old cobbled pathway known as the Colombian ‘Camino Real’ trail, which connects Heritage Villages in Colombia in the area. It is often described as the most beautiful village in Colombia and while that’s a pretty bold statement, I wouldn’t disagree. It’s not yet one of the most famous places in Colombia to visit and just as well- you’ll want to get there quick.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
One of the most famous places in Colombia, and for good reason, is Parque Nacional Tayrona, a little piece of heaven on the north Caribbean coast.
With golden and white sand beaches framed by drooping palms and deep blue and turquoise water, it’s a beach destination you probably won’t want to leave in a rush.
Accommodation in the park is basic and non-descript and adds to the whole jungle/castaway vibe.
Buses within the park allow you to explore and spend each day at a different beach. Be aware however that this is one of Colombia’s most visited places and Tayrona can get extremely busy, especially in summer and Colombian national holidays. If you want the beach to yourself make sure to visit outside those times.