13 Famous Places in Colombia You Don’t Want To Miss
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.
Today the bustling, hillside metropolis of Medellin (pronounced mede-jeen) is, without doubt, one of the most famous places in Colombia and the best city to visit.
Now it’s a centre of arts, modern culture and a thriving food scene but that wasn’t always the case. With a turbulent past and some of the poorest comunas or neighbourhoods in Colombia, a visit to Medellin is an opportunity to learn about Colombia’s past and how far it’s come.
There is plenty to do here from taking the heaven-bound cable cars for a great view of the city, exploring some fascinating museums and checking out some flower markets. The highlight, however, is a tour of Comuna 13 which was once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellin, now a hotspot of street art and culture. Make sure to base yourself in El Poblado for the best hotels and quick access to the best of Medellin’s food scene and nightlife.
Chicamocha Canyon is an immense, stunning canyon located not far from Bucaramanga is the second-largest canyon in the world. Just driving through here will take your breath away and have you stopping to take photos at every bend.
Stay for a while and you’ll be rewarded by some challenging hikes and of course, world-class paragliding. Make sure not to miss a sunset here, they are mesmerising. Chicamocha Canyon and the nearby town of San Gil are the adventure sports capitals of Colombia and some of the most famous places in Colombia yet this place is still mainly visited by local travellers.
Colonial splendour at its finest, Cartagena is a city of Caribbean passion, colour and heat and probably one of the most famous places to visit in Colombia for visitors.
Spend some time in the old town exploring the fine colonial mansions, museums and bougainvillaea covered terraces and squares. Later hop into neighbouring Getsemani for some local culture and graffiti and finish your day with a cocktail on top of the old city wall watching the sun go down.
Once you tire of city life just sail over to the nearby Baru islands or Isla Grande for some Caribbean island bliss.
Isolated, baking and surreal are just some adjectives to describe the unique Tatacoa Desert. Explore the other-worldly landscape by day and as this is the best place in Colombia to see the stars, a look at the sky at night is a must.
You can visit the Mars-like red desert as well as the moon-like grey desert. There isn’t a landscape quite like it anywhere in the world.
Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Colombia’s north, Minca is a mountain hideout that is definitely on my list of the best and most famous places in Colombia.
With some truly amazing accommodation options to choose from, life here is all about waking up to the sound of birdsong, bathing in waterfalls, trekking in the surrounding jungle and ending the day by watching the sunset from a giant hammock. Things don’t get much better than that.
Located just two hours east of Medellin, Guatape is a colourful, splendid little town famous for the bas-relief carvings on its houses. Spend some time walking around town, shopping for crafts, taking photos and drinking great coffee from Antioquia.
Nearby is the Piedra de Peñol, a giant egg-like granite rock that can be climbed via a steep staircase for sweeping views of the surrounding reservoir and lakes. If the climb doesn’t take your breath away, the view certainly will.
Highlights here are renting a motorbike or scooter and driving around the lakes at your own pace, watersports and of course, a visit to one of Pablo Escobar’s now dilapidated properties situated on its own private island.
Palomino, Colombia’s sleepy backpacker town is a must on your Colombia travel itinerary, especially if you plan on travelling around the north of the country. Famous for tubing down its mellow river and its palm-fringed beach there is more to Palomino than first meets the eye.
With some of the best restaurants on this stretch of the Caribbean coast, a vibrant nightlife scene, sleepy beaches and yoga classes available just about anywhere, Palomino is the perfect place to take it easy for a few days.
While it might feel quite far out and away from the rest of the country, the town is easily reached from Santa Marta and highly recommended especially if you’re planning to make your way up to visit Tayrona National Park too. Palomino is one of the most famous places in Colombia on the North Coast backpacker circuit.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING COLOMBIA
↠ Safety- Many people still won’t step foot in Colombia due to safety concerns, yet the country has changed drastically since its infamous narco past. It now is a safe place to visit even for solo females providing you stick to the major famous places to visit in Colombia. Exercise caution and common sense like you would anywhere else and you’ll have the best time.
↠ The climate varies massively around the country and you’ll need to pack for all seasons. On the north coast in places like Cartagena and Palomino temperatures are tropical and sit at about 30°C/85°F all year round. temperatures however are far cooler in Salento and Bogota for example with nightly lows hitting 12°C/53°F. Make sure to bring lots of layers.
↠ Renting a car is easy for travellers in Colombia but driving itself is another story. Only rent a car and drive long distances in Colombia if you’re an experienced driver. Many drivers in Colombia are reckless and nobody seems to follow any rules and laws. Roads are chaotic and full of bikes and motorbikes making it really difficult to drive through cities especially.
↠As Colombia is a huge country I highly recommend flying from one region to another. There are some great, budget airlines in Colombia that include Viva Colombia and Wingo.
To book flights use the form below to find the best deals.
↠ Most places in Colombia’s major cities accept card payments and now even Apple pay but when visiting smaller towns like Salento or Guatape make sure to carry cash with you. Not everywhere here will take card payments.
↠ Brush up on your Spanish! More and more people in Colombia speak English than ever before but not so much outside of big cities or tourism centers, especially those that cater more to Colombian tourism such as Guatape. It always helps to brush up on your Spanish to better communicate with locals and enrich your travel experience.
Itching to explore more of Colombia? Check out all the Colombia travel guides and tips here.
Do you have any questions or comments about these famous places in Colombia? Leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.
Planning a trip right now? These are just some of my favourite websites I use to book everything from hotels to rental cars!
Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals worldwide
Booking.com for great deals on hotels
Agoda also for great deals on hotels
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