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 best places to visit 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 but as everywhere you need to take certain precautions and have your wits about you.
There are definitely more than just these places to visit in Colombia and it was a true mission to narrow this list down to 12 but these are, in my opinion, the unmissable sights of Colombia.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBIA:
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 it 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.
Looking to travel to the Beach Beaches in Colombia? Check out the guide here.
Salento is a peaceful, colonial town 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 the local coffee into their dishes.
VALLE DE COCORA
This tremendously stunning valley can be visited as a day trip from Salento. 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. Towards the East of Salento lies another secret valley full of wax palms but without the crowds. 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 and 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 villages. 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 villages 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.
If for whatever reason, you could only visit one colonial town in Colombia make sure it’s Barichara. With a beautifully set Plaza de Armas 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.
Hotel recommendation: Hotel Hicasua y Centro de Convenciones. Beautiful rooms in a colonial style villa.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
One of Colombia’s best places to visit and for good reason, Parque Nacional Tayrona is a little piece of heaven on the north 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. Accomodation 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 best places to visit in Colombia. A centre of arts, culture, drama and a thriving food scene but that wasn’t always the case. With a turbulent past and some of the poorest communas 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 Communa 13 which was once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellin. Then head to El Poblado for a night on the town.
This is immense, stunning canyon located not far from Bucaramanga is the second-largest canyon in the world. Even 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.
Colonial splendour at its finest, Cartagena is a city of Caribbean passion, colour and heat. Spend some time in the old town exploring the fine colonial houses, 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.
Looking for the Best things to do and see in Cartagena, Colombia? Click here for more.
Isolated, baking and surreal are just some adjectives to describe the unique Tatacoa Desert. Explore the other-wordly landscape by day and as this is the best place in Colombia to see the stars, a look towards 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 definitely on my list of the best places to visit in Colombia. With some truly amazing accommodation options to choose from, life here is all about waking up to the sound of birdsong, trekking in the surrounding jungle and ending the day with watching the sunset from a giant hammock. Things don’t get much better than that.
Hotel recommendation: Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro Beautiful, lush, green property located in the hills with a backyard of birds, peacocks and those famous Minca hammocks.
Get the full Things to Do in Minca | The Complete Minca Travel Guide here.
Located east of Medellin, Guatape is a colourful, splendid little town famous for the bas-relief carvings on its houses. 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.
Itching to explore more of Colombia? Check out all my travel guides and tips here.
Any questions or comments on these best places to visit in Colombia? Leave them below.
Related posts you might like:
PIN IT FOR LATER