What to visit and do in Colombia

I traveled for 3 weeks through Colombia in September 2019, and all I can say is that it was one of the most amazing trips of my life. There is much to say about what to visit and do in Colombia given the wide variety of landscapes that it offers its visitors. From cities of colonial architecture, to pristine blue beaches, jungle, heavily forested mountains and a desert that blew me away.

A genuine and hospitable people, a gastronomy that fits the “comfort food” concept perfectly and countless opportunities to go back home with the best photo memories, will make Colombia one of the best trips of your life.

Below you’ll find some useful tips on what to visit and do in Colombia that will help you plan your trip in the best possible way.

Travel Tips: What to visit and do in Colombia

Immerse yourself in the Colombian culture in Bogota

Bogota, the capital, is the main entry point for most travelers visiting Colombia, and a city to explore. Steeped in history, particularly visible in the historic center known as Candelária, it offers you a varied cuisine and is a great starting point for getting to know the Colombian culture.

It’s a city that might feel a little intimidating at first, especially when we show up with preconceived ideas about its safety, but you quickly get used to it and start to feel at home. At the top of Monserrate Park (accessible by cable car), you’re given an incredible view of the city that makes you realize its enormous size.

Plaza Bolivar em Bogotá - o que ver e fazer na Colômbia / Plaza Bolivar in Bogota - what to do in Colombia
Plaza Bolivar in Bogotá

Be amazed at the giant palm trees of the Valle de Cocora

If the idea of ​​a green-covered valley decorated with giant palm trees makes you daydream for a while, then you must include Valle de Cocora in your list of what to visit and do in Colombia.

The small and picturesque town of Salento, full of colorful houses and charming streets, is the ideal base for those looking to visit this valley, located just a 20-minute jeep ride away.

Vista sobre o Bosque de Palmas no Valle de Cocora, na Colômbia / View of the Forest of Palms at Valle de Cocora, Colombia
Valle de Cocora

Discover how intense Medellin can be

Once the stage for violent clashes stemming from drug trafficking and a civil war that plagued the country for 50 years, Medellín is today a city in the process of regeneration. Take the opportunity to go on a guided tour of Comuna 13, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods that has gone from being a “no-go” area to a tourist attraction.

Numerous graffiti decorating its walls, as well as frequent dance and hip hop demonstrations, have given an unexpected new life and an added dose of hope to its inhabitants. For a completely different experience, take a day trip to Guatapé, a picturesque town near Medellín, and climb to the top of Pedra del Peñol.

Vista noturna sobre Medellín - o que ver e fazer na Colômbia / Night view over Medellin - what to do in Colombia
Medellín

Get lost in the streets of Cartagena

Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular tourist destinations and whoever visits it, immediately understands why. Let yourself get lost in the picturesque streets of its walled old town with a camera in your hand.

Dance lovers also find Cartagena a little paradise: the Caribbeans never miss an opportunity to show off their dance moves to the warm and rhythmic sound of Salsa. If this is your thing, don’t miss Café Havana, located in the Getsemani area.

Centro histórico de Cartagena -  o que ver e fazer na Colômbia / Cartagena old town - what to do in Colombia
Cartagena’s Old Town

Explore Tayrona Natural National Park

If you define yourself as a nature lover, then Tayrona Natural National Park is definitely a must on your list of what to visit and do in Colombia.

Imagine yourself surrounded by a dense, living jungle, inhabited by various wildlife and indigenous populations, bathed in a sea of ​​warm, crystal clear waters. Sounds good? Then welcome to Tayrona Park.

Praia no Parque Tayrona / Beach at Tayrona Park
Beach at Tayrona Park

Let time pass in Palomino

A good comparison to Palomino would be the small village of Port Barton in the Philippines (for those who know it). Palomino is a small and quiet fishing village, crossed by unpaved roads leading to a beach of warm water and golden sands, where relaxation is almost palpable.

It’s a good option to spend a day, but I suggest you take the time to stay for 2-3 days to make the most of its slow pace.

Praia em Palomino - o que ver e fazer na Colômbia / Beach in Palomino - what to do in Colombia
Beach in Palomino

Take a breath of fresh air in Minca

This is another must go to destination for all nature lovers. Here you’ll find waterfalls, viewpoints that offer you some of the most incredible views ever, fresh air and countless opportunities for trekking in a natural environment of unquestionable beauty.

Don’t forget to stay at or just visit the hotel Casa Elemento for the popular photograph on its giant hammock.

Vista da Casa Elemento, em Minca / View from Casa Elemento, in Minca
View from Casa Elemento, in Minca

Make Santa Marta a base for several activities

Bathed by the Caribbean Sea, Santa Marta is practically a mandatory destination for those planning to trekk all the way to the Lost City, to visit Tayrona National Park or Minca.

Although not really one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia, it’s still worth a stroll through its historic center filled with colonial buildings. Its lively nightlife can also guarantee some moments of good fun.

Baía de Santa Marta na Colômbia / Santa Marta Bay in Colombia
Santa Marta bay. Photo by Marjolein van Son

Discover the Tatacoa Desert

It’s impossible not to be completely overwhelmed by the magical atmosphere of the Tatacoa Desert, the calm of its people and the resilience of its wildlife. Not to miss: a full tour of the red desert and the gray desert, as well as a stargazing session at one of the Observatories there.

The ideal base for exploring the desert is the small town of Villavieja, where you will find various accommodation options.

Vista sobre o Deserto vermelho de Tatacoa / View over the Red Tatacoa Desert
Red Tatacoa Desert

Practice the “dolce fare niente” on the islands of San Andrés and Providencia

The islands of San Andrés and Providencia are two of Colombia’s top beach destinations. If you’re looking for white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, then you will need to include these destinations in your list of what to visit and do in Colombia.

The island of San Andrés is much more touristy, so if you are looking for a slightly quieter destination, perhaps the island of Providencia is the most suitable.

Cayo Cangrejo, na Ilha de Providencia, na Colômbia / Cayo Cangrejo, at Providencia Island in Colombia
Cayo Cangrejo, in Providencia

Discover one of the most beautiful rivers in the world: Caño Cristales

Located in central Colombia, in the Sierra de la Macarena, Caño Cristales is a river of surreal beauty, known as one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. It is known for the vivid colors that colour its transparent waters between July and November, originated by a seaweed that blooms there at that time.

Open to tourism a few years ago, after several years in which it served as a stage for various armed conflicts, it is now sought after by many national and international tourists. Please note that it is not possible to visit Caño Cristales without an authorized guide, so it is preferable to opt for an agency tour.

O rio Caño Cristales, na Colômbia / The Caño Cristales river, in Colombia
Caño Cristales | Photo by Mario Carvajal, Wikimedia Commons

Dance till you drop in Cali

Cali is the third largest city in Colombia, also known as the capital of Salsa and nicknamed “Branch of Heaven.”

Apart from the architectural and historical heritage that you can witness there, the real attraction of this city is its lively atmosphere, derived from its rich African heritage.

Pessoas a dançarem Salsa, Cali - o que ver e fazer na Colômbia / People dancing Salsa, Cali - what to do in Colombia