When planning a trip to South America, it is always good to consider Colombia as an entry or exit point to the continent. It is at the tip of South America, with convenient connecting flights to and from the United States and Europe.
If you have the time to add more days to your trip or want a vacation with city highlights, mountain hikes, jungle treks, and relaxing beach days, then keep on reading to learn about the 20 Colombia locations that are absolutely worth visiting.
1. Santa Elena – Home of the Silletero
You will find this flower village only 45 minutes away from Medellin. Santa Elena is known for its colorful and creative flower arrangements. It is also the home to the ‘Silleta’ symbol of pride during the famous ‘Desfile de Los Silleteros’. The ‘Desfile de Los Silleteros’ is part of the Flower Festival which takes place every summer in Medellin.
This year, the Flower Parade will take place on August 11th, 2019. This parade is a 1.4-mile, vibrant display of millions of intricate flower arrangements. During the week of the Medellin Flower Festival (August 2nd – 11th, 2019) Santa Elena fills up with local events relating to the festival.
Pro Tip: During the offseason, we recommend taking a day trip from Medellin to Santa Elena. This will allow you to visit an organic flower farm, enjoy local food, and get in touch with the traditional culture of the ‘Antioqueña’ mountain villages.
2. Barranquilla – The Epicenter for Caribbean Culture
Between Cartagena and Santa Marta is Barranquilla – a small Caribbean town, known as the happiest city in Colombia. Barranquilla boasts iconic Colombians such as Shakira and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is also a region with extensive cultural and folkloric traditions. The main tradition is the Barranquilla Carnival, one of the largest carnivals in the world. It will take place next year February 22nd – 25th, 2020.
Pro Tip: During the off-season, we recommend visiting Barranquilla for its important history and colorful culture. This includes music concerts, art workshops, exhibitions, different festivals, and delicious Caribbean food.
3. Jardín – Sweet Paradise
Next on our worthwhile Colombia locations list is Jardín. Just 3 hours away from Medellin, Jardin is a postcard-like town nestled in the middle of the Colombia coffee region. It is known for its brightly colored balconies, colonial architecture, and contrasting natural landscapes. Jardín is perfect for a short getaway from the city’s hustle and bustle!
Pro Tip: We recommend spending a couple of days here to enjoy the change of pace to small-town vibe. Enjoy different hiking opportunities like visiting ‘La Cueva del Esplendor’, participate in birdwatching excursions, and experience some of the best coffee the region can offer.
4. Villa de Leyva – Colonial History
Less than 4 hours away from Bogota is Villa de Leyva. It is known for its well-kept colonial architecture and the largest cobblestone plaza in South America. Visiting Villa de Leyva is like visiting a petite town of past-time. While here, learn about the important significance of Colombian history during its fight for independence against the Spanish conquest.
Pro Tip: We recommend a day trip from Bogota, a walk around the town, ending with a visit to the ‘Boyacá Bridge.’ This bridge where Simón Bolívar fought and won his most decisive battle against Spanish settlers.
5. Barichara – A Town Stuck in Time
The small colonial town of Barichara makes for one of the best Colombia locations to take pictures in. Its charming balconies, cobblestone streets, and welcoming environment make Barichara absolutely breathtaking. Located 6 hours away from Bogota, Barichara is the perfect destination for travelers to take out their cameras and capture the picturesque landscape.
Pro Tip: We recommend spending 2-3 days here, exploring the colonial history of Barichara. Visitors can participate in several adventures including rappelling, paragliding, and rafting near San Gil.
6. Tayrona National Park – Where Mountains Meet the Sea
Tayrona National Park is uniquely situated between the Caribbean Sea and the highest coastal mountain range in the world. This creates a dream-like setting for nature lovers and makes it one of the most beautiful Colombia locations on this list. Whether you want to hike in the jungle, relax on one of the many beaches, or explore the mountains, Tayrona will surely captivate all your senses with its unmatched beauty! This region is also the gateway to indigenous communities that were never conquered by Spain. This provides an incredible opportunity to explore their traditions and learn about their own connection with mother nature as the “elders and protectors of our world.”
Pro Tip: We recommend about 3–4 days with a mix of guided hikes and time on your own to explore the national park.
7. San Agustín and Tierradentro – Pre-Columbian Ruins
The Archeological Park of Tierradentro (A UNESCO world heritage site) is 3 hours away from the city of Popayan. This national park dates to the Pre-Columbian era, during the time the San Agustin culture lived in the region. Tierradentro occupies a spot on our Colombia locations list because it offers a unique travel experience for those interested in history and archeology tours in South America.
Pro Tip: We recommend a 6-day long trip starting from Popayan to San Agustin. This will allow you to visit the monolithic sculptures and learn about the San Agustin culture. Tierradentro is also within the Archeological National Park where you can explore the ruins.
8. San Basilio de Palenque – The First Free Town in the Americas
Just 1 hour from Cartagena, you will find San Basilio de Palenque – America’s first liberated villages. In 1603 Benkos Bioho, an escaped slave founded San Basilio de Palenque. This small village, now UNESCO World Heritage site, has a fascinating history, and an important place in contemporary Colombian culture. It is the birthplace for many Afro-Columbian styles of music and dance.
Pro Tip: From Cartagena, we recommend a day trip to visit the village and the cultural center.
9. Caño Cristales – The Most Beautiful River in the World
Caño Cristales is commonly known as the most beautiful river in the world. Located in the Meta department, Caño Cristales turns on its magical show between July and December, when the rainy season activates underwater algae growth. This creates an underwater rainbow that captivates any traveler, especially nature lovers. Adventures in Caño Cristales include hiking, photography, swimming and more. The underwater rainbow awaits you!
10. Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City
Hidden deep in the jungle is one of Colombia’s hidden gems, Ciudad Perdida. Ciudad Perdida translates to “Lost City.” Which is fitting, because it is not an easy place to find. With ruins 650 years older than Machu Picchu, Ciudad Perdida attracts travelers looking for the ultimate adventure and archeology tour in South America. Those who dare to take on the quest must endure a 27-mile-long guided hike, lasting 4-6 days (round trip). Only 10% of the Lost City has been discovered. To preserve the pristine environment of this Tayrona sanctuary, the national park closes during the month of September every year.
11. The Amazon Rainforest – The Most Biodiverse Place in the World
The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world and one of the best Colombia locations to visit. This mysterious, largely unexplored forest is home to the most bio-diverse region in the world and the largest river. It also contains unique indigenous cultures that have lived sustainably and in harmony with nature for thousands of years. SouthAmerica.travel invites you to discover the Amazon through an environmentally and culturally sustainable way as you explore the natural wonders of the forest alongside our local experts.
12. Nuquí – Where Jungle Meets the Sea
Along the western coast of Colombia, between the Baudó Mountain region and the Pacific Ocean, is the small town of Nuquí. Nuquí is next to the Utría National Park, making it a great place to connect with nature and the local community. Visitors here can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities including hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and surfing.
Pro Tip: We recommend spending 3–4 days in Nuqui or Bahia Solano during July and November. During these months, the humpback whales arrive from Antarctica to these warmer waters to give birth to their young.
13. Mompox – The Land of Magical Realism
Mompox is a very important city in Colombian history, as well as in contemporary Colombian culture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is located about 5 hours away from Cartagena. Mompox was the source of both the glory of Libertador Simon Bolivar and also the inspiration of Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One-Hundred Years of Solitude’. It currently attracts visitors to experience the perfect example for a Spanish Colonial city, as some of the colonial buildings still function for their original purposes.
Pro Tip: We recommend spending 2–3 days in this sleepy town that is full of colonial history and rich in culture.
14. Jericó – The Most Colorful Town in Colombia
Jericó offers visitors a chance to step into a traditional town, making you feel right at home with their friendliness. Located just 3 hours south of Medellin, Jericó is known for its traditional Paisa hospitality and colorful architecture. This quaint town offers several cultural experiences. Think art galleries, museums, and colonial buildings. Jericó also offers different outdoor experiences including hikes to viewpoints to enjoy the mountainous landscape.
15. Pasto – The Best Spanish in Colombia
Pasto is usually a stopover for most people before they cross the border into Ecuador. Most travelers miss the opportunity to explore the natural landscape which offers hikes and boat rides. Within Colombia, Pasto is most popularly known for the Carnaval de Blancos y Negros. It is also known for its many museums, historic churches, and being 2 hours away from one of the most famous churches in Colombia, Santuario de las Lajas.
Pro Tip: We recommend spending 2-3 days in Pasto.
16. Bogota – The Capital District
Besides being the capital city of Colombia, Bogota is also the economic capital of Colombia. Beyond the cultural and adventure opportunities, Bogota is the perfect place for travelers looking for upscale amenities and luxury accommodations. Bogota is complemented by a wide range of unique restaurants that feature iconic local recipes and a new creative fusion style cuisine. Visitors in Bogota will never go bored, as there is a diverse range of fun activities to partake in. These activities include visits to various art and history museums, theater shows, music concerts, and other cultural activities. You will also have the opportunity for adventure though hikes and exploring the mountainous landscape around the capital city, making this one of the must-see Colombia locations.
17. Salento – The Gateway to the Coffee Triangle
Salento is included in our Colombia locations list for its small-town hospitality, colonial architecture, and contrasting lush green landscapes. It is easy to feel at home in Salento, as the locals are very welcoming and warm. It is also a great place to learn about coffee.
Pro Tip: We recommend spending 2-3 days in Salento to be able to learn about the history, climb up El Mirador, and to take a guided horseback ride through the Cocora Valley. Be sure to have your camera out to capture the tall wax palms that stagger along the valley.
18. Medellin – The Model City of Colombia
Medellin is the second economic capital of Colombia. It is a model city of Colombia, and it offers several modern facilities and amenities to make you feel at home. Known for its mild climate year round, Medellin is the perfect city to enjoy the best of Colombian culture and connect with breathtaking landscapes that surround this unique city. Visitors can enjoy several trendy shops, delicious food establishments, and local galleries. Visitors can also learn about the complex history of transformation Medellin has experienced over that last few decades.
19. Cali – The Branch of Heaven
Cali is a Colombia location known for its World Class Salsa dancing style. It is known as The Branch of Heaven on Earth because you can feel the vibrant atmosphere and the feeling of happiness when you arrive in Cali. Many of the biggest stars in salsa music history have their roots in this vibrant city, and to some extent, it is a lifestyle for many Caleños. Besides the party spirit of the city, Cali offers many cultural opportunities to visit art galleries, museums, theaters, and old colonial churches. The city boasts of many outdoor related activities and offers many chances to connect with the local environment.
20. Cartagena – A City of Contrast
Last but not least is Cartagena! Cartagena is a Caribbean city where history meets modern development. The contrasting colonial buildings within the walled city clash against the skyline of the high rises and skyscrapers along the Caribbean Sea. This unique setting makes for the romantic trip for a honeymoon or anniversary to the Caribbean. Cartagena is a cultural and historic capital of Colombia. It once served as the main trading port to the Americas. This coastal town offers a wide range of fun activities. These activities include exploring the colonial streets of the walled city filled with unique shops, trendy art galleries, and several fusion restaurants and delicious street food.
These signature Colombia locations are only part of what SouthAmerica.travel has to show you! Whether you are ready for a quick nature-filled getaway or interested in a longer-term travel and volunteer experience, SouthAmerica.travel is ready to join you in your Colombian experience. Contact us and come discover Colombia, the land of magical reality!