With the soaring number of tourists, Colombia is one of the hottest destinations to visit. Tourism to Colombia has grown more than 250% since 2006 when 1 million foreigners visited the country. Both Forbes and The Guardian have featured Colombia in their Top Destination 2017 lists. Unfortunately, few visitors have the luxury of having weeks and months to cover the vast and varied regions of Colombia, so here are the hotspots that are not to be missed! If you are looking for something more adventurous, check out our posts on the Guajira and watch this space…
Cartagena is a colonial gem. Nestled on the Caribbean coast, its old walls guard its colonial past, its vibrantly painted houses and flower-draped balconies hold a nostalgic charm that gives you the illusion of being stuck in time as you wander through its narrow streets. A walk along the wall offers a coastal breeze to ease the unforgiving humidity and the the hustle-and-bustle the city’s street vendors. Getsmani, one of the most traditional neighbourhoods, is shedding its seedy, drug-dealing past. The developing cultural scene of this barrio popular is evident in its graffiti art, bars and hip hostels. Its restaurants are more reasonly priced than within the walled city. You can enjoy a beer in the main square, day or night, and soak-up the lively atmosphere. But most people go to Cartagena for its beautiful, if overcrowded, beaches; the islands of Barú and Rosario is true Caribbean bliss.
Tayrona National Park is where the dense rainforest of the Sierra Nevada mountains magically unfurls into rows of coconut palms dotted along sandy bays and the crashing waves of the Caribbean coast. The transformation of the landscape as you weave in and out of the leafy jungle canopies and climb over giant boulders is no less than breathtaking! It is a leisurely but humid 45-minute hike to the first beach, Cañaveral, where the luxury eco-habs are located, followed by Arrecifes, the first campsite. Further along you will reach La Piscina and Arenilla, both great for swimming and popular with Colombian families. The furthest, most picturesque beach is Cabo San Juan (around 40 minutes’ walk from the first beach). Unfortunately it’s also the most crowded, so avoid during high-season! All offer simple hammocks and tents, with basic amenities and hearty, local food at reasonable prices. Along from Cabo San Juan, there are several virgin beaches – great for a romantic stroll! If you want to do more than laze on the beach, you can hike to the ruins of Pueblito. Tayrona is also home to lots of wildlife, so look out for the crabs, lizards and caimans!
Valle de Cocora is home to the tallest palms in the world. The wax palms are scattered across the rolling hills of the valley, their spindly trunks soaring up to 60m and splaying leaves cast a shadow in the sky. A 5-6 hour hike will take you through the stunning valley of wax palms and into the cloud forest of muddy trails and rickety wooden suspension bridges. In Acaima, you can experience the magic of hummingbirds in their natural habitat up-close. Jeeps “willy” run regularly from the quaint, traditional town of Salento, 10km away, where most travellers tend to stay during their visit. Salento is one of the oldest town of the coffee region, full of traditional colourful houses and artisanal shops. You can enjoy a the stunning mountain views of the mirador, take a local coffee tour and enjoy a game of tejo.
Nestled in the Andean mountain-valley a few hours north of Bogotá sits the quiet, colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Unlike Cartagena’s sea of colours, Villa de Leyva is known for its forest green doors set against single-storey whitewashed walls and terracotta-tiled roofs. The large and uneven cobblestone streets congregate in the immense expanse of the main square, harmonious with the majesty of the surrounding mountains. You can enjoy a variety of antique and handicraft stores, as well as some fine restaurants at a fraction of Bogotá prices. You can take a scenic hike to the Pozos Azules or around the Parque Ecológico de Periquera. For adrenaline junkies, GroupOn offers great deals on days of extreme sport such as quad-biking and rappelling down a waterfall. Most people tend to stay in the town itself, however, if you really love the mountains, hotels a few kilometres out boast breathtaking views!
The vibrant nightlife of Poblado and beautiful women have been the main attraction for many visitors for the last 20 years. However, Netflix’s Narcos has put Medellín on the world map and its popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, with everyone flocking to Medellín to visit the famed home of the most notorious drug-trafficker in history. However, Medellín is more than the controversial glorification of Pablo Escobar. The local government has invested a lot of money in redeveloping public spaces and ultimately its image. It not only boasts the only metro system in the country, but you can even take a cable car up the mountains and out of Medellin to Park Arvi. The Museo de Memoria is an incredible testament to the city and indeed, the country’s history and it’s definitely worth visitng to get a deeper insight into the conflict. Go to Comuna 13, and learn about the social transformation this notorious neighbourhood, now a canvas for graffiti art and communal space for social development. I’d also recommend a free walking tour with Real City Tours – the tour is not only informative and thorough but our guide gave an impartial yet very poignant explanation of the city’s history and the current situation. Lastly, a visit to Guatapé is a must! Climb up the peñol for the best view of this picturesque reservoir, wander around the narrow streets of the tiny, colourful town.