Where To Visit In Colombia: A 3-Minute Guide
Before I travelled Colombia, I had no idea just how tremendously large the country is. Ideally, in order to visit every town and city worth seeing and get to know the culture in depth, you should aim for a minimum of three weeks’ travel time. There is a clear ‘gringo’ route which spans as far as the Caribbean coast in the north, to towns just a few hours from the southern border with Ecuador. The distances between each stop are often between twelve and twenty hours, so be prepared for some long and often overnight bus journeys!
As always happens when backpacking, once you’re in the country you’ll no doubt mix with other travellers who will give you tips on which places to visit and what each has to offer. To help you plan though, here’s my list of places worth heading to as part of your travels in Colombia.
Cartagena is a city brimming with romantic colonial architecture and cobbled stone pavements, surrounded by the beautiful city walls of the Old Town. It offers many backpackers a starting point in Colombia as one of the major airport destinations, and a common landing place for San Blas Island cruisers. From here you’ll have easy access to nearby idyllic beaches, such as Playa Blanca and Isla de Rosas.
Must do activity: Day tour to the Totumo Volcano mud baths.
Recommended time needed: 2-3 days maximum.
The city of Santa Marta leaves a lot to be desired and by far has the craziest taxi drivers I experienced anywhere in Colombia, however, Santa Marta is the perfect jumping-off point for many nearby sights and activities, such as the Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida. Base yourself in Santa Marta to easily access other areas but try to avoid venturing out too much after dusk, as muggings do happen.
Must do activity: Tayrona National Park for treks and beautiful bay-enclosed beaches.
Recommended time: 3-4 days to allow for trekking, 2 days if not.
As a small fishing village just a twenty minute drive north of Santa Marta, Taganga is popular for scuba diving and party hostels. You can opt to stay here or in nearby Santa Marta though, as a local bus runs between both locations all day at a cost of just 1,700 pesos one way.
Must-do activity: Many of the restaurants that line the beach offer free sunbeds when you purchase food or drink, which includes bottles of water!
Recommended time: 2 days.
Located inland in the Santander department of Colombia, San Gil is an absolute adrenaline junkies paradise. Offering whitewater rafting, paragliding, horse-riding, canyoning, and caving, this town has an array of activities waiting for travellers. For those looking for scenic walks and waterfalls, San Gil is also the place to be; close enough for easy day trips to idyllic towns, such as Barichara.
Must-do activity: Canyoning and Caving La Antigua, and the 2-hour trek from Barichara to Guane.
Recommended time: 4-5 days.
For backpackers, this city is all about partying in the El Poblado district and making a couple of trips to parks and towns within a couple of hours drive. Medellin itself is incredibly hectic and densely populated, but the metro system is easy to use and features a cable metro, which allows for incredible views over the enormous city and it’s many favellas.
Must-do activity: Parque Arvi, at the top of the tourist cable metro line and El Pinon, a rock you can climb near the town of Guatape.
Recommended time: 3-4 days.
The Colombian capital is more often than not a pit-stop for travellers entering and leaving the country by plane, but there are a few sights to see here and despite it being a major city, Bogota feels very safe overall.
Recommended activity: Hike or take the cable car up to Cerro Monserrate for incredible views over the city and a peaceful retreat away from the city hustle and bustle.
Recommended time: 1-2 days.
Solento & Cali
Both located towards the south of Colombia, these places are known for being part of the main coffee-producing region. I, unfortunately, was unable to visit due to time restraints but I’m told by other backpackers that there are some nice hikes and tours of coffee regions in these areas. Cali is also popular for taking a bus into Ecuador.
Must-do activity: Take a Colombian coffee tour.
Recommended time: 2 days.
So there you have it, a quick snapshot into the places to visit when travelling Colombia. I hope it’s provided you with enough info to start planning a rough itinerary, but I’m sure there are plenty of other places to explore on a whim!
Got questions about places to see in Colombia or how to move around the country? I’m happy to help, just leave a comment below. Don’t forget to sign up for more travel advice!