Our top 10 selection for sights to see in Colombia
Colombia is South America’s second most populated country and it houses an incredible 10% of the world’s biodiversity. From astonishing natural wonders and intriguing wildlife, to stunning colonial architecture, Colombia has it all. The country has transformed itself in the last decade, leaving behind its drug-related past to emerge as a new hot spot on the Latin American continent. Among the endless sights and adventures Colombia has to offer, we managed to carefully select the top ten things to do in Colombia.
#1 Street Art in Bogota
Bogota has become a mecca for graffiti artists. After a 16-year-old artist named Tripido was shot dead by the police in 2011, protests broke out to denounce this injustice. As a result, Bogota City Hall dramatically changed its attitude towards street art and graffiti and the extensive murals are now the pride and joy of the capital city. Nowadays it is rare to find a single wall untouched by the graffiti. The murals address political and social issues such as the repression of indigenous culture, the oppression of women and homelessness. The Bogota Graffiti tour is an absolute priority during a trip to Bogota.
The tour we offer includes a local guide that will take you on this unique tour of the city’s graffiti. This tour is a great way to understand significant moments in Colombia’s history as it takes you to Bogota’s historic center and through the colonial streets of La Candelaria to the Chorro de Quevedo Square and political center of Plaza Bolivar which is covered in political graffiti. Your guide will be on hand to explain the meaning behind some of the most poignant works of art and its historical context. You’ll visit the international center of the city decorated with world-famous graffiti, as well as an old high class neighborhood which has slowly declined into a small slum where you’ll learn about the social and economic issues of the country today. You will feast your eyes on the largest Colombian street art gallery. Don’t forget to stop at Justin Bieber’s graffiti where you’ll learn about its consequences in Bogota before taking a look at the second highest piece of graffiti in Colombia!
#2 Stroll through Cartagena’s Historical Center
Cartagena’s well-preserved old city embodies the height of the colonial era in all its splendor. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by an impressive 8 mile (12.8 km) colonial stonewall and consists of cinematic cobbled streets in which you will find picturesque balconies decorated with colorful flowers. The town is dotted with street markets and boutiques, making it an ideal place to buy souvenirs. Located in close proximity to the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena boasts a total of 11.8 miles (19 km) of beaches in the metropolitan area and is a popular stop for cruise ships. It is the perfect place to catch some sun and relax. For more information click here to see our guide on Cartagena.
#3 Ride or Slide in Medellin
Forget any preconceptions of what public transport is and imagine a city where slides, outdoor escalators and cable cars replace buses and trams. Medellin has developed without a doubt the most fun public transport system in the entire world and what was a dangerous city is now a completely safe metropolis. This exciting and innovative transport system was put in place partly to improve accessibility to isolated communities. Medellin is the country’s second largest city and is revered to as one of the most beautiful places in South America, so make sure to snap some shots while you’re riding the cable car!
#4 Paradise Beaches and Tubing in Palomino
Palomino is a small town wedged between the Palomino River at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and the Caribbean Sea. It consists mainly of a collection of houses near the main road. However the magic of Palomino does not reside in its town but in the long stretch of palm fringed-white sand, that resembles an untouched corner of heaven. There are a selection of hostels and hotels to stay at, all of them tucked away in the jungle, hidden from view in order to retain this paradisiacal atmosphere. For a relaxing stay in beautiful surroundings we recommend the Dreamer Hostel. Don’t miss out on Palomino’s most popular activity “tubing”, which consists of drifting down the Palomino River in a rubber ring. This relaxing and passive activity gives you plenty of time to unwind and admire the lush green jungle that surrounds the river. For a good meal, we recommend the Tankos restaurant where they serve organic food and excellent pizzas for the kids!
#5 Family Fun at Villa de Leyva’s Gondava Dinosaur Park
Villa de Leyva is a stunning colonial village, located 3 hours from Bogota and is a perfect escape from the bustling city. The impressive central Plaza hosts many festivals and regional activities. Not only is Villa de Leyva a charming village to visit, there are fascinating sights within easy reach. Active families will enjoy the easy hike up to the Cascada de Periquera, a gorgeous 49 foot tall (15m) waterfall. However, for an unforgettable family experience, bring your little ones to the Gondava Dinosaur theme park where you can stroll beneath scale models of extinct dinosaurs such as the brachiosaurus measuring 46 ft (14m) high. The landscape from the park with lakes and desert areas will heighten the sense of time travel.
#6 Enjoy a Perfect Cup of Coffee in Valle del Cocora & Salento
Growing as high as 196 ft (60m), the towering Quindio palm trees contrast strongly with the rolling farmland of Colombia’s Coffee Region. When the sun shines the whole valley glows an intense emerald green and on darker days, the tips of the palm trees disappear behind the mist. These astonishing sights paint the picture of the iconic Cocora Valley, a must-see in Colombia.
To reach the Cocora Valley, we recommend that you stay in the traditional town of Salento, nestled in the Andes. Salento provides a wide range of exciting activities such as mountain biking, hiking or horse-riding. However, it is impossible to leave Salento without going on a coffee tour. Located in the renowned coffee region of Quindio, Salento is the perfect place to learn about the complex processes that turn a small red bean into your daily cup of coffee. To extend this culinary experience, make sure you try the regional specialty: trout!
#7 Explore the Rio Claro Reserve
For those with a little more time on their hands, the Rio Claro Reserve, located three hours from Medellin, was established in the hope of protecting the tropical rainforests and offers an array of nature and adventure activities. The Reserve works in raising awareness about the fragility of our ecosystem with local communities and travelers. It is also a center for scientific research. A model for eco-tourism, the Reserve uses money from travelers to invest in nature conservation. So if you decide to go rafting, on a canopy tour or to explore caves, you know that you are directly funding nature preservation. The Reserve also offers a variety of outdoor accommodation, ranging from luxury refuges, to eco-lodges and hotels.
#8 Try Exotic Fruits at Bogota’s Paloquemao Market
The Paloquemao Market is the most prominent food market in Bogota. Legend has it the iconic market gets its name from a tree in the center of the neighborhood that caught fire in strange circumstances. As well as being an intriguing place to visit, the market will give you a real feel of the hustle and bustle of an authentic Colombian market. Although the main focus of the market is food, there are a large variety of stalls and merchants. With Colombia as South America’s main flower producer and exporter, the Paloquemao Market offers an exquisite display of colorful and exotic bouquets. A day in the Paloquemao market will guarantee a sensory-rich experience.
#9 Visit La Vecina Project in Cartagena
If you’re feeling generous we can arrange a volunteering experience or a donation to the Fundación La Vecina, an organization that helps underprivileged children in La Boquilla in the Cartagena suburbs. Your donation helps provide them with basic education, social and psychological support and recreational activities. We have joined up with La Vecina to not only allow travelers to visit the organization but to be able to go on an Eco-tour in an authentic wooden canoe through the surrounding mangrove tunnels. The scenic river tour provides great bird watching opportunities, as the spot is an important stop for migrating birds.
#10 Head Down to the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is an underground Roman Catholic Church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 656 ft (200 m) underground in a halite mountain. The Cathedral is considered one of Colombia’s greatest achievements in modern architecture, as it was renewed in 1991 and was subsequently declared Colombia’s First Wonder in 2007. As well as being a famous tourist destination, it has become a valuable cultural patrimony and a place of pilgrimage for the country. Carved salt sculptures are enhanced by dramatic and colorful lighting that illuminate the narrow tunnels, emphasizing its splendor and turning this Cathedral into an overwhelming experience.