places to visit in Colombia

All the places I visited in Colombia during my 90-day backpacking trip

Reader Mail: Dear Trisha! I followed you in 2015 as recommended by a friend here in Finland. I love what you do and you have fueled my desire to travel to South America! I plan to go to Colombia first but this country is so big I don’t know where to start! Can you please recommend the best places to visit in Colombia? Like the ones that I shouldn’t miss? I like the outdoors and Colombia looks like it has a lot of it! Thank you so much and keep empowering us women to travel alone!

Eliisa, Finland

Dear Eliisa,

Thanks a lot for reaching out and I am so glad you finally decided to go to South America! Colombia is one of my favorite countries in Latin America, mostly because of its people’s warmth. When I traveled for 90 days in Colombia, I always felt safe even if I was navigating the country by myself – the people are always helpful! In this post, I will recommend places to visit in Colombia. Actually, it’s more of a thing not to miss list as there’s really a lot to do there but you get it. Good luck with your trip and let me know if you need anything else!


Places to visit in Colombia


Located on the northern coast of Colombia, you can get to Tayrona National Park by flying to Santa Marta or by bus from Cartagena or Barranquilla.

Nestled at the foot of the world’s highest coastal mountain range, Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is paradise. It is a slice of heaven on Colombia’s Caribbean coast with crystal clear waters, golden stretches of sandy beaches, and lush rainforest. Visitors will have a selection of outdoor and beach activities to choose from. The Nine Stones hike is a popular choice and will allow you to see the scope and range of the park. For the history buffs, archeological evidence of pre-Hispanic settlements can also be found at the park. You will find good weather and fewer crowds during March, July, and August.

places to visit in Colombia

Where to stay in Santa Marta:
Places to visit in Colombia


How to get to Popayán: You can fly to Popayan (they have an airport) but you can also do land travel from Cali or Ipiales.

Nicknamed as La Ciudad Blanca or White City, Popayan is one of Colombia’s most beautiful and well-preserved colonial settlements. The city just has that feeling of peaceful elegance. Mansions, schools, and monasteries built in the 17th century sit alongside the famous churches of the city. Religious or not, the churches are definitely worth a stop. Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia de San Agustin, and Catedral Basilica Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion are the most popular ones although Iglesia La Ermita, Iglesia de San Jose, and Iglesia de Santo Domingo deserve a look, too.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Popayán:
Places to visit in Colombia


How to get to Ciudad Perdida: Located on the northern coast of Colombia, you can get to Tayrona National Park by flying to Santa Marta or by bus from Cartagena or Barranquilla.

Ciudad Perdida literally means “The Lost City” in Spanish. At the time of the Spanish invasion, this city disappeared and was discovered again in the 70s. It is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains – one of Colombia’s greatest pride in the outdoors. If you are a fan of hiking and will be visiting Santa Marta and Tayrona, don’t skip this!

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Places to visit in Colombia


Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados offers the most stunning glimpse into the Colombian Andes. Colombia, being a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, is home to more than a dozen volcanoes and this national park is home to some jaw-dropping snow-covered ones.

places to visit in Colombia

Spot the Nevado del Ruiz, Nevado del Tolima, and Nevado de Santa Isabel. The park’s varying altitudes create panoramic scenes of paramos (high-mountain plains), cloud forests, and glaciers. It’s the perfect place for hiking at any level. Be wary of the altitude though and make sure you acclimatize.

Places to visit in Colombia


How to get to Barranquilla: You can fly to Barranquilla anywhere from Colombia.

Imagine four days of street parties and non-stop dancing. This is Carnaval de Barranquilla. During the four days in February that leads up to Ash Wednesday, the whole city of Barranquilla comes alive with masquerade parades and live performances. Very little is known about the origins of this carnival but it’s a perfect illustration of Colombia’s unique history and cultural diversity.

There are also events leading up to the four-day festivity such as the reading of the carnival proclamation, crowning of the carnival queen, the gay parade, and the La Guacherna. It’s a definite must-see and unique to this country. And as the carnival motto goes, “those who live it are those who enjoy it.”

I lived with a local family in Barranquilla, Colombia which made my experience more authentic. Experiences are really different when you go with locals. It was my best week in Barranquilla because they showed me places and things I wouldn’t even know (or do) by myself!

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Barranquilla:

Places to visit in Colombia

#6: Museo del Oro

How to get to Bogota: Bogota is the capital of Colombia. Many flights from outside Colombia land here.

Located in Bogota, Museo del Oro will give you a fascinating peek into how gold was weaved into the lives of pre-colonial inhabitants of the country. The museum contains the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world. Each floor exhibits how gold was used in different aspects of indigenous life. If you want a more in-depth understanding, tours are offered within the museum for a reasonable price. Admission is free on Sundays.

See also: Not your usual things to do in Colombia
places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Bogota:
Places to visit in Colombia

#7: San Gil

How to get to San Gil: San Gil has two bus stations with numerous names, but you’ll most likely arrive at the intercity bus terminal (known locally as terminal principal), located 3km west of downtown on the road to Bogotá. Local buses shuttle regularly between the terminal and the city center, or you can take a taxi.

Deemed as the outdoor capital of Colombia, San Gil is a haven for thrill seekers. This small Andean city in Colombia offers a varied range of outdoor activities and the most popular is white water rafting. Rio Fonce is great for families while Rio Suarez will really get your adrenaline going. La Tierra de Aventura also offers trekking, spelunking, mountain biking, and paragliding among other things. Non-adventure junkies can also enjoy some waterfalls and natural pools. San Gil really is a small town that packs a punch.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in San Gil:

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Places to visit in Colombia

#8: Colombia's Amazon Rainforest

How to get to the Amazon: you can fly to Leticia’s Vasquez Cobo airport from Bogota.

I mean, it’s the Amazon. What more can I say? The Amazonia region is in the southernmost part of Colombia and makes up 35% of the country. You will be welcomed into pristine jungles, unique biodiversity, and indigenous communities when you go to these parts. Leticia is a small city bustling with commerce and is considered the gateway to the Amazon. Look for numerous bird species endemic to the area in Amacayacu, search for the pink river dolphin in Tarapoto Lake, go to Monkey Island and Puerto Narino. The Amazon is the Amazon so, really, you will have plenty of things to do.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Leticia:
Places to visit in Colombia

#9: Whale watching

Every year between July and November, humpback whales migrate to Colombia’s Pacific coast. They come to the warmer waters from the Antarctic in order to mate and give birth. Nuqui, Bahia Solano, Bahia Malaga, and Gorgona Island are popular spots for this yearly spectacle. Avid lovers of these giant mammals can opt for boat tours.

places to visit in Colombia

It’s considered safe for both humans and whales if the distance is kept and boat tours are your safest bet in seeing these majestic creatures up close. Best to go early in the morning in perfect conditions. If you don’t get a chance to get on a boat tour, you can also spot the whales at high distances from land.

Places to visit in Colombia

#10: Catedral de Sal de Zipaquira

How to get to Zipaquirá: This town is an hour and a half away by bus from Bogota.

A Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a former halite mine is a sight to behold. Halite or rock salt has been mined in this area as early as the 5th century BCE. Local miners back in the 1930s decided to carve a sanctuary within the mines as a place for prayer. Eventually, a cathedral was finally built and completed in 1954 and visitors and pilgrims now flock to the small town of Zipaquira (north of Bogota) for this. Visitors can also go on guided tours and learn about the history of place and the salt production processes that have existed in this deposit for centuries.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Zipaquirá:
  • Vieja Aduana: a double room with shared bathroom for 2 pax starts at $12 USD per night
  • Hotel Vigua: a double room for 2 pax starts at $25 USD per night
  • Hotel Boutique El Libertador: a double room for 2 pax starts at $48 USD per night, breakfast included
Places to visit in Colombia

#11: San Andres and Providencia

San Andres and Providencia are close to each other and are considered one of the most remote beaches in Colombia. In here, you will be able to relax and enjoy a full-on nature activity. It’s not easy to get as it is really remote. Flying and ferry rides are the most common mode of transport to get to Providencia and San Andres.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in San Andres:

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Places to visit in Colombia

#12: Caño Cristales

How to get to La Macarena: From Bogota, you can take an overnight bus for 10 hours.

A series of remote rivers, Caño Cristales is a river of 5 colors located in Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de La Macarena. Witness the streams in red, green, pink – a natural phenomenon that only happens between July and November.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in La Macarena:
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Places to visit in Colombia

#13: Villa de Leyva

How to get to Villa de Leyva: From Bogota, you can take a bus. The ride is about 4 hours.

Are you trying to imagine what a colonial village looked like 400 years ago? Then you have to take a pitstop at Villa de Leyva. Founded in 1572, this little town in a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain is full of cobblestone roads and buildings of colonial style and architecture. Visitors can cool off in old churches, grab a cup of coffee at the town plaza, people watch at the parks, shop at local markets, walk or bike and marvel at the architecture or soak in some history at one of the town’s museums. Day trips and hikes not too far from the town are also available and easily accessible.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Villa de Leyva:
Places to visit in Colombia

#14: Johnny Cay

How to get to Johnny Cay: You can go on charter boats that will bring you to the island for $5 USD approx. Lower prices can be given to bigger groups.

places to visit in Colombia

Far from mainland Colombia but still politically part of Colombia, the island of San Andres and the smaller Johnny Cay is something to see. Johnny Cay is a Caribbean paradise boasting white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and palm-lined shores. Visitors can go lounge at the beach and eat fresh seafood. Snorkeling sites can also be found within the area. In the evenings, local bands playing reggae songs have live performances on the island. Can you get more Caribbean than this?

Places to visit in Colombia

#15: The tombs of Tierradentro

How to get to The National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro: This UNESCO Heritage site is located in the southwest of Colombia in Andean’s central cordillera, in the municipality of Inzá, department of Cauca. The closest and most familiar city is Popayan, where it is only 4 hours by bus. The bus costs $7.67 USD.

places to visit in Colombia

Tierradentro is far from the usual tourist route in Colombia. In a remote valley in the southern part of the Colombian Andes lies the underground tombs of Tierradentro. Little is known about the civilization that flourished in this area as early as 200 BCE. More or less 100 tombs are found in this area and these funeral temples are unique and distinct from the rest found in the Americas. Evidence of pre-colonial life in the area is found inside the tombs–from wall drawings to pottery and sculptures to textiles. It’s a wonderful day trip wherein you can soak up on some culture and history amid wonderful mountain and jungle scenery.

Places to visit in Colombia

#16: Learn salsa in Cali

How to get to Cali: Cali is in the backpackers trail and is easily accessible by bus and plane, depending where you are coming from.

Cali is the salsa capital of the world. Despite having roots in Cuba, salsa gained popularity in New York during the 1970s. Eventually, it found its way to Colombian shores and has transformed and evolved over the years. The Cali school of salsa is uptempo and involves faster and more energetic beats. It’s all about the footwork for the Cali style of salsa. Salsa can be heard everywhere in the city and salsatecas are in abundance. If you wanna learn salsa or just simply dance every day, a trip to Cali is a must for you.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Cali:
  • Alko Hotel Boutique. A deluxe accommodation for 2 pax starts at $55 USD per night, breakfast included
  • Rossa Palma. A double room for 2 pax starts at $25 USD, breakfast included
  • Basic Hotel Chipichape. A double room for 2 pax starts at $30 USD, breakfast included
Places to visit in Colombia

#17: Barichara

How to get to Barichara: To get to Barichara, you can take buses or fly from Bogota, Medellin, Cali. Note that the destination is Bucaramanga or San Gil. From these 2 cities, transport to Barichara are pretty frequent and are easy to find.

Barichara is one of Colombia’s prettiest towns. It’s a tiny town located at the north of the country (close to San Gil) with well-preserved colonial buildings and cobblestone roads. Barichara literally means place of rest in the local Guane language and you will understand why as soon as you visit. The place emanates tranquility and peace. It probably does not look any different from how it was back in 1714 when it was first established. In a few hours of walking around the small town, you surely feel that you are transported back in time.

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in Barichara:
  • Nativo Glamping. A superior room for 2 pax starts at $66 USD per night, breakfast included.
  • La Loma Hotel Barichara. A double room for 2 pax starts at $45 USD per night, breakfast included.
  • Casa San Nicolás. A quadruple room for 2 pax starts at $18 USD per night, breakfast included.
Places to visit in Colombia

#18: Reserva Natural Cañon de Río Claro

How to get to Cañon de Río Claro: From Medellin, take a bus in Terminal del Norte. Trans Oriente is a bus company that frequently goes here. Travel time is 3 hours (est) and the cost is $7.37 USD. Bus departs every 30 minutes.

places to visit in Colombia

Three hours from Medellin lies Reserva Natural Canon de Rio Claro. Visitors can go for a swim or relax in its river that runs through a stunning marble canyon. It’s a perfect place to sit back and just bask in all the wonders that nature has to offer. You can do hikes and marvel at the unique biodiversity of the area. It is home to a number of flora and fauna endemic to the area. The three-hour Cueva de los Guacharos cave and stream walk is a must. You don’t need to spend the night. This could be a good option for a day trip whilst staying in Medellin.

Places to visit in Colombia

#19: Guatape

How to get to Guatape: From Medellin’s Terminal Norte, you can take a bus to Guatape. Bus trips are pretty frequent and are easy to locate once you are in the station.

Guatape is dubbed as the most colorful town in Colombia. It is famous for its brightly-colored traditional houses that feature paintings depicting the history of the town. There’s also plenty to do in this small town. You can challenge yourself by climbing the 740 steps of the Penol Rock and be rewarded with panoramic views or you can kayak or do a number of water activities in Embalse Guatape.

See also: The digital nomad guide to Medellin, Colombia

places to visit in Colombia

After a day of being in the outdoors, you can indulge yourself with great food in any of the diverse restaurants scattered all over town. You don’t need to stay the night in Guatape. It’s an easy daytrip from Medellin!

Places to visit in Colombia

#20: El Cocuy

How to get to El Cocuy: Get a bus to the town of El Cocuy from Bogota or Bucaramanga. The ride will take 6 hours (est).

White and green colonial buildings topped with red Spanish tiled roofs with a backdrop of the Andean mountains, the small town of El Cocuy is a sight to behold. Of course, the most popular attraction in the area is Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Here, you’ll get stunning views of Andean snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes. The park offers three trails at different levels for all kinds of climbers to enjoy. Don’t forget to spot the uniquely beautiful frailejones (perennial subshrubs in the sunflower family).

places to visit in Colombia
Where to stay in El Cocuy:

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places to visit in Colombia

WHAT’S IN YOUR LIST OF BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBIA? DID I MISS SOMETHING? Have you been to Colombia? If yes, did you like it? Where did you go? What did you do? What did you eat? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comment box below and help other travelers find the best places to visit in Colombia!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

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