You know when people say “Uhh Colombia’s amaaaazing, it just has everythinnggggg”. Well, I’m here to bloody well prove it. I’ve painstakingly compiled all of my top entries for an ultimate Colombia bucketlist – all of the places to go in Colombia that are well and truly worth your time. Of course, this still only just scratches the surface of what the country has to offer, but I commend anyone who’s managed to tick all of these off – I haven’t even after 9 months! There are plenty of Colombia must-sees that everyone goes to by default (the blue markers on the above map), but also other tourist attractions in Colombia that people haven’t really heard of as often, or aren’t feeling adventurous enough to make a more arduous journey to (orange). THEN there are the true off the beaten path Colombia destinations, which I’ve left for the end (purple). Put in the effort and thou shalt be rewarded!
After this ultimate Colombia bucketlist, you may also enjoy reading:
- Cost of living in Colombia 2020
- Best weekend breaks & day-trips from Bogotá
- If we only had 2 weeks: Colombia itinerary
The Colombia must-sees
Piedra El Peñol, Guatapé
One of those places to go in Colombia that you have to see to believe. La Piedra, or the rock, is just a short bus ride away from the incredibly vibrant town of Guatapé, and climbing the 659 steps of this crazy landmark will get you views of the insane man-made Guatapé Lake. Visiting the town and rock is a Medellín day trip you cannot allow yourself to miss!
Comuna 13, Medellín
Probably the most well-known neighbourhood in all of the land, Comuna 13 (‘trece’ in Spanish) is an impoverished barrio that holds a painful history of cartel violence and lawlessness. However, what brings visitors here in droves is the story of how it pulled itself out from the rubble and became one of Medellín’s star children in demonstrating how providing the right socio-economic support to a community can turn everything around. That being said, still please make sure you get a tour through Comuna 13 and don’t just turn up on your own to have a wander.
An easy day trip from Bogotá, Lake Guatavita holds centuries of secrets in its emerald waters. Nestled in a crater-like valley, Lake Guatavita was supposedly used by the indigenous Muisca people to perform ceremonies involving throwing gold and other treasures into the depths. When the Spanish heard this, they started work on what is now known as the Legend of El Dorado.
Villa de Leyva
One of the best places to go in Colombia to see all the beauty of colonial architecture whilst still keeping a finger on the pulse of its pre-Spanish history. Villa de Leyva is the region of Boyacá’s most famous ‘white town’, revered for its quaint cobbled streets and humongous plaza. All around the town, you’ll find a huge list of things to go and explore, from dinosaur fossils to waterfalls and a collection of phallic stones used by the indigenous ancestors of the land to celebrate fertility.
This is usually people’s first stop on their first day arriving in the country. Despite the Lonely-Planet-Chapter-One-Page-Oneness of it all, it really is among the must-see tourist attractions in Colombia. Take a cable car or tram up to the monastery at the top of the mountain that looks over Bogotá, and soak up the views of this sprawling capital (clear day dependent!).
Cartagena: Walled City & Getsemaní
The Walled City of Cartagena has been sitting at the top of tourist attractions in Colombia for decades now, as a hotspot for cruises at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. However, now that global interest in Colombia has exploded, the Walled City has grown exponentially as a solid Colombia must-see destination, with the outer barrio of Getsemaní being dragged into the excitement street by street. Expect to be blown away by the bustle of the locals, the beauty of the architecture, the smell of the foods and the complete lack of breeze.
Isla Barú and the Rosario Islands
A Colombia must-see when you’re visiting Cartagena. There are so so many available tours from the city to the Rosario Islands and Barú, but I recommend staying a night or two instead of taking the day trip options. All of the islands offer slightly different vibes, from family beach fun to mangrove kayaking to local village living to luxe getaways, so have a research before you go!
Without doubt, home to the most beautiful beach this country has to offer. Luckily for future generations, Parque Tayrona is a protected national park, which keeps it clean and well-monitored. Unless you want to pay for a boat from Santa Marta, you do have to hike a couple of hours to reach the best beaches (my favourite is La Piscina, though Cabo San Juan is the most famous), but there’s no way you should be letting that get the way of you visiting this paradisiacal tourist attraction in Colombia.
Seen all those pics on Instagram of good-looking millennials chilling out on a large net hanging over the jungle? That’s Minca, baby. Not far from Santa Marta, Minca is a little step into the jungle of the North coast, where there’s not much to do other than hike to waterfalls and relax with a beer.
La Cuidad Perdida
This is a 4-day trek from Santa Marta that obviously you wouldn’t catch me dead doing, but I’ve yet to meet someone who did do it and didn’t love it. Said to be the Machu Picchu Inca Trail of Colombia, this trek takes you through villages, to lakes and into jungles until you reach the so-called ‘Lost City’; ruins of an ancient city that was only discovered in 1972.
Salento & Valle de Cocora
A brightly-painted town in the lush green mountains of Colombia’s coffee region. Not to be missed is a coffee farm tour and hike through the Cocora Valley, where you’ll see the world’s tallest wax palm trees. While Salento can no longer be called sleepy, the nearby town of Filandia offers respite from the tourism.
Home of salsa, and a vibrant taste of the loud colourful life in the sweltering dips of Valle del Cauca. Cali is an absolute Colombia must-see for music and dance-lovers, and its Callejeros street food tour will pique the interest of any foodie.
The less-visited places to go in Colombia
Right on the tri-border where Colombia, Peru and Brazil meet, Leticia is the gateway to the Amazon. From here, you can explore the sights, sounds and wildlife of the rainforest, and even catch a 4-day boat down the Amazon river to Manaus. It’s yet another totally different view of Colombia, and one that will have you so enthralled that you might just forget the rest of the world actually exists.
Ok, this lesser-visited of the tourist attractions in Colombia is actually just an arid area and not technically a desert, but it does resemble one! Tatacoa’s moon-like landscape are a wonder to behold, especially if you camp there under the stars at night. Every year there is a huuuuuge electronic music festival there in October where things get pretty wild, but otherwise it’s a serene place to get lost in the orange rockiness.
Honestly, I’m not sure why La Chorrera isn’t better known. The tallest waterfall in Colombia sits just an hour’s drive and 1.5 hour hike (each way) from the city centre of Bogotá. It’s a moderately easy hike, and coupling it with a visit to the nearby town of Choachí gives you a real glimpse into how rural Colombians live.
While it’s more or less well heard of, Mompóx is one of those rarely attempted places to go in Colombia for the simple fact that it’s an arse-ache to get to. However, dragging backpacks from taxi to bus to taxi/motorbike to chulupa river boat to taxi and then walking the rest of the way in 34-degree heat to find the hostel was somehow worth it for the yellow stunners that this riverside town offers.
La Guajira Peninsula
This is the most northern of all places to go in Colombia, and sits next to the border with Venezuela. On this faraway peninsula, you’ll see where the desert meets the sea, which makes it one of the top tourist attractions in Colombia that hardly anyone can be bothered to travel to. It’s a great spot for kite-surfing, desert exploring and learning about the still-strong indigenous culture of the Wayuu people. Please note that there has been some civil unrest there for the last year or so, so keep up-to-date with the news before you make any solid plans to visit.
Taking you over to the other side of the North of Colombia, Capurganá is the town right before the Panamanian border. It’s perhaps not known for having the most luxurious of beaches, but it’s a far cry from the crowds of the Rosarios, at least. Surrounded by the jungle of the Darien Gap, there are plenty of hikey things to do to fill your time if you’re not into sand and sea. Bring your passport and you can pop over to Panama for the day by foot, or take a boat tour out to the ultimate paradise of the San Blas Islands.
Touted as the most beautiful pueblo in all of Colombia, Barichara is a colonial dream up in the mountains of Santander. Quaint, quiet and always blooming with pretty flowers, Barichara is a lovely getaway for a couple of days of peace, especially if you’ve come from our next destination.
The adventure capital of Colombia! San Gil is the place to go in Colombia for adrenaline junkies who want to try their hand at level 5 white water rafting, paragliding or waterfall rappelling, to name just a few activities on offer in the area. Plus, the town gives you fascinating insight into Santander life.
Islas de San Bernardo
A little further down the Caribbean coast from the Rosario Islands, this cluster of islands (most notably Isla Mucura) makes a great alternative for people wanting to find places to go in Colombia to dodge the crowds. It’s a tad more difficult to get to from Cartagena, but it’s no pain no gain in this part of the world!
Santuario de las Lajas, Ipiales
If you’re coming up overland from Ecuador, Ipiales will be one of your first places to go in Colombia. Not far from the town sits the magical architectural wonder of Santuario de las Lajas; a grey cathedral bridging two mountainsides to commemorate a miracle that allegedly happened there centuries ago. It’s difficult to explain how awesome it is until you’re actually there.
Salinas de Galerazamba
Salinas de Galerazamba, also known as the Pink Sea, is one of the tourist attractions in Colombia garnering a lottttt of interest recently, though as of yet not huge numbers of people actually go (do your thang, Instagram). You can take a tour to the pink sea (which is this colour at certain times of the year due to a nearby salt mine) directly from Cartagena.
Isla de Providencia
Did someone say paradise?! Isla de Providencia is another of the places to go in Colombia that people just cannot be arsed to make the effort to get to. However, bag yourself a place on one of the 16-seater propeller planes from Isla San Andres and you surely will not regret your decision. Isla de Providencia is my happy place, with a perfect blend of white sands, turquoise waters and laidback creole culture.
Colombia off the beaten path
Cerros de Mavecure
Found in the east of Colombia, these are three mighty granite hills – that now I think about it, quite resemble El Peñol at Guatapé – sticking out of the riverside in the Amazon terrain near Inírida. They are seen as a sacred site for the local indigenous people, and it’s fairly easy to see why they might come to that conclusion. You have to get there by boat, and can only climb one of the looming rocks.
Anybody like whales? Yeah?! Whales?! Get yourself down to the Pacific region of Chocó (in towns such as El Valle, Bahia Solano or Nuquí) between June and October to catch sightings of humpback whales coming to breed and raise small young all along the coast. Whales aside, the Pacific coast also has a totally different vibe to the rest of Colombia, maybe due to the fact that the coastal towns don’t have any roads connecting them to the country. Jungle hits black-sanded sea in this beautiful part of the world.
You won’t find tourist attractions in Colombia’s plains as you will a whole new side of the culture out in the outback. Think cattle ranches and wildlife safaris in the country’s eastern flank. Most visitors use Yopal as a base when visiting Los Llanos.
Quebrada Las Gachas, Guadalupe
Ok, so you know I absolutely rave about this place. It’s actually getting a little embarrassing now, but QUEBRADA LAS GACHAS IS INCREDIBLE AND IF YOU WERE TO CHOOSE ONLY ONE OF THE PLACES TO GO IN COLOMBIA IT SHOULD BE THIS ONE. Honestly, I’m not sure if it even deserves to be called off the beaten path anymore with the amount I’ve been spreading the word about it, but these natural plunge pools deep in a purple-algae river are something that I’ll never forget.
The bigger, more colourful, harder to get to and way more expensive version of Quebrada Las Gachas, situated in the region of Meta, scarily close to some of the parts of the country that are still guerilla-controlled. This is one of those places to go in Colombia that are only for the adventurous, as it will involve a couple of days of travel and hiking (always with the help of a guide!).
So there’s my bucketlist of places to go in Colombia! As you can see, it’s pretty extensive, with plenty that didn’t quite make the cut. Let me know in the comments how many you’re planning on ticking off!
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