16 Incredible Colombia Parks: Which One is Your Favorite?

16 Incredible Colombia Parks: Which One is Your Favorite?

Did you know there are 59 unique Colombia parks?

These protected areas represent 14% of the country’s area and are often difficult to access. Fortunately, I’ve been exploring Colombia since 2015 and I know quite a lot about it.

In this guide, you will find an explanation of my 16 favorite Colombia national parks. You’ll know about:

  • The best characteristics of each park.
  • How to get there.
  • The best months to visit them.
  • My favorite travel tips.

Ready for the adventure?

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Plan the perfect Colombia trip

In this section, you’ll find the most important things to know about Colombia: weather, best places, is it safe, best beaches, etc.

1. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the tallest mountain in Colombia

The terraces Lost City
Ciudad Perdida

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a mountain range standing on its own, on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, separated from the Andes Mountains. This mountain is the tallest coastal range in the world. Its two highest peaks, Colón and Bolívar, at an altitude of 5,775 and 5,560 meters above sea level (masl), respectively, are also the highest in Colombia.

One of the interesting things to know about this Colombia park is that it’s the home to more than 30,000 indigenous people, among which are the Kogui, Arhuaco, Kankuamo, and Wiwa cultures.

In its territory lies the well-known Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), a town nestled in the middle of the jungle, at 1,200 masl, which 5 centuries ago used to be occupied by the now extinct Tayrona indigenous group. 

The Lost City is one of the main attractions of the park, although I don’t recommend, by any means, to try to reach this spot without a guide, since it is located at about 2.5 days on foot and it’s easy to get lost. And it’s forbidden.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • You’ll have to book a tour through an agency in Santa Marta. I did this 4 days trek with Fanny’s agency, one of the only agencies authorized to organize it.

Best time to visit: 

  • Any time of the year is fine, except for the high season: Easter, December 25 to January 15, and August. 
  • The park usually closes in September.
  • It rains pretty often in this forest, but temperatures are nice (25 Celsius) throughout the year unless you are a keen hiker and plan to reach the summit, where it’s much colder.

Travel tips: 

  • Apart from the Lost City, another great spot from where you can see the snow-capped mountains and Santa Marta below is Cerro Kennedy; it’s a 2 or 3-day walk.

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2. Puracé National Park, ideal to observe condors

Hike Purace popayan
Puracé Park

This is one of the few active volcanos in Colombia that you can actually visit and see its 900-meter crater, at an altitude of 4,646 masl. 

The Puracé National Park, which means ‘Mountain of fire’ in Quechua language, is located in the Cauca Department, southwest Colombia, and features more than 50 lakes and lagoons, where the country’s most important rivers are born.

You might want to walk along the 10-kilometer long trail from where you can check out the valley of frailejones (a native, protected plant), as well as waterfalls and the San Juan de Pilimbalá hot springs. If you pass by at around 9:30 a.m., you’ll see the formidable condors, Colombia’s national birds, while they eat.

And if you are in the mood for taking it slowly to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, you may want to spend the night in one of the cabins that offer accommodation and a warm meal along the way.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • You can take an early bus from the city of Popayán to near the park, and then walk for about 30 minutes after you get off.
  • It is also possible to hire a tour so that you don’t have to walk until the entrance to the park.

Best time to visit: 

  • I don’t recommend making it to the summit between May and September due to adverse weather conditions. This means heavy rains and winds of up to 80 kilometers per hour. 

Travel tips: 

  • Once again, I advise hiring a tour from Popayán.
  • Be prepared in case the high altitude makes you feel sick (soroche).

3. Tayrona National Park, ideal for hiking and swimming

Tayrona Cabo San Juan Beach (1)

Located on the foothill of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and next to the Caribbean sea, Tayrona National Park offers beautiful beaches and plenty of nature to enjoy while you walk the many paths that crisscross its 225 square kilometers of totally protected territory.

As long as you follow the signs and don’t stray from the hiking trails, it’s pretty safe to walk around without a guide.

Tayrona National Park is a wild sanctuary and for that reason, you may see or hear some wild animals, such as alligators and jaguars, as well as howler monkeys, iguanas, snakes, and plenty of bird species.

Some of the interesting places to see and enjoy are the path to Playa Brava; the famous Cabo San Juan Beach, which offers accommodation, restaurants, and restrooms; and a beach that has become known because visitors like to be nude while they sunbathe and swim, even if it’s not an “official” nude beach.

It’s one of the easiest Colombia’s national parks to visit.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • If you don’t have a car, you may take a bus from Santa Marta, which takes you to the main entrance (El Zaíno) in one hour. Another less known entrance is Calabazo.

Best time to visit: 

  • Avoid going there from 20/12 to 15/01, mid-June, or during long weekends (public holidays in Colombia are generally on certain Mondays throughout the year, so check the calendar). 

Travel tips: 

  • A great plan is a 3-day loop starting at Calabazo, spending one night in Playa Brava, one more night in Cabo San Juan, and exiting through El Zaíno.
  • Bear in mind that due to maintenance, the park closes 3 times per year: from February 1 to 15, from June 1 to 15, and from October 19 to November 2.
  • Find more things to do in Colombia

4. El Tuparro, one of the wildest national parks in Colombia

credit

This Colombia park is located in the Vichada Department, one of the provinces that make up the country’s eastern plains, known for its massive green prairies, rich fauna, and warm weather.

Back in the 1800s, nature scientist Alexander von Humboldt referred to this unique destination as “the world’s eighth wonder” for its exuberant beauty.

One of its main attractions is the Raudal de Maypures, where rivers Tuparro and Orinoco get together and make a stunning landscape of crystal-clear waters and gigantic boulders.

The area is home to 74 species of mammals, 112 families of birds, 17 reptile species, 26 kinds of fishes, and a great variety of amphibians.

Don’t hesitate to include this underrated national park when you’ll visit Colombia.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • The easiest and fastest way to get there is by plane, to the airport of Puerto Carreño, the capital of Vichada. From the terminal, you can go by car to the town of Casuarito, near the Venezuelan border. In Casuarito you may take a boat to the mouth of river Tomo, where the park’s management is located.

Best time to visit: 

  • During the dry season, from the end of December to March. During this time, river Inírida dries out and reveals beautiful rocky beaches. 

Travel tips: 

  • You should wear pants and long sleeves to avoid mosquito bites. You’re better off if you get the yellow fever vaccine at least 15 days before your trip.
  • Remember that this is a remote place, so be prepared to spend at least 3 days in the area.
  • You can also visit the 3 gigantic monoliths of Mavecure, 50 kilometers west of Puerto Inírida, capital of Guanía Department.

5. Serranía de la Macarena and the liquid rainbow river

Tapete Rojo and tom Macarena

This Colombia park is located in the Meta Department, southeast of Bogota, and hosts Caño Cristales, one of the most beautiful, multicolored rivers in the world, even featured in Disney’s latest animated movie ‘Encanto’.

The Guayabero river also contributes a share of excitement thanks to its rapids known as El Raudal, formed between the walls of ancient rocks.

Caño Canoa waterfall is another spot worth seeing, although access there is a bit more difficult.

Serranía de la Macarena is one of the most unique Colombia’s national parks.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • There are direct flights from Bogota to La Macarena, or you may want to adventure by land, in an all-terrain vehicle, from the town of San Vicente del Caguán. This is a 140-kilometer long journey that takes a bit more than 4 hours.

Best time to visit: 

  • You can only visit the park from mid-June to the end of November (when Caño Cristales showcases its beautiful colors, which are formed from algae on the river bed). For the rest of the year, the park is closed to visitors. 

Travel tips: 

  • Booking a multi-day tour from a major city in Colombia is the best way to visit this remote area. If you plan the trip by yourself, you might encounter some language barriers.

6. Los Nevados National Park, a perfect destination for hikers

Snow peak Nevados Eduardo
Credit: Eduardo

Hikers from all over visit Los Nevados National Park, which occupies part of the coffee growers’ region, attracted by any of its three snow-capped peaks: Tolima (5,276 masl), El Ruiz (5,321), and Santa Isabel (4,950).

If you don’t want to climb, there’s plenty of nature and landscapes to see, such as the unique ecosystems, that range from cloud forests to paramos full of frailejones (plants that only exist in paramos of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador) and glaciers.

There are different dirt roads to access the area but there is no public transportation. The best way to travel and enjoy the beautiful views is by car, which should preferably be a 4×4 vehicle, for you never know what the condition of the road is like due to extreme weather.

Los Nevados is one of the best national natural parks in South America for multi-day hikes.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • If you don’t go in your own car, you should hire trips or tours from Manizales, Pereira, Salento, or cities in the Tolima Department. I did a fantastic 3-day hike with Eduardo’s agency. You should book your hike in advance as places in Los Nevados are limited.


Best time to visit: 

  • The best time to go is during the dry season, from January to March and from July to August. In contrast, trails and paths can get too muddy during the rainy season. 

Travel tips: 

  • Make sure you hire a guide if you plan to visit the glaciers; for the other areas of the park, you can go by yourself —although I still recommend going with a local guide.
  • Paramos are high, humid, and sometimes rainy places, so make sure you bring proper clothing (boots, jacket, etc.).

7. Amacayacu National Park, visit the Amazon rainforest

Amazonie Bateau Adrien (1)

If you know the Amazon jungle only from movies and books, Amacayacu park lets you submerge in the rainforest paradise and forget about the outside world, where you can see the gigantic ceiba trees and the floating victoria regias.

In terms of fauna, you can see the unique pink dolphins and a wide variety of birds, and more than 150 species of mammals, which adorn this amazing green protected forest, located 70 kilometers away from Leticia, the capital of the Amazonas Department.

You can visit this Colombian park for a day or spend the night at the indigenous villages of San Martín de Macayacu and Palmeras. Entrance to the park is free.

It’s one of the best national parks for nature lovers and adventurers.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • You can access the park by boat. There are two boat trips per day. The journey takes 2 hours from Leticia.
  • The only way to get to Leticia from Bogota is by plane.

Best time to visit: 

  • It is possible to travel any time of the year, but you should keep in mind that September is the dry or low water season when you can see the river banks; the rainy or high water season occurs in May, and the forest floods with water from the Amazon River, which is also a phenomenon worth seeing. 

Travel tips: 

  • You should wear long sleeves and comfortable pants to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Do not try to venture into the forest by yourself, otherwise, you risk getting lost.
  • During my stay in the Amazon, I had the chance to stay at Axel’s ecolodge. It’s one of the best all-included packages to live in the rainforest.

8. Chingaza National Natural Park, a natural water factory

Chingaza Paramo Bogota

This Colombian park is located a few kilometers north of Bogota. Its ecosystem consists of a paramo, full of frailejones and reservoirs that feed Bogota and the surrounding towns with most part of its drinking water (about 80%).

Chingaza park extends for an area of 78,219 hectares throughout which there are more than 40 lakes and lagoons that feature viewpoints, such as the ones in Laguna de Siecha.

The park was created in 1977. Several centuries ago it used to be the territory of the Muisca tribes and now is home to deer and the famous spectacled bears.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • The park is located 1 hour from Bogotá.
  • There are 3 access points: Piedras Gordas, Siecha, and La Paila – Laguna de Chingaza.
  • To be admitted, you need to show your reservation ticket and payment receipt.
  • Don’t want to bother with the logistics? See the availability for this tour.

Best time to visit: 

  • It is better to visit during the dry season, which goes from December to the end of March, so you avoid the mud and get clear views of the landscape. 

Travel tips: 

  • You should book in advance, since visiting capacity is limited.

9. Sumapaz National Natural Park, the largest páramo in the world

Paramo Sumapaz

Sumapaz is the largest paramo in the world; it’s 9 times bigger than Medellín and twice as much as the area of Bogota. It’s located just a few kilometers south of Bogota. 

Entrance to this park is free and there you can enjoy walking on several paths, from where you can submerge in lovely moorland scenery, adorned by lagoons and the famous frailejones.

This area was considered by the Muisca people as a sacred land, made “by the gods themselves”. Currently, it is a protected territory that produces huge amounts of fresh, drinkable water for the communities and towns that surround it.

Sumapaz is one of the most beautiful national parks to enjoy a panoramic view of thousands and thousands of frailejones.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • One easy and fast way to get there is by taking a Transmilenio bus (this is the public transport in Bogota; the ride costs 2,650 pesos or 70 cents of a dollar) to Usme Portal, then you make a transfer to the Usme Centro route, and get off at the City Hall stop, where you can take a bus to the Paramo de Sumapaz (it costs 10,000 pesos, equivalent to 2.70 dollars).
  • The trip to the park takes one hour.
  • Another option is to arrange a tour from your hotel in Bogota. Our readers love this one.

Best time to visit: 

  • From mid-December to the end of March, which is the dry season. 

Travel tips: 

10. El Cocuy national park, 3 fantastic hiking day trips

Landscape In The Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy
Landscape In The Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy

This beautiful snow-covered park in the Boyaca Department is often referred to by international hikers as “out of this world” for its unparalleled beauty.

The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy features crystal clear lagoons, valleys of frailejones, and challenging mountains for hikers, as part of its 306,000 hectares of protected territory.

One of the aspects that make El Cocuy National Park so special, which in some places features Martian-like landscapes, is the fact that it remains very much unspoiled. In 2015, authorities closed the park to clean it and let the trails recover from erosion, although the melting of the glaciers seems inevitable due to global warming. 

There are 3 trails that you can take: Pulpito del diablo, 22 km; Laguna Grande de la Sierra, 22 km; and The Ritacuba, 13.6 km.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • You can take a bus directly from Bogota to Cocuy (about 10 hours and the ticket costs 95,000 pesos or 25 dollars). Then, you can hire private transportation to take you to the beginning of the trails.

Best time to visit: 

  • From mid-December to the end of March, during the dry season. 

Travel tips: 

  • Before entering the park you have to register (at least the previous day) at the registration office.
  • For accommodation, you should book in advance if you plan to go during the high season (December 15 to January 15).

11. Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo, paradise islands

Rosario Isla Pelicano Aleja

Just an hour away by boat from Cartagena, you can find the paradise-like islands of El Rosario, where you can go for a day, stay for a few days and even rent your own private island! Isla Rosa and Isla Pelicano are two examples of the tiny islands you can rent.

Isla Barú and Isla Grande are the most popular islands, which feature beautiful crystal-clear waters and great weather.

San Bernardo Islands, on the other hand, are a bit less visited than Rosario Islands but they’re better-taken care of, for more than 90% of these islands are private. This means that if you’re a visitor, you can’t always walk freely on all the beaches.

👉 Did you know that you can stay on beautiful Cartagena private islands?

This archipelago is located in front of Rincón del Mar and it takes 2 hours to get there by boat from Cartagena. The 2 most popular islands are Isla Tintipán and Isla Múcura.

The National Natural Park of Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo is the only underwater national park in Colombia.

How to get to these islands:

  • Rosario Island is 1 hour by boat from Cartagena. San Bernardo is 30 minutes by boat from Rincon del Mar and 2 hours from Cartagena. Ask Aymeric. He knows everything about boating.
  • You can either rent a tour or take a boat at Muelle La Bodeguita in Cartagena.

Best time to visit: 

  • If you want peace and quiet, don’t go there on weekends, public holidays, Easter, or the high season, from December 20 to January 15. 

Travel tips: 

  • I recommend doing the loop Cartagena – Rincón del Mar – San Bernardo – Cartagena.
  • Bear in mind that prices of food and drinks can be much higher than in Cartagena.

12. Macuira National Park, an oasis in the middle of the desert

This Colombia natural park is a bit of an oasis located in the middle of the desert in La Guajira Department, in the north of the country, northeast of the city of Uribia.

The area covers 24,103 hectares of beautiful landscapes, and it’s the home to the Wayuu indigenous community, as well as to a variety of migrating birds and wild animals.

If you want to enter the park, you must hire a local guide with a permit to access it. These guides are keepers of the culture and the territory. You can also buy handicrafts from local people inside the park.

It’s one of the best places to visit in Colombia.

How to get to this Colombia National Park:

  • First, you have to arrive in Nazareth and hire a tour from there. 
  • You can also take a 4-day tour that takes you to Cabo de la Vela, Punta Gallinas, and Macuira. Beatrice runs one of the best local agencies in Rioacha. It will let you breathless.

Best time to visit: 

  • The vegetation of the park looks at its best in December and January, after the rainy season is over. 

Travel tips: 

  • Most tours leave from Riohacha. We recommend Beatrice’s agency.
  • Internet access in Macuira is almost non-existent and transportation, if not in a tour, might be scarce.
  • I published a kick-ass guide to help you find the best guajira tours.

13. Los Flamencos, a perfect destination for birdwatching

flamingos park Riohacha Guajira

Los Flamencos, which refers to the flamingos, is a natural sanctuary located in the Guajira Department, Colombia’s northernmost area.

The territory consists of 4 marshes where these and other beautiful birds come to feed on shrimp (which explains the flamingos’ pink color).

You can stay at Wayuu’s villages if you want to experience how these communities live, so don’t expect a 5-star hotel and go with an open mind to learn about the culture and to enjoy the beautiful show that means watching the flamingos on the shallow water.

How to get there:

  • It takes 40 minutes to get to the village of Camarones from Riohacha, a 20-kilometer trip. 

Best time to visit: 

  • You can enjoy the most during the dry season, from December to the end of April, and from July to the end of August. However, you can see the largest flamingos between October and November. 

Travel tips: 

  • I recommend hiring a tour from Riohacha. Ask Beatrice. She is our La Guajira’s queen 😀

14. Gorgona island, an unusual Colombia Park

This island in the Pacific Ocean used to be a prison, from 1960 to 1983, and later became a national park.

Isla Gorgona takes its name after the 12 snake species that live there. For your safety, tourist guides give you tips to avoid any unpleasant encounters.

The island is a known spot to practice scuba diving and watch humpback whales. The place belongs to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Conservation Marine Corridor (CMAR), which includes the islands of Malpelo (Colombia), Galapagos (Ecuador), Los Cocos (Costa Rica), and Coiba (Panama).

Gorgona is a privately managed island and they sell tourist packages. It’s one of the best Colombia National parks for diving

How to get there:

  • You can fly from Cali to the coastal town of Guapi and then take a boat to Isla Gorgona. Speed boats leave Guapi’s harbor on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1:00 p.m. The trip takes one and a half hours. 

Best time to visit: 

  • Humpback whales mate between July and October. 

Travel tips: 

  • I recommend booking in advance.

15. Utria National Park, a great spot for wildlife

Utria Park Choco

The Ensenada de Utria is located in the north part of Colombia’s Pacific coast, in the Chocó Department.

This national park showcases thick rain forests of unparalleled beauty and stunning beaches from where you can watch sea turtles, birds, and whales that swim in the calm waters. 

The basin changes according to the tides. During low tide, you can spot different animal species that move around the mangrove forests, whereas during high tide you get to see different marine animals.

You can only visit the park for a while, about 2 hours. After watching a video, you can take a walk on a wooden bridge over the mangrove accompanied by a guide. There is the possibility to spend the night in one of the 3 cabins available. Entrance is paid, and it ranges from 13,000 to 56,000 pesos depending on whether you are a Colombian citizen or a foreign visitor.

It’s one of the best national parks for bird watching.

How to get there:

  • The best way is by boat. Boats leave from El Valle and the trip takes between 30 and 40 minutes. 
  • In El Valle, you’ll also find the best ecolodge in the area.

Best time to visit: 

  • You can see the humpback whales between July and October. 

Travel tips: 

  • Authorities recommend that visitors get yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before traveling.

16. Serrania de Chiribiquete

Chiribiquete is Colombia’s largest national park (more than 3 million hectares). It’s located in the departments of Caquetá and Guaviare, that is, between the Amazon jungle and Colombia’s eastern plains. It consists of unspoiled areas that showcase a wide variety of wild animals and flora.

Apart from its natural beauty, there are at least 250,000 rock paintings made by ancient cultures that used to live in the area, dating from about 20000 BC. The area has been protected since 1989.

This Colombia park was declared World Heritage by UNESCO in July 2018 and can only be seen from a plane.

How to get there:

  • You can book a flight over the park (on a small plane) through travel agencies in Bogotá or San Jose del Guaviare. 

Best time to visit: 

  • The ideal times, when you get the best weather and visibility, are between December and February, and from August to September. 

Travel tips: 

  • The only tip is to be ready to enjoy a two-hour flight over one of the last uncharted territories on the planet.

Colombia National Parks: What you should know

Travelers contact us every day to help them plan their itineraries to Colombia. Here are the answers and tips we give about Colombia National Parks. Maybe we have already answered one of yours 🙂

-btw, you can join our community to get our kick-ass Colombia Guidebook and tons of practical tips.

Some Colombia Nationals parks are closed to the public

Sadly, one of the Colombia parks that can only be seen from a small plane is Chiribiquete, where only communities that chose to live secluded from society are allowed. This is a government decision in order to protect the area. During the pandemic, other parks were closed, but they are already open to the public.

Some are sometimes closed to the public

Tayrona closes 3 times per year due to maintenance, whereas La Macarena is closed from January to the end of May.

You’ll need a guide most of the time or to register in advance

Colombia’s natural parks are usually located in remote areas, where there is no public transportation, so adventuring on your own is not a good idea. Our recommendation is that you plan your trip in advance and that you hire a tour, which gives you safety, saves time, and helps local economies thrive.

You usually have to enter before 9 a.m. and come back before 6 p.m.

Some of the parks are not meant for spending the night, staying, or camping, so check schedules before going. There are usually guards at the entrances.

For most of the Colombia parks, you’ll need to pay to enter

It’s usually around 60,000 COP if you’re a visitor from abroad, although there are some areas whose entrance is free of charge, such as Sumapaz and Amacayacu.

Some places are more expensive, such as Caño Cristales, since you have to take into account the price of flight tickets and the package that includes lodging and food.

Don’t try to do it on your own if you don’t have a good hiking background

  • Colombia parks are still very uncharted places where trails aren’t always marked, so it’s easy to get lost.
  • The weather changes inadvertently in the mountains. The fog prevents any visibility.
  • It is a good idea to pack a GPS device.
  • It’s not always easy to book accommodation online, so you have to use the phone.
  • Language tends to be a barrier because not many Colombians speak English.

Bottom Line: Colombia National Parks

Colombia’s national parks are one of its greatest assets. Being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, nature lovers will be spoiled for choice; hiking on glaciers, in the desert or in the jungle, rivers out of a fairy tale, endemic fauna, and flora. You won’t believe it.

These places are protected and difficult to access. The best way to enjoy them is to organize your excursions in advance with the help of a local agency.

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