How to choose the Colombian cities you want to visit?
Each one has its character, with advantages and disadvantages. Some are more dangerous. Some are perfect for partying. Others aren’t friendly to visit at first sight.
Here at Tomplanmytrip, we have been exploring Colombia since 2015. With this article, you’ll quickly get an overview of the most exciting cities to visit.
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Most famous Colombian cities on the Caribbean Coast
Colombian Caribbean coastal cities have many things to offer, like great weather (without hurricanes), delicious and varied food, friendly people, and breathtaking landscapes and beaches. Here are some true city icons of Colombian culture.
👉 Learn more about the Colombian Caribbean Coast.
21# Cartagena: A romantic Colombian city
Cartagena is the capital of the Bolivar Department, with 914,000 inhabitants, and it’s the second most widely visited city in Colombia, after Bogotá. It’s located on the seashore, in the country’s north, with an average altitude of 3 meters above sea level (masl).
Cartagena, founded in 1533, is considered a historical icon. One of its most beautiful places is the walled city, which has served as the location for several Hollywood movies. This historic center offers plenty of gourmet restaurants with French, African, Arab, and Caribbean cuisine.
What to do
It’s also a place for romantic walks or sleeping at boutique and luxury hotels with marvelous colonial architecture, such as Sofitel’s Santa Clara (that used to be a convent) and the Charleston Santa Teresa. You can drink tropical fruit juices or a cup of coffee while you take a bike tour or walk around the city.
You may also do some chocolate and rum tasting, take dance lessons, do crab fishing in La Boquilla area, take cooking lessons, or just watch the sunset from the Movich Hotel’s rooftop.
Apart from downtown, there are attractive neighborhoods such as Getsemani or Bocagrande. The latter is more modern and features many hotels on the beach.
Cartagena has many cultural attractions in its surroundings. For example, you can visit nearby Baru or Rosario Islands by boat. Or you can even drive 120 km north to Barranquilla. You can find hotels, restaurants, water sports facilities, and beautiful landscapes on that road. Another known tour is to the neighboring town of San Basilio de Palenque.
Some of the city’s landmarks are Cerro de la Popa, a hill from where you can enjoy magnificent views.
Castillo San Felipe is a Spanish castle on the seafront, where you can freely walk and see how the city used to defend itself from invaders and pirates.
How many days
You need between 2 and 5 days to get to see the city.
20# Barranquilla, the festive city on Colombia’s coast
The city, also known as ‘La arenosa’ (the sandy one), is famous for the Barranquilla carnival, the second biggest in the world, after Rio de Janeiro. It’s the capital of the Atlantico Department, and it was founded in 1627. It sits 7.5 km from where the great Magdalena River meets the sea. It has 1.3 million inhabitants — the fourth largest city.
It’s known for its breeze, a mix of ocean winds, and the airstream accompanying the nearby Magdalena River. Both breezes help the city keep an average day temperature of about 32 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
Barranquilla is also the hometown of many showbiz personalities, such as singer Shakira, Hollywood actress Sofía Vergara, 2014 Miss Universe Paulina Vega, soccer player Teofilo Gutierrez, and late writer and journalist Álvaro Cepeda.
The important port of Barranquilla is one of the largest in Colombia, and for this, the city is also known as the country’s ‘Golden Gate.’
What to do
Calle 72 and other areas of the city offer bars and places to party all night long. La Troja salsa bar and disco stand out in the south of the city. There, you can see the style of dance of people in Barranquilla, which is different from salsa dance in Cali.
El Malecón is another place where you can walk, ride a bike, eat, drink, have fun with your family or friends, and buy handicrafts. This is a walk along with one of the banks of the Magdalena River, where you can also enjoy beautiful views of the river before it ends in a place known as Bocas de Ceniza.
How many days
Since Barranquilla is not a highly touristic place, 2 or 3 days are enough to enjoy the city.
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19# Santa Marta, the gate to the Sierra Nevada
Santa Marta is the capital of the Magdalena Department. It was founded in 1525, making it the oldest province capital in Colombia.
Downtown Santa Marta has undergone a positive transformation in the last two decades. Depressed areas turned into streets full of life with a varied gastronomic offer. There are some interesting bars, with live music and dance floors.
Santa Marta is next to the Caribbean sea, so its breezes keep temperatures between 24 and 31 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The rainy season goes from August to November.
What to do in Santa Marta
From this city, you can plan your trip to Sierra Nevada, Tayrona Park, or Ciudad Perdida. In the streets of Santa Marta, it’s common to see indigenous people of the Kogi, Arhuaco, Kankuamo, and Wiwa tribes.
You can visit Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a farmhouse built in the XVII century where liberator Simon Bolivar died in 1830.
El Rodadero is a more modern part of Santa Marta, which features a long beach full of hotels.
Our friend Bruce can arrange premium English tours in the area of Santa Marta. And because you’re a Tomplanmytrip reader, you’ll get a 10% discount with the following code ExploreColombia10 (on the check-out page)
How many days in Santa Marta
You need 1 or 2 days to see the city before heading to the Sierra Nevada, where you can stay longer.
18# Riohacha, a city in the desert of Colombia
Riohacha is the capital of the Guajira Department in the north of Colombia.
The town sits at an altitude of 5 masl, has 287,000 inhabitants, and was founded in 1545. The climate is arid, with an average temperature between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
This town is not very touristic. It is inhabited by many members of the Wayuu indigenous community. This community is known for making excellent handicrafts, such as hammocks (known as chinchorros) and bags. The legend says that Walekeru, a deity in the shape of a spider, taught the Wayuu women how to weave.
What to do
In Riohacha you can hire a tour to visit Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas, in the Guajira desert. It’s a 4 or 3-day trip.
These tours include transportation. It’s challenging to get there unless you hire a tour or drive a jeep. In Guajira, a two-hour trip from Riohacha, you can see the Manure salt flats and the beautiful flamingo beach.
Bear in mind that this trip is for adventurers, so don’t expect to find, outside Riohacha, luxury hotels or glamping. Instead, you’ll spend the night in typical huts. Also, remember that running water is scarce in Guajira, so showers or bathtubs in some accommodation places simply don’t exist. You usually sleep in hammocks.
How many days
1 or 2 days in Riohacha are enough to see the town and plan your trip to the Guajira desert. In the meantime, you can enjoy nice restaurants that offer seafood.
17# Valledupar, the place to enjoy vallenato music
The green Valledupar is the capital of the Cesar Department. It’s located quite far from the coast and sits on the southeast side of Sierra Nevada. It has more than 500,000 inhabitants and was founded in 1550. The temperature throughout the year is high: 40 degrees Celsius. The altitude is 180 masl.
Colloquially, locals play with words and call Valledupar the ‘Valle de Old Parr’, referring to the brand of scotch whisky most widely consumed in town.
Valledupar is known chiefly for its Festival de Leyenda Vallenata, a vallenato music annual contest that lasts 5 days, at the end of April and the beginning of May. These are the busiest and most interesting days to visit this town. Apart from the concerts, you find live vallenato music in almost every bar. Vallenato is a typical Colombian rhythm that includes accordion, guacharaca, and drums, although it can be accompanied by bass and guitar. The old vallenato used to tell adventure and love stories of the region.
The area is also known for its agriculture and livestock farming. And the city itself is one with the most trees per inhabitant in the country. Cañaguate is the icon tree to the town, with beautiful yellow flowers that contrast with the rest of the greenery, especially in January. Sunflowers grow in February, and oak trees blossom in violet hues until March.
What to do
The Plaza Alfonso López is the main square in Valledupar. This place showcases a permanent stage for music events, trees, and colonial buildings that surround it.
You can visit the Casa Museo del Acordeón de ‘Beto’ Murgas, where you can learn more about the origins of vallenato music and all the stories related to it.
Atanquez, Chemesquemena, Caracoli, and Nabusimake are nearby indigenous people’s colonies. You can visit those and learn how these communities live in the middle of the Sierra Nevada rainforest. You can also go swimming at La Mina, a section of the Guatapuri River.
How many days
3 days are enough to know the city if not during the festival.
Most famous Colombian cities in the Andean area
The Andean region is in the country’s center and is one of the six natural regions in Colombia. The area covers the three cordilleras, ramifications of the Andes range, and features a variety of climates.
16# Bogota, the capital of Colombia
Bogota DC is the capital of Colombia, and it’s strategically located in the center of the Cundinamarca Department. It was founded in 1538. It sits at an altitude of 2,600 masl and has cool daytime temperatures between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius. Before sunrise, temperatures can go to a low of 0 degrees Celsius in January and February.
Bogota has almost 9 million inhabitants and is the fifth-largest city in South America.
Bogota is the most widely visited town in Colombia—thanks to its international airport El Dorado. It offers all kinds of cuisines, including the typical ajiaco, a soup made of two types of potato, chicken, and herbs. The town showcases a considerable number of bars and discos.
What to do in Bogota
One of the most beautiful aspects of the city is that it is located on a lengthy plateau surrounded by magnificent mountains in the east. On top of two of these mountains, you will find two of the city’s landmarks.
The first mountain showcases the church of Nuestro Señor de Monserrate, a place you can visit on foot (3 kilometers of steeps steps) or by cable car. On the mountain, you have great views of the city and find several fine restaurants.
The second most important mountain is Guadalupe, which features a 15-meter-tall statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Monserrate and Guadalupe are 3,152 and 3,300 masl tall, respectively.
You can explore La Candelaria neighborhood and check out colonial houses, colorful graffiti, and famous museums (such as the gold museum, the largest of its kind in the world). Also, you can experience great restaurants in the Zona G, party in the trendy clubs of Zona T (north of the city), and plan a day trip to the paramos of Chingaza or Sumapaz. A visit to the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira is another option.
Our friend Bruce can arrangec premium English tours in the area of Bogotá. And because you’re a Tomplanmytrip reader, you’ll get a 10% discount with the following code ExploreColombia10 (on the check-out page)
How many days in Bogota
You need to stay for 2 days if you only want to see La Candelaria. But if you’re going to see more places, a week of stay is a good time.
15# Medellín, the city of the eternal spring
Medellin is the economic center (textile industry) and capital of the Antioquia Department, founded in 1616, and it’s the second-largest city in Colombia. It’s known for its weather and pleasant temperatures of about 26 Celius, 59 % humidity, and an altitude of 1,595 masl, making it a great place to live. The metropolitan area holds 2.5 million inhabitants.
Medellín is the only city in Colombia with a metro. This is complemented by Metrocable, hanging cable cars that go to neighborhoods on the hills, such as Comuna 13.
Due to its beautiful weather, it has been nicknamed the ‘city of eternal spring”. It hosts the famous annual Feria de las Flores (flower fair), which takes place in early August.
Many foreign visitors choose to live in the neighborhood of hilly El Poblado or the flat area of Laureles.
What to do in Medellín
The modern Metrocable connects the city with surrounding neighborhoods and has views of the Aburrá Valley below. Sculptures by Fernando Botero decorate the Plaza Botero in the center of the town, while the Museo de Antioquia exhibits more works by this well-known Colombian artist.
Medellín is also recognized for its popular dish bandeja paisa, which includes red beans, ground beef, plantain, sausage, pork skin, egg, and avocado in one sole platter.
Sadly, the name of Medellín is also associated with drug lord Pablo Escobar, a mafia leader that was synonymous with terror and violence. Police took him down in 1993.
However, the people’s resilience in Medellín made them transform the city and its reputation into a hub for development, technology, and tourism.
Places such as Comuna 13, the neighborhood where many of Escobar’s lieutenants were recruited, are now an example of strength and progress.
Moravia, an old landfill turned into a beautiful garden, is another excellent example.
Our friend Bruce can organize you premium English tours in the area of Medellín. And because you’re Tomplanmytrip reader, you’ll get a 10% discount with the following code ExploreColombia10 (on the check-out page)
How many days in Medellín
Including a day for a tour to any neighboring towns, 4 days are enough to enjoy Medellín.
14# Cali, the world capital of salsa
Cali, founded in 1536, is the capital of the Valle del Cauca Department. About 2.5 million people live in Cali’s metropolitan area. The altitude is 1,000 masl, which gives it great warm weather with temperatures that average 29 degrees Celsius.
This beautiful green city is widely known for its preference for salsa music, even though salsa was not born in Colombia. Professional dancers from Cali almost always win international salsa contests due to their skills and superfast and rhythmic footwork.
What to do
For visitors, there are plenty of academies that teach salsa lessons. And if you want to practice and see people dance, bars and discos like la Topa Tolondra or MalaMaña are the best options.
However, you should be careful because Cali has been experiencing higher levels of insecurity.
La Feria de Cali, the city’s annual festival, is one of the most popular in Colombia and revolves around salsa shows, dancing, and partying. It’s held in December.
The neighborhoods of Santa Teresita and Santa Rita are known for their big houses and wide boulevards near the Cali River. The pleasant breeze and the birds singing make these areas unique.
The oldest area of the city, on the other hand, is known as San Antonio. This is worth seeing, and its outdoor cafes are worth spending time in while having a great cup of coffee.
The surroundings in Cali, with deep hues of green, are famous for birdwatching. If you want to combat the sometimes high temperatures, the Pance River is a great place to go.
How many days
If you’re not into taking salsa lessons, 2 days is an excellent time to experience the city.
13# Ibague, Colombia’s music capital
Ibague is the capital of the Tolima Department. It is located in a valley between Combeima Canyon and the Valley of the Magdalena River. Although the average altitude of Ibague is 1,285 masl, the city features three different kinds of weather.
This is because the city sits in a Valley that varies in altitude. Therefore, downtown is located in the highest part, so temperatures range between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius.
In contrast, neighborhoods such as El Salado are at the lower end of the city, and the heat there can go up to 32 Celsius.
What to do
The ‘music capital’ has a conservatory, where students learn to play instruments and love music. There is a folk festival in June, during the national public holiday of San Pedro, that attracts most tourists.
In terms of cuisine, tamales from Ibague have a high reputation in the country. Tamales are preparations of corn starch, carrot, egg, chicken, and pork wrapped in banana tree leaves.
Also, lechona (pork stuffed with meat and peas) is highly appreciated and differs from the one you find in Bogotá and other cities in that Ibague’s lechona doesn’t include rice.
The city surroundings offer a lot of extreme sports, such as rafting and canyoning. Nevado del Tolima (a snow mountain and volcano) is also an exciting and challenging destination for climbers.
There are other activities for visitors, such as birdwatching and hiking in the Combeima Valley, where many restaurants offer barbecued meats, tamales, and lechona.
Parks such as La Martinica or the Jardin Botanico San Jorge are also worth visiting.
How many days
3 days to visit Ibague are enough unless you want to go to Nevado del Tolima, which is 5 more days.
12# Bucaramanga, the beautiful city
Bucaramanga is the capital of the Santander Department (northeast of the country), also known as ‘The beautiful city’ or ‘The city of parks.’ It was founded in 1622. It sits on the east branch of the Andes Mountain range, at 959 masl.
Although Bucaramanga is not as great a destination as the cities on the north coast, it is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and nearby towns with lots of history, such as Barichara, San Gil, and Socorro. Bucaramanga has average temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius.
The city has 1.2 million people and was recently declared one of the fastest-growing, most competitive, and thriving in Latin America.
What to do
It features plenty of shopping malls, accommodation, and a very active nightlife.
One of the exotic treats in Bucaramanga is ‘hormigas culonas’ (big-ass ants). These insects provide lots of protein and low fat.
Another typical dish is ‘cabrito al horno’ or ‘a la brasa’ (baked or roasted lamb), accompanied by manioc and corn ‘arepas de maíz pelao.’ These arepas differ from the ones in the rest of the country in preparing the corn, which is wiped with ash; this gives them a distinctive taste.
You can visit Chicamocha Canyon, the second deepest in the world. There, you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the canyon and river below or plan a day trip to Parque Chicamocha.
In Bucaramanga, you can have a drink at the Holiday Inn Hotel’s Skybar and admire a 360-degree view of the city.
The last option is to head to Cerro del Santisimo in Floridablanca. It showcases a 40-meter-tall statue of Jesus Christ, whose head is a viewpoint.
How many days
The number of days to visit: 4, if you plan to go to the surroundings.
11# San Gil, a small city for adrenaline
San Gil is a town in Santander known for being the ‘capital of Colombia for extreme sports.’ It sits on the east cordillera at 1,114 masl. It has 60,000 inhabitants, and the average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius. It was founded in 1689.
The town itself is not that attractive. However, the surroundings are astonishing, and so is the possibility of practicing extreme sports.
What to do
Rafting, paragliding, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, rappelling, caving, and other challenging activities are available near San Gil.
If you want a quieter activity, you may visit El Gallineral Natural Park, located on an island formed by Curití creek and the Fonce river. Tall trees with abundant white moss are great to see and give the 4 hectares of land a special touch.
Another activity in San Gil is that you can go to the nearby town of Barichara (14 km). In just a few minutes, the landscape turns into a desert, but temperatures are delightful, for the air is dry, and you don’t get to sweat that much.
Barichara is a beautiful well-looked-after colonial town known for its clay and rock handicrafts. It also features excellent typical restaurants and an art gallery. There are plenty of Airbnb places to spend the night in town or the surroundings.
How many days
A 4-day stay in San Gil is ideal if you plan to practice extreme sports and visit Barichara.
10# Pereira, great weather and nightlife
Pereira is the capital of the Risaralda department, with a population of 1 million people. It is located in the coffee region, known as the coffee triangle, at 1,411 masl.
Pereira is more an industrial city than a touristic one, and the clothing manufacturing stands out.
One of the good things about Pereira is that it’s a green city with pleasant temperatures all year round of about 25 degrees Celsius.
What to do
You can take a bike tour around the city to know it fast and well. It also offers a reasonably active nightlife, like in Discoteca Paradise.
The Parque del Café is just 55.5 km, where you can go with family and children to spend the whole day in this amusement park. It features roller coasters and swimming pool activities.
Like many other Colombian cities, Pereira’s central square is dedicated to liberator Simon Bolivar. The only difference is that the plaza in Pereira exhibits a statue of a naked Bolivar riding a horse. La Señora de Nuestra Pobreza Cathedral surrounds the square.
Since Pereira is right in the middle of the coffee region, you can plan coffee tours or go to Valle del Cocora to see the magnificent wax palm trees. You may want to visit the Ucumari Natural Regional Park.
Hiking lovers will love heading to Lake Otún, which provides Pereira with fresh water. It’s located in Los Nevados Park, in a paramo, where you can camp overnight.
Our friend Bruce can arrange premium English tours in the coffee region. And because you’re a Tomplanmytrip reader, you’ll get a 10% discount with the following code ExploreColombia10 (on the check-out page)
How many days
You need 1 day (or less) to see the city and 4 more days to enjoy the surroundings.
9# Pasto, a Colombia city with an important cultural heritage
San Juan de Pasto is the capital of the Nariño Department, and it’s the largest Colombian city before crossing the border to Ecuador. It stands at 2,527 masl, and it was founded in 1537. The town is very close to Galeras, an active volcano. The city has daytime temperatures similar to those in Bogota, between 17 and 20 degrees Celsius.
This town is full of history since it was an important political hub for Gran Colombia when the country gathered Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador in one big nation.
What to do
Pasto features the Blacks and Whites Carnival, one of Colombia’s richest celebrations in terms of folk, culture, and music. The festival is held in early January and represents unity among different races and ethnic groups.
Pasto is famous for eating cuy, or guinea pig. They usually eat it fried, stewed, or roasted. It goes well with spicy potatoes and vegetables.
One must-see place near Pasto is Las Lajas Sanctuary, a Catholic church in the middle of the mountains known for its outstanding architecture and design. The church is very close to border town Ipiales.
La Cocha Lake, the second-largest in Colombia, after Tota Lake, in Boyaca, is a good place to go hiking for a day. It is located less than an hour away from Pasto. You can also hire a boat tour around the lake, visit La Corota Island and finish your day with a tasty dish of garlic trout in one of the restaurants on the lakeshore.
The green lake of the Azufral Volcano is one of the natural wonders in Colombia.
How many days
You should spend 3 or 4 days seeing the city and some of the surroundings.
8# Manizales, the Colombian city on the hills
Manizales is the capital of the Caldas Department. It’s also called ‘the city of open doors.’ It stands in the coffee triangle but is higher and chillier than Armenia and Pereira. Its altitude is 2,150 masl and has daytime temperatures between 14 and 23 degrees Celsius. Compared to others, it is a fairly young city, for it was founded in 1849.
This town is known because it is very hilly. Just in case, even drivers have learned to park their cars with the front tires locked against the curbside.
What to do
Manizales doesn’t have much to offer in terms of touristic attractions, but there’s plenty to see in the surroundings. Of course, downtown is colonial, and you can find excellent restaurants and bars.
The streets of Manizales are animated since there are many university students in the area.
While you’re in Manizales, before heading for Los Nevados National Park or any other place, it’s worth visiting the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Rosary, the tallest tower in the country (106 meters). You can enjoy the views from the building.
Among many of the activities outside the city is birdwatching. This is a paradise for bird watchers since the surroundings of Manizales feature 813 bird species, almost half of the total in Colombia, which has the highest number of bird species in the world. Rio Blanco is an excellent spot for this activity.
You may visit a coffee farm to learn about this drink and taste it. The most well-known farm is Hacienda Venecia, which organizes daily tours.
Many hikers and climbers stay in Manizales before going to Los Nevados National Park, mostly to Nevado del Ruiz, whose summit is 5,321 masl.
If you don’t want to go far from town, you may visit Recinto del Pensamiento Park, located 11 km away. Once there, you can take relaxing walks around the trails, gardens, and ponds, where you’ll observe different types of colorful butterflies and hummingbirds.
How many days
You may stay 3 or 4 days in Manizales before heading to other places.
7# Armenia, the heart of the coffee region
Armenia is the capital of the Quindio Department. It is also quite new since it was founded in 1889. It stands at an altitude of 1,551 masl. The weather is great, with average temperatures of 24 degrees Celsius all year round.
The city has suffered many earthquakes, the last and most devastating one in 1999. For this reason, its urban architectural identity has been lost.
What to do
You can organize a coffee tour in the nearby town of Pijao or paraglide in Buenavista.
But one of the most memorable things to do there is visiting the Valle del Cocora, near Salento, where you’ll enjoy a six-hour walk to see the famous wax palm trees, the tallest in the world, and Colombia’s national tree.
Museo del Oro Quimbaya is another must-see. The collections gather the work of indigenous pre-Columbian Quimbaya goldsmiths. The show also includes ceramics objects and religious-related items.
If you’re more into adventure, you can do some rafting in El Rio La Vieja, in the town of Quimbaya.
Staying in luxury hotels or glamping is an activity highly preferred by tourists in this region. Glamping Entre Rios, Hacienda Bambusa, and Biohabitat offer good accommodation options.
Good food is one of the things visitors fall in love with. Massive breakfast consisting of beans, rice, meat, and fried plantain are some of the dishes available. And for lunch, bandeja paisa is a must.
How many days
You should spend 1 day at the most in Armenia and take 4 or 5 days to visit the surroundings.
6# Neiva, a green Colombian city near the Tatacoa desert
Neiva is the capital of the Huila Department. It’s located 350 km south of Bogota. The elevation of this city is only 442 masl. It stands near la Tatacoa Desert, and for this reason, daytime temperatures can reach between 34 and 40 degrees Celsius. Neiva was founded in 1612 and has 367,000 inhabitants.
The city stands between two mountain ranges. Rivers Magdalena, Las Ceibas, and Río de Oro pass nearby and provide the city with some moisture that helps keep the city green and full of trees and flowers.
What to do
Old big and lush kapok trees adorn Neiva’s downtown and Parque Central Santander. This main square features a statue of Francisco de Paula Santander, one of the Colombian leaders that helped the country gain its independence from the Spaniards. Soda fountains and bars surround the place.
El Malecon is a park where you can walk and be in touch with nature. You may even rent a horse. There are also boats and canoes for rent, from which you can spot a variety of bird species.
Regarding food, ‘asado huilense’ is a typical dish consisting of roasted pork –which is left marinating for 24 hours– and it’s accompanied by manioc, potato, and ‘insulso,’ a special kind of cornbread.
In Neiva, the festival of San Juan and San Pedro takes place at the end of June. This celebration is about the local mythology of the indigenous people who lived in the area.
The typical music and dance of this region is Sanjuanero. Female dancers wear long skirts and flowers in their hair, whereas male partners wear white shirts and black or white pants, and canvas espadrilles.
Near Neiva, 46 km away, visitors can enjoy the famous Tatacoa Desert, one of the two deserts in Colombia (the other one is in La Guajira).
How many days
1 day is enough to see Neiva, but you may choose to stay for 2 or 3 days if you go to La Tatacoa.
5# Popayán, the white city in Colombia
Popayan is one of the prettiest and most historic towns in Colombia. The capital of the Cauca Department was founded in 1537. It has 318,000 inhabitants and stands at an altitude of 1,760 masl.
This town is also known as ‘the white city’ because the inhabitants painted their facades white for years. The reason, more than aesthetics, was because this kind of paint would kill an insect, similar to a flea, that bit the indigenous people’s feet.
The level of conservation of the city’s historic buildings is outstanding. However, not all of them are original. Many houses had to be rebuilt or made from scratch after a deadly earthquake half destroyed the town in 1983.
What to do
For decades, Popayan has been known for its special celebration of Easter week due to its numerous churches. Additionally, since 2003, another significant event has been gaining importance: the Congreso Nacional Gastronomico de Popayan.
This gastronomic congress helped UNESCO decide to declare Popayan a Gastronomic City of the World in 2005. There is always an international country invited to this large event, featuring cooking lessons, workshops, and wine and chocolate tasting.
Some of the emblematic delicacies are:
- ‘Empanadas de pipian,’ pies whose dough is made of potatoes and peanuts.
- ‘Salpicón de Baudilia,’ a tutti frutti drink
- ‘Carantanta,’ a corn-made snack.
- ‘Helado de paila’, a kind of ice cream.
- ‘Champús,’ a drink made of lulo fruit and corn.
- ‘Aplanchados’, a kind of tender Mille Feuille.
You may try the latter at the restaurant Moracostilla, known for reviving the ancient recipes and home cooking flavors of Popayan.
Don’t hesitate to walk around early to take photos in the beautiful downtown. You can also see the sunset from El Morro de Tulcan.
If you want to go out of the city, a day trip to Purace National Park is a good option. You can hike to the top of the volcano and see frailejones and condors while they eat. On Tuesdays, you may visit Silvia, an indigenous marketplace.
Another great thing to do is take a bath in the nearby natural hot springs. Coconuco is a natural sulphuric pool where you can spend the day. Aguas Tibias is another hot spring that offers a volcanic mud pool.
How many days
You may spend 3 or 4 days seeing and experiencing Popayan cuisine.
4# Florencia, the golden gate to the Amazon
Florencia is the capital of the Caqueta Department and is the largest Colombian city in the southeast, with about 180,000 inhabitants. It’s located between the Llanos Orientales (eastern plains) and the Amazon.
It’s only 242 meters high, with temperatures of about 25 degrees Celsius. It was founded in 1902 by Spanish friar Doroteo de Pupiales. The name Florencia was to honor Paolo Ricci, a migrant born in Florence, Italy, who lived in town and owned a rubber warehouse.
For many years, the city suffered the consequences of the armed conflict between the army and the now extinct Farc guerilla group. Luckily, now the city is more prosperous and has a lot to offer visitors. The natural beauty surrounding Florencia is breathtaking, and you can visit it any time of the year.
What to do
Part of Florencia’s beauty is attributed to the many rivers, pools, waterfalls, and creeks. La Avispa, El Avispón, La Novia, and El Quebradón are some of the most renowned waterfalls.
Las Dalias Natural Reserve, 30 minutes away, is a park where you can spend the day in close contact with nature. There are also forests and caves you can visit.
Rafting in the Orteguaza River is also popular. On the same river, you can take a trip on the Marco Polo Ferry, aboard which you can relax in hammocks while having a drink and enjoying the landscape on both banks of the river.
How many days
I suggest spending 3 or 4 days to enjoy the surroundings.
Most famous Colombian cities in the Llanos Orientales
Unlike the rest of Colombia, the Llanos Orientales (eastern plains) consists of flatlands that have a unique culture and ancient traditions.
3# Yopal, city of Colombian cowboys
Yopal is the capital of the Casanare Department, which separated from the Boyaca Department in 1974. It sits at an altitude of 390 masl, with an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (36 degrees in the dry season, from November to April). It was founded in 1915.
Yopal, with 170,000 inhabitants, keeps many of the ancient traditions of ‘llaneros,’ some kind of tough cowboys, experts in cattle, and used to riding horses for days without rest.
What to do
The name Yopal comes from the yopo, the official local tree. Its nearby forests and plains are full of flora and animals such as the capibara (featured in Disney’s Encanto), the boa constrictor, the red heron (known locally as corocora), the tapir or danta, the babilla (a small alligator), the howling monkey, the anteater, and the sloth, among many others.
The city’s surroundings are full of natural beauty and rivers where you can swim or go fishing.
Typical food in the city is ‘mamona a la llanera’ (roasted veal), accompanied by manioc, rice, and topocho, a kind of sweet plantain. The typical music rhythm in town is joropo, played with harp, maracas, and cuatro (a small, four-string guitar).
If you leave Yopal, the viewpoint El Mirador de Buenavista is the best place to see the city from 7 km away.
Garcero, located 10 km away from Yopal, is a natural reserve where you can see some of the fauna described above.
You may also go horseback riding on the plains or through the forest or plan a photography safari. One place to stay and safari is the ecolodge Hato de la Aurora.
How many days
1 day is enough to see the city, but you may want to spend 3 or 4 days in the surroundings.
2# Villavicencio, the city gate to the Llanos
Villavicencio, or ‘Villavo,’ is the capital of the Meta Department and has turned into the most thriving city in the Llanos Orientales (eastern plains). It stands at 467 masl. It was founded in 1840 and has 552,000 inhabitants. The average temperature is 28 degrees Celsius, and it can get humid, so expect to sweat a lot.
This big city is the gate to the Llanos Orientales. Villavicencio shares many of the cultural, musical, and gastronomic traditions of Yopal, such as roasted meat in an open fire, joropo, and the landscape in general. However, this part of the Llanos is much more developed than Casanare in the crops and cattle industry.
What to do
The International Tournament of Joropo at the end of June and the beginning of July features music and dance groups from Colombia and Venezuela, for they share a lot of the ‘llanero’ culture.
One of the things to do is go to a ranch, where you will see how they raise cattle and milk it. You can go horseback riding on the plains, which is an extraordinary experience. From the plains, you can wait until 5:30 or 6 p.m. and see the beautiful red sunsets.
Sunrises in the plains are also worth seeing, but for this, you have to be up at 5 a.m.
Bioparque Los Ocarros is a natural reserve that focuses on wildlife and where you can see different bird species (like toucans and herons), crocodiles, jaguars, monkeys, boa constrictors, and armadillos.
You may also choose to go hiking in the mountains through the beautiful trails of Vereda El Carmen.
Regarding nightlife, you can party until dawn at Los Capachos, where people from Villavicencio and Bogota gather to dance and drink.
How many days
If you want to see the city and explore the surroundings, 4 or 5 days will suffice.
The most famous Colombian city in the Amazon
The Amazon is a Colombian department where it’s easier to access by plane. Once there, you will experience what the Amazon jungle is like, and you’ll get to know a bit of the culture of this incredible part of the world.
1# Leticia, in the middle of the jungle
Leticia is the capital of the Amazon Department. It is near the borders of Peru and Brazil, and it’s next to the mighty Amazon River. It elevates at 96 masl, and it was founded in 1867. Average temperatures range between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, depending on whether it is during the dry or rainy season.
About 43,000 people live in this sometimes chaotic city in the middle of the Amazon. Leticia itself doesn’t offer much in terms of tourism, but the surroundings make up for it.
What to do
You can visit Tanimboca or Mundo Amazonico natural reserves, where you will learn about the Amazon indigenous culture and wildlife. To do this, you don’t need a guide.
In the town’s main square, called Parque Santander, you can see thousands of parrots that make a lot of noise before going to sleep.
It’s also possible to take a boat tour to the Towns of Puerto Nariño (Colombia), Santa Rosa (Peru), or Tabatinga (Brazil).
You can also spend the night in the jungle, at an ecolodge. You have to consider that there are two different seasons: the dry season, from early June to early October, when you can see the forest and the river bank.
The rainy season, mainly between November and May, shows a different landscape because the level of the river increases by about 10 meters, so you must move on a boat. Expeditions through the jungle that last several days are common.
How many days
1 day in Leticia and 4 or 5 days in an ecolodge or traveling around are enough to enjoy the jungle.
Bottom line: Colombian Cities
As you can see, each city in Colombia has different traditions and cultures. You won’t find many cities in Colombia that are attractive to visit. It will be easier if you have an idea of what to do or if you book a guided tour. Still, it will be ideal to participate in the many festivals in the country, party, and meet the locals.
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
The best tours from Leticia (Colombian Amazon)
The best La Guajira Tours (biggest Colombian desert)
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)
1 or 2-day rafting trips around Medellín
Breathtaking treks in Los Nevados National Park