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When I planned my first trip to Colombia, I asked Google God, “What are the best places to visit in Colombia“.
I bet you did the same.
It’s a smart reaction, after all. You’re creating your Colombia itinerary, and you want to do a pre-selection of the top destinations in Colombia.
However, there is a glitch in your plan.
We’re all different.
It means you maybe won’t like the same places as your cousin or friend – or the travel blogger who only spent 3 weeks in Colombia and wrote a “Best of Colombia” post.
I want to do things differently. You deserve it – especially if you share this article on the internet, love y’all.
I wrote down an exclusive list of all the Colombia places we have been in the last 4 years, and I regrouped them by theme.
And, there is a travel guide for (almost) each of them.
Have Fun. – Don’t forget to read our top-notch article about the mistakes to avoid when creating a Colombia itinerary.
Where to go in Colombia: Table of Contents
- The best major cities in Colombia
- The best beach towns in Colombia
- The best colonial towns in Colombia
- The best jungle towns in Colombia
- The best islands in Colombia
- The best outdoor activity towns in Colombia
- The best deserts in Colombia
- The best archeological sites in Colombia
- The best off the beaten path places in Colombia
- The best national park to hike in Colombia
Major cities to visit in Colombia
Best places to visit in Colombia
Big cities in Colombia aren’t sexy. It can be loud, polluted, dirty – like every city in the world.
However, there are many reasons why you would like to include some of them in your Colombia itinerary.
- Some local guides speak French/English
- Local travel agencies offer kickass tours and activities
- There are airports and principal bus terminals
- Interesting museums to learn about Colombia history and culture
- It’s your best chance to experience a fantastic nightlife
Let’s have a look at the best cities in Colombia depending on what you’re looking for
#1 Medellin, best city for living as a digital nomad
Many travelers stop in Medellin because they like partying in Poblado. I agree it’s fun, although there are better cities.
I’m also fond of Medellin. I lived there for 4 months, and it was fantastic. It’s “easy” to move around – except if it’s rush hour -, the weather is mild and the Paisas – Medellin’s people – are super friendly.
Read more: Our Medellin travel guide
#2 Bogota, best city to learn about the Colombia culture
I know that every traveler hates Bogota, but it’s a mistake. I didn’t like it the first time – and the 2nd time. It’s because I didn’t know how to understand Bogota.
Go to Bogota if you:
- Love good food. The Zona G is filled with delicious restaurants.
- Have the budget for paying fantastic activities. We met some excellent partners there. It’s the best way to experience Colombia Culture – and you participate in the local economy.
- Like museums. Bogota’s museums are the most interesting
- Want to party hard. Parque 93 and Chapinero districts host mind-blowing parties.
- Include San Jose del Guaviare or the Amazon on your Best of Colombia list. You must take your flight from Bogota.
- I recommend staying in Chapinero.
Read more: Our Bogota travel guide
#3 Cali, best city for dancing Salsa
Travelers skip Cali because they think they’re going to be bored – and 99% of us dance with 2 left feet.
It’s true that if you don’t care about dancing, then you might don’t want to include it in your Colombia itinerary. However, you don’t have to dance all day long. There are many day trips to visit exciting Colombia sightseeings around the city.
- Hike in the Western Andean mountains
- Plan a trip to La Barra or Popayan
- Tubing in San Cipriano
- Kitesurfing in the Colima lagoon
Have fun at night, and explore during the day. I can’t think of a better situation.
Read more: Our Cali travel guide
#4 Cartagena, best romantic city in Colombia
Cartagena already has a tremendous reputation around the world and many travel websites consider it’s one of the best places to visit in Colombia. The old city center is made up of colorful facades, flowery balconies, and fantastic restaurants.
Therefore, it’s an ideal city for a honeymoon journey, but there are some inconveniences you should know.
- Beaches in Cartagena aren’t pleasant
- Depending on the season, the city can be super crowded
- It’s expensive
- There are not many Colombia sightseeings around Cartagena
Read more: Our Cartagena travel guide
#5 Santa Marta, a touristic hub on the coast
There is 0 interest in visiting Santa Marta. However, you may have to stay there one night as it’s the easiest way to reach the Western side of the Caribbean coast.
It’s also the departure point for various excellent multi-day trips to La Guajira or the Lost City.
Read more: Our Santa Marta Travel guide
#6 Pereira, a touristic hub in the Coffee Region
As Santa Marta, Pereira won’t blow your mind. However, it’s a strategical point to visit the coffee region. It’s also easy to get there as there are an airport, a major bus terminal, and AVIS Rental car company.
We’ve met one of the best local travel agencies when we were there. Thanks to them, you can plan different adventures:
- Multi-day trips to the Paramo Los Nevados
- Canyoning and thermal baths
- Visit unknown-and-beautiful colonial towns
Read more: Our Pereira Travel guide
The best beach towns to visit in Colombia
Best places to visit in Colombia
Colombia is the only country in South America with two coastlines. Therefore, there is a bunch of cool beach towns where you can relax.
#7 Capurgana & Sapzurro, visit 2 beach towns in the Darien Gap
First of all, yes, it’s safe to travel to Capurgana and Sapzurro. I know that the Darien Gap as a bad reputation because of the Colombia paramilitaries, but I stayed there for over 1 year without having any issues.
Both towns are remote, and only accessible by boat. I loved it there. There are some nice beaches, an authentic beach town atmosphere, and many half-day trip activities you can do by yourself.
#8 Rincon del Mar, the ideal beach town
Rincon del Mar is a little hidden paradise that we must preserve. The inhabitants are the nicest people I’ve met on the coast, and it’s the most beautiful beach town in the Caribbean with its endless white-sand beach and colorful houses.
Moreover, there are plenty of activities you can organize with the locals, as snorkeling tour, bioluminescent plankton, and a trip to the San Bernardo Islands.
Read more: Our Rincon del Mar Travel guide
#9 Palomino, visit the most famous beach town
Nowadays, every traveler knows about Palomino – it wasn’t the case a few years ago. It’s a chill beach town with not many things to do, except tubing on the river. It’s maybe not the best option if you’re looking for a place with fewer foreigners. However, there are some nice accommodations and restaurants.
Unfortunately, the current is quite strong in this area, so you won’t be able to swim in the ocean.
Read more: Our Palomino travel guide
#10 Dibulla, an authentic fishing town
If you want to experience living and chilling in an authentic Caribbean beach town, then you should ditch Palomino and pick Dibulla instead.
There are not many things to do around, but it’s enough to occupy you for a couple of days.
Read more: Our Dibulla Travel guide
#11 Thermales & Guachalito, visit the paradise on earth
The pacific coast is wild and beautiful. There is no road to get there, and you shouldn’t expect a 5-star hotel. However, it will be the perfect place for disconnecting from the modern world.
Guachalito is a magnificent black-sand beach surrounded by lush vegetation. There are few eco-lodges scattered alongside the beach, and it can be an excellent option for enjoying some slow vacation days with your loved one.
And, if you don’t have the budget for it, Termales remains an excellent choice. Take the opportunity to learn how to surf. 😉
Read more: Our Guachalito & Termales travel guide
#12 El Valle, it will be hard to say goodbye
El Valle is a small beach town on the Pacific coast, at 30 min from the Bahia Solano’s airport. There are a few restaurants, nice hostels, and guesthouses. It’s more affordable than Guachalito.
Read more: Our El Valle travel guide
#13 La Barra, the cheapest zone of the Pacific coast
Being quite close to Cali (3h bus + 1h boat), Juanchaco attracts many Colombian tourists, especially during the whale watching season.
Juanchaco doesn’t deserve your attention, but we really liked La Barra and its surroundings. It’s a tiny beach town, with not many things to do. Fortunately, some hotels offer some entertaining and affordable activities.
Read more: Our La Barra travel guide
The most beautiful colonial towns to visit in Colombia
Best places to visit in Colombia
Because of the reputation of Villa de Leyva or Barichara, some travelers are willing to spend a day in transportation just for staying 24 hours.
It makes no sense to me.
Colombia’s colonial towns are indeed pleasant to visit, but the genuine interest lies in the atmosphere. And, you won’t get it by flying 30 seconds around like a hummingbird.
- There are always some cool activities to do around.
- Try all the restaurants and decide which one is your favorite
- Stay in a lovely guesthouse and lay back for an afternoon
- Grab a coffee on the main square and watch bystanders
#14 Barichara, ideal for planning extreme sports activities
Many travelers consider Barichara as one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
I’ve to admit that this colonial town is super lovely and pleasant. However, it’s a bit of a headache to get there.
Add this famous Colombia destination to your itinerary if you like extreme sports activities. There are excellent local travel agencies that offer fantastic experiences like rafting, cave exploring, paragliding, canyoning.
If you’re not interested in that, pick another village.
#15 Villa de Leyva, my favorite romantic getaway
Villa de Leyva is a town I like to visit again and again. It’s close to Bogota and there are all the conditions needed to enjoy a fantastic stay.
- Delicious restaurants and lovely hotels
- Many entertaining outdoor activities: bike, vineyard, hikes
- Colombia sightseeings where you can stop on the way back
- Cool nights which is perfect for sleeping well
Villa de Leyva is one of my best places to visit in Colombia.
Read more: Our Villa de Leyva travel guide
#16 Buenavista, the best view in Colombia
Buenavista is a little colonial town nestled up a hill in the coffee region. There are two excellent coffee tours and some delicious ice-creams.
Read more: Our Buenavista travel guide
#17 Filandia, an excellent alternative to Salento
Filandia is my favorite alternative to Salento and the atmosphere is much more authentic there. Moreover, there are some really good restaurants and cafés – Helena Dentro & Cafecultor.
From Filandia, you can easily organize a trip to Valle de Cocora or an expedition to listen to howler monkeys in the Barbas Bremen nature reserve.
Read more: Our Filandia travel guide
#18 Salento, the departure point to Valle de Cocora
Like Cartagena & Palomino, Salento is always listed in every “where to travel in Colombia” article. Nowadays, the colonial is so famous than most of the locals have run away.
There are some excellent accommodation options and the main square is the official departure to Valle de Cocora, where you can find the tallest wax palm trees in the world.
It’s also a good option if you want to get a more in-depth explanation about coffee.
Read more: Our Salento travel guide
#19 Salamina, another secret alternative to Valle de Cocora
Salamina is a lovely colonial town, with colorful streets and carved wooden balconies.
The main Colombia highlight nearby is Valle de Samaria, another valley where you can observe the tallest wax palm trees in the world. It’s a great alternative to Valle de Cocora, and there is nobody!
Read more: Our Salamina Travel guide
#20 Jardin, a town for drinking coffee and chasing waterfalls
While Jardin starts being famous among travelers, it’s still not invaded by foreigners.
I recommend Jardin to people who like hiking and waterfalls. There are many day-trips you can organize with excellent local agencies.
Moreover, we discovered a couple of beautiful hotels and mouth-watering restaurants.
Read more: Our Jardin Travel guide
#21 Jerico, a religious town made up of churches and coffee farms
Jerico is nestled on the top of a green hill and offers some beautiful sceneries to visitors. Like Jardin, Jerico is situated in Antioquia – one of my most beautiful Colombia departments. I like to include both towns in the same itinerary as you can move from one to the other thanks to a Chiva – a large and colorful bus typical from there.
Read more: Our Jerico Travel guide
#22 Guatape, get to the top of a giant monolith
Guatape is the most famous day trip from Medellin. Let’s see why:
- It’s easy to get there from Medellin by bus
- You don’t need a guide
- The view from El Peñol – a giant monolith nearby – is breathtaking
- The colonial town is cute
Read more: Our Guatape Travel guide
Towns surrounded by lush vegetation to visit in Colombia
Best places to go to Colombia
Colombia is not only made up of beaches, cute colonial towns, and big cities. Actually, an important part of the country is covered by thick green plants AKA jungle.
You can let your machete at home, but don’t forget your repellent.
#23 Minca, a town to visit in the middle of the Sierra Nevada
If you want to travel on the Caribbean Coast, then it’s interesting to stop a couple of days in Minca to take a break from the beaches. It’s straightforward to get there from Santa Marta.
It’s a well-known place to do some birdwatching and relax a few days in an Eco-lodge. The town itself doesn’t offer any interest. The best Colombia sightseeing is the 2-day hike to Cerro Kennedy.
Avoid the weekends as many Colombians like to get to the Pozo Azul -natural pools- and the Marinka waterfalls.
Read more: Our Minca travel guide
#24 Paso del Mango, an excellent alternative to Minca
You won’t find many “Best places to visit in Colombia” articles mentioning Paso del Mango. It’s because only a few people know about this place.
Paso del Mango is an alternative to Minca. It’s a bit more complicated to get there, but it’s worth it as you won’t meet many other foreigners. There is an excellent hostel that offers various activities and an excellent setting.
There is a “secret” 5h hike between Minca and Paso del Mango in case you would like to visit both ;).
Read more: Our Paso del Mango travel guide
#25 Mocoa, A city at the border with the Amazon
Mocoa was half shattered by a terrible mudslide a few years ago, and the city is not appealing at all.
Pick your accommodation nearby the departure of the trail “Cascada fin del Mundo”. There is a bunch of superb waterfalls and the area is excellent for birdwatching.
The zone is super humid. Your clothes won’t dry.
#26 Leticia, the only access to the Amazon
If you want to visit the Amazon in Colombia, you must pass by Leticia. The city is vast and loud, but it’s interesting to move around as you can eat your breakfast in Colombia, have lunch in Brazil and dinner in Peru.
Most of the multi-day tours with a local agency will start from Leticia. Also, don’t hesitate to pick an eco-lodge distant from the city to immerse yourself in the wild.
There are two seasons in the Amazon:
- December to May: the water level increases
- June to November: the water level decreases
Read more: Our Leticia Travel guide
#27 Puerto Nariño, the green lungs of the Amazon
Although Leticia can be “fun” for a couple of hours, it’s far from being the best place to visit in Colombia to embrace nature.
Take the public boat to head to Puerto Nariõ, an eco-friendly town where motor vehicles are forbidden. From there, you can plan different activities to observe wildlife and visit various cultural centers.
Read more: Our Puerto Nariño Travel guide
Best islands to visit in Colombia
What to see in Colombia
We can’t create a list of the best places to visit in Colombia without mentioning some paradise islands.
#28 Archipelago de Rosario, visit the Caribbean islands near Cartagena
Beaches in Cartagena aren’t appealing at all. Fortunately, visitors can easily travel to the Rosario islands from the Walled City. I don’t recommend picking the day-trip tours selling by the hotels & street vendors. There are too many people and not enough time on the islands. The best option is to stay overnight.
Be aware that most of the Rosario Islands are invaded by tourists, especially during the high season.
- Mamallena Shuttles to Playa Blanca
- Public Boat to Isla Grande
- Private transport to various upscale Eco-lodges/resorts.
Read more: Our Rosario islands Travel guide
#29 Archipelago de San Bernardo, Caribbean islands in front of Rincon del Mar
The Archipelago of San Bernardo is made up of 10 paradise islands, and there are only 2 tiny portions considered as public beaches.
Crystal-blue water, white-sand beaches, and palm trees, the setting is mind-blowing.
Pick well your accommodation as you won’t be able to wander from one place to the other, as most parts of the islands are privatized. There is a hotel or hostel for every taste.
Read more: Our San Bernardo travel guide
#30 Isla Fuerte, an island forgotten by travelers
Most travelers are not aware of Isla Fuerte as it’s a bit isolated from the other Colombia sightseeings.
Isla Fuerte is a good choice to relax for a few days and enjoy the island vibe. There is not much to do except hang out in a nice hotel and book their different activities: Scuba diving, paddle, rafting…
Read more: Our Isla Fuerte Travel guide
#31 San Andres, A paradise island victim of mass tourism
We didn’t stop there, but from what I’ve heard, there are many hotel resorts and loud Colombians.
You should pick your accommodation nearby San Luis if you look for a better paradise island atmosphere.
There are still some excellent diving spots.
#32 Providencia, the ideal paradise island
We chose not to stop in San Andres because we wanted to stay longer on Providencia. I assure you it’s one of the best places to visit in Colombia – if you’ve got the budget and the time for it.
You must take 2 flights to get there, so it’s not worth it to plan on staying 3 days.
I can’t imagine a better island life. Book a little guesthouse and rent a scooter to move from secluded beach to secluded beach. And don’t forget to book a scuba diving expedition and a snorkel tour to explore the mind-blowing submarine world around Providencia.
Read more: Our Providencia travel guide
Best places to plan exciting outdoor activities
Best places to visit in Colombia
Because of the Andean mountains, there are various places where you can get some adrenaline rush. It’s affordable and safe ;).
The most commons in Colombia are:
- Cave exploring
Let’s find out the best places to visit in Colombia for practicing extreme sports activities.
#33 San Gil, a town with a solid reputation for outdoor activities
Santander was the first department to develop extreme sports activities in Colombia seriously.
Many travelers go to San Gil for this reason. Everyone can show up in the city and book the tours they want for the next day. The only inconvenience is that you spend many travel hours to get to San Gil.
Usually, people like to paragliding above the Chicamocha Canyon and rafting on the Suarez river – Rapid class 4/5.
#34 Tobia, visit a 3-h getaway from Bogota
The town of Tobia is not famous enough yet to be able to plan outdoor activities during the week.
However, many Colombians from Bogota get there on weekends. You can book some affordable all included packages (rafting + rappelling) or you can ask for something more specific.
We did some excellent canyoning tours in Tobia.
Read more: Our Tobia travel guide
#35 Paicol, an off the beaten path colonial town
It’s an ideal stop to plan a few outdoor activities with the top-notch local agency present in town.
As in Tobia, there are not many visitors during the week. Therefore, it can be complicated to organize a rafting trip if you’re not a group of 4.
In any case, cave exploring, biking, and rappelling trips are always doable.
Read more: Our Paicol travel guide
#36 Tamesis, a 4h getaway from Medellin
Tamesis is an excellent pick if you want to stay in a town that nobody knows, except a few aficionados. Moreover, the landscapes around Tamesis are mind-blowing.
It’s a great spot for rappelling.
Read more: Our Tamesis travel guide
# 37 San Rafael, an ideal place to cool off
San Rafael is only 45 min from Guatape, but almost no travelers get there. It’s an excellent spot to swim in crystal-clear rivers.
Canyoning and tubing are the two main activities in San Rafael.
Read more: Our San Rafael travel guide
#38 San Carlos, a paradise for canyoning lovers
San Carlos is 1h away from San Rafael and there are some excellent spots for canyoning.
I highly recommend it.
Read more: Our San Carlos travel guide
#39 Suesca, more than 400 rock climbing routes
If you like playing Spider-pig, then you will love Suesca. Roca de Suesca is a large cliff at a 15 min walk from town. There, more than 400 routes are equipped so you can practice your climbing skills.
There are also qualified local agencies where you can rent pieces of equipment or take some lessons.
Read more: Our Suesca travel guide
Best Deserts to visit in Colombia
What to see in Colombia
There are 2 deserts in Colombia. You won’t find dunes on hundred of miles, but it’s worth a visit.
Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in Colombia for kissing a cactus.
#40 La Guajira desert, visit the northernmost point of South America
La Guajira is quite a vast desert starting from Riohacha to the Venezuelan border. There are different Colombia sightseeings you can include in a tour, the 3 main ones being:
- Cabo de la Vela
- Punta Gallinas
- The national park Macuira
Except for Cabo de la Vela, you need to book a tour to explore it and you will spend many hours in the jeep.
A trip to La Guajira is also an opportunity to share with the Indigenous Wayuu and live in a Rancheria (farm).
Read more: Our La Guajira travel guide
#41 Tatacoa desert, a place to observe the starry sky
Frankly, I was a bit disappointed with the Tatacoa desert. The most photogenic section – Cuzco – is quite small, and a couple of hours is enough to visit it.
We heard it was fun to sleep in the desert, but most of the hotels are illegals as it’s forbidden to build constructions within the park. So, we didn’t do it and stayed in Villavieja instead.
Nevertheless, it can be a nice day trip if you pass nearby.
Read more: Our Tatacoa desert travel guide
Best archaeological sites to visit in Colombia
Best places to visit in Colombia
Colombia isn’t like Peru, Guatemala or Mexico. You won’t find sumptuous pyramids or other mysterious constructions.
However, Colombians found many gold artifacts and proof of old civilizations, especially two crucial necropolis sites in the South of Colombia, both declared UNESCO world heritage sites.
Lots of concrete explanations are still missing.
#42 Tierradentro, visit a necropolis made up of deep underground tombs
Tens of underground vaults (5-7m deep) have been discovered in Tierradentro. You can freely move from site to site with a local guide – (Spanish only).
My favorite spot was “El Aguacate” as the view was breathtaking.
It’s a bit of a headache to get there, a mode of private transport isn’t a bad idea ;).
Read more: Our Tierradentro travel guide
#43 San Agustin, a place with more than 500 giant stone statues
San Agustin is famous for its various archeological sites where you can contemplate massive stone statues of 4-5m high.
There are many lovely accommodations outside the city, and the landscape are quite lovely. Horse riding is an entertaining way to move from one site to the other.
Don’t plan only to stay 1 night as you can book many other fun experiences like rafting, birdwatching, zipline, and various cultural tours.
Read more: Our San Agustin travel guide
Hidden gems recently open to the public
Best places to visit in Colombia
20 years ago, Colombia was really messed up because of the Guerillas and Narcotraficants. While there are still presents in some remote areas in the country, the situation has improved a LOT.
In 2016, the most prominent rebel armed group, the FARC, signed a peace agreement with the government.
Today, various incredible new-safe places that start receiving tourists.
#44 La Macarena, contemplate the rainbow river
The easiest way to reach la Macarena is to take a charter with a local travel agency. They will take care of everything, from transportation to the park entrances. Moreover, if you pick the right local agency, it’s almost the same price as if you do it by yourself.
Caño Cristales is a world-famous 5-colors river you can sight from mid-June to November when the national park is open to the public. All the tours leave from La Macarena.
It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia.
Read more: Our Caño Cristales travel guide
#45 San Jose del Guaviare, our favorite off the beaten path destination
If you’re looking for a unique Colombian experience, then San Jose del Guaviare is a perfect pick.
It’s an authentic town with local farmers coming every weekend to sell their products. There are top-notch Colombia sightseeings scattered all around like rock paintings, waterfalls, colorful rivers, natural pools, birdwatching, dolphins…
You can’t move around without a means of private transportation. The easiest way is to book an all-included package – and the prices can be super interesting.
Read more: Our San Jose del Guaviare travel guide
The national parks in Colombia
Best places to visit in Colombia
There are 58 protected areas in Colombia, and you can visit 29 of them. Local agencies organize day trips or multi-day hikes to explore the Paramos, contemplate beautiful rivers and so on.
We will write a more in-depth post next time, but here is a list to give you some leads:
- Tayrona: It’s a beautiful park on the Caribbean coast. No guide mandatory.
- Los Nevados: It’s a vast protected area with snow peaks, paramos, and the famous Valle de Cocora. Many multi-day trips. Guides are not mandatory, but I recommend taking one.
- Purace: It’s a reserve and a volcano near Popayan.
- Cocuy: There are 3 beautiful hikes, but you can’t sleep within the park. Guides are mandatory.
- The Ciudad Perdida: A 4-day trek in the Sierra Nevada. A guide is mandatory.
Read more: Our Tayrona travel guide
Best places to travel to Colombia on a MAP
Take a look at our interactive map to find out your next stop. Each destination is linked to a practical travel guide article.
Don’t bother looking for the information
Why bother with the planning if we can do it better?