14 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colombia
Authors Michael and Lana Law have made multiple trips to Colombia to explore the different regions. Their most recent trip in late 2022 took them to Medellin and Bogotá.
Cast all of your outdated ideas aside, like drug wars and gangsters, and you'll find that Colombia is a nation brimming with confidence and rushing headfirst into a more peaceful and prosperous future.
In this land of contrasts, you'll encounter snowcapped Andean peaks, tropical Amazonian jungles, turquoise Caribbean coasts, and two sun-kissed deserts. You'll also find a host of spectacular tourist attractions at the places in between, from the magic of Cartagena and the buzz of Medellin to the quiet colonial villages of Salento and Mompox.
Above all else, the famous Colombian hospitality will undoubtedly find you coming back for more. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Colombia.
Cartagena is the crown jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast and one of the best-preserved colonial destinations in the Americas. Take a stroll through the historic walled city, and you may feel as if you've stepped back in time to a different era.
Maybe it's the 13 kilometers of centuries-old walls, or the colorful colonial architecture, many of which are now beautifully restored restaurants and luxury hotels. Perhaps it's the bougainvillea-covered balconies along the labyrinthine streets or the soaring Catholic churches that tower above every plaza. Whatever it is, visitors can't help but fall for this Caribbean charmer.
Beyond the old city center lies laid-back Getsemani, and along the oceanfront is Bocagrande, a newer part of town, where upscale condos and hotels fight for prime seafront real estate. And less than an hour away by boat are islands and beaches, offering ideal places to visit for getaways and day trips.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cartagena: Best Areas & Hotels
Bogotá might be the Colombian capital, but it's the smaller and more manageable city of Medellin that tends to capture the hearts of visitors. Medellin was dubbed the most dangerous city in the world in the early 1990s, but a quarter of a century later, it has earned a reputation for something entirely different: innovation.
The city boasts cable cars linking the settlements in its hills to a modern metro system in the valley below, a greenbelt of lush "eco parks," and striking libraries and community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods.
A great day of sightseeing in Medellin might start in the Old Quarter at Botero Plaza, where you'll find a collection of 23 portly sculptures donated by the beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the plaza is the must-visit Museum of Antioquia and the striking Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture. Then, head into the hills above town by riding the sleek escalator system through Comuna 13 to explore this neighborhood's colorful homes and elaborate street murals.
Finish your day in Medellin's trendiest commune, El Poblado, where you'll find buzzing eateries, boutique shops, and the vast majority of the city's hotels.
3. Eje Cafetero
The world's third-largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a fantastic country for tastings and tours. The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota between the small cities of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales.
This region, known as the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations that have opened up their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and lavish farm stays.
These small (and often organic) plantations are the kind of places where the farmer-owner might take an hour out of his day to explain the process of how a humble "cherry" turns into a coffee bean that will one day be roasted and ground into a latte back home.
The small resort town of Salento is easily the most attractive place to base yourself, with numerous farm tours nearby and plenty of things to do. You'll also have easy access to attractions like Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees in the world.
You can rent bicycles from Salento to explore the region under your own steam or ride on one of the old-fashioned Willy jeeps that serve as the town's de facto taxis.
Picture the Amazon, and Colombia may not be the first country to come to mind — which is odd, because about a third of the nation is blanketed in its thick (and often impenetrable) jungles. The capital of the vast Amazon Basin is the small frontier town of Leticia, which sits along the banks of the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia bumps up against Brazil and Peru.
Leticia makes a great base for eco-tourism, wildlife safaris, or hikes into the Amazon to learn about the Indigenous tribes that call this area home. The only way to arrive here is by plane from Bogotá, and you can continue onward by boat either downriver to Manaus, Brazil, or upriver to Iquitos, Peru.
5. Tayrona National Natural Park
You'll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park, which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most beaches are set against the dramatic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforested hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.
Tayrona is also a fantastic place for snorkeling at protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan. Though remote, these secluded beaches aren't exactly a secret, so it's best to visit in low season (February to November) to avoid the massive crowds. Also, unless you're paying for the lavish Ecohabs Tayrona, be prepared to sleep in a tent (or hammock) at one of the many beachside campgrounds.
Most visitors to Colombia will inevitably begin their trip in Bogota, the nation's largest city. It's a city that often divides opinion, with some complaining of its gridlocked streets and sometimes dreary weather, and others falling head over heels for its unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way, this city of eight million tends to grow on people who give it enough time.
Begin your sightseeing in Bogota in the historic center of La Candelaria, where you'll find the impressive buildings lining Plaza de Bolívar and can't-miss cultural attractions like the blindingly bright Museum of Gold. Then, head over to the wealthier neighborhoods of North Bogotá for some of the nation's best boutique shops and chef-driven restaurants.
For a bird's eye view of the city, be sure to take a trip up on the cable car to the Sanctuary of Monserrate. While up there settle in for a delightful and leisurely lunch or dinner at Casa San Isidro, serving fine Italian food, or enjoy Colombian food at the historical Santa Clara House dating from 1924.
7. The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
Colombia's most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and occupied by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is said to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.
Much of the site remains buried beneath a thick jungle quilt because the modern Indigenous inhabitants of the area have banned excavations, but you'll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in outstanding shape.
Independent treks are not allowed, you will need to go with a sanctioned and approved tour operator who will provide a guide and all meals. You can book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.
If you decide to go, be prepared, this is no walk in the park. You'll face blazing heat, stifling humidity, rainstorms, copious quantities of mud, and insects. The trail, although easy to follow, is never flat, plan to always be going up or down. However, it's not all drudgery. Along the way, you'll be treated to spectacular jungle views and the opportunity to swim in rivers and ponds.
Hikes start early, usually around 5am to make use of the coolest part of the day. At the designated campgrounds, you'll either sleep in a hammock or on a mattress; mosquito nets are provided. You should count on being able to walk about 12 to 14 kilometers or seven to nine hours in a single session.
The trail is closed every September as part of an agreement with the local Indigenous community. The best time to go, with the least rain, is January and February.
8. Providencia Island
This quirky Caribbean Island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For starters, it's far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Then there's the fact that its residents don't speak Spanish but rather an English Creole. Of course, none of that really matters when you find yourself sunning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag.
Little more than a dollop of golden sands and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with some of the world's greatest marine biodiversity just waiting to be explored.
You'll need to first stop on the more popular San Andrés Island and catch a short hopper plane or three-hour catamaran ride to reach Providencia. Once here, you'll find the largest collection of cottages and hotels in the small hamlet of Aguadulce on the stunning west coast of the island.
Lovers of magic realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charms of Mompox. It features prominently in the Nobel laureate's book The General in His Labyrinth and is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional town of Macondo in his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Mompox was once a prosperous cog in the trading route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes, famed as the spot where "El Libertador" Simón Bolívar recruited his army to gain independence for neighboring Venezuela. Now, this colonial relic along the muddy shores of the Magdalena River is truly a town that time forgot.
Though it lacks a wealth of things to do, many visitors find themselves spending far longer than planned strolling through the cobbled streets; soaking in the ambience of the colonial architecture; or taking boat trips through the Pijiño Swamp, a popular attraction for birders.
10. La Guajira Peninsula
It's the most northerly point in South America, so perhaps it's only fitting that La Guajira is unlike anywhere else on the continent. This remote and little-visited peninsula is a quiet oasis of sweeping sand dunes, bird-covered mangrove swamps, and vast stretches of empty land where the orange-brown La Guajira Desert meets the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
Indigenous beliefs are the law of the land here, as the peninsula is home to the proud Wayuu people, who were never subjugated under Spanish rule and maintain a vibrant culture to this day.
Keep in mind that tourism is still new in La Guajira, and the ride in from the regional capital of Riohacha requires both patience and a sense of adventure. The windsurfing and kiteboarding Mecca of Cabo de la Vela has the most tourism infrastructure and will likely be your best entry point into the region.
11. Hacienda Nápoles
If there's one man who lingers large over Colombia's recent history, it's the billionaire drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. What few people realize is that you can actually visit the lavish estate built and owned by Escobar in Puerto Triunfo, about 110 miles east of Medellin.
The sprawling complex, known as Hacienda Nápoles, fell into disrepair in the decade after Escobar's death in 1993. But the local municipality took control of the property in the mid-2000s and turned it into-of all things-an ever-growing amusement park with an eclectic mix of themed zones, hotels, a water park, and safari-style zoo.
The amusements and hotels are new, and signs of Escobar are now limited. The ruins of his former mansion were bulldozed, and one of the Cessna planes he used to smuggle drugs to the US that used to be perched atop the entry gate is gone (as is the gate). The only thing remaining is a small museum that grapples with his legacy and some of his antique car collection rusting peacefully in the sun.
There is also a Jurassic zone filled with the life-size dinosaur replicas he purchased for his son and a wild hippo herd that, after years of heavy procreation, has grown from four to 40 and now represents the largest herd outside of Africa.
12. Caño Cristales
Caño Cristales was off limits for decades while in the grip of guerrilla fighters but is officially back in business and welcoming more tourists than ever before. Most visitors come to this remote river canyon in the Orinoquía region to hike between its waterfalls and bathe in its natural swimming holes.
While worth the trip in any season, the canyon is particularly prismatic between July and November, when an algae bloom turns the riverbed into a rainbow of colors. The isolated outpost of La Macarena is your base for trips to Caño Cristales, and it's only reachable by air from Bogotá or Villavicencio.
The inhabitants of Cali have a zest for life and fun that is unique in Colombia. And, how can you not, when your city is known around the world as the home of Salsa dance? Street festivals celebrating this sensual dance happen most evenings in the Juanchito area under the stars in the sultry air.
However, the city isn't all about dancing, it's also a foodie destination with a plethora of interesting restaurants helmed by innovative chefs making the most of the bounty from both the land and the Pacific Ocean, only a short distance away.
Dance, food, hot weather — what more do you need? Well, a bit of historical architecture dating from the 20th century coupled with friendly people round out the wonderful assortment of things to do in Cali.
The Caribbean coast of Colombia, with Cartagena as the shining star, soaks up most of the bandwidth when people think of coastal areas in Colombia. However, the small city of Nuqui and the Pacific Coast should not be overlooked by those with a taste for adventure and fun.
This incredibly biodiverse area is home to humid coastal jungles, waterfalls, and the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Empty beaches with humpback whales breeching just offshore, crystal clear rivers emptying into the sea, and some of the most incredible birdlife (especially hummingbirds) in the country await.