Top 8 Places to Visit in Colombia

1. Jardin

The most picturesque town in Colombia and an outdoorsman’s paradise, Jardin is a must-visit if you’re traveling through central Colombia or staying in Medellin and want to immerse yourself in the Andes mountains.

A small town of 13,500 people, Jardin is a popular weekend getaway destination for Colombians, and for good reason. There are plenty of good restaurants and bar options, it’s very safe, and the scenery is unbeatable.

The downtown is intimate and very walkable. It’s so small – and there are so few paved roads outside of the city center – that taxis don’t exist. Rather, TukTuk’s (3-wheeled vehicles similarly-sized to a golf cart) are the main mode of transportation for visitors aside from walking.

Ziplining, paragliding, ATV riding, horseback riding, hiking, and canyoning are all readily and easily available activities. Ask your host or hotel front desk for the contact information of someone who can organize any of these activities for you – or you can reach out to me at the bottom of this page.

2. Comuna Trece, Medellin

One of Colombia’s most unique neighborhoods, Comuna Trece is nestled on a mountain to the west of downtown Medellin. It used to be one of the most crime-riddled neighborhoods of Colombia, infested with gang and drug-related activities throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and even early 2000s.

But since a controversial government raid in 2002 that saw 450 people arrested, Comuna Trece has been beautified into a lively, artistic center of Medellin and a must-see neighborhood to get the full Medellin experience.

City leaders even installed a series of outdoor escalators that makes Comuna Trece different – in a good way – from any other neighborhood you’ll find in the country and gives residents a sense of pride to live in such an inventive area. Surrounding the 384 meters worth of escalators is some of the best professional gravity you’ll see, along with plenty of amateur street performers.

Tip: Go in the morning if on the weekend, or before the end of the work day during the week as Comuna Trece has become very popular for locals and visitors alike. It can get quite crowded when walking through/up the neighborhood on the escalators.

Additionally, you can get to Comuna Trece relatively easily by taking the train to San Antonio, and then transferring to the yellow line west and getting off at the San Javier station. It’s about a 15 minute walk from San Javier.

3. Eje Cafetero, “The Coffee Triangle”

You can’t do Colombia without coffee. Eje Cafetero, or the “Coffee Triangle,” is the prime coffee production region located in west-central Colombia, which includes the cities of Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia. Smaller towns in the region include Salento, a popular day-trip from the cities listed above. The main coffee-producing departments are: Valle del CaucaTolimaCaldasRisaralda, and Quindio.

This region is perfect for the growth of coffee beans due to its warm (but not hot) year-round climate, significant (but not extreme) rainfall, and moderately high elevation.

Try to visit a coffee farm – if you need tips for where or how – feel free to message me at the bottom of this page.

4. El Penon De Guatape

Just two hours away from Medellin and perfect for a day trip lies the town of Guatape on the man-made Embalse El Peñol-Guatapé reservoir.

When there, climb the 200+ meter, 708-step staircase up El Penon de Guatape (The Rock of Guatape), shown above. Colorful buildings and murals dot the rural town, and ferries will take you to small islands on the reservoir. You can also watch and partake in extreme watersports.

Guatape is a bit more crowded than Jardin due to its proximity from Medellin, so keep that in mind before visiting. But regardless, it’s a fantastic getaway from the big city.

5. Cartagena

Lying on the Caribbean coast and known for its walled Old Town neighborhood, Cartagena has become a popular destination for those looking for a city rich in culture, nightlife, and tropical weather.

You’ll likely spend a lot of your time in Old Town,otherwise known as the Walled City, with its colonial architecture and narrow streets. Ride in a horse-drawn carriage, hang out on the nearby beaches, and take a day trip to a smaller beach towns or island like Mucura Island, Tintipan Island, or Isla Grande.

If going to Cartagena, I advise to have another city on your itinerary as there’s so much more to see in Colombia that’s a bit less-traveled by foreigners, but this is unquestionably one of the top destinations in the country.

6. Buga

This small city of 100,000 people located in the Cauca Valley is, in my opinion, a hidden gem of Colombia. Buga is actually visited by millions of people each year – mostly Colombians – as a pilgrimage site due to its prominent pink Basílica Menor Señor de Los Milagros in the city square that. However there’s more to see than the cathedral, and if you’re spending time in any area outside of the square, you’ll likely feel like the only visitor in town. You’ll also find that the people are extraordinarily genuine and friendly.

Buga is ideal for a 24-hour visit. After walking around the main strip, you can enjoy a couple empanadas and a frozen lemonade from a street vendor, visit the unique Holy Water Ale Brewing Company, and hike the small mountain, “El Derrumbado,” that lies practically right on top of town (shown above).

The trail conveniently begins walking distance from the city center and is a perfect, 2.5 mile round trip hike with unbelievable views of Buga and the valley surrounding it. A seemingly popular activity for residents, be prepared for endless smiles and, “buenos dias,” on the way up. Like I mentioned, this city has super friendly people, and in my opinion this town is as Colombia as it gets.

7. Pasto

In far southern Colombia near the Ecuador border lies Pasto, a city of 400,000 people in the Atriz valley at the foot of the Galeras Volcano.

Pasto is another relatively hidden gem, as it’s a flight away from the big cities of Medellin, Cartagena, and Bogota, and a long drive from Cali. Its high elevation near the equator leads to perfect weather year-round, it has some beautiful historic architecture including Gothic churches, and the city is very walkable – all of this leading to its nickname of “The Surprise City” due to its under-the-radar beauty and tranquility.

Other highlights include:

  • The Banco de la República Gold Museum, which displays rare pre-Columbian artifacts
  • Plaza de Nariño, the city square with narrow streets and Gothic architecture
  • Laguna De La Cocha, the country’s 2nd-largest lake with some quaint places to stay overnight on its shores

8. Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

When you think of Colombia and the Caribbean, you probably don’t think snowcapped peaks, but that’s exactly what you can find here.

Just two hours from the coastal city of Santa Marta lies this vast mountainous landscape that includes the two highest points in the country, the highest peaks in the tropics, and the 5th-most prominent peaks in the worldPico Cristóbal Colón and Pico Simon Bolivar (18,800 feet/5,730m). Incredibly, these huge mountains are just 25 miles from sea level and coastal beaches.

While access to these highest summits are very difficult, and impossible without a guide, the lower elevations of the park are just as beautiful. Visit waterfalls, tube rivers, meet local indigenous people, visit the “Lost City” (an archaeological site of an ancient city that involves a walk up some 1,200 stone steps), or if you’re really adventurous, complete multi-day hikes.

Have questions about your travels to Colombia? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly!

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