1. The Weather
Colombia is considered “The Land of Eternal Spring” thanks to year-round temperate and consistent weather throughout much of the country – which includes cities like Medellin (mild), Manizales (mild), Cali (warm) and Bogota (cool). High elevations of cities like Medellin (5,000 feet), Manizales (7,000 feet) and particularly Bogota (8,500 feet) is the reason for such refreshing weather, along with the country’s position so close to the equator.
In many places, there’s no fluctuation in temperature – it literally stays the same all year! Just take a look at the averages for the city of Manizales, located in the coffee triangle:
The country does receive a substantial amount of rain, but as a visitor you can be thankful, because it leads to incredibly lush greenery and picturesque mountain landscapes. And while it does rain a lot in Colombia, severe weather events like tornados and hurricanes rarely occur. Rather, the most common natural disasters are mudslides and landslides.
This leads to easy packing – light jackets, t-shirts, shorts, jeans and sweatpants are all you’ll need unless you’re an adventurist and planning long hikes in the highest elevations. If you’re going to the Caribbean coast, you can simply pack warm-weather clothes with a rain jacket.
Note: It doesn’t rain nearly as much on the Caribbean coast in cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla, unless you’re visiting in rainy season from August to November. In fact, northern coastal regions receive almost zero rainfall from December through April.
2. The Scenery
As mentioned, the high amount of rain leads to spectacular greenery and scenery throughout most of Colombia.
The eastern half is dominated by the mostly flat Amazon rainforest, while the far west and northwest is rural beach and jungle.
But the north, central, and southwestern regions of Colombia are likely where you’re going to be exploring, unless you’re feeling super adventurous.
In the north, not only do you have beaches on the Caribbean along cities like Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla, but you also have desert, frozen tundra, and snowcapped peaks.
Yes, you read that right – the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park lies just 25 miles from the coast and boasts incredible ranges of geography from forest, to rainforest, to desert, to frozen tundra and snowcapped mountains at the highest elevations.
In this region includes Playa del Pilón de Azúcar, one of the most unique, beautiful beaches in South America, and the highest point in Colombia – Cristóbal Colón (5,775m).
Further south, you have unrelenting greenery in the midst of the Andes Mountains surrounding cities such as Medellin, Manizales, Armenia, and Bogota. In the rural areas of these parts you’ll find some of the most picturesque towns in South America such as Jardin, Jerico, and Salenta where you’re surrounded 360 degrees by beautiful, green mountains.
You’ll be guaranteed to have hundreds of pictures on your phone after leaving Colombia – and often a lot of the photos and settings will look the same. But that’s because so much of the country is just too beautiful not to capture.
3. The People
Colombians are welcoming, fun, and friendly. Depending on your itinerary, there’s a good chance you’ll make lasting friends on your trip, especially if visiting smaller towns or doing group tours (from my experience, most tourists I met on group tours/activities were Colombian and visiting from other parts of the country).
I have a couple memorable stories in particular about Colombian folks that you can read in full here. They are honest people who for the most part have no interest in scamming foreigners and will even ensure you don’t accidentally pay more than things are worth, if your Spanish isn’t quite up to par.
I went to a karaoke bar in Manizales where the singer – to be blunt – had some not-so-great vocals, but nobody cared and everybody was laughing and having a great time. While Colombians are hard-working, they’re also laid back, funny and extremely patient (they handle long travel delays much better than the average American).
4. The Food (and Coffee)
The best thing about Colombian food isn’t just the taste, it’s the price and availability. You can grab a bite at most street vendors and get pretty decent quality empanadas and arepas. It depends where you are, but my first meal in Colombia was from a street vendor in the small city of Buga. Four empanadas for my traveling companion and I cost 4,000 Colombian pesos – or $1.
Colombian specializes in coffee (obviously), empanadas, arepas, Bandeja Paisa, and numerous soups. One thing you’ll notice, and that Colombians will admit, is that they don’t really like salad. But what they lack in greens they make up for in meat and fruit. Also make sure not to miss their ever-popular frozen coconut lemonade.
5. The History
You can see the history of Colombia through the architecture, whether it’s the Spanish style Gothic cathedrals scattered throughout the country or the European-influenced narrow streets in places like Old Town, Cartagena.
Colombia is a diverse country. There are significant indigenous, European, Indian and African influences in culture and heritage, and you can see the difference depending on what part of the country you’re in.
Unfortunately, Colombia does have a violent not-too-distant past. There’s a lot to learn about the numerous guerrilla groups, cartels, and paramilitaries who have made their presence felt throughout the country over the past 50 years in armed conflicts. There have tragically been over 450,000 total casualties including 177,000 civilians killed since these conflicts began in 1964.
But don’t worry, Colombia is far safer today than it has been at any point over the past 50 years and violent crime rates have drastically fallen since 2002. But if you want to see, and learn about Colombia’s past, there are plenty of ways to do so such as walking around the Comuna Trece neighborhood in Medellin, speaking to locals, and visiting one of many museums.
6. The Adventure
With the Andes Mountains permeating so much of the country, Colombia boasts numerous adventure opportunities and outdoors sports for those who like a thrill.
- Paraglide off hillside cliffs
- Go surfing on the Pacific coast
- Ride an ATV through the mountains and valleys to beaches or hidden waterfalls
- Or, go horseback riding to those waterfalls
- Or, go canyoning down those waterfalls
- Rent a road bike or mountain bike
- Take a hike! Check out some of the best here
- Take a tour of a coffee farm (need suggestions? Contact me below!)
There is no shortage of adventure in Colombia. I suggest you do at least a couple of the activities above to make for the most well-rounded trip. And if you haven’t done any of these before or they sound intimidating, Colombia is the perfect place to get out of your comfort zone.
Have questions about your travels to Colombia? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly!