From tropical Caribbean beaches to jagged Andean peaks. Pristine Amazon rainforests to ancient jungle ruins. Colombia boasts a treasure trove of landscapes. Here is our list of the best things to do in Colombia.
This article is inspired by our The Rough Guide to Colombia — your essential guide to travelling in Colombia.
Tiny Providencia is a sleepy but beautiful island with a mountainous interior — smothered with lush vegetation. It is also home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef beckoning divers from all over the world.
The island is circled by a 16km coastal road so it’s easy to see all the sights along it. Though like San Andrés, a visit here is more about getting under the water or simply soaking up the island vibe.
Popayán is the capital of the Cauca region and one of the most tantalizing cities in Colombia. It boasts a historic core of handsome streets flanked by colonial terraces, exquisite Baroque churches and grand, whitewashed mansions.
Though it’s worth spending a couple of days soaking up the architectural charms and museums, Popayán also makes an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding volcanoes and hot springs.
Indisputably one of the crown jewels in Colombia’s national parks system, the Los Nevados National Natural Park is located in the iconic Cocora Valley. It protects some of the last surviving snow-capped peaks in the tropics. You'll find here a tantalizing combination of volcanoes, craggy glaciers, churning rivers and wild plains of páramo.
This park is home to the world's largest palm trees, which grow as tall as 200 feet. Parque Nacional Natural los Nevados is one of Colombia's main attractions and visiting is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
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Despite being Colombia’s fourth-largest city (with just under two million inhabitants), Barranquilla would be all but overlooked if it were not for its annual carnival – Colombia’s biggest street party.
Four days before Ash Wednesday, the traditional start of Lent in the Catholic Church (Feb or March), Barranquilla drapes itself in a riot of vibrant colours, playful costumes and pulsating music: salsa, cumbia, vallenato and African drumming. Visiting during this celebration is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
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Cable cars traverse the slopes of this fashionable Andean city, home to illuminating museums, and enticing restaurants. Medellín sits in a valley surrounded by mountains at 1500m above sea level. Thanks to its moderate altitude and mild climate, it is known as the city of eternal spring.
The town makes an excellent base for forays into more rural areas. Take a day trip to the beautiful colonial towns of Santa Fe de Antioquia and lakeside Guatapé. Explore the pretty painted houses, near the imposing natural rock formation of “La Piedra” (“the rock”).
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If you like your bling, you’ll love the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) on the east side of Bogotá . This museum holds the world’s biggest collection of gold ornaments, some 55,000 pieces strong. The collection occupies two floors. The ground floor is used for temporary exhibitions and the top floor is given over to an “exploratorium” of Colombia’s indigenous cultures.
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Adrenaline junkies are spoilt for choice by the array of adventure sports on offer in San Gil. Many of them involve speeding down rapids in a variety of craft from kayaks to hydro boards, but there are also caves to spelunk, thermals to soar and waterfalls to abseil.
Try your hand at mountain biking, white water rafting, paragliding, abseiling, caving, bungee jumping and more. Adventure sports are potentially dangerous, people do get hurt, and you are strongly advised to use a well-established, reliable operator.
The mystical, magical underground tombs of Tierradentro form part of Colombia’s most treasured archaeological complex. These mysterious underground tombs are located high in the Andes, surrounded by Nasa communities and spectacular waterfalls.
These are a collection of pre-Hispanic hypogea, dating back over a thousand years. Some are as deep as 9m and reachable by steep, smooth original steps through trapdoors. Visiting this ancient lost city is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
Just off San Andrés, this perfect desert island has a distinctive Afro-Caribbean feel. Johnny Cay Regional Park is palm-shaded, iguana-inhabited, and full of gorgeous white sand beaches.
The shimmering blue waters offshore are far more enticing for a swim than the main island (though currents can be strong). Enjoy the fried red snapper and “coco loco” cocktails at the makeshift reggae bars here. This island off of Colombia's Caribbean coast is worth visiting.
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Tucked against the foot of spectacular mountains is the scenic Villa de Leyva. Its cobbled streets and whitewashed houses is a must-see showcase of colonial architecture. It certainly looks and feels immaculately preserved, right down to hand-painted tiles prohibiting horseback riding and car traffic along the main plaza.
The “Lost City” of the Taironas, Ciudad Perdida ranks among South America’s most mystical sights. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this ancient site is more than a lost city, it’s a lost world.
While steadily climbing the sierra’s luxuriant foothills, you’ll get a chance to bathe in idyllic rivers, and visit inhabited indigenous villages. Marvel at the swarms of monarch butterflies or beautiful jungle scenery. The five-day trek to this ancient city is one of South America’s great adventures, and one of the best things to do in Colombia.
Tayrona National Park is best known for its sensational beaches, with lush jungle running right down to the sand. Visit here to explore the unspoiled tropical wilderness of Colombia's Caribbean coast.
Visitors find themselves sticking largely to the string of beaches that stretches for around 8km from the land entrance of the park. Cañaveral to the east and ending with Cabo San Juan to the west are both great choices.
Cartagena is known as the colonial jewel of Latin America. This historic walled city consists of Baroque churches, elegant mansions, and shady plazas. You'll also find here an enticing blend of gourmet dining, all-night partying and beach life.
Visiting this colourful town is one of the best things to do in Colombia. Read more about what our Rough Guides editor has to say about Cartagena's history.
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In a fine colonial mansion surrounding a lush courtyard, the Museo Botero contains one of Latin America’s largest collections of modern and Impressionist art. This is an absolutely fantastic collection, and not to be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary art.
This collection was donated in 2000 by Colombia’s most celebrated artist, Fernando Botero. The museum features plenty of his signature plump ladies.
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Zipaquirá’s famous salt cathedral was inaugurated in 1995. The rock into which the cathedral was hewn is 85 per cent salt, and glistens in places with iron pyrites. You'll find here a bizarre but jaw-dropping sight, with vast halls, crosses and altars.
Entry is by guided tour only. However, once inside, you’re free to wander about on your own. Typically the guides speak Spanish or English.
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Parque Nacional Natural Uramba Bahía Málaga is home to hundreds of frolicking Southern Ocean humpback whales. Locals call this time of year the “Fiesta de la Migración”. During their stay, the whales mate, give birth and then feed and teach their young how to breathe and hunt. Observing the whales at this time of year can be a magical experience.
These beautiful whales are especially prone to crowd-pleasing displays of breaching and slapping the water. Humpbacks are also famed for their “songs”, those otherworldly, spine-tingling underwater cries produced by forcing air through their massive nasal cavities.
Colombia is the world's third largest producer of coffee, and Colombian coffee is some of the world’s best. Staying in a traditional hacienda in Colombia's coffee growing region will immerse you in the sights and heavenly aromas of the trade. A number of coffee farms or fincas are open for visits.
Try Hacienda Guayabal, or Hacienda Venecia — of Colombia's coffee region. Coffee tasting is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
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Colombia’s Amazon region is still largely untamed wilderness, with Leticia the best base for forays into the rainforest. The town is located on the three-way border between Colombia, Brazil and Peru.
This area is known for its stunning wildlife. Including tree sloths, anacondas, and the Amazon's famous pink river dolphins. It is also home to vampire bats, electric eels, piranhas, and more than we could ever start to mention here.
Ready to go on an adventure to South America? See our guide to backpacking in Colombia.
Colombian chocolate santafereño is made by dissolving cocoa bars in hot water with a little milk and is often spiced with cinnamon or even vanilla. Cooked up in a metal jug called a chocolatera and frothed up with a wooden paddle stick called a molinillo, it is often taken for breakfast instead of tea or coffee.
Often Colombians will enjoy this drink with the additional ingredient of cheese with melts and integrate into the drink. This is often served with bread for dipping.
Few sights in Colombia are more unexpected than the extraordinary Santuario de Las Lajas, a Gothic Revival confection sprouting from a narrow canyon wall like a medieval castle.
The church was built between 1916 and 1949, though it commemorates a much older event: the story goes that in 1754 a local indigenous woman called Maria Muecestook refuge between giant “lajas” rocks during a storm. Here Rosa is supposed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary and in time the site became a popular pilgrimage spot.
This list could truly go on. There are countless fantastic things to do in Colombia. Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the snapshot Rough Guide to Colombia. Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in Colombia.
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