When Colombia is mentioned, two contrasting reactions are often expected. The first reaction revolves around the stereotypes of danger, drugs, guerrillas, violence, and other horrors. On the other hand, there is a more positive perspective that acknowledges Colombia as a beautiful country with a diverse culture, stunning landscapes, and a vibrant salsa dancing scene.
Personally, I align myself with the latter viewpoint. I firmly believe that Colombia is an incredible country where each region has its own distinctiveness, encompassing unique traditions, cuisine, music, and much more.
Having both lived in and visited numerous parts of Colombia, I would like to share my knowledge with those contemplating a trip to this country, providing recommendations on places to visit and offering valuable tips for tourists.
The following cities are highly recommended:
As the capital of Colombia, Bogota is a sprawling city that offers a plethora of attractions. You can explore the Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in Bogota, visit the city’s numerous museums, churches, and parks, and ascend Mount Monserrate via a cable car or funicular to experience its exceptional panoramic views of Bogota.
If your visit to Colombia is centered around salsa, then Cali, also known as the Salsa Capital of the world, is a must-visit destination.
Cartagena stands out as one of Colombia’s most captivating cities. For an unforgettable experience, it is highly recommended to stay within the enchanting historic district enclosed by ancient city walls, where charming bars and breathtaking views of the sea await. From Cartagena, take a boat trip to Playa Blanca and the Islas del Rosario, where you’ll discover awe-inspiring beaches adorned with white sands and crystal-clear blue waters. Additionally, Cartagena is home to the Volcan de Lodo el Totumo, a unique adventure where you can fully immerse yourself in a 15-meter-high mud volcano and then cleanse off the mud in a nearby lake. While it may cover you entirely in mud, it’s known to be great for the skin.
Located just a two-hour bus ride away from Medellin, Guatape is a small village surrounded by scenic lakes, perfect for a day trip. The main attraction in Guatape is the Peñon de Guatape, an enormous rock formation towering over 220 meters in height. The breathtaking views from its top are well worth the climb of 650 stairs.
A visit to Medellin is a must, especially if you happen to be there during Christmas. The city is renowned for its spectacular Christmas lights display, an event that should not be missed. However, even outside the holiday season, Medellin offers a wealth of attractions. As the only city in Colombia with a metro system, getting around and exploring the numerous sites is convenient and straightforward. Take a ride on the metro cable for incredible views of the city, visit interactive museums and parks, wander through the botanical gardens, marvel at the beautiful churches and cathedral, and explore Plaza Botero, which showcases the renowned statues by Botero. These are just a few highlights among the many attractions that Medellin has to offer.
If you’re an adrenaline enthusiast, San Gil is the ultimate destination. This small town in Santander offers a wide array of extreme sports, including paragliding, bungee jumping, rafting, and more. Nearby, you can explore the picturesque villages of Barichara and Guane, or venture to Parque Chicamocha, a national park renowned for its breathtaking views and a cable car that traverses the Chicamocha Canyon.
Santa Marta and its surroundings offer an abundance of activities. The nearby village of Taganga is perfect for scuba diving courses, as it boasts several diving schools. Playa Grande, a beach accessible by a short walk or boat ride, is part of the famous and highly popular Tayrona National Park. This vast ecotourism park features stunning beaches reached through jungle trails, where monkeys swing overhead, as well as coral reefs and ancient Tayrona Indian ruins. You can visit Tayrona Park for the day or opt to stay in hammocks, cabins, or tents. Additionally, from Santa Marta, you can embark on the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) trek, a five-day journey through ancient ruins, historic sites, mountains, and awe-inspiring landscapes.
Here are a few essential tips to ensure your safety and maximize your experience while visiting Colombia:
Taxis are readily available and can be hailed down. However, it’s important to ensure you’re getting into a licensed taxi. Look for a card displayed over the back of the driver or passenger seat, containing the driver’s photo and information. If you’re uncertain, it’s better to avoid it and call for a licensed taxi. While some cities have taxi meters for all vehicles, others may not. If there is no meter, be sure to negotiate the fare upfront to avoid being overcharged.
While Colombia is generally a safe destination, it’s important to remain cautious and mindful of your belongings. Avoid openly displaying cash, cameras, phones, and other valuable items, especially in quiet streets or at night when there are fewer people around. While the risk of being mugged is not high, it’s better to err on the side of caution and be aware of your surroundings.
Most bus journeys in Colombia traverse winding roads at high speeds, which can be challenging for those prone to travel sickness and even for those who aren’t. Consider carrying travel sickness tablets with you to alleviate any discomfort. Additionally, when purchasing bus tickets, try to negotiate the price whenever possible. Many companies do not have fixed prices and tend to overcharge tourists. If feasible, ask a local to assist you in buying the tickets to secure a better price.
Exercise caution when encountering street vendors or individuals selling goods on the beach. They can be quite persistent and may not easily accept “no” as an answer. If you’re not interested, it’s advisable to avoid direct eye contact and refrain from engaging with their products. Be aware that they may also attempt to overcharge you, so it’s important to haggle and not accept the initial price they offer for an item.
Colombia offers a diverse range of experiences, from exploring vibrant cities to engaging in thrilling outdoor activities. While practicing caution with personal belongings, being mindful of bus journeys, and navigating interactions with vendors, visitors can enjoy the beauty and cultural richness this captivating country has to offer.