From the mountain ranges to the desert, from the Caribbean Sea to the Amazon, Colombia is an exciting destination that offers something for everyone. I traveled almost a month in Colombia and things to do and see there are so many that unfortunately I had to "give up" to many.
I gave up visiting Cali for example and I didn't have enough time to see the glaciers of Los Nevadas Park, nor to trek to Ciutad Perdida.
However, I believe I have included most of the things that any tourist itinerary should include including trekking in the Amazon rainforest, visiting Medellin and Bogota and I spent beautiful days on the Caribbean coast, at Tayrona Park and on the Islas del Rosario.
Read on to find out 25 things to do and see in Colombia you shouldn't miss, including monuments, activities and food!
1 - Visit Commune 13 to Medellin
Until a few years ago, the Commune 13 it was considered the most dangerous area of Medellin which, in turn, was considered the most dangerous city in the world.
Comuna 13 was one of the areas of the city in the hands of gangs, armed groups, drug traffickers: a group of ramshackle houses, clinging to the hill, where drugs, armed conflicts and police raids were the order of the day.
Then came the escalera electrica and the metrocable, which allowed the inhabitants to "break down" the invisible borders that divided the Commune from the center of Medellin: children were able to start attending school, people could move to look for work, redevelopment projects were born such as the library and social communities.
Today Comuna 13 lives a completely different story: over the past seven or eight years, Comuna 13 has undergone a complete transformation, or so it seems.
Despite not all problems have been definitively resolved, here today you can breathe a new air full of enthusiasm.
An air that has infected me, sometimes bringing me to the point of being moved: the boys "talk about history" through the murals, young rappers compose songs that aspire to a different future, the atmosphere during the day is cheerful, almost festive and full of hope.
Would you like to know more? Read the my post on Comuna 13 in Medellin!
Un MUNICIPALITY GRAFFITI TOUR 13 it is absolute one of the things not to miss on your trip to Colombia.
2 – Trekking alla Cocora Valley
In Quíndio's coffee department, you'll find the quaint Cocora Valley.
This area is special because Colombia's national tree grows here, the wax palm (Wax Palm). Similar to cartoon drawings, these funny trees (up to 60 meters high and with the "tuft") dot the landscape.
There are 2 types of trails that can be done here: the shorter one right in the most scenic area and the longer (and more tiring) one full of dilapidated suspension bridges over the river, endless mud and guaranteed fun!
Here you can read about mine trekking to the Cocora Valley
3- See the stars at the Tatacoa Desert
Il Tatacoa Desert it is a fantastic place to spend a few days: with its unique and surreal landscapes, romantic camps, the best starry in all of Colombia and the many things to do with which to keep busy, the Tatacoa is absolutely unmissable.
But if I had to say what Tatacoa is most famous for, it is the extraordinary opportunity to observe the stars. Thanks to its proximity to the equator, the clear skies and the total lack of light pollution, here you will see an extraordinary amount of stars.
There are 3 observers in the desert, where high-powered telescopes allow you to take a closer look at planets and stars and an expert is on hand to explain the constellations.
4 - Discover the jungle in the Colombian Amazon
There is something special about visiting theAmazon. One of Mother Earth's natural wonders, the river and rainforest recall our wild and adventurous side.
The Amazon is not only in Brazil. The lesser known city of Leticia, in Colombia, is located along the Amazon River where the borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru meet. Easily accessible by plane from within Colombia, Leticia is the perfect place to see the natural wonders of the Amazon and rainforest.
Here you will not only have the opportunity to go jungle trekking, but also to encounter indigenous cultures, wildlife and unusual and beautiful landscapes.
5 - Discover the beaches of Tayrona Park
Everyone who decides to visit Colombia has probably seen that photo: a pavilion on top of a group of huge round boulders, overlooking a crystalline sea and surrounded by the green of the jungle.
Il Tayrona National Park it has a lot to offer visitors: jungle, amazing wildlife, camping and hiking… but what really thrills people are its beautiful beaches!
From iconic spots like Cabo San Juan (that photo), to nude beaches (!) And hidden spots along the park's east coast, Tayrona offers a beach experience to suit every style of traveler.
Read my post ⇒ Tayrona Park, information to visit it (and what to see)
6 - Take a free tour of the historic center of Cartagena de Indias
The stunning walled city of Cartagena de Indias, with its beautiful colonial churches and flowered balconies of houses, as well as being one of the jewels of Colombia, it is also full of history.
A great way to get deeper - as well as familiarize yourself with Cartagena's most important sites - is with a free walking tour that departs daily from Plaza Santa Teresa.
Related article: what to do and see in Cartagena de Indias
There are several agencies that offer these tours, but personally I recommend THIS from Civitatis: our guide, besides being nice and cheerful, also had a really thorough knowledge of the city and its history.
7 - Bask in the sun on San Andres Island
Off the coast of Nicaragua are the islands of San Andres e Providence. These islands, Colombian-owned although geographically closer to Nicaragua, are unspoiled and well-known.
And let's face it: if they are well known it is because there is a very specific reason.
If you are looking for a beach vacation in a Caribbean paradise with world-class scuba diving, be sure to check out these islands.
San Andrés is where you need to go if you are looking for the most beautiful beaches and sea in Colombia.
8 - Trekking to the Lost City
Although personally I have not done this activity, trekking a The lost City is another of the things not to be missed in Colombia.
The Lost City is located in the deep jungle of the Sierra Mountains. To conquer the fascinating hidden ruins built in 850 AD by the Tayrona people you will have to go on a 4/5 day trek.
The 4 day experience is epic. Get ready to sleep on bunk beds, walk in mud and cross rivers.
This is an adventure you will never forget.
9 - Discover the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira
If you decide to stop at Bogota for a few days, you could take the opportunity to visit some incredible places that are within walking distance and that are also easily reachable by bus.
One of these places is the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá.
That there was an underground Roman Catholic church in Colombia, I didn't know before I went.
Located outside Bogotá, 200 meters deep inside a tunnel of a salt mine, (like the Krakow salt mines) is located this church, which is a popular tourist destination and pilgrimage destination.
10 - “Scala” the 700 steps of the Piedra del Penol
Guatapé and the Piedra del Penol they are one of the most beautiful things to do in Colombia and are easy to reach from Medellin.
Climb the 740 steps for a wonderful panorama of the lake and the islands around the rock.
You can take public transport for Guatapé from Medellin. But for those who want an easier way, check out the tour that I did with Civitatis.
11 - Discover all the secrets of coffee
Coffee is more than just a drink created to caffeinate you and give you a jolt of energy in the morning to go to the office.
Coffee is a culture, a lifestyle and, for many Colombians, a way to provide meals and support for their family.
I have taken coffee tours to various other countries around the world (Tanzania, Costa Rica, Guatemala among them) but my experience of the tour in Colombia was undoubtedly the most educational of all.
From squeezing the beans to tasting the different varieties to understanding the complicated background of coffee production, a visit to an estancia simply has to be on your “radar” when you go to Colombia!
Read more HERE about the Coffee Tour I did!
12 - Experience the Carnival in Barranquilla
Barranquilla it is a city that sleeps blissfully all year round, but the Carnival celebrations are not to be missed!
For four days, the streets are closed and filled with folkloric dances, parades, masquerades and all kinds of music.
13 - Taste the local cuisine!
Colombia's constant climate and varying altitudes make it an ideal country for growing fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce that can be found practically all year round.
These fresh products are used to prepare delicious traditional dishes of Colombia, which have been influenced by the indigenous communities of the country, Latin American cuisine, Spanish cuisine and African flavors.
On the Caribbean coast, but also in the most important cities, fish (and Peruvian-style ceviche) is king.
Colombian city and small town restaurants often serve meals prepared with recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
14 - Discover the history at the San Augustin Archaeological Park
Il San Agustín archaeological park is one of the most important archaeological sites in Colombia and is located near the town of San Agustín in the department of Huila.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and here you can see the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America.
If you are interested in Latin American culture and history, then this is a site to visit without a doubt.
15 - Visit the Santa Fe pueblo of Antioquia
If you are planning a trip to Medellin, you will surely have heard of the giant rock, the Piedra del Penol, and the colorful city of Guatapé.
But you may not have heard of the day trip or weekend destination in the Northwest yet: Santa Fe de Antioquia. This little pueblo is adored by Colombians and they will definitely recommend it to you.
Santa Fe de Antioquia is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobbled streets.
The city is a popular day or weekend trip for Medellin locals, and certainly a very authentic destination since it seems foreign travelers haven't discovered it yet.
16 - Go snorkelling!
Even if I don't recommend it because it is ugly, dirty and very badly maintained, Taganga is the right place if you want to get the scuba certification, given the number of PADI agencies.
From here also depart the boat excursions to fare snorkelling in Playa Cristal, in the Tayrona Park.
If you want to dive or snorkel, don't miss San Andrés and Providencia. These islands have coral reefs, shipwrecks and a large marine life.
Gorgona Island offers large groupers, turtles, whales and even whale sharks!
Mapelo Island is the place to go to see hammerhead sharks.
17 - Spend a few days on the Islas del Rosario
The islands off Colombia's Caribbean coast are stunning although you shouldn't expect the amount of white, long, sandy beaches of other Caribbean islands such as the beaches of Aruba for example.
When you are in Cartagena, you will be offered a huge amount of boat excursions, one of them will certainly be Playa Blanca. While very beautiful and popular for good reason, you risk being very disappointed: it is one of the hottest beaches and you may find it packed, with blaring Raggaeton music and filth.
For something more authentic, consider one of the islands of the Rosario archipelago or the San Bernardo archipelago - Big Island, Mucura Island o la mia adorata Pirate island … Just to name a few.
18 - Visit the Bogota Gold Museum
In the historic center of Bogotá, you will find the gold museum (Museo del Oro). This is a must visit if you are interested in pre-Columbian times.
There are numerous objects on display in gold and metal, as well as ceramics, stones, wood and fabrics.
Some items are even behind a vault door! The cost to enter is 3.000 pesos ($ 1), which also makes it one of the cheapest things to do in Colombia!
19 - Visit the Museum of Memory in Medellin
Il House of Memory Museum in Medellín is a multimedia museum and archive that details the violence of the armed conflict during the dark period of drug trafficking that has plagued the city and Colombia for so many years.
It is worth seeing this museum to better understand the history of the city of Medellín in those years.
Through photos, videos, voices and artifacts, the exhibition space is a glimpse into the dark past of armed conflict and drug cartels, but constantly paying homage to the many victims and is intended to provide a place to cry, reunite, remember and develop strategies for avoiding violence in the future.
Reportedly, 33% of the visitors to this museum are foreigners. And to my surprise, many Colombians I spoke to in Medellín and even many travelers who have been there before me do not know about its existence.
20 - Try the Aguardiente
With the term schnapps generally we mean a generic liqueur that you can find all over South America.
The popular one in Colombia, unlike others, is flavored with anise and everyone drinks it (except in the Caribbean region where rum is the most popular and best choice).
The alcohol content is quite high (24% - 29%) and it is cheap to buy which is why it is very popular.
THEschnapps it is not normally mixed with anything, it is just drunk directly. You will see men drinking this in small bars and on the streets in small plastic cups.
Tasting it is an interesting experience (but beware you risk the worst hangover of your life and I assure you that the traumatic hangover will not be easily forgotten)
21 - Visit Popayan
Why Popayan it is nicknamed the "White City", you will understand it immediately the moment you step into it.
Popayán is also known for its churches and religious processions, as well as being a very impressive colonial city.
22 - Feel the Hipster atmosphere of Palomino
Palomino is a small beach town on the country's north Caribbean coast and is a popular destination, especially among backpackers.
Palomino, with its relaxed atmosphere is a great place to enjoy a few days on the beach, meet new travel companions, enjoy the nightlife and eat good food.
23 - Get your adrenaline pumping in San Gil
Despite being a small town S it is known in the world as the Mecca for those who cannot do without a powerful one dose of adrenaline.
It is one of those cities where as soon as you arrive you realize that the days you have planned to stay are too few and that you will want to stay longer.
The mix of having a picturesque 300 year old colonial square along with the extreme sports of rafting, rapelling, paragliding and more makes San Gil a hit for all travelers.
24 - Visit the Baths of Santa Rosa de Cabal
If you are thinking of visiting Colombia's coffee triangle then le thermal springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal they are one of those “off the beaten track” things that I recommend you try.
The thermal springs of Santa Rosa de Cabal are a very popular destination and, especially on weekends, it can be very crowded, but you will find almost exclusively Colombian tourists who come here from all parts of the country.
Massi and I, after days of trekking in Salento, were looking for a place for a relaxing day and these spas at the base of the Los Nevados mountains have called our name.
Santa Rosa de Cabal is a pretty town in the Colombian department of Risaralda. The destination attracts many visitors who marvel at its beautiful surroundings and the thermal baths are adjacent to an impressive waterfall arguably one of the most beautiful in Colombia.
If you are a brave person with a strong heart, you can first relax in the pools of hot water and then throw yourself under the icy jet of the waterfall.
The spa park has a good tourist infrastructure: indulge yourself with a massage or spa treatment or enjoy a light lunch at the park's restaurant (where I ate a fab veggie burger).
25 - Feel very “local” by taking a trip in chiva
La Chiva - also known as bus de escalera (literally "stair bus") - a few decades ago it was one of the main forms of transport in the Colombian countryside.
All chivas have some things in common. First, there are no windows or doors. Rather than seating, buses have wooden benches.
Somewhere there is a ladder leading up to the roof, which is also used to carry things and sometimes even people.
Probably the most important feature of a chiva is the brightly colored and strictly hand-made decoration, which starts at the front bumper and continues all the way to the rear, but also the Colombian music that plays in the loudspeakers, the people shouting to accost other passengers along the road and the horn that constantly sounds in the middle of traffic.
La chiva is not just a means of transport, but a hilarious Colombian life experience.
While the chivas remain a form of transport in rural areas (I have taken it several times), today most tourists take the tourist ones which, especially in Cartagena de Indias, come and go at night, full of lights and on which , in addition to listening to ball music, you can have a drink, dance and sing.
These are just a few of them the best things to do and see in Colombia. If you've tried others, leave it in the comments so other travelers can read them!