It was surprisingly easy to spend more than 20 months in Colombia driving 9,923 miles (15,969 km) through almost every area of the country that’s got a road. Along the way we published more than 150 posts about travel in Colombia on our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog. We fell in love with the diversity, food, and people of Colombia who are defined by an irrepressible spirit. Start your own Colombia trip planning with the travel advice and hand-picked destination highlights in our Colombia Travel Guide.
On Your Colombia Itinerary
Bogotá, the cosmopolitan capital of Colombia, is an emerging culinary powerhouse and a hub of culture past and present. Toss in a healthy crop of boutique hotels, excellent cocktail crafters, and a wide range of compelling day trips and you’ve got a great base in Colombia.
The national tree of Colombia is the wax palm which is the tallest in the world. The Cocora Valley is famous for its stands of these palms, but there’s actually a much better place to see Colombia’s famous wax palms in a neighboring valley.
Caño Cristales is a river like no other. For a few months each year aquatic plants in a remote section of the river bloom, making it appear as if the river runs in a rainbow of colors. Visiting Caño Cristales is a spectacular adventure.
Cartagena is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in all of Latin America, that’s part of the reason why its historic center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The beauty is bolstered by great food, great hotels, and a great seaside location.
Luxury Travel in Colombia
The heart of luxury travel in Colombia is Cartagena where luxury hotels abound in meticulously restored colonial buildings in the city’s historic center. However, luxury hotels and boutique hotels are proliferating around Colombia.
Here are the top hotels in Cartagena.
The B.O.G.Hotel in Bogotá is just the right combination of luxury boutique hotel and full-service business hotel.
Hacienda Buenavista is the only luxury hotel in Colombia’s coffee triangle where this luxury boutique hotel has really raised the bar.
The NOW Hotel in Cali is hip and playful but never at the expense of comfort or service.
Adventure Travel in Colombia
Many of Colombia’s 59 national parks are in road less areas of the country or closed to the public. However, we visited six Colombian national parks and found outdoor adventure in other places as well.
The Chicamocha Canyon covers more than 100,000 acres (404,685 hectares) and is up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) deep. The best way to get a sense of the scale of the place is in the air during a guided paragliding trip over the canyon.
It can be cold and windy, but it’s worth it on a hike to Laguna Verde and the Azufral Volcano.
High altitude Los Nevados National Park is home to the massive (and active) Ruiz Volcano, lakes, paramo landscape, and a population of endangered Andean condors. There are also hiking trails, camping opportunities, and a simple refuge inside the park.
The Trampoline of Death road is 45 miles (70 km) of narrow, twisting, often fogged in dirt road between Macoa and Lago de la Cocha. Of course we drove it.
Eating & Drinking in Colombia
Better come hungry. Colombians love to eat—from simple dishes to internationally famous fine dining.
Three of the restaurants on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants are in Colombia and they’re all in Bogotá. Bogotá is bursting with great chefs and great restaurants of all sorts and you could easily spend a few weeks eating your way through Bogotá. We did.
Cocktail culture is also booming in Bogotá, sometimes made with aguardiente, the national hooch of Colombia.
One of the most emblematic dishes in Colombia is Bandeja Paisa, a mega plate that includes chicharron (crispy fried pig skin, fat and meat), beans, dry shredded beef, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), a fried egg, fried plantains, white rice, a huge hunk of avocado, an arepa and hogao sauce.
Craft beer is taking off across Colombia. Medellin brew pubs and brewery tours are now a popular option.
We suspect life in Colombia would simply grind to a halt if there was ever a panela shortage. This cane sugar sweetener, similar to brown sugar, is used to sweeten just about everything and panela is often still made the old fashioned way.
Cultural Travel in Colombia
There are eight UNESCO sites in Colombia (we made it to five of them) and a long list of compelling museums and archaeological sites to keep culture seekers happy.
Colombian artist Fernando Botero was born near Medellin. Visit Botero Plaza in Medellin to see 23 of Botero’s signature outsized bronze sculptures and don’t miss the museum on the plaza which is full of art from Botero’s personal collection.
Every year the city of Medellin blooms with a week of celebrations for the annual Flower Festival. There are horse parades, a classic car parade, musical events, and much more but the key event is the Flower Parade during which hundreds of traditionally dressed participants carry enormous and elaborate floral displays through the streets of Medellin.
A handful of Colombian towns have earned the right to be called Pueblos Patrimonios thanks to their preserved colonial architecture and their cultural and historical importance. We visited almost every one of Colombia’s Pueblos Patrimonios.
Do whatever you have to do to find a bar where you can play Tejo, the national game of Colombia, which involves a heavy metal ball, explosives, and beer.
The world is full of street art, but the street art in Bogotá stands out for its quality, diversity, and politics.
Colombia has the second largest population of wild hippos outside of Africa and you can thank narco terrorist Pablo Escobar for that. He imported a few for his opulent Hacienda Napoles residence and, over the years, some have escaped. Hacienda Napoles has now been turned into the weirdest tourist attraction in Colombia where you can see the still-captive hippos, giant fake dinosaurs, a water park, and a dank museum displaying sobering moments from Escobar’s infamous reign of terror.
The Gold Museum in Bogotá remains one of the best museums we’ve visited in Latin America. It’s home to a vast collection of pre-Hispanic gold objects, many made by the Zenu people, and it’s all displayed exceptionally well with descriptions in English and Spanish. Don’t miss the interactive rotating display room on the third floor.
Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez spent part of his youth in the tiny town of Aracataca and found inspiration there for scenes and characters in his iconic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Visit Aracataca for guided tours of places that influenced the Nobel Prize winning “magical realism” writer.
The San Agustín National Archaeological Park is full of carved stone statues that have experts scratching their heads.
At the Tierradentro National Archaeological Park you can enter elaborately carved and painted underground burial chambers, some dating back 1,400 years.