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Colombia is many things: huge and fascinating are two that come readily to mind. This is the world’s third-largest Spanish-speaking country, the second most populous nation in South America, and home to a whopping ten percent of the world’s biodiversity! The vast expanse of Colombia contains much to see, do, and experience. You’ll find enigmatic lost cities, lush green jungles, shimmering glass-and-concrete metros thrumming with vibrance, sunny beaches, and the tiniest, most darling pueblo villages you can imagine. 

Before you even ask: yes, Colombian beans really do produce some of the most exquisite coffee in the world. Real Colombianos sip their joe black as cafe tinto. Understandably, coffee is so much more than just a beverage here: a tinto and some warm conversation are the key to lasting friendships. For current amigos, there’s no better bonding activity than writhing the night away at a salsateca! Colombians invented the salsa, and even small children can get down with the steps of Latin America’s most electrifying dance style. The big cities are the epicenter of sophistication and culture here, but stylish locals like to spend the weekends at their preferred pueblito, or small village. Old-style charm and simpler living can be found in abundance here, along with a deeply satisfying taste of traditional Colombia. 

Those who visit here inevitably fall deep in love. The weather is excellent, the people are friendly (and, it must be said… gorgeous on an otherworldly level), the towns are buzzy and interesting, and life is good. Your whirlwind romance with Colombia begins now!

Top Sights in Colombia

Bogota

Bogota is a city of thin air, situated on a huge plain in the Andes. “Huge” is the operative word here: this is a place big enough that farmers drive cows and the chic drive sports cars, all under the umbrella of the same city. You will want to take the tour of historic La Candelaria, Bogota’s “first district” and home to many of its world-class museums. One specific must-see experience in Bogota—the city laid out below you from the summit of Monserrate. This mountaintop perch houses a church, and can be ascended either by foot or cable car. If you get a bit chilled after the windy climb, consider stopping at one of Bogota’s many outstanding restaurants for dinner—no matter what you eat, end the meal with some steaming creme de cacao (hot cocoa!) spiked with aguardiente, the legendary “firewater” of Colombia. Don’t miss a stroll through the labyrinthine Botanical Gardens, which are huge and fascinating, or the Museo del Oro, home to the world’s largest collection of gold.

Cartagena

Romantic and beloved of world tourists, there’s a reason Cartagena is tip-top on every Colombian visitor’s to-do list. Its seaside location perfumes the air with a breath of salt, and the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is tailor-made for long walks marveling at the pretty colonial architecture. Tall walls surround its winding streets and colorful buildings—consider hiring out a chariot for a tour you won’t soon forget! Cartagena’s wide, scenic plazas practically invite people-watching—and what a pastime it is! Cartagena is eminently fashionable, and at nighttime one sees the luminaries of high society coming and going from clubs, dance halls, and parties in the historic mansions. It’s like living the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Don’t miss the Palace of Inquisition or Castillo de San Felipe. If you have the opportunity, consider a Spanish class or Latin dance class here—either one affords a classic Cartagena visitor experience.

Villa de Leyva

The past comes to exquisite, breathing life in picturesque Villa de Leyva! Charming 19th-century Spanish-style colonial buildings form an adorable backdrop for strolling, picnicking, or sightseeing. The fact that the whole town is just about small enough to explore on foot is an additional enticement to take a walk! The Museo El Fosil will bring you back in history: prehistorically so, actually. Relics of Colombia’s thousands of years underwater remain in the petrified remains of piranha, nautiluses, and enormous marine predators that were the early relatives of crocodiles. Also worth a visit is the small museum of works by Luis Alberto Acuna. If you fancy extreme sports like rappelling or paragliding, you can find them here as well!

Medellin

Officially named one of the world’s most innovative cities, Medellin will never run out of ways to surprise you! Having suffered the effects of a troubled reputation in the 1990s, this is a city that has risen from the proverbial ashes and is thriving in all the best ways. Today, Medellin is a magnet for fashionistas, food lovers, families, artists, and visitors of all stripes—the “City of Flowers” is downright trendy! Year-round perfect weather certainly doesn’t hurt in this regard. Take an outdoor escalator up the mountainside, bike the hills, or immerse yourself in one of Medellin’s several excellent museums. The historic churches are also popular sports for visitors, and touring several is a great way to pass a morning. If you happen to be in town over December, you’ll be delighted by the eye-popping spectacle of the alumbrados, or Christmas lights, for which the city is known.

Barranquilla

Barranquilla is famous for its raucous, exciting celebration of Carnival—the largest outside Rio de Janeiro, and a tradition recognized by UNESCO as a “masterpiece… of heritage.” For those in town during the early months of the year, this electric experience is an absolute can’t-miss. During the rest of the year, this city dotted with Art Deco houses is still a fantastic destination. Some exceptional landmarks: the Teatro Amira de la Rosa, the Museum of Gold, and the old customs office. While great beer is a Colombian staple, the brews of Barranquilla are especially excellent! The hopping salsa clubs are a great place to knock back a cold one while dancing the night away! The House of Carnival fills you in on a bit of history concerning the city’s biggest party, and is both a fun and informative stop. In addition, Barranquilla is notable for its “port of gold,” where the Magdalena River empties into the Atlantic. Great views are rampant here.

Cali

This is Salsa City, the absolute heart of Colombia’s proud dance tradition. The salsa can look intimidating, as the most proficient dancers spice up their performance with no end of physical tricks and slick moves, but it is easier to pick up than one might think. Even if you opt to sit on the sidelines, you’ll never tire of watching Cali’s salsa pros light up the dancefloor with their sexy moves! Colombia’s sugar and coffee industries are also based in Cali. Plantation tours are a fascinating way to spend the day! Don’t miss a look at the Cristo Rey statue high on the hill, or a peek at Cali’s many historic churches. The zoo is upscale—continually voted one of South America’s best—and full of lovingly-cared for animals, notable among which are Bengal tigers! Catch a football match, bike tour, or Spanish class, go shopping, or fly a kite—there’s so much going on in Cali!

Quick Facts

Capital: Bogota
Primary Airports: El Dorado International Airport (BOG), Jose Maria Cordova International Airport (MDE), Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport (CLO)
Government: Republic
Currency: Colombian peso (COP)
Population: 45,400,000 (2012 est.)
Language: Spanish
Electricity: 110V/60Hz (American plug)
Time Zone: UTC -5
Colombia

Colombia Travel Reviews


The Charm of Cartagena, Colombia

Allison Lemasters

I spent a few months in Cartagena, Colombia during the summer and early fall to teach English as a second language and to do mission work. In my down time, I had the opportunity to explore the beauty of the city. When I first arrived to Cartagena, I enjoyed a restful and clean stay at Hotel San Martin. The staff at this hotel made me feel like family, remembered my name and would do everything they could to keep me from lifting a finger. Down the street is a restaurant called Crepes and Waffles, which you cannot leave Colombia without trying. Be sure to order one of their many flavors of "helado" or ice cream. The beach is only a five minute walk away, and it is always filled with interesting people and is a great location to go swimming. The biggest tourist attraction in Cartagena is the old city, or "la ciudad antigua." You will be charmed and enamored the second you step through one of the entrances to the walled-in city. A kind gentleman I met while I was there took me on many romantic evenings in the old city. There are elegant carriage rides, welcoming street vendors, vibrant colors, quaint shops, and beautiful architecture everywhere you turn. A favorite place of mine in the old city is Plaza Santo Domingo, which is a big open area to dine in and people watch. I truly enjoyed the delightful city of Cartagena and would love to go back someday soon.

Trip Rating:
Destinations Visited: Colombia

Get There Before Everybody Else Discovers Colombia

Elaine G

I spent 2 weeks in Colombia with Intrepid Travel with whom I have traveled numerous times before. We were a full group of 12 consisting primarily of Aussies, Brits, Canadians, a South African and a Norwegian. Colombia is a beautiful and diverse country with cooler temperatures in Bogota and hot and humid weather on the Caribbean Coast. It is green and very mountainous but even the mountains are forested. We visited Bogota, the colonial town of Salento, Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park and Villa De Leyva where we spent New Year's. Colombia is a great bargain still where you can eat very inexpensively, buy leather goods and stay on a coffee plantation, which we did.

Trip Rating:
Destinations Visited: Colombia
Tour Operator: Intrepid

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