Recently, a reader of Jetset Times contacted me about specific travel advice in Colombia (thank you for your amazing email!) I must say that I was truly honored and humbled to help a fellow traveler fulfill her traveling dreams. That simple, yet profound message, compelled me to want to share those tips with the rest of our Jetset Times’ community and further expand on my original thoughts to help any of you who are looking to spend some quality time in Colombia, but may only have limited time to spare and may not know where to go.
So, in no particular order, here are my top five must-see destinations in Colombia!
Bogotá is more than just a capital city; it’s the cultural heartland of Colombia, the epicenter where the country’s finest museums, hidden gems, heart-pumping nightlife, and cozy, intimate bars can be found. Not to mention, there more theaters, art galleries, concerts halls and cinemas here than anywhere else in the country. Art enthusiasts cannot leave the city without visiting world-renowned Museo del Oro and Museo Botero.
Steeped in rich colonial history and Spanish-era architecture, the streets of Bogotá are filled with awe-inspiring street art and murals that could easily rival any museum piece. And don’t forget to take the funicular (cable car) to the top of Cerro de Monserrate (3,200 meters or 11,500 feet above sea level) for truly breathtaking views of the city’s sprawling cityscape below (all 1,700 square kilometers of it!).
If you’re tired out from museum going and need a little fresh air then rent a bicycle and ride along more than 350km of specially made bicycle lanes. In fact, every Sunday (7a.m.-2p.m.) is Ciclovía, where many roads are closed to vehicle traffic allowing bicycles to rule the day! If you’re looking for a great tour of the city on two wheels, check out Bogotá Bike Tours. Afterwards, treat yourself to the country’s best steakhouse at Andrés Carne de Res.
Overcoming a tumultuous past once filled with violence, Medellín has come a long way to improve its safety and security and is now one of the top tourist destinations in the country. If you only had a week to visit the country, then make sure to come in early August when the Feria de las Flores (Festival of the Flowers) takes place! For ten days, the entire city stops to watch in awe the colorful processions of beautiful silletas (baskets), lovely murals and portraits delicately put together and handcrafted using only flowers of every imaginable hue! It’s the biggest festival in the city and it should not be missed!
Located in Zona Cafetera (aka the coffee triangle), this little town is quaint, quiet and simply a pleasure to explore. You can spend weeks or even months exploring the various verdant trails and hidden paths in Salaento, but also throughout the surrounding area as well. It would be an absolute travesty to leave without visiting nearby finca (coffee plantation). I was fortunate enough to spend a day at a finca, learning the fine art of cultivating world-class coffee beans and how to brew the perfect cup of coffee! For coffee aficionados, you’ll want to make this your first stop and don’t forget to buy some coffee while here!
The colorful architecture of its houses and close-quartered intimacy of its streets makes it the ideal getaway for romantics looking to escape from busy city life. There are a myriad of boutiques, small artisan shops, and family-owned restaurants for foodies and shopper alike. Not to mention, the lush surrounding landscape sets the scene for lovely sunsets and great photo ops.
If you have a chance, visit nearby Valle de Cocora, a verdant green valley home to the world’s tallest wax palms. There are no words to describe just how incredible these palms are in person; it’s truly worth the visit! And if you’ve come this far, don’t forget to take hike along the various trails in the area and check out the hummingbird farm.
Cartagena is a must stop on any Colombia trip. Remnants of formal Spanish rule can be found throughout the beautifully preserved colonial streets of El Centro and San Diego districts in Old Town, which, to be honest, is more than likely the reason why you came and probably the reason why you’ll want to stay!
As one of the oldest cities on the continent, Cartagena is simply beautiful, colorful, and boasts a lively atmosphere to match. Nightlife here is some of the best Colombia has to offer with heart pumping beats and nonstop salsa to keep you dancing all night, not to mention world-class restaurants and some of the freshest seafood to delight your taste buds. Foodies and seafood lovers will want to stop by Kiosco El Bony, the best seafood in the city, and get your dance on at Café Havana!
And don’t forget to walk along Las Murallas, the thick walls built around the city during the16th century to protect it after famed private Francis Drake first tried to take it over.
5. Ciudad Perdida
Dubbed the “Machu Picchu of Colombia,” Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is a true gem for adventurists and thrill seekers alike. As one of the largest pre-Colombian towns in the Americas, it’s believed to be constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries by the Tayronas, which was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors. It was until 1975, four centuries after it’s purported construction, that it was discovered in modern times by guaqueros (robbers).
Explore the mysterious depths of this newly “discovered” city by booking a tour with Expotur or Turcol Travel operators. Tours depart every day and the trek will take about 2½ days to arrive at the site and about two days for return. Check with your tour operator, but most tours will include transportation, food, hammocks, guides, porters and all necessary permits for groups of four to 12 persons.
Photos: Jerry Alonzo Leon
What’s your favorite city in Colombia? Share with us in the comments.