Planning to Visit Colombia? Get ready for the ride of your life!
We came to visit South America on a career break from work. The first time we heard Colombias tourism slogan “The only danger is wanting to stay” we laughed at how cheesy it was! …… As it turns out the joke was on us. We were entranced by the wonders of this incredible country and instead of continuing our travels in 2016, we ended up buying an old horse farm and staying…..
The Nature and Lansdcape is AMAZING. From exotic, palm lined beaches with cristal blue seas, to snow and ice capped volcanoes in the Andes mountains, vast deserts and thick, tropical vegetation of the Amazon jungle, Colombia really does have it all. This is the country that is the home to the greatest diversity of plants and animals on Earth (in terms of density per km2) with about 10% of the world’s flora and fauna.
The people of Colombia are warm and kind and are some of the most welcoming people that we have ever met on our travels. They have been voted as one of the most Happiest peoples on earth. After spending time in the country it is easy to see why. Life here is more laid back than it is at home. Family are very important as is making new friends and having a good time.
Let us guide you around some of our favorite places and hear our candid opinions on where and where not to visit….
Ok first things first…. and we are not biased at all…..lets start with our Most Favourite place…….Filandia !
Filandia, step back in time to how life used to be.
After leaving our jobs back in London we came to South America, bought a couple of motorbikes and spent 18months travelling around the continent. The sleepy little town of Filandia in the Andes Mountains captured our hearts….why? At first we were drawn to the coffee area through the kindness of the local people. We were shown some of the incredible, world class, off road riding, hiking, and trekking routes through breathtaking scenery by the local motorbike groups. There is so much to see and do in the local area that we became hooked!
Filandia is known as the hidden jem of Colombia. This colourful, traditional coffee farming village, is located in the heart of the Coffee Axis and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for its unique culture and coffee farming landscape. Filandia is frozen in time, its colonical buildings and colourful streets, painted as they were decades ago. Mules are still used to carry goods and Colombian cowboys still ride around the streets showing off their horses. It was voted the most beautiful town in Colombia in 2018 by the Colombian Tourist board. At an elevation of 1920m, nestled amongst the andes mountains, the weather is georgeous, it is like spring all year round. The nature here is incredible with parrots, toucanettes, hawks and hundreds of butterflys visiting the gardens and we are spoilt with stunning sunsets over the mountins. Life here is Good!
Top things to do> Come and ride horses with us, enjoy coffee tours with our neighbours, hikking, paragliding, hot springs, or simply sit back in a hammock with a beer and watch the world go by.
Medellin, a city in the Mountains
Located in the Aburra Valley of the central Andes mountains and known as “the city of eternal spring” due to its perfect climate. Medellin is a cosmopolitan city that has transformed itself from one of the most dangerous cities to one that is now safe, prosperous and fast becoming South America’s most popular destination for expats and digital nomads. Its people are warm, friendly and passionate. Their strength is a testament to the cities success. As a new destination for travellers, Medellin offers many museums, parks, festivals and a whole host of great places to go out, grab a drink, and dance the night away!
Our favourites activities in Medellin>
>Comuna 13 Graffiti tour. Once the most dangerous part of Medellin, is now a vibrant, lively barrio filled with life, hope and covered in some of the world’s best graffiti art. The change this place has been through over the last 10 years is simply
incredible and hearing the history from the locals is an eye opening and humbling experience.
>Explorer Park Science Museum and Aquarium
>Botanical Gardens and Parque ArviRide the MetroCable (you will do this to reach Comuna 13 and Parque Arvi)
>The Free walking tour (starts at Alpujarra Station)
>Parque Botero and Parque Berrio
>El Poblado. Packed full of vegetarian restaurants, hip bars and cafes, yoga studios and co working spaces for digital nomads, this area is great if you are missing food from home, want to relax in fancy cafes for a fractions of the price back home or are looking to party.
Our opinion> Medellin is great fun for a few days, Poblado was nice to visit but super touristy and some of the locals are tourist fatigued. just be aware that because of this prices are often inflated and you need to stay sensible. Since the peace deal in 2017 tourism in Colombia has exploded, the majority of people come here, have a fantastic time and leave a positive impact on the communities that they visit. Everybody wins. Unfortunately there is a small minority who come here for the wrong reasons and, like in any city in Latin America, will get chewed up and spat out. If you go out looking for things that you shouldnt, or you get too drunk in the wrong places or with the wrong people then problems will find you. Sensible travellers wont have any issues.
Cartagena and its picture perfect colonial streets.
With European, African and Colombian Influences, this hot, romantic, carribean city is a melting pot of cultures. As you stroll along the cobbled streets inside the fortressed walls of the old city you will be transported back in time. The stunning colonial architecture, is very well preserved and irrisistably photogenic. Checkout the local and international festivals held in the city every year. Maybe you can plan your trip to concide with one! The beaches immediately surrounding Cartegena are not themselves impressive, however breathtaking carribean beaches are only a short boat ride away..
Top things to do>
Explore the cobbled streets of the old city and enjoy the colourfully painted colonial houses with georgeous balconies.
Check out the huge castle> Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Visit Playa Blanca on Baru Island a 45 minute boat journey from Cartegena port. If you find yourself wanting more or want to simply take advantage of your coastal location, why not take a boat trip to the nearby islands? Be sure to book early as they fill up quickly, especially during high season. Get your tickets at La Bodeguita which is the dock located downtown.
Our opinion> definitely a beautiful place to visit, just be aware that places to stay in Cartegena do get booked up pretty quickly and that accommodation (especially in the old city) is significantly more expensive than in other areas of colombia. We recommend you book somewhere in advance to avoid hiking around the city trying to find places to stay last minute. Also be aware of cheeky resturants that have different prices for foreigners and locals. Some places have been known to add an extra zero on prices of their English menus! Check prices first to make sure you are happy before ordering.
Cali. The Salsa Captial.
Salsa music is at the heart of Latin culture and is the soul of Cali. This city is hot, with highs of 86°F (30°C). It is also the third most populated city in Colombia after Bogotá and Medellin. Music and dancing have always been an obsession of this city but it was during the 1980s and 90s that Cali truely became infatuated with Salsa. A huge influx of money flooded into the city from the narcotics trade. With it came new bars and fancy clubs. World class performers were flown in on private jets to perform live music and shows. Although the most opulent clubs have since disappeared, the passion for Salsa is as strong as ever with clubs on everycorner and Salsa music blaring out from every street. Looking for salsa classes? Check out one of the local Salsa schools, or book into a hostel that offers Salsa practice nights to prepare you for Cali’s nightlife. We highly recommend visiting an authentic Salsa bar at least once during your stay. Our favourites are La Topa Tolondra, Zaperoco and Tin Tin Deo. If you are looking to head out on a week night, ask your hostel for recommendations on the coolest place to go. Also bear in mind that during puentes, (Colombian public holidays), bars are also open on Sunday as Monday is a day off work.
Our Opinion. When we first arrived in Cali, we hated it. we found the city to be big, hot, polluted and smokey with a seedy and dangerous undertone at night. We were new to South America and later realised that we had been staying down town in a rough area. Since then we have returned to Cali and absolutely loved it. Our advice is to give this city a chance. Once you have taken time to look past the rough edges and to embrace the charisma of the city, we are sure you will love it too. With an abundance of green public spaces to escape, museums to catch your interest and places to happily dance the night away, this is city becomes a real treat.
Not into Salsa, No problem, check out these places.
>Mariposario Andoke and Christo Ray. located in the same area, the butterfly park is small but beautiful and the giant staute of Jesus, although not as big as Rios Christ the Redeemer, it is still impressive.
>Visit Barrio San Antonio, and also enjoy the views around Iglesia de San Antonio.
>Walk along Rio Cali and visit the cat Park.
>Checkout the intercambio language exchanges in Parque del Perro.
Jardin, Chilled out little coffee town
A small coffee farming town south around 4 hours drive of Medellin and is well worth a visit after the hustle and bustle of the city. This colourful little town is a beautiful getway and is famous for its coffee, quiet way of life and nature.
Here you can hike to waterfalls and enjoy some local bird watching. Check out the Andean Cock of the Rock Reserve just 5 minute walk out of town to see wild Andean Cock of the rock bird. For the passionate birders there is another reserve located in the mountains outside of Jardin where you can see the rare yellow eared parrot.
Jerico, Enjoy the laid back campesino life
This little authentic Colombian farming town only 3 hours from Medellin is absolutely gorgous. For some reason unknown to us it is not mentioned in the guide books. If you have time whilst visiting Colombia we recommend you stay a night or two in this little town. Enjoy the tranquility, the slower pace of life, and watch as the local farmers ride their mules through town and sell their daily produce and enjoy the hospitality and friendliness of the local people. We also recomend that you check out the little botanical garden. It is small but close to town and very beautiful.
Guatape. Colorfulful houses, beautiful views and kayaking
This picturesque town is surrounded by a number of freshwater lakes and is popular with travellers for its stunning views, colorfully painted buildings, kayaking on the reservior and the gigantic (200m high) rock “Piedra de Peñol”. If you decide to climb the 740 stairs to the top you will be rewarded by stunning views of rolling mountins and freshwater lakes. Guatape is only a 2hour bus ride away from Medellin and is well worth a visit!
San Gil and Barichara in Santander. Exterme sports, and stunning colonial town
San Gil is where you want to be if extreme sports is your thing! This town is famed for rafting, bungee jumping, cave exploring, kayaking, biking, paragliding. San Gil itself isnt terribly beautiful (although the town park is worth a visit) however close by is the stunning colonial village of Barichara. Its cobbled streets, and historic houses with white washed walls and red tiled roofs will sweep you away into another world.
Tyrona National Park, heavenly caribbean beaches
If you are into warm, blue caribbean seas, sun kissed, golden beaches lined with palm trees and dont mind sharing your space with other tourists (this park can get pretty busy in high season) then you will LOVE Tyrona National Park. Located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and surrounded by thick jungle filled with wildlife, this park is absolutely breathtaking. The park is located 1 hour drive from Santa Marta, but check it is open before you visit as the park is closed once per year (usually in January − February) to allow it to recover.
Tatacoa Desert, watch shooting stars in this otherworldly environment!
An alien like world, this surreal desert landscape has some of the best star gazing in Colombia. Centrally located in the heart of Colombia, this small semi arid desert is not yet on the tourist trail, and many travellers dont know that it exists.If you are looking for a quiet place to escape the hustle and bustle of the world then we highly recommend you check out this strange and beautiful place.
Visit the vast deserts in Guajira, the northern most tip of Colombia
La Guajira Peninsula is one of the most visually stunning places in Colombia.
Many people travel here to experience the wild vastness of the Guajira deserts meeting with the sea. It is huge costal region with a unique contrast of landscapes including the vast arid deserts, huge sand dunes and salt flats of Punta Gallinas, paradise beaches of Cabo de La Vela and the forgotten cloud forests of Macui. It is home to remote ranches and fishing villages of the indigenous Wayuu people. Colombia’s largest Indigenous population live in this area. . You can see flamingos at the little town of Camarones on the road from Santa Marta to Riohacha (capital of Guajira).
San Augustin. Experience the wonders of a lost civilisation
A dusty, hot town in the department of Huila, San Augustin is a fascinating place to visit due to its Archaeological park hosting the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. Whilst in San Augustin it is also worth visiting the Magdalena Strait (Estrecho del Magdalena). To see the Magdalena river, the principal river in Colombia, squeezed through a narrow canyon just under 3m in width is an impresive sight.
Los Nevados National Park. Breathtaking scenery
This stunning National Park is located in the central Andes mountains close to our farm, Steel Horse Colombia. It is a breathtakingly beautiful park known for its snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, lakes, forests and the strange looking, endangered Frailejone plants. The park has numerous microclimates hosting an incredible biodiversity of plants and animals, including the unique paramo ecosystem. We could go on and on about this unique and incredible part of the world, but better than that, let us show you by horse back. Join us on an adventure into this wild landscape with our horses. Contact us at email@example.com to find out more!
Caño Cristales, the Rainbow River
For 6 months of the year this fast-flowing river looks like any other. Indeed it is beautiful, with many rapids, waterfalls and peculiar pot holes along its length and lush jungles surrounding it. However from June until November endemic aquatic plants bloom and transform the river into a liquid rainbow. The waters come alive with bright red, green, yellow, blue and black hues. The aquatic plants are endemic so this phenomenon does not occur anywhere else in the world! The river is located in a protected park so in order to visit it you will need to stay in the small town of La Macarena. It is possible to reach this town by road from Neiva, a number of guests who stayed in our hostel have previously done this, however it is a long trip of around 12 hours and a 4×4 is needed to pass some of the dirt roads. Most visitors opt for the 1hr flight to La Macarena from Bogota.
Las Lajas Sanctuary, impressive is an understatement!
Walking around this place made us feel like we were in a different world, in “Lord of the Rings” or “Game Of Thrones”! This stunning gothic cathedral has been built spannning across the Guáitara river canyon near Ipiales (Colombias border with Ecuador). Legend has it that María Mueses, a native woman, and her daughter Rosa saw the image of the Virgin here in 1754, and the church was then built in this sacred place. If you are travelling from Colombia to Ecuador we highly recommend you check out this beautiul place on route!
Bogota, Colombia’s Capital City
Located 2600m above sea level, Colombia’s sprawling capital has a cooler climate. It is a stop off for most travellers due to its huge, modern international airport. If you decide to stay in the city we recommend finding a hostel in Chapinero, here you will find lots of hostels to suit every budget. We also recommend the upmarket area around Parque 93. Candelaria, the city’s old cobble stoned colonial centre is great to visit during the day but can be a bit sketchy at night.
Whilst in the city we highly recomend visiting the Gold museum, and definetly eat at Crepes and Waffles!
We hope this guide is useful for you. Colombia has so many incredible places to visit that we couldnt possibly include them all on this post. If you find yourself passing through the coffee district, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or whatsapp on +57 323 5978524
Hope to see you soon, and happy travels in Colombia!