our eight favourite places in colombia

"It's ludicrous that this place exists and everybody doesn't want to live here." 

Anthony Bourdain


Ask either of us which country we loved the most in South America, and the answer will forever be Colombia.

We spent three months there – leaving on the day our visa expired – and still feel we only scratched the surface. We weren't able to visit mythical Mompox, we didn't trek to the Lost City in the jungle, we didn't challenge ourselves outdoors in San Gil, we didn't take the unique transport into San Cipriano or dive around San Andres and we, whisper it, didn't actually make it to Tayrona National Park.

And, yet, despite not visiting some of the largest tourist attractions the country of 47 million has to offer, we still fell in love with it. Here are a few reasons why...

 

 

#1 Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas

Cabo de la Vela, Colombia

There are surprises in store for any visitor to Cabo de la Vela.

The sheer beauty of the desert landscapes, the chaotic transport system to reach it, the shocking levels of poverty amongst the forgotten indigenous of the country.

Our decision to visit the 'wild east' of Colombia was made after we saw a beautiful picture of a Wayu'u woman. As we read more about the region, we knew it offered a very different travel experience to anywhere else in the country and so we made the choice that we would rather invest our money there than spend it amongst thousands of others on the beaches of Tayrona (this was, let's remember, during the chaotic Colombian Christmas holiday season).

The fact that we have never regretted that decision, no matter how many gorgeous photos we see of Tayrona, will hopefully show how special travelling to Cabo de la Vela is; it was an old school adventure, with sand in our hair, diesel fumes in the background and nights spent sleeping under the stars after days spent on unspoiled beaches.

And, if you want to buy one of those famous bags, make sure you buy it here direct from the ladies who make them.



#2 Medellin

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

A big chunk of our time was spent in Medellin; we decided to set ourselves up there are after hearing such great things about it from travellers and digital nomads.

However, our first few days left us thinking – 'what was all the fuss about?' It really isn't the prettiest city in the world after all and, let's just say, there are no shortage of unsavoury characters.

But it's the story of Medellin, and the sense that you are in a city which is changing and developing a new version of itself right in front of your very eyes, that gets under your skin. Unfortunately, a number of gringos visiting here are only concerned with scoring cocaine and taking a grim Pablo Escobar tour, but that is so terribly short-sighted and wrong.

Medellin offers so so much more, and so many more compelling stories, than Escobar and we implore you to try and discover it for yourself.



#3 Jardin

Jardin, Colombia

We wish we could keep Jardin as our own little secret but, well, then we'd be failing in our job as travel writers.

A few hours travel from Medellin, it is like stepping back in time. Old and young mustachioed cowboys in denim, riding into town on horseback for a few shots of aguardiente with their amigos. The prettiest and most colourful town square in the entire country, with hand-painted wooden tables and chairs and not one speck of advertising. A laid-back environment where tourists are welcomed but not the be all and end all for the residents.

We absolutely loved it and hope that it doesn't change too quickly.



#4 Cartagena 

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

The city which inspired many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's stories still has a touch of magic. Although the old centre is clearly very touristy, it is still incredibly beautiful.

Colourful colonial architecture at its best and sipping a cup of Colombian coffee in the square under the sweltering sun will always be one of our favourite memories. It also has some of the most incredible street art on display.



#5 MINCA

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

An hour or so from Santa Marta, you can find Minca. We reached it in a rickety old taxi which could barely make it up the hill.

It's a very peaceful, very pretty village in northern Colombia where the air is clean, the locals friendly and the countryside ripe for exploration. Bird-watchers will adore it here (it has around 162 species) whilst others will love the peace and quiet offered and the incredible views on offer after a few hours hiking.



#6 Salento & Valle de Cocora

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

The coffee triangle region of Colombia is well-established on the 'gringo trail' and, undeniably, over-saturated with tourists.

Whilst Jardin still felt like a town in its own right and own image, Salento has undoubtedly become somewhere which is overrun, particularly on the weekends when hundreds of visitors – both foreign and domestic - cram into the main street.

But it can still be an enjoyable place for a few days of exploration. A day of hiking amongst the giant trees of Valle de Cocora (which can't really be found anywhere else in the world), discovering the lush green countryside and visiting one of the many coffee farms in the surrounding area to see the process from field to cup are pretty much mandatory activities for any visit here (and ending it all in the evening with a plate of trout, a cold beer and throwing metal balls into gunpowder!)



#7 Capurgana 

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

The fish empanadas alone meant that Capurgana was always going to feature on this list.

Our first stop in Colombia after a convoluted journey, solely because we didn't have enough cash or stomach to sail from via the San Blas Islands, it turned out to be a pretty awesome place. The hectic port area, with deliveries of beer crates under the control of little boys on horse and cart, barefooted locals hanging out on rickety wooden porches, the scent of fresh seafood sizzling on a grill under the setting sun and some great wild beaches only a few hours hiking away.

We wish we could have stayed longer. 


#8 Guatapé 

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

There's nowhere else quite like Guatapé.

The walls of its homes and shops are adorned in colourful frescoes or murals, the reason for which no-one is quite sure about to this very day. However, it certainly makes this town by the water the most colourful place in Colombia.

Nearby, tourists also flock to La Piedra Del Peñol, a huge rock jutting out of the landscape where you can breathlessly climb the 740 steps to the top and take in a pretty spectacular panoramic view. 



And if you're asking yourself why Bogotá isn't on this list, then you only need to read this post to understand why we weren't great fans of it (but it does have some pretty incredible street art all over the city which Justin Bieber, weirdly, played a pivotal role in...)

If you're heading to Colombia - or would like to learn more about how great a place it is for travellers - then head over to our Colombia page which has lots of information on routes to take and essential travel information. 

And, don't miss out 25 best hostels in Colombia - you're going to want to check these out!


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3.Planning a trip to Colombia? Here are eight of our favourite places that you simply can't miss!
Planning a trip to Colombia? Here are eight of our favourite places that you simply can't miss!
Planning a trip to Colombia? Here are eight of our favourite places that you simply can't miss!

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