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Best Places to Visit in Colombia, Top Attractions
Colombia is much more than the sum of its natural parts. Its kinetic cities buzz with an energy that sets it apart from most of South America and proves that this country has well and truly shed its history of conflict. With adventure and infectious beats around practically every corner, picking the best places to visit in the country can be a challenge. However, thanks to plentiful domestic flights and long-distance buses, Colombia is a place where you can expect to cover plenty of ground, even on a short trip. Colombia is one of, if not my very favorite countries that I have visited in the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend well over 5 months there and in the future plan to spend many more. But why? Well, Colombia is a beautiful country filled with amazing things to do and, of course, places to visit. From the Caribbean coast to the mountainous regions to the Amazon, Colombia has something for every traveler. But with tourism only beginning to ramp up, where are the best places to visit in Colombia? Well. So you’ve planned a trip to the South America’s northern tip? What better than the places to visit In Colombia for your perfect Instagram snaps? Featuring a varying landscape marked by rainforests and the famous Andes Mountains, Colombia is home to a diverse population in high altitude locations, 16th-century castles, and the Caribbean Coast. You’ll soon realize that there is more to Colombia than the naked eye can see.
#1- Caño Cristales
Caño Cristales was off limits for decades while in the grip of guerrilla fighters but is officially back in business and welcoming more tourists than ever before. Most visitors come to this remote river canyon in the Orinoquía region to hike between its waterfalls and bathe in its natural swimming holes. While worth the trip in any season, the canyon is particularly prismatic between July and November, when an algae bloom turns the riverbed into a rainbow of colors. The isolated outpost of La Macarena is your base for trips to Caño Cristales, and it's only reachable by air from Bogotá or Villavicencio.
#2- Hacienda Nápoles
If there's one man who lingers large over Colombia's recent history, it's the billionaire drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. What few people realize is that you can actually visit the lavish estate built and owned by Escobar in Puerto Triunfo, about 110 miles east of Medellin. The sprawling complex, known as Hacienda Nápoles, fell into disrepair in the decade after Escobar's death in 1993. But the local municipality took control of the property in the mid-2000s and turned it into-of all things-an ever-growing amusement park with an eclectic mix of themed zones, hotels, a water park, and safari-style zoo. The amusements and hotels are new, and signs of Escobar are now limited. The ruins of his former mansion were bulldozed, and one of the Cessna planes he used to smuggle drugs to the US that used to be perched atop the entry gate is gone (as is the gate). The only thing remaining is a small museum that grapples with his legacy and some of his antique car collection rusting peacefully in the sun.
#3- La Guajira Peninsula
It's the most northerly point in South America, so perhaps it's only fitting that La Guajira is unlike anywhere else on the continent. This remote and little-visited peninsula is a quiet oasis of sweeping sand dunes, bird-covered mangrove swamps, and vast stretches of empty land where the orange-brown La Guajira Desert meets the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Indigenous beliefs are the law of the land here, as the peninsula is home to the proud Wayuu people, who were never subjugated under Spanish rule and maintain a vibrant culture to this day.
Lovers of magic realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charms of Mompox. It features prominently in the Nobel laureate's book The General in His Labyrinth and is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional town of Macondo in his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Mompox was once a prosperous cog in the trading route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes, famed as the spot where "El Libertador" Simón Bolívar recruited his army to gain independence for neighboring Venezuela. Now, this colonial relic along the muddy shores of the Magdalena River is truly a town that time forgot.
#5- Providencia Island
This quirky Caribbean Island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For starters, it's far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Then there's the fact that its residents don't speak Spanish but rather an English Creole. Of course, none of that really matters when you find yourself sunning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag. Little more than a dollop of golden sands and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with some of the world's greatest marine biodiversity just waiting to be explored.
#6- The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
Colombia's most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and occupied by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is said to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas. Much of the site remains buried beneath a thick jungle quilt-the modern Indigenous inhabitants of the area have banned excavations-but you'll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in outstanding shape. Independent treks are not allowed, you will need to go with a sanctioned and approved tour operator who will provide a guide and all meals. You can book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.
Most visitors to Colombia will inevitably begin their trip in the nation's largest city-and beating heart-Bogotá. It's a city that often divides opinion, with some complaining of its gridlocked streets and dreary weather, and others falling head over heals for its unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way, this city of eight million tends to grow on people who give it enough time.
#8- Tayrona National Natural Park
You'll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park, which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most beaches are set against the dramatic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforested hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.
Picture the Amazon, and Colombia may not be the first country to come to mind - which is odd, because about a third of the nation is blanketed in its thick (and often impenetrable) jungles. The capital of the vast Amazon Basin is the small frontier town of Leticia, which sits along the banks of the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia bumps up against Brazil and Peru.
#10- Eje Cafetero
The world's third-largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a fantastic country for tastings and tours. The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota between the small cities of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales. This region, known as the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations that have opened up their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and lavish farm stays.
These small (and often organic) plantations are the kind of places where the farmer-owner might take an hour out of his day to explain the process of how a humble "cherry" turns into a coffee bean that will one day be roasted and ground into a latte back home.
Bogotá might be the Colombian capital, but it's the smaller and more manageable city of Medellin that tends to capture the hearts of visitors. Medellin was dubbed the most dangerous city in the world in the early 1990s, but a quarter of a century later, it has earned a reputation for something entirely different: innovation. The city boasts cable cars linking the settlements in its hills to a modern metro system in the valley below, a greenbelt of lush "eco parks," and striking libraries and community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods. A great day of sightseeing in Medellin might start in the Old Quarter at Botero Plaza, where you'll find a collection of 23 portly sculptures donated by the beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the plaza is the must-visit Museum of Antioquia and the striking Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture. Then, head into the hills above town by riding the sleek escalator system through Comuna 13 to explore this neighborhood's colorful homes and elaborate street murals.
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