7 must-visit places in Colombia with Journey Latin America

Golden beaches and historic cities, wildlife-rich rainforests and soaring mountains, tropical islands and ancient sites, Colombia has it all – and Journey Latin America can help you find your perfect trip

Shafik Meghji
21 July 2022
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Discover The Best Of Latinamerica

1. Bogotá

In the Eastern Colombian Andes, 2,640m above sea level, Colombia’s engaging capital is the ideal place to start your exploration of this endlessly diverse country. The oldest and most evocative district in the city, La Candelaria’s cobble-stone streets and plazas are lined with stately churches, townhouses and palacios dating back to the colonial period. Nearby, the unmissable Museo de Oro has a dazzling collection of gold artefacts, ornaments and jewellery, while the summit of Cerro de Montserrate – a church-topped, emerald-green hill on the eastern fringes of the city – offers sublime views.

But as you soon discover on Journey Latin America’s 11-day Signature Colombia: Culture and Coffee private tour, Bogotá is far from stuck in the past: this cosmopolitan, constantly developing city has a thriving street art scene, while modern neighbourhoods such as the Zona Rosa are packed with excellent places to eat, drink and dance the night away.

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2. Cartagena and islands

An architectural treasure trove, Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities in South America and an essential stop on any visit to Colombia. Journey Latin America’s 12-day Trailblazer Colombia private tour immerses you in the Caribbean port’s beguiling history, which focuses on its romantic walled city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with wonderfully preserved palaces, mansions and churches.

A short walk away is the vibrant Getsemaní neighbourhood – home to some of Cartagena’s coolest restaurants and bars, which spill out onto the streets and squares – and the imposing Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, an impregnable fortress that repelled pirates and naval fleets for centuries.

Beyond Cartagena, the Greater Colombia Caribbean has much more to offer. Head off to the crystal-clear waters and pristine beaches of the nearby Rosario Islands or – further afield – the remote coral island of San Andrés and its tiny, idyllic neighbour Providencia, which offer world-class snorkelling and diving.

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3. The Caribbean coast

The jagged peaks and lush green foothills of the Sierra Nevada provide a dramatic backdrop for Colombia’s Caribbean coast, which is lined with a string of gorgeous bays and beaches dotted with coconut palms. Here you’ll find Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a popular hiking spot thanks to its verdant forests, which stretch out to the azure sea and echo with birdsong.

Beyond its natural attractions, the Caribbean coast is home to the bustling port of Santa Marta – the oldest city in Colombia – and the nearby city of Barranquilla, which hosts the second-biggest carnival in South America.

Journey Latin America’s 16-day Weaverbird: Spirit of Colombia group tour also transports you inland, tracing the meandering Magdalena River to the regional town of Aracataca – birthplace of the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez – and onto Mompós, a sun-baked city famed for its wealth of elegant buildings and seductively slow pace of life.

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4. The coffee region

Coffee is synonymous with Colombia and the heart of the industry is the Zona Cafetera, a tropical region in the western Andes. The rolling hills of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda departments are carpeted with coffee farms called fincas – many dating back to the mid-19th century – which have opened their doors to visitors to provide an insight into the bean-to-barista process.

Journey Latin America’s 12-day Self-Drive Colombia: Exploring the coffee region and beyond private tour showcases the best of the region, featuring guided trips around coffee plantations and forests of towering wax palms – which can reach up to 60m in height – as well as atmospheric overnight accommodation in a finca.

Beyond coffee, the tour’s flexibility also allows you to explore at your leisure the Zona Cafetera’s other attractions, which include the rugged Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, which contains everything from snowy mountains and creaking glaciers to bird-filled cloud forests and steaming hot springs.

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5. Medellín

Known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its consistently warm and sunny climate, Medellín is a dynamic and welcoming place in the Eastern Colombian Andes. As well as buzzing culinary and nightlife scenes, Colombia’s second-biggest city is a cultural hotspot, with an extensive range of galleries, museums and venues, including the Museo de Antioquia, home to many of famed Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero’s finest works. Meanwhile, if you fancy a change of pace, charming towns such as Santa Fé de Antioquia can be easily visited on a day trip

As you find on Journey Latin America’s 18-day Undiscovered Colombia, Providencia and Panama City private tour, Medellín is also renowned for its flowers. This heritage is celebrated every August during the Feria de Las Flores (Flower Festival), a 10-day fiesta whose centrepiece is a colourful parade by silleteros (flower sellers) carrying bright and wonderfully creative floral displays on their backs.

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6. The Andes

Serpentine river valleys divide the Andes into a series of mountain chains, in the highlands of which are some of the best-preserved, colonial-era towns and villages in Colombia. A visit to Villa de Leyva – one of the highlights of Journey Latin America’s 14-day Chachalaca: Colombia’s colonial and coffee group tour – feels like stepping back in time. Founded in 1572, and with a sensational mountain setting, the town is awash with glorious whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs, centuries-old churches and the vast Plaza Mayor.

The highlands are also rich in Indigenous cultures and sites, including Lake Guatavita, which is thought to have been one of the inspirations behind the legend of El Dorado. The scenery is similarly impressive, particularly the high-altitude páramo, a distinctive moor-like environment. And there are also some quirky attractions such as the salt cathedral of Zipaquirá, which was built deep underground in an old mine.

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7. Go remote

From the isolated archaeological site of the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) to the dense rainforests of the Amazon and the seemingly endless plains of the Llanos Orientales, a biodiverse region sprinkled with cattle ranches, Colombia has plenty to offer travellers with a sense of adventure. 

Journey Latin America’s 13-day Off The Beaten Track Colombia: San Agustín and the Amazon private tour makes its easy to get off the tourist trail. It whisks you from the Tatacoa desert, an otherworldly landscape whose clear skies are perfect for stargazing, to the far-flung Amazonian city of Leticia, the jumping-off point for boat journeys to meet Indigenous communities and search for majestic creatures such as anacondas and pink river dolphins.

The tour also takes in a pair of intriguing archaeological sites: San Agustín has the largest group of megalithic sculptures and religious monuments on the continent, while Tierradentro has a fascinating complex of ancient subterranean tombs. 

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About the experts

Journey Latin America, the UK’s No.1 specialist in travel to Central and South America has been creating award-winning tailor-made holidays and leading small, escorted group tours to every corner of the region for over 40 years. Its dedicated team of Travel Experts has an unrivalled knowledge of Latin America and a passion for sharing it.

Unspoilt Colombia has arguably the most dramatic scenery, the greatest variety of flora and fauna, the most atmospheric towns and among the friendliest people in Latin America.

Whether you want a private journey, a tailor-made holiday, want a self-driving adventure or are looking to join a group tour, Journey Latin America can help. And you can book with confidence knowing Journey Latin America are members of ABTA and its holidays are ATOL protected. Journey Latin America also offer a flexible booking policy. Speak to an expert now by calling: 0203 553 0261

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