10 experiences to immerse yourself in Colombia

Colombia is awash with dynamic landscapes and cultural treasures across the breadth of the country, and these immersive experiences take you right to its heart…

Team Wanderlust
15 December 2023

From jeep safaris in wildlife-filled wetlands to desert adventures in red-rock canyons, Colombia is home to a whole array of experiences that go beyond the big-hitting sights – and despite feeling off the beaten track, they’re more accessible than you might think. Avianca can whisk you directly from London to Bogotá in around 11 hours. From there, domestic flights with the airline can connect you to more than 20 other destinations in the country. Wondering where to start? We’ve rounded up some of the best lesser-known adventures for anyone looking to delve deep.

From Bogotá to Villavicencio…

If you’re interested in exploring the lesser-visited Eastern Colombian Andes, fly from Bogotá to the city of Villavicencio, an hour south of the capital, thanks to the daily flights with avianca airlines. Here you’ll find yourself in the capital of the scenic Meta department, and at the gateway to the sprawling Eastern Plains.

1. Head out on a Colombian safari in the Llanos Orientales

The Llanos Orientales (Shutterstock)

Think Colombia, think safari? Possibly not – but the sprawling ‘Los llanos’ (or the Eastern Plains) are something of a hidden treasure for wildlife-lovers, with jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, white-tailed deer and more roaming a network of glimmering rivers, wetlands and forests. Jeep safaris are on hand to show you the highlights as colourful birds flit overhead – there are more than 700 species here, from the red-bellied macaw to the striking scarlet ibis – and it’s all especially magical at sunset, when the sky blazes ruby above the striking savannah.

2. Explore the San Juan de Arama and Mesetas

The Güejar River Canyon (avianca/ProColombia)

For more adventures without the crowds, head to San Juan de Arama and the Masetas. Here you’ll find the Sierra de La Macarena National Park – all lush, jungle-carpeted banks and dramatic ravines – and the Güejar River Canyon, where majestic waterfalls cascade down craggy rocks. Rafting, hiking and swimming are on hand for those looking to get active against a backdrop of towering limestone pillars, and there’s plenty of indigenous culture around San Juan too. You’ll also find a generous array of wildlife – from alligators and otters to a myriad of colourful birds.

3. Be confounded by the Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales (Shutterstock)

Glowing in a rainbow of red, yellow, green, blue and black, the Caño Cristales is one of Colombia’s most striking phenomena. Created by a native plant that lights up the water when the sun hits it, it’s accessed by a jungle hike from the nearby town of La Macarena. Book a guided tour to see the highlights, and bathe in these mystical, kaleidoscopic waters beside tumbling waterfalls and tropical greenery.

From Bogotá to Colombia’s coffee region

Colombia wouldn’t be Colombia without its coffee; if you’re looking to sample the country’s famous produce first-hand, head to Pereira (more than 10 daily flights with avianca from Bogotá) or Armenia (more than five daily flights from Bogotá with avianca).

4. Soak up the heritage of Colombia’s coffee farms

A coffee picker in Colombia (Shutterstock)

The Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason, with many of its verdant coffee farms offering guided tours and tastings. Head to Finca del Café in the village of Santa Rosa de Cabal for an insight into coffee production accompanied by impressive mountain views, or swing by the Casa Rivera del Cacao in Córdoba to combine coffee tastings with a ‘tree-to-bar’ cocoa experience. If you want get even more in-depth, pay a visit to the National Coffee Park, an all-out theme park close to Armenia dedicated to this precious commodity.

5. Go birdwatching in the Cocora Valley

The Cocora Valley (Shutterstock)

Home to verdant jungle, mist-capped cloud forest and the world’s tallest palm trees, the Cocora Valley isn’t only known for its coffee farms; it’s also a hotspot for hiking, and boasts some of the country’s best bird-watching. Scarlet-fronted parakeets, yellow-eared parrots and white-throated toucans can all be seen here. For especially good viewing, head to the Valley of the Wax Palms, where trees tower up to 60m high against a backdrop of Andean slopes.

Explore the rest of Colombia

From Santa Marta (10-plus daily flights) to Bucaramanga (10-plus daily flights), Neiva (two daily flights) to Barranquilla (10-plus daily flights), avianca’s domestic flights from Bogotá can take you even further afield. Here are our top recommendations for things to do across the rest of the country.

6. Hike the Mavicure Hills

The Mavicure Hills (avianca/ProColombia)

From pink dolphins and manatees to caimans, jaguars, piranhas and turtles, the Colombian Amazon is something of a dream for nature-lovers, and much of it remains firmly off the tourist trail. For one of the most picturesque and secluded spots, head to the Mavicure Hills, where three giant granite monoliths rise above the jungle beside a confluence of winding rivers. Book a hiking tour to see the highlights with a local guide, who’ll teach you about the indigenous Curripaco and Puinave communities that have long occupied its landscapes.

7. Stroll the beaches of Palomino

The beaches of Palomino (avianca/ProColombia)

Colombia isn’t short on paradise-worthy beaches, and you’ll find some of the best scattered around Palomino. This laid-back beachside town on the country’s Caribbean coast remains something of a hidden secret, with floury-white sand and swaying palms backed by the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Close by, Tayrona National Park boasts plenty more to lure, with howler monkeys swinging through the trees, and pristine beaches lapped by aqua-blue sea.

8. Spy the legend of El Dorado at Guatavita lake

Guatavita lake (avianca/ProColombia)

Once a ceremonial site for Colombia’s indigenous Muisca people, Lake Guatavita is famous for the legend of El Dorado, which said that when a new Muisca chief was appointed, he’d jump into the lake covered in gold dust, and throw in treasures as a sign of adoration for the gods. Drawn by the tales, the Spanish came on several expeditions, but they failed to find the fabled goods. Today guides are on hand to tell you more about its history, with sailing, water-skiing, and other activities also available on the lake, alongside plenty of artisanal craft shops to browse.

9. See colonial history at Barichara

Barichara (avianca/ProColombia)

Beyond the nature, Colombia boasts plenty more to lure – not least its slew of colourful, well-preserved heritage towns. Especially unmissable is Barichara, where whitewashed, colonial-era buildings line historic cobbled streets, and restaurants, cafes and craft shops sit against an idyllic mountain backdrop. Amble over to the main square to see the elegant, 19th-century cathedral, and head to the El Mirador viewpoint to admire the rolling hills of the surrounding Suarez Canyon.

10. Be in awe of the Tatacoa Desert

Tatacoa Desert (Shutterstock)

For a true wilderness experience, the Tatacoa Desert calls. Set in the southwest of the country, this vast, Mars-like expanse fuses copper-red rock formations, tumbling dunes and rippling ochre canyons across more than 127 square miles of land. You’ll find a slew of off-the-beaten-track adventures here – from hiking and biking to stargazing at the Tatacoa Observatory – but the real magic lies in the stillness and silence. This is Colombia at its most extraordinary, and a true jewel in the crown of this still-largely undiscovered ‘country of beauty’.

Feeling inspired?

For exploring Colombia, avianca is incredibly well-connected and, thanks to more than 25 routes across the country, it’s best positioned to help you see it in its entirety. In the last year alone, it has increased its flight frequencies to regions like San Andrés, Santa Marta and Pasto, with 6.6 million seats available across its domestic network – an increased in 39% when compared to 2022. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to explore Colombia with avianca. For more information, head to the official avianca and ProColombia websites.

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