The reason to visit Colombia is simple – the country has everything. The mighty Amazon River, the rainforest with its indigenous villages, and the imposing Andes Mountains establish the country as a major vacation destination.
In addition, Colombia has two coastlines, the Mediterranean and the Pacific to assure a great beach getaway. Not many destinations are diverse enough to offer whale watching and trail up a great mountain range at the same time.
The capital, Bogota, has some stunning architecture and vibrant nightlife while remaining true to its colonial heritage.
Colombia is a country in northwest South America. It is surrounded by 1,000 miles of the Caribbean Sea and 800 miles of the Pacific Ocean and borders Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, and Peru. It is a large country, approximately two times the size of France. Most people live in the mountainous interior of the country, near Bogota, the country’s capital.
Included in this land-based country are two Caribbean islands, San Andres and Providencia. These islands, although a part of Columbia, have an utterly separate culture to amaze visitors, who will revel in white beaches lined with swaying palm trees. San Andres is lively and geared toward tourists. Providencia is still a raw, natural wonder with forests and beaches that offer the best scuba diving. The country’s landscape is a juxtaposition of rural areas and larger cities, most of which are surrounded by the Andes mountains.
Colombia is the only New World nation named for Christopher Columbus, although he never visited the country in person. Before Columbus, Colombia was inhabited by small indigenous tribes. Spanish colonization of Colombia began in 1525 when rumors of a great city made of gold spread throughout Spain. The settlers were awed by the amount of gold possessed by the local tribes. The Muiscas habitually flung gold into the waters for good luck. The city of gold was never found, but settlement continued, and the first city, Santa Marta, was established. This is still Colombia’s oldest city. Bogota was founded in 1538 and became the capital.
Spanish rule brought slavery to Colombia until it became independent in 1819. Visitors can still experience much of the country’s history today in the country’s colonial architecture and the walls built to protect citizens from roving piracy.
As much as sixty percent of Colombians live in the country’s interior within the Andes Mountain Range. They have lived here, at a height of 12,000 feet (17,000 is the highest point), since ancient times, which was quite a physical challenge. While there is a prosperous coffee industry here, the environment is not suited for vegetation. Most of the country’s indigenous settlements and urban locations are located in the Andes.
Colombian Languages and Currency
Almost all Colombians speak Spanish, although the official language of the islands of San Andres and Providencia is English. Then, there are approximately 12 variations of indigenous languages spread throughout Colombia.
The official Colombian currency is the peso.
Things to Do in Colombia
Amazon Rainforest Glamping
Much of Colombia is covered by the great Amazon Rainforest. This is the place to see an abundance of rare and beautiful animals and birds.
And the best way to experience the rainforest is by sleeping on a treetop or outside. This isn’t ordinary camping. This is true glamping. These treehouses or huts offer all the elements of camping, including sleeping under the stars, with all the conveniences of hot showers and kitchens.
Cruise the Amazon
The Amazon is the most amazing river in the world and must be seen to be believed. Arrange for a once-on-lifetime cruise beginning in Leticia and flow through the jungle for some stunning sights, such as the monkeys, pink dolphins, and a wide array of other animals.
During a five-day cruise, visitors will spend one evening in a treehouse, trail through the rainforest, and kayak through an Amazon tributary. For the adventurous, there is ziplining over the jungle canopy and soaring with the parakeets.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira
There are few sights anywhere as amazing as this Zipaquira salt cathedral. Above ground, before stepping down 180 meters into the darkness of the salt mine, visitors are greeted by the miners’ patron saint, the Virgen de Guasa. Thirteen million people have visited this wonder. In 2007, it was named the First Wonder of Colombia.
As visitors descent, the darkness slowly turns to lights coming through the rocks, shedding light on the Stations of the Cross. There are three naves, each with its own altar with stunning salt sculptures. Incredibly, this salt phenomenon is reflected in a pool of water that people can swim in (yes, swimming in church) as well as a salt waterfall. Daily mass is held at the cathedral.
The River of Five Colors
While most people look for clear blue waters in which to play and swim. Until they see the 62 mile-long River of Five Colors in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park. Things begin to happen between July and December when the river’s flora turns a bright red, and the water turns into a red, yellow, and green rainbow. This is the only “liquid” rainbow in the world, and exploration of this lovely river requires a guide.
Do the Salsa in Cali
Cali is Colombia’s third-largest city, and it’s a dancing fool. Cali adopted salsa as its own in the 1970s and is now the world’s salsa capital for its various interpretation of the music and has introduced people to salsa worldwide. In Cali, people can’t stop dancing in the streets, and the city has won prizes in salsa competitions.
Bogota, Colombia’s capital, is a vibrant city. The city’s Plaza de Bolivar brings visitors back the colonial times, with a cathedral, palaces, and monuments. Here, visitors wander and explore the history of Colombia.
Colombia built its reputation on gold. Bogota’s Gold Museum has the greatest golden artifacts in the world. Many of these go back to ancient, pre-Colombian times. While in Bogota, take the cable car to the high point of Monserrate for an incredible daytime view and a starlit nighttime spectacle.
Regardless who you ask, you will be told not to miss Bogota’s Andres Carne de Res, a restaurant (two and a half square miles in size with 11 dining rooms) and a club on steroids. The food is great; the five dance floors swing, and hammocks are provided for the intoxicated in need of a sleep-off. Five hundred employees tend to the visitors’ needs, including supervising children in a special (hammock-free) area. The dancing begins around midnight and lasts well through the night. Designated drivers are always available.
Best Regions to Visit in Colombia
Colombia spans from the Andes to the Amazon and everything in between. It is busy, challenging, beautiful, has not yet been ruined by mass tourism, and allows for an authentic travel experience.
Eje Cafetero is Colombia’s premium coffee region. Colombia is well-known for its coffee export, and Eje Cafereto, located on the western side of the Andes range, is where much of it is grown. The weather is perfect for coffee production, and the Andes offer an amazing view of the surroundings. A tour through the region will provide much information about everyone’s favorite beverage.
When in Eje Cafetero, visitors can explore the Cocora Valley and the local Wax Palms, the tallest palm trees on the planet, which contain the nest of the adorable yellow-eared parrot. Visitors come here to walk through the valley and take in the amazing vistas.
Los Nevados Natural Park:
This Park, located near the coffee region, offers amazing hikes up the Andes to its highest peak, El Ruiz. There are a number of trails, from a one-day hike to a week-long adventure that includes the lake called Laguna del Otun and the snow-capped Santa Isabel peak.
Birdwatching Regions in Colombia
Colombia has more than 1,900 different species of birds. It is the go-to destination for bird watchers everywhere. Minca is located by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. A hike around the village of Minca will have visitors discover toucans, several different types of hummingbirds, and other beautiful feathered friends. Early morning is the optimum time to go birding.
Los Flamencos, Guajira, is located by the Caribbean and has a huge flamingo population, as well as ibises, storks, and spoonbills. A special treat is spotting the rare vermilion cardinal and buffy hummingbird.
El Jardín Encantado, or, the Enchanted Garden, can be found in San Francisco, Colombia. A woman has set up 50 hummingbird feeders which attract many species of hummingbirds, especially the beautiful gorgeted woodstar. A road in Jardin leads to a large flock of yellow-eared parrots, the rarest bird in the world of birds.
The Llanos Orientales Region
Colombia’s eastern region, Llanos Orientales, is a large piece of land stretching from the Andes to the Amazon and comprises a quarter of the country’s territory. This natural savannah is home to a vast wildlife, more than 100 different species of mammals and 700 different types of birds.
This is the home of the Colombian cowboys (or llaneros). Touring this region provides an opportunity to see traditional ranching methods, from herding to milking, to lassoing. Where there is beef, there is bound to be good eating, and the barbequed veal here is considered perfection.
The fun and best way to enjoy the plains is by tour on horseback while spotting the local howler monkeys, pumas, and jaguars.
Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
Colombia’s Caribbean Coast is an exquisitely beautiful region, with the magical city of Cartagena, the beaches of Rosario islands, and the lush greens of Tayrona National Park.
The small towns of Capurgana and Sapzurro are accessible boat. Visitors come here for the magnificent beaches and green jungles. There are no cars, just nature’s beauty, making it a truly paradisial getaway.
The Bernardo islands are one of the Caribbean Coast’s hidden gems. Many visitors are unaware they can spend the night, making the beautiful beach fairly private without any crowds. Backpackers love the simple accommodation on Isla Mucura, which honeymooners veer toward the luxury resort on Punta Faro.
The Best All-Inclusive Hotel or Resort in Colombia
Estelar Playa Manzanillo Cartagena, is an all-inclusive resort located by the Caribbean in the northern part of Colombia. The Lounge Bar is the place to be seen with one of their tasty international cocktails. The pool bar offers a fantastic view of the sea. Guests enjoy unlimited dining at the resort’s three restaurants.
Water sports such as beach soccer, volleyball, and water polo are available, as are snorkeling or scuba diving, and the Karibana golf course offers some of the best golfing in the area. The kids’ club keep the young ones entertained.
Best Resort or Hotel for Couples in Colombia
The Hotel Isla Del Pirata on Rosairo Islands has romantic private chalets by the beach, some with a beach view, other with a view of the garden. The island is quite secluded and perfect for couples wishing to spend time alone. All chalets come with barbecue grills. The tropical chalets have a thatched roof in a very tropical style. The hotel can be reached by taking a boat from Cartagena.
Meals are included, but wine and champagne are extra. The hotel also offers spa treatments and activities such as diving and snorkeling. This is also a popular and beautiful wedding destination.
Best Resort or Hotel for Families in Colombia
Irotama Resort Zona Torres Hotel in Santa Marta is a beachfront getaway for the entire family. All rooms have kitchens, which makes it easier to keep young travelers fed and satisfied, and food can be purchased at the inhouse market. There is also an inhouse restaurant. Suites have as many as three bedrooms for larger groups. Golf lessons and tennis games are available.
The Children’s Mini Club is for children three through twelve years old. The club includes a playground, pool and beach activities, games, and opportunities to explore.