Named the second best country to visit in 2017 by the Lonely Planet, Colombia is hitting the headlines. And this time, it’s for all the right reasons. I spent a big chunk of the past two years living and travelling in Colombia. I just couldn’t stay away. Why? Because it’s a magical, colourful place filled with the warmest people on the planet.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room – safety. Is it safe to visit Colombia? Absolutely. I felt very safe, even as a very petite female backpacking alone. Colombia has fought hard to overcome its dodgy reputation, so don’t let history get the better of you. Locals are over the moon that tourists are returning and the welcome is out of this world, so go feel it for yourself.
The secret about Colombia’s beauty is definitely out and tourist numbers are on the rise, so I recommend you get in there fast and beat the crowds. Here are a few recommendations for where to go in Colombia which I hope inspire you to bite the bullet and hop on a plane to Bogota.
My favourite spot on the entire planet is the Valle de Cocora, hidden between the coffee hills of Salento. Here, you hike uphill for a couple of hours through forests and hummingbird sanctuaries (yes really!) before descending into a valley scattered with gigantic palm trees that look like something straight out of Jurassic Park. The palms reach as far as 200 feet into the sky, dwarfing everything around them.
Two hours’ drive from Medellin, Guatape is a quirky little pueblo with houses painted every colour of the rainbow. The buildings are decorated with bold emblems of sunflowers, parrots, donkeys, giraffes and even dragons. It’s impossible not to smile. While you’re there, be sure to climb the 740 steps to the top of El Penon, a giant rock. From here, you’ll see bright blue lakes and green islands as far as the eye can see. It’s knackering, but a million times worth it.
Don’t miss the opportunity to fling yourself into the world’s largest hammock in Minca! Up in the hills above Santa Marta, with gorgeous views of the Caribbean coastline, Minca is a great place to escape from the sweaty heat. Here, you can hike in the hills, visit local coffee farms and unwind. Then, when you’re ready, you head downhill towards Santa Marta to begin the trek to the Ciudad Perdida (the ‘Lost City’) or make a beeline for tropical Tayrona National Park.
Over 650 years OLDER than Machu Picchu, the Cuidad Perdida was only rediscovered in 1976. Unlike the Inca Trail, the six-day hike through the jungle is still unspoiled and totally spectacular. Even better, the trail passes scattered indigenous villages and natural swimming holes along the way. It’s not easy and it’s definitely best to book your trek with a reputable operator, because the experience can really vary in quality and your guide is really important.
The more remote beaches in Tayrona National Park are jaw-dropping, but if you’re not in the mood for a multi-day hike through the National Park, Palomino is perfect. Taganga is also lovely, but the party vibe grows stronger by the day, making Palomino a more peaceful place to soak up the sun. Backed by the Sierra Nevada, its beaches are gorgeous. Fishermen still cast traditional nets along the coastline, while in the nearby mountains, indigenous tribes still follow their age-old cultural routines.
Colombian culture is bursting with joy and there is no better place to feel that joy than Cali, the place where I lived. It’s my second home and it has a big clutch on my heart. Parties break out in the local tiendas, salsa spills out onto the streets and music blasts out of every shop/home/passing car. I learned to dance salsa in Cali and even ended up on the stage, dancing for crowds in tiny costumes. The people are incredibly warm, the weather is sizzling and salsa is a way of life. It’s more of a working city than a touristy spot, but it’s unbelievably special.
Colombia has something for everyone, and then some. Slide down giant sand dunes into the sea on the Guaijra Peninsula, go star-gazing in Tatacoa desert and visit the underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira near Bogota. For culture, explore the colonial buildings of Cartagena, learn about Pablo Escobar from people who lived under his power and wander through the white-washed towns of Villa de Leyva or Barichara. Wildlife lovers can head south to the Amazon basin and adrenaline junkies can scare themselves in San Gil.
If you’d like to visit Colombia and you’re looking for support from someone who knows the country and has travelled extensively there, I can help. I can arrange independent travel options for you travel to Colombia including direct or multi-stop flights and transfers and recommend accommodation and tours to suit your style and budget – just contact Bryony to start planning.