Forget everything you know about Colombia…
Because Colombia has turned a full 180 and has opened its arms to travellers, quickly establishing itself as a backpacker haven. Trying to name only 4 highlights of travelling Colombia is a real challenge.
This incredible country has everything from tropical coastlines, exciting cities, uncharted Amazon, heck, even snowcapped mountains if that’s your thing! Being one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet you can find yourself in all sorts of crazy locations in what’s going to be one of your best adventures yet.
It was my favourite country during our entire trip through South America! So why not start off these lists right.
Here are my top 4 highlights of travelling Colombia.
Do you like to see how fast you can get your heart pumping? San Gil is probably the place for you.
San Gil is well-known around these parts as being the adventure capital of Colombia. White-water rafting, bungee jumping, paragliding – you name it and you can do it here.
Best part is there are tons of other hikes and activities (that are conveniently much less expensive) that makes San Gil a guaranteed blast!
Lindsay and I took colectivo buses and truck beds out and around the valley to some refreshing swimming holes. Tons of locals from the nearby town of Curiti splash around and go rock jumping to cool off in the afternoon sun. Wistful hikes into to the jungle will have you staring up at 200 meter high waterfalls, like at Cascada Juan Curi.
But definitely, my favourite part was the multi-day hike through the Chicamocha Canyon. A lesser travelled hike through Colombia’s heartland is an amazing experience.
Your first day is spent trotting around some of Colombia’s prettiest towns like Barichara and Guane. Your second day sets you out over the Chicamocha Canyon with the tall task of trekking down to the river and back up again. Even though it was almost the death of Lindsay (you can ask her about it), anyone who loves trekking must check out the Chicamocha Canyon.
How To Get There: A 7-8 hour bus ride north of Bogota – a perfect stop on the way to the coast
Where to Stay: Macondo Hostel, they will help you out planning any activity or trek.
Capurgana and Sapzurro is the definition of an off-the-beaten-path backpacker’s paradise. Sitting in the far west reaches of Colombia’s stunning Caribbean coastline is a traveller’s gem of shimmering beaches and dense jungle. And did I mention you can walk into Panama!
Yes, that is true, and it will greet with, of course, another spectacular beach!
Staying in the small villages of Capurgana and Sapzurro, swinging in your hammock bed, is a treat in itself. Head left or right from town for 20 minutes and you’ll have a slice of sandy heaven all to yourself. That’s a Bright in the World guarantee!
Cool rocky outcrops with a personal ocean swimming pool at La Cocarita, or bush crashing through the thick jungle to discover elegant waterfalls. This is more than just a beach destination!
Some of the best seafood in the country, maybe even the world, can be eaten on the sandy shores of Capurgana. Shout out to Josefina’s sea side restaurant – I still dream about that scrumptious stuffed squid!
The long speedy boat ride across the ocean is well worth your trouble because Capurgana is still a hidden getaway ripe for exploration.
How To Get There: A 2-hour boat ride from Turbo (7 hours from Medellin) or Necocli (7 hours from Cartagena).
Where to Stay: El Chileno, run by a hilarious Chilean along the shores near Sapzurro. Sleep in a hammock and enjoy the Aguardiente!
Dare that I say it, but I didn’t think I’d like Salento. Now I can’t help but wonder “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”
The pretty little town of Salento sits right in the heart of Colombia’s iconic Zona Cafetera. There are endless rolling hills and stunning plantation countryside that’s ripe with opportunities to explore!
It’s on the top of most travellers to do list and starred as one of Colombia’s top attractions by every guidebook. I prefer trying to scout out my own adventure, but felt I couldn’t miss out on this one.
The post-card perfect Cocora Valley is the main attraction in most guidebooks. Those super tall palm trees we have all seen dot the lush hills of the region in an abundance. The hikes through the valley are stunning, but this is not nearly the reason you need to visit Salento.
The quaint colonial town still lives and breathe its countryside traditions. Walk through it’s cobblestone streets during Sunday festivities and you will see the community mingling with travellers passing through their small mountain town.
To get to know the area best, you’ll need to stay on a farm.
We found Agro Hostal La Esperanza with a quick Airbnb search (my all-time favourite app… please sponsor me). What we thought would be quiet stay out in the countryside quickly became a much more personal experience.
Our host, Alberto, had an indescribable love for his farm and his family. We stayed with his family what ended up being five days, and honestly fell in love with this little haven in Colombia
How to Get There: 3-hour bus south of Medellin
Where to Stay: Agro Hostal La Esperanza, take a Jeep taxi to the last stop on their “Coffee Farm” route.
This might be an obvious one, but I cannot emphasize it enough. Medellin lives and breathes a feverous energy that you need to experience.
There is so much to do here as a backpacker. Take some of the many incredible free walking tours through the downtown core, or even around what was one of the most dangerous barrios during the drug wars of the 1990s, Comuna 13. Chow down on the classic Antioquia dish of Bandeja Paisa, singing along with ravenous fans at a local football match or dance the night away at one of the cities many salsa clubs.
Before you know it, you’ll be spending weeks, maybe months in Medellin, It depends on how deep it hooks you.
Above all, the time to visit Medellin is during one of its many festivals. The biggest bash of them all is La Feria de Los Flores, that celebrates the region’s history as the world’s flower garden with parades and parties.
The Paisa people come out with force for what will be the most fun you will have in Colombia. Arts, cultural, shows, and botanical displays are in an abundance, and if you want to go out on the town you can find free live shows offering music from around the country as well as giant beer halls and festival grounds to keep you partying till dawn.
Everything builds towards the finale, the flower parade. Dance, cheer and sing amongst the locals as farmer’s march through the streets proudly flaunting the beautiful flowers they have sowed over all year long. It’s an explosion of colour and pure joy for life.
How to Get There: Fly in, or take a bus from pretty much anywhere
Where to Stay: El Alternativo, right in Medellin’s downtown hub El Poblado
Go Explore Colombia… NOW
Colombia has something for everyone, as I hope these 4 highlights of travelling Colombia have shown you. In a country that has yet to see the tourism boom (which will inevitably come), any backpacker looking for a an indescribable adventure must make Colombia their next stop!
I hope you enjoyed these 4 highlights of travelling Colombia! We will be sharing more of our highlights from our travels all over South American so stay tuned, and stay bright!
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Thank you for sticking around and reading our post. If you have any other tips for fellow travellers we would love to hear from you in the comments below! For more stories and photos from our adventures make sure you check out our Instagram and Facebook pages @brightintheworld