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I spent 9 weeks in Colombia, longer than I’ve spent anywhere else in the past couple of years (except for New York), and I would have even stayed longer, had Mexico not called my name. Looking back, I can’t believe I almost canceled my trip – I would have missed so many amazing experiences. In short, I loved my time in Colombia – and I have a long list of my favorite travel moments in Colombia, and narrowed it down to 13 Colombia travel highlights I’d like to share with you, maybe inspiring you to follow in my footsteps and visiting some of the places that I loved. It was, in fact, one of the best trips I’ve taken, and while I was concerned about safety as a solo female traveler in Colombia prior to my trip, I never felt in danger.
I found beautiful beaches, gorgeous Spanish-colonial towns, a vibrant nightlife in Bogota and Medellin, some of the best fruit I’ve ever eaten, a spiritual awakening in the Amazon, the ruins of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada mountains, great new friends and memories that will stay with me forever. I will tell you about most places I visited in more detail over the coming months, but I thought I’d start by sharing my favorite travel moments in Colombia with you:
My favorite travel moments in Colombia
1 Chilling in the giant hammock in Minca
I think reading about ‘the giant hammock’ was one of the things that convinced me to visit Minca, a small village in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern Colombia. A huge hammock with amazing mountain views? What’s not to love?! Definitely one of my favorite travel moments in Colombia! The hammock, which you find a steep 3-hour walk up the mountain from Minca, belongs to the Casa Elemento hostel and was well worth the long walk for a relaxing afternoon. But everything else I did in Minca was memorable, as well: we toured a coffee finca, visited and swam in the waterfalls around town and sampled local artisan beers.
Read more about my time in Minca here: Chasing waterfalls in Minca
2 Trekking to the Lost City
I had been fascinated by this trek to the ruins of a pre-Columbian ancient city high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains ever since I had first heard about it a few years ago, but I wasn’t sure if I was able to finish a 4-day trek through mountains and jungle in 90F heat. It turned out I was able to finish it, and the four days of trekking turned out to be one of my Colombia travel highlights. The walk through the beautiful mountain scenery, through the jungle, across rivers, passing indigenous villages, and finally climbing up 1,200 stairs, was worth every painful step, and the ruins of the Lost City itself were more remarkable than I thought they’d be. I was lucky enough to have a great group of fellow trekkers whose company made me get through the hard parts of the hike – lots of steep mountain trails, which nearly killed me.
3 Tubing in Palomino
I went to Palomino for the beach, but ended up enjoying the river that runs from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which hug the coastline here, much more than the ocean! In Palomino, the waves are so high that it is nearly impossible to go for a swim, but luckily the little beach town has a river that is slowly flowing from the mountains into the ocean, and the conditions are perfect for river tubing. My friend and I went for a late afternoon tubing tour and I loved floating on the river, surrounded by lush green jungle, listening to the birds and watching the Golden Hour covering everything in a beautiful golden light.
Read more about my time in Palomino here: Caribbean vibes and a giant scare in Palomino
4 A street art tour in Bogota
I mentioned before that I was surprised by Bogota – in a good way! I expected to dislike the city, because many travelers rush through here, unimpressed by Colombia’s capital. I, however, ended up spending more time here than expected, and got to know the city better than most travelers who only spend a couple of nights here. My favorite thing about Bogota? The sprawling street art scene! No matter where in Bogota you are, there is street art everywhere. I spent most of my time in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, which is probably the neighborhood with the most street art in the city. Obviously, I was in street art heaven and couldn’t put my camera down. But what was even better than just snapping away whenever I walked by an awesome graffiti was learning about Bogota’s graffiti and street art scene during a free street art walk through La Candelaria. If you love street art and find yourself in Bogota, I highly recommend taking this tour.
5 The sunsets in Cartagena
Cartagena definitely wins the prize for the best sunsets I saw in Colombia! No matter if from the thick stone walls that surround the Old City or from the sandy beaches of Bocagrande, the new part of town, every sunset was spectacular. But not only the sunsets were lovely – Cartagena itself was a picture-perfect town, easily the prettiest town I visited in Colombia, and I took nearly 1,000 photos of its brightly colored Spanish-colonial houses, flower-filled wooden balconies and eye-catching door knockers. I extended my stay in Cartagena twice because I couldn’t pull myself away from this gorgeous city – I definitely had more than one of my favorite travel moments in Colombia there.
Read more about my time in Cartagena: Cartagena – The perfect introduction to Colombia
6 Kayaking in the Amazon
I spent eight days in the Amazon – a last-minute addition to my itinerary, and I am glad I spent the extra cash for the plane ticket into the Amazonas region (the only way to get there is to fly in). While I found the lack of wildlife encounters a bit disappointing, I found the Amazon River and life along the Amazon fascinating – and a kayaking trip that brought me up close with the giant trees of the Amazon was an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
7 Feasting on fresh fruit everywhere
Yes, fruit makes the list of my Colombia travel highlights! Colombia’s wide range of exotic fruit is incredible – there are so many fruits in this country that I had never even heard of. My mission was to try them all! And I did a good job, with daily fruit salads from street vendors in Cartagena, or a thick slice of pineapple to start my day with in Santa Marta (for about $0.30!). In the Amazon, I got to taste local fruits like Cupuacu, anona, aguaje, granadilla, uvilla or tumbo – all fruits which can be found only there, and aren’t exported. But even fruit I already knew, like mango, zapote, pineapple, papaya, guava, or guyabana tasted juicier and sweeter than in other places. The fruits were one of my favorite things about Colombia.
8 Hiking through the Valle de Cocora
The Valle de Cocora near Salento, right in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to: green mountainsides filled with these tall, up to 60 meter high wax palm trees which tower high above cattle farms. The hike I did was beautiful, and being a 4-hour round trip, it was a good workout at the same time.
9 Visiting coffee plantations in Quindio and Magdalena
Coffee is probably my biggest vice, and so of course I had to visit Colombia’s coffee region to see where some of the world’s best coffee is from. I had toured a coffee finca a few years ago in Guatemala, and even though I knew the process would be pretty much the same, I was happy to see again how the bean makes its way from the farm into my cup – even twice, because I ended up not only visiting a coffee plantation in the zona cafeteria, but also in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a lesser known and considerably smaller coffee producing region in Colombia. The old-fashioned family-run coffee plantation I visited there, Finca La Victoria, including a tasting of a freshly brewed cup, was a highlight of the trip for this coffee lover.
10 Stepping back in time in Villa De Leyva
It took me only about one minute to fall in love with Villa De Leyva, which is often called the most beautiful colonial village in Colombia, and I am nodding my head in approval – I don’t think there’s a place prettier than Villa de Leyva with its whitewashed houses, cobble stone streets and its vast town square, flanked by bright white houses on all sides, and with a Spanish-colonial church that dates back to 1608. Wandering the streets of the village I couldn’t help but think: this place hasn’t changed at all since it was founded in 1572! Okay, there might be cars in Villa De Leyva these days, but other than that, I really don’t think it has changed much over the past 500 years.
11 Beach day in Playa Blanca
I love going to the beach, and I went to quite a few beaches in Colombia, all along the Caribbean Coast. My favorite beach day? Playa Blanca near Cartagena! Cartagena is hot and humid year round, but luckily there are a few places where you can take a break from the heat for a while. Playa Blanca on Baru Island is one such place, an easy 45-minute bus ride away. Playa Blanca means White Beach, and that’s exactly what it is: a white sand beach with clear turquoise waters which is so pretty that I ended up spending most of the day staring out at the ocean instead of reading my book.
12 Seeing Botero’s art in Medellin and Bogota
Fernando Botero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists and I love his ‘fat people’ paintings and sculptures. I’ve seen his sculptures of voluminous women, men and animals in London, Jerusalem, Barcelona, Paris, New York, Mexico and Singapore, and now I was finally in his home country – excited to see more of his art here, and find out more about the artist. I can’t help but smile when I look at his ‘fat people’ sculptures and paintings – his signature style – and seeing more of his art around Colombia was wonderful. I loved the Botero Museum in Bogota, but Medellin’s Museum of Antioquia and the Parque de Las Esculturas, right outside the museum, were my absolute favorite places to learn more about Botero and more of his art. This would be a Colombia travel highlight for any art lover.
13 Salsa nights in Bogota
I didn’t make it to Cali, where most female travelers seem to end up to learn how to salsa, but I would have loved to learn salsa steps. However, I ran out of time. What I did have time for though? To visit quite a few excellent salsa bars, in which I danced several nights away (without exactly knowing how to salsa, but I had fun nonetheless). I was surprised that it was in Bogota of all places that I found such great salsa bars, but I had a super guide who introduced me to Bogota’s nightlife and made the city much more fun for me than I thought it’d be, as I mentioned above. One salsa highlight was the salsa bar inside El Theatron, which the biggest gay & lesbian night club in all of South America.For more Colombia photos, check out my Facebook photo album here.