Last Updated on October 7, 2021
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.
Channeling My Inner Lara Croft: The Jungle Trek To Colombia's Lost City - GlobetrotterGirls
Tuesday 20th of April 2021
[…] The first time I heard about the ruins of the Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city hidden deep in the jungles of northern Colombia that is only accessible on foot on a strenuous four-day hike through the mountains, was in 2010, during my first visit to Latin America. “You have to do the Lost City trek,” a fellow traveler who was making his way north towards Mexico as I was making my way down towards Colombia through Central America, urged me, “it’s an adventure of a lifetime.” Back then I was skeptical, even though I was intrigued by this Indiana Jones-like adventure. But I had never done a multi-day trek, let alone in the jungle, let alone in the Colombian jungle. I didn’t even know if I could walk that far: a 32-mile (52-kilometer) round-trip. Fast forward six years and I found myself walking on a dusty unpaved road, braving the 90% humidity and heat of the Caribbean coast a few miles north of the starting point of the trek to the Lost City, La Ciudad Perdida. A mere fifteen minutes after leaving the village where we started the trek, we made our first river crossing – the first of about twenty river crossings along the way. Luckily I wasn’t doing the Lost City trek during rainy season, when the water can reach up to your waist. One hour into the hike, as I felt the sweat running down my arms, my stomach and my back, I was already regretting my decision. Even though now, a few years after first hearing about the hike to the Lost City, I had a few multi-day treks under my belt, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it all the way to the ancient ruins high up in the mountains. The river we were walking next to looked inviting, and just as I was fantasizing about jumping in for a refreshing dip, our guide announced “We’re stopping here for a quick swim break. After this, the real hike starts.” All of us stripped down immediately and jumped into the water, slowly starting to get to know each other while cooling off. There were twelve of us, three couples, two friends traveling together, and the rest of us were solo travelers. Our guide hadn’t lied: The Lost City hike did become much more strenuous. Before our swim break, we had been slowly ascending into the mountains on a path surrounded by lush, green jungle. Now, it was pretty much uphill the entire time, and I was completely drenched in sweat within an hour. It seemed like this mountain didn’t have a top; a never ending ascent. Luckily, the scenery distracted me enough to make this hike still enjoyable, and around 4.30pm, several mountains later, we reached the camp where we would spend the night, conveniently located right by the Buritaca River, which follows the trail pretty much the entire time. We didn’t waste any time and went straight down to the river where we found a refreshing pool and a cliff to jump from. The accommodation was basic, a dozen bunk beds next to each other, right across from a TV in front of which the people who lived here sat, captivated by the telenovelas that were showing – they didn’t leave their chairs all night long. We sat down on wooden benches where we would be spending the rest of the evening, having dinner (fish and rice for the meat eaters, lentils and rice for me) and playing cards, getting to know each other better. All of the camps on the hike to the Lost City were open, with corrugated roof sheets, but no walls. Luckily the beds were draped in mosquito nets to keep out the critters of the jungle – we had been warned that there were several species of poisonous snakes and spiders in this part of the country, and the very next day, I would nearly step on a snake. This would be the last camp that had electricity, after this point, electricity was provided by generators. During the entire trek there were no phones, no power outlets, no cell phone signal. The next day, we were woken early: at 5am. After a filling breakfast that consisted of a big bowl of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, we started walking an hour later, and just like the previous day we hiked up a mountain, down a mountain, up a mountain, down a mountain. The jungle scenery was incredibly beautiful, and we passed several villages that were home to the indigenous groups who live in this part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are the Wiwa people, the kankuamo, the arhuaco and the kogi, all descendants of the Tayronas, whose ancient city we were going to reach a couple of days later. We didn’t see a lot of indigenous people on the first day, but now that we had gotten deeper into the mountains, we passed them frequently on the paths – moms with their kids, whole families, or just guys, easily recognizable by their traditional white outfits. While the women and kids often were barefoot, the men wore big rubber boots and had long dark hair, always with a colorful handmade mochilla bag strung over their shoulder, similar to the ones I’d seen in the artisan markets along the coast. The huts in their villages are still built the way the Teyuna people used to build them: in a circle, and from materials found in the jungle. The kids here don’t get to just go to the candy store and buy some candy for themselves, but civilization hasn’t kept out of the jungle entirely: they know of candy, and know that white people tend to have candy on them. I ended up trading a couple of candies for a photo of a young girl and her baby sitter before they disappeared into the jungle with a smile on their faces and I continued my trek through the forest. At 9am we reached our lunch camp, and while the two young girls who were cooking for us (and walking the trek with us) were preparing our lunch (which came pretty early at 10am), we swam in the river again. This would be the first of three (!) swim breaks that day. Once we finished our extended three hour lunch break, we started walking again – but only for half an hour. Then it was time for another swim, again surrounded by the lush jungle scenery. We almost didn’t care about our destination anymore, because the trek itself was so beautiful. After all these swim breaks, I started thinking this day was actually pretty easy – but oh was I wrong. After our quick dip, we started a grueling climb up a steep mountainside, which lasted over an hour. By the time I made it to the mountaintop, I was panting like a dog and my calves were burning. Much to my surprise, our kitchen crew had already reached the mountain top and handed everyone a slice of watermelon as they arrived on the top, sweat running down their faces. After this tiring climb, the hike got slightly easier (less steep), and an hour later we reached our camp for the night. This camp, Campo Paraiso, is the biggest camp. While the several tour companies that offer the Lost City trek each have their own camps along the trail, here, all the groups come together, and the camp had just been extended to accommodate more hikers – showing just how popular the hike to the Lost City had become. However, compared to the one million visitors Machu Picchu sees every year, the 8,500 adventurers who make their way to Colombia’s La Ciudad Perdida seem almost irrelevant in comparison. It was only one kilometer, 0.6 miles, to the Lost City from Campo Paraiso, but we wouldn’t get there until the next morning. Some of us still had the energy for an afternoon swim, because luckily, the camp was next to the river again, but nobody had the energy for the 1,200 stairs we still had to conquer before reaching the fabled city. By 8pm, we were all in bed, falling asleep to the sound of the jungle: birds, monkeys and other animals. We were up bright and early at 5am again because today would be a long day: Not only would we finally visit the Lost City, but we’d also return to Camp 2, a three hour hike from Camp 3. The path we followed on our last morning followed the river, but we didn’t walk very far. Our guide suddenly stopped and we crossed the river. We had reached the bottom of the steep mountain on whose top the Lost City sits. Only 1,241 stairs were between us and our final destination now. I couldn’t wait to finally see the Lost City, but anxious about the stairs. And when I say stairs, I am not talking about a proper staircase – the stairs we were climbing were centuries old, wonky and uneven stone stairs, carved out of rock. Sometimes, the stairs were so high that it took some serious effort to climb them. Considering the short size of the Wiwa people we met along the way it made me wonder how often they had to climb these stairs and how they managed to do it. After an hour long climb, we finally made it to La Ciudad Perdida. It was an unforgettable moment when we finally reached the top of the stairs, and the jungle gave way to a plateau on which the first ruins of ancient houses sat. Teyuna, the name that was given to the city by archeologists, was built in AD 700, which makes it at least 600 years older than Machu Picchu. The site was abandoned in the 1600s and only in the early 1970s treasure hunters found the ruins and ransacked the then unnamed and undocumented city, emptying burial plots that were filled with golden jewelry and pottery. It took until 1976 for the news of its discovery to get out and for archeologists to arrive to the site. Over the course of the next six years, until 1982, Teyuna was excavated and restored. The city was built high up on the mountain to be closer to Wymaco, the father of gods. For the Wiwa people this is still a sacred site, and for two weeks every September, descendants of the Teyuna gather here for ceremonies. It felt amazing to have the entire city to ourselves, basking in the mystical aura it emitted. There was only one other group of five people that arrived at the Lost City the same day as we did, and we only saw them once while we explored the city. To think we were the only ones here, in this sacred place far away from any civilization, made the experience even more special. I was surprised when I realized how big La Ciudad Perdida was, since most of the brochures and travel guides only feature the same image: But there’s so much more to the Lost City – a myriad of staircases that lead to several terraces clinging to the mountainside, the foundations of houses still well recognizable everywhere. There used to be 1,000 houses here, and archeologists estimate between 1,300 and 3,000 people lived here. We explored the city, which spreads out over 86 acres, for several hours, walking between the moss-covered old rocks, ruins of people’s homes, plazas and ruins of temples. There are 169 circular terraces, and rocks on which maps were carved, all surrounded by the dense jungle which had hidden Teyuna for hundreds of years. The highlight of the day was reaching the main terraces of the city, called La Capilla, which are sitting high up on a mountain top with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, all covered in lush green tropical forests. We sat down at the edge of one of the terraces and took in the scenery around us. Nobody spoke, everyone was lost in their own thoughts. The Teyuna were a community of potters and farmers, and the city was connected to other cities in the mountains through a network of stone paths. There are similar cities still hidden in the jungle in the mountains here, waiting to be discovered. Archeologists are not one hundred percent sure why the Lost City was left, but presumably because diseases spread after the Spanish arrived in this region in the 16th century. It didn’t take long for the jungle to grow over the stone buildings, hiding it under its thick vines and a layer of moss. Not everything here is a ruin, however: we also passed a couple of houses in which a family lived. From the shaman of their community we learned that he was the head of 160 families who were living in the area, and for them not much had changed since the times of the Tayrona. The same basic huts, and with them living pretty self-sufficiently off of what the woods provided them with (mainly cocoa, fruits and tobacco). We left after receiving a protective bracelet from the shaman, but not without asking a dozen questions about his life and his family, curious to hear about life in the mountains. The biggest problem for them at the moment? Climate change. The past couple of years have been very dry, the rainy season in June and July is not bringing as much rain as they’re used to, which in turn affects their harvest. We also learned the reason for their long hair: The Wiwa people don’t cut their hair because they believe the brain breathes through the hair, and cutting your hair means cutting the oxygen to the brain. This might not be a Machu Picchu, but having hiked to Machu Picchu, I can say that this city was striking in its own way, and well worth the arduous trek. After spending the morning exploring the ruins, it was time to climb down the 1,200 stairs and to grab a quick lunch before walking back to Camp 2, where we would spend the night. But since this trip seemed to be just as much about swimming as it was about visiting the Lost City, there was time for a quick dip in the river. The trek back didn’t feel as grueling as the hike to the Lost City, because the one-hour climb from the day before was a much more enjoyable downhill hike now, and we even arrived in the camp early enough for a swim before sunset. Knowing we had another long day ahead of us, all of us were in bed by 8pm again, and I was asleep by 9pm. My body was thankful to get a decent amount of sleep before another 5am wake up call. Initially, I was supposed to walk for five days, but seeing that most people in my group made their way back to base camp on day 4, I decided to join them. This meant doing the hike that is broken up into two parts (Day 4 & 5) in only one day – a seven-hour hike. For some reason, I had blocked out that there was a big downhill part on the second day – a part that needed to be climbed now. It was an exhausting hike and I was glad when we reached camp 1 after three hours for a break with some watermelon and cake. The rest of the hike was mostly downhill, and my feet were thankful for that, they started to hurt quite a bit and I couldn’t wait to trade my hiking boots for my flip flops again. This part of the Lost City trek was also extremely dusty – my clothes, backpack, legs and shoes were all covered in a thick layer of dust. And then, finally, we arrived in El Mamey, the village where it had all began four days earlier. It had only taken us six hours to get there, but I was completely soaked in sweat and ready to rest my legs. A six-hour hike might not sound a lot, but this being the fourth day of walking in a row, and with the steep inclines and declines – it really exhausted me. I couldn’t wait to get back to Santa Marta to take a shower and have a good meal for dinner, after the fairly bland meals during the hike. Was it worth the pain? Absolutely. I can’t believe that I was hesitant about doing the Lost City trek – if you like multi-day treks and want to see a pre-Columbian city that not a lot of people get to see, plus an amazing hike through the jungle, with sweeping mountain views and lots of swim breaks, make sure to add this trek to your Colombia itinerary. In hindsight, I couldn’t be happier about how my travel priorities had changed since the first time I was in Latin America all those years ago, because I am certain that I wouldn’t have done it in 2010 or 2011. The hike to the Lost City ended up being one of my favorite travel moments in Colombia! […]
Is it Safe to Travel in Colombia? - GlobetrotterGirls
Friday 16th of April 2021
[…] My 13 favorite travel moments from Colombia […]
Saturday 3rd of April 2021
I wish you shared the untold stories that you experience in Colombia.
Monday 29th of March 2021
You just made me realize I have so much more to see in Colombia!
Is it safe to travel in Colombia? | GlobetrotterGirls
Sunday 25th of February 2018
[…] My 13 favorite travel moments from Colombia […]