How to Plan Your Trip to the Amazing Country of Colombia

By now you might have noticed the love I have for my home country, even if I’m not living there. First-time travelers to Colombia usually ask me what to do, and my answer is always ‘what are you looking for?’. There are multiple options for things to do and to see, so depending on your interests, this is how to plan a trip to Colombia. Also, here are a few tips on what NOT to do when in Colombia.

 

If you like beach and camping, go to Palomino or Parque Tayrona.

playa del cabo Photo: Erik Cleves Kristensen

 

The Tayrona National Natural Park is a protected area in the Colombian northern Caribbean region. Some of the best beaches are in this area and it’s a paradise for those who seek some quiet [and inexpensive] time. There’s no luxury here. You can find a few hotels that offer some comfort, but this place is better enjoyed in a tent. Long beaches with blue waters, open sea, big waves, palm trees and a cool soft breeze at night. Palomino is a little bit further than the Tayrona Park, right in the border of La Guajira region, possibly less popular, but equally gorgeous.

 

How to get there

To get here, you’ll need to take a car service called “Puerta-Ruta” (door to route) from Cartagena or Santa Marta, which will pick you up wherever you are and drop you off at the entrance of the park. You will need to find your way to your hostel or camping spot; you can take a moto-taxi. Learn how to pronounce the name or have it written somewhere so people can guide you if you’re lost.

 

Where to stay and what to do

I found my spot in Palomino through booking.com, but some people just show up and look for any availability. My hostel was called Finca Escondida. Can’t say I loved it, but it looked very clean for camping purposes and the food was decent. In Palomino, you can go for long walks along the beach, tubing down the river, explore the little town or just sit on the white sand and read (which is what I did). In Tayrona, there are more activities and most likely you’ll find another foreigner(s) in your same situation to discover the place with. One of the most interesting things to do around here is visiting the indigenous towns up in La Sierra and doing the 4-day trek to Ciudad Perdida (the lost city).

 

If you prefer a cool city vibe, go to Medellín

medellin colombia_joanna riquett

 

Here’s a full article on things to do in Medellín I wrote recently. It feels like there’s a lot happening here, young people wanting to succeed, cool bars and restaurants popping up and overall a forward thinking feeling. Medellín has fought hard to overcome the reputation it gained from drug cartels and war. In the past 10 or 15 years, it has implemented innovative strategies to give a new air to the city, not only for international travelers but its citizens. Naturally, this has awakened the interest of entrepreneurs, investors and curious travelers and each year the amount of visitors and expats flooding into the city grows.

 

Medellín is not only a cool city, it has a lot to offer on the nature side. Surrounded by mountains, just a short road trip away can take you deep into the mountains and lakes to enjoy green landscapes and fresh breeze. Also, if you are able to go around Christmas times, the city is decorated with some of the most impressive city lights decorations of the world. Definitely a city to see in Colombia.

 

If you rather luxury, beaches and a colonial town go to Cartagena

cartaPhoto: Luz Adriana Villa

 

I also wrote this piece for Cartagena, but really the only thing you need to do here is to show up. Such a beautiful small town from the colonialism cloistered in old walls that used to protect the city from pirates and invasions. Today is one of the most famous destinations in the country and the one reference I always use to explain where my hometown Barranquilla is (just 1.5 hours driving away).

 

Some of the most luxurious hotels in the country, like Santa Clara, are located here, making the offer to splurge very tempting. The beaches within the city are not good, but with a short boat ride you can get to any of the 27 islands that conform the Islas del Rosario conglomerate. Some of them are too small to even call it an island, and some others are already very well-known, like Isla Barú. There is a variety of hotels in these islands where you can go and spend some days relaxing, or just take a day trip. If a day trip is your option, make sure to skip the aquarium and try Playa Blanca instead, or if you have your own boat, go to Cholón, a boat party island where the whole point is to show who has the best music and the hottest girls/boys.

 

If you want to meet locals, go to Bogotá

bogota Photo: Diego Gargía

 

I almost never tell people to go to Bogota and it is not because I don’t like it, but because it’s just a normal capital city. Of course, if you like city vibes, there’s also a lot happening here as well. Most of the companies, jobs, events and cool parties are here, so there’s an interesting mix of people. I realize I’ve never written about it before, so here are my two cents: make the best out of your trip here by connecting with the locals. More than visiting the city just to see it, Bogota is a great city to meet new people. Because they are used to receiving visitors from all over, it’s easier to engage in a conversation with strangers and end up partying with them. Bogotá is located in a valley, so outside of the city there are also many of options for hikes and getting in touch with nature.

 

Please don’t do the Paris Hilton and show up in a floral dress, beach hat, and no jacket, Bogotá is cold. Not all year-round of course, but it’s definitely colder than other cities in Colombia, temperatures ranging from 9 to 20°C, so make sure to check the weather report before showing up in a bikini. Spot highlight: Andrés Carne de Res, the crazy iconic restaurant located a bit outside of the city, in Chia, where you can go for lunch and leave after breakfast the next day after partying all night long. I haven’t been there in a long time, but I imagine it is still a lot of fun.

 

If you crave fresh coffee and family-friendly activities, go to Eje Cafetero

cocora Photo: Alex Schwab

 

Eje Catefero is the name that a portion of Colombian regions receive due to its intense coffee activity, also known as the Triangle of Coffee. This area is located between the cities of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia and offers great choices for families as many thematic parks are located here, as well as farms and beautiful zoos. Lately, many people have chosen this area to rent big fincas or haciendas and host parties, events or retreats. The three cities are easily accessible by plane or car and here you can find some of the oldest towns of the country. Most of the tourism this area receives is currently domestic.

 

Highlights for families: Panaca. A farming themed park that promotes the contact of people and nature. Kids love feeding the pigs, riding the Llamas and flying the canopy. Parque del Café (Coffee Park) is another option where kids learn the production of coffee and can be entertained with mechanical attractions. I went to both of these when I was younger and loved it.

 

Around this area, you can also find the Nevado del Ruiz (snow peak), the National Park ‘Los Nevados’, the Cocora Valley and other magnificent nature spots that have some of the most breathtaking views.

 

If you want really off the beaten path, go to Cabo de la Vela, Guajira

roadside_JoannaRiquett

 

I wrote this piece about traveling to Cabo de la Vela and I would strongly suggest doing this in the company of locals and people who know how to move around. Cabo is a beautiful spot, so quiet, so relaxed, you can almost see all the constellation when the lights are off. Coming here means to really disconnect from technology, there’s no reliable phone reception and very -very- limited access to the internet. Foreigners that have visited this area have loved it, but once again, do not go without the guidance of local people. There are agencies and tourism companies that can help you, so make sure you are all set before stepping into Colombia’s driest region.

 

Here’s a map view of the general locations. Consider the distance before planning. For example, from Cartagena to Bogotá is a 1.5 hours flight, but a +20 hours drive.

 

Top Places To Visit in Colombia

By Hayo Magazine

Here's a list of all the places you can choose from to visit in Colombia

  • For Camping and Beaching: Palomino, La Guajira

    By Hayo Magazine

    In Palomino, you can go for long walks along the beach, tubing down the river, explore the little town or just sit by the white sand and read (which is what I did).

  • For Camping and Relaxing: Parque Tayrona

    By Hayo Magazine

    In Tayrona, there are more activities and most likely you'll find another foreigner(s) in your same situation to discover the place with.

  • For adventure: Ciudad Perdida, Magdalena

    By Hayo Magazine

    One of the most interesting things to do around here is visiting the indigenous towns up in La Sierra and doing the 4-day trek to Ciudad Perdida (the lost city).

  • For Capital City Living: Bogota

    By Hayo Magazine

    Capital of Colombia

  • For City Vibes: Medellín

    By Hayo Magazine

    Here's a full article on [things to do in Medellín](http://hayo.co/medellin-colombia-travel/) I wrote recently. It feels like there's a lot happening here, young people wanting to succeed, cool bars and restaurants popping up and overall a forward thinking feeling.

  • For families and Fresh Coffee: Eje Cafetero

    By Hayo Magazine

    Eje Catefero is the name that a portion of Colombian regions receive due to its intense coffee activity, also known as the Triangle of Coffee. This area is located between the cities of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia and offers great choices for families as many thematic parks are located here, as well as farms and beautiful zoos. 

  • For Off-The-Beaten Exploration: Cabo de la Vela

    By Hayo Magazine

    I wrote this piece about [traveling to Cabo de la Vela](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joanna-riquett/off-the-beaten-path-trave_b_5759340.html) and I would strongly suggest doing this in the company of locals and people who know how to move around. Cabo is a beautiful spot, so quiet, so relaxed, you can almost see all the constellation when the lights are off.

  • For Salsa Dancing: Cali

    By Hayo Magazine

    During the Feria de Cali (Cali's Fair) celebrated each end of the year, people flock from different parts of the world to enjoy a 6 day festival of pure salsa.  

  • For Adrenaline and Extreme Sports: San Gil

    By Hayo Magazine

    Nearby Bucaramanga and just a few hours drive from Bogota, you can find this small town called San Gil, which has specialized in receiving tourists from all over to enjoy activities like water rafting, rappelling, skydiving, caving or spelunking, hiking. Family friendly and fun! 

  • For a True Jungle Immersion: The Amazon

    By Hayo Magazine

    Located at the very south of Colombia, you can find Leticia, a small population right in the border with Brazil where you can access the Colombian amazon and explore in a way you hadn't done it before.

 

Although these are some highlights, there’s a lot more to discover. I didn’t mention the Amazon, San Agustin, and the southwest region, or the Pacific side where people love to go surfing. There’s a lot I still have to explore myself and as soon as I do so, I’ll report back. In the meantime, there are plenty of options to choose from. Have any questions? Let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

 

Joanna Riquett
Joanna Riquett

Joanna is the founder and Editor-In-Chief of Hayo Magazine. Her areas of expertise include content strategy, travel writing, community building, and creative explorations around publishing and media.

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