Have you ever been head over heels in love with a destination? Colombia sure makes it easy. It’s vast in every way: from the culture and food to the landscapes and climate, down to its history and people. With six diverse regions — each with their own unique traits and identities — Colombia is packed with endless opportunity for every traveller. Want to make the most of every don’t you dare miss this moment? Read on for some stellar ways to immerse yourself in one of South America’s best-kept secrets.
1: Taste local fruit at Bogotá’s Paloquemao Market
Sitting 2,640 metres above sea level in the Eastern Colombian Andes region, Bogotá bustles with life. Start your day early and head to the city’s largest gathering of fruit vendors. Doors open daily at 5am until 4:30pm during the week and until 2pm on weekends.
The market is divided into sections: fragrant and colourful flowers; ripe fruit, vegetables and aromatic herbs; and fresh meat and fish. It’s one of the best places to get your hands on local fruits like lulos, granadillas, and guanabanas — all of which are fantastic! Pro tip: bring Colombian Pesos and treat yourself to a new-to-you fruit smoothie or juice.
2: Down a delicious cup in the Coffee Triangle
Ever wonder where that yummy caffeine kick at your local cafe is from? There’s a good chance it’s Colombia. To learn firsthand how it's produced, head to Armenia for a coffee farm tour in the Calarcá area. You’ll hear about the local coffee culture straight from the source and taste a bright cup or two.
While you’re bound to find a great brew wherever you go in Colombia, beans in the Western Colombian Andes region are considered the best in the world. After Armenia, make your way to the sweet town of Salento for more superior coffee and striking views.
And in the nearby Cocora Valley, prepare to feel delightfully small standing beneath the world's tallest wax palm trees while sipping a rich café con leche (that’s coffee with milk, so start practicing your order now!)
3: Feel uplifted in historic Medellín
Notorious for a history of violence, the city of Medellín in the Western Colombian Andes region has come a long way since Pablo Escobar and warring drug cartels. One local artist, John Alexander, leads tours through the streets of Comuna 13 to tell the stories of his neighbourhood from bloodshed to a brighter future. Colourful artwork has helped transform formerly dangerous parts of the city to places where kids play and local artists bring their craft to the streets.
New infrastructure, including a cable car system and giant outdoor escalators, has improved life in Comuna 13 by making it easier for residents and greater numbers of travellers to navigate steep streets. Don’t miss the cable cars for a bird's-eye view of the hillside city and easier exploration. There are six located throughout the city making it a breeze to take in a bunch of neighbourhoods without cramping up your legs.
4: Push yourself on the path to The Lost City
Looking to rid yourself of negative energy? The jungle trek to The Lost City at Teyuna may sound arduous (and a tad mysterious) but most people swear by its positive vibes. As such, it is one of the most famous and challenging treks in South America. Located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the Greater Colombian Caribbean region, the hike takes you through lush jungles, rural Kogi communities, and over streams to eventually revel in La Ciudad Perdida.
Camping along the way, you’ll spend a few days trekking up 30km / 19 mi and then steel yourself for the climb up an additional 1,200+ steps to get to THE view. The good news is that once you’re up there, you’ll forget every single hardship (incessant mosquitoes and gruelling humidity, come to mind) that you faced en route to this sacred Indigenous site. After acknowledging your accomplishment and exploring the grounds, all that remains is to head back down and repeat every challenge in reverse. Trust me, it’s a lot but absolutely worth every step.
5: Learn about local Indigenous culture
Whether you’re trekking to ancient grounds or just soaking in beautiful surroundings, your local guides (aka Chief Experience Officers) are a wealth of knowledge about the many Indigenous communities of Colombia. It is the second most ethnically diverse country after Brazil and Indigenous people make up about 3.5% of the population.
On my journey, I learned that the highland Indigenous tribes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta share a common belief in always being kind to Mother Nature for she is why we walk this earth. They encourage only taking what you need and working hard to give back to the natural world. If you are good to her, she will be good to you. It was an honour to learn the lessons of Pachamama or Mother Earth and happily brought them home with me.
6: Sway with the palms on jungle-lined beaches
Tayrona National Park, situated on Colombia's Caribbean coast, is a renowned protected area that boasts not only some of the most stunning beaches in the country but a wealth of wildlife and cultural diversity. Every image captured looks like a “wish you were here” postcard! The water is vibrant hues of blue and green with waves crashing at your feet. When you stand on the beach looking back from shore, your view fills with idyllic mountains, perfect palm trees, and tranquil blue skies.
Fair warning though, the journey to get to this slice of heaven is not for the faint of heart. There’s a moderate hike before you can take a refreshing plunge in the ocean but the view along the way is incredible. Make sure to visit the local food stalls to try traditional Caribbean-inspired dishes like fresh-caught fish, patacones (fried plantains), and ceviche as well as fresh fruit juice.
In keeping with the local spirit of preserving Mother Earth, there are a few times of year when Tayrona closes for a little downtime itself. Fear not, as there’s plenty else to do in the Greater Colombian Caribbean region like tubing on the Don Diego River in Tayronaka Park. Let’s go!
Ready to pour a hot cup of Colombian magic for yourself? We don't blame you. To help we've gathered some top tours that include a bunch of these can't miss moments:
Colombia - Lost City Trekking
Colombia's Caribbean Coast & Lost City