Our round-up of the top things to do and see in Colombia
1 La Candelaria
Much of Bogotá is crowded, noisy, polluted and chaotic. However, it is also an endearing cosmopolitan hub, rich in culture. La Candelaria, in the historic centre, is a well-preserved colonial neighbourhood notable for its churches and old houses, and the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) possesses a dazzling collection of pre-Columbian art.
2 San Gil
The town of San Gil has become the unofficial capital of the Colombian adventure sports scene. Three whitewater rivers flow through or near it, offering a range of rafting to satisfy everyone, from timid beginners to big water veterans. There are also opportunities for abseiling, caving and paragliding, including a flight over the spectacular Chicamocha Canyon.
Cartagena is colonial Spain’s finest legacy in the Americas, impressive in every respect. Spend several days exploring the fortified old centre, teeming with historic buildings, then laze on the city’s beautiful beaches. It is the best base for visits to the Caribbean coast and the islands, and there are strange mud volcanoes nearby.
4 Ciudad Perdida
Located in the jungle in the far north of the country is the Lost City of the Tayrona people. The multi-day trek to this hidden archaeological site ranks alongside the Inca Trail in Peru and Roraima in Venezuela, as one of the classic South American adventures and is a truly memorable experience.
5 Guajira Peninsula
South America’s northernmost point is an otherworldly landscape of arid desert and salt flats that is nonetheless home to vast flocks of flamingos and to the best preserved indigenous culture in Colombia. Visit Cabo de la Vela, where the turquoise Caribbean laps against a desolate shore, and the Parque Nacional Natural Macuira, which provides a welcome splash of green in the desert.
Medellín has shrugged off its notorious past and is now a vibrant city with a spring-like climate. There is plenty of modern art to see and fascinating places to visit in the surrounding countryside. At night, take a turn in the city’s tango bars or party till dawn in Parque Lleras. The best way to get an overview of the city is to ride a teleférico into the hillside suburbs.
7 Pacific coast
Whale watching off Colombia’s pristine Pacific coast is a definite highlight. Humpback whales swim up from the Antarctic Ocean every year to feed and raise their young.
8 Zona Cafetera
Colombia’s main coffee-producing region is characterized by rolling green hills, blanketed in plantations and forests. Stay on a coffee finca to learn about Colombia’s ‘black gold’ and to appreciate the region’s rich flora and fauna, particularly its prolific birdlife.
9 Los Nevados National Park
Easily accessible from Bogotá is a range of snow-covered volcanic peaks that rival any along the Andean chain. Three huge volcanoes form the centre of the park, but there are also hot springs, volcanic lakes and vast tracts of páramo to explore.
The ‘capital’ of the south, Cali has had an unhappy past but has now rediscovered its sensual side with a vibrant popular music scene and an unrivalled passion for salsa. The popular excursion to San Cipriano is a couple of hours away.
Popayán is one of the oldest Spanish towns in Colombia. Its whitewashed colonial houses have been beautifully restored and gleam in the southern sunshine. Visit at Easter to witness the famous Semana Santa parades, or at other times to soak up the cultured atmosphere and the fresh, mountain air. The sulphurous pools of Puracé National Park are a short trip to the east.
12 Tierradentro and San Agustín
Two unmissable pre-Columbian sites are located in beautiful scenery in the south of the country. The burial tombs of Tierradentro are spread across remote hillsides east of Popayán, while the mysterious statues at San Agustín are surrounded by subtropical vegetation, with the raging Río Magdalena nearby.