Colombia’s disparate landscapes mean it really can offer something for everyone: tropical getaway, wildlife safari, metropolitan cultural tour, island hop, desert excursion, or all of the above. Adventurers have their pick of outdoor pursuits from hiking and climbing to rafting and parasailing, while others can eschew adrenaline for relaxation in the form of mud baths and white-sand beaches.
With almost 1900 confirmed bird species, Colombia is a hotspot for birders and wildlife enthusiasts. Top of the list of birding locales is Parque Ecológico Río Blanco, a 4343-ha protected cloudforest near Manizales, which is home to 335 species in its own right, including 33 species of hummingbird. There are also butterflies, orchids and rare mammals, such as spectacled bears, ocelots and white-tailed deer.
Colombia’s two extensive coastlines and numerous offshore islands offer myriad diving opportunities. Top of the list for aficionados must be the San Andrés and Providencia archipelago, which boasts the third-largest barrier reef in the world. There are several dive shops dotted around the two islands offering huge choice for exploring this underwater wonderland. Off the mainland, the Caribbean coast is known for its large brain coral. There are coral islands off Cartagena and Tolú. The fishing village of Taganga has established itself as a dive centre, and Capurganá on the Darién coast also has some excellent dive sites. On the Pacific coast, Bahía Solano offers the chance to explore a scuttled navy vessel. Further south the ex-prison island of Gorgona has countless exotic fish and turtles, while the remote island of Malpelo is a mecca for hammerhead sharks.
Hiking and walking
Colombia’s varied topography offers a wealth of options for the hiking enthusiast. Everything from jungle treks and scampers over glacier fields to leisurely strolls through Arcadian landscapes can be enjoyed here. The most famous long-distance hike is the six-day return trek through the jungle to the Ciudad Perdida in the north. For high-altitude trekking the mountains of Los Nevados and El Cocuy national parks rival any along the Andean chain. Other national parks such as Puracé offer countless waterfalls, lakes and trails to explore. To get up close and personal with tropical wildlife the Colombian Amazon is the place to go. Reserva Natural Palmarí (actually in Brazil but best accessed from Leticia) offers guided jungle walks ranging from one to 72 hrs.
Parapenting and paragliding
Squeezed between the Andean mountain ranges of the Central and Eastern cordilleras, which create a very effective wind tunnel, the Mesa de Ruitoque near Bucaramanga is the perfect place for parapenting. There are two very professional schools, one of which has its own hostel. Nearby San Gil has two excellent locations for paragliding, one of which involves a flight over the spectacular Chicamocha Canyon.
Rafting and kayaking
The town of San Gil has access to three whitewater rivers that offer various levels of rafting and kayaking. Several companies in the town offer professional and safety-conscious guidance and equipment, as well as new thrills such as hydrospeed, best described as whitewater boogie boarding. In southern Colombia, the village of San Agustín catches the Magdalena river at its wildest, while Cubarral on the Ariari River near Villavicencio is another popular rafting destination.