Top 10 things to do in Colombia 

Colombia is so large, travelling from Cartaenga on the coast to Bogota the capital, is like travelling from Manchester in the UK to Paris. It’s such an incredible and fascinating country, that it would be hard to see and do everything unless you have few months to travel. 

To help you, I have pulled together my top 10 recommendations of what to see and do from my 6 weeks in Colombia, and even I didn’t get to do everything. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 

1) Parque Tayrona 


Parque Tayrona has some of the best beaches that Colombia has to offer and is Colombias most popular national park. To get to the beaches you will need to hike a minimum of two hours, through the jungle and along the beautiful coast line. Make sure you take plenty of water with you, as its pretty hot and humid. 

I would recommend you leave you big bag at the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta and take enough for 1 night 2 days, and spend a night in the park sleeping in a hammock at El Cabo San Juan. If you get there early you can claim a hammock overlooking the sea high up on the lookout point, otherwise it will be a sweaty tent.

Expect there to be lots of other travellers doing the same. Alternatively you can book one of the many hostels and eco hotels just outside the park.

Make sure you take plenty of bug repellent as the mosquitos and sand flies are pretty ferocious here.

Getting to the Park

  • Shuttle from Santa Marta – most hostels provide a daily shuttle service to the park 15,000cop/£3.60
  • Local bus from Santa Marta – Take the bus headed to Palomeno and ask for the park. 10,000cop/£2.50
  • Taxi from Santa Marta – 30,000-40,000cop/£7-£9 

There are a few trekking options 

  • 6-7 hour round trip through the jungle via El Pueblito where you will find some indigenous locals. Access vis Colionas de Calabazo entrance and return via the coast route to the main entrance. 
  •  4 hour round trip along the coast. This is the same beautiful trek there and back and takes 2 hours. For a quicker route back follow the horses, as it only takes 1 hour 30 minutes through the jungle. 
  • To access this route via the main park entrance and take the minibus to the start of the trail.

     Costs 

    • Accommodation – Hammock 25,000cop/£6 – Hostel 25,000/£6 – Eco Hotel 163,000cop/£40
    • Park entrance 48,000cop/£12 (require your passport)
    • Minibus 3500/£1


    2) Minca


    For the ultimate relaxation, I recommend you stay a few nights in the mountains, in the middle of a finca (coffee farm) 1600m above sea level close a a little village called Minca. This hidden gem is relatively new on the tourist trail, so therefore a lot less commercial than its neighbouring tourist traps. 

    There are some Hostels in Minca, but take the extra 30 minute motorbike ride deep into the jungle and stay at Casa Viajes. You won’t be disappointed with the view, the hostel or the friendly staff. And it was the best cooked meal I had had at any hostel. To help you relax even more and switch off from the world, you wont find any wifi, although there is a computer to use if required.

    Make sure you take advantage of the daily organised hikes, yoga, bird watching and the tour of the La Victoria coffee farm. La Victoria is a self sustainable coffee farm that uses the nearby waterfall to power the coffee bean processing and supplies electricity for surrounding inhabitants, including Casa Viajes.

    Costs – 

    • transport from Santa Marta – 15,000cop £4 hostel bus – taxi from Santa Marta 60,000cop/£14
    • motorbike taxi up the hill – 20,000cop/£5
    • Accommodation – Dorms 34,000cop/£8.5 –  private room 89,000cop/£22 – Breakfast 10,000/£2.50 – Dinner 21,0000cop/£5

    top tip – take plenty of money as there are no cash machines 


    3) Water rafting in San Gil

    San Gil is the best place in Colombia to try out all the adventure sports like, rafting, bungee, rappelling, zip lining and mountain biking . Some of the cheapest you can find in South America, so make the most of it. I would recommend the rafting on the class 4/5 river, it was really well organised by Colombia Rafting, the rafting guides are all part of the national rafting squad. 

    It is a half day activity, with three hours on the river and an hour each way traveling, lunch is provided. If you haven’t experienced rafting before, this is the best place to try for your first time, as they use larger rafts so your are less likely to fall out.  However it does still happen so be prepared.

    Cost

    •  130,000cop £36 


    4) Watch a live football match 


    The Colombians are such a passionate nation and no more so than when it comes to their football. One of the highlights of visiting Colombia is going to watch a football game at one of the many stadiums in the big cities. I’m not a football fan particularly, but I loved the atmosphere, listening to the many chants the fans sing throughout the whole match.

    There tends to be a local team and the national team. Both give an incredible experience, although the level of football will differ massively. Oh and the Cerveza is alcohol free so don’t be fooled by the vendors. 

    Buying at the stadium is much cheaper than going on a organised tour

    Costs

    • Entry Price 25,000cop £6 
    • Organised tours 70,000cop/£17

    top tipbuy a football shirt for 25,000/£6 from one of the street vendors, as everyone will be wearing one.


    5)  Take a Salsa lesson in Cali –

    Salsa is the national dance of Colombia and everyone can dance it, all be at differing levels. You will hear Salsa or Regatón blaring from every bar, club and car in Colombia. Dancing Salsa is the best way to meet the locals. So take advantage of the many free Salsa lesson on offer when in Cali or request a private lesson. You won’t be disappointed. 

    El Viarejo Hostel has free salsa lessons for all guests.


    6) Barichara 

    If you get to stay in San Gil, then make sure you do the day trip to Barichara. A beautifully unspoilt village with cobbled sandstone roads, whitewashed single story buildings with terracotta roofs. This is by far one of my favourite villages in Colombia and with very few tourists.  Try and take the bus in the morning and have lunch at one of the cute restaurants around the square. 

    If you feel energetic then take the 5km, three hour hike to Guane and take in the spectacular views of the valley beneath. The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

     You reach quaintest little Colombian village and if you have time, stay the night at the beautiful Casa Misia Custodia Hotel

    How To Get There

    • Catch a bus from the small Contra San Gil bus station on the corner of Calle 17 / Carrer 10. 
    • Ask for Barichara and the bus leaves every 30 minutes. 
    • The bus will take 45. Minutes
    • Costs 6000cop £1.50



    7) Cathedral de Sal 

    If you have a few days in Bogota then the Salt Cathedral is well worth the two hour bus journey 30km. You may wonder, why build a Cathedral hundreds of metres underground in a salt mine. All will be answered by the guide that will take you on a one hour tour. I was totally amazed at what man can still acheieve, an in in such a short time.

    How To Get There

    The B74 from Las Aguas bus terminal to Portal North was simple enough, you buy a plastic bus pass for 6500cop/£1.60 which includes your bus fare. Walk to platform 2 through the underpass to catch the B74, don’t wait under to sign that says B74 as it’s wrong and you will wait like me for twenty minutes before you realise this isn’t the stop. The bus network is pretty impressive and easy to use.

    After about 45 minutes your arrive at Portal Norte, and you go through the barrier to the intermunicipal platform and look for a bus with Zipa in the window. Get on and a young guy will take your fare once you are on the road (5000cop/£1.20). The bus takes about 45 minutes, once in Zipa get off around carrer 10a and then walk the rest of the way to the Cathedral. It’s a small town and easy enough to find the cathedral from the main square.

    Costs

    • Entrance 48,000cop/£11.90 one hour guide
    • Bus 5000cop £1.20 each way 



    8) Guatapé 

    Guatapé is one of those places that is on the tourist trail, but worth taking the two hour bus journey from Medellín. The climb up the 750 steps to the top of Piedra del Peñol (the rock) is worth it. The Stunning view of the Embalse del Peñol, a large lake beautifully sculptured by green peninsulares and home to some wealthy Colombians swimming in their pools. 

    From the rock you can catch a tuk tuk to the town of Guatapé, make sure you haggle the price, as 11000cop seemed a bit steep considering it was only 3km away. 

    Once in Guatapé you can take a boat out on the lake and visit some of the peninsulares or zip line across the water. Or do as i did, and sit and have their local dish of grilled trout while watching the action on the lake. 

    There is much too see in the town, it is full of the most beautifully painted buildings, little shops and cafes to meander around, but not for too long as the last bus leaves at 18:30


    How To Get There

    • Take the metro to Caribe Station – 4800cop/£1.19
    • Take a bus from the North Bus Terminal next to Caribe metro station. Buses leave four times an hour and cost 13000/£3.20
    • Entrance to the Rock – 18,000cop/£4.50
    • Tuk tuk 10,000cop/£2.50 (try and take it with other tourists to share the cost)


    9) Cascadas de Valencia 

    There are many waterfalls to see while in Colombia, some spectacular and some just meh. The dream is to swim under the waterfall and there is no better place than Cascades de Valencia. There are five waterfalls in total, with three that can be easily accessed and each having a clear pool of warm water to swim in. 

    How To Get There 

    • Either take a local bus from Santa Marta or Palomino that goes to Parque Tayrona and ask the driver for the Cascades and he will drop you off at the entrance. 
    • Bus 10,000/£2.50 – 15,000cop/£3.70 depending on where you come from
    • Entrance fee 3000cop/74p 


    10) Medellín 



    If there is any city that should be on your list while in Colombia, this city is it. By far my favourite city in Colombia, and one I would even consider moving too. The place is just so alive and full of energy, it has character, and not too impacted by the western world, unlike the Capital Bogota. 

    I would say that Colombians are probably the friendliest and kindest nationality I have ever met, yet the Paisans from Medellín are even friendlier and will go out of there way to help you.

    I have to admit it’s the not the most attractive of cities, but the people and vibe more than make up for that and in a way masks its ugliness. 

    It’s amazing to hear the stories and see for your self first hand what the city has been through over the last 30 years, and if ever a city has transformed and prospered the most in such a short time, then Medellín can show a lot of cities how its done.  

    Twenty years ago it was the most violent city in the word thanks to the drugs trade and the man that cannot be named ‘Pablo Escobar’. It’s is beacuse of this, the people of Medellín have such belief and determination in their city and own life, that it’s hard to stop or disagree with. It’s quite infectious. 

    In today’s Medellín I couldn’t have felt more safe walking around the City, obviously still being aware of my surroundings and understanding where to avoid, like in most big cities.

    They have a saying in Medellin “dont offer the papaya”. If you offer papaya it will be taken. This basically means dont give someone the opportuibity to take, as they will. It’s a nice way of making tourists think about their belonings and what they do.

    A great way to see the City and understand its past is to take the free city walking tour or visit Community 13, and witness the transformation yourself. 

    • Medeilin Free walking tour – Real City Tours meets at Alpujarra Metro station morning and afternoon. This requires online registration.
    • You pay a tip at the end of the tour, based on the experience – normally 30,000cop/£7 per person

    Where to Stay

    • Sugar cane Hostel – chilled and relaxed vibe – 31,000/£8 for a dorm
    • La playa Hostel – more of a party vibe but not too much –  39,000/£10
    • Airbnb  from 39,000cop /£10 double room – ideal for a longer stay 
    • treat youself  – Dann Carlton Hotel 

    Where to eat

    • Malevo – Argentina steak – really cute and perfect for a quiet dinner for 2 or dinner with friends. The Steak was amazing, with a good selection of Argentine wine. The Argentinian staff were really friendly and welcoming. 
    • Cafe Zorba – Pizza and Humous with a really lively atmosphere, it’s gets really busy at weekends.
    • Lenteja Expresa – great little vegetarian place that does quick and easy food.
    • Verdeo – Vegetarian , with amazing iceream. The resataurnat is set on the second floor, with a great open feal and lots of plants to make you feel relaxed. It has a real scandy feel to it. Amazing food too.
    • Mondongoz – the perfect place to try out the typical Paisan cuisines. Full of locals and a great atmosphere.
    • Chiclayo Cocina Peruana Envigado – the best place for ceviche in Medellin 

    Where to Drink 

    • Victoria Regina – probably the coolist bar/restaurant in Medellin. Tends to have live music at the weekends.
    • Chiquita – little kitsch and camp bar with really fun decor. Good to start the night here for drinks.
    • 37 Park – great place to sit outside amongst the trees drinking sangria – gets lively at night when the music is turned up. 

    Where to Dance

    • Victoria Regina at weekends is perfect – they often have live music and is always full of locals and ex pats. 
    • Son Havana – best place in town to try out your salsa moves – its small and is full to the rafters with locals on Thursdays and Saturday when they have live salsa bands. 
    • Salon Amador – where the hottest people hangout for a night of dancing until 3am.


    Silento 

    Now I never managed to get here, but everyone else that I met had recomended it and said it was wonderful and one of the higlights of their trip. Its full of Coffee plantations and has some of the best trekking in Colombia. 

    San Gil to the Caribbean Coast

    San Gil was a perfect fours days of relaxation, adventure sports and nature. There is something to do for everyone here, no matter what your fitness level or lack of enthusiasm for extreme sports. There were less expats than anywhere I have been so far, which makes for a nice change so I can practice my Spanish.

    Forty five minutes away on the bus is the most beautiful little village called Barichara – taken from the Indian word barichala meaning “a good place to rest”. The whitewashed walls and clay tiled single story houses, and stone slabs roads make it idyllic. It is by far the most beautiful little village I have visited and it appears to have escaped the negative impact of tourism that you can find in so many similar places.

    Feeling energetic from our morning run, Laura and I decide to take a two hour hike (5km) to a tiny Hamlet called Guane. The hike had spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains and was relatively easy.

    The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

    Arriving into Guane some chickens run past us into the whitewashed house, and we follow the stone road that leads us to the main village square, which was so perfectly unspoilt and Colombian. Some old guys sitting playing games, and local women sweeping outside their beautiful white homes.

    We stumble across a fantastic little boutique hotel Casa Misia Custodia , that would be perfect for a quiet getaway or to book with friends for a special occasion. A central courtyard, has about 10 beautifully designed rooms along 2 sides, and a swimming pool and restaurant along another. 155,000cop £39 per night for a double room when booking two nights.

    Arriving back into San Gil, it is time to say say good bye to laura for now. I leave her watching the Colombian game against Paraguay, and agreed to meet her in Cali in a few weeks, before heading south.

    The Bus journey to Santa Marta is my longest so far at 12hours, but still much cheaper than flying at 60,000cop £15. A quick tip is get the hostel to book your bus, I saved 30,000cop £7.70 compared to the online price. I am so glad it was through the night, as the bus would overtake every lorry on a blind corner as we descend the mountain, and this was a super windy road.

    I arrive at the Dreamers Hostel in Santa Marta along with the other gringos off the bus. Oh and Gringo just means foreigner, nothing bad like it’s made out to be on T.V. Apparently it originates from locals saying “green eyes go”, so I was told by a Colombian.

    I check in and see a poster for a trip to the closest beach in Tayrona Park “Playa Bahia Concha”. I put my name down and take the last spot. My name is called by someone I would say could be the hottest Colombian I have met so far.

    I squeeze into his 4*4 and meet 6 guys from Belgium on their holidays. We drive through a rough part of town to get to this dirt track and drive for 30 minutes through the jungle.

    We arrive and so too have quite a few buses of locals and gringos. We reach the beach and I’m confronted with a row of gazebo style shelters with chairs and lots of locals. Not quite the picturesque national park I was expecting.

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    Thankfully Orlando – the driver takes us to the other end of the beach where it is empty and exactly what I had imagined. After four hours of sunbathing, swimming in the clear very warm sea, playing ball with the Belgium boys, and eating an expensive lunch the rain comes and it is time to leave. Most things in the park are overpriced, so take provisions with you if you’re on a budget.

    As we walk back, I use it as an excuse to practice my Spanish with Orlando and much to my surprise he compliments me on my accent and how easily he understands me. Obviously I’m super chuffed.

    It’s my First night in a 6 person dorm, I have a top bunk, it has a fan and a/c and a cute guy from oz. I’ll be fine I’m sure. Well that changed when I decided to get an early night to prepare for my day of hiking, and I find a guy and girl in the bunk below me.

    Obviously I didn’t tolerate the bunk moving for too long and popped my head over and made it clear it wasn’t going to continue. Thankfully they listened and I went to sleep.

    The hostel is super lively with lots of young Traveller’s in groups, and no surprise there are tons of Dutch. Colombia must be the top holiday destination for the Dutch, as they are everywhere and always really friendly.

    Tayrona Park is Colombias most popular national park. A jungle that hugs the coast line between Santa Marta and Palomeno, and has some incredible beaches. The entry is 48,000cop £12, there are a few hiking options you can take to get to the beaches. I opted for the 2 hour hike along the coast, not the 4 hour up and over the mountain to get to Cabo San Juan the main stop for visitors.

    You have the option to stay the night in the park in tents or in a hammock right next to the beach. I decided to stay in Hotel Chayrama just outside the park and enjoy a private room to myself. Chayrama was perfect, really relaxed and Danny who checks you in and then is your waiter for the evening, also takes you on local tours for free.

    I would definitely recommend staying over at least 1 night and spend 2 days exploring the area. Outside the park their are some great waterfalls like Cascades de Valencia where you can swim and escape the 90% humidity that drips continually down you neck.

    Goodbye Medellín

    So after 3 weeks in this fantastic city that is Medellín, and having met so many wonderful people it’s time to say adiós.

    Although I’m sad to be leaving, I am super excited about the adventures I’m about to embark on and the amazing places I am going visit. So before I say goodbye properly I have a few more tales of Medellin to share with you. I have met some great people and some hot guys while in Medellín.

    Ok – so the boys in Colombia are all, I can say on the most part HOT, all be it a little on the short side for my 6ft. It is amazing how different they can be from one city to the next. Not just like in the UK where it’s the accent that gives there place of birth away. Here it’s the looks, the attitude and just the way they are.

    My guides in Bogota I would say we’re a lot more reserved and just interested in meeting and hanging out. In Medellin, they couldn’t be more different. More open about what they want by getting straight to the point. Basically just skip all the other bits and try and get you straight into bed. Fine if you like that….

    This may have something to do with 25 being the average age of an openly gay guy here. It’s hard to find a local over 30, particularly on the local guide app I have utilised. Maybe they are just a more confident generation and have grown up through more excepting times.

    
    

    The other x pats I have met either through trips or Spanish school have been amazing. Danny and Katie who kindly let me live rent free for a few nights in their spare room made me feel so at home. Asia and Laura my party girls, that I had such a laugh with and danced many a night and morning away with.

    So much so that was a had a leaving night of fun planned for Laura and my departure. Yes Laura decided that 3 weeks of partying was enough and she would join me in some back to nature activities.

    The night started with the World Cup qualifier between Colombia and Paraguay. The preparations for the the national team playing started early on in the day, with every bar, restaurant and house festooned with balloons and the national flag ready for for the fans to cheer on their team.

    Sadly Columbia lost their game, but the beer continued to flow as too did the partying. We decided that a treat would make our Colombian friend Simon feel better. So a good Argentinian steak and 4 bottles of Malbec at the lovely Restaurante Malevo was very welcome.

    Let’s just say, after quite a few pitchers of beer at the game and a whole bottle of wine each, some could stand and some could not. This did not stop us from heading to the Cuban bar at Parque lleras for some salsa and what else – but some aguardiente. It was a great way to end my last night in this fabulous city.

    Feeling better than I should after the last night, I wanted to get a good view of the whole city and see it in its full glory – and where better than at the Pueblito Paisa. A purpose built Paisan town on the top of a hill in the middle of the city, giving you a 360 view of the city.

    As I head to the bus station, I feel there is still so much of the city I didn’t see, an excuse to return for sure. It is finally time to leave and take my first 7 hour overnight bus journey to Bucaramanga and then another 3 hours to San Gil. Actually it wasn’t bad at all. You get a seat that almost goes flat, and you get your own little screen to watch Spanish movies or listen to whale music to send you to sleep. I opted for a zop and slept most of the way.

    The bus stopped with a jolt as the bus driver is shouting “San Gil” trying to wake us from our travel trance. We step out into the blazing late morning sun. San Gil is a little town in the district of Santander, and is the best place for extreme sports in Colombia. Thankfully I have my new traveling companion Laura to explore it it with.

    Having stayed in an Airbnb while in Medellín it was finally time for me to try my first hostel EVER. Airbnb was perfect for the longer stay and was just as cheap as the hostels, just without 7 other people in the same room. I certainly recomend it if you want privacy.

    We lucked out with our room at Hostel Nirvana, as we are only two in a four bed dorm, so I am gently easing myself into hostel life. Who knew that hostels have pools, this is transforming my view on how to travel for sure. Maybe that will change after another four months of hostel world.

    Day one and feeling surprisingly spritely we opt to to the Cascadas de Juan Curi, an amazing waterfall 30 minutes away by bus. After a short 40 minute hike through the woods, you come out to the river and the amazing view of the waterfall that must be 200 m above. By far the best waterfall I have seen in my young 36 years.

    A guide shows us the route up the slippery rocks to the waterfall pool, where you can feel the full force of the water pouring over the cliff edge, the spray cooling us down immediately. Sadly the the water was so fresh, it was too cold to swim in.

    Catch the bus at the end of Carrera 12 near the bridge, and look out for the bus to Charala and ask for Cascadas. The locals will help you where to go.

    Motivated by our small adventure we book white water rafting for the next day. Well, Laura booked it and booked the hardest of the options – class 3-5. Which I didn’t realise until I got to the river and our instructor was talking through the safety instructions. Feeling pretty scared now, what if I fall out – blah blah I managed to get in the boat.

    Well I didn’t fall in and I loved the whole experience, it was amazing. Once the first wave hits you in the face and your told to just keep paddling, all the fear just goes and it just becomes a thrilling 2 hour ride of some really speedy and fierce rapids. We did lose one girl, but we soon hauled her back into the boat.

    It turns out that our instructor is part of the Colombian national rafting team and will compete in the South American championships. We were definitely in good hands at Colombia Rafting Expediciones. 130,000cop £36.

     

    next week for more tales.