One of the most surprising things I learned recently is how diverse the landscapes and experiences are in Colombia.
You can have urban experiences, spend time with indigenous and Afro-Colombian cultures, see wildlife, enjoy beaches on quiet islands, have river adventures, relax in hot springs, see a volcano, spend time in the mountains, see canyons, have cowboy experiences, enjoy nature reserves, spend time on coffee farms, hang out with musicians, have a rum immersion, marvel at art, go on a graffiti tour, dine in excellent restaurants, have a wellness retreat, stay in safari-like camp… all in this small country.
Here’s a bit more info on just a few of the top experiences you can have in Colombia.
If you’re into cities, Bogotá’s food, art, and fashion scene will capture you. I LOVED my recent visit to Bogotá! The city has a youthful, hip vibe manifested through its masterful chefs and bartenders (be sure to visit Salvo Patria, Villanos en Bermudas, and Leo Escocina), creative designers, beautiful architecture (even some colonial structures remain), impressive museums (Botero and Gold Museums are a must), and dynamic galleries (Fragmentos tells a fascinating and touching story and there are a few more secret galleries doing amazing work).
For me, the city’s vibe feels like that of an up-and-coming cosmopolitan city … it has just enough grit to make it interesting, yet is sophisticated and advanced in its focus on everything one seeks when visiting a city. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bogotá becomes the New York City of Latin America in the near future. I enjoyed it so much that I plan to visit again in the next few months. Keep an eye on Bogotá and get there soon!
2. Coffee farms and coffee culture
Hands down one of the best tours I’ve had in my life was the full day we spent on the Café de la Cima organic coffee farm. It is fascinating and wonderful to hear about the history of coffee. (Did you know … for decades the best Colombian coffee could only be found outside of Colombia because the best beans and grounds were exported to countries like the US. Proponents of good coffee are trying to change that now by educating locals on the ideal ways to grow coffee, showing them how to make a delicious cup of a coffee, and training palettes to understand how good coffee really tastes.) After hearing the history of coffee, spend the day observing and participating in the coffee development process from seed to tasting… hear about why coffee grows best in the Colombian climate, learn how to determine when beans are ready to be picked, actually get in and pick the beans, see and smell the roasting of the beans, taste the beans themselves, and taste coffee roasted from the beans of various farms (yum).
Key tip: don’t visit just any coffee farm. Do your research in advance and visit a family-owned farm not supported by large corps. This will give you a chance to fully understand the plight of the coffee farmer and the immense amount of work that goes into your coffee. You’ll also get to enjoy a delicious, home-cooked, Colombian lunch prepared with food grown right there on the farm.
This gorgeous area is not very well known to those outside of Colombia, but is a hot spot for Colombians wishing to get away and spend some quiet time on the water. While there you can get in some exercise by climbing 700 steps (220m) to the top of Piedra del Peñol, take in the beautiful views of this oh-so-green area from the top, visit the quaint, downtown area (where you can find some great chocolate, leather, and jewelry boutiques), then relax and enjoy cocktails and snacks while sailing around Guatapé. This can be a nice day trip from Medellin or take some extra time and spend a night.
4. Understanding Narco history
While certainly a dark stain on Colombia’s past, understanding Pablo Escobar’s role in the history of the country is essential to grasping its resurgence as a place to visit and its rise as a thriving part of Latin America over the last 15 years. For those interested, there are tours focusing specifically on this or you may ask your guide to briefly touch on it during tours in Medellín and Guatapé.
5. Graffiti in Medellín
You’ll find bits of graffiti art in a few of Colombia’s top cities, but Medellín is really where you’ll feel the heart of the graffiti movement. Take a tour of Comuna 13 (a Medellin neighborhood filled with graffiti art) and listen to the stories of the neighborhood’s past, present, and hope for the future … sometimes told through rap, hip hop, breakdancing, and of course graffiti.
6. Music and dancing
If you’re into either of these, Colombia is a great place to get inspiration for your own performing arts pursuits OR just feel the rhythm and have a fun time! Colombia is filled with superb tango clubs where you can watch tango performances and salsa clubs where you can dance the night away like we did! If tango and salsa aren’t your thing, consider visiting Palenque de San Basilio for a taste of how African cultures have impacted the Colombian music scene.
7. Beaches, water adventures and whale watching
No we’re not talking about Cartagena. One of the things I learned from locals is there is a common misconception amongst outsiders that Cartagena is a beach destination. In fact, those in-the-know are aware that it is not. For pristine sand, clear water, and sunshine, head to the islands just outside of Cartagena; for whale watching, make your way to the Pacific Coast; and for boating/sailing, visit Guatapé.
A city with gorgeous, colonial architecture – creating a romantic atmosphere perfect for a destination wedding, honeymoon, or just a romantic, weekend getaway with your partner.
9. Ancient culture
An ancient culture once inhabited the San Agustin area of Colombia. Little is known about this civilization, but they did leave being hundreds of impressive statues worth seeing.
Get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and spend time relaxing on a retreat-like property in the mountains, in the rainforest, in the desert, or in any of the other picturesque areas in Colombia. In addition to relaxing, you’ll be able to enjoy horseback riding with cowboys, bird watching, or simply listening to frogs.
I only scratched the surface during my recent visit. Yet I discovered that Colombia is rich with fantastic experiences. I’m already thinking of returning in the next few months, and I hope you too make it to Colombia before it takes off as a major tourism spot!