Colombia is located in South America. It borders the countries of Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador. The country also borders the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean. Colombia has appeared in recent news as becoming one of the top countries to visit. Yes, it did have its bad history, however this has all changed. Ask any traveler that has visited Colombia, and they will say how great it is.
Recently, Colombia has been mentioned before as an innovative country and has been named one of the happiest countries in the world. This list will explain why Colombia should not be skipped on any South American trip.
Here are the top 15 things to do in Colombia.
Museo de Oro
El Museo de Oro or “Gold Museum” is in Bogota. It is the most famous museum that Bogota has to offer and one of the most incredible museums in South America. The museum displays over 50 thousand gold artifacts, pieces of ceramic, and other materials of pre-historic Hispanic and pre-Colombian culture. It is the largest museum of gold in the world.
The Museo de Oro is located in downtown Bogota, in Santander Park. The Balsa Muisca is the museum’s most prized possession. The Balsa Muisca is a gold artifact of pre-Colombian culture.
To learn more about the Balsa Muisca and other pieces, take a free one hour tour Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Old Town Cartagena
What is visiting Colombia without visiting Old Town Cartagena. Cartagena’s old town is surrounded by “Las Murallas“, giant thick stone walls to protect the city from their enemies. Back in the 16 century, the construction of the walls had begun, but was not finished until five decades later.
Inside these walls is historic colonial architecture, bright colors, street life, and more. As Colombia’s second oldest city, spend the day of walking around and experience Cartagena’s history.
Cartagena is a coastal city and is near the Caribbean Sea. Cartagena has many beaches that are conveniently located near Old Town.
Colombia is known for its amazing coffee. A trip to Colombia would not be complete without visiting the Coffee Region or “Zona Cafetera”. The Zona Cafetera is made of three Colombian departments: Caldas, Quindio, and Risaralda, sometimes know as the Coffee Triangle.
The Zona Cafetera is home to many working coffee farms who welcome tourists. Old working men wearing their traditional Colombian sombrero and poncho can be found picking coffee beans.These lush coffee plantations can be explored by many of the coffee tours offered. Make sure to buy a couple of bags of coffee before heading home.
San Andres island is just off the northwest coast of Colombia. Many Colombians spend their vacation in San Andres as the island caters its budget around them. There is plenty to do and see in San Andres. One thing is for sure, it is to relax and enjoy the beach.
Getting around the island is easy. The options of bus, taxi or renting a scooter or a golf buggy are available. Many of the locals ride motorcycles, therefore be aware of them as they will show up out of nowhere and drive by quickly.
Other activities available on the island are scuba diving, snorkeling, visit the neighboring island of Providencia and more.
National Park Tayrona
Tayrona is another tourist destination in Colombia and it is also on the Caribbean coast. The green scenery of the jungle meets the blue-turquoise shores of Tayrona. The jungle path makes for a great one to two hour hike, and the hike can be extended on the beach.
Beside from hiking, try snorkeling. Many places allow tourists to rent snorkeling gear and will advise on where to swim. The strong current of the coast makes it difficult to swim, therefore be alert of any red coast flags signaling a dangerous area to swim.
Other beaches that go beyond Tayrona are great for swimming and are great places for learning how to surf.
December in Colombia
Everyone in the world enjoys Christmas and the holiday season, but there no is other place that appreciates it more than Colombia. The kids are out on break from school and local stores either close for the day or close early.
There are two public holidays in December that Colombians take advantage of. However, the month of December, is itself a huge holiday. The first day of December is known as Alborada, where every barrio sets off fireworks to celebrate December.
Visiting December in Colombia means a lot of things such as chivas, marranadas, block parties, and family. It is highly recommended to ride a chiva (kind of like a large open party bus) around the city. Make sure to have big group to fill the seats and make sure to bring lots of liquor.
Marranada is a traditional Colombian celebration, more popular in the barrios. Neighborhoods will throw a huge block party and serve pork, this means lechona, chicharrón, and chorizo. Plenty of liquor is involved as is dancing to whatever the DJ is spinning. Make friends with local Colombians and ask about marranadas and experience a real Colombian block party!
Colombians love the month of December and start decorating their neighborhoods with Christmas lights early. The city of Medellin puts on the best display of Christmas lights, known as the “alumbrados”. Many Colombians travel to Medellin to see the alumbrados.
Another recommendable activity to do in Colombia is to visit nearby pueblos. Pueblos outside the cities offer a different experience than cities do. These quaint pueblos are often small and are laid out the same with a giant park in the center. Often times there is a nearby church next to the park.
When visiting Colombia take time away to spend a weekend in a Colombian pueblo. Here three of the best pueblos to visit:
- Guatape – Guatape is located outside of Medellin. There are plenty of things to do in Guatape and it is a hot spot for Colombian tourists.
- Salento – Located in the heart of the Zona Cafetera is Salento. When in Salento, be sure to eat “trucha con patacon”. There many hostels in to stay in Salento: La Serrana or La Luciérnaga are the most recommendable.
- Barichara: This small town is located in the Santander Region. Barichara has been given the title “Colombia’s most beautiful village”.
Tejo is hardly mentioned as a top thing to do in Colombi, however it deserves a spot on the list.
Tejo is the traditional and national sport of Colombia. The game is similar to the US game called cornhole. The game is played of two teams of four. The object of the game is throw a heavy palm size disk, or “tejo” to the other side, aiming to hit a metal ring. Players throw the tejo underhand hoping to explode the gunpowder and earn points. The first team to 10 points wins.
Tejo is a fun and an exciting sport. It takes time to get the hang of throwing the tejo, but once you make it explode, the feeling is exhilarating. Also it is very common to drink beers while playing tejo, what more could anyone ask for!
The sport can be played anywhere in Colombia. There is a Tejo in Medellin tour for travelers and newcomers. Check out Chris Cajoles and his tejo tour. He takes good care of everyone and will make sure the whole group has fun while learning the traditional Colombia sport.
Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring, Medellin, has been in recent news for being one of the most innovative cities in the world. It has also been mentioned as one of the top cities to visit in the world. Yes, Medellin is truly this spectacular.
The transportation system in Medellin is flawless. The city has taxis, buses, Uber, MetroPlus bus system, a Metro, a Tramway, and a Metro Cable. There have been rumors of a monorail to be constructed, but nothing has been confirmed.
Medellin is also home to many expats. Travelers who pass through the City of Eternal Spring, end up falling in love with it and end up returning to it. Also, many expats have either started companies there or have set their headquarters there. The city is full of young local talent, inching to be a part of the next big thing.
The Medellin nightlife is fantastic, with many bars and dance clubs in different neighborhoods. The zona rosa of Medellin is in Parque Lleras, which is located in El Poblado.
Another reason to visit Medellin is its Feria de Las Flores!
Feria de Las Flores is a week long festival in the first week of August. Each day is a different parade with various concerts in different neighborhoods. The last day of the festival is the famous “Desfile de los Silleteros”. Men known as “silleteros” carry chairs decorated in flowers, “silletas”. The silletas are carried down from a nearby town called Santa Elena.
Visit Santa Elena the night before of the parade to see the silleteros put the finishing touches on their silletas. They welcome anyone with drinks, food, and dance!
Drink aguardiente or commonly known as “guaro”. Aguardiente is anise-flavored Colombian liquor. Many foreigners will say it taste like black licorice.
Aguardiente translates to burning water in Spanish. There are different kinds of aguardiente, however the best aguardiente is the Antioqueño label.
It is very common to go out in Colombia and to order a huge bottle of Aguardiente and water as chasers. Colombians love dancing and signing to Vallenato while knocking back a few guaro shots. Depending on where the party is at, the dance club or bar may only have Aguardiente, Rum, and beer.
Hang out with the locals and take part of their nightlife by experiencing Aguardiente.
Carnaval de Barranquilla
Quite possibly the best party in all of Colombia is the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Every year in the month of February, the coastal city of Barranquilla hosts its annual Carnival. Barranquilla’s Carnival is the second largest to Rio’s carnival.
Giant colorful floats, Cumbia and Mapale in the streets, and everyone in Colombia in giant city. There is so much to the Carnaval de Barranquila.
The festivities begin on Saturday with the Battle of the Flowers parade, which is one of the main activities. The next day is mainly Cumbia groups from different academies around the country performing in the streets. Monday is set up for Mapale dancers to perform cultural Afro-Caribbean dances and music. The last day is Tuesday, and this day is know as the burial of Joselito Carnival. Everyone dresses up in black to mourn the death of the Carnaval or known as “Joselito”.
The Carnaval de Barraquilla attracts tourists from all over the world and Colombian tourists from all over the nation. This is truly an event to experience. Just take a look at our experience this year in the video above.
This city of Colombia is not known for its tourism, therefore this is the main reason why anyone should visit Bucaramanga. Think of this place being untouched by travelers and you are one of the first to explore this beautiful city.
Bucaramanga lies inside the Santander department and it is the capital city of Santander. The city’s nickname is La Ciudad Bonita (The Pretty City) and once you visit you will see why.
La Ciudad Bonita keeps a cool 72 degree climate year round. Here are three things to do while visiting Bucaramanga:
- Hormigas Culonas: The department of Santender is famously known for the food within Colombia. Also do not forget to give the big butt ants a try. Yes, big butt ants.
- Parks: Find tranquility in one of the many parks within the crazy city life of Bucaramanga
- Paragliding: Santander has been recognized as one of the best palces to go paragliding in Colombia. Take a glide over Bucaramanga and the Santander countryside and experience this beautiful place from a higher angle.
Cali is home to professional salsa dancers and it is considered as the salsa dancing city of the world. There are many dance academies that offer lessons to tourists and foreigners.
After taking a few lessons, hit the city to show off what you got. Do not be intimidated by other dancers, because everyone is there to have fun.
If you are not into dancing then check out these other things you can do in Cali:
- Cristo Rey: The Cristo Rey statue in Cali is not as well known and as big as the one in Brazil, however it is something worth seeing while in Cali. The statue stands tall on Cerro de los Cristales and has an amazing view of the city.
- Feria de Cali: Usually around the end of December is when Cali hosts its anual fair. A week long fair of salsa dancing, parades, and dance parties.
- Ride the Mio: Mio is the bus system that travels through Cali. Similar to the Metroplus in Medellin and the Transmilenio in Bogota. The bus fare is inexpensive and it is a great way to get to explore the city.
The Lost City
The Lost City or “La Ciudad Perdida” is a 6 day jungle hike from Santa Marta to the Lost City. Travelers who have done this trek, claim it is the best adventure in all of South America.
Ciudad Perdida was founded in 800 A.D. and it was discovered in 1976 by a group of archaeologists.
Booking this tour will make you feel like Indiana Jones discovering an old ruined city.
It would be a shame to end this list and not mention the Bandeja Paisa.
Bandeja Paisa consist of many items: chorizo, chicharrón, ground beef, platano maduro, beans, rice, a slice of avocado, an arepa, and a fried egg. Yes all of these things on one plate. Sometimes morcilla and a salad will be added to the plate, depending on how the restaurant serves it.
This monstrous plate of food can be found anywhere in Colombia. The Colombian dish was later renamed to “Bandeja Montañero” when it was named the national dish of Colombia in 2005. The name changed happened to include people outside of the Paisa region (The Antioquia Department). Definitely order this dish when visiting Colombia and enjoy it with a few cervezas.
There it is, 15 of the top things to do in Colombia. Obviously there are much more things to do in this beautiful country. These places to visit and activities to do, should be on your to do list for your trip to Colombia.