Nature, historic sites and fun all in one
Colombia has so much to offer travellers! It’s a country rich in history, national parks, stunning beaches and amazing food to feed any hungry traveller. From its very own Salt Cathedral, Gold Museum and old towns, this is a country that many people may not think of touring. But once you arrive, there is plenty to see and do in this pearl of South America. Colombia is also a scuba diver’s paradise with some of the best dive locations in the world.
If you are feeling festive, head to the Barranquilla Carnival, which is Colombia’s most important cultural festival. Get ready to dance the salsa and party late into the early morning. Barranquilla is also a popular spot for yachtsman to dock their boats and it’s a fantastic place to relax.
A holiday in Colombia promises unique experiences, great scenery and many attractions that will fill your days with endless memories.
Things to do in Colombia
- Gold Museum: Also known as the Museo del Oro by Colombians, this fascinating museum is a must visit when you are in Colombia. Visitors will get a real feel of the history of the country here. See gold jewellery and nearly 60,000 pieces of gold jewellery and artefacts on display. The three-story museum is well kept and easy to get around. The Gold Museum has 4 exhibitions: Working of Metals – which looks at mining and manufacturing techniques, People and Gold in Pre-Hispanic Columbia – which explores how people used metals in their life. Cosmology and Symbolism – which looks at the symbolism of metal. The Offering – explores objects as they were used for religious purposes. Set aside at least 2 hours to explore the museum. Free tours of the museum are available in English. Even take an audio guided tour as you stroll through the various exhibitions.
- Old Cartagena: Nowadays this ancient walled town which dates back to 1533 is filled with bars and restaurants. The area bustles with tourists and people selling souvenirs. The main attraction is probably shopping. A World Heritage Site, Old Cartagena is filled with cobblestone walkways and big churches. Catch great views of the ocean while you are there. If you are feeling adventurous, take a swim in a nearby mud volcano – an unusual experience for sure, but worth it.
- Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: A magnificently built fortress, this is one of Cartagena’s main attractions and dates back to 1656. The fortress’ is located in a key position so foreign troops could not gain access to the old town in days gone by. The fortress was rebuilt and revamped several times and is a Spanish masterpiece. This should definitely be on your Colombia itinerary. Visitors are able to access some of the fortress tunnels, which makes for a great bit of exploring. There is no signage inside the fortress as you tour around, so it’s recommended you take a tour guide to appreciate the history. Also, visit here in the late afternoon to escape the early morning heat.
- Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá: This inspiring Roman Catholic Cathedral is situated 180 meters underground in an abandoned salt mine. Marvel at the 16 meter high cross behind the main altar. Make your way through colourfully lit tunnels. Don’t miss this attraction. It’s really something different.
- Tayrona National Natural Park: Take a day trip to one of the most beautiful and most popular national parks in Colombia. Set off into the wild on a hike or laze on one of the coconut palm-lined beaches. Capture the amazing landscapes with your camera. The ruins of Pueblito, a pre-Hispanic town, can be found in the park. Avoid visiting the park on public holidays as it gets very crowded. If you want to spend more than just a day, set up camp and stay over. Visit the park out of season from November to February to avoid the large crowds.
- Cristal Beach: Located in the Tayrona National Natural Park, this is a great beach for the family. Restaurants will satisfy a craving after a long day in the sun. The sea water is clear blue. Venture into the ocean and snorkel the reefs.
- Bogotá Botanical Garden: Nineteen hectares of majestic garden filled with Colombia’s many plant species including rose gardens, orchids and Bonsai. The garden is also used as a research centre. A must visit for garden and plant fundis. Take a picnic basket and enjoy the surroundings of a lake and waterfall too.
- Mount Monserrate: Take a cable car ride up the mountain for amazing views of the city of Bogotá. There are also a few restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. You can also hike up the mountain if you feel like a hiking expedition.
- Las Lajas Sanctuary: Not only is this a stunning church, but it is located in a gorge which adds to its splendour. Located on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, the neo-Gothic church will take your breath away with waterfalls and cliffs in its surroundings. It took 33 years to complete. History has it that the church’s location is due to a miracle that took place in 1754. An Amerindian woman and her daughter (who was a deaf-mute) were caught in a storm. When they found shelter in the cave, it’s said the daughter saw the image of the Virgin Mary on one of the walls. It’s believed the appearance of the image cured the girl.
Crystal clear water equals a superb dive
Just when you thought Colombia was all about the attractions on land, keen divers will tell you about the brilliant scenery beyond the land – the magnificent views of sea life underwater. Provedencia has clear blue waters and is probably one of the best dive sites in Colombia and offers up to 30 meters visibility. The exquisite barrier reef at Providencia is also the world’s third longest reef and also forms part of the protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve. Popular dive spots include Blue Hotel and Table Rock. Keen wreck divers will enjoy Planchon, a World War II German tanker shipwreck.
San Andres is home to large game fish and divers can even spot dolphins and turtles if you are lucky. There is also a beautiful coral garden to check out.
For shark lovers, Malpelo Island is ideal. Here you will find numerous different sharks, from Hammerheads to whale sharks. The Hammerhead shark schools can reach up to 300 – that is amazing to see. Other fish you may encounter are sailfish, blue whale and angel fish. Get out your underwater camera and take photos of these big fish. Malpelo Island also has great caves to dive for keen cave explorers.
If you are into whale-watching then head to Bahia Solano.
Diving in Taganga is great for beginners being a shallow dive area. There is also plenty marine life to check out like angel fish and eels.
Try delicious local dishes
Ajicao – Chicken soup made with a variety of potatoes, sour cream, capers, avocado and guasca, which is a South American herb that gives the soup its unique flavor.
Arepa – A flatbread made of ground maize. It is also served as a side dish in Colombia. Arepa is often served with butter or corn.
Bandeja Paisa – Much like a platter, this is plate of different meat (pork, steak, sausage) served with beans, avocado and a fried egg.
Lechona – A whole roasted pig stuffed with onions, peas and an array of spices. The pig is then cooked in a brick oven for about 10 to 12 hours.
Changua – A soup made of milk, onion and egg. This is usually served for breakfast.