Colombia is a super diverse country that reaches from the hot Caribbean coast, through a land of coffee plantations, mountain ranges, deserts, wild rivers, all the way into the Amazon bassin.
The country has been off the tourist radar for decades, if not longer. But now, Colombia is starting to become a hot tourist destination.
Some place have already been discovered and written about, so tourists flock these beautiful destinations already. But some other destination are pretty much off the beaten track and some of these places in Colombia should be visited before they become popular.
This article covers the 19 most amazing places to visit in Colombia, South America.
Chech out our compilation in this short video
Caño Cristales is a place of extraordinary beauty and some even call it the most beautiful place on earth. The river is also called River of Five Colors or the Liquid Rainbow. It lies in a protected Natural Park around 150km South of Bogota.
Between July and October, this river turns into many colors thanks to the different algae that live in the water. Depending on the weather, it can be stunning… or not.
The best time to see the river at its most beautiful is on a sunny day to make the colors shine. Drought kills the algae, so it better be not too dry!
You can only visit the river with a licensed guide and the allowed number of visitors is limited.
Tayrona National Park
This National Park is a true Caribbean paradise and it could easily be featured in a movie where the hero gets stranded on a paradise island in the Caribbean. Tayrona is not actually an island, but you do get the feeling of complete desertion here.
Check out how the massive boulders on the beach have an almost round shape. They kinda look like massive eggs in Jurassic Park.
Tayrona National Park lies in the North of Colombia, in between Santa Marta and the Guachira Peninsula.
Read our guide to Tayrona National Park
The Lost City or Ciudad Perdida is an ancient settlement in the Colombian Sierra Nevada near the Caribbean coast.
It wasn’t until a few decades ago that the city was found and excavated.
The building structure of this archeological site is completely different from most other historic sites ever found. Most structures have a round shape and include lots of terraces and levels in this mountainous area.
Buildings and structures in Ciudad Perdida are very much in line with the surrounding nature and it’s hard to tell where the structures begin and the earth ends.
To reach the Lost City, you have to work a little because it’s a three day hike to get there. And the hike is not a walk in the park, but you’ll be climbing upward a lot and have to pass through miles of jungle area.
San Andres and Providencia Islands
We take you from the mysterious ancient history in the Colombian highlands, all the down down to one of the most pristine beaches in the world!
San Andres and Providencia are 2 beautiful Caribbean islands in front of the Nicaraguan coast. Officially it’s part of Colombia, but it’s located closer to Nicaragua and reminds visitors a lot of the white sandy beaches of Corn Island.
Providencia is mountainous and lush, while San Andres is more of a tourist highlight. Therefore, they are some of the most appreciated holiday destinations among Colombians and travelers from all over the world.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
The Las Lajas Cathedral is surrounded by legend and mystery. Legends say that the Virgin Mary appeared to a local woman and her sick child, which was healed immediately. A few years later, the virgin even resurrected a child. Reason enough to build a sanctuary!
This cathedral is quite special due to the location and way it was built into the valley.
It was built at the deep point of a steep river bed. Images of this place should probably be convincing enough to express the beauty and eccentricity of this amazing place.
We weren’t in it for the religion, but for the views, which are simply amazing.
It’s located in the very South of Colombia, near the border with Ecuador. So for backpackers who travel on to the South, Ipiales and Las Lajas is a pretty convenient stopover.
The massive underground tombs of Tierradentro National Park are located in the Colombian Andes mountains. They were once built as burial grounds by inhabitants who lived here in the pre-columbian era.
The chambers are really large, some are over 12 meters in diameter and the detail of mural art displays a social complexity through human figurines and other artwork.
In total, more than 150 tombs can be found underground in this area, but only some of them can be visited.
Tierradentro Tombs are still off the beaten path and most visitors either don’t know about them or don’t want to loose the extra days you need to visit them.
Badillo River in Valledupar
Badillo River near Valledupar has a natural wonder to offer that will leave you in awe.
Large white boulders lie scattered on the riverbed, leading the trajectory of the river in all different ways and forming rapids along the way.
The natural pools of clear water have been formed through erosion over the years.
This location has been an inspiration for artists, poets, writers, painters, and musicians for ages. Maybe it can be an inspirational place for you too!
Alto de los Idoles in San Agustin
While holding similar tombs to the ones we discussed in the Tierradentro National Park, San Agustin is widely known for its peculiar statues.
We saw similar entrances to underground tombs in different places in the National Park and also in one of the villages we visited nearby.
However, nobody appears to be visiting San Agustin for its tombs!
The talk of the town in San Agustin are the ‘Idoles’, which are made up of a large amount of religious statues that are spread out over the countryside hills.
The origin of these statues dates back to 3000 to 1000 BC and consists of 3 archeological sites today. Alto de los Idoles is the most impressive one, but if you have time to spare, you can visit all of them.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira
The catholic church of Zipaquira is built in a salt mine deep under the surface. It lies 200 meter underground and is considered one of the greatest achievements of Colombian architecture.
The actual salt mines have been in use since the 5th century, but the cathedral was built in the 20th century.
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is built into a salt mine, so it’s not entirely made of salt. It consists of 14 smaller chapels and loads of underground tunnels to connect them all.
This gem can be found at 50 km outside of the capital Bogota and it is still used as a church to this day.
Cocora Valley lies on the edge of the Los Nevados National Park near Salento. This valley is famous for its majestic palm trees that reach far into the sky.
The valley can be easily reached from the cute coffee town of Salento.
Inside the valley, we recommend doing the Cocora Valley hike, which takes a few hours and leads you over various rickety bridges and muddy jungle paths.
If you have extra time to spare, check out the different hikes in Los Nevados, a natural reserve where extremes meet.
The Guatape area can also be called drowned land, as the area was flooded after the build of a hydroelectric dam in the 70s.
This wasn’t really great news for the locals at that time, but it does result in these magnificent views from above. To get these scenic views, you must either climb the 740 steps Guatape Rock… or get yourself a nice drone!
Check out our guide on how to visit Guatape!
Cartagena Old Town
The historic center of the Caribbean city of Cartagena de Indias is a colorful mish mash of narrow streets, old buildings, and flower laden facades.
Cartagena has a tropical climate, so prepare to find ice cream vendors… all the time while dwelling through the streets of the walled city.
The historic center is walled and you can walk all the way to the walls to look out over the ocean.
Tatacoa desert is the second largest desert area in Colombia, after Guajira (coming up next!) The desert isn’t full of sand, but it offers a surreal landscape of red stone canyons, which looks pretty unique.
This peculiar landscape arose after the jungle that used to be here, completely dried out.
You can find 2 different colors in this desert: ochre and grey, dividing the desert into 2 different areas.
Aside from the weird and wonderful view, the area is great for stargazing and there’s also an observatory: the most important one in South America!
Did I already mention there’s a swimming pool in the middle of this desert? Because there is!
La Guajira is a peninsula in the North of Colombia, bordering with Venezuela. The Northernmost tip of the entire continent is in La Guajira: Punta Gallinas.
It’s a land of contrast, as it has a huge desert, sand dunes, salt flats, and paradise sandy beaches.
In the middle of this desert, there’s Macuira National Park, a green area of lush jungle and cloud forest.
This place is still very much ‘off the beaten track’ and it’s not touristy at all. Even though Tatacoa is also called a desert, Guajira is the only true desert with actual sand dunes and all in Colombia.
On top of that, you can also discover the Wayuu indigenous culture here. These tribes have never been conquered by the Spanish and they kept their own authentic culture!
Casa Terracotta near Villa de Leyva
The Casa Terracotta, or sometimes called: the Crazy House, was built by a Colombian architect. He built the 2 level house completely out of clay and the burning Colombian sun hardened it into ceramic.
It looks exquisite and you can also visit the inside to see more of this delightful design.
As it is the largest piece of artisanal pottery in the world, it draws quite a bit of attention and lots of visitors gladly pay the entrance fee in order to see the interior.
The Casa Terracotta can be found just outside of Villa de Leyva.
Chicamocha Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world. It’s 227 km long and it has steep sides, which sometimes climb up to 2000 meters.
This canyon lies between Bucaramanga and San Gil, offering a lot of exciting and adventurous activities to do in this area.
Chicamocha Canyon is an awesome place for paragliding, parapenting, zip-lining, and canoeing.
Or you can leave the adrenalin inducing activities to others and enjoy the cable cart to cross this majestic canyon!
Cueva de los Guácharos
The Guácharos caves are located in the beautiful Guácharos National Park and are named after the bat-like birds that reside inside the cave.
The birds emit a high-pitched sound, which resembles that of a bat a lot. They use it for the same reason, to detect obstacles on their path.
Guácharo birds have been the center of many legends and stories full of magic by the tribes living in this area. Not only birds live in this cave, but quite a few other creatures also dwell in the darkness here!
It’s located in the South of Colombia, near the border with Ecuador.
The area surrounding the caves and the National Park itself is popular for adventure sports and there is, of course, a lot of wildlife to be seen!
Quebrada Las Gachas
Not nearly as popular as many of the other destinations in this list, Quebrada Las Gachas are a real hidden gem in the Santander region.
The Quebradas are a series of natural pools in the shallow Las Gashas riverbed. In some places, the river has the same, magical colors as the super popular Caño Cristales. But without the flocks of tourists!
This natural gem in Colombia is not yet protected and tourism is on the rise, so we expect this natural beauty to be closed as a protected area soon. Check the video to see how too many visitors harm the algae in the river and make them disappear.
Tequendama Falls and the abandoned hotel
The last one in this list is also the most obscure!
Tequendama Falls is a waterfall South of Bogota, which measures 130 meters in altitude. Depending on the season, the waterfall is super powerful and impressive. If you visit it in dry season, it might nog impress you that much!
What’s so weird about this place, is the fact that these falls have been a popular places for suicides for over a thousand years now.
Another peculiar fact about this place is the majestic hotel that was built across the falls as a tourist destination, but it was abandoned decades ago. Locals will tell you that it’s haunted!
The hotel has been restored into a museum about the falls, so it should look a little less haunted by now!
Read more about the intriguing story behind the waterfall and the hotel.
Extraordinary places to visit in Colombia - Conclusion
So these are 19 of the best places to visit in Colombia.
For some you need to make a detour, while other could be already on your travel route.
But all of them are super beautiful, intriguing, or cool. So if you’re still looking for some extra destinations to add to your backpacking adventure in Colombia, some of these might make the cut!
We hope you enjoyed this list. If you did, feel free to share it!