7 Things first-time visitors to Colombia should do
We love Colombia, and we are thrilled that it has shrugged off its edgy reputation and is becoming more and more popular as a holiday destination.
With lush green rainforests, towering mountains, an unspoiled Caribbean coastline, enigmatic ruins and a thriving coffee industry, Colombia is the perfect destination for the discerning traveller keen to step off the beaten track and explore somewhere away from the touristic crowds.
It can be hard deciding where to go first in a country you’ve never visited before, so we’ve put together our top 7 activities we recommend for first-time visitors to this up-and-coming holiday hotspot.
Travel backwards in time in Villa de Leyva
Approximately three hours to the north east of Bogotá, Villa de Leyva is a charming old town full of whitewashed walls, Spanish-style houses and cobblestone streets.
With its backdrop of verdant rolling hills and the expanse of the enormous main square—one of the largest in the Americas—this is a town you don’t want to miss.
The town has been declared a national monument due to its perfect encapsulation of times gone by, and exploring its narrow alleyways will really give you the feeling that you’ve travelled back to a simpler time.
Experience the unique melding of engineering, art, spirituality and salt in Zipaquirá Cathedral
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is an unmissable stop-off during your trip to Colombia. Built in the tunnels of a salt mine, this underground church boasts three sections at its base representing the birth, life and death of Jesus; and its icons, architectural features and ornaments are hand-carved from the halite rock.
The cathedral itself is broken up into 14 small interconnected chapels. Each chapel was sculpted by a different artist, and together they represent the Stations of the Cross.
Art, sculpture, and light installations turn this already-impressive cathedral into a true feat of engineering.
Wander the streets of La Candelaria, Bogotá’s historic centre
We recommend striking out into La Candelaria with a local guide who can show you treasures you might not find alone.
Bogotá’s historic centre is home to the main square, the Plaza de Boliviar. Surrounding the Plaza, you’ll find the Cathedral and some of Bogotá’s most significant buildings.
Most of La Candelaria reflects Bogotá’s Spanish colonial history. This is best exemplified in the beautiful Botero Museum, home to some of Fernando Botero’s masterpieces as well as other world-renowned artists.
Learn about the coffee production process and taste fresh coffee in Pereira
Colombia is the third-largest producer of coffee in the world, and bright green coffee fields stretch as far as the eye can see in some parts of the country.
We suggest heading to Pereira, the gateway to Colombia’s coffee region. The mineral-rich volcanic soils, pleasant climate and mild altitude make this an ideal coffee-growing spot.
When you visit a coffee farm with a guide, you can learn about the coffee production process from bean to cup—and of course no trip would be complete without sampling the freshest coffee you’ll ever taste!
Explore an orchid farm en route to Medellin
Colombia boasts roughly 15% of the world’s species of orchids, and the sight of rows of these brightly-coloured flowers growing tall and proud is one that’s hard to forget in a hurry.
Often frequented by hundreds of species of wild birds and also used to grow avocados, citrus plants and native trees, orchid farms are a treasure trove of natural wonders and a must-see if you’re in Colombia.
Step inside history in Cartagena’s historic centre
There aren’t many places in the world that operate as a living museum, and Cartagena’s centre is one of them. Protected by its original ramparts, the interior of this beautiful place is stuffed to the brim with colonial mansions and historic sights like the San Felipe Fortress and La Popa Church.
Restored and painted bright colours, the buildings of Cartagena’s historic centre shine like jewels in the sunshine, and overflowing bougainvillea creates bright pops of pink against the vibrant walls.
A visit to Cartagena isn’t all about admiring its beauty, though. Its handicraft markets of the Bovedas, tucked away in the archways of the city walls, can keep you occupied for hours picking through the locally-crafted items.
Relax on a white sand beach in Tayrona National Park
Tayrona Park is small by many standards, just 150 square kilometres of land in total, and roughly 30 square kilometres of the Caribbean sea.
With hundreds of species of birds, plants, and even sponges, Tayrona National Park is a real haven for travellers and wildlife alike. It is the only place in the world where the cotton-top tamarin is still found.
Eco-tourism is encouraged, and activities include guided excursions, snorkelling—and of course relaxing on the idyllic beaches.
We think a stay in Tayrona National Park is the perfect way to round off your Colombia trip, with the chance to fit in just a little bit more adventuring or simply to soak up the beautiful South American sunshine.