Colombia is a natural wonderland that satiates everyone – casual weekend hikers, hardcore climbers, hell-bent birders, outdoor thrill seekers, deep-sea divers – and packs an alluring and powerful punch of adventure between its highest mountain (Pico Cristóbal Colón) and its two shining seas.
Hiking & Trekking
Colombia has some of South America's best trekking opportunities. The casual hiker looking for good one-day walks also has many options to choose from – most of which, such as Laguna Verde and Valle de Cocora, can be done independently without a guide. Guided day-hike prices range from COP$45,000 to COP$100,000. For multiday treks expect to pay COP$100,000 to COP$200,000 per day, depending on the difficulty and the guide's experience. The best times of year for a walk are February on the coast, and December to February in the mountains.
Where to Go
Ciudad Perdida On the Caribbean coast; this long trek involves a sweaty, multiday hike through the jungle and across waist-high rivers. At the end you arrive at the long-forgotten ruins of the Tayrona civilization.
Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) El Cocuy With at least 12 peaks above 5000m and phenomenal high-altitude landscapes, this national park offers rich rewards for intrepid hikers. Access is limited to day hikes, but the situation could change soon.
Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Tayrona Offers accessible short hikes through tropical dry forest with the opportunity to eat, drink and swim along the way.
Valle de Cocora Near Salento; the country's best half-day hike takes you up into the national park amid wax palms.
Tierradentro A spectacular one-day walk in the south that traverses a triangular ridgeline and visits all of the nearby tombs.
Volcán Puracé Near Popayán; can be summited in one day (weather permitting).
Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Farallones de Cali Near Cali; offers a day-long hike to the summit of Pico de Loro.
Laguna Verde Between Pasto and Ipiales; this five-hour hike takes you to a stunning green lake hidden in the crater of a rugged volcano.
Diving & Snorkeling
Colombia's Caribbean coast offers clear waters and bright coral formations, while the Pacific region offers close encounters with large marine animals.
On the Caribbean coast you'll find diving at budget prices with two tank dives starting from around COP$175,000. Prices in the Pacific tend to be significantly higher.
Where to Go
San Andrés & Providencia Classic Caribbean diving, with excellent visibility, fine coral reefs and a variety of marine life. There are even two sunken ships you can visit. The snorkeling is also top-notch, with a lot of marine life in shallow waters.
Taganga On the Caribbean coast, Taganga offers some of the cheapest diving courses on the planet. Here you can get your PADI or NAUI certification from around COP$1,150,000 for a four-day course.
Cartagena Boasts good diving around Bocachica, Tierrabomba and Punta Arena.
Islas de Rosario Famous for its diving and snorkeling, although warm-water currents have somewhat damaged the reef.
Capurganá and Sapzurro These small Pacific-coast towns are just minutes from the Panamanian border and offer good diving in clear Caribbean waters.
Isla Malpelo A small Pacific island 500km west of the continent that's home to schools of more than a thousand sharks. It can only be reached by joining a minimum eight-day live-aboard dive cruise from Buenaventura, on Colombia's Pacific coast, or Panama.
Playa Huína There are some diving opportunities near Bahía Solano, where a warship that survived Pearl Harbor has been sunk to create an artificial reef.
There are several hyperbaric chambers around the country – including at the Hospital Naval in Cartagena – should you experience decompression sickness (ie 'the bends'). Additional chambers are located in Providencia, San Andrés, Bahía Málaga and Bahía Solano; as well as Panama, if necessary.
In an emergency, your first response should be to contact local emergency services (telephone 123) who will stabilize the diver and help to locate the nearest treatment facility. For additional advice contact the Divers Alert Network.
White-Water Rafting, Canoeing & Kayaking
Canoeing and kayaking aren't especially popular in Colombia, but opportunities are growing. Experienced paddlers can rent kayaks in both San Gil and San Agustín for white-water runs, the former's Río Suárez offering some of the best rapids (several Class IVs and Vs) in South America. For some high-altitude paddling, rent a kayak in Guatapé to explore its extensive artificial lake.
Rafting trips range from COP$50,000 to COP$130,000 depending on length and adrenaline level.
Where to Go
Top rafting spots include the following:
San Gil This is the white-water rafting capital. The Río Fonce is fairly leisurely while the Río Suárez offers some serious thrills on Class IV and V rapids.
San Agustín A close second to San Gil. Here you can go white-water rafting on the Río Magdalena, one of Colombia's most important rivers. There are easy Class II and III trips, and longer, more difficult trips for experienced rafters.
Río Claro Offers a quiet paddle through the jungle with some minor Class I rapids. It's a fine spot to admire the flora and fauna instead of obsessing about falling out of the raft.
Rock Climbing & Abseiling
The birthplace of Colombian rock climbing is Suesca, a quick day trip from Bogotá. You'll find a 4km-long sandstone wall formation standing up to 120m high that's home to 300 climbing routes, both traditional and bolted. Suesca-based Colombia Trek offers courses and/or guided climbing for COP$170,000 (including equipment). In Medellín, Psiconautica runs a rock-climbing/abseiling/canyoning school as well.
If you want to test your skills before committing to a full-on rock-climbing adventure, Gran Pared, in Bogotá, offers a challenging climbing wall where you can get a feel for the sport.
Kitesurfing & Windsurfing
Colombia's vast water resources and tropical climate make it an ideal place for kitesurfing (kiteboarding) and windsurfing.
The casual traveler will find the learning curve for windsurfing much shorter than for kitesurfing; it's also a fair bit cheaper. Prices vary considerably. Expect to pay roughly COP$100,000 per hour for windsurfing instruction and COP$120,000 to COP$145,000 per hour for individual kitesurfing instruction (prices are lower in groups). Kite rentals are around COP$100,000 per hour. If you've got your own gear, you'll pay COP$20,000 to COP$30,000 for each water entrance.
The most comprehensive guide to kitesurfing in Colombia can be found at www.kitetrip-planner.com/kite-en-colombie.
Where to Go
On the Caribbean coast, winds are best from January to April. Good spots include the following:
Lago Calima The star kitesurfing spot is not where you might think: Lago Calima is an artificial reservoir (elevation 1800m) lying 86km north of Cali. The appeal is year-round 18- to 25-knot winds, which attract world champions to its competitions held every August and September. There's no beach here; access to the water is via the grassy slopes along the lake.
La Boquilla Just near Cartagena.
Cabo de la Vela Terrific remote beaches; stunning backdrops.
San Andrés Launch from the island's famous white-sand beaches.
Colombia's varied mountain terrain means there are lots of great thermals to ride if you want to try parapentismo (paragliding). Tandem flights in Bucaramanga are cheap – starting from a mere COP$80,000. You can also enroll in a 10-day paragliding course for COP$3,500,000 and become an internationally accredited paragliding pilot.
Where to Go
Bucaramanga Arguably the country's paragliding capital, attracting paragliders from around the world.
Parque Nacional del Chicamocha One of the most spectacular spots, with longer rides ranging from 30 to 45 minutes of gliding.
Medellín Urban paragliders can test their wings on Medellín's outskirts, where a number of schools offer tandem flights and instruction.
Sometimes called 'ziplining' in North America, canopying involves strapping yourself into a harness and zipping around the forest canopy on cables. You use a heavy leather glove on top of the cable to brake. The popularity of this sport has exploded in Colombia in recent years, particularly in the mountain regions.
Where to Go
Río Claro This is one of the best places for canopying, halfway between Medellín and Bogotá, where a series of canopy lines zigzags across the river.
Other spots where you can go canopying include Los Yarumos near Manizales, the shores of Embalse del Peñol, near Medellín, Termales San Vicente near Pereira and Peñon Guane near San Gil. There are also several canopy lines near Villa de Leyva.
Cycling is very popular in Colombia, although most of it is road cycling. Prices for bike rental vary across regions, depending on the quality of the bike – expect to pay anywhere from COP$25,000 to COP$50,000 per half-day bike rental.
Where to Go
There's something about mountains that makes cyclists want to conquer them. Mountain biking per se is most popular in San Gil and Villa de Leyva, where several adventure companies and bike-rental shops can facilitate your adrenaline fix.
Some other great routes:
Minca Offers exciting mountain-bike runs in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Coconuco to Popayán Take a dip in the thermal pools then cruise back down the mountain.
Otún Quimbaya to Pereira The run from Santuario de Flora y Fauna Otún Quimbaya back to town passes through spectacular scenery.
Salento Full-day adventures take riders up to the Andean divide from where you can cruise down the far side to the biggest wax palm forest in the region. You'll then be brought back up to the peak in a truck for the ride down the mountain to Salento.
With their deep rural roots, Colombians love riding horses. In almost every town that's frequented by domestic tourists, you'll find rentals and guided tours. While most tours are short half-day trips to local attractions, there are also some epic multiday adventures on offer, especially in the south of the country where the rolling green hills and temperate climate make for fantastic rides.
Where to Go
San Agustín Travel between remote pre-Columbian monuments in stunning natural settings. Most horses here are strong and in excellent condition.
Jardín Ascend steep, narrow mountain paths on the way to the spectacular Cueva del Esplendor.
Providencia Pick up your mount in Southwest Bay and trot along beaches and rural paths all over the island.
Desierto de la Tatacoa Bring your spaghetti Western fantasies to life among striking arid landscapes.
Laguna de Magdalena Ride from San Agustín high into the páramo (high-mountain plains) of the Macizo Colombiano to the source of the mighty Río Magdalena on this multiday expedition.
Valle de Cocora Make your way beneath wax palms on the short circuit to Reserva Natural Acaime.
Filandia Explore local coffee farms on horseback.