Colombia offers a beautifully diverse potpourri of landscapes and a laundry list of varied experiences within them. Big cities like Bogotá, Cali and Medellín are epicenters of gastronomy and nightlife; the Caribbean Coast and the islands of San Andrés and Providencia are tropical paradises; wildlife thrives in the Amazon rainforest, the wetlands of Los Llanos and the Pacific coast; and colonial villages, ancient ruins and coffee plantations are peppered around the country as well. With excellent transportation infrastructure, it's possible to bounce between the jungles, the mountains and the sea, giving Colombia a trifecta of dazzling settings within its borders. From the snowcapped peaks of the Andes to the translucent waters of the Caribbean, South America's comeback kid beckons jet-setters with cinematic sundry of travel joy.
Wining & Dining
Bogotá's historic colonial center of 300-year-old homes, churches and buildings known as La Candelaria is a preserved mix of Spanish and baroque architecture. It commences in the grand Plaza de Bolívar, a picture-perfect living museum for Colombia's Andean showpiece.
Anchored by one of South America's most brilliantly curated and designed museums, the fascinating Museo del Oro, Bogotá boasts more than 60 museums, many of which hold rank among Latin America's best.
Eating well in Bogotá is as distinguished a pursuit as anywhere. From its classic regional specialties such as ajiaco (an Andean chicken stew with corn), to modern takes on gourmet fare that have begun to employ Colombia's wealth of native ingredients, the city is enjoying a bona fide foodie resurgence.
Boyacá, Santander & Norte de Santander
This region has four of Colombia’s most striking colonial villages: Barichara and Villa de Leyva, both well-established tourist haunts preserved with precision; and sleepier Monguí and Playa de Belén, which receive few tourists and remain unspoiled.
Whether seeking a challenging high-altitude trek or white-knuckle adventure, Boyacá and Santander deliver. In Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) El Cocuy, visitors can hike among at least 12 peaks above 5000m, while the small town of San Gil is ground zero for outdoor adventure and extreme sports.
Nature enthusiasts should flock to Villa de Leyva and Barichara for their excellent natural surroundings. Lago de Tota (Colombia’s largest lake) ups the ante with páramo (high-mountain plains) trekking and a sky-high beach.
The idyllic beaches of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and islands are Colombia’s best. Here, white sands are fringed with seething jungle, dramatic deserts or – for the purists – plenty of palm trees. Whatever your poison, there's sun and sand for all.
The walled city of Cartagena offers ornate churches and romantic, shaded squares, while hidden Mompós has a restored colonial heart. Santa Marta’s faded grandeur also merits a stopover.
The multiday trek to Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) is one of the continent’s classic hikes – four to six days in the jungle, fording rivers and creeping through the canopy; the destination is a mysterious ancient city belonging to a disappeared culture.
San Andrés & Providencia
Both islands have extensive coral reefs totaling 50km with a biodiversity that equals any in the region. Sharks are the standout, but there are also turtles, barracudas, stingrays, manta rays and eagle rays just offshore.
Take your pick of idyllic beaches bordering the archipelago's famed sea of seven colors. While those in San Andrés offer vibrant atmosphere and water sports, the real stars of the show are the tranquil, remote stretches of sand on Providencia.
San Andrés and Providencia don’t just cater for beach bums and divers: Providencia's interior is mountainous, and its El Pico Natural Regional Park offers walkers a breathtaking, crow’s-nest, 360-degree view of the Caribbean.
Medellín & Zona Cafetera
Throughout Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío departments, some of Colombia’s best coffee fincas (farms) welcome visitors onto their plantations. Learn all about the growing process and the rich culture that has developed around it.
Bright Discos & Bohemian Bars
Going out in Medellín is all about seeing and being seen. Paisas (people from Antioquia) love to dress up and go out, and from the bright discos of Parque Lleras to the bohemian bars downtown, you can pretty much find a party for all tastes, any day of the week.
Walks & Treks
With high-altitude treks in PNN Los Nevados and more sedate strolls through regional nature reserves, the Zona Cafetera offers hikes to match all energy levels. Don’t miss the Valle de Cocora, near Salento, with its towering wax palms.
Cali & Southwest Colombia
Less than 100km apart amid stunning Andean panoramas sit two of Colombia's most important archaeological sites. More than 500 mysterious stone statues are scattered around San Agustín, while at Tierradentro, archaeologists have unearthed more than 100 underground tombs.
From small barrio bars to the sweaty salsatecas (salsa dance clubs), high-energy salsa is the beat that drives Cali. Let the pros show you how it’s done at the World Salsa Championships or take classes at one of the city's many academies.
Boasting whitewashed mansions and splendid churches, Popayán is a superb example of Spanish-colonial architecture. Continue the colonial theme in Cali's Barrio San Antonio or head to Ipiales to check out the immense neo-Gothic Santuario de Las Lajas.
Whales, Turtles & Sharks
Get close to massive humpback whales at Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Ensenada de Utría or head out at night to watch sea turtles lay their eggs near El Valle. Divers can swim among hundreds of sharks at Islas Malpelo and Gorgona.
Framed by jungle-covered mountains, the rugged gray beaches of the region are breathtaking and mostly deserted. Guachalito and Playa Almejal both have fine resorts wedged between the jungle and the sea. Surfers will find excellent breaks around Arusí and El Valle.
Trekking & Canoeing
Often overlooked by hikers, the Chocó boasts fantastic off-the-beaten-track treks to waterfalls deep in the jungle. On the water, check out the region’s amazing biodiversity while paddling up the Río Joví or Río Juribidá in a dugout canoe.
While human encroachment, legal and otherwise, has pushed the Amazon’s wildlife population in the wrong direction, it remains an incomprehensibly gigantic hotbed of biodiversity, the world’s largest collection of living plants and animal species.
The mother of all jungles, no word conjures up a more alluring mix of enigmatic rainforest, enormous rivers, indigenous folklore and tropical wildlife than the Amazon. The sheer scale of it is mind-blowing; if there ever was a place where imagination meets reality, it’s in this endless sea of green.
The ecological village of Puerto Nariño – a living model for a sustainable existence in the middle of the world’s largest jungle – is a charming, architecturally interesting, near-perfect place to chill out in the rainforest.
Wild Rivers & Waterfalls
There are few regions in Colombia as pristine and well protected as Caño Cristales, where tours take you deep into the national park to see gorgeous waterfalls and rushing rivers alive with a hallucinogenic color palette in a magically wild setting.
Pre-Columbian Cave Paintings
Pre-Columbian cave paintings can be seen in great abundance in the countryside around San José del Guaviare, and often involve exciting treks through the jungle. Completely unprotected and exposed to the elements, these detailed depictions of life thousands of years ago have extraordinarily survived.
Pools, Pozos & Swimming Holes
Places for a dip abound in Los Llanos, with various gorgeous pools and swimming holes (often complete with waterfalls) in Caño Cristales and the fabulous pozos naturales around San José del Guaviare.