Why Colombia is your next destination for adventure
Colombia is rich in unexplored areas across Andean peaks and Amazonian jungle. It's the only South American country with Pacific and Caribbean coasts and more than 10% of its land is national parks.
It’s home to the highest coastal mountain range: the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. At its foot is Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, where you can stand in the Caribbean Sea and see snowcapped peaks.
In many ways, Colombia feels like a handful of disparate countries stitched together. With mountains, coastlines and the tropical grasslands of Los Llanos, known as the "Serengeti of South America".
Colombia is undoubtedly one of the world’s up-and-coming adventure destinations, because so much here is little known and yet utterly enticing.
In a jungle on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida is the goal of Colombia’s top hike. It’s a 5- or 6-day walk through mud, waist-deep river crossings and dense heat.
Then, there’s the final 1260-step climb to the ruins of the ancient town. You can’t do this hike independently; four trekking agencies in Santa Marta and Taganga have permit access.
Colombia’s best alpine trek is the week-long Güicán–El Cocuy Circuit Trek through Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, following high lakes, waterfalls and mountain passes at altitudes exceeding 4500m.
Get away from the crowds with a day hike into Caño Cristales, flying into remote La Macarena and setting out on foot for what’s been called the "most beautiful river in the world".
For another natural wonder, take a half-day hike through the open Valle de Cocora, where the world’s largest palm trees – 40m-high wax palms – sprout like hairs.
Head to the home of cyclist Nairo Quintana, who's a walking advertisement for the country’s killer climbs. Quintana’s home of Boyacá is where to go, though the altitude – around 3000m – is taxing.
Medellín is arguably Colombia’s top cycling base, but expect hills. The ride of note here is Alto de Las Palmas, climbing almost 1000m into the high Oriente valley, another cycling favourite.
Experience a Sunday cycle in Bogotá when, for 7 hours, roads close to motor vehicles and open to bikes, which is known as Ciclovía. Today, approximately one million people take part every weekend.
Mountain biking's also popular and Quindío’s coffee-growing valleys offer good trails, and around Medellín you can explore trails that drop over 1000m, through cloud forests and down to river gorges.
Diving & snorkelling
With more than 3000km of coastline, it’s unsurprising that there’s excellent diving here. The Caribbean has the real marine prizes, like the islands of San Andrés and Providencia.
Providencia has one of the world's largest barrier reefs, while San Andrés, has 15km of reef. On Providencia, popular sites include Manta’s Place, where southern stingrays glide, and Tete’s Place.
At Felipe’s Place, a Christ statue is submerged below the surface. On San Andrés, Piramide is prolific with fish, octopus and rays, and there's two sunken ships, the Blue Diamond and Nicaraguense.
For aspirant divers, the town of Taganga, along the mainland’s Caribbean coast, is one of the world’s cheapest places to learn.
Kayaking remains a niche pursuit in Colombia, but there are several popular places for whitewater rafting. Almost midway between Bogotá and Medellín, the Río Claro carves through a marble canyon.
At San Agustín there are rafting trips on Colombia’s longest river, the Río Magdalena, but San Gil is where it’s at. The adventure capital also has paragliding, bungee jumping, caving and more.
The Río Fonce offers a 10km run through class II and III rapids, while the Río Suarez provides the full water-rodeo experience, taking you into the maelstrom of class V rapids.
Suesca is rock-central in Colombia. Just an hour’s drive north of Bogotá, the rural town is banded with a 4km-long line of sandstone cliffs towering above the Río Bogotá and a disused railway.
The cliffs are about a 10-minute walk along the train tracks from town and feature more than 400 routes fairly well divided between trad and sport climbing.
The cliffs reach heights of 125m and there’s plenty here for all abilities – at the top end are climbs graded at around 7c+/5.13.
There’s a good climbers’ scene at Suesca, with a campground at the base of the cliffs and a hostel-cum-climbing-shop nearby.
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