November 2020, I had the pleasure of participating in Colombia’s Nature Travel Mart. Three days filled with mingling with local travel professionals and learning a lot about what this wonderful country has to offer.
Emerging from a tumultuous past, Colombia has turned over a new leaf and become one of the most sustainable and progressive tourism destinations.
A few incredible facts:
- Colombia has the most extensive bird diversity worldwide
- The country shares land borders with five nations: Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama
- Colombia offers both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines
- Much of its territory is challenging to the point that you have to fly even small distances
- Colombia enjoys 314 different types of ecosystems, making it one of the most diverse countries in the world
- Colombia boasts 54 protected areas within its 441,200 sqm (about double the size of Texas)
Colombia offers something for everyone, and a trip can be customized according to interests and desired adventure level.
Keep in mind that many destination combinations require a short flight to connect one place with the next. Before going into more detail, have a look at the country’s map. I find it helpful to locate the different areas.
The initial gateways
Cartagena, the City of Romance, is located south along the Caribbean Coast. This romantic colonial city is perfect for couples that love to stroll cobblestone streets and enjoy boutique hotels.
Bogota, the high-altitude capital, sits in the center of Colombia and is marked with a star. Around the city, you will find the best area to see fantastic wildlife, including jaguars.
Medellin, once the most dangerous city and now an example of transformation. Voted the most innovative city in 2014, Medellin is a hub for tech companies and dazzles visitors. It is located between Bogota and Panama.
Cali, also known as the Salsa dancing capital, is a gateway for some birdwatching and located along the western side of Colombia.
Each of these main gateways offers different experiences that can be combined and ultimately define how many days you need to get to know Colombia.
What to do from:
Cartagena makes an excellent gateway to explore Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, including Santa Rosa, Tayrona National Park, and several off-shore islands. A visit to this area can also be combined with Panama and the San Blas islands.
Being Colombia’s capital, Bogota offers worldly comforts and makes for an excellent gateway for bird and wildlife watching. Although a year- round destination, I have it on good authority to avoid a visit in April and October, unless you love gloomy, grey weather. At 8530 feet above sea level, the area is generally colder.
From Bogota, you might also choose to fly to Yopal, from where to access Los llanos area consisting of seasonally flooded plains and grassland, that provide safari-like mammals and other animals. Another unique feature of the flatlands is the local cowboys, which have a long tradition of singing to their cattle. It’s a gorgeous area to escape to a Finca from where to explore the grounds during the day, riding, river floating, animal watching, and then peacefully sip an excellent glass of wine in the evening.
Between Medellin, Cali, and Bogota, you will find Colombia’s Coffee triangle. This fertile triangle is well known for its charming rural towns and, of course, fantastic coffee.
Medellin is also great for a day trip to El Penol and Guatape.
Colombia remains a very authentic destination with tourism just emerging. Cali is even more off the beaten path. The city proclaims itself as the capital of Salsa because of its long history with the dance. If you love rhythm and Latin dancing, you will want to explore the many bars and dance the night away. And if birds are what you are after, the mountains around Cali are home to a fantastic bird watching lodge. Being not far from the coast, Cali is also an excellent gateway for Pacific whale watching.
And if all this wasn’t enough already, there is much more to explore. You can find snowfields and glaciers, colorful rivers, immerse yourself in an off-the-grid experience along the Amazon river, study cave paintings, and hike the Lost City Trek. Colombia will appeal to you, whether you want to learn more about a country or indulge in a passion while doing so. Whether your interest is in hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, frog watching, wildlife viewing, or coffee tasting, there is plenty to do! You can have a reasonably modern experience, but you can also go off the beaten path and get out of your comfort zone.
Keep in mind that there are different climate zones. Rainfall, temperatures vary and might make one region more accessible than another. If you’ve been, I’d love to hear about your experience, and if you would like to visit or learn more, please reach out to me.