Oh sweet, sweet constantly misspelled and misunderstood Colombia. A country full of abundant beauty, food, adventures, and memories just waiting to happen but is sadly not very well traveled by many foreigners.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – Colombia is a hidden gem that you absolutely must add to your bucket list. I cannot overstate my love for this beautiful country and my goal here is to express why you should definitely make the trip over because promise me, you won’t regret it.
I’ve had the immense privilege of visiting Colombia on four different occasions, each time for 2-2.5 weeks to travel around and visit family. I recently got back from a trip there a few weeks ago and I am so ready to share allllll the goodness about this place with you.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Choices, choices, and more choices
One of the most incredible things about Colombia is the vast array of choices you have once you decide to visit. Are you a mountain person? Bogotá sounds like a great place for you. Love the beach? Check out Cartagena! Would you rather have a small town vibe? Go to Villa de Leyva or Guatapé. Here are some of my favorite places I’ve gone & what they’re “known for” so to speak 🙂
Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and is most likely where you’ll fly into once you make it to Colombia. But – and I really mean this – do NOT just fly through Bogotá without at least a day layover to see some of its beauty. All you can really see from the airplane is some clouds, the huge city landscape, and the surrounding mountains. You’d truly do yourself a disservice if you didn’t go see some of what makes Bogotá so incredible.
Some of my favorite sites: Monserrate, Gold Museum, La Candelaria neighborhood, Fernando Boteo museum, Usaquén flea market (only open on Sundays but a MUST see!), and the salt mines of Zipaquirá and/or Nemocón. These are a little bit outside of the city but are so incredibly stunning. Rent a car or take transportation and go see these national wonders! My dad is originally from Bogotá and all of his side of the family still lives in the city so it has a special place in my heart 🙂
If I didn’t have such a soft spot in my heart for Bogotá due to my family living there… I’d definitely say Medellín is my favorite city in Colombia. Medellín is young, vibrant, and just begging for a spot on your bucket list. Medellín enjoys beautiful weather 365 days of the year (think high 60s, low 70s every. single. day.) and there’s so much to do and see in this historic city.
Some of my favorite activities in Medellín; Medellín Modern Art Museum, cable car ride (it’s part of Medellín’s public transportation system, sounds weird, but you’ll get 360 views of the massive city for $1 say whaaaaaat), Jardin Botanico de Medellín, Museo el Castillo, Pueblito Paisa, and the Botero Plaza.
Melgar is a vacation spot southwest of Bogotá and is full of people escaping the city for warmer weather (hello 80s and 90s!) and relaxation on the weekends. I’ve gone to Melgar three times and each time my family and I have driven from Bogotá on Friday morning and gone back late Sunday night happy and with good tans, so what’s not to like. My biggest recommendation for Melgar is to book one of the million amazing Airbnbs for cheap, grab your friends and a crate of Club Colombia beer, and hang out all weekend in paradise.
Cartagena is the real deal when it comes to Colombian vacation spots, and is well known for its hot climate and great beaches. The last time I was in Cartagena was four years ago but I still vividly remember the beautiful white sand beaches in Isla de Baru, shopping in the stores in Las Bovedas, the wonderful Plaza Santo Domingo, and all the bright colors around the city. Cartagena also has great nightlife you don’t want to miss out on.
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is a picturesque small town a half day’s drive away from Bogotá known for its all white buildings, charming plazas, and little tiendas. I was immediately enchanted by the town and could not stop taking photos everywhere I went in Villa de Leyva.
Some of my favorites: the Chocolate Museum (super small, but very pretty and who doesn’t love chocolate? Make sure to go in the back to see the fountain and mini garden!), take a horseback ride around the area for a unique way to see the town, go shopping at the artisanal shops around the Plaza Mayor, and take a chiva ride at night.
Chivas are like little Colombian party buses that drive you around the city while blasting music. Drinks are totally allowed on the chivas (if not encouraged) and oftentimes they’ll take you outside the city to a bonfire with free shots of Colombian aguardiente and a local musician will sing while everyone sits around the fire. If anything, take a chiva for a totally unique experience, a good laugh, and some free shots.
Villa de Leyva was my favorite spot to simply get lost in. We had no agenda and just wandered around and found so many fun things to do. I can’t recommend this town more!
I recently went to Guatapé on a day trip from Medellin and holy moly was it worth it. My dad, boyfriend, and I visited el Peñon de Guatapé – a famous enormous rock that you can climb up to the top to see incredible 360 views of the surrounding area.
The first thing that was obvious about Guatapé was its overwhelming beauty and vibrant colors that cover the entire town. I mean, this place was a rainbow and I could not have loved it more. If I could do it all over again I would definitely stay a day or two in Guatapé wandering the streets, eating all the good food, and taking a million more pictures of every street I saw.
Oh boy if there’s one thing I love about Colombia and one thing I miss the most when I’m gone it’s the food! I’ve realized that Colombian food is incredibly hard to come by in good ole Midwest USA and I basically stuff myself with all the goodness when I finally get back to Colombia.
A few things you must eat/try when you get there:
No, not the same as the Mexican tamale you may be familiar with. Colombian tamales can be found throughout the country with slight variations depending on the region, but the most common is made with a corn masa dough stuffed with various meats, cheeses, and vegetables. To top it all off, Colombian tamales are wrapped and cooked in plantain/banana leaves, making them practically to die for.
Colombians loooove their chocolate or “hot chocolate” in the morning. The typical way to drink it is with some fresh cheese that you drop into your hot chocolate and then eat it when it melts. Sounds weird? Don’t speak too soon – I don’t know a Colombian that doesn’t swear by it.
The typical Colombian dish complete with red beans and rice, chicharron, chorizo, ground beef, fried eggs, plantains, avocado, etc. So good, so filling, a must try to say the least.
Oh boy this is a crowd favorite in Colombia and for good reason. Ajiaco is traditionally made with chicken, potatoes, and a variety of refreshing herbs. Nothing is better than a huge bowl of Ajiaco on a cloudy Bogotá day. I recommend having it at La Puerta Falsa restaurant downtown Bogotá.
Aka the staple of the Colombian diet. Think what naan is to Indian food or tortillas are to Mexican food, the arepa is to Colombian food. Arepas are either corn or wheat flour based that come in a variety of different forms. It can come with cheese or stuffed with jelly, deep fried or grilled, etc. Regardless, arepas add to any meal and I’ll stand by that.
Fruit fruit and more fruit.
One of my favorite things to do every time I visit Colombia is to just simply go to a nearby market and buy & try different fruits I’ve never seen before.
Another soup but this one is a breakfast soup. This is the absolute best thing to wake up to. Caldo is made with potatoes, beef, herbs, and water. Sounds simple but this dish has a huge piece of my heart (and stomach).
The Weather and Biodiversity
Not only does Colombia offer various cities and towns to explore, its natural biodiversity should be reason enough for you to add the country on your bucket list! Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the WORLD only behind its neighbor Brazil.
Colombia has six main natural regions: Andean, Caribbean, Pacific, Orinoquia, Amazon, and Insular. You can find everything from tropical rainforests to savannahs to deserts to mountain steppes.
If you’re an adventurer at heart, look no further than a trip to Colombia for your next destination. Backpack from state to state, visit some national parks, and take in alllll the goodness.
We all love visiting new places and doing new things, but at what cost? Colombia is a great place to go if you’re ballin’ on a budget thanks to the low prices of many of the commodities once you arrive in the country. You can easily have an incredible meal or take a taxi or an Uber across the city for less than $5-10.
Currently the exchange rate is $1 USD / 3,225 Colombian pesos (COP) making things even more affordable than usual. Plus Colombia is home to many amazing things such as emerald production, gourmet coffee, leather products, and more. I normally come home with a new piece of jewelry, tons of coffee, a new wallet/purse/belt, and a ton of pictures on my camera roll. Not complaining one bit!
This feels like it goes without saying, but one of the best things about traveling to a new country is interacting with its people. I find that the more I travel, the more I learn from others and the more I realize how small this world can become once you connect with others. Of course, Colombia is home to half of my family and some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever met.
Colombians are proud, kind, hard working people with the best intentions at heart. I’ve never laughed as loud nor danced with as much joy as I have in Colombia. Although the food and the museums and the souvenirs make me happy, the people are the reason I keep returning and are the reason behind why this country always takes my breath away.
So there ya have it! 5 of the many reasons you should add Colombia to your bucket list. For too many people and for too long this country has been overlooked as a travel destination, but that ends with you. Trust me, after your friends see your pictures they will be booking their flights to join you on another trip in no time. Enjoy the tamales and have a shot of aguardiente for me!
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