Backpacking alone in Colombia

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Ready for your South American Adventure? Here are the top things to do in Colombia.

 

1. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta, Colombia

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta, Colombia

Tayrona National Park is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Colombia, but for good reason – it is gorgeous! This stunning National Park captures the heart of visitors with its crystal clear blue ocean water, dense green jungle, and easy nature walks that lead to beachside campground.

The closest city to Tayrona National Park is Santa Marta. It is possible to visit Tayrona on a day tour from Santa Marta but this really limits the amount of time you have to spend in the park as the drive is about an hour each way. The best way to experience Tayrona is to spend a night or two at one of the campgrounds or accommodation within the park! You can rent a tent, hammock, or even a cabin and then you have time to really explore the park and sleep under the stars next the Caribbean Sea!

Most people explore Tayrona National Park on foot. From the park entrance (which can be reached with private transport or a public bus from Santa Marta) there is a clearly marked trail. Follow the trail and experience the diversity of the scenery. The trail takes you along sandy beaches, over rocks, and through the jungle. Every five minutes or so the scenery changes and this is what makes this park so special!

The trail passes several different campsites and a variety of accommodation in Tayrona, however the most popular, Cabo San Juan is about a 2 hour walk into the park and features one of the most beautiful beaches. Stop along the trail on your way there at different bays to go swimming or take pictures! Don’t worry if walking isn’t your thing, horses are also available for hire!

2.  Salento Coffeee Region in Eje Cafetero

Salento Coffeee Region In Eje Cafetero

Salento Coffeee Region In Eje Cafetero

Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a coffee lover or a nature explorer, there is definitely something for you in Salento to fall in love with. Salento is a town in Colombia that takes pride in its coffee scene and the mountain views all over the area. With all the natural beauty that Salento has to offer, the town has a natural laid back vibe. With the stretches of grass and lush verdure that occupy big parts of Salento, this is the perfect place for those visiting Colombia to just chill and bask in the beauty of Mother Nature.

Cocora Valley is a popular destination in Salento. It is where the Los Nevados National Natural Park can be found and an abundance of the Quindío wax palm, Colombia’s national tree, can also be seen here. The landscape in Salento is just breathtaking. As part of Eje Cefetero, Colombia’s gorgeous and peaceful coffee region, you shouldn’t miss out on all the coffee plantations in Salento. There are coffee and tea tours you can join to experience the best that Salento has to offer.

Salento is tucked away from the bustling cities of Colombia and is a tranquil and steadfast place unspoilt by the rapid growth and changes in the country.

 

3. Guatape

Guatape, Colombia Sam Ward

Guatape, Colombia Sam Ward

A brilliant inclusion for any South America bucket list is the small Colombian town of Guatape. The town is well known for its vibrant, colourful streets, which make it one of the colourful towns in South America! As it’s just an easy 2-hour bus journey away from Medellin, Guatape shouldn’t be missed off your itinerary of Colombia. The incredible beauty of Guatape is a sight to behold.

You can easily lose track of time whilst wandering the brightly coloured streets, with vivid colours found on buildings seemingly in every direction! It’s hard to decide exactly what to take pictures of, with beauty and vibrancy to be found around every corner! If that isn’t enough to convince you, then thankfully there’s more! One of the main attractions in the area is the towering rock El Peñón de Guatape.

If you’re willing to climb 740 steep stairs, you’ll be afforded with beautiful scenic views of the surrounding area – including the picturesque laguna de Guatape. This man made lagoon is a truly spectacular sight from the top of El Peñón de Guatape, as it carves through and separates much of the landscape. It’s a tough climb to the top, but it’s well worth the effort for that view! A one-way bus fare from Medellin to Guatape is just 13,000 pesos. If you’re planning to climb El Peñón de Guatape, then it’s an extra 18,000 pesos, but wandering the colourful streets of Guatape town itself is completely free! Considering how much beauty you get for your money, Guatape really is a perfect addition for any bucket list of South America.

 

4. Cartagena, Colombia

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Mud pool, natural volcano Cartagena

One of my absolute favorite place in Colombia, Cartagena has many fun things to do.

Have you ever wanted to bask in lukewarm mineral-rich mud and lather yourself to look like a mud warrior, all whilst getting massaged inside of a dormant volcano? Well, you can! El Volcan de Lodo el Totumo is a bizarre “supposed” natural volcano filled with mineral-rich mud, located in the middle of nowhere in between Cartagena and Santa Marta. The jury is still out if this is truly a naturally volcano or a mad-made tourist attraction, but real or not, this strange experience was one of the highlights of our travels through South America! The mud inside the volcano has a surprisingly viscous consistency with clumps of mud and sticks.

We were told by the locals that the bottom is two kilometers deep! Curious tourists are dropped off by the bus loads all day, nearly every half hour, so do expect it to be crowded. This is by no means, a glamorous spot. I recommend to be prepared with cash to tip the following people:

1) Parking attendant (if you come in a rental car)

2) A photo/escort person – they guard your belongings and take photos of you Even if you don’t want this, you’ll be glad to have some photos of you inside the volcano!

3) Massage person

4) Ladies who wash you off in the lake. (Otherwise, they won’t let you enter the lake by yourself.)

Our total experience was around one hour from start to finish. We drove our own vehicle, so we got really lucky in that we were the only two people there before another bus of tourists was dropped off and we had to share the volcano. Only a handful of people fit at once, so you have to wait your turn. If you ever find yourself in Cartagena or Santa Marta, Colombia, this is a must for an easy day trip!

 

5. Exploring Medellin

Medellin, Colombia

Medellin, Colombia

One place you should certainly add on your bucket list is Medellin in Colombia! The most exciting part about Medellin is its rapid change in the last years. In the past, the city was known as one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the world (thanks to Pablo Escobar) and a big no-go zone for tourists. However, after the end of the infamous Medellin cartel the city rapidly transformed.

The government put a lot of money and effort into Medellin and nowadays, the city is probably one of the most innovative and progressive places in South America! Especially the “Comunas” (neighborhoods) outside of the city centre located in the hills of Medellin were extremely poor and completely disconnected from the city just years ago.

But these times are gone. Recently, the metrocable lines opened – gondolas connecting the Comunas with the city centre as part of Medellin’s public transport system! It’s great to see the transformation of Medellin and the positive and innovative vibe is visible all around the city. I can highly recommend joining the popular free walking tour in order to learn more about Medellin’s history. Besides that, Medellin is also a great base for day trips – for example to the colourful city of Guatapé just outside of town.

 

6. Monserrate Mountain

Monserrate Mountain

Monserrate Mountain

No visit to the capital of Colombia would be complete without hiking or taking the funicular up to the top of Mount Monserrate. The panoramic views of Bogota are seriously jaw-dropping, and there’s no better place to watch the sunset in the whole city. While the views are reason enough to make the quick trip up there, it’s also filled with loads of delicious food stalls, souvenir shops, and beautiful churches and trails to explore. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Bogota, and is guaranteed to be a highlight of your time in the country.

 

 


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