Colombia is a land of diverse landscapes, vibrant cultures and warm hospitality where travelers can discover a mix of natural beauty and urban dynamism that will entertain and inspire.
From coffee plantations to the country’s national parks and the stunning cities of Bogotá & Medellín, Colombia is an unforgettable journey.
If you’re backpacking or traveling to Colombia, you may feel overwhelmed by the amazing things to see and do. If your time is limited, what activities should you prioritize to truly experience this South American nation?
Start building your ideal itinerary with our list of the eight best things to do in Colombia. There are cities to discover, forests to explore and Caribbean beaches offering a relaxing escape from it all!
What is Colombia Known For?
Colombia, also called the Gateway to South America, the Land of Eternal Spring and the Land of Coffee, is famed for its rich cultural heritage.
Port cities like Cartagena boast stunning colonial architecture and Bogotá, the capital and Colombia’s largest city, is a hub of contemporary art and culture.
The country also features breathtaking natural beauty from the lush Amazon rainforest to the serene beaches of the Caribbean coast. When figuring out what to do in Colombia, the Andes Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for outdoor adventures and the coffee region offers world-famous & delicious brews to try.
Colombia is also known for its amazing food & nightlife scenes with cuisine and culture blended from indigenous, Spanish and African influences.
Street food like arepas & empanadas and sophisticated fusion dishes in Medellín are can’t-miss delights, while music and dance, from the lively Cartagena nightlife to dance styles like cumbia and vallenato that are popular in Cali, the “salsa capital of the world,” compose the heartbeat of Colombian culture.
With so much to see and do, Colombia promises unforgettable memories for travelers looking to explore its cultural riches, natural wonders and lively urban centers.
So if you want to experience the best of this Latin American country, let’s check out the top things to do in Colombia to check off your bucket list while backpacking, hosteling or traveling with friends!
The 8 Best Things to Do in Colombia While Traveling
1. Visit the Gold Museum in Bogotá
In the heart of Bogotá, a city brimming with vibrant culture and history, the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) stands out as a must-visit destination that features the largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts in the world. More than just a display of precious metals, it's a gateway into the rich and intricate history of Colombia's indigenous cultures.
With over 34,000 gold pieces and 20,000 other artifacts, the Gold Museum provides an unparalleled glimpse into the craftsmanship, symbolism and spirituality of pre-Hispanic societies.
After delving into this golden history, you can continue exploring Bogotá's charm by wandering through the cobblestone streets of La Candelaria, the city's historic district with colorful buildings and beautiful street art, before heading over to the Zona T, where the city's vibrant nightlife comes alive.
2. Explore the Historic Streets of Cartagena
Stepping into the Old Town of Cartagena is like walking through a vivid painting, where every street and corner tells a story. This UNESCO World Heritage site, encircled by ancient walls, is a treasure trove of history and culture.
Feel captivated by the kaleidoscope of colors that define Cartagena's colonial architecture as you wander through the labyrinth of cobbled streets. Balconies adorned with blossoming bougainvillea, pastel-colored buildings and ornately carved wooden doors create mesmerizing backdrops.
Of the many things to do in Cartagena, shopping for souvenirs exploring the neighborhoods while walking the city’s streets and the city's vibrant atmosphere is further enriched by the warm, inviting nature of its people.
3. Enjoy the Nightlife in Medellín
Medellín is a vibrant, modern metropolis that comes to life at night, making it a favorite among digital nomads and expats.
Medellín stands out in Colombia nightlife for its pulsating mix of salsa clubs, trendy bars and lively music venues. Areas like El Poblado and Laureles are hotspots where locals and travelers alike enjoy the energetic ambiance and dance the night away.
Medellín's appeal also extends beyond its nightlife. By day, things to do in Medellin include the innovative Museum of Modern Art, the Botanical Gardens or riding the Metrocable for stunning views of the city and surrounding valleys.
4. Discover the Coffee Triangle
Nestled in the heart of Colombia, the Coffee Triangle, encompassing parts of Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda, is an immersive experience where the aroma of coffee beautifully lingers in the air.
When visiting the plantations, you can take a Colombian coffee tour to witness the journey of the coffee bean, from its humble beginnings as a cherry to the rich brew in your cup. Local farmers, with their expertise and passion, guide you through the intricate process of cultivation, harvesting and roasting.
The Coffee Triangle is also a feast for the senses. Landscapes with rolling hills and lush valleys provide stunning backdrops while quaint towns like Salento offer colorful architecture and vibrant local markets.
5. Trek Colombia’s “Lost City”: Ciudad Perdida
Embark on a lifetime adventure as you discover Colombia’s “Lost City,” Ciudad Perdida, nestled in the dense jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This arduous but rewarding journey is a passage through time, leading to an ancient city that predates Machu Picchu.
One of the best hikes in Colombia, the trek, typically spanning four to six days, takes you through challenging yet breathtaking landscapes. You'll navigate through steep slopes, cross rivers and lush rainforests.
Plan your “Lost City” trip by researching hiking apps to help you reach Ciudad Perdida, where the sight of the terraced ruins that date back to around 800 CE is awe-inspiring. The city, rediscovered in the 1970s, offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the ancient Tayrona people who built it.
6. Relax on the Beaches of San Andrés and Providencia
Imagine a place where the worries of the world melt away to the gentle sound of waves of the Caribbean sun. This is what awaits you on the idyllic islands of San Andrés and Providencia.
Renowned for their stunning beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters, these Colombian islands together form an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea closer to Nicaragua off the Colombian mainland’s northwestern coast.
In San Andrés, you can lounge on the soft white sands of Playa de Spratt Bight or explore the vibrant underwater world with a snorkeling trip to Johnny Cay. Providencia, less commercialized but equally as enchanting, offers secluded beaches like Manzanillo Beach, where the rhythm of the waves and the rustling of palm trees create a serene soundtrack for relaxing.
These islands are not just about sunbathing and water sports; they offer a rich blend of music, cuisine and the warmth of the locals. You can savor fresh seafood, dance to the beat of reggae or live the digital nomad lifestyle working off a beach!
The fastest and cheapest way to travel to San Andrés is via a short flight from the Colombian mainland, and getting to Providencia is only possible by flying or booking a sailboat charter from San Andrés. But the tropical beaches are definitely worth the journeys!
7. Dance Salsa in Cali
In Cali, life is set to the beat of salsa music. This vibrant Colombian city offers unparalleled salsa experiences, where the dance is not just a pastime but a celebration of culture and expression.
From the energetic nightclubs in the Granada district to the laid-back salsa bars in San Antonio, Cali pulses with a rhythm that invites everyone to dance. Whether you're a seasoned dancer or a beginner, the dance schools teach everyone the authentic Cali-style salsa.
Cali is known as the world's "salsa capital" because of its rich history of street parties & dancing and the Cali Festival (Feria de Cali), Cali’s most popular annual outdoor event every December famous for its salsa marathon.
8. Attend the Barranquilla Carnival
If you are visiting at the right time of year, usually February to coincide with Ash Wednesday, then you must attend the Barranquilla Carnival, recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Known as one of the largest carnivals in the world, it's a spectacle of color, music, dance and joy, attracting thousands of visitors from around the globe.
As the rhythms of cumbia, mapalé and vallenato fill the air, the city transforms into an open-air stage. Dancers in elaborate costumes and vibrant masks parade through the streets, their energy and smiles as infectious as the music.
Embrace the Wonders of Colombia on Your Next Adventure
Colombia is a country that offers unique experiences for every kind of traveler. From the coffee-scented hills of the Coffee Triangle to the vibrant culture of Medellín, Colombia is a mosaic of diverse attractions.
Whether you choose to immerse yourself in the local culture by salsa dancing in Cali, trek to the mystical Ciudad Perdida or simply unwind on the beaches of San Andrés, each experience will leave you with unforgettable memories.
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