Some corners of Colombia have already been developed for tourism, in other parts tourism is still in its infancy. The South American country is an absolute dream destination for adventurous backpackers. In this article, blogger Nina shows her backpacking highlights and 9 places in Colombia that you shouldn’t miss: from classic sights and backpacker destinations like Bogotá, Medellin and Cartagena to real insider tips like the small island of Providencia, which is considered one of the most beautiful diving areas in Colombia Colombia applies.

Just a few years ago, people talked about Colombia mainly in connection with violence, civil war, guerrilla troops and drug trafficking. Only a few tourists got lost in the South American country. However, since the breakup of the major drug cartels and peace with the FARC, things have changed and Colombia is now one of the most popular travel destinations in South America. It’s no surprise that the country offers a multifaceted mix of beautiful islands and beaches on the Caribbean coast, enchanting colonial cities, jungle adventures in the Amazon, the coffee triangle, but also modern metropolises like Medellin and Bogotá.

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1. Highlight of Colombia: Bogotá – the vibrant capital

Bogotá is the perfect place to arrive. The city of 7 million in the Andes is often overshadowed by Medellin. Wrongly so in my opinion. Bogotá is rich in cultural sights and history, fantastic restaurants and barrios that couldn’t be more different.

The capital offers a variety of museums. You should not miss a visit to the Museo del Oro . The Gold Museum is one of the best known of its kind in South America. The Botero Museum, which is dedicated to the country’s most famous artist and his chubby ladies, is also worth a visit.

If you are in La Candelaria, the historic city center, anyway, you can then stroll across the Plaza Bolivar with the statue of Simón Bolivar, the Palace of Justice and the Catedral Primada. Then it’s just a matter of drifting through the alleys of the old town. Beautiful colonial buildings, small churches, pretty cafés and restaurants and, above all, a lot of street art are hidden behind every street corner. You can find out more about the graffiti and the history of the city on the free Bogotá Graffiti Tour . The cable car then takes you up to the top of Monserrate. The air gets thinner at 10,000 feet, but the view is spectacular.

My insider tip for foodies: Take a food tour with The True Colombian Experience and immerse yourself in the world of Colombian delights with the enchanting Yuly.

Numerous bus companies run daily from Bogotà  to Cartagena .  The journey takes around 22 hours. Tickets are available from 90,000 COP (approx. €24). Avianca and Viva Air offer flights to Cartagena several times a day. The flight takes just 1.5 hours and is also available from 90,000 COP (approx. €24).

Restaurant and accommodation tips for Bogotá

  • Restaurant Quinua y Amaranto:  The small vegetarian restaurant serves a very cheap and tasty daily menu and delicious healthy smoothies every lunchtime.
    Address: Calle 11 ##2-95, Bogota
  • Accommodation: The huge wooden beds in Arche Noah Boutique Hostel are super comfortable and you don’t want to get up at all. If only there wasn’t so much to explore in Bogotá. In addition to the beds, the boutique hostel in La Candelaria scores with its central location, a delicious breakfast and an in-house sauna.
View of the city from above

Bogotá lies at your feet on the Monserrate.

Graffiti wall with faces on it.

On the Bogotá Graffiti Tour you will learn a lot about the indigenous peoples of Colombia.

2. Highlight: Cartagena de Indias – the Heroic

From Bogotá we continue to Cartagena de Indias, the “Pearl of the Caribbean”. The city on the Caribbean coast is one of the most popular travel destinations in the country, as it is considered the most beautiful colonial city in South America.

A touch of Caribbean feeling blows through the colorful, picturesque old town, which is a little reminiscent of Havana. The best thing to do is simply drift through the labyrinth of streets and enjoy the incomparable charm of the “walled city”. Worth seeing are both the Plaza Bolivar and the Plaza San Diego, which attracts with numerous restaurants, especially in the evening. Foodie hearts beat faster at the Portal de los Dulces in the colonnades of the Puerte del Reloj. Delicious local sweets are now sold where the slave market was once located.

Sights are outside the Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alexandria, as well as the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.

A visit to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas , the largest fortress ever built by the Spaniards outside of Spain, is also part of a trip to Cartagena. The view of the city from the fortress alone is reason enough to visit. Also outside the city walls is the hipster district of Getsemani, which is still mostly ignored by tourists. Musicians, street art and street food characterize the streetscape of the quarter and night is turned into day here in the bars.

Umbrellas suspended from fairy lights.

The streets of Cartagena are enchanting.

An old church surrounded by a wall.

The Iglesia de San Pedro Claver was named after the monk Pedro Claver, who once made it his mission to fight for the rights of the black population.

Day trips from Cartagena to Isla Grande  are best booked in Cartagena at the accommodation. If you book a hostel on the island, you can book the transfer directly. The speedboats to the Isla Grande depart from the Muelle de la Bodeguita in the morning between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.
By bus from Cartagena to Santa  Marta : Marsol runs several times a day with comfortable minibuses from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The journey takes around 3.5 hours and costs around 40,000 COP (approx. 10 €).

Restaurant and accommodation tips for Cartagena

  • Cuba 1940: Cuban classics like ropa vieja and yuca con mojo are on the menu. The cocktails are a dream and you can drink them wonderfully relaxed with your feet dangling in the restaurant’s own pool.
    Address: Plaza San Diego Calle Stuart No. 7 – 46, Cartagena
  • Restaurante Espiritu Santo: Here you eat lunch like the locals, you won’t find any tourists. Try the mote de queso, Cartagena’s signature cheese soup, served with patacones (fried plantains) and rice.
    Address: Calle 35 ##6-69, Cartagena
  • Restaurante Celele by Proyecto Caribe Lab : Contemporary Colombian and Caribbean cuisine. A bit of fusion, but no shishi.
    Calle del Espíritu Santo, Cra. 10c ##29-200, Cartagena
  • Accommodation: After a day in lively Cartagena, you can relax in the patio of the Maloka Boutique Hostel  . The dorms and double rooms are simple but clean, the à la carte breakfast is very tasty and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful.

3. Highlight: Isla Grande – the “secret” island in the Caribbean Sea

There are some beaches to relax in Cartagena, but you won’t find picture-perfect Caribbean beaches there. On the other hand, on the 28 islands of the Islas del Rosario archipelago, around 40 kilometers from Cartagena, it is. Numerous companies offer day trips from Cartagena that include snorkeling and sunbathing.

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Cartagena and really want to get to know the islands, you should stay a few days. A few day trippers can be found, for example, on Isla Grande, Pablo Escobar’s forgotten island, and the newly renovated Secreto Barefoot Luxury Hostelis still considered a real insider tip among backpackers. The hostel is tucked away among the mangroves on a small private beach. The Doms are spread across seven houses, which were once the luxury summer villas of local Emerald Barons. Here you can simply hang out by the pool, enjoy delicious food and indulge in sweet idleness. If you need more action, visit the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s villa, explore the colorful coral reef on a snorkeling trip or paddle a kayak through the lagoons and mangrove swamps at sunset. My highlight, however, was a nighttime trip to the Enchanted Lagoon. If you jump into the water, it starts to glitter and sparkle around you – as if you were surrounded by fairy dust. Of course it’s not fairy dust, but fluorescent plankton,

My tip: Plan a weekend on the Isla Grande. On Friday evenings, the island’s only village, Orika, comes alive. Then locals and tourists meet in the community center and in some small bars to dance and celebrate.

Click here for more tips for Isla Grande, Colombia’s secret island paradise .

A woman sitting on a jetty.

A relaxing afternoon at Playa Libre.

A yellow house with a large balcony.

Be guests in the former luxury summer villas of local emerald barons.

4. Highlight: Santa Marta & Taganga – Insider tip for nature lovers

After an adventurous boat ride back to Cartagena, we continue by bus to Santa Marta. The city is framed by the highest coastal mountains in the world right by the sea, but it doesn’t have many sights to offer. But it’s a nice city to party, the nightlife in the bars around the Parque De Los Novios square is legendary. Otherwise, Santa Marta serves primarily as a starting point for trips to Minca, Barranquilla, the Tayrona National Park or Palomino. The region is the premier destination for nature lovers in Colombia.

Santa Marta is no longer an insider tip among divers, because just outside the city you can immerse yourself in the fantastic underwater world of Colombia. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Santa Marta and love the underwater world, I suggest accommodation in the neighboring town of Taganga. With Ocean Lovers Taganga there is one of the best diving schools I know. For me, the dives with Lisi and her crew are among the most magical, unforgettable moments of my trip to Colombia. The small hippie fishing village itself also offers a beautiful beach and numerous nice restaurants, such as Pachamama .

Restaurant and accommodation tips for Santa Marta & Taganga

  • Restaurante Pachamama: The Pachamama in the heart of Taganga serves delicious Colombian and French specialties in the cozy patio. Highly recommend the homemade ravioli with spinach, ricotta and pecans.
    Address: Calle 16 #1C-18, Santa Marta, Taganga, Santa Marta
  • Accommodation: The Hostal Casa Avelina   in Santa Marta offers chic double rooms, a certain degree of privacy in the beautiful, bright dorms thanks to curtains on the beds and scores with a small pool. In addition, excellent breakfasts and dinners are served here for little money.
Pelicans walking along the beach.

Pelicans on Taganga Beach.

Day trips from  Cartagena to Isla Grande  are best booked in Cartagena at the accommodation. If you book a hostel on the island, you can book the transfer directly. The speedboats to the Isla Grande depart from the Muelle de la Bodeguita in the morning between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.
By bus from Cartagena to Santa  Marta :  Marsol runs several times a day with comfortable minibuses from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The journey takes around 3.5 hours and costs around 40,000 COP (approx. 10 €).

The routes Santa Marta – Tayrona (1.5 hours) and  Santa Marta – Palomino (2-3 hours)  can be easily covered by public bus. The rides cost between 8,000 and 10,000 COP (about €2 – €2.50). Buses to Palomino leave every 20 minutes from the Mercado in Santa Marta. To get to Tayrona Park, get off at the main entrance, El Zaino. From the Carrera Quinta in Santa Marta, the blue buses run every 15 minutes to Taganga. There is also a boat connection from the port in Taganga to Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park. The journey takes around 40 minutes and costs COP 110,000 (approx. €30) return.

Avianca, Latam and Viva Air fly  from Santa Marta  to San Andres from 170,000 COP (about €45)  From San Andres, Searca  takes you  to Providencia  in around 20 minutes from COP 240,000 (approx. €65)  . At around 230,000 COP (60 €), traveling by catamaran ferry from San Andres is hardly cheaper, but far less comfortable. The journey takes 3-4 hours and the crossing is not for the faint of heart. Seasickness pills and puke bags aren’t handed out before departure for no reason.

5. Highlight: Tayrona National Park – pure nature

Just a few kilometers east of Taganga begins the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona , which runs for around 35 kilometers between the coast and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Shielded from civilization by the jungle, the park has some of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia. You cannot get lost, there is only one way from the main entrance. Cute little monkeys accompany you through the tropical rainforest, past giant cacti and coconut palms. You can cool off wonderfully for the first time on Arrecifes beach, the sea is calmer at La Piscina, like in a swimming pool. After another kilometer you reach Cabo San Juan, certainly the most beautiful beach in the park. After a dip in the cool water and a refreshment in the small beach restaurant, you can return the same way. Alternatively, you can set up camp at the campsite. So you can enjoy the beach all to yourself in the evening, without the day tourists, and the next morning you can hike on to Pueblito Chairama, a ruined city of the Tayrona Indians who once lived here.

A woman sitting on a rock with the sea in the background.

Paradisiacal beaches in the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona.

6. Highlight: Palomino – hippie flair and secluded beaches

The small hippie village of Palomino is also a real highlight. It can be explored on a day trip from Santa Marta. The place hasn’t been an insider tip for a very long time. But away from the backpacker mile and the main beach in the west, there are still lonely beaches with a view of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and enchanting small accommodations in the east.

If you don’t just want to laze on the beach, you can float in a tire on the Rio Palomino from the Sierra Nevada to the estuary by the sea or go on wonderful hikes in the Sierra Nevada National Park .

Palm trees close to the water.

It is idyllic on the Rio Palomino.

Palm trees on a beach.

In Palomino they still exist, the lonely beaches.

7. Highlight: Providencia – Love, Peace & Good Vibrations

The Isla de Providencia is located 90 km off the coast of Nicaragua, around 800 km from the Colombian mainland and is still an absolute insider tip – especially among divers. Only a few tourists find their way to the remote island, because getting there is a little complicated and not exactly cheap.

Providencia has little to do with Colombia. English and Creole are spoken here. The island is characterized by the Caribbean influences of the African-born Raizales. Arrived on Providencia Love, Peace & Good Vibrations await you. The clocks tick more slowly here, the Rastafari knows no stress!

Scuba diving and beach hopping are the best ways to spend time on Providencia. The most beautiful beaches on the island include South West Bay and Manchineel Bay. But Manchineel Bay isn’t just a bounty-style beach. Rastafari Roland, a living island legend, also has his reggae bar here. Bob Marley roars from the speakers, it smells of ganja and the Coco Loco, the house special drink, tastes wonderful lying in one of the hammocks.

If you haven’t been to Roland, you haven’t been to Providencia. If you haven’t visited the stone island of Crab Cay, you haven’t either. You should also plan time for the hike up El Pico and cross the floating love bridge at least once to explore the picturesque island of Santa Catalina and taste Camarones en Salsa de Coco at Big Mama Sweet Taste . I’ll tell you a poem!

Restaurant and accommodation tips for Providencia

  • Restaurant El Divino Niño: The restaurant in the South West Bay is an institution on the island and the mixed fish platter is an absolute dream. Serve with a delicious fruit shake or a Club Colombia.
  • Café Studio: Here you will find the best cakes and the best coffee on the island. Be sure to try the Coco Pie!
  • Accommodation: You can relax in the hammocks on the terrace of Posada Halley View . In addition, the air-conditioned rooms are spotlessly clean and the charming owner, Taryn, serves a delicious breakfast every morning.
A horse running on the beach.

Saturday afternoons gather in the South West Bay for bareback horse racing.

A boat lying in the sea and a big shell lying on the beach during sunset.

The sunrises on Providencia are magical.

8. Highlight of Colombia: Medellin – the city of eternal spring

Medellin was once the most notorious and dangerous city in the world because drug lord Pablo Escobar ruled here. Today, Medellin is one of the most innovative and safest cities in South America. The city in the Aburra Valley between the hills of the Andes is a wonderful place to explore on modern bike paths and by subway. Many of Medellin’s sights, such as Plaza Botero, the Catedral Metropolitana and the Museo Casa de la Memoria are located in the Centro and can be visited in one day.

Take the time to tour Comuna 13 , once the city’s most dangerous neighborhood with the highest murder rate in the world. Not so long ago, the drug cartels ruled here and a merciless gang war raged. Today, the longest open-air escalator in the world carries you up the steep slopes of the Andes and you often don’t even know where to look first. Almost every house is adorned with unspeakably beautiful murals and graffiti. The streets of Comuna 13 are colorful, reggaeton and hip hop blare from the loudspeakers, break dancers show their skills on the street and you can feel that there is joie de vivre here again today.

Afterwards you can relax in the Parque Arví . The gondola takes you high up into the nature reserve in the middle of the Andes. When you get to the top, you get a real sense of the scale and beauty of this city. Colombians say you haven’t seen Medellin unless you’ve been to the mountains at least once.

You haven’t seen Medellin if you haven’t been to the mountains at least once.

From Medellin to Guatapé : I can recommend a day tour with the provider  VAN por Colombia . Alternatively, Guatape can also be reached by public bus. From Terminal del Norte in Medellin there are buses to Guatapé every 30 minutes. The journey takes around 2 hours and costs around 15,000 COP (4 €).

Restaurant and accommodation tips for Medellin

  • Gautama: Deliciously healthy vegan and vegetarian dishes paired with delicious fresh smoothies and sodas. The breakfast is also highly recommended, both the pancakes and the acai bowl are fantastic. Address: Calle 8 ##43b-34, Medellin
  • Pizzeria Olivia Manila: Unusual pizza and pasta creations in a stylish ambience. We recommend the pizza with pesto, buffalo mozzarella, falafel, brown onions, tomato confit and grilled vegetables. Address: Cra. 43e ##11a31, Medellin
  • Accommodation: The Sugar Cane Hostel in El Poblado scores with a fantastic roof terrace with an open kitchen and hammocks and very helpful staff. The tours offered in the hostel are very good and cheap.
A woman standing in front of a wall on which a head is marked.

Violence once reigned in Comuna 13 – today it is art.

A black and white brick house.

Der Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe Uribe auf der Plaza Botero.

Colorful houses on a mountain.

View of Comuna 13 – the city’s former no-go area.

9. Highlight: Guatapé & El Peñon – auf nach „El Mar“

Just two hours east of Medellin, Guatapé is one of the most popular destinations for the Paisas (that’s what the people of the Antioquia department are called). The enchanting small town of Guatapé is considered the most colorful city in Colombia and delights visitors with its colonial houses, whose zócalos (house bases) are decorated with relief art. The Zócalos tell stories from everyday life in the region, provide information about the occupations of the residents or about their hobbies and interests.

After a walk through the labyrinth of small streets, it is then time to climb El Peñón, the Rock of Guatapé. The monolith adorns the front pages of countless travel guides. After 649 steps at the top you know why: The view of the Peñol-Guatapé reservoir below and the entire region is simply breathtaking, especially at sunset.

An alley with colorful houses in which people walk.

Guatapé – the most colorful city in Colombia.

View of the lake from above.

“El Mar” – the Peñol-Guatapé reservoir is one of the largest and most important electricity suppliers in Colombia and a popular local recreation area.

The rock of Guatapé adorns countless front pages of relevant travel guides

General information and tips about Colombia

  • How much time do I have to plan for the route? You should plan at least 3 weeks for the route I have described.
  • When is the best time to visit Colombia? There is no one perfect travel time for Colombia, as there are different weather conditions depending on the region. Basically you can say there are only two seasons: summer and winter, as well as a dry and rainy season. This also varies in time depending on the region and it never rains all day. Therefore, you can basically travel to Colombia all year round. Pack warm clothes for Bogotà, Medellin and the mountains.
  • Is Colombia a safe country to travel to?Colombia still has a bad image when it comes to crime and the security situation. It is true that there are still some areas in Colombia that are better avoided. Tourists don’t usually end up in these areas anyway. Personally, I can say that there wasn’t a single moment on my journey where I felt uncomfortable or even scared. On the contrary: I have rarely met such warm, open and helpful people as in Colombia. Still, just exercise a healthy level of caution and don’t display jewelry, in some places it’s better to leave your expensive camera in your pocket, don’t leave open drinks in bars, keep an eye on your luggage at the airport and take a taxi at night than walking down dark alleys.

Here you will find all the highlights directly on the map – so nothing stands in the way of your backpacking trip!


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