From riding in the wetlands to a cathedral fashioned entirely of salt, discover the amazing experiences that make Colombia a truly unique destination.
RIDING WITH THE LLANEROS
Discover Colombia’s cowboy culture with the local llaneros. In the lowlands of Los Llanos, where the foothills of the eastern Andes meet tropical plains, a lifestyle steeped in tradition plays out in the same way it has done for hundreds of years. Scattering the sprawling grasslands are historical haciendas where time is structured around the daily rhythm of lassoing, farming, and folk songs by the bonfire. Days are filled with horseback riding and driving cattle over emerald wetlands, the best place to see some of Colombia’s extraordinary wildlife; jaguars stalking capybaras, anteaters rifling through the vegetation and countless bird species including scarlet ibises.
EXPLORE COLOMBIA’S COLOURFUL TOWNS
Two hours east of Medellin lies Guatapé, a cobbled town with abundant charm. Lining its narrow streets are rainbow-hued houses with zócalo murals of sailing boats, gauchos, llamas and trumpets all painted on panels. The gorgeous lake is reason to visit alone, guarded by an inselberg, El Peñón de Guatapé, jutting into the sky. Down in the country’s coffee region, the sleepy town of Salento sits quietly amid the vibrant green surroundings with brightly painted doors and flower-filled terraces fused into the rolling terrain. The streets here are made for strolling and pausing in the plazas for reviving coffee breaks.
A HELI-RIDE OVER THE LOST CITY
Hidden in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ciudad Perdida or The Lost City, was once home to the ancient Tairona civilisation. The remains of this citadel that predates Machu Picchu, are accessed by an arduous hike but forego the steep climb for a helicopter ride and you’ll be rewarded with unrivalled views of its tiered terraces, stone paths, and grassy circular plazas. Undoubtedly one of the best experiences Colombia has to offer, your pilot doubles up as an expert private guide so you can learn about the history while scraping the clouds. The journey itself is quite thrilling, soaring over near impenetrable forest as well as the wild, white-sand beaches of Santa Marta.
DISCOVER A WHITE-SAND PARADISE
High up in the Caribbean coast, steamy rainforest sweeping all the way from the Sierra Nevada mountains appears to tumble into the sea. Fringing the surf, powder-white sand beaches and huge boulders make up a Jurassic-style paradise that still feels largely unspoilt. One such beach is Cabo San Juan, blessed with inviting emerald water perfect for restorative dips. It is also one of the many refuges protected by Tayrona National Park, an area famed for outstanding biodiversity. Unwind on the sand listening to the howler monkeys chatter from the palms while you may spot a glimpse of a blue-tailed skink lizard, retreating to the shade.
EXPLORE THE COCORA VALLEY
One of the best things to do in Columbia is to immerse yourself in the coffee region, an area of great authenticity and natural splendour. The Cocora Valley, a mandatory destination for any nature lover, is simply breath-taking, studded with towering wax palms, the country’s symbolic tree, growing up to 60m high and significantly under national protection. Watch the vivid green landscape unfold as you trundle along on an open-sided Jeep across the rolling fields before they disappear into mist-shrouded heights. Your expert guide will know the most dramatic viewpoints for a picture and the names of the countless bird species that inhabit the area from the yellow-eared parrot to colourful hummingbirds.
STAY IN A COFFEE HACIENDA
Dive into Colombia’s coffee culture by staying in a traditional hacienda. Amid a working cacao plantation, enjoy charming activities of the pastoral kind such as bicycle rides through the tree shaded paths and strolls in the banana fields. This is down-to-earth luxury; cooking lessons alfresco and outings to coffee farms where you can sample a variety of homegrown beans grown in neighbouring fincas only accessed by those staying at the hacienda. For unique perspective, try hot air ballooning over the carpets of vegetation. Or for simpler pleasures, unwind in a hammock with one of the best cups of coffee you may ever taste to the sound of chirping birds.
CARTAGENA’S STREET ART
For something a little different, head to the Getsemani neighbourhood for a tour of its graffiti covered streets. This barrio, once neglected, has propelled itself into up-and-coming status gaining recognition for its colourful murals and now some of Cartagena’s finest restaurants, a testament to the resurgence. Your guide, a local, will show you the various artwork, in particular that of the CapTagEna Collective, a group of artists who started the movement and have continued to the present day. Getsemani hosts its own streets art festival in February drawing a number of artists from all over the world as well as international travellers in-the-know.
VISIT A SUBTERRANEAN SALT CATHEDRAL
A short drive away from Bogota city, 200 metres underground, Zipaquirá’s salt cathedral draws as many as 3,000 worshippers every Sunday in the tunnels of an old salt mine. It took 250,000 tonnes of salt to build this architectural masterpiece initially created to offer miners a place of worship since its inception in 1932. Today the cathedral is celebrated as a feat of remarkable engineering. Among its impressive features are hand carved statues spot lit with coloured lights, marble sculptures and a colossal cross positioned above the main altar. Religious icons adorn the series of subterranean tunnels and chapels in dramatic fashion while above the ‘Salt Park’ complex contains a museum housing interesting artwork and geological displays.