Bogotá & surroundings
Bogota is the capital of Colombia. With estimations between 7 to 10 million habitants, it is a city which leaves a big impression. The crowd of people in the commercial center, the noise, the enormous variety in architecture with colonial and futuristic buildings next to each other, the modern and rich north and the poor neighborhoods in the south, the chaotic traffic with smog spitting busses, the new modern transport system Transmilenio and donkey cars, the huge shopping malls and the many street vendors, the many churches, museums, city squares and other places of interest, it’s a city to love or hate. As almost all international flights arrive here it will be hard to miss it and to be honest, you shouldn’t miss is either. Bogota as a city has a lot to offer and for those who don´t like the city there is enough to do and see in the surroundings.
The city is situated at an altitude of 2600m and for that reason people can feel affected by this altitude. Therefore it is a good idea to slow down the first days and to drink enough water. From the capital you can make several walks in the nearby mountains (paramos) which are all around Bogotá. The paramos of Guatavita, Chingaza, Mataredonda and Sumapaz are just a few of the places suitable for walking and trekking. And if you prefer warmer climate you can go to the south (Melgar and Giradot) or to the West (La Vega and Villeta) of Bogotá. Little villages at 2 hours or less driving from the capital and regularly visited in the weekends and holidays by Rolos (people from Bogotá)
Places of interest in Bogota:
La Candelaria: colonial center of Bogotá and the oldest neighborhood of the city.
Plaza Bolivar: the main square of Bogotá with the Cathedral la Primada, the Justice Palace and Casa Nariño (governments building).
Museo de Oro: the Gold Museum displaces an enormous quantity of the Colombian historic gold remains and is probably the most important museum of its kind in the world.
Museo Nacional: the National Museum offers a big variety in exhibitions from history of Colombia to the art of Colombia nowadays.
Donación Botero: museum with the work, paintings and sculptures, of Botero completed with the art work of many other (famous) artists. Next to it you can find an interesting coin collection museum.
Iglesia de Santa Clara: colonial church with walls entirely covered with paintings.
Iglesia de San Ignacio: one of the most rich embellished churches in the country.
Cerro de Monserrate: known for the superb view over the city and the famous church which has become a Mecca for pilgrims. Popular on Sundays
Quinta Bolivar: on the foot of Cerro de Monserrate you can find the house which Simon Bolivar used as a retreat on various occasions. Nowadays it is a museum.
Guadalupe: another holy lookout point opposite of Monserrate
Vía a la Calera: road leading from Bogotá to the village of Calera on which you can find several bars and restaurants with an amazing view over the city.
Jardin Botánico José Celestino Mutis: botanical gardens characterized by the diversity of the national flora.
La Zona Rosa en Parque 93: the modern center in the north of Bogotá where you find the more expensive shopping malls, restaurants, pubs and clubs
Usaquen: colonial neighborhood in the north of Bogotá which used to be a town by itself before it was taken in by the growing city of Bogotá. On Sundays you can find here several flea markets which are worth a visit.
Places of interest outisde Bogota
In the south of Bogotá, just outside Soacha, you can find the Natural Park Chicaque, a beautiful cloud forest. The entrance is at about an altitude of 2650m from where you can walk down to about 2000m. The typical flora and fauna (mainly birds) in this cloud forest, the walking paths and several waterfalls makes this park a good reason for a visit to escape the busy city life. The park can be easily visited on a day tour or if desired you can also spend the night in the park (cabin or camping).Paramo’s Chingaza, Mataredonda & Sumapaz
Each paramo can be visited on a day tour from Bogotá and all mountain areas are ideal to get away from the city, breath some fresh air and to enjoy an ecological walk or trekking. The paramos around Bogota have a lot to offer such as beautiful views, lakes and the typical flora and fauna of the Paramo with the typical Frailejon plants. Chingaza can be found in the north, Mataredonda in the east and Sumapaz, the biggest paramo of the world, can be found south of Bogotá.
In the north of Bogotá you can visit one of the most important sacred lakes of the Muisca culture. History says that the Muisca Indians used this lake for worshipping their gods and offered a lot of golden treasures during the sacred ceremonies of their culture. You can visit the lake and make a guided walk with very interesting stories. Also the little village of Guatavita is worth a visit and both can be done in a day tour from Bogota.
Zipaquira & Nemocon
The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira is probably the most unusual and impressive place for worship you can find in the world. It is built in an existing salt mine (from1991-1996). The Muisca Indians used the same place to get salt and trade the salt for gold. The Cathedral is situated 120m below the top of the mountain and has a surface of 2440m². Despite the big amount of visitors every day the salt mine is still active and produces about 750 ton salt per day.
Maybe even more special than the salt mines of Zipaquira are the salt mines of Nemocon about 20 minutes further north. These salt mines are less known and visited by tourists but kept more in their original state then the ones in Zipaquira. Besides the mines both little villages of Zipaquirá and Nemocon are worth visiting.
At about one and a half to two hours drive west from Bogotá you will reach the town of Tobia, a perfect place for outdoor activities. Walking, biking and horseback riding is possible but most people visit Tobia for the Wild Water Rafting on the Rio Negro. A new activity is Rappel, comparable with Cannoning whereby you have to descend waterfalls with different heights (up to 70m high) with a harness and rope. The surroundings of Tobia are ideal for camping and the climate is hot.
For everybody who likes rock climbing and doesn´t want to go as far as the mountains of Cocuy or los Nevados, Suesca is a good alternative. It’s a small village at about one and a half hours distance north of Bogotá. Besides rock climbing for professionals it is also possible to do a course for starters. The surroundings are ideal for walking, biking or horseback riding and camping.
Melgar and Girardot
Two little villages at about two hours driving southeast of Bogotá. Melgar has the biggest density of swimming pools per m² in Colombia and besides that it’s famous for its rumbas (parties during the weekends). Girardot lies on the riverbank of the Magdalena River and is another popular weekend destination. During weekends and holidays the villages are full with Rolos who are looking for some warm climate and good parties. Other weekend destinations in this area are Anapoima, la Mesa y Mesitas del Colegio
Boyaca & Santander
Villa de leyva
At about 45 minutes of the capital of the department of Boyaca, Tunja, lies the colonial village Villa de Leyva. The main square paved with massive cobblestones, Plaza Mayor, is one of the largest main squares in Latin America and combined with the white painted colonial houses and buildings and the superb scenery in the surroundings this town makes it ideal place to relax for a few days or do some activities in the surroundings. The SFF Iguaque is perfect for some hiking in the paramo, close by Villa de Leyva there are several waterfalls to visit, horse riding or visiting the archeological sites and the fosil museum are just some of these activities. From Villa de Leyva it is easy to visit the nearby town Raquira, famous for its (art) souvenirs.
Paipa, Monguí & Laguna Tota
Paipa is a small village between the cities of Tunja and Duitama. Not really special unless you are interested in the hot springs and the Spa´s where you can relax and take some beauty treatments. From Duitama it is a short trip to Laguna de Tota. The biggest lake of Boyaca is surrounded by onion fields. The lake is ideal for swimming and you can practice waterski at Playa Blanca. Another village close by is Monguí, a very beautiful colonial town famous for the making of footballs and the starting point for visiting the paramo de Ocetá.
Further north is San Gil, a 300 year old village on the banks of Rio Foncé. One of the touristic highlight is Parque El Gallineral, a nature park with a huge amount of flora (trees covered with moss that is hanging from the branches to the ground). But the biggest touristic highlights in San Gil are the outdoor activities. There is a lot to do for both people looking for adventure and adrenaline as well for people looking for nature and outdoor activities with a little less action. Just to name a few of the possibilities:
Wild Water rafting & kayak
There are 3 rivers which are used for rafting. San Gil itself is located on the river bank of the Fonce River. This is a river with water rapids till grade 3 and can be done by anyone without experience. Other river is the River Suarez with grades 4 up to 5 in the rain season. This river is for the ones with experience. Other river used for Rafting is the Chicamocha river with grades up to 3 and this river is used mostly for several day rafting trips. For kayak they the same rivers are used and in San Gil it’s possible to do a curse.
You can find many caves in the surroundings of San Gil and many of them are open for tourists.
Activity whereby you have to decent a mountain wall or a waterfall with a rope and harness. A nice place for doing this is Juan Curi, a waterfall with different levels (one of them more then 40m).
Spectacular activity whereby you fly through the air.They offer parasailing close by San Gil or in the Chicamocha cannon with a decent of more than 1000m. You fly with an instructor but you can also do a curse to learn to fly by yourself.
Hiking and biking
The surroundings of San Gil and the nearby little village are ideal for hiking and biking. There are several routes and mountain bikes can be hired in the village.
Barichara & Guane
In the surroundings of San Gil you can find a lot of little colonial towns. Maybe the most beautiful one is Barichara. At least it’s called the most beautiful colonial town of Colombia by Colombians. Wondering the streets it is as if you go back in time. From Barichara you can make a walk over a ‘Camino Real’ to another little village called Guane. They call it the town where time stood still and visiting this little town you will know why.
Bucaramanga & Giron
The capital of Santander is Bucaramanga, a city at an altitude of a bit less then 1000m. Bucaramnaga has a hot and pressing climate. A chaotic city with many street vendors and many taxis and public busses. A city to love or to dislike. The city is mainly used as transfer point for the route Bogotá to the coast or vice versa but is worth a visit for it’s churches and squares. From Bucaramanga it is easy to visit the nearby town Giron. This small colonial village is already almost taken in by the growing Bucuramanga.
Cocuy and other Paramo’s
The highlight of this region is National Park Cocuy, at least if you like trekking and climbing. The National Park Cocuy lies on the borders of the departments of Boyaca, Santander and Arauca. You can read more about this fascinating park in the mountain area section of ‘Highlights?. Other paramo´s in Boyaca and are the paramo of Iguaque, Paramo de Océta, Paramo de Guardua and Paramo Pisba. Not really known by the usual tourist but worth a visit if you like the high altitude trekking and the typical flora and fauna of the Colombian Paramo.
Further north, in the department of Norte de Santander, lays a nature park characterized by huge sand and stone formations. If you are traveling over land from Bucaramanga to the Caribbean coast it is certainly worth stopping here and visit the park.
Caldas, Riseralda & Quindio
Coffee is one of the most important export products of Colombia. The three small departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío, are also known as the Coffee Region (Zona Cafetera) as coffee is the main product of these departments. The region is rugged and verdant land, with coffee plantations covering most mountain slopes between 1000m and 1700m. Some of the coffee farms (fincas cafeteras) have been converted in tourist resorts where you can enjoy the pleasant climate and the beautiful surroundings. Staying at these kinds of farms is an absolute highlight in this region. Besides that the landscapes are stunning, staying on a farm like this gives you the opportunity to see and experience the coffee process from up-close. Lately some of the coffee plantations have been replaced by banana (platano) plantations but still coffee is crown everywhere. Now most farms grow coffee, banana and also a bamboo called Guadua used for construction of farms, houses, bridges, furniture, etc. In the Coffee Region you can find many other highlights and we have ordered them by the capitals of each department, Manizales, Pereira and Armenia.
The capital of de department Caldas is Manizales. The city of Manizales started to flourish and grow when it was seen as the center of the coffee production in Colombia during the beginning of the 20th century. The city itself, at 2150m above sea level, is unsuitable for the production of coffee due to the height but acted as housing for the many coffee workers in the region and storage of the coffee. A special cable car was build to transport to transport the coffee from the lower regions to the city. The former transport station and some towers of the cable car can still be seen at Cable Plaza, a neighborhood in Manizales. The city is build on top of hills and mountains and not like most other mountain cities in a valley. The city therefore has a big difference in altitude and sometimes stairs are used in some steep streets. The biggest shopping street (la 23) is one of the highest points of the city and at both sides you have nice views over the city. Recently a new cable car is going from the lower parts of the city to the highest points. This time not for transporting coffee but for transporting people. Every year in the first week of January Manizales celebrates her festival called Feria de Manizales. This festival is dedicated to the coffee and during the festival the coffee queen is elected. Of course this festival goes hand in hand with a lot of concerts, activities and parties.
Some other highlights in the city are:
With a tower of 106 meters the cathedral of Manizales is the highest church in Colombia.
La 23 and Parque Caldas
La 23 is the main shopping street of Manizales with many shops and views over the city. Here you will also find the shopping mall Parque Caldas which is located on a nice square.
Neighborhood which has nice views over the coffee regions below the city. El Cipre is a perfect place as well for dining or to have a drink in one of the many restaurants or bars, especially in the weekends. Here you can also visit the Monument of the Conquistadores.
Fancy neighborhood with many bars and restaurants and also a former tower of the cable car.
Lots of these bars can be found in the center and a typical start of a evening out or to drink a tinto (small cup of black coffee).
Voces del Ayer
Maybe the nicest bar of all with music from the sixties and seventies.
A nature park in the suburbs of Manizales with a big diversity in Flora & Fauna.
Hot springs in the suburbs of Manizales where you can enjoy from different baths and also stay in some cabañas.
Close to Manizales there are also a lot of highlights which are worth visiting and here we will mention some of them.
Nevado del Ruiz & Parque los Nevados
Most tourists go to Manizales to visit Parque los Nevados and in particular Nevado del Ruiz. About the Los Nevados Park we have a special chapter by ‘Mountain Areas’ so here we will concentrate of Nevado del Ruiz. This volcano with its 5321m is the highest in the park is still active and with the necessary gear and permits it’s possible to climb till the summit. But most people visit this volcano in a day tour leaving early in the morning from Manizales. This tour brings you in a car up to 4800m from where you can climb up to the glacier at an altitude of 5100m. Most of the tours make a stop on the way back at the hot springs of Nevado del Ruiz. As Manizales has an altitude of 2150m and this tour brings you to above the 5000m it’s not rare people suffer sometimes from altitude sickness. But it’s an amazing experience and a good way to see the different kind of flora, fauna and landscapes going up from the forest to semi paramo to paramo and finally to the glacier.
Nature park about 3 to 5 km north east from Manizales. The park has more than 4000 hectares and due to a difference in altitude from 2100m to 3800m you will find a lot of different flora and fauna. It’s possible to make ecological walks and in the park itself they have some Osos Anteojos (the South American beer).
If you go from Manizales to Medellin you will pass by ´La Rochela´, also known as ´La Caliente´. La Rochela is a small village with a hot climate and many swimming pools, finca´s and restaurants and bars. Most people from Manizales visit la Rochela in weekends and holidays.
This little town was wiped away by the mud stream of the last eruption of the Volcano Nevado del Ruiz in 1985. Most people will remember the tragic images of this drama. The town can be visit from Manizales but it’s easier to visit from Ibague, the capital of the Tolima department.
One of the many coffee farms in the Caldas department. Here you can stay the night and make some ecological walks. Also ideal to see the coffee process from the beginning of the coffee plant till the coffee you drink.
The capital of the Riseralda department is Pereira. Just like Manizales it´s a nice city with friendly people, but with a lower altitude (1475 m) it has a warmer and more pleasant climate. Pereira is the biggest of the tree coffee cities and has busy and chaotic city center with a lot of shops and other street business. The city itself doesn´t have that many points of interest besides the bridge over Otun River and the Plaza Bolivar with a beautiful church with a wooden rooftop, but around Pereira there are many things to see and do. It´s a good base point to visit the various highlights in the surroundings.
Parque Ucumari & Laguna Otun
This park is located in the foothills of the Los Nevados Park and can be visited from Pereira leaving early in the morning with a Chiva (typical public transport in open buses) to El Cedral from where you have to walk up for 2 and a half hours to la Pastora. Here you can find some cabañas where you can stay the night. In the park there are several waterfalls which can be reached with ecological walks. Another park which is worth a visit is Sanctuario Otum Quimbaya. This park lies just before getting to Ucumari.
From the Ucumari park you can walk from the cloud forest up to the paramo. A 8 to 10 hour walk will bring you to the Laguna Otun. Here you can go camping and fishing in the lake of trout. If you like mountain climbing you could climb the Volcano of Santa Isabel of 5000m.
Hotsprings of Santa Rosa en San Vicente
These hot springs are named after the small village of Santa Rosa which lies about 30 minute from Pereira. The Santa Rosa hot springs have tree different locations and if you take all day you could visit all of them. One of the hot springs belong to a hotel called Santa Rosa and here you could stay the night. Staying in this hotel allows you to enjoy the special baths which can only be used by huespeds of the hotel.
Further up into the mountains, about 0ne and a half hour in jeep from Santa Rosa, you will find the hot springs of San Vicente. It has fewer visitors but the hot springs are more in a natural environment than the ones of Santa Rosa. In San Vicente you can also stay in cabañas and there are several ecological walks.
Around Pereira and in the Riseralda department you can find many typical coffee villages. Maybe one of the most beautiful ones is Marsella. A spectacular road through the coffee fields and mountains will bring you here in about one and a half hour in bus from Pereira. The village has a nice square with some typical buildings and a very nice local market.
Finca Villa Maria
As said before staying on a coffee farm is an absolute highlight in the coffee region. For us Finca Villa Maria is the best choice, not because of the luxury but because of its setting in the middle of the coffee cultivations and because it is one of the most authentic coffee farms in the area.
The city of Armenia has grown, just like Manizales, mainly because of the coffee production in the region. In 1999 most of the city was destroyed by a heavy earthquake and as a result you can see many new and modern buildings. This makes Armenia completely different than the former ones, Manizales and Pereira which both still have a lot of old buildings. Most of the time Armenia is mentioned as the capital of the Zona Cafetera because of the location close to the two famous theme parks in the coffee region: Parque de Café and Panaca. Although al Colombians will mention these parks as a highlight we don’t consider them as a must see especially not for tourists from Europe or other Western countries. Parque de Café can show you the coffee process and Panaca is like a big farm where you can see the different kind of animals of the coffee region. But we think these kind of processes and animals can also be seen on the coffee farms in a more authentic and typical way. Besides that both parks are more theme parks with attractions for children and unless you travel with little children it’s not worth a visit. Close to Armenia there are also a lot of highlights which are worth visiting and here we will mention some of them.
South of Armenia, close to the village of Calarca, you will find the Mariposario. In this park and museum you can see a lot of butterflies and learn about them.
Salento is a small village at a 40 minute drive from Armenia. It’s a typical village of the Coffee Region with a lot of buildings in colonial style. In the weekend it is full with people from the cities of Armenia and Pereira but during the week it is very quiet. In the village you can find many souvenir shops and the local specialty is ‘Trucha con Patacon’ (trout with smashed and fried banana). In weekends many little restaurants put their tables outside on the main square and you can order your trout just the way you like it the best. From the center of the town you can walk up the ‘Alto de la Cruz’ with a stunning view over Valle de Cocora one one side and over the village on the other side.
Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora is an amazingly beautiful valley full with the tallest palm tree of the world, Palma de Cera. The national tree of Colombia can reach an altitude of more than 60m. The valley can be reach from Salento in Willys, a typical jeep which is used in the Coffee Region as public transport. The valley is perfect for ecological walks and horseback riding. Most of the people visit Valle de Cocora in a daytrip but you can also spend the night in one of the many farms. From Valle de Cocora there are to path going up into the los Nevados Park, one passing by a nature reserve called Acaime, where you can see many honey birds, and one passing by ‘Estrella de Agua’. Both paths lead to the paramo from where you could climb Nevado de Tolima, another huge and active volcano of more than 5200m, or go deeper into the park.
One of the many coffee farms in the Quindio department and made completely out of Guadua (type of bamboo). It’s a luxury farm and it doesn’t show you the coffee process on the farm itself but on a coffee cooperation close by. This coffee tour doesn’t only show you the process but you will also have to participate.
Balsaje on the Quindio river and Dosel
A very popular activity in this region is a ride over de river Quindio on a raft. Another popular activity in the surroundings is Dosel. Go from a high platform in a tree to a lower platform in another tree by cable passing over all the coffee plantations.
The department of Tolima is not considered the Coffee Region anymore, but we will mention it here anyway as its location close to the Zona Cafetera. The capital of Tolima is Ibague, a big city on the foot of the volcano Nevado del Tolima. The city lies in the Magdalena Valley and has a hot climate. From Ibague most people go to the Coffee Region over ‘la Linea’, a spectacular road passing first through the coffee and banana plantations and later through the high mountains. From Ibague one can go up into the mountains of the los Nevados Park. At about two hours in jeep you can find the Hot Springs of el Rancho from where you can either climb Nevado del Tolima or enter further into the Nevados Park. Both paths although are wiped away by heavy rains and access at the moment is difficult.
Other interesting destination in the Tolima department is the lake Prado where you can find many water sport activities such as water-ski, boat trips, jet-ski, etc. All around Ibague you can find little villages and because of the pleasant climate many (local) tourists visit these villages in the weekend.
The people of Antioquía are very nice, open minded and referred to as Paisas. They are very proud and hard working people and many successful businesses all over Colombia are owned by People of Antioquia.. A very regular business managed by Paisas are restaurants and you will find many restaurants with ´comida paisa’ all over Colombia serving the typical food from this region. Most famous dish is the ‘Bandeja Paisa’. Antioquia is a very big department covering big parts of the central and western Andes range of the north of Colombia. Although most of the terrain is inland Antioquia also has access to the Caribbean Coast. This part, called Golfo Uruba which forms part of the border of Colombia with Panama, is mentioned in the section Caribbean Coast. For further information about this part we recommend you to go to this section.
The capital of Antioquía is Medellin. This city will always be synonymous to the infamous drugs cartel of Pablo Escobar. But in reality the capital of Antioguia is a fresh and prosperous city with a vibrant art scene, shiny modern architecture and a brand new Metro. It is the second biggest city of Colombia and situated in the Aburrá Valley in the central Andes range. At an altitude of 1500 m the cities has a very pleasant climate and most of the time Medellin is referred to by Colombians as the city of the eternal spring. Although being a big city its people are very friendly and easy going and sometimes it rather feels like being in a small village instead of a city of 3 milion inhabitants. The city and its region are famous for the production of flowers and the biggest and most famous festival is dedicated to this flower production. ´La Feria de las Flores´ (Flower Festival) takes place every year in the first week of August and is famous because of its colorful flower parades which goes hand in hand with other parades, parties and concerts. The city of Medellin is also referred to as the city of light. All around Medellin you can see the lights in the evening from the neighborhoods in the surrounding mountain hills. In December the city has its famous ‘Alumbrado’ in the Medellin River which goes from south to north of the city. A touristic highlight is to walk along the river and see the many lights which are designed in many different forms. Medellin is also the city of Tango and a visit to Medellin has to include a visit to one of the many Tango bars to see a Tango show. In Colombia it’s the only city with a metro system and recently they opened a metro cable connecting popular neighborhoods in the mountain hills with the city center. Taking the metro and especially the metro cable is a good way to get an impression of the city Medellin. Some other interesting destinations within the city of Medellin are:
A museum dedicated to the history of the Department Antioquia and the local artist Fernando Botero. His sculptures can be found all over the city including in front of the museum at Parque Berrio and the famous 'Bird of Peace' at Parque San Antonio which was severely damaged by a guerrilla bomb in 1996.
The central square of Medellín with Cathedral Metropolitana, a cathedral claimed to be the world's largest brick building.
A hill in the middle of the city with nice views over the city. At the top they have reconstructed a typical village of Antioquia (Pueblito Paisa)
A popular district high in the hills of the valley. A cable car with connection to the metro brings you up there for stoning views over the city of Medellin.
Used to be the national palace but nowadays its filled with shops selling clothing and shoes.
A park in the modern and rich part of the city with many restaurants bars and clubs.
The most famous club in Medellin. If you like to party you can’t miss a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Here you can see why the women of Medellin are so famous worldwide.
Another club in an industry park. Every weekend there is a live band playing and if you are lucky you might see Ekimosis, the former band of Juanes.
Via las Palmeras
A road which leads up from the center of Medellin into the mountain hills. Here you can find many restaurants, bars and clubs with excellent views over the city.
Due to the favorable wind and hills around Medellín this activity is offered by many agencies as a daytrip.
Around Medellin and in the rest of the department of Antioquia you can find many other destinations which are worth a visit. Many of them can be visited in a daytrip from Medellin but it’s also possible to visit some destinations further away.
Santa Fe de Antioquia & Puente de Occidente
Santa Fé de Antioquia is the oldest city of Antioquia and the former capital of the department. The village lies about 80 kilometers northwest of Medellin on the road to Turbo. Nowadays, after the constructing of a long tunnel, it only takes a bit more than one hour by bus from Medellin to reach the village. The historic center is very well conserved and a walk through the streets of the village gives you a good chance to see some nicely decorated patios and buildings. Places of interest are de Iglesia Santa Barbara, the Museo del Corral and the Museo de Arte Religioso. The village is mainly visited by people from Medellin in the weekends and during national holidays. Six kilometers out of Santa Fé you can find Puente de Occidente, an unusual long (300m) suspension bridge over the Cauca River. Heavy traffic isn´t allowed anymore crossing the bridge and therefore they build a bigger and stronger bridge just a bit further over the river. From Santa Fé it is a nice walk or you can take one of the many motor taxis to go to the bridge. A nice 3 hour walk from here brings you to the big road between Santa Fé and Medellin from where you can catch a bus in either direction.
An enormous rock sticking out 200m at about 2 hours drive from Medellin. You can climb up to the top by walking up the many stair steps at one side of the rock. At top you have a magnificent view overlooking many lakes in the hilly region.
Just 20 min further from el Peñol you will find the village of Guatape which is another famous weekend and holiday destinations for the people of Medellin. The village is located at a huge lake and you can practice all kinds of water sports.
Other Pueblitos Paisas & Jardin
Antioquia is known for its small and typical villages, also called Pueblitos Paisas. Most of them can be visited from Medellin in just a day and if you stick to a certain route you can even combine some of them in a day trip. But to be honest, most of them are so nice it is worth considering staying overnight. Maybe the nicest one is Jardin at 2 and a half hour from Medellin. Other known villages in eastern direction are: Marinilla, Rionegro, La Ceja, Retiro and Carmen de Viboral. In the south you can find for example Santa Barbara and La Pintada. If you go further south you have Jerico and Andes which are close to the village Jardin.
At about 3 hours from Medellin on the road to Bogotá just before reaching El Doradal you can find the beautiful destination called Río Claro. A crystal clear river with a river bed of marble. There is no town but you can stay at a Refugio for the night which is a good base point to explore the surroundings. Besides this special and beautiful river there are caves which can be explored. Some of these caves house Guacheros, a very special bird species which during the day hides in the darkness of the cave and only comes out of the at night. Some caves you can walk through and it is quite exciting to go through the cave, walking, sometimes swimming, in the darkness surrounded by the loud screaming Guacheros. The walls of these caves are also of marble which makes it even more special. From the Refugio it is possible to visit one of Pablo Escobar’s old villas (Hacienda Napoles). In the glory years of Escobar he had a whole zoo with animals flew over from Africa and Asia. After Escobar was shot in 1993 most of the animals where moved to different zoos in the country but the hippos adjusted perfectly to their new environment and where able to stay. Visiting the former Hacienda of Escobar you will see the hippos which are unique in South America.
(Valle de) Cauca
Cali is the capital of the department Valle de Cauca, famous for its sugarcane production. Cali itself is also called ‘The Capital of Salsa’ and is number one in Colombia when it comes to partying. Lot of famous salsa bands and artists, like Grupo Niche, Fruco, Son de Cali and Guayacan are from Cali and every year during Christmas and New Year the city of Cali celebrates her traditional festival called ‘Feria de Cali’. Although many other activities like parades, parties, concerts, typical food and culture markets, the festival is concentrated mostly on Salsa and many salsa artists and bands from all over the world are present. In the same period the Bullfighting Festival takes place at the Plaza Monumental de Cañaveralejo, one of the most important bull fighting events in the country.Another famous salsa event is ‘Festival Mundial de salsa’ which is held every year in the month of September with a salsa contest of salsa dancers. Cali is further known to have the most beautiful women (las Caleñas) of Colombia. The city itself is located in a Valley at 1000m and therefore Cali has a very pleasant and warm climate and there are some places of interest worth visiting:
La Ermanita:A 65 year old Gothic church in the northern part of Cali
Iglesia San Francisco:A Neo-Classic church built in 1757 and filled with carvings and paintings
Iglesia La Merced: The oldest churchof Cali and the next door convent houses a museum of archaeology and religious art
Zoologico: One of the best zoo’s in the country.
San Antonio: The colonial area of Cali filled with nice restaurants, bars, little shops and hotels.
Cerro de las 3 Cruces: Mountain hill in the northern part of Cali with 3 crosses. You can climb up to the top to have a nice view over the city.
Cerro Cristo Rey: Another mountain hill with a Jesus Statue on top. Also this hill can be climbed up to the top for views over the city.
La Sexta: Famous street, la Zona Rosa, of Cali with many restaurants, bars, disco’s and clubs.
Juanchito: A suburb of Cali with the best salsa discos (Salsatecas). If you like salsa you can´t miss one of the big salsa discos in this area.
Km 18: The road from Cali to Buenaventura will bring you to this little village. On the way you find many typical restaurants serving typical food with views over the city of Cali.
If you are planning a visit to Cali and like to see something from the salsa culture try to plan your visit on a last Friday of the month. Recently two famous salsa events with salsa shows and concerts opened their doors. The ones to look out for are ‘Salsa Cabaret’ and ‘Delirio’.
In the surroundings of Cali you can find many interesting places which are worth visiting
Rio Pance & Nationaal Park Farallones
Río Pance is river just outside Cali in the southern part. The water is refreshing and the barbeques and ‘Sancochos’ (typical soup) draw a lot of people from the city in the weekends and national holidays. From here you can go further up into the mountains to the spectacular Paramo de Farallones. Here you can make ecological walks from one to various days.
Haciendas de Caña
Cali and Valle de Cauca are known for its Sugarcane production. Besides sugar the cane is also cultivated for producing alcohol (as a substitute for gasoline as well). There are two sugarcane farms (haciendas) which can be visited by tourists. These are the Haciendas of Piedechinche and Paraiso. The first one shows you a museum of the sugarcane production and Paraiso is mainly known for the love history which took place here in the famous novel ´La Maria´ written by Jorge Isaacs. Both can be visit in a day tour from Cali and if you leave early you can combine the haciendas with a nature reserve called Nirvana which houses a lot of flora and fauna of the Valle de Cauca region.
Lago Calima is a big lake close to Cali surrounded by luxurious houses. In the weekends and national holidays you will see quite a few visitors looking for watersport activities. Another activity in this region is horse riding.
On the road from Cali to Buenaventura you will find the little village of San Cipriano. A must see in the region. The only way to get to this village is to make use of the railroad that passes the village. Locals have build carts which they push themselfs over the railroad or are driven by a motorbike. A crystal green river runs through the village and there are several hikes through the jungle or along the riverbanks. The friendly local inhabitants of San Cipriano rent out cabañas and prepare fresh fish.
Popayan, capital of the Cauca department, is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Colombia. It is also called the ´White City (Ciudad Blanca)’ as all buildings in the center of town are painted white. Popayan was founded in 1537 by Sebastián Belelcázar and because of its pleasant climate it soon became a religious center with many churches and monasteries. The Colonial buildings where mostly destroyed during an earthquake in 1983. A large-scale reconstruction of the town helped bringing back the colonial sight. During Easter (Semana Santa) it is impossible to find lodging without having made reservations as pilgrims from all over the world and other tourist celebrate their religious rituals. It is the biggest religious happening of Colombia and a spectacle not to be missed when you are around. The whole city is covered with nice colonial buildings and churches and it’s impossible to mention all the must sees. Just to name some of them:
Catedral: The biggest church (Cathedral) located on the central square.
Other important churches: San Agustin, Santo Domingo, La Ermanita, San Francisco, El Carmen and the Chapel of Belen.
Morro de Belalcazar: Also called Morro del Tulcan. This hill offers you a nice view over the city of Popayan and houses a statue of Belalcazar, the founder of Popayan and Cali.
Puente Chiquito: One of the many bridges which were used for entering the old city.
Museo de Historia natural: This museum shows you some archeological and geological items found in the area of Cauca.
Again there are many things to do and see in the surroundings of Popayan.
At just 45 minutes out of Popayan on the road to San Agustin you will find some hot springs. The most famous ones are the hot springs of Coconuco where you can enjoy different little swimming pools with hot water. On the same road you can find similar hot springs called ‘ Aguas Calientes’ and ‘Aguas Tibias’.
Termales de San Juan
Further on the same road you find the hot springs of San Juan. Much more natural as former mentioned and here you cannot swim. There is an ecological walk and you can see springs of hot water in different colors. Just before arriving to the hot springs of San Juan there is a nice waterfall called ‘Cascada de Bedon’.
Nationaal parl Puracé
The city of Popayan lies at the foot of the Puracé volcano which is located in the Puracé National Park. An absolute highlight is to climb this still active Volcano to the top. Other highlights in this park are ‘Laguna San Rafael’ and the ‘Cerro de Pan de Azucar’, a mountain even higher than the Puracé Volcano.
Silvia is a small village just out of the main road from Popayan to Cali. Every Tuesday the village holds an Indian (Juambaya Indians) market. The Indians come from the nearby mountain villages to sell their crops art objects.
One of the most breathtaking roads in Colombia is the road between Popayan and Pasto. The 6 to 10 hour drive through mountain landscapes looking over spectacular deep ravines and amazing landscapes makes it an amazing journey.
Pasto is the first big city to come across on the route to Ecuador. The city itself doesn’t have much to offer to tourists besides the nice view over the Galeras Volcano and some old churches. During the first week of January the city has one of the most typical and cultural festivals of Colombia called ´Feria de Blancos y Negros´. The festival is dedicated to the cultural differences in the area (black and white) and goes hand in hand with a lot of parades, parties, concerts, etc. Pasto is also a center for extreme sports like white water rafting and paragliding. Close to Pasto there are many interesting things to do and see:
Santuario de Flora y Fauna Galeras is a nature park with the active volcano Galeras. This Volcano can be climed from Pasto but due to high activity it is not permitted at the moment.
Another volcano in the area close to the village of Tuqueres. The crater has a beautiful emerald green lake and from here you can walk further to ‘El Dedo de Dios’, a huge rock sticking out of the Andes range in the form of a big finger. From here you could walk further down to the road Pasto-Tumaco but as the area is known for guerilla presence it’s not recommended at the moment.
Laguna la Cocha
Huge Mountain Lake at an altitude of 2600m surrounded by paramo. The surroundings are very similar to the Swiss Alps and you can even find some hotels called Chalet in the typical style of Switzerland. It’s a perfect places to taste the typical dish of this area ‘Cuy’, a roasted hamster. The lake itself has two islands which can be visited in boats. The most famous one is Isla Corota which houses a little nature park. The other one, ‘Isla Larga’ is further away and hardly visited by tourists. This Island is much bigger and you can make ecological walks through one of the most spectacular ecosystems of the region. Here you will find cloud forest, semi paramo and paramo with Frailejones at the same altitude which is unique in Colombia.
Mocoa & Ipiales
From Pasto you can go further south to Mocoa, the capital of the department of Putomayo. Most of Putumayo is dense rain forest but the road from Pasto via la Cocha to Mocoa still is Andes range. Taking this road you will pass another interesting destination called ‘Valle de Sibundoy’. From Mocoa you can go further into the Amazon but this information is mentioned in the chapter of ‘The Amazone’. From Pasto to the Ecuadorian border over the Pan-American Highway you will reach Ipiales. This town doesn’t have any highlights and most people just cross this town on their way to Ecuador. Close to Ipiales you will find two more interesting places.
Formal name is ‘Sanctuary of the Virgin of Las Lajas’. A beautiful gothic church build over the canyon of the Río Guáitara.
Volcán Cumbal and Chilis
Two other huge volcanoes in the south of Colombia. Both volcanoes can be climbed from Ipiales.
San Agustin houses the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America and is one of the most important archeological sites of Colombia. Most people visit San Agustin for its imposing statues of volcanic stone recalling the great days of a culture which vanished some eight centuries before the Spanish arrived. The best place to see some of these impressive sculptures is the Acheological Park, the nearby ‘Bosque de Estatuas’ and the museum. But with some more time you could also visit ‘Alto de los Idolos’ and make an astonishing horseback ride to other archeological sites like ‘La Chaquiea’, ‘La Pelota’, ‘Purutal’ and ‘El Tablon’ in the environment where you can find besides the sculptures also some interesting tombs. But not just historic sculptures and monuments attacks visitors to San Agustin. The landscapes are simply breathtaking and ideal for walking and horseback riding. Some other interesting sites are ‘El Estrecho de la Magdalena’ (the smallest point of the Magdalena River), ‘Salto Mortiño’ (a waterfall of more than 300m), ‘Alto de las Piedras’ (archeological site), and ‘Salto Bordones’ (another waterfall). Another popular activity is white water rafting of the Magdalena River which has its source in the nearby ‘Paramo de las Papas’. It’s possible to hike or go on horses to this amazing paramo where not only the Magdalena river springs but also the river Cauca and two other
Tierradentro is the name of the archeological sites around the villages of San Andres de Pisambala and Inza. The Eastern foothills of the Central Cordillera were named Tierradentro (‘land within’) by the by the Spaniards. Thousand years ago the inhabitants of these regions excavated monumental tombs on the summits of the hills, with subterranean chambers entered by spiral staircases. Painted with geometric figures in red and black, they reproduced the interiors of dwelling houses. In the tombs exhumed bones from earlier burials were placed in funerary urns. Nowadays it’s possible to visit the ruins of these tombs and the most famous tomb sites are ‘Segovia’, ‘El Duende’, ‘Alto de San Andres’ and ‘Aguacate’. Most of the tombs at Segovia are lightened but for the others it’s recommended to bring a torch. Before entering the village of San Andres de Pisimbala you will find two little museums showing some of the archeological treasures and an interesting inform about the Pre-Colombian culture of the region. From here its quiet a walk up to ‘El Agaugate’ but the hike is worth if for the views over the surrounding valleys. After visiting the tombs of ‘El Agaucate’ you can go down to the village again or keep on walking over the mountain edge passing by some local coffee farms going all around and descending at the other side of the village where you can also find a spectacular waterfall. Another interesting archeological site is ‘El Piramide’, a rock in the form of a Pyramid with two caves which were used as tombs as well. From here you have beautiful views over the surroundings. ‘El Piramide’ lies close to the village of Inza. His is a nice little village and on Saturday you will find a local Indian Market. Tierradentro gold work is of amazing technical quality. The masks, ear ornaments, pectorals sometimes adorned with jaguars whose prominent fangs are similar to those on the San Agustín statues. Some of the gold work is displayed in the Gold Museum in Bogotá.
Nevado del Huila
Nevado del Huila is the biggest and highest volcano in the Andes range. Its highest point passes the 5600m and is totally covered with snow. As there are no good paths going up it’s one of the most difficult climbs you can imagine in Colombia. The area around Nevado del Huila is known for guerilla presence and at the moment it’s not recommended intending to climb this volcano.
Close to Neiva in northern direction you find the little village of Villavieja at the banks of the Río Magdalena. This town is the starting point to visit the Tatacoa Desert. Although most part of this dessert is actually semi-dessert the huge sand formations and the many cactus gives you the idea to be in a real dessert. The Tatacoa dessert is located in the middle of the road between Bogota and San Agustin or Tierradentro and justifies a stopover in either direction. It is a beautiful area for hiking. A local family has made a swimming pool in the middle of the dessert out of a natural water source running below the ground. Recently there is also another swimming pool of mud you can visit. The dessert also houses a conservatorium for observing stars. It’s possible to camp or stay at night this conservatorium and on a clear sky it’s really amazing. The easiest way to get to the dessert is going through Neiva, but you could also get out on the road Bogota-Neiva at a village called Aipe and cross the Magdalena River in a canoe to Villavieja.