With Colombia becoming a more and more popular tourist destination, it’s getting harder to find those unique “escapes” – places that have a lot to offer, without the crowds of camera-wielding tourists. Sure, you’ve probably heard all about the ochre-colored colonial streets of Cartagena, lush rolling hills of the coffee region, and sprawling sky-high metropolis of Bogotá, but what about the northern-most point of South America, Colombia’s cowboy country, or its very own Alcatraz island? Most likely not. Although you probably won’t find first-class accommodation in any of these places, they are known as some of Colombia’s best kept secrets, and a visit to any one of those on the list is sure to provide you with the adventure of a lifetime. Let’s get started!
1. Punta Gallinas
Travelling to Colombia, but a bit lost on where to stay? Don’t worry, with Airbnb, there are hundreds of accommodations to suit your needs just a mouse click away. Here is a guide to the best of the bunch based on your budget, in the top 3 cities in Colombia: Cartagena de Indias, Bogotá and Medellín.
Situated on the Caribbean Coast, Cartagena is the perfect place for a beach holiday to soak up the tropical sun. It’s historical centre and enchanted architecture also make it great for avid sightseers. Let’s take a look at what Airbnb has to offer:
Enjoy the height of luxury in this sensational house located right in the centre of the Old Town, next to the San Pedro Cathedral. You and up to 7 friends can enjoy private bathrooms in each bedroom, a pool, top floor jacuzzi, and even your own butler service. All for an eye watering $680 USD a night.
Check it out: Old Town Luxury
If you’re about to head off on the adventure of a lifetime, but have hit a wall on the packing front, never fear – help is on hand to tell you all the must-have items to make your trip a successful and stress-free one.
- The Basics
Due to its proximity to the equator, the weather in Colombia is not seasonal. So, it matters less when you go and more where you go.
The Highlands / Coffee Region / Bogotá = cool rainy climates. Pack layers and a waterproof jacket!
Caribbean Coast = hot and humid. Pack light clothing, sunglasses, and a hat. Don’t forget your suncream!
Hiking holidays = Can consist of jungle treks and varied weather conditions. Pack lightly – you’ll need hiking boots, insect repellent, sun cream, and layers which you can easily put on and take off if you get too hot/cold. Take an extra comfy pair of shoes or flip flops for when you are relaxing at the campsite and possibly a headlamp in order to find your way around in the dark (without wasting precious phone battery!)
Columbus Day is a national holiday celebrated in North and South America every year in October. It marks the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus, or Cristóbal Colón (born Cristoforo Colombo), as he is known in the Hispanic community. He was an Italian explorer who came across the land quite by chance as he was on a voyage to discover a new western route from Europe to Asia. Columbus and his crew landed on the shores of this “New World” on October 12, 1492, which went on to become a day of national celebration in countries across North and South America.
In the United States, it is known as “Columbus Day”, where as in Latin America it has many different translations. In Chile, for example, it known by its more poetic title “Día del Descubrimiento de Dos Mundos” and in Argentina it is known as “Día del Respecto a la Diversidad Cultural”. These Latin-American names aim to be more respectful towards the indigenous communities as they were technically the first people to discover the land. So in South America, Columbus Day acts as a celebration of the birth of a new identity through the fusion of the indigenous people and the Spanish colonisers.
One thing you may not know about Colombia is that it’s the second biggest coffee producer in the world, behind Brazil, producing a whopping 11.5 million bags on an annual basis! Colombian coffee has its own unique character and the wide range of flavours and blends it can achieve means you can be guaranteed to find something for everyone. Colombian coffee is actually considered by many to be some of the most high quality coffee in the world.
Globally speaking coffee originates from 2 different beans: robusta and arabica. As their growing processes are very different they also have very different tastes: robusta coffee being more earthy and arabica coffee having a wider range of flavours. Arabica beans also have a lower caffeine content. Arabica is the type used in Colombia, and the plants need to be grown in high altitudes, up to 2000m above sea level. Colombia’s location gives it the perfect environment for this, with abundant mountain ranges available for cultivating coffee plants. The fact the country is bordered by two oceans also helps, since being close to the sea leads to less extreme weather conditions, therefore lengthening the growing season. These surroundings are one of the reasons why coffee from Colombia is so good.
Guatapé is a town situated in the North West of Colombia, in the Antioquia region, only 90 minutes outside of Medellín. It is bordered by the Peñol – Guatapé reservoir, one of the largest dams in South America. The dam was built by the Colombian government in the 1970s for a hydro-electric dam. In order to create the reservoir, over 6000 hectares of land were flooded, completely submerging the town of Peñol. The edges of the lake are characterized by clusters of small islands, including the central “Fantasy Island” where you can book a stay in a quaint cabin and spend a few days relaxing on the lake. The reservoir is also very popular for water sports – many people visit for the awesome fishing, jet ski and sailing opportunities.
Pablo Escobar’s ‘La Manuela’ estate is also located on the shores of the Guatapé lake. The notorious drug lord, also known as “the king of cocaine” due to his cartel being responsible for 80% of all drug smuggles into the US at the height of his career, built the house as a holiday mansion and named it after his daughter. He used it for years as a base for his drug-transporting planes and during this time the peaceful town became too dangerous for visitors. The estate was left in ruins after a rival cartel planted explosives inside in 1993. Nowadays you can take a fascinating tour around the dilapidated estate which is now crumbling and covered in overgrown vegetation. You can still see the shells of the double walls built to hide cocaine and drug money, old tennis courts, the swimming pool, disco and the rooms where the 120 members of his security staff slept. There’s also a collection of abstract graffiti to enjoy.
Colombia is known for its delicious coffee and rum – but here’s a list of other top drinks in Colombia that you won’t find anywhere else.
In English, it’s known as Firewater. This is Colombia’s national drink! It’s a strong alcoholic drink that is made from anise (a type of spice) – and sugar cane.
Nestled in the height of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the highest coastal range in the world, lies the Lost City, or La Ciudad Perdida, as it is known in Spanish.
The Lost City, also called ‘Teyuna’ by indigenous people, is a settlement that was built by ancient Colombian civilians, the Tayrona people, over 1,000 years ago in approximately 800 AD. It was only recently ‘rediscovered’, in 1972, when a group of grave robbers came across a series of steps deep into the mountains, which led them to the ruins. It is the largest Tayrona settlement to be discovered so far and is thought to have been the center of their civilization at one point.