Backpacking in Colombia

Colombia had been on our wishlist for many years. As a wildlife and LatAm lover I planned this 5-week trip carefully to get the most out of it. If you’re into palm tree beaches, snowy Andes peaks, humid rainforest hikes and bright-colored colonial villages, you know where to go! And yes, Colombia is a completely safe country if you’re avoiding some remote regions in the west and south-east. Sheerful locals welcome you to their place with a lot of reggaeton and salsa vibes.

Our top places

  • Bogota: Probably your first stop of the trip. Book a room in La Candeleria for the best city center experience and take your time to get used to the altitude. We enjoyed a bike tour from Bogota Bike Tours that took us around the city with some great stories along the way. You’re likely to visit famous graffiti art, the fruit market, the busy center and a local coffee roaster.

  • Cartagena: The heat and humidity will smack you in the face after the chilly Bogota so dress accordingly while strolling through the gorgeous streets of the most colorful colonial town in the country. This is a true touristic hotspot so be aware. Also, go seek the local sloth and family of monkeys at the central park and push your boundaries by eating ‘comida corriente’ lunch at a trashy restaurant. Huge dishes for no money! If you’re spending a few days in Cartagena, make sure to take a dip in the mud volcano El Totumo. Very touristy but hella fun!
  • Tayrona NP: Sleep at the not-so great city of Santa Marta as the anchor point of your visit to Tayrona. The Dreamer Hostel is quite popular and with good reason. Or book one of the eco hostels near the entrance of Zaino Our tip for a nice hike in Tayrona: Take a minibus to the main entrance Zaino. Another (optional) bus will take you a little bit further in the park. From there it is around 2-3 hours hiking to Cabo San Juan. This place is clearly the headquarters of the park and offers food and lodging with tents and hammocks. The beach at San Juan is beyond your dreams and offers a surrealistic scenery. If you can, spend the night here as many daytrippers will leave around 4PM and the place gets less crowded. We took another route back (via Pueblito) and crossed some mighty boulders in the jungle. Santa Marta is also a fine basis for the adventurous hikers that plan a hike to the marvellous Ciudad Perdida (Lost City Trek).

  • Minca: Foggy hills, tucan area and coffee farms. A great place for beautiful day hikes and a dive in a shady waterfall pool. We stayed at the Casa Elemento (legendary for their huge hammocks) but don’t consider this a real recommendation.

  • San Andres y Providencia: These Carribean islands near the coast of Nicaragua are honeymoon material. Especially the beautiful tiny island of Providencia has a unique vibe with its pristine and turquoise bays and one single ring road around the central hill. Drink cocktails straight from the coconut at the trashy Roland Roots Bar, discover the amazing reef species at Sonny’s Dive Shop or take a short but rewarding hike to pirate captain Morgan’s Head. (Don’t worry, it’s a rock).

  • Medellin: Aaah, the City of the Eternal Spring. Truly, the cosy atmosphere and trendy bars provide the perfect climate to pin Medellin as the coolest big city in Colombia. Take a cable car and enjoy the stunning views of the city before taking a hike in Parque Arvi. Book a day trip to colorful tourist trap village of Guatapé and conquer the 740 steps to the monolith of El Peñol for a jaw-dropping 360° view around the nature park. And ofcourse, don’t forget to check out some Botero-statues. Be careful if you want to take an Escobar-tour, as they offer varying quality or even make up random stories just to amaze you.

  • Salento: Although the tiny village is becoming quite popular, it still provides a unique setting among the coffee farms. Spend around 2 nights here to enjoy a day hike in the Valle de Cocora to walk between the world’s mightiest wax palm trees. Vintage Willy Jeeps will take you there from the main square. Most travelers plan this stop after having visited the buzzing Medellin. Take your time to relax and enjoy the welcoming break at a local coffee shop while eating some homemade cake.

If you have the time …

The sleeping city of Mompox, The famous Tatacoa Desert near Villavieja, El Cocuy trekking and other high-kicks near San Gil, the unearthly Caño Cristlaes near Sierra de la Macarena and the San Agustin statues if you’re heading to the whity city of Popayan. And the list goes on with Las Lajas Sanctuary near Magui Payan, the underground salt cathedral of Zipaquira and the Amazon jungle tours around Leticia and the Rio Yavari.

Getting around

Colombia is an immense country, but taking the train or bus for some transfers brings a whole new experience to your trip. Dress like winter is coming, because most bus drivers have a strong tendency to put the airco on ‘extreme frost’.

Domestic flights are often offered at low rates, so for the longer distances you might want to take a plane. Get your tickets from Avianca, Wingo, Satena or Viva Colombia. All of them offers frequent and low-cost flights. Check-in beforehand and print out your tickets as they will charge you if you just show up at the check-in desk.


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