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9 of the best cities and towns to visit for a holiday in Colombia

From the capital Bogotá to salsa-centric San Antonio, here are the destinations that deliver

Natalie Wilson
Tuesday 09 January 2024 12:26 GMT
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Bliss beaches, cosmopolitan markets and a rainbow of pueblos await
Bliss beaches, cosmopolitan markets and a rainbow of pueblos await (Getty Images)

If you’re planning a trip to South America this year, Colombia welcomes travellers to salsa, explore and sunbathe on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines.

Famed for arabica bean cups of coffee, skyscraping wax palms and Barranquilla Carnival, the “Gateway to South America” offers diverse culture woven between the rainbow of pueblos, cosmopolitan cities and emerald mines.

With a tempting climate blessing the country’s 32 departments year-round and festivals from Jericó to Medellín beating Colombia’s reggaeton drum in most months, the expansive shore expertly hosts bucket-list travel trips.

The capital of Bogotá and Cartagena city, already well known in the tourist arena thanks to their markets and world-renowned carnivals, meet under-the-radar rural towns built for adventure and the heart of coffee country inland – so knowing where to start can be tricky.

We’ve rounded up the best of Colombia’s cities and towns, from colourful Salento to jungle-topped Santa Marta, to help plan your next holiday itinerary.

Read more on Colombia travel:

Guatapé, Antioquia

Peaked with El Peñol rock, Guatapé is Colombia’s most colourful pueblo (Getty Images)

Home to the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir watersports haven and peaked with El Peñol rock, Guatapé is Colombia’s most colourful pueblo and the colonial old town street of Calle del Recuerdo shines with intricate facades adorned in blue and orange. Though the aforementioned monolithic rock may be a 740-step climb to the summit, the sprawling views of Guatapé’s isles and bays are well worth it.

Where to stay

Hotel Los Recuerdos offers a heated infinity pool overlooking El Peñol Reservoir, elegant bedrooms and even onsite nightlife for holidaymakers looking to bask in views of the town’s famed 200m rock.

Bogotá

Colombia’s capital delights with market stalls, a rainbow of architecture and bean-to-cup coffee plants (Photo by Random Institute on Unsplash)

You’ll likely land in Bogotá to kickstart your South America trip, and Colombia’s capital is a hive of market stalls, rainbow architecture and bean-to-cup coffee plants. The landlocked city, 8,000ft above sea level, is primed for tourists with a balance of rich cultural history in old town La Candelaria and buzzing nightlife in trendy Chapinero. Visit the Paloquemao market for street food arepas to pair with a cup of the world’s best java.

Where to stay 

Tequendama Suites and Hotel offers a modern stay close to the historic centre of Bogotá. Beyond the convenient location, a sauna and a hammam, city views and spacious suites bless the hotel next to Monserrate Mountain.

San Antonio, Cali

Shake, shimmy and find your rhythm in the salsa schools of San Antonio’s sloped park (Getty Images)

Salsa-centric Cali is known as the capital of the world for the Latin dance and the historic neighbourhood of San Antonio is at the forefront of lessons on the fluid moves. Shake, shimmy and find your rhythm in salsa schools across the boho-sloped streets by day and head into the city’s clubs by night to showcase your moves to the professionals.

Where to stay 

Alko Hotel Casa Nispero, in the centre of Cali, boasts Balinese interiors, a swimming pool and a rainforest worth of shrubbery for a slice of serenity in Salsa city.

Cartagena

The 16th-century port city is dedicated to lively Carnival (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Balmy Cartagena faces the Carribean archipelagos as the crowning jewel in Colombia’s crown. Home to pastel façades, tropical islands and Unesco-protected colonial architecture, the Caribbean Sea-side spot, Colombia’s fifth largest city, comes alive in November for the arrival of Carnival if you’ve nailed your salsa style and can handle the heat.

Where to stay

If a luxury aesthetic and city view terraces a short walk from the beach are your style, Oz Hotel Luxury should fit the bill. Complete with a Caribbean restaurant and buffet breakfasts, it’s set at the tip of Cartagena’s Boca Grande.

Salento, Quindio

Sample arabica beans in Salento (Photo by Jonny James on Unsplash)

To sample sips of arabica beans in Colombia’s celebrated coffee country, the colourful pueblo village of Salento borders the Cocora Valley with wax palms that tower over the verdant landscape. One of Quindio’s oldest towns, Paisa architecture accented in bold blues, reds and yellows still dots the quaint streets. Hike, horse ride, tour coffee estates and try the local game Tejo to make the most of your time in the vibrant town.

Where to stay

Hotel Kawa Mountain Retreat, in the hills of Salento, embraces nature by design, with breathtaking balcony views over the mountains, airy bedrooms and OROCUE (the onsite restaurant) dishing up the best of local cuisine.

Santa Marta

Sea meets jungle in Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast (Photo by Datingscout on Unsplash)

On Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the ocean sparkles. Down from Cartagena’s historic centre, the seafront city of Santa Marta fringes the Tayrona National Park, blending the blanket of lush jungle with urban port life. Think guided treks in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, expeditions to the Lost City of Teyuna (Colombia’s own Machu Picchu) and relaxing in Taganga fishing village for swimming, scuba diving and fried fish during a Santa Marta stay.

Where to stay

The Hilton Garden Inn Santa Marta offers a rooftop swimming pool, uber-modern rooms with sea views and a continental breakfast just 350m from the Santa Marta Marina. 

San Gil, Santander

San Gil is a hub for adventure sports, from ziplining to white water rafting (Getty Images)

For a road trip around the Santander region punctuated with paragliding, park up in San Gil. This small Andean city in the north is a hub of adventure sports, with ziplining, whitewater rafting from Gallineral Park and bungee jumping on the itinerary between strolls of the 18th-century Cathedral of Santa Cruz for those less inclined towards adrenaline highs.

Where to stay

A five-minute drive from downtown San Gil, Hotel Terrazas de la Candelaria exudes serenity with some serious R&R also on offer poolside. Horse riding, canoeing and hiking trips dot the agenda and seasonal local dishes can be enjoyed at the onsite restaurant.

Medellín

Medellín is dubbed the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ (Getty Images)

Once tarnished as a tourism spot due to scars from its Pablo Escobar past, Medellín now thrives as the artsy “City of Eternal Spring”. With a fashion week in June, a tango festival in July and a blooming flower show in August, the city has become one of Colombia’s cultural centres. Visit Comuna 13 for graffiti tours, the Poblado area for vibrant nightlife and bottles of aguardiente or dance to Karol G and J Balvin for the rhythm of reggaeton on a Medellín bar crawl.

Where to stay

Celestino Boutique Hotel, a leafy property in the El Poblado district, features mountain views, a spa and wellness centre, a terrace pool and a well-stocked bar. 

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá

The whitewashed walls of Villa de Leyva sit in Colombia’s emerald Boyacá (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In Boyacá, a patchwork of green hills and emerald mines, Villa de Leyva’s colonial charm, cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings accented with forest shutters beg to be explored. You won’t want to miss the Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square, framed with a parish church, water fountain, chocolate cafes and espresso bars, plus the crystalline desert lakes of the Pozos Azules Blue Wells are just a horse ride away.

Where to stay

The desert-chic Hotel Casa Terra in Villa de Leyva offers spacious bedrooms, cacti gardens and terrace hammocks a stone’s throw from the colonial central plaza, and a la carte breakfasts.

Read more of our best winter sun hotel reviews

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