Bicycling and Boutique Hotels, One of Many Perfect Pairings in Colombia’s Great Outdoors
If you’re an active traveler or you simply enjoy getting outdoors, there’s no better way to experience this vast country than on fresh-air outings matched with spectacular stays, cultural tours, and our other curated travel picks.
The gateway to South America, Colombia’s breathtaking biological diversity spans palm-lined beaches along its Caribbean and Pacific coasts to the Andes’ white-capped mountain peaks and the wild rushing rivers of the Amazon. Whether you enjoy hiking through marvelous cloud rainforests and the open savanna of the Orinoco River basin or cycling through the expansive countryside and urban cultural centers, there’s awe-inspiring scenic beauty around every corner in Colombia. And, while taking in the natural wonders, you can savor the rich cultural delights and warm welcome of the Colombian people for a truly transformative trip.
With six distinct regions to visit, you have your choice of life-changing adventures. While you may have heard of Cartagena and the beaches in the Greater Colombian Caribbean region, the area offers so much more including snow-capped mountains, a mix of different cultures, and a national park. The Pacific Colombian part of the country has flavors of forest and sea with more than 850 miles of coastline. In the Western Colombian Andes you’ll find an abundance of coffee and flowers, as well as the kindness of the Paisa people, and Medellín, the “City of Eternal Spring,” so-called for its year-round mild weather.
The Eastern Colombian Andes boasts Bogotá, along with colonial towns and legendary landscapes that are ripe for explorers. Colombian Massif is the area of ancestral origins, where you can visit archaeological parks and learn about its Indigenous communities. And the Colombian Amazon-Orinoco is rife with sacred rainforests and plains, home to 185 reservations for Indigenous people, 212 species of mammals—including pink dolphins—and 195 reptile species.
With all kinds of ways to travel sustainably and help preserve the gorgeous terrain for future generations here, you’ll also be making sure your adventure is a force for good. A top priority for the country of Colombia, nature conservancy means there are plenty of incredible wild places to enjoy with the happy knowledge that they’re protected. In the most ambitious tree-planting plan in the country’s history, the government pledged to plant 180 million trees in Chiribiquete National Park, a UNESCO site in southern Colombia’s Amazonian rainforest and one of many eco-friendly experiences to discover.
Take Colombia by the handlebars
Seeing the countryside and historic towns and cities on two wheels makes for a thrilling trip that minimizes your carbon footprint in Colombia, which has fostered a serious cycling culture for decades—it became a national sport back in the 60s and 70s. For more advanced riders, don’t miss the chance to see the steep mountainous terrain up close when you ascend not only the most challenging climb in the country at Manizales but the longest climb on earth, known as “Alto de las Letras,” some 11,476 feet above sea level.
A bike tour in the Tolima region will take you to the landmark colonial town of Honda, known as the city of bridges. The area’s 40 bridges make the destination all the more pleasant to bike through. There are also several boutique hotels to choose from, such as Posada Las Trampas, a colonial-style house with a swimming pool to refresh in after a day riding.
Perk up your trip
Coffee connoisseurs, this route’s for you. Start in Manizales and ride into history in El Eje Cafetero, crossing the Andes mountains—with its incredible ascents and thrilling downhills—into the Colombia coffee lands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Keep your eyes peeled for birds and native wildlife from the very start of the trip; Manizales is known as a birder’s paradise. And as you journey deeper into the Valle de Cauca in the Western Colombian Andes, you’ll start to notice what is perhaps Colombia’s most famous export, the Colombian coffee that’s savored throughout the world.
No matter how you arrive—by bike or car—you’ll have the chance to get to know the community and see first-hand how the almighty bean goes from field to cup at Finca del Café, just 20 minutes from Pereira in Risaralda in the Andean region of the country. Book a night at the eight-room boutique hotel on the premises and take a plantation tour dressed just as any other worker on the farm—in a poncho and hat with a knitted basket by your side. Time your visit just right, on a full-moon night, and enjoy spirited conversation, storytelling, and song around a firepit in the middle of the coffee plantation. Here’s one place where you do want to leave a trace: you can sponsor your own specialty coffee plant in the Lote del Turista. They’ll even mail you pictures throughout the productive life of the tree.
Enjoy dreamy water excursions
Take your scuba diving to new depths with a “meaningful dive” trip off the Caribbean island of San Andrés in Colombia’s northwestern archipelago of islands, surrounded by the Sea of Seven Colors. You’ll learn all about and participate in conservation efforts with marine biologists as your guides with the Corales de Paz program—a title that translates as “Corals of Peace.” Visit a coral nursery and get trained in how to transplant corals. Experience the area’s Raizal culture after days spent diving and bond with other divers over barbecue dinners in the evenings of this three-day program.
Book a stay at family-run native inns and extend your time in this special area to fully immerse in the Creole culture. Savor the laid-back welcoming ambiance, as well as traditional home-cooked dishes like Rondón, a Caribbean stew made with coconut milk and seafood, and topped with green plantain and yuca.
On the shores of Nuqui on Colombia’s Pacific coast, Humpback whales visit every year to give birth to their calves. See the majestic beings in their natural environment and take time for your own type of rebirth. It’s easy to do here, walking pristine beaches, bathing in mineral waters, and experiencing ancestral cleansing rituals and traditional Chocoan stories. Consider a stay at the quaint, tranquil Galavante eco lodge, set off for scuba or surfing adventures—or just bask in the quiet, natural beauty.
See the Eastern Plains by horseback
The Llanos Orientales Region, the “infinite” Eastern Plains, cuts a wide swath across Colombia, totaling a quarter of the country’s land. But it’s sparsely populated, home to more stunning wildlife—over 100 species of mammals and more than 700 bird species—than people.
Do as traditional cowboys (or llaneros as they’re called here) do and explore this exquisite landscape by horseback on guided tours that will take you to waterfalls, wild rivers, and all over the endless savannah. Many tours offer a taste of the cowboy life, with opportunities to try your hand at milking, lassoing, and herding. It’s bound to be educational with a high chance of comical as well. Keep your ears open for the area’s traditional music, joropo, played with guitars, maracas, and harp.