Beyond Bogotá’s museums and Cartagena’s colonial streets lies a rich Colombian wilderness just waiting to be explored. With everything from mountains and rivers to canyons and waterfalls, the country offers outdoor adventure in addition to history and culture, making it a multifaceted place to visit.
To protect its natural resources as well as its local communities, Colombia is laser-focused on sustainable tourism, doing everything from increasing its protected areas to partnering with travel companies like Gate 1 Travel, G Adventures, Big Five, and The Travel Corporation that contribute to the regions where they operate. What this means for travelers is that a trip here can be both a vacation and an opportunity to give back—to the environment as well as the Colombian people.
Below, we’ve rounded up even more reasons why Colombia should be at the top of your list, whether you’re looking for somewhere exotic yet accessible, with proximity and cost efficient to travel safely, a chance to do good, or simply some fun in a spectacular place.
The country has created a welcoming new normal
In the wake of COVID-19, Colombia implemented a range of relief initiatives specifically for the travel industry. To ensure a strong infrastructure for tourists, the country launched Colombia Responds, an extended credit line for the tourism and aviation sectors, and provided tools for refocusing, resizing, and redesigning travel businesses. It also shifted its successful Export Training Program in Tourism to fully virtual courses on biosecurity, sustainability, and more, and reduced the sales tax on flights that have Colombia as an origin or destination. With several international flights to and from the U.S. as well as many other Central and South American countries having resumed as of September 19, the country is open and ready to accept travelers in a responsible way.
Colombia is a global leader in sustainable tourism
Committed to protecting its land and people, Colombia is interested in attracting a very specific type of tourism—one that benefits its visitors and itself, and that can be used as a vehicle for growth. To do so, the country recently became a founding member of The Future of Tourism Coalition, joining organizations like Green Destinations, Tourism Cares, and The Travel Foundation to prioritize the needs of destinations and their communities in the post-pandemic travel era. “The future of tourism is creating enriching travel experiences that also have a positive impact on people, the planet, and wildlife,” says Paula Vlamings, CEO of Tourism Cares. “Colombia’s early commitment to The Future of Tourism Coalition demonstrates great leadership…in applying sustainability and recovery as interconnected priorities.
Colombia is also working with companies with international sustainable certifications, like the Rain Forest Alliance and TourCert, to help protect the environment, engage local people, and contribute to the further development of the country. Says ProColombia president Flavia Santoro Trujillo, “Our post-pandemic goal is for travelers to explore destinations while staying committed to leaving a positive impact in touristic places and communities, which is also in keeping with the new demands in tourism.
As of now, 15.6 percent of Colombia’s national territory has been designated as a protected area. The country also has 21 sustainable tourist destinations certified by the Colombian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism. Additionally, Colombia partnered with the United States Agency for International Development to promote the conservation of biodiversity in the country and is working on a sustainable tourism policy to reduce the environmental footprint of travel. “If Colombia follows the precepts of sustainability, it may be one of the main ones, or perhaps the main destination for nature trips,” says global sustainability leader Costas Christ.
Finally, Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Trade, and Tourism recently presented a new sustainability-focused amendment to the General Law of Tourism. Designed to play a key role in the country’s post-pandemic recovery, the proposed bill formally recognizes that the protection of the environment and local communities is crucial for Colombia’s tourism industry rebound. Says Santoro, “This mandate is a clear signal that our country is committed to ensuring tourism is used as a force for good.”
Tourism Cares is planning a Meaningful Travel Summit in Medellín
With the mission to “use travel as a powerful tool for global good,” Tourism Cares provides the tools and resources for the travel industry to create positive social, environmental, and economic impact around the world. A significant part of the organization’s work is its Meaningful Travel Summits, which harness the collective power of the travel industry to tackle the big issues facing tourist destinations, like struggling workforces, neglected historic sites, disappearing cultures, and declining natural resources.
Tourism Cares will host one of its summits in Medellín in 2021, focusing its attention on a city that thanks to a robust appealing product, its social transformation success and innovation is becoming a tourism hotspot. Participants will get to witness how Colombia is transitioning to a responsible tourism powerhouse as well as how the country is poised to bring nature tourism to travelers. They’ll also learn about the effect of climate change on Colombia’s natural resources and indigenous communities and work together on ideas for how to foster more sustainable travel practices. If Tourism Cares is paying attention to Colombia, then travelers should, too.
There’s endless nature to explore
Medellín is one of Colombia’s top cities in terms of tourism growth. Visitors can witness the changes in places like Comuna 13, where they can learn from the local community and see how tourism can be an engine of social transformation with new infrastructure fueling street art and performances and walking tours. Travelers here can also look forward to an abundance of parks and public spaces, surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of the Aburra Valley. Go birdwatching, hiking, or biking in the Arví Park ecotourism reserve; participate in some agrotourism; or tour the city’s Joaquín Antonio Uribe Botanical Garden, home to over 30 acres of trees, flowers, and more. Places near Medellín such as the little town Guatapé—home to a volcanic rock named El Peñol that’s more than 7,000 feet tall—are worth exploring, too.
Elsewhere in the country, travelers can go fishing in La Macarena in Meta and explore Caño Cristales, a jungle river called the “the rainbow that melted” for its crystal-clear water that showcases multicolored plants. Or you can discover the Coffee Cultural Landscape, located in the Cocora Valley where you’ll see Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, and a great variety of flora and fauna, many in danger of extinction. The peaceful town of Salento in Quindío offers views of the Cocora Valley and its hiking opportunities.
Also in the area, Filandia—one of the region’s most beautiful municipalities—offers the chance to participate in ecotourism, enjoy historic architecture, and learn from the town’s indigenous traditions. For even more, tour some of the world’s top coffee plantations in the Central and Western foothills of the Andes mountains, discover the frailejón forest (an otherworldly landscape featuring members of the sunflower family that can grow up to 23 feet tall and wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr. Seuss book) and mosquito lagoon on Lake Otún, or search for the spectacled bear in the Ucumari Reserve.
In Santander in northeastern Colombia, you can visit any of the 17 heritage towns like Barichara and learn more about the local culture including rammed earth construction, while walking cobblestone streets and enjoying views of mountains, Andalusian-style houses, and other colonial architecture. The area is also full of nature parks, making it one of the most popular places in the country to engage in adventure sports. Go rappelling at the Juan Curí Waterfalls, spelunking in Cueva del Indio, or paragliding over Chicamocha Canyon, which was nominated as one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
There’s also an abundance of culture, history, and luxury to experience
Colombia’s capital and largest city, Bogotá is a study in contrasts. Spanish-style houses sit next to modern buildings, while colonial treasures hide in vibrant green landscapes. For a taste of the past, head straight for La Candelaria, the historical and cultural heart of the city. Here, you can tour government buildings like Casa de Nariño and the presidential palace, walk through Plaza de Bolívar, and stand in awe of the Catedral Primada de Colombia. For more to marvel at, make time to hike Monserrate where you’ll see the church and sweeping city views at the summit.
Elsewhere in Bogotá, museums offer another way into the city’s story. A national monument, the Gold Museum features pieces crafted by goldsmiths, lithic objects, ceramics, precious stones, and textiles from indigenous cultures. The Botero Museum is full of the famous figurative works by the locally born artist and sculptor, while the National Museum of Colombia—the oldest in the country—combines art, history, archeology, and ethnography. Just an hour away, you’ll find even more cultural treasures, like the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Or further afield, you can visit Chingaza Nature Park to witness 383 species of plants including frailejones. And music fans will want to venture southwest of Bogotá to Cali, known as the “Salsa Capital,” where you can take in sweeping views from the massive Cristo Rey statue or admire colonial-era architecture when you’re not dancing.
In Cartagena, travelers can look forward to historic architecture, lively nightlife, cultural festivals, and beautiful beaches. Visit important buildings like San Felipe de Barajas Castle and Santa Catalina de Alejandría Cathedral, hike up Cerro de La Popa for stunning city views, or stroll along the old city walls, admiring the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. To learn more about the city, you can even book a private tour of a museum or a house designated as a World Heritage Site, or indulge in experiences like private shopping trips, cooking lessons, and more.
Cartagena is also known for its unique accommodations, from boutique hotels to private houses with charming colonial architecture. Such stays offer a high level of service but very low occupancy, allowing for proper social distancing and plenty of privacy. Equally plush are the many private islands surrounding Cartagena. Book a stay at the sublime Las Islas, just 45 minutes from Cartagena on Isla Barú, then take a private boat to natural attractions like Coral del Rosario National Natural Park—one of the largest, most protected coral reefs in the Caribbean—for snorkeling, diving, and more amid Colombia’s spectacular scenery.
Or venture further beyond Cartagena to nearby attractions in the Caribbean region like Tayrona Park, Minca, Mayapo, Bahia Hondita, Macuira National Nature Park, or Cape La Vela, where you can glamp, hike, bird watch, or participate in community tourism and wellness activities.
For more information, and to help plan your trip, please visit Colombia’s award-winning tourism website.