Despite its complex history, today’s Colombia is peaceful, multicultural, and forward-looking. Against a background of gorgeous nature and warm welcomes, visitors experience a Colombia that insiders have known all along: tranquil Caribbean beaches, sleepy colonial villages nestled within the towering Andes, ochre-colored deserts that spill into the sea, unspoiled jungles, amazing wildlife, mysterious archeological ruins, and vibrant cities.

Colorful buildings line a street in Cartegena, Colombia



When’s the best time to go to Colombia?

Being so close to the equator, Colombia lacks defined seasons; the elevation—more than the calendar—determines the weather. Higher altitudes are chilly enough for a thick sweater and the steamy lowlands have tropical weather year-round. The period between mid-December and March tends to be drier, the skies bluer. December and January are also the height of the local holiday season, so major destinations, especially on the Caribbean, can get a bit crowded.


  • Bogota’s Expo-Artesanías fair, which features exquisitely crafted and curated handicrafts from all over the country, starts in mid-December.
  • The Feria de Cali is a music, food, and culture extravaganza held yearly from Christmas Day to December 30, which features parades, bullfights, sporting events, and concerts.
  • For nine days in early January, Cartagena’s International Music Festival uses the city’s spectacular architecture as a backdrop for dozens of concerts by internationally renowned classical musicians.
  • The Carnaval de Negros y Blancos, in the southern city of Pasto from late December to early January, is an explosion of color and joy that includes float-filled parades and a full calendar of parties and events.
  • Cartagena’s Hay Literature and Arts Festival is a four-day event showcasing literature, politics, and journalism, in talks and conferences (many in English) that could even include the latest Nobel laureate for literature.
  • The Carnival at Barranquilla, though smaller than the celebration in Rio de Janeiro, is a boisterous blowout nonetheless, complete with beauty queens, parades, spectacular costumes, dancing till dawn and a great deal of drinking.

How to get around Colombia

Major airlines fly to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla from many U.S., Latin American, and European cities. When in Colombia, you can take domestic flights from city to city and and areas further afield. Highways are generally safe and renting cars is becoming more common, but driving distances can be deceptive, especially if you’re stuck behind a truck slogging through the mountains on a single-lane highway. Hiring a driver to go from one town to the next is a convenient, not-overly-extravagant indulgence. Intercity buses provide more scenery but run the gamut, ranging from decent drivers and ample comforts to bumpy jalopies going far too fast. Always purchase the highest grade of service available.

Can’t miss things to do in Colombia

The Gold Museum and the view from Monserrate in Bogotá; watching the sunset from Cartagena’s ancient ramparts; exploring Parque Tayrona near Santa Marta.

Food and drink to try in Colombia

One of the first things Colombians will ask is whether you like the food; it’s important to them you do. And while traditional Colombian cuisine skews to meat-and-potatoes, the culinary scene in bigger cities has burst to life in recent years, jazzing up traditional favorites.

Regional specialties include Bogotá’s signature potato soup, ajiaco; the belt-busting bandeja paisa in Medellín (it includes pork crackling, avocado, grilled banana patties, rice, beans); Barranquilla’s cheese-and-yam mote de queso; and piangua mollusk in coconut sauce, served almost everywhere on the Pacific coast. Try amazing juices made from local fruits like lulo, feijoa, tomate de árbol, curuba (banana-passionfruit), starfruit, tamarind, plus dozens of other flavors. Local breads made from cassava or corn flour and cheese, such as pan de bono, pan de yuca, or almojábanas are heavenly. Not least of all, each region has its own version of the arepa, a fabulous cornmeal bread, buttered and filled with sundry goodies. In Antioquia, they are thin and mild, to temper the region’s intense flavors; in and around Bogotá, they come filled with gooey cheese; the Santander iteration is toasty, often peppered with bits of chicharrón.

Culture in Colombia

Colombia’s cultural landscape is as varied as its geography; listening to each region’s music is a great lens through which to see the differences. Cali is the epicenter of thrilling Colombian salsa music and dance; Valledupar is the vallenato capital; the Pacific coast has its chirimía and currulao; and the Caribbean is home to champeta, cumbia, and mapale. The Andean region is known for bambuco and the Llanos for joropo. Somewhat incongruously, Medellín has a strong tango tradition (though the genre originated in Argentina). In recent years, musicians like La Mojarra Eléctrica, Systema Solar, Curupira, Herencia de Timbiquí, ChoqQuibTown, or Bomba Estereo have injected edgy, urban rhythms into these venerable folk traditions.

For Families

Colombia is very child-friendly. Colombians love to travel in big family groups with everyone from the grandparents to infants and many travel destinations for domestic tourists revolve around entertaining the kids. Amusement parks include Hacienda Nápoles, once the sprawling estate of famed drug lord Pablo Escobar, which has been transformed into a safari-type park with wild animals—including the African hippos Pablo imported for his pleasure—and rides. Other amusement parks include Parque del Café in the coffee triangle, Mundo Aventura and Parque Salitre in Bogotá, and Parque Jaime Duque just north of the capital. Interactive museums are another hit for families with children including Maloka in Bogotá and Parque Explora in Medellín.

Practical Information

Just about everybody in Colombia speaks Spanish, though it’s not the country’s only language. Along with about 70 indigenous languages, including Arhuaco and Quechuan, there are two forms of Creole—one a blend of English and Spanish, the other is Spanish-based.

No need for adapters, Colombia’s electric outlets run at 110 volts.

Guide Editor

Sibylla Brodzinsky is a Bogotá-based freelance reporter and author who has spent more than 20 years writing on Latin American politics, human rights and social issues, and is the Colombia correspondent for both The Economist and The Guardian. She is co-editor of Throwing Stones at the Moon (McSweeney’s, 2012), a compilation of oral histories from Colombians displaced by violence.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
Not too long ago, Colombian cooking simply meant ‘comfort food,’ but chefs throughout the country are using the region’s produce—fish, vegetables, fruit, coffee, and meat—and traditional recipes to create a new world cuisine. Come taste the revolution.
Highlights for a quick jaunt around Cartagena!
Having shucked off the specter of violence and war that long kept this vibrant city off travel maps, Bogotá has emerged as a destination for lovers of art and cuisine. The booming shopping districts, restaurant districts, museum districts, bike paths, and street-art tours make it clear: Bogotanos have awakened and are driving the city into a new and promising future.
Ok, so maybe you’ll need a week and a half. Perhaps even two? Stay a month. There’s more than enough to do on this trip from Bogotá to Medellin and then along the coast of the Caribbean Sea from Cartagena to a National Park or the Lost City. Explore vibrant cities and relaxed seaside towns. Hike. Take a cable car from neighborhood to neighborhood. Eat. Dance. Drink. And plan your return.
Two colors will be top of mind after a visit to Colombia’s capital city: green and gold. The green of the city’s parks and South America’s Andes in the distance. The gold at the Museo del Oro. Spend time walking around the city, there’s plenty to marvel at over the colonial architecture along the way. Two day trips from Bogotá that, really, aren’t optional: Lake Guatavita, for natural beauty and the stories of chieftains and conquistadors; and The Salt Cathedral, sculpted from the empty chambers of a working salt mine.
With the temperature sitting pretty around 75 degrees at all times, walking around Medellín is pure pleasure. To get a deeper understanding of the history of and life in Colombia, don’t miss the Museo Casa de la Memoria, which recounts Colombia’s brutal civil war. After, head to the Parque de los Pies Descalzos, where you get to kick off your shoes and, like all the other kids and adults, run through fountains. For a stellar view, hop a Metrocable car to the neighborhood of Santo Domingo.
Whether or not you’re planning a trek to the Lost City, a visit to the starting point of the hike, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla, also part of Magdalena Province, should be. The coastal towns feature carefully-prepared fresh seafood, the nearby Tayrona National Park, museums, and much more.
Swim the Caribbean Sea. Hike through Tayrona National Park. Trek to Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City. Take in Colombian coffee culture in the Coffee Triangle. Or just wander the streets of one of Colombia’s cities to take in enough art and culture to keep you talking about this stellar South American country for the rest of your life.
On Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena is a vividly-painted walled city filled with 400-year-old houses. You could just spend your days there walking around, snapping photos of the historic center. Nobody would question that desire. But there’s so much more to do, from exploring the street art of the Getsemaní barrio to touring the Teatro Heredia and daytripping to Islas del Rosario. Some of Colombia’s best cocktails and finest seafood dishes are served in this port city. Don’t miss the sautéed snapper in coconut-shrimp sauce at Restaurante Donjuán.
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