Thinking of backpacking Colombia?
Perfect! Let’s look at some of the most interesting things to do in Colombia!
Use the quick answer below to find the region most relevant to you.
Quick Answer – Backpacking Colombia Travel Guide
- Why travel to Colombia – 3 Reasons you should travel now
- Usefu Travel Information for Colombia – Make sure you have this in check
- Typical Costs and Colombia Travel Budgets – How much things really cost
- Tourist Map of Colombia – View Colombia on the map
- Best Places to Visit in Colombia – Don’t miss these locations
- Best Time to Visit Colombia – Find out when and where the sun is
Every South America backpacking route should include Colombia somewhere along the journey. Some say Colombia is the heart of Latin America.
This backpacking guide is to designed to assist you in planning a trip to Colombia as well as give you some great Colombia travel tips.
I travel to Colombia every year. This is a living article that I will update before, during and after my trips to Colombia. Backpacking Colombia 2 weeks at a time is not enough if you really want to get to know the country.
In the image above you’ll see that I’m at stood at Valle de Cocora close to Salento after a relaxing walk.
Make sure to add the coffee triangle to your list of places to go in Colombia.
I’d fine-tuned my Colombia itinerary 4 weeks at a time as I find 1 month a good amount of time to be able to see and do more.
Is Colombia Safe to travel?
With so many reasons to travel to Colombia, You’ll find the perfect spot for you. I get people asking me to tell them the best place to visit in Colombia.
Or, even asking questions like; is Colombia safe to travel? and How safe is Colombia? But like I always say, it depends on where you go and what your purpose is.
If you search around the internet, you’ll find many different Colombia itineraries and places in Colombia that are safe to travel.
I’ve been more than twice now. The first time, I visited was the start of my Spanish learning journey. Now I’m planning to re-visit.
Like every time I travel to Latin America. In hindsight, I wish I could have done more, seen more and packed less things in my backpack.
How I started Backpacking Colombia
At first, I was a bit clueless on where to go in Colombia.
Sometimes when doing random travel you don’t have to think too much about where you just go.
Being overwhelmed by all the beautiful places in Colombia. I was impressed by what I experienced when I travelled to Medellín comparing to Bogota.
Back in 2016 before I started looking for the best places to travel in Colombia, I barely left Medellín.
Missing out on the more famous places in Colombia (with tourists) like Cartagena and the world famous coffee triangle, I knew I had to return.
Medellín is the second most important city in Colombia. It is also notoriously a prime location for foreign travellers and expats.
Why travel to Colombia
Let me share with you the reasons I travel to Colombia:
Backpacking through Colombia is easy: As you’ll learn as we get through this guide. When you consider the cost of backpacking South America in other countries, Colombia seems like a breeze.
One thing to have in mind when researching Colombia’s points of interest is that Colombia is one of the more diverse countries in South America. For this reason, you’ll always have a very interesting list of what to do in Colombia.
You don’t need to Speak Spanish: Backpacking Colombia, one may think that you need to speak fluent Spanish.
Speaking Spanish will definitely help you, but it’s not necessary to be able to visit Colombia. You can even do what I did and start to learn or practice your Spanish before you arrive.
There are many hidden gems: Outside of the normal Colombia tourist attractions, you’ll be glad to know that there are many other more obscure activities.
Many which can be found off the beaten track. For example, one of my favourites was to visit Guatape from Medellin.
Here are 3 more practical reasons why I like backpacking Colombia:
- To continue my Spanish learning journey
- Drink some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted
- Explore, learn and inspire other people I meet along the way
I usually spend 1-3 months in Colombia every year. Living and working as a digital nomad has allowed me to achieve this – it has been challenging.
Medellin is my port of call and I usually use a combination of traditional Homestays, AirBnb and hostels. Planning to learn Spanish whilst in Colombia? You can organise a homestay through a school, but I don’t usually do that.
Backpacking in South America can be a rewarding experience and if it’s your first time I always invite people to try Colombia first. Let’s have a look at why.
Useful information about Colombia
3 facts about Colombia
Here’s 3 things that could save you life by knowing them.
- Colombians are sick and tired of being associated with Narcos.
- Animal products are part of every dish and vegetables are hardly eaten.
- Colombia is not a dangerous place if you stick to the tourist destinations.
How to get to Colombia: If you’re travelling from the United States, Europe of the rest of the world. The easiest way to get to Colombia is by plane. I usually flew into José María Córdova International Airport based in Rionegro, from Miami.
As part of my travel rotation I live in Jamaica for a part of the year. I have managed to fly from Kingston to Medellin via Miami.
Also, when flying from the UK I fly from London Heathrow via Madrid with Iberia for a very cheap. I usually by return tickets for around $400USD.
Visas: Providing your stay is fewer than 90 days, there are no visa requirements for both U.K or U.S. citizens. If you overstay your visa in Colombia, expect to pay a fine before leaving the country.
You can also renew your tourist visa whilst in the country which gives you a total of 180 days in any one calendar year
Colombia Safety and security: If you want to learn more about the legalities travelling to Colombia. More info found at: gov.uk.
Tipping: Leaving a tip in Colombia is obligatory and usually, you will be asked if you want to pay el servicio or not.
💡 Smart Travel Tip
When travelling around Latin America with expensive gear like Laptops and Cameras, decent insurance cover is imperative.
Colombia typical costs and budget
🇺🇸 1USD – 🇨🇴 3,087COP
My daily budget:
Up to 150KCOP per day
Suggested daily budget:
88K-110K COP / $28-35 USD
Is it possible to travel to Colombia on a budget? Most certainly, yes! I like to travel smartly. I also like to get the highest quality for less price.
This can be achieved in many ways. I will highlight any Smart Travel tips and tricks below and throughout this article.
Depending on where you’re staying of course, expect to pay anything from $9 for hostels, home stays or private accommodation. I tend to use AirBnb but I also use homestays when staying in Colombia. I mention how to find these type of homestays in my guide Smart Travel Latin America.
The food is very diverse in Colombia but at the same time it’s monotonous. If you like to eat street food you’re in luck, like in most of Latin America it’s a cheap place to eat. To obtain the most authentic food expect to pay anything from 10,000COP.
In general the transport in Colombia is very good. You can find all the modes of transport you can imagine. Sometimess you’ll find it works out cheaper and quicker to take a plane and expect to pay anything from $30-100USD For example from Bogotá to Medellin many local people will recommend you take the plane.
With entrance fees, rentals, classes, tours all adding up. You can expect to pay anything from $5USD for entrance to a historical or natural attraction. For example entrance to Tyrona park in Santa Marta is $15USD and the entrance fee to The Gold Muesum in Bogota is $1USD per person.
💡 Smart Travel Tip
Eat as many fruits as you can whilst backpacking in Colombia. This is Smart Travel because in Colombia you’ll find fruits full of vitamins and minerals that you won’t find in other parts of the world.
Connecting with Locals
I recommend you visit as many local markets as you can – usually there you find a good selection of food and interesting people to encounter.
Usually, when I travel I like to connect with locals to get a deeper understanding of each place I visit.
One drink you must try whilst in Colombia is Guarapo. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to try it, because it’s sold everywhere.
Map of Colombia
I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to read this Colombia travel guide.
Not only I am I going to show you the best cities to visit in Colombia, but also some ideas on what to do once you get there.
Here’s a link to download a map of Latin America for trip planning.
I’ve added an interactive Colombia map below for you to navigate to the individual places in this backpacking Colombia guide.
Below I will list some of the places that really interest me in Colombia. As I said earlier, if you’re flying into Colombia I highly recommend you start in Medellín, one of the best cities in Colombia.
You can easily check the weather in different regions to work out the best time to go to Colombia.
Depending on your route and onward plans. If you’re backpacking in Colombia it may seem more logical to start by the Caribbean coast i.e. Cartagena or by visiting the lost city and working your way down towards Cali or the Ecuadorian border.
Use my guide below to look at the top places to visit in Colombia and make your decision on where to start.
Land of the eternal spring
Since I use Medellín as my base, I always fly into José María Córdova Airport which is one of the major airports in Colombia. But it’s entirely up to you, work out which itinerary feels best.
The other reason I suggest Medellin is because it’s a great introduction to Colombia. You’ll find almost anything you need without too much trouble.
Did I mention the weather is very favourable? There’s a reason why they call it the land of the eternal spring.
For many people, Medellin has become one of the best places to visit in Colombia. And actually, it’s one of the famous cities in Colombia.
Best places to visit in Colombia
Use the links below to jump to locations most relevant to you.
Remember: This is a living article. I’ll add the locations one I’ve visited them 🙂
These are some of the best cities to visit in Colombia that is based on my experience of backpacking through the country.
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and one of the most famous places in Colombia. You’ll find many things interesting things to do here.
Out of all the cities in Colombia. Bogota isn’t my personal favourite, but I always find myself stopping in Bogota one way or another.
In Bogota, you’ll find the core of Colombia nightlife and entertainment. There you’ll find the Bolívar Square which is one of the most important squares in Colombia.
It’s a true metropolis and you can find influences from of the peoples of Colombia inside the city. Be sure to take a walk through the Candelaria.
But you’ll find Bogota too much different compared with Medellin, especially for the weather. Bogota is colder so you’ll need to include a sweater in your list of what to pack for Colombia if you’re planning to go to this city.
So, probably you’re thinking about what’s the best time to visit Colombia and the answer is always is a good time to go.
But you should know that there’re two important rainy seasons that mainly affects the Andes and Pacific regions. Which are from April to early June and from September to November.
Villa De Leyva
If in the Bogota region it would be rude not to visit Villa De Leyva. Featuring some of the most beautifully preserved colonial buildings.
Depending on your tastes, Villa De Leyva maybe one of the top places to visit in Colombia.
There are various activities you can do from visiting archaeological sites, exploring the Ostrich farm and even a dinosaur theme park. So you can find it as one of the most interesting places in Colombia.
Backpacking Colombia and not visiting Villa De Leyva might leave you with regrets. People visit from all over the world and it’s a popular weekend getaway for wealthy Colombians to escape the city.
Another one of Colombia points of interest that are named as the Colombian capital of extreme sports. San Gil is yet another location in Colombia that deserves more your time if backpacking Colombia.
Many other backpackers recommend a minimum of 5 nights, because of the amount of action packed activities that you can do.
In San Gil, you’ll find outdoor activities like rafting, paragliding, bungee jumping and zip-lining are to name a few.
San Gil is one of those Colombia tourist attractions that doesn’t get that much exposure. If you are planning a trip to Colombia and looking to have some extreme be sure to add San Gil to your itinerary.
Cartagena de Indias is by far the most popular destination in Colombia with tourists. The Caribbean is one of my favourite regions to be in Colombia.
You’ll find heaps of history and culture. You may also be glad to know that you can visit the walled city free of charge, which was previously classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you like sun, sand, sea and culture then backpacking the Caribbean region of Colombia may be a good place to start.
For me, Cartagena is one of the best cities to visit in Colombia for roots and culture.
Also, know that Cartagena is always going to be on a locals Colombian’s list of places to visit in Colombia.
Meaning there’s a lot of people travelling in the high seasons (July to August and December to January) both by plane and bus.
You can easliy head over to Santa Marta from Cartagena if you want to try something different.
You’ll find very common that local tourists travel by bus i.e. they take a bus from Medellin to Cartagena and then they come back by bus from Cartagena to Medellin. But they are prepared for spending at least 13 hours on the road.
Playa Baru or otherwise know as Playa Blanca is located around 40km from Cartagena.
At Playa Baru, you can expect to see around 2km clear turquoise waters and white sands. Even if you only have one week in Colombia and are planning a trip to the Caribbean you must see Playa Baru.
It’s at my top list of best places in Colombia by the way.
Colombia scenery isn’t all but green. At Playa Baru, you are able to jet off into the deep blue sea on a jet ski.
Or, even get yourself a foot and back massage while laid on all fours. If you like to be around many people you can or you can find yourself a quiet spot to chill.
If looking for the best beaches in Colombia you must check out the Rosario Islands. Whilst backpacking Colombia you’ll find there are around 27 islands to in the Mar Caribe to be discovered.
That’s why is difficult for me to think about the best beach in Colombia.
The Rosario Islands are reminiscent of other tropical paradises you can find in the Caribbean. If you’re into scuba diving then here’s the place to be.
Some of the better islands you find are:
- Isla del sol
- Gente Del Mar
- Isla encanto
- Fenix beach
All in all, when looking for the best places to travel in Colombia a good starting point is in the Caribbean.
💡 Smart Travel Tip
Check out the beach clubs if you want a more tranquil experience. There are a lot of vendors are selling tours and refreshments which can get annoying if you want to just relax.
Be prepared for you the full day as it takes about 1h 30m to get to the Rosario Islands from mainland Cartagena.
There are many things to do in Medellín. I have wrote a separate article with 6 things you can get involved with.
Depending on what you like to do on your backpacking adventures you’ll find Medellin a great city to begin your trip.
Also, many people from Medellin who are called “paisas” consider that Medellin is the best city in Colombia. So you could find out.
Medellin’s location is perfect, especially if you want to visit places like Salento which I can highly recommend you do.
There is 2 main bus terminal located on the Metro lines which can take you to many other places including some of the cute towns in Antioquia which reside on the outskirts of Medellin.
If in Medellin for any longer than a few days you must go to Jardin. You’ll find everything you could hope for in a small Colombian town.
Great coffee, colourful architecture, inviting and friendly environment and you can even go hiking to a nearby waterfall.
2 of the most popular activities to do in Jardin are taking a horse ride or go hiking along the mountainside trail to the hidden Cueva del Esplendor. Definitely, it’s a place you must see in Colombia if love nature and adventure.
Santa Fe de Antioquia is yet another pueblo you can visit on a day trip from Medellin. Located around 1 hour from Medellin you’ll find some of the best preserved colonial architecture in Colombia.
Be sure to check out Puente de Occidente the 3rd longest bridge in South America.
Travelling out to Santa Fe gives you a chance to escape from the city and see how life is in a rural Antioquia.
The town of Guatape is one of the most visited places from Medellin and is its own municipality within itself.
Many people see Guatape as one of the coolest small towns in Colombia. But it’s not just the colourful town that attracts people, it’s the beautiful view of the lake and the giant rock called The Peñol Rock.
You see, the Peñol stands more than 200 meters high and you can see it from miles away and throughout the surrounding countryside.
In Guatape you can also find a good selection of Water Sports or even take a boat ride around the beautiful lake formations. Guatape is not to be missed if you have more than a few days in Antioquia.
Known it’s warm people Caleños, its exuberant nightlife and dance clubs. Cali was named as the Salsa capital of the world. Also, it’s one of the biggest cities in Colombia.
I visited Cali back in 2017 and it has some great points of interest for the seasoned traveller.
As one of the only cities in Colombia that have access to the Pacific coast, it’s a flat city with plenty of things to do to keep you occupied.
Trust me, spend 2 weeks in Colombia is not enough if you want to visit the most beautiful places in Colombia.
- Exploring Tatacoa Desert
- A guide to Colombia’s Coffee Triange
- Best things to do in Cartagena
- Learn all about Latin Dance
If you’ re in the Valle del Cauca region you have to check out San Cipriano. You have to add this to your list of Colombia beautiful places.
It’s a Natural reserve in the centre of the subtropical forest on the Pacific coast. You can reach the suspension bridge in about 2.5 hours from Cali.
Once you get to San Cipriano you’ll be greeted with many outdoor activities. A few of the highlights are visiting 6 beautiful lagoons.
You can be sure that a trip to San Cipriano will be one of the things to see in Colombia that you’ll feel grateful for visiting.
Relax in the natural pools of crystal waters and bath under waterfalls. With one of the most beautiful being called La Ventiadora which is around a 40-minute walk from the point of entry.
As a preserving and a hidden place, needless to say, you should have cash because you have to pay for the access and other things like tours and food that are not expensive. So remember the currency used in Colombia is Colombian Peso.
Buga is a sleepy town located and easily accessible on the bus ride from Cali. As it remains off the beaten track, Buga is one of the spots that you can visit an not feel like you’re surrounded by a thousand other tourists.
In Buga, you’ll find Juan María Céspedes Botanical Garden. A very tranquil and special place to interact with nature.
If you like camping you can camp out within the grounds. Don’t forget your camera. Visit the garden if you love nature and especially if like the idea of switching off technology and relaxing for a while.
Santa Marta is located by the Caribbean Sea and was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.
You can expect to encounter so luscious beach destination that will make it difficult to leave.
Many people come here to be beside the sea or stroll around the colonial city at places like Parque de los novios.
Aside from getting to know it’s beaches and sample some good street food, you can head over to Parque Tayrona which is one of the most visited attractions in the Santa Marta.
At Parque Tayrona you can soak up some fresh jungle terrain and find secluded beaches all in one.
Located in the Northern Highlands of the country, Minca is a great location for anyone interested in natural reserves, national parks and other protected areas
Minca is a popular spot to visit from Santa Marta and only takes around 45 minutes. Minca is a small village with a big story.
You really feel like you’re in a tranquil place and can enjoy hikes to nearby waterfalls and serves as a perfect gateway to o the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range.
It’s no secret that Minca is also the home to some of Colombia’s best Cacao. I recommend you visit one of the Cacao farms and get a taste for yourself.
You can learn about both cacao and coffee via the fully guided tours on offer some which also offer accommodation.
The Coffee Triangle
Many people to come to Colombia to sample its amazing coffee. For any backpacker, a trip to Eje Cafetero should be near the top of the list.
There are 3 departments that make up the Coffee Belt which is Risaralda, Risaralda and Caldas.
Periera is considered the capital of the Coffee Triangle and serves as a good access point to get to most of the small towns that produce coffee.
Salento is one of the most popular with backpackers to Colombia right now.
Other than expecting to taste some of the worlds best Coffee you’ll find yourself in a tranquil environment in which you’ll see everything from colourful architecture, some great restaurants and Coffee Farm tours.
Colombia Travel Tips
Below are some Colombia travel tips, including books to read to make the most out of your experience and the best time to go to Colombia.
Books to Read on Colombia
If interested in Colombian culture these books I have listed may interest you:
- The Making of Modern Colombia – Provides a good summary of the history of the country.
- Music, Race, and Nation – A great examination of the racial and identity relations in Colombia.
- Birdwaching in Colombia – Complete information on how to find and what to see at 127 birding locations in Colombia. This book contains 85 maps show routes and landmarks to find each site.
- Colombia a Comedy of Errors – This amazing book covers history, culture, religion, government, family, relationships, day-to-day living, reading between the lines, formal and informal social interactions, how space is organized, and what visitors can expect to see.
- Colombia a Comedy of Errors – An interesting and informative book which provides information about the more recent history of Colombia and the current culture and flavor of Bogota and other areas around the country.
Great if you’d like to do some further reading about Colombia before your trip.
Best time visit in Colombia
As you’ll probably know Colombia is very close to the equator and there are two seasons.
- Dry Season
- Wet Season
Sounds simple right? Well, it is, but backpacking Colombia in the dry season doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stay dry. It all depends on where about in Colombia you are located.
Best Time to Travel to Colombia for Warmer Temperatures
Depending on where you are in Colombia the temperature doesn’t change much. That’s why you can expect a median temperature whether wet or dry.
- Bogota – Around 14º deg Celsius
- Medellin – Around 20ºdeg Celsius
- Cartagena – More than 26ºdeg Celsius
- Cali – More than 24ºdeg Celsius
When thinking about the best time to go to Colombia it’s worth noting that the sun in many places can be very deceiving.
Especially during the day. It may not seem that hot and feel a lot less hot when you look at the ambient temperature.
For example, in places like Jardín where it’s cold during the early morning and evening if you’re walking around at midday you can easily get sunburned.
Hence why you’ll see many local people walking around with their umbrellas.
Best time to travel to Colombia for the Sun
Now let’s drill down into these two seasons because it’s still unclear what the best time to travel to Colombia is without knowing the following dates:
- December to March – Dry Season
- April to June – Rain Season
- July to September – Mini Dry Season
- October to November – Rain Season
One thing I do know about backpacking through Colombia is that you can’t rely on the weather to keep you dry.
If you’re on the Caribbean coast of Colombia you have much more hope than say Medellin, which depending whereabouts you are it can rain at any minute during the day.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it must rain somewhere in Medellin every single day.
If you rely on weather apps and generated forecasts to plan your trip or even your day, you could find yourself stuck in your accommodation for days on end.
The truth is, is that there is no one best time to visit Colombia and you can find sun, hot, warm, cold and wet and dry conditions at any time of the year.
Actually, this is one of the unique things about Colombia and one of the reasons you can find so many exotic fruits right throughout the year.
All in all, you’ll find backpacking Colombia a very rewarding experience. There are tons to learn and you’ll encounter many different groups of people.
In addition, there’re plenty of places to see in Colombia that offers you different temperatures, landscapes and food.
So, if you are thinking about what to wear in Colombia make sure to check the weather of the cities you plan to visit before you go.
Remember Colombia is more than beaches and warm weather. And you’ll probably spend more than 10 days in Colombia.
You’ll realise it’s not as cheap as other destinations in like Peru or Bolivia but definitely not experience like Argentina or Uruguay.
If you have found this backpacking Colombia guide useful please remember to share it with friends.
📌 Like this article? Pin it…
💬 Leave a comment below or let’s start a conversation!
“Dear friend! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, book a hostel or sign up for a tour, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Your support means a lot to me and helps me to keep travelling and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”