Colombia is the fourth largest country in South America and one of the most diverse in terms of fauna, flora, weather, culture and traditions. This diversity is partly explained by the topography of the country: Colombia’s territory is divided from North to South by three branches of the Andes and it has coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Extensive plains can be found towards the East of the country, a semi-desertic area in the North and the Amazon rainforest in the south.
These characteristics make Colombia a great destination to visit. However, when travellers are planning their trip to Colombia, the decision of where to go and what to do while you’re visiting, is not an easy one. There are many interesting places in each region of the country, all of them very appealing.
To provide a bit of clarity on the matter, we decided to do a very short summary of the five regions of Colombia, with some of their very general characteristics and places to visit that may help travellers to decide where to go. There are still so much to say about each region, but that will turn this post into a very large article so we have tried to keep it reasonably high level. We hope you find this article useful when planning your trip to Colombia.
If you have any question or want to learn more, just let us know. We’ll be happy to help.
The Uncover Colombia Team
1. The Andes:
This is the most populated region of Colombia as it contains the majority of the country’s urban centres, including the country’s two biggest cities: Bogota and Medellin. It is characterised by its diverse topography given by the three branches of the Andes crossing the country from the South to the North. Its weather, fauna and flora vary considerably depending on the altitude.
The Andes region has a lot to offer to visitors: Cultural events, museums and historical places in the big cities, day trips to visit the colonial and traditional towns, eco-tourism in Natural parks and extreme sports like rafting and paragliding.
Where to go:
Cities and towns:
- Bogota: The capital of Colombia offers a great combination of tradition and modernity.
- Villa de Leyva: One of the most beautiful colonial towns in the country. It is famous also for its abundance of fossils from the Cretaceous and Mesozoic periods, when this area was under water.
- Medellin: The second largest city in Colombia offers spring-like weather all year around and a variety of cultural activities.
- Barichara: A magnificent colonial town in Santander featuring cobblestone streets, white washed buildings and red-tiled roofs that look as new as the day they were built about 300 year ago.
- The beautiful and traditional paisa towns in the coffee region including: Santafe de Antioquia, Salento and Filandia.
- Cocora Valley
- El Cocuy National Natural Park
- Chingaza National Natural Park
- Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
- Los Nevados National Natural Park
- Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
2. The Caribbean:
The Caribbean region is the northernmost part of the Colombian territory and is the home of some of the best beaches in the country.
This region along the Caribbean Sea covers a range of different ecosystems from the jungle of the Darien in the border with Panama to the dry desert of La Guajira near Venezuela, as well as the spectacular San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands.
This region is a paradise for snorkelling, diving and nautical sports, as well as eco-tourism in the Tayrona Park, the Sierra Nevada, La Guajira or the Gulf of Urabá.
Where to go:
- Cartagena: One of the most fascinating colonial cities in Latin America. It was declared a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in 1984.
- Santa Marta: The oldest colonial city in Colombia
- Tayrona National Park: Home of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest costal mountain in the world, its scenery varies from sandy beaches to rainforest.
- The Lost City in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park: An ancient abandoned town built by the Tayrona people between the 11th and the 14th centuries.
- Cabo de la Vela in La Guajira: One of the most beautiful places in Colombia. The cape, as it is called, is full of rocky cliffs above and sandy beaches below, accompanied by the stunning colours of the desert.
- Mompox: A fairytale town known as the setting for Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was declared a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in 1995.
- Islas del Rosario: This archipelago, located about 35km Southwest of Cartagena, consists of about 27 small islands surrounded by coral reefs.
- San Andres Islands
3. The Amazon:
The Amazon region is not only one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world but it is also a rich region in terms of ancient wisdom and traditions maintained by its indigenous communities inhabiting the area.
The Amazon region is a destination for eco-tourism lovers and explorers. It also offer a great chance of visiting indigenous communities and learn about their traditions.
Where to go:
- Amacayacú National Park
- The Monkey Island
- Natural Reserves of the Civil Society
- Indigenous villages.
- Leticia: It is the capital city of the Amazonas department in Colombia
- Puerto Nariño: It is a small Amazonian village also called “the cradle of the Amazon”, it is inhabited mainly by indigenous communities. This town is a world-class model for sustainable living and proof that man and nature can peacefully coexist.
4. The Pacific:
Bordering by Panama to the North and Ecuador to the South, the Pacific region forms the western slice of Colombia along the Pacific Ocean. This beautiful jewel is among the most biodiverse and rainy regions in the world. It has beautiful colonial and historic cities like Popayan, virgin beaches along the coast and natural parks like Gorgona Island.
The humpback whales are recurrent visitors to this region. They usually come from the Antarctic between July and September to mate, raise their young, swimming quietly in the depths of the Pacific and then raise to the surface to blow streams of water.
The Pacific coast is the ideal place for nature fanatics because of the variety of wildlife and the possibility on seeing dolphins and whales swimming at stone’s throw distance from the beach.
Where to go:
Cities and towns:
- Cali: The biggest city is this region. Named the world’s capital of Salsa, is theplace to be if you want to improve your dancefloor skills.
- Popayan: A small colonial city famous for its white facades and for its holy week celebrations
- Pasto: Built at the foot of the Galeras volcano, it has several colonial buildings and it is the base for visiting the Laguna de Cocha.
- Ipiales: A commercial town just less than 30 minutes away from the Santuario de las Lajas.
- Utria National Park
- Gorgona Island Natural Park
- Malpelo Natural park
- Isla de la Corota in the Laguna de Cocha
- Purace National Park.
- Nuquí and Bahía Solano
5. The Plains:
This beautiful natural region located to the east of the Andes is crossed by many rivers turning this vast plain into a spectacular mix of landscapes, flora and fauna (including pink dolphins). “Los Llanos” is also recognized by its extensive hatos and ranches where you can stay overnight and enjoy the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you have ever seen. It is definitely the most appealing destination for curious travellers wanting to explore new sceneries and environments.
A trip to this region is ideal for hiking, horseback riding and boat trips on the rivers and lakes. Stay overnight in one of the ranches, learn about their lifestyle and enjoy the stunning sunsets and sunrises.
Where to go:
- La Macarena National Park the home of Caño Cristales the river of the seven colours thanks to the mosses and algae bloom between the wet and dry seasons from June to November.
- Tuparro National Park which is a National Monument and a Biosfer Reserve declared by UNESCO.
- Villavicencio, the main city in the region and the gateway to Los Llanos.
- Explore Colombia with Uncover Colombia: Check our new tours (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Suggestions for a two-week holiday in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- The weather in Colombia (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- A traveller’s guide to the towns of Boyaca, Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Colombia’s Diversity Goes Beyond Flora and Fauna (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Adventure is Out There: Tayrona National Park (isastudentblog.wordpress.com)
- Parque Nacional Tayrona (daviddemundo.wordpress.com)