Unique Places in Colombia

  • Iglesia Pedro Claver dome from port at dusk
    Iglesia Pedro Claver dome from port at...
    by richiecdisc
  • one of Colombia's stunning churches
    one of Colombia's stunning churches
    by richiecdisc
  • charming Calle de los Recuerdos
    charming Calle de los Recuerdos
    by mircaskirca

Most Viewed Off The Beaten Path in Colombia

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    Coumbia to Panama along the coast

    by lotharscheer Updated Jul 15, 2013

    Take a bus from Medellin (or Cartagena to Monteria, then to Turbo) to Turbo from there a boat (7 am ?) to Capurganá, from there you have boats to Puerto Obaldia, or to boat or a 2hour walk to Sapzurro, a nice little beach and short walk to La Miel, Panama, the last stop of San Blas Adventures formerly Darien Gapster going to Carti, Panama.
    In Puerto Obaldia, so far no ATM there, you have to go in any way to the not very annoying and painstaking Panamanian Immigration.
    From Puerto Obaldia you have planes to Panama City and sometimes boats to Carti.
    Look if you need a visa, the regulations for the Kuna Yala formerly San Blas autonomos region (according to Immigration in Puerto Obaldia when i entered there i was supposed to have a visa, might be different today) are not the same then for the rest of Panama.
    http://www.flyairpanama.com

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    • Sailing and Boating
    • Backpacking

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    The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

    by traveldave Updated Apr 13, 2011

    The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain range in northeast Colombia that rises abruptly from the Caribbean Sea. Attaining an elevation of about 18,700 feet (5,700 meters), the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta make up the world's highest coastal range. In fact, this is the only place in the entire Caribbean region where snow is visible. The tallest peak is either Pico Cristóbal Colón or Pico Simón Bolívar. Surprisingly, it is either one of these peaks that is the tallest in Colombia, and not a peak in the Andes Mountains, as one might think. The remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain make access to the mountains very difficult, so the true elevations of these peaks has not yet been determined.

    The mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta cover an area of about 6,564 square miles (17,000 square kilometers) and are entirely surrounded by lowlands on three sides and the Caribbean Sea on the fourth. They are isolated from the northermost peaks of the Andes Mountains, and are geologically not part of that range. Whereas the Andes Mountains were created by the collision of two continental plates, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is volcanic in origin, and is actually much older than the Andes Mountains.

    Because the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is isolated from other mountain ranges, it is an evolutionary "island" that prevented the exchange of genes between the plants and animals that reside there with those of the plants and animals of the Andes Mountains. Therefore, over thousands of years, many of the plants, animals, birds, and insects that are found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta evolved into separate species. This makes the mountains attractive to birdwatchers, because there are 16 to 21 endemic species of birds (depending upon taxonomy) that are found here and nowhere else in the world. These mountains in fact have the highest concentration of continental range-restricted birds in the world. During my visit, I saw all but two of the endemic species of birds.

    Access to the mountains is very difficult for travelers. The only way into the mountains at the southern edge of the range is via a single dirt track. However, this region is still inhabited by lawless people involved in growing and producing cocaine and other drugs, and they use deadly force to keep out not only casual visitors, but the police as well. In addition, native peoples are suspicious of outsiders and deny access to their territory. Therefore, visitors can only go into the mountains via a very rough dirt track on the north side. This road ascends to the San Lorenzo Ridge, and is only navigable by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The trip takes about three hours from Minca, the nearest town. And in order to view the snow-covered peaks of the main sierra (pictured here), it is advisable to reach the top of San Lorenzo Ridge at dawn, as the mountains usually become covered in clouds later in the morning and are not visible for the rest of the day.

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    Isla de Salamanca National Natural Park

    by traveldave Updated Apr 10, 2011

    Isla de Salamanca National Natural Park comprises a narrow coastal barrier between the waters of the Caribbean Sea and Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, a large, shallow, saline lagoon. The lagoon lies east of where the Magdalena River empties into the Caribbean Sea, and the varied habitats formed by the riverine estuary and the brackish waters of the lagoon combine to create an important area for many forms of wildlife, many of which are endangered.

    The 217-square-mile (562-square-kilometer) park was created in 1964 to protect the area's coastal mangroves and abundant bird life. The flora of the park is dominated by 29,653 acres (12,000 hectares) of mangrove swamps made up of three species: red mangrove, white mangrove, and black mangrove. The park also contains areas of tropical dry forest and riparian forest. Forms of wildlife recorded in the park include 33 species of mammals, 98 species of invertebrates, nine species of amphibians, 35 species of reptiles, 140 species of fish, and over 200 species of birds. The park is one of the most important habitats for migratory birds in the entire Caribbean region. And one of the world's rarest hummingbirds, the sapphire-bellied hummingbird, was discovered in the park, which may be the only place in the world where this bird can be found.

    Because of the importance of the park's habitats to endangered species and migratory birds, it was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.

    Isla de Salamanca National Natural Park is bisected by the main highway between Barranquilla to the west and Santa Marta to the east. However, access is limited because thick mangrove swamps line the sides of the road. Visitors can visit the park through the Los Cocos Administrative Center. Trails and boardwalks allow visitors to penetrate the mangrove swamps where they can easily see many species of birds. However, during my visit other types of animal life were hard to find, the only exception being lizards and skinks.

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  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo

    wildlife

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 13, 2011

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    One of the big surprises of Colombia was the wildlife, especially with regard to birds. With minimal effort, we saw a great variety of birds and it was very easy to get close enough to them for great shots. It is a tribute to Colombia's other great scenery that I have not used many such photos in this overall Colombia page but wanted to remind anyone going to Colombia to certainly bring a good zoom lens and get ready for some great birding as well as seeing a host of mammals and lizards as well.

    What did we see? Monkeys, lizards, wild horses, toucans, and too many types of hummingbirds to count. Where? The best spots were Tayrona National Park, Salento and its surroundings, La Ciudad Perdida trek, El Cocuy National Park and oddly enough quaint little Barichara where we spotted our first Motmot, one of the most stunning birds either of us had ever seen.

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    • Birdwatching
    • Safari

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    Güicán

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 13, 2011

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    While Güicán lacks much of the charm of its nearby rival El Cocuy as a gateway town to enjoy the splendors of El Cocuy National Park, it does have a few attractions worth checking out if you are in the region for an extended time. It also serves backpackers who want to literally walk into the National Park and do the trek in a clock-wise direction as it is closer physically to that part of it. As home to the local U'wa people, it offers a different glimpse into the area as well.

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    • Road Trip
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    Laguna de la Cocha

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 13, 2011

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    At twenty kilometers long and five kilometers wide, Laguna de la Cocha is not only a huge but also a stunning lake. The name cocha means lagoon in the native Quechua language. With a backdrop of rolling verdant hills, this mist-enshrouded gem features an idyllic island perfect for boat excursions. That this very island is home to an evergreen cloud forest that warrants its being a national park only adds luster to an already irresistible package. The thoroughly atmospheric affair is perhaps the top attraction of nearby Pasto even though it's a good 45 minutes away by taxi, the only way to get there by “public” transportation.

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    Silvia & the Guambianos

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 13, 2011

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    A great side trip from Popayán is is: Silvia is an unremarkable mountain town a mere fifty kilometers northeast of Popayán. This distance is a mere geographical one as it is worlds away with regard to what you will find as a person exploring. Though in a picturesque setting, there is little that would draw visitors here if not for a weekly descending of the Guambiano people who largely inhabit the surrounding region. This indigenous group is noted as the most traditional of all Colombian “tribes” and their traditions express themselves most obviously in their colorful clothing and style. But there is more to the Guambianos than meets the eye even if few will learn anything about them or perhaps even care to. For it appears the reason for a trip here is mostly to take photos, not so much of the town, but of the people whose appearance garners attention for Silvia in the first place.

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    Pasto

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 13, 2011

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    Pasto may not be on the average tourist to Colombia's top agenda list but it is not without considerable charm despite a less than perfect climate and it being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country. It does however have a great position to “catch” those traveling from Ecuador to Colombia or vice-versa. It appears much of its poor reputation stems from those forced to spend a night en route to somewhere else, no doubt on a tight time schedule. If given even a cursory investigation, the town reveals itself to have quite a few stunning churches, great day trips into the stunning nature that surrounds it, and some pretty fine eating too. Let's not forget its gorgeous setting if you are lucky enough to see the sun while there. It may not be the most Colombian of towns and it definitely has some Ecuadorian overtones if the latter is not on your itinerary. Perhaps it's not worth going out of your way for but it is by the same token not something to dread if you are heading this way. Pasto will surprise you if you let it and if you find yourself there why not do exactly that?

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    El Cocuy

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    El Cocuy is not likely to be on most travelers' itineraries of Colombia unless they are particularly keen on trekking. While this may stunt its touristic overtures to become mainstream it bodes well to maintain its authentic Colonial flair which stands out even in such a stellar natural setting. For make no mistake, all of the tourism that does funnel through this serviceable gateway town is centered around the mountain massif that is El Cocuy National Park with most of those being Colombians of the tourist bus crowd. While true that most of them see only a glimpse of the impressive mountains that are amongst Colombia's biggest, it is a lot more than most non-native backpackers venture forth for. To be fair, the area was more or less off limits due to guerrilla activity that spanned 15 years or so starting in 1985. Add to that its relative isolation from the most popular of the country's sights and you have a recipe for a slow to develop jewel just awaiting discovery by the masses. For now, it is the domain of two distinct groups for along with those dropping by for a glimpse on tours are a stalwart contingent of Colombian trekkers and climbers who explore the often harsh terrain of the nearby National Park much more extensively. Gringos are finally starting to trickle through as well. Mountains like these do not remain quiet and undiscovered for long. The town of El Cocuy is in their path. Their crossing is bound to be interesting.

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    • Architecture
    • National/State Park

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    Valle de Cocora

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    Valle de Cocora is a gently beautiful area full of rolling green hills and towering wax palms, the reason for the area's protection. Though rural at the lower elevations with farmland the dominant feature, once you climb into those hills the jungle terrain makes such things a more arduous option. Geographically next to the Los Nevados National Park and its powerful volcanoes, one would have to walk for a couple days to reach them though it is entirely possible by sleeping in refugios along the way. The more typical hike is a half-day one that takes you to high elevation cloud forest and through strands of the wax palms that make the area famous.

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    • Birdwatching

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    Las Lajas

    by richiecdisc Written Feb 12, 2011

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    If you are in the need of a miracle, look no further. Spanning one gorgeous gorge sits the neo-Gothic Santurio de Las Lajas is an other-worldly sight especially at night. Though the original church in this spectacular location was built in 1803, this lovely incarnation dates back to the early mid-1900s and took nearly 20 years to complete. Certainly, its stunning location had something to do with the lengthy construction time but make no bones about it, this is one church where setting and architecture vie for top honors in just why you came. To be honest, this is the reason why we came to the far south of Colombia in the first place and though we found a few gems along the way, we were not disappointed with Las Lajas though the “town” that is its gateway leaves a lot to be desired.

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    • Religious Travel

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    the salt of Zipaquira

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 12, 2011

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    Zipaquira is an unremarkable but surely authentic Colombian town a couple hours north of Bogota. Few would visit it if not for its “famed” salt cathedral that draws surely more Colombian tourists as those hailing from outside the country. That's okay, it is for this very reason you should perhaps go. It is a great chance to see Colombians enjoying their own country in a very natural setting. If you can combine this with a trip to sights further north, it is certainly a worthwhile stopover.

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    steamy Mompós

    by richiecdisc Updated Feb 12, 2011

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    Mompós sits steaming on the mighty but sauntering Rio Magdalena, an ode to its former glorious colonial self, parts in decay but others gleaming as any World Heritage Unesco Site might. This is a Colombia found nowhere else, half Bayou swamp and half romance novel ala Garcia Marquez, rolled into a somewhat inaccessible gem that more and more people are finding their way to. While many extol the adventure of getting here and surely that is half the fun, the town itself would be a stunner even if on a more mainstream path in a country that until recently was considered a no-go due to dangers having little to do with remote river travel.

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    • Architecture
    • Romantic Travel and Honeymoons

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    Chingaza National Natural Park

    by traveldave Updated Oct 16, 2010

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    Located in the mountains east of Bogota, Chingaza National Natural Park protects 131,917 acres (53,385 hectares) of high Andean forest, sub-paramo, páramo grasslands, and fog forest. These habitat types are endangered, and are only located in the Andes Mountains in parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

    The elevation of the park ranges from 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) up to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). Most of the landscape consists of páramo grassland and fog forest, although taller canopy trees grow at lower elevations in the park. The mountainous park is the source of nine rivers which provide fresh water to the nearby city of Bogota. The Bogota Water Company in fact owns 40 percent of the park.

    Despite the fact that this area is a national natural park, and is supposedly protected, deforestation still occurs here, mainly from local people cutting trees for firewood. Commercial logging also occurs in the park.

    The forests contain around 2,000 species of plants, over 150 species of birds (including the near-endemic coppery-bellied puffleg and rufous-browed conebill), and several species of endangered mammals such as the spectacled bear and red brocket deer.

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    La Conejera Wetlands

    by traveldave Updated Oct 16, 2010

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    The Bogota Savanna is a high plateau that was once covered with vast wetlands, or humidales, that were home to innumerable species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and plants. During the last century, as Bogota grew, the wetlands of the Bogota Savanna were largely replaced with the urban sprawl of the city. Even now, the wetlands are quickly disappearing. In 1960, there were 123,553 acres (50,000 hectares) of wetlands, and by 2000, there were only 1,977 acres (800 hectares) left. What were once large tracts of wetlands are now reduced to seven small protected areas within the urban area of metropolitan Bogota.

    These wetlands are important because they perform hydraulic regulation functions for the Bogota Savanna ecosystem, including absorbing excess water from nearby rivers, collecting rainwater, and acting as natural water-filtration systems. In addition, they are home to two endemic species of birds, the Bogota rail and Apolinar's wren. Both birds are critically endangered as they are found nowhere else in the world. If these tiny remnants of wetlands disappear, the birds become extinct.

    Despite work to save the humidales, some are better protected than others. I visited two humidales, including one that was in a poor neighborhood. There were no fences to keep people out, and the wetlands were therefore filled with trash, and the water was heavily polluted.

    On the other hand, La Conejera wetlands, pictured here, are under the protection of La Conejera Foundation. The wetlands are surrounded by a tall fence, and there is a guard at the gate who only lets in groups or individuals who have permission from La Conejera Foundation to enter. (La Conejera Foundation organizes guided visits). I went with a local bird guide, so I was able to enter the wetlands even before the normal hours of operation. The guard even accompanied us, helping to point out birds.

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Colombia Off The Beaten Path

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