As someone who lives in Colombia, I can tell you that this country has more to offer than just coffee, tropical beaches, alpine mountains, and colonial cities. Below the surface lies a treasure chest of fascinating places waiting to be discovered. Here are eight of my favorite enigmatic destinations worth the detour.
Unspoiled Providencia Island. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Although difficult and expensive to reach, a visit to this tiny Caribbean island, made famous by pirate Henry Morgan, offers visitors a glimpse into another era, with its peaceful, unspoiled beaches and locals living idyllically on undeveloped land. Home to the world’s third largest barrier reef, it’s no surprise UNESCO named Providencia part of the Sea Flower Biosphere Reserve due to its natural biodiversity. It’s the perfect paradise for snorkelers and divers. And if you’re visiting, don’t miss rondon, a typical dish made from fish, beef, pork ribs, and plantains.
Capurganá, one of the last car-free places on earth. (Photo: Andres Felipe Quiroga Striedinger/Flickr)
Arcade Fire could’ve been singing about the sleepy beach town of Capurganá when they sang, “I know a place where no cars go.” Roads here are basically nonexistent and as it’s a car-free zone, the only way to get around is by bicycle or horse. This pueblo also sees relatively few tourists, leaving long stretches of empty white sandy beaches and blue waters waiting to be discovered. Trek 90-minutes over the mountain to La Miel beach, an adventurer’s paradise, above and below the water’s surface.
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The otherworldly Caño Cristales. (Photo: Mario Carvajal/Wikimedia)
In the east of Colombia, in the Sierra de la Macarena mountain range, babbles a breathtakingly unique river. Caño Cristales is dull in appearance for most of the year, however, between September and November this river explodes into a kaleidoscope of colors. An aquatic plant, Macarenia Clavigera, is responsible for this natural occurrence. The rainbow of colors, together with the vibrant waterfalls, leads me to believe that this might be the most beautiful river that ever existed.
A gilded raft on Guatavita Lake. (Photo: Andrew Bertram/Wikimedia)
You’ve likely heard the legend of El Dorado, the mythic city of gold. But did you know that it originated in Colombia and that is was — in fact — a person, not a place? Legend has it that one Indian chief covered himself completely in gold and as an offering to Chie, the goddess of water, he dived into the sacred Guatavita Lake, releasing the gold into the water. For centuries, gold-obsessed hunters have tried to find ways to drain the water, in search of gold and treasures. As legend has it, every person who’s attempted this has died. The gold has yet to be discovered.
Parque Nacional Los Estoraques
The rock columns in Los Estoraques. (Photo: Ana María González/Wikimedia)
The Parque Nacional Los Estoraques is one of Colombia`s smaller parks, yet it is home to huge fascinating columns, carved into the rocky mountainside by centuries of wind and rain erosion. Perfect for hikers, nature lovers, and those looking to get completely off the beaten gringo path, this park and the surrounding colonial towns of Ocaña and Playa de Belén gives visitors a chance to enjoy the real old-school Colombia.
The Inirida river. (Photo: Henp2012/Flickr)
Home to over 15 Indigenous tribes who speak over 40 different dialects, Puerto Inirida — on the eastern plains of Colombia — is also home to the legendary flower of Inirida, which grows uniquely in this region, continuously changes colors, and can survive all year without much irrigation. The abundance of rivers and lakes allows for a wealth of wildlife, including fresh water pink dolphins.Take a boat to Mavicure Hills; these rare dome-shaped rock formations are considered to be some of the oldest formations on earth. Hike to the top for an incredible view of the surrounding jungle and exquisite landscapes.
Cathedral of the Virgin of Las Lajas
You might not want to visit Cathedral of the Virgin of Las Lajas if you have a fear of heights. (Photo: Martin St-Amant/Wikimedia)
In 1754, while a woman and her blind and deaf daughter were taking shelter from a storm in a canyon, the woman saw the image of the Virgin Mary on some rocks. In that moment the woman´s daughter was cured of her disabilities. To honor this legendary apparition, this enchanting cathedral was built inside the canyon, with the church clinging perilously to the side of a cliff. Surrounded by waterfalls, the Guaitara River and lush vegetation, this pilgrimage shrine will astound you with its engineering.
Volcán del Totumo
Taking a mud bath at Volcán del Totumo. (Photo: Marteshl/Wikimedia)
For a somewhat more extravagant take on body exfoliation and bathing, head to Volcán del Totumo, 30 minutes from Cartagena. Legend has it that the volcano used to spit fire, lava, and ash — but a local priest, believing it to be the devil’s work, sprinkled holy water into the volcano, turning it into mud and expelling the devil. Spend a morning happily playing and relaxing in the mud, enjoying nature at its best.
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