Colombia has more to offer than just coffee, tropical beaches, alpine mountains, and the happiest people on Earth. Below the surface lies a treasure chest of fascinating, undiscovered places full of unbelievable stories.
Let’s go on a journey to eight destinations that help make Colombia interesting and enigmatic.
The colorful coral reefs in the waters surrounding Providencia Island (Photo: Luis Barreto/WIkimedia Commons)
Although difficult and expensive to reach, a visit to this tiny Caribbean island, made famous by pirate Henry Morgan (You may recognize Captain Morgan from the rum that bears his name.), offers visitors a glimpse into a past when Caribbean islands were nothing but peaceful, unspoiled beaches, where locals lived idyllically on undeveloped land. Home to one of the world’s largest barrier reefs, it’s no surprise UNESCO declared Providencia the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve due its natural biodiversity. It’s the perfect paradise for snorkelers and divers and those interested in trying something new for lunch: rondon, a typical dish made from fish, beef, pork ribs, and plantains.
Capurganá and La Miel beach
Take a break and relax in the laid-back town of Capurganá. And be sure to hit up the idyllic white sand beaches of La Miel beach. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Arcade Fire could’ve been singing about the sleepy, beach, border town of Capurganá when it sang, “I know a place where no cars go.” Roads here are basically nonexistent, and travelers can enjoy the car-free zone, as it’s only passable by bicycle or horse. Being just a stopover town on the way to and from Panama, this pueblo is relatively free of tourists, leaving long stretches of white sandy beaches and blue waters empty and waiting to be discovered. Trek over the border with Panama to La Miel beach, and enjoy an adventurer’s paradise.
Caño Cristales, the River of Five Colors
In the fall, the Caño Cristales river turns brilliant colors thanks to a unique plant growing in its waters. (Photo: Diagonal Uno/Flickr)
In the east of Colombia, in the Serrania 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 vivacious kaleidoscope of colors. A specific aquatic plant, Macarenia clavigera, is responsible for this natural occurrence. The rainbow of colors, together with the vibrant waterfalls, leads many to believe that this might be the most beautiful river that ever existed.
Even if we can’t promise you’ll find the legendary gold at Lake Guatavita, that view has got to be worth a million bucks. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Everyone has heard the legend of El Dorado. But did you know that it originated in Colombia and that it was, in fact, a person, not a place? According to the legend, an Indian chief covered himself completely in gold, and as an offering to Chie, the goddess of water, he dove into the sacred Lake Guatavita, 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 that Indian chiefs supposedly threw into the lake. As legend has it, every person who has attempted this has died… The gold is yet to be discovered.
Ocaña, Parque Nacional Los Estoraques
These beautiful and fascinating stone columns are the result of centuries of erosion. (Photo: Edgar Jiménez/Flickr)
Covering only two square miles, Parque Nacional Los Estoraques is one of Colombia’s smaller parks. Yet it’s 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 give visitors a chance to immerse themselves entirely into the beautiful semi-desert landscape and enjoy real old-school Colombian living.
Take a boat and float along the beautiful Inírida. (Photo: Carlos Chalarca/Flickr)
Home to more than 15 indigenous tribes who speak more than 40 different dialects, Inirida is an area on the eastern plains of Colombia full of biodiversity and culture. Take a boat to Mavicure Hills — rare, dome-shaped rock formations considered to be one of the oldest formations on Earth — and hike to the top for an incredible view of the surrounding jungle and exquisite landscapes. The abundance of rivers and lakes allows for a wealth of wildlife, including freshwater pink dolphins.
The Cathedral of the Virgin of Las Lajas
Santuario de Las Lajas is a truly magical and unexpected piece of architecture nestled into the beautiful Colombian mountainside. (Photo: Boris G/Flickr)
In 1754, while a woman and her deaf and mute daughter took shelter from a storm in a canyon, the woman saw the image of the Virgin Mary on some rocks. In that moment, the story goes, 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 shrine will leave you flabbergasted at the astounding work of engineering that was achieved.
Volcán del Totumo
(Photo: Colombia Travel/Flickr)
Climb to the top of Volcán del Totumo and treat yourself to a wonderful natural mud bath. (Photo: Jack Zalium/Flickr)
For a somewhat more extravagant take on bodily 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. Don’t forget to ask for a full body massage, it’s worth it.