There was a time when travel to Colombia was almost unthinkable due to the massive drug trade, paramilitary, and rebel groups. While many people still imagine Colombia in this way, it couldn’t be more different. The country is now one of the safer in South America and a top tourist destination. From amazing, modern cities to tiny, cute countryside towns, Colombia is filled with beauty, adventure, and fun. For a mix of everything, check out these popular Colombian cities.
Most trips to Colombia start in the capital city of Bogota. Sitting high in the Andes at over 8,000 ft, Bogota has both a modern feel and a historic past. The neighborhood of La Candelaria is the historic district with colonial architecture and classic old Spanish churches. For nightlife, look to Zona Rosa and Zona T where the city’s best restaurants, hotels, and bars are all located.
Other highlights of the city include the huge Gold Museum, many art museums, the cable car ride up to the top of the Montserrat mountain, and the weekly Ciclovía, where roads throughout the city are closed for pedestrians, bikers, and rollerbladers. There is still some crime in Bogota, especially in the southern neighborhoods but in general the city is a great place to visit.
For a city once literally rules by the drug cartels, Medellin is now one of Colombia’s most popular tourist destinations. Called the capital of flowers, the city is gorgeous with perfect weather year round, great parks, and modern, efficient public transportation. Once you visit, it is easy to see why the city has attracted a solid expat community and hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.
El Poblado is a neighborhood with a modern feel and plenty of great bars and restaurants. For a bit more beauty and culture, head to the Museo de Antioquia or the Jardin Botanico.
You know a city is going to be beautiful when it is declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and Cartagena sure doesn’t disappoint. The city is one of Colombia’s earliest Spanish ports and was protected by a massive city wall and nearby fort that are still in nearly perfect condition over 400 years later.
Besides the grand old colonial architecture, picturesque park squares, and impressive churches, the city also has a number of great museums, plenty of nice bars, and some of the country’s most luxurious hotels.
Another coastal city, Santa Marta is actually even older than Cartagena but it’s appeal is not in the old colonial architecture but rather in its location as a jumping off point for some of the best beaches and hikes in Colombia.
Santa Marta is the gateway to the Tayrona National Park, home to some of Colombia’s most impressive beaches. It is also a short drive from the popular backpacker hangout of Taganga and were treks into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park are organized. One of the most popular trips you can find leaving from Santa Marta is the Lost City trek, a four day hike into the jungles of Colombia in search of an ancient city, often nicknames the “new Machu Picchu.”
The city of Cali isn’t the most popular of Colombia’s cities but for those who do make it here, fun is sure to be had. Cali has the same great churches, museums, and old colonial architecture found in other Colombian cities but its really appeal is in its nightlife. Called the Salsa Capital of the World, Cali is where music and dance combine to make a true artform.
Many visitors to Cali sign up for salsa lessons but you can also learn quite a bit by just heading to a local hangout any night of the week. The people of Cali are very friendly and it is not uncommon for impromptu lessons to be offered by dancers at any of the city’s well known salsa clubs.