Colombia is has so much to offer, from UNESCO World Heritage sites to the world's best coffee, and everything in between. With a past as colorful as the paint decorating its houses, this South American country is working hard to shake the negative side of its reputation; it now welcomes over three million tourists per year. Boasting Caribbean beaches and Amazonian jungle, Colombia brings together the best of the region.
The Amazon Rainforest covers a huge area within Colombia and provides the perfect opportunity for jungle exploration. Get up close and eye level to the many species of animal and birdlife by venturing out on canopy walks that let you view the forest from above. One of the best ways to really immerse yourself in jungle life is to sleep in a treetop hut. For a raw and authentic night among the trees, you can curl up on a 82-foot tall wooden platform at Nido Roblegrande, open to the elements, that allows you to gaze straight up at the stars. For a little more comfort, try a spot of glamping; many treehouses offer hot showers and fully equipped kitchens.
Colombia is perhaps the best of the Amazonian countries from which to see firsthand the realities of life on this famous river. From the city of Leticia, a boat ride up the Amazon River takes you through the small village of Macedonia. Home of the Ticuna tribe, visitors can appreciate local dance and the opportunity to eat with a local family and purchase handmade items. It is worth bearing in mind that these small communities get little help from the Colombian government, so they appreciate respectful tourist visits.
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira started life as a salt mine. Today, it is a cavernous and seriously impressive construction dedicated to Christian worship — 600 feet underground. The subterrestrial building is decorated with statues of Archangel Gabriel and the Stations of the Cross made entirely of salt. The main body of the cathedral is watched over by a 16-foot-tall cross and illuminated by a giant chandelier suspended from the ceiling.
A natural spectacle, the Cano Cristales or River of Five Colors earns its name from its multicolored appearance. Between September and November, and under mild weather conditions, the clear waters reveal a riverbed rainbow. The vivid red hue of the Macarenia Clavigera plant melts into the yellow of the sand and the blue of the water, causing a vibrant rainbow effect that does not happen anywhere else in the world.
Home to 900 animal species, Tarapoto Lake is a wetland situated six miles from the village of Puerto Narino. Accessible by small wooden boats, this peaceful lake is surrounded by hanging trees and covered with water lilies. Beneath its surface lives a small group of manatees, and pink dolphins often make an appearance as well. The surrounding jungle is home to sloths, parrots, toucans, monkeys, and other creatures that provide a fascinating glimpse of jungle life.
Mocoa is the starting point for exploring some of the stunning water features in the Colombian rainforest. A relatively easy hike takes you alongside the river, revealing three waterfalls in close proximity that spill into warm pools perfect for taking a dip. Nothing will quite prepare you for the fourth and most dramatic waterfall of them all, nicknamed The End of The World. The water thundering over the 230-foot drop is an impressive sight coupled with the city in the distance.
Situated around an artificial lake created after severe flooding in the 1970s, Guatape is a small rural town in the Andean region. The most dramatic natural attraction is an enormous rock protruding from the ground, visible for miles around. For a small entrance fee, you can climb the 740 steps to the top and grab a coffee in one of the small cafes as you enjoy breathtaking views. Back at ground level, a walk around this town is an Instagrammer's dream; multicolored houses line the narrow streets, and the town square is the definition of picturesque.
Las Gachas is a little-visited area of natural wonder in Guadalupe, a rural village in Northern Colombia. Drawing comparisons with Cano Cristales for its vibrant aesthetic, Las Gachas offers up a shallow river flowing over rocky ground, interspersed with six-foot deep plunge pools that create a giant natural water slide. Following the river will take you to another area perfect for swimming and relaxing at the nearby restaurant.
The third-largest city in Colombia, Cali is the Salsa Capital of the World. A climb to the peak of the hill of Cristo Rey will let you admire panoramic views of the city next to a 85-foot iron and concrete statue of Jesus. When evening falls, take your pick of the many salsa clubs offering up-tempo beats and dancing into the wee hours. Though the city's safety is improving, travelers should take basic precautions when visiting.
Nestled on the Caribbean coast, with beaches of white sand and turquoise waters, is the walled city of Cartagena. The colonial stone walls are a testament to the city's difficult history of resisting invasion attempts, first from pirates and then from French and British forces. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, the city is a mix of old and new; vivid yellow buildings, coffee shops, and food stalls dot the old town, contrasting with the nightlife and street art scene of the hip Getsemani district.
While visiting Cartagena, a boat trip to nearby Rosario Islands is a must-do. This collection of islands forms a large part of one of Colombia's 46 natural national parks. As well as making the most of the idyllic and peaceful beaches, you can feed and observe dolphins and nurse sharks in a natural saltwater aquarium. Take a sail through mangroves in a kayak, and watch the sun go down over these paradise islands. The Islands are the perfect low-key way to enjoy the Caribbean.
A trip to Colombia wouldn't be complete without a visit to the famous coffee triangle. One of the country's largest exports, coffee from these three districts is said to be the best in the world. Coffee tours involve meeting the farmers who grow the coffee beans. You'll also learn about the production process, and sip all the Colombian coffee you can drink! Other activities in the area include trekking, bird-watching, and hot air balloon rides.