Far from its once-tragic reputation, Colombia has become a destination for adventure, escape, and relaxation between the Caribbean coast and Amazon rainforest. The popular cities of Medellin, Bogota, and Cartagena draw crowds of tourists to experience Colombian culture and nightlife. However, some of our top choices for adventure and exploration lay in the countryside and off the beaten path.
Known as one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia, Guatape is a must-see stop on any tour of Colombia. The colorful Zocalos – brightly painted houses which line the city streets – make a perfect subject for photography enthusiasts and artists. For an incredible view of the lakeside town, climb the daunting 700 steps of La Piedra del Peñón and enjoy a fresh snack at the top as you look out over the rolling green hills and sparkling lake. Spend an afternoon paddling along the lake and stay the night at the secluded treetop BOSKO resort.
Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis)
No trip to Colombia is complete without a tour through the country’s coffee cropland. The area between the cities of Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia make up the “Coffee Triangle” or “coffee axis” where the majority of Colombia’s famous coffee beans are grown. Stay a night in scenic Salento and take a day trip out to one of the many coffee farms to learn about the coffee-making process. Trek the 12km trail through the Cocora Valley to admire the country’s national tree- the slender wax palm. Then give your feet a much-deserved pampering at the Termales de Santa Rosa. This popular natural hot spring is surrounded by Colombian jungle and features the stunning backdrop of the 100ft Santa Helena waterfall.
Tayrona National Natural Park
Along the Caribbean edge of Northern Colombia, the Tayrona National Park stretches from the mountains to the turquoise sea. Animal lovers will be astounded by the diversity of life throughout the park, from jaguars, ocelots, bats, and birds, to more than 400 species of fish. Bring your binoculars and tread quietly through the forest to spy some of the 44 species which are endemic to the park – meaning they aren’t found anywhere else in the world! Although the coral reefs offer spectacular snorkeling opportunities, the currents can be intense – this is an adventure for experienced swimmers only. Bring your own tent to camp out in nature or indulge in a traditional tribal-style bungalow overlooking the beach at Ecohabs Tayrona.
The Caño Cristales in Serrania de la Macarena National Park is often referred to as the “River of Five Colors” or “Liquid Rainbow,” and it’s not hard to see why. From July to October every year the aquatic plants of the river put on a colorful show turning the river red, green, yellow, blue, and black. This extraordinary phenomenon is so unique that the biodiversity hotspot has become a protected area by the Colombian government. To visit the river you will require a local guide service such as Amazon Adventures or The Colombian Way, and although you are able to swim in the colorful river you will have to forego sunscreen and bug spray as they can damage the river’s fragile ecosystem.
Although it is lesser-known than the popular tourist cities of Guatape and Salento, Jardin is a fierce competitor for the title of “Colombia’s most beautiful town”. The peaceful town is marked by Colombian cowboys sipping coffee at roadside cafes along colorful cobblestone alleyways. Take one of the leisurely cable cars to the top of the hillside for a remarkable view, and hike along the charming trail on your way down. For adventurous visitors, the cavernous waterfall Cueva del Esplendor is only a short horseback ride away.
CNN has called it an “ancient masterpiece” and the New York Times has described it as “ stunning in its scale and complexity”. Several hundred years older than the infamous Machu Picchu, Colombia's lost city is gaining a reputation as one of the most mysterious ancient ruins in South America. The trek to Ciudad Perdida is no easy task; be prepared for days of jungle hiking, river crossings, and star-lit camping before reaching the ancient ruins’ 1,200 stone steps. However, once you’ve reached the top you will see for yourself why companies like G-Adventures provide the arduous hike for hundreds of adventurous travelers every year.
One of Colombia’s most ancient and sacred sites, San Agustin is home to the artifacts of ancient indigenous tribes pre-dating the Incan civilization. Little is known about these mysterious ancient tribes but the valley and surrounding area are full of incredible sculptures, monuments, and surreal rock paintings. Historians have theorized that Mayan-like pyramids and other megalithic structures remain buried throughout the area, waiting to be uncovered.
Juxtaposed against the luscious greenery of Colombia’s jungles, the red rock of the Tatacoa Desert provides a stunning visual change of pace. The photogenic labyrinth of strange rock formations along the red-desert trail is the perfect backdrop for photography fans. The gray desert will lead you to an incredible poolside view at the Piscina Mineral pool. In the evening head over to the Astronomical Observatory for a chance to gaze at the breathtaking Colombian night sky.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
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