Colombia: beautiful old towns, national parks, beaches… it’s the perfect place for a long-weekend or extended adventure. That’s exactly what Tristan, one of our student ambassador’s did recently – spending a week in Colombia, and says that was more than enough time to visit these places and their surrounding areas: Cartagena, Tayrona National Park and Bogota. He spills the beans on all 3 places in this post.
Cartagena & Rosario Islands
Colombia’s Caribbean port city of Cartagena is an easily accessible getaway, with direct flights offered from many US cities– just 5 hours non-stop from NYC. Some states take longer than that, so it’s a no-brainer!
The colonial architecture is extremely picturesque; brightly-painted homes and hostels stand boldly alongside Spanish manors and massive churches. The vibrant streets are full of vendors, selling everything from fresh fruit and coconut water to handmade goods, or go into the stores and grab yourself something traditionally woven, some boutique art or a specialty-crafted basket. Cartagena is full of life, and it’s contagious.
Venture out of the old town for local bars and clubs in the Getsemani neighborhood. Liquor is cheap to buy in stores and even on the street: there are vendors everywhere handing out cold cervezas.
And if you’re feeling really adventurous, take a boat to the Rosario islands, where locals and tourists go to relax or party on one of the 16 islands. There are private boats, but also public ferries which leave regularly from the Cartagena Marina in the Manga district.
Here, you can go scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming in the colorful coral-filled waters, hop on a jet-ski for a high-speed look at the islands, or just take some time out to lay out on the ivory-white beaches. Traveling is hard work after all…
Tayrona National Park
Colombia is known for its natural parks and biodiversity. While most of the animal species are far away in the Amazon rainforest, you could be treated to a glimpse while you’re here, so keep your eyes peeled!
A few hours away from Cartagena by car, or a short flight from Bogota, are the towns of Santa Marta and Tagana. Both towns are very close to Tayrona, and sleeping here will allow you to explore the park with ease (you can even camp in the park if you’re the outdoorsy type). Tayrona Park is massive, with many hiking trails and beaches, so stay the night if you can.
You’ll be amazed by Tayrona’s jagged cliffs, which jut out into the ocean. Taking a boat ride around the coast is a great way to appreciate the dramatic landscape.
The best beach is Cabo San Juan, famous for its ‘double-beach’ and nature walks. If you’re lucky you’ll see some rare rainforest creatures. Or, just sit back and enjoy the crystal-clear water. I unfortunately got caught in a little bit of a storm after the hike so I didn’t have much beach time in Tayrona– but most days in Colombia are sunny and bright!
There are also several Indigenous communities, one of which is open to tourists. A two-hour hike through the forest takes you to Pueblito, where there are several traditional thatched-roof settlements.
If you have more time, you can apparently go on a 3-4 day trek to find “The Lost City” — I just wish I’d known about it before I went!
Colombia’s often-overlooked capital city is lively, and boasts a wide array of activities and atmospheres. The old town neighborhood of Candelaria is brightly painted and filled with sweet shops, while the downtown areas host many of Colombia’s national museums and shopping.
Bogota is known as the City of Gold for a reason!
Located at the foot along the Andes’ mountains, Bogota’s air is fresh and less humid than other Colombian cities. A hike or cable up Montserrat offers incredible views of this sprawling metropolis.
Bogota is notorious for its grey skies, but that doesn’t stop people from dancing in the streets!
The local food scene ranges from strange to stranger; traditional favorites include hot chocolate with cheese, and aphrodisiac ants (not for me!). Bogota is a unique mix of old and new, and is worth at least a day of your time, if not more.
Colombia might not be on every traveler’s radar, but it should be! Its proximity to the US makes it an easy trip or an ideal beginning to an epic South American tour. There’s so much to explore, you just have to find somewhere to start! Check out this travel guide for a little more info.