1. Hike to the ‘Lost City’
Peru’s Inca Trail tends to hog the headlines when it comes to hikes to ancient sacred settlements in South America, but don’t make the mistake of missing out on the journey through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta jungle in Colombia’s north to the Ciudad Perdida or ‘Lost City’. It’ll take you around four days of walking in a guided group to get to these millennia-old city ruins of the Tairona people, with a lot of ascents, cooling river crossings and nights sleeping in hammocks. Only 160 people a day are allowed to visit to protect the site, giving you the rare feeling of seeing an archaeological wonder without the crowds. Book a tour with G Adventures.
2. Raft the Chicamocha Canyon
Rafting for two days along the Chicamocha River, with the canyon walls rising up beside you, is an adrenaline-packed experience. The trip combines vigorous paddling, swimming in fast-moving water and, of course, rafting through rapids, along with one night of camping at the water’s edge — all in one of the largest canyons in the world. Some 30 miles later, you’ll be transferred back to San Gil, Colombia’s self-styled ‘adventure capital’, home to a growing collection of extreme sports and adventure tour outfits.
3. Windsurf at Cabo de la Vela
The small fishing village of Cabo de la Vela happens to be one of the best kitesurfing and windsurfing spots in all of South America, right at the continent’s northernmost tip. Some travellers are drawn to the area’s desert dunes, which slope down to meet the Caribbean Sea and are home to lagoons full of flamingos and ultra-rustic accommodation that can involve sleeping in cabins or a hammock under the stars. But most are here for the year-round winds of 25-30 knots and clear, warm coastal waters. Make your own way there or book a trip through a specialist kitesurfing and windsurfing company, such as Colombia Kite, that provide all the gear you need.
4. Stargaze in the Tatacoa Desert
You have several choices when it comes to stargazing here, a five-hour drive southwest from Bogotá. One is to visit the government’s observatory; another is to check out Tatacoa Astronomia, run by Javier Fernando Rua Restrepo, who built his own observatory. With the help of Javier and his telescopes, you can see up to 88 constellations on a clear night.
5. Scuba diving at San Andrés & Providencia
The Caribbean isles of San Andrés and Providencia are home to the third-largest barrier reef in the world. Take in sites like the Blue Wall or the easier reef dive at Nirvana Point, which has a maximum depth of 50ft. Base yourself at San Andres Divers, a relaxed PADI Dive Resort.
6. Hike in Santuario Otún Quimbaya
This reserve in the central cordillera is home to some of the most spectacular flora and fauna in Colombia. Yarumo Blanco, a community-based ecotourism organisation, arranges guided trips of the Otún River Valley, with accommodation at a lodge nearby. Alternatively, join multiday treks to Laguna del Otún in Los Nevados National Park.
7. Camp in Tayrona National Park
A trip to Tayrona is as rewarding as it is wild, with Caribbean beaches, coconut palms and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Hitch a lift by bus or arranged transfer to the park’s entrance at either El Zaino or Calabazo and make your way to one of the six campsites. Opt for one by Playa Brava or try the Ecohabs, wooden bungalows overlooking the water.
8. Go whale-watching in Chocó
Visit this Pacific region between June and October for the chance to spot humpback whales. Boat trips around Nuquí and Bahía Solano might also throw up sightings of dolphins and sea turtles. Alternatively, if hiking in the jungle is more your thing, try a guided walk in Utría National Natural Park. Stay at El Almejal, which runs excellent nature-based activities.
9. Join the cowboys on the plains of Los Llanos
Los Llanos is a vast expanse of prairies and wetlands set between the peaks of the Andes and the humid lowlands of the Amazon. Accommodation here is on cattle farms and reserves like El Encanto de Guanapalo, where you can spend time learning the culture of the llaneros, the cowboys of the savannahs.
10. Trek the Cocora Valley coffee region
Head out on a self-guided trek through the Cocora Valley, part of Los Nevados National Park, deep in Colombia’s coffee-producing region. From the town of Salento, stroll across meadows dotted with palm trees, then go on a two-hour trek along a scenic bridle path before reaching the hummingbird reserve of Acaime. Make pit stops in one of the rest huts along the way for chocolate completo, hot chocolate with indulgent chunks of melting cheese.
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