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Few travel destinations are on the rise quite like Colombia is. Adventurers from across the world are exploring the Andean country, from the tropical coasts to mountain ranges and plains. The reports being sent back home are always of the highest praise. Word is spreading fast and must-see attractions are becoming staples in a constantly increasing number of itineraries. Crowds flock to Monserrate in Bogota, walk the old city wall in Cartagena and take photos until their camera’s memory runs out at Pueblito Paisa, Medellin. All these destinations draw crowds for a reason. They’re all spectacular in their own right. But what about the traveler whose interest is peaked by Colombia, but doesn’t like to follow the crowd? That traveler is in luck because Colombia, in all its ecological, cultural and topographical diversity, is full of hidden gems. Travel startup AllTheRooms has done a little digging to come up with a list of the best hidden gems of Colombia.
5 Hidden Gems of Colombia
Read More: Colombia’s Most Beautiful Beaches
Colombia is a country of extremes and perhaps nowhere is more extreme than the southernmost department (Colombia has departments, not states), Amazonas. Thick rainforests, exotic plant and animals species, and an off-the-beaten-track experience that will make you forget about “the track” altogether are what Amazonas brings to the table.
Most excursions begin with a flight to the department’s capital city of Leticia, which puts you at an excellent launch point. From there (or plan beforehand depending on your style), lock in a jungle or river tour to take you even further from conventional civilization and into the wilderness.
As far as animals go, you’ll find sloths and different species of monkeys in the trees, dart frogs, snakes and tarantulas patrolling the forest floor, and Cayman and the occasional pink dolphin roaming the waterways. Oh, and keep an eye out for parrots and toucans making their way from tree to tree.
A trip to this region is also a cultural adventure. Get to learn about the indigenous people of the region and their way of life, which is a gem in and of itself.
Pueblo Hopping (Especially in Antioquia)
It’s only natural that Colombia’s larger cities are the main tourist attractions. However, a visit to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without a trek outside the city, through rural land, to a pueblo.
Often built around a church, these small towns show Colombian country tradition in a way that you just can’t get in the city. Go for a hike outside the pueblo in the morning, enjoy a traditional lunch at a restaurant in town, explore the cobblestone streets of the town in the afternoon and then scope out a fonda (think traditional bar/watering hole) for dinner.
After, drink guaro (a nickname for Aguardiente — a famed Colombia liquor) and engage in conversations that last long into the night. The ride from the city to a pueblo is often breathtakingly beautiful. The drive from Medellin to Jardin is especially beautiful. Add that to your list.
We’re going to bet you didn’t know Colombia had a desert. Located in the country’s northeastern tip and bordering Venezuela, La Guajira is one of Colombia’s most fascinating departments. The extreme climate and terrain make life in La Guajira difficult, so the territory is sparsely populated.
It’s mostly sand dunes and small villages that line the coast, serving as launch points for local fisherman. It might sound a little slow but there’s something magical about the remote nature of the territory, and there’s something dramatic about the desert clashing with the blue sea.
Explore the sand dunes, hike along cliffs and explore the indigenous fishing villages. End the day with some time splashing in the waves and then watch the sunset from a hammock on the beach. La Guajira is an adventure you won’t find anywhere else.
Museo Casa de la Memoria, Medellin
While Colombia sees more and more tourists each day and its reputation is taking a sharp turn for the better, the country has had more than its share of scars from civil war and narco-terrorism. To understand the significance of the country’s turnaround, visitors should spend some time studying the past and learning about issues that still plague the country today.
El Museo Casa de la Memoria (the House of Memory Museum) makes an impressive effort to tell some of the country’s darker stories. From the rise of the radical left-wing narco-terror group FARC to the murderous ascension of right-wing paramilitary-narco movements to Pablo Escobar and the cartels of Medellin and Cali, the museum covers it all.
The exhibits, unlike many media forms that cover Colombia, place extra emphasis on the victims, not the perpetrators. They give faces and names to the violence and suffering the country has endured in recent history and they shed light on many of the problems the country is still fighting to overcome.
For those looking to understand how amazing the country’s recovery is, this museum is a must-see hidden gem of Colombia.
The Bogota to La Calera Climb
Colombia produces some of the world’s best cyclists. Why? High altitude, good weather, a wealth of great peaks to climb, beautiful countryside and a culture that’s certainly buying into the sport. A pretty sweet combination, right? Why not get involved?
One of the coolest rides in the country is a short but challenging climb from Bogota up to the small community of La Calera. Watch as the massive urban empire of Bogota shrinks away as you ascend. Chat with local riders (a fun way to practice your Spanish), get a great ride in, and take in the views from above the city.
If the short climb isn’t enough, cyclists can ride 30 miles to the town of Tocancipa. Be sure to give yourself time after landing to adjust to the altitude — jumping into this ride too early might leave you with some pretty serious altitude sickness. Take a couple days, find a solid rental (there are plenty of options in the city) and get to pounding those pedals!
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There you have it! I hope you’ve found this post helpful in planning your trip to Colombia. Be sure to check out our other resources on Colombia like the best places to see live music. You also definitely don’t want to miss this floating hostel off the coast of Cartagena. If you have any questions about traveling in Colombia leave a comment or head over to our contact page!