Article by Where To Now? Community member: Jessica Gravini
In recent years, Colombia has become the holiday destination for thousands of tourists from all around the world. In 2016, the number of visitors increased by 17% in comparison to 2015. Despite the fact that in the same year, a number of important political events occurred such as the plebiscite, tourism wasn’t negatively affected. That being said, I don’t want this article to be based on figures. Instead, I want to show you the Colombian charm that attracts people from around the world.
As far as I can tell, when I ask my friends who have been to Colombia about the country, their responses are the same. It’s not surprising that this country stands out on the map. It’s people, their music, their food, the variety of landscapes and the magnificent fauna and flora are part of it’s success. However, the key element is Colombian hospitality. Colombians will always be more than happy to welcome foreigners and to show them their country from a local’s point of view.
If you are planning to go to Colombia, I will give you a tip: befriend those who live there and don’t worry if you are shy, the locals will end up breaking the ice first anyways. If you are traveling to Colombia, I would suggest avoiding the beaten path. There are plenty of breathtaking towns and islands in the Colombian Caribbean that are ready to be discovered! In the following list, you will be introduced to lesser-known places you simply cannot miss in Colombia.
MOMPOX is a small town situated in the Atlantic state, 6 hours by car from Cartagena. You will feel like you’ve stepped 35 years back in time when visiting this city. It feels as though it is frozen in the mid 80’s. The people living there have kept their ancestor’s customs. The carriages and colonial architecture makes this place the ideal location for a romantic evening.
It is impossible to arrive in Usiacurí and not fall in love with the locals. This small village with less than ten thousand inhabitants is renowned for it’s traditional products, all made with the regional Iraca Palm plant. In this location, motorcycles are the most common means of transportation due to the very narrow streets. My favorite part about Usiacuri is the sense of safety. You can leave your house door open all day long and nobody will steal anything.
The MUCURA, TINTIPAN Island and the ROSARIO ISLANDS
Each year Cartagena receives millions of tourists thanks to its history and colonial architecture. Bill Clinton goes there so often that he is seen as a more of a local than a tourist. Only few know the paradise that hides in the Caribbean Sea. These islands are only 40 minutes away by sailboat from the port of Cartagena. It is the ideal place if you want to relax by the sea, sunbathe and sip on Piña Coladas! On each of the islands, there are many activities offered such as scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming with dolphins or visiting an aquarium. The ideal stay in this Caribbean paradise two to four days.
LAS LAJAS SANCTUARY
This basilica with medieval architecture is considered a sacred place because of the history of its origin. It can be found in the southern Colombian state of Nariño, in the municipality of Ipiales. It’s built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River. This place is without a doubt straight out of a fairy tale. It is called “El milagro de dios en el abismo”, which translates to “God’s miracle into the abyss.” I would recommend bringing a very good camera. The scenery is breathtaking and you wouldn’t want to leave without a great shot.
Paipa is yet another town on the list that you simply can’t miss. This magical place can be found in the Boyacá state and offers a wide range of activities. For example, you can relax in the hot springs or go kayaking at Sochagota Lake. You can also opt for a mud bath or a massage, both being very popular choices. On the other hand, if you prefer to learn about history, visit “la Hacienda Saliter.” Simon Bolivar used to be a frequent guest.
VILLA DE LEYVA
I couldn’t write this an article on Colombia and leave this beautiful village out. Villa de Leiva is a touristy colonial town in the Ricaurte Province, part of the Boyacá state of Colombia. In Colombia, we like to preserve the legacy of the “Conquistadores;” the Spanish conquerors that first set foot in South America in the 16th century. This place is a delight for those who are fans of photography. There are almost no motorised vehicles. Bring a comfortable pair of shoes and lots of water, because you’re going to walk more than ever. You can visit the various museums, rent a quad and head to the desert or simply enjoy a cold beer in the famous main square while you admire the beautiful landscape of the surrounding mountains.
TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
I am going to save the best for last. If you are not familiar with heaven on earth, it’s because you haven’t been to Tayrona. It can’t be overlooked if you are going to the Colombian coast. It is reached by land and buses depart from the cities of Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Cabins are available for rent but if you are on a budget, you can bring your own tent and opt for camping. The other budget option is sleeping in hammocks for rent on the sea shore. You can get a good idea of the place in two or three days, however, I would recommend at least a full week in order to do all of the activities. Opt for a guide and go discover the jungle. Enjoy the beautiful landscape and if you are lucky, you might even see a jaguar. If walking is not your thing, you can take a horseback ride throughout the park.
For those who are more adventurous, take a minimum of three days and go to the “Lost City.” You will encounter the oldest tribes of Colombia, also known as Arhuaco and Kogi. If you are traveling with your partner and you are very in love, legend is that the leaders of these tribes may offer you a special ceremony to unite your bodies and souls with mother earth. See how simple and romantic? There is absolutely nothing to do with your traditional paperwork and weddings.
Tayrona has the biggest concentration of tourists from all over the world. Last time I went, I made new friends from Europe. Lastly, if you are daring like me, don’t forget to pay a visit to the nudist beach. Strut your stuff and leave your mark on Colombia forever!