Deciding where to go in Colombia is a challenge even for those who know exactly what they want from their travels: nightlife in Bogotá is vastly different from that in Medellín which is different again from Cali when the sun goes down. Likewise, outdoor adventures on the Pacific Coast are nothing like those in the Amazon and neither are like those in La Guajira. Here you’ll find general overviews of each region in Colombia to help plan where to spend your time.
Against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains, the country’s cool capital is a cosmopolitan melting pot. It’s a city of stunning colonial and modern architecture, art and culture, glitzy shopping, five-star dining, and euphoric nightlife.
Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast
The Caribbean coastline runs the gamut from the eerie desert landscapes of La Guajira in the far north to the untamed jungles near Capurganá along the Panamanian border. In between are the tropical jungles and mystical Ciudad Perdida of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, as well as Cartagena, the seductive colonial jewel of the Caribbean.
Boyacá and the Santanderes
Cradle of Colombian independence, the departments of Santander and Boyacá are graced with stunning countryside, from the awe-inspiring Cañón del Chicamocha to the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. San Gil is the outdoor adventure capital, while nearby Barichara is one of the most beautiful colonial pueblos in the country. The sacred Laguna Iguaque and the nearby town of Villa de Leyva, with its serene whitewashed buildings and cobblestone streets, are truly picturesque.
Medellín and the Coffee Region
Ambitious Medellín is known for its temperate climate and fun nightlife. For a break from the city, the Reserva Natural Río Claro makes a fantastic midweek distraction. Photogenic Paisa pueblos abound, with Jardín, Jericó, Salamina, and Salento some of the most colorful. Stay at one of countless coffee haciendas in the lush rolling hills. The landscape is dotted with towering wax palms and brightly colored barranquero birds. The snow-covered volcanic peaks of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados beckon mountain climbers.
Cali and Southwest Colombia
Colombia’s third-largest city is a joyous one of music and dance. When the sun goes down it’s hard to resist Cali’s hypnotic salsa rhythms. To the west, beyond the endless sugarcane fields of the Valle de Cauca, stands the White City of Popayán, a historic colonial city of presidents and poets. It makes a great base from which to explore the páramos of the Parque Nacional Natural Puracé and, beyond that, the mysterious archaeological sites of Tierradentro and San Agustín. Under the looming shadow of Volcán Galeras, Pasto is known for its raucous Carnaval de Negros y Blancos in January. In the bucolic countryside south toward Ecuador are mountains and emerald-green lakes.
The Pacific Coast
The Pacific is Colombia’s wild coast, where the thick jungles of Chocó meet the beaches and endless ocean at wonderfully remote Bahía Solano and Nuquí. Warm Pacific waters are a playground for humpback whales that spend August through October here. Sea turtles are return visitors, too. Parque Nacional Natural Isla Gorgona is simply spectacular, an island home to endemic species such as the blue anole lizard. Serious divers will want to make the journey to Santuario de Flora y Fauna Malpelo, where schools of hammerhead sharks slowly circle.
San Andrés and Providencia
The paradises of English-speaking San Andrés and Providencia offer everything you’d expect from a Caribbean island vacation. Fantastic diving will keep you occupied for days off of sunny San Andrés. The daily routine of lounging on remote beaches, eating fresh seafood, lazing in hammocks, and stargazing on the beach in perfect Providencia will have you hooked.
The Amazon and Los Llanos
The Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the world. Visit an eco-lodge on the Río Yavarí, where you can take canoe rides above the treetops in the flooded jungle. Observe birds and pink dolphins by day and look for alligators as darkness falls. Spend a couple of days in the Ticuna village of San Martín and enjoy the blissfully car-free hamlet of Puerto Nariño. In Los Llanos, take in the astonishing wildlife at Hacienda La Aurora. Bathe in the multicolored waters of natural wonder Caño Cristales.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.