Explore vast coastlines with no foreigners in sight, visit mountainous towns unknown even to locals, and trek to natural wonders missed by most guidebooks. These are seven of the best under-the-radar spots in Colombia.
By Simon Willis
Posted on: 4/23/2018
Never heard of it? Not surprising! Guidebooks often bypass this town, locals from nearby Medellin rarely visit, and a detailed map of the area doesn’t exist. Yet journey to Antioquia’s southeast, past the low-hanging banana leaves, over the potholed roads, and up the orange-scented paths, and you'll discover a town encircled with rural adventure. At a nearby 246-foot waterfall, local tour company Eco Cartama lead climbing and abseiling excursions. Hiking trails wind up through the fast-moving cloud forests to grassy plateaus and stunning views of the Cauca River canyon. Indigenous petroglyphs cover boulders strewn on the mountainside, while pre-Hispanic trails lead to towering cone-shaped peaks.
Sapzurro is not the most talked about Colombian beach paradise, but if you're looking for isolation and chilled Caribbean vibe, this fishing town, located on the Panama border, takes the prize. Along its curving coastline, skinny, beige palm trees stick out from the spongy sand like giant arrows fired down from the sky. About 200 residents live in rainbow-hued wooden houses embedded among mango, avocado, lemon, and lime trees. Head inland, over stacked paving stones reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie, to discover a forest canopy filled with toucans and black howler monkeys.
3. Parque La Chorrera
When you're in the middle of Colombia’s intoxicating capital, surrounded by its 8 million residents, it’s hard to envisage a refuge of such solitude and beauty as Parque La Chorrera. Just 45 minutes from Bogota; this area of rollercoaster stone hiking trails, towering luxuriant mountains, fields of tree tomato plants, and two stunning waterfalls (one of which is the tallest in Colombia), remains unknown to travellers. While El Chiflón waterfall surges year-round, allowing for rappelling and chilly bathing, La Chorrera only springs to life when the surrounding (highland tundra ecosystems) release built-up rainwater, resulting in a thunderous fall of 1,936 feet. Transport to the park is sparse, so organize a day trip with local experts Bogota&Beyond.
4. El Valle
Imagine two of nature’s most captivating events happening simultaneously. Now imagine you are the only one witnessing them. Thanks to primitive infrastructure and a challenging journey, often involving a pick-up sized charter plane and a teeth-shattering jeep ride, El Valle, located on the Pacific Coast, receives little tourism. Even the lure of migrating humpback whales breaching the water then smashing into the ocean and Olive Ridley sea turtles clambering onto the beach to lay eggs have failed to taint this fishing town with visitors. Those who do come trek into the coastal rain forest, drift in a canoe along vine-tunnelled rivers, or wander the smooth maroon beaches, sidestepping scurrying hermit crabs and washed up coconuts. Check out this 7-day journey including this stunning array of biodiversity.
It's obvious why San Agustin draws the crowds: Its archaeological park contains the largest number of religious and pre-Hispanic sculptures in South America. However, visitors often miss Tierradentro, with its no-less-magnificent relics. Located in the Cauca Province, this small town contains human-form statues and mysterious underground tombs displaying vivid designs of symbols, birds, and other animals. Often difficult to access during inclement weather, Tierradentro allows adventure travelers to explore four main archaeological zones, each containing catacombs plunging to depths of up to 26 feet.
Most guidebooks identify Salento, located in Quindo, as the ideal spot from which to explore Colombia’s famous Coffee Zone. Yet journey 12 miles west to discover the region’s second-oldest town, with stunning views, killer brews, and a vibe seemly unaffected by the 21st century. Filandia, known as the "Illuminated Hill of the Andes," is encircled with endless rows of coffee plantations sewn onto the rolling mountains. In the town’s palm-shaded plaza, elderly couples wander from the blue and white church to open-air coffee shops. Men, chewing toothpicks, lean on their Willys jeeps, waiting to transport anyone to the nearby plantations. And in the surrounding houses, locals hand-weave gorgeous reed baskets.
Vast columns of terra-cotta earth pyramids rising up from an arid landscape might not be the first image of Colombia that springs to mind. Tatacoa’s surprising desert, located in the province of Huila, bursts with extraordinary marble-like tunnels, dusty gray rocks protruding from the ground like solidified punch bags, and plunge pools etched into the earth. And thanks to its equator location, star constellations from the northern and southern hemisphere illuminate the pollution-free sky. In the observatory, local astronomer Javier rolls out his giant telescopes and presents the magnificence of the universe.