Your Questions Answered: Colombia's Top Attractions

Where in Colombia to visit and how to do it
Your Questions Answered: Colombia's Top Attractions

Bewildered by what to see and do in Colombia, or curious as to where the best places to visit might be? We’ve got a few suggested highlights for you to check out, as well as some planned itineraries which will take in all the country’s best tourist attractions.

Aside from this, though, we regularly receive questions from our leaders about other aspects and practicalities of visiting the main tourist sites in the country. We do our best to answer these and a selection is included below.

If you’ve got any other queries about this, or any other aspect of independent travel in Latin America, please do drop us a line in the comments below, and we’ll get one of our experts on it right away.

Which is the best beach in Colombia?

There are beaches all along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Colombia, but the ones on the Caribbean side are generally better. The beaches in Tayrona National Park are really scenic (white sand, blue water with jungle behind them), but aren’t that good for swimming because of the strong currents. Playa Blanca just outside Cartagena is a great spot, especially if you stay overnight on one of the hammocks or beach shacks which will give you the place almost to yourself in the morning. Further to the east, a few hours trip from Santa Marta, are some of the more remote beaches in the La Guajira province. These are superb, but are somewhat harder to access. A good intermediate spot is the beach at Palomonio – there is still a bit of infrastructure here but the beach is largely deserted. At certain times of day you can even see the snow-topped peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the beach.

Where can I go whale watching in Colombia?

Whale watching sites are all located on the Pacific coast and most people go to either Nuqui, Bahia Solano or Bahia Malaga (next to Buenaventura). To be honest, there isn't a great deal of difference in terms of whale watching opportunities between the three. The only thing is that Bahia Solano is slightly easier to get to than the others, as you can reach Buenaventura by a three hour bus journey from Cali. To get to either of the other sites flying is really only the feasible transport option. Make sure you plan your trip during the whale watching season, which runs between July and November.

What are the opening times for Tayrona National Park?

Visitors can only gain access to Tayrona National Park at times when the guard posts at the entrance are open. For the most popular access routes (via Zaino, Palangana and Bahia Concha) opening times are 05.00 till 17.00. The route via Calabazo is open slightly shorter hours, from 05.00 to 15.00.

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When is the whale watching season in Colombia?

The whale watching season along Colombia’s Pacific coast runs from approximately July to November each year.

What activities can you do in San Andres?

As a small island, much of the activities in San Andres revolve around the island’s beach and surrounding sea. The main strip is at Bahia Sardina (also known as Spratt Bight). This is home to a long white sand beach with a great view of the island’s famous ‘seven-colored sea’ whose varying shades of blue, turquoise and green are a result of underwater corral formations. A popular trip from here is the 10-15 minute boat trip across to the small islet of Johnny Key, which has a more relaxed beach environment. Continuing with the boat slightly further, you will reach Haynes Key and an outdoor aquarium where you can go snorkeling. Diving is also popular on the island with a number of local schools offering short trips and full courses. At certain times of the year, you can also go surfing at the southern end of the island.

What activities can you do in Providencia?

There are a number of different beaches on Providencia, all of which are very relaxed and which see only a handful of tourists each day. The most impressive beach is the 300m or so long one at Manzanillo. Other pleasant spots to explore include the slightly more expansive Southeast Bay, Fresh Water Bay and Maracaibo Bay. All have decent beaches and exceptionally clear waters. In addition, there are a whole host of smaller bays and beaches dotted around the island, which can be accessed by a trip in kayak, which can be rented from the nearby guesthouses and small hotels.

One of the most popular activities on the island is a boat trip / tour which passes by a few local sites of interest, including several swimming and snorkeling spots. The route for this usually calls in first to Santa Catalina, a small island connected to Providencia via the wooden Lovers Bridge. The water around the bridge is an ideal spot for snorkelling given the near perfect visibility underwater. The trip later carries on around a number of small colonial fortifications before reaching a natural rock formation, known locally as Morgan’s head. It finishes at Cayo Cangrejo, a site which offers spectacular views over miles of surrounding reefs and multi-coloured waters.

Can you surf in Cartagena?

Yes, it is possible to surf in Cartagena. The calm, warm waters, make the place better suited to inexperienced surfers and those learning to surf rather than dedicated enthusiasts. The main site for surfing in the city is on the western end of the main beach, near the pier. A slightly livelier area for surfing is Galerazamba, which lies about 30 minutes away from the city centre in 4x4. Though the waves are larger here than those at Cartagena beach, this spot is still suitable for surfers of all abilities.

What are the best surfing spots in Colombia?

Nuqui on the Pacific side is probably the best area for surfing in Colombia. Most sites are accessible via a small boat, caught from the town, from which you can get to Juan Tornillo, El Valle, and Pico de Loro. All these are suitable for advanced surfers only since the waves are high, current strong and there are some rocky areas. The other main spot on the pacific coast is at Juanchacho, just off the coast of Buenaventura, near Cali. Waves here are reported to be among the world's best.

Surfing on the Caribbean coast is easier in terms of access, but waves are not as good and are mainly suited to beginners. Some people surf on the main beach in Cartagena, which has warm and very calm waters. Waves at Galerazamba, located about 30 minutes’ drive from the city, are a little larger. Intermediate and above level surfers travelling on the Caribbean coast would probably do better at Mendihuaca in Tayrona National Park or at Punta Roca and El Muelle near Baranquilla.

What are the requirements for scuba diving in Colombia?

To hire diving equipment in Colombia, you have to be able to prove you are a certified diver, or that you have more than 10 years’ experience. Otherwise you will need to be accompanied by a specialist guide. For more advanced dives, for example expeditions to particularly deep areas, you may need to show additional certification beyond the basic PADI or SSI courses.

What is the best time of year to scuba dive in Colombia?

The optimum period for scuba diving in Colombia is between April and November when the waves on the Caribbean coast largely disappear. During this time, you may be able to see turtles coming to lay their eggs along the northern shore (they hatch around June or July). The most difficult time to scuba dive is January to March, when currents are generally strong.

Which is better, San Andres or Providencia?

While the natural environment off the coast of San Andres is not far short of spectacular, the onshore scenery is substantially less attractive. The island has become a mecca for package holiday travellers, which has been accompanied by a construction boom along the coast. The seafront is somewhat damaged by the excessive (and occasionally unfinished) concrete constructions within a few meters of the shore. Given the prevalence of all-inclusive resorts on the island, there is also surprisingly little dining and drinking options for independent travellers.

Providencia feels like another world entirely from the built-up environment of San Andres. Construction has been strictly limited by island authorities which have sought to avoid the island becoming like its larger neighbour. Providencia, in contrast to San Andres, exhibits the kind of enjoyable laid back environment you may expect from a Caribbean getaway. The beaches and corral formations are no less impressive that they are on the adjacent island and the island boasts a host of activities and tours to enjoy. The only down side of Providencia with respect to San Andres is that the former is slightly more difficult to get to than the latter, as there are no direct flights to the island from the mainland. That said, it is still undoubtedly worth the slight bit of extra time and expense to reach Providencia.

What are the top places for snorkeling in Colombia?

Colombia’s main snorkeling spots are found in San Andres and Providencia, Capurgana, Golfo de Morrosquillo (near Tolu), Islas del Rosario (Cartagena), and Taganga (Santa Marta). The area has one of the greatest densities of coral worldwide, the majority of which is concentrated in the waters off the archipelago of San Andres and Providencia. This coral reef is the world’s third largest and hosts a highly diverse marine habitat.

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