If it isn’t already, Colombia should be at the top of your travel agenda. Having shed its notorious reputation, murmurs of its dreamy beaches, jungles and joyful culture have spread far and wide.
To help you explore its undiscovered allure, Booking.com presents you with the highest-rated Colombian destinations for history, culture and food.*
River crossing on the Magdalena river in Colombia en route to the city of Mompos
To get to Mompos from the nearest Colombian city entails an arduous bus and boat journey. As a result, this colonial-era town remains relatively undiscovered. Its historical value is largely attributed to it being the place where Simón Bolívar recruited his army to fight for Venezuela’s independence. It was also the setting for several of Gabriel García Márquez’s novels. But the architecture and way of life make it a rare, surviving historic monument in itself. Mule-driven carts take the place of absent cars and crumbling stately mansions line the river. Head to the Plaza Santo Domingo in the evening to see the locals congregate over street food and a beer or fresh lulo (a citrus-like fruit) juice.
Cartagena is a riot of colour
Cartagena is an enchanting coastal Caribbean city. The historic part is enclosed by Las Murallas, city walls built by the Spanish to defend against pirates and other colonial powers. The Old Town is a riot of colour, each house painted a different, bold shade – picture tangerine walls with baby blue shutters and balconies overflowing with tumbling tropical flowers.
An ancient, flute playing, pre-columbian statue in San Agustín, Colombia
San Agustín is home to an extensive collection of ancient megaliths; the largest in South America. On top of mountains, next to waterfalls and in valleys, these megaliths are known as the ‘Forest of Statues’. Constructed by a culture over 3000 years old, the 600 known sculptures possess carved fangs and headdresses, eerily splendid with the wind whistling around them.
Valledupar is the birthplace of South America's beloved vallenato
Internationally, Valledupar is only just emerging as an attractive destination for tourists. For Colombians, it’s revered as the origin of the beloved vallenato music, an emotionally-charged style of Latin American folk music complete with accordion backing. Catch a live performance under the shade of a mango tree in one of the main colonial-style plazas.
Admire the imaginative street art in Bogota, Colombia
As the capital of Colombia, Bogota is the definitive place to get a taste of the nation’s culture. It’s an energetic city set at high altitude and covered with frenzied street art, from masterly murals to imaginative graffiti. But the truly creative nature of the city can be unearthed with a visit to the Parkway area in La Soledad, where you’ll find live music and artistic events such as bookshop bars and makeshift theatres.
Enjoy the view of the valley from the Medellín metro cable
Medellín’s damaging moniker of ‘most dangerous city on earth’ has long since lost its currency. It’s a progressive and inviting city in a naturally resplendent setting, encompassing valleys, mountains, and with year-round spring temperatures. Much of the city has been transformed since the times of Pablo Escobar, the once no-go areas turned into parks, courtyards and even zen gardens. The prestigious, tree-lined suburb of El Poblado is a shining example of this transformation, with independent shops, cafés, and some stunning views over the rest of Medellín.
Papaya, Mango, and Watermelon for sale, Colombia
With the livelihood of most locals reliant on agriculture and cattle farming, the small town of Monteria lays claim to the best meat in Colombia. It’s not far from the Caribbean coast, so local recipes tend to be laden with sweet mango and fragrant, fresh coconut. And you’ll never be far away from a vendor selling freshly-squeezed lemonade or fruit juice.
Meltingly-soft cheese bread in Cali, Colombia
Cali is an underrated Colombian city. It’s the third largest in the country and is a positively pulsating place, known for its salsa dancing but also a great place to go to indulge in good food. Try the sweet and savoury fried plantain specialities and the Pandebono (meltingly-soft cheese bread).
Typical decor in the beautiful La Candelaria neighbourhood in Bogota, Colombia
To make the most of Bogota’s culinary scene, head to La Candelaria neighbourhood. Here, the city’s character is immediately evident as you stroll past casual, chic cafés serving rich Colombian coffee, all dotted between Spanish colonial architecture and the many museums and galleries.
*Data was divided up into food, culture and history categories. Within those categories, the highest-rated destinations were chosen. All destinations featured had to have a positive z-score.