South America is chock full of picturesque destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, but the jewel in this continent’s crown may just be Colombia. Its sparkle may have been dulled by past turmoil, but this vibrant country is looking bright once again with plenty to do, see, and enjoy.
From the pristine beaches of the Caribbean coast to jungle treks in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the red-hued beauty of the Tatacoa Desert, there are a multitude of adventures just waiting to be explored. However, Colombia is bigger than you probably imagine: Road tripping along the entire west coast of the USA would be about the same as the length of Colombia, so trying to pack all of Colombia’s experiences into one trip will be difficult. However, with enough time, you can try and do it all. Here, some of the most memorable outdoor experiences in Colombia.
If you have a few days in Cartagena…
Immerse yourself in a mud volcano
Just outside of Cartagena, lies the El Totumo Mud Volcano. This volcano, which most resembles a giant anthill, is full of gray, surprisingly buoyant, viscous mud. Climb down the ladder and you’ll be bobbing along in the mud, which is supposed to have beneficial properties for your skin. Looking for more relaxation? There are locals who offer short massages in the volcano. Beauty benefits aside, this is a truly unique experience that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Packing tip: A bathing suit is necessary for the volcano and your subsequent rinse off in the nearby river.
If you have a week or more in Cartagena…
Slumber under the stars
Hammocks are ubiquitous in Colombia, so the question is not when to sleep in one, but where. Opportunities abound, but one of the most scenic is in the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the park stretches along the coast, incorporating sandy beaches, rainforest and semi-arid areas. Access the beaches by donkey ride or hiking; once you’re there, you’re free to explore the land and sea. Hammocks are available for nightly rentals, or bring your own and string it up for some open-air snoozing.
Packing tip: Even in the warmer months (November – April), the nights can get chilly in Colombia. Pack breathable layers that will keep you warm and you’ll be comfy all night long.
Discover a lost city
Do you have dreams of playing Indiana Jones? In Colombia, you can trek to a city that was swallowed by the jungle for centuries before it was rediscovered in 1972. Located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (not far from Parque Tayrona), the journey to Cuidad Perdida (Lost City) is not an easy one, but the destination is worth it. A four or five-day trek, you must go with a group (no individual travel is allowed) and be prepared for river crossings, muddy tracks, a bit of boulder scrambling and lots of adventure.
Packing tip: It’s hot and humid in the jungle and rain is almost guaranteed. Fast drying clothing with wicking capabilities is key for staying cool and comfortable; long sleeves will help thwart mosquitos.
If you have a week in Cali…
Bike on Mars
For an otherworldly experience, visit the Desierto de la Tatacoa. Criss-crossed by canyons and fissures shaded in hues of red and ocher, this desert (which isn’t really a desert, but a tropical forest that has since dried out) is a far cry from the beaches and rainforest that you’ll find elsewhere in Colombia. Rent a bicycle to explore as it’s one of the fastest ways to navigate this expanse, but leave enough time to stop at the public pool for a dip and to cool off. When the sun sets, head to the Observatory for a closer look at the galaxy through its telescopes.
Packing tip: As you’d expect, it gets hot in the desert. Wick-ed Cool gear has temperature-activated technology that reacts to your body heat to stay comfortable in the sun.
And these are just a taste of the adventures that can be found in Colombia. For more great South American destinations, be sure to check out our guides to the best of the outdoors in Chile and Argentina.