Colombia’s natural diversity is perfectly exhibited in this list of the best activities for visitors to the country.
The incredible lush scenery of the jungles and coffee region can be countered with the vastness of deserts and canyons.
One can be in magnificent snow-capped mountain ranges on one day and in the tropical air of the Caribbean islands the next.
This is just a taste of what Colombia has on offer for those with more of an adventurous spirit.
Horse Riding in the Cocora Valley
The Coffee Zone is considered by many travellers to be the most beautiful region of the country, with its mild spring-like climate year round, friendly people and breathtaking natural beauty. A perfect example of this incredible nature is the iconic Cocora Valley.
The Cocora Valley is home to Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm. These trees are the tallest palm trees in the world. They reach heights of over 200 feet, and only grow 3 feet every four years. The tallest ones are 260 years old, and look as if they are literally touching the sky.
The vast green landscape of the Cocora Valley makes the perfect backdrop for horse riding. The trails can be slippery, rutted and even unsettling for some but the experience of riding the beautiful animals through the stunning scenery is not to be missed.
Dancing Salsa in Cali
Visiting Cali is like stepping into this strange alternative universe where the pulsating music never stops and everyone is an incredibly talented dancer. I suppose that is to be expected in the salsa capital of Colombia.
Salsa dancing in Cali is one of the quintessential experiences of a visit to Colombia. There are a variety of popular bars and clubs that cater to the appetite of locals and visitors alike. Almost every foreigner that visits Cali will know that intimidating and overwhelming feeling of walking into a salsa club and not knowing the moves. A similarly important experience is having a few lessons (or drinks) and building up the confidence to step onto the dance floor.
Trekking in El Cocuy
Known by local rangers as the “lost corner of Colombia”, this trail is by no means undiscovered but is nevertheless an isolated mountainous wonderland.
Rising from the Plains of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, El Cocuy National Park covers over 1,000 square miles of terrain and 15,000 vertical feet. The Sierra is a chain of over 25 snow peaks along an extension of just 20 miles. Most of this beautiful, majestic range – the greatest mass of ice in Colombia – may be explored on foot.
The landscape stretches across dozens of ice-capped peaks and deep cirque valleys. Moraine lakes, formed by the natural erosion from glaciers’ unhurried flow and retreat, shimmer in mineral hues. The Sierra is the ideal place for lovers of rock, ice, and snow, and fans of hiking and camping.
Scuba diving near Providencia Island
Lying idyllically between Costa Rica and Jamaica the island of Providencia has some of the best scuba diving in the world. It is also a honeymooner’s dream with the untainted beaches and the serene nature of the island. With the Belize Barrier Reef nearby scuba divers can explore the world’s third largest barrier reef.
Forming part of the UNESCO designated Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, Providencia’s pristine barrier reef is the third longest in the world. The tropical waters around Providencia Island are warm, clear and calm year round, making it the ideal destination to learn to dive or take a PADI course. Experienced divers can find enthralling, rarely visited scuba sites near Providencia.
Providencia’s greatest attribute for scuba travelers, however, is the variety and accessibility of diving within a small area for both novice and seasoned divers.
White water rafting in San Gil
For a small city, San Gil packs a lot of punch. This is the outdoor capital of Colombia and a mecca for extreme sporting enthusiasts. San Gil is locally known as “the land of adventure.” The area is best known for white-water rafting, but other popular pastimes include paragliding, caving, rappelling, hydro-speeding, mountain biking and trekking.
The mighty Rio Suarez, boasting some of the best Grade 4+ rapids in South America, still scares some of the most experienced rafters around. There is the less perilous run on Rio Fonce which is a standard 6 mile run with grades of 1 – 3.
For adrenalin junkies and rafters San Gil is the place to be.
Piranha fishing in the Amazon
Deep in the Colombian Amazon one can spot pink dolphins, hunt for caimans and search for tarantulas but the most thrilling activity is fishing for piranhas.
These carnivorous fish might not shred you to the bone in a few seconds as the cartoons suggest but they nevertheless deserve respect and caution as the meat-eating fish of the Amazon.
With a fishing rod one can turn the tables and catch the red-bellied piranha here. Just watch out for its teeth when you reel it in.
Paragliding in Medellin
The city bowl of Colombia’s second biggest city can be viewed floating above it in a paraglider. This popular activity offers a thirty minute flight starting on one of the hills just outside the city.
Your instructor will buckle you straight into your harness, fit your helmet and take off before you have time to feel afraid.
Against all expectations within a few moments you will begin to feel at ease, at that insane height in the air, and enjoy the spectacular view below. The paragliding harness is surprisingly comfortable. Get over the vertigo long enough to appreciate the perfectly angled recline, and paragliding will feel more like an airborne deckchair than an extreme sport.
Hike to Caño Crystales
In the east of Colombia there is a stream that originates in the Serrania de la Macarena mountain range and later in its journey evolves to become what is commonly known as the world’s most beautiful river, the Caño Cristales.
Caño Cristales is a landscape stretching across several tributaries of the river where the aquatic plant Macarena Claveria is found. The underwater plants produce a spectacular kaleidoscope of almost psychedelic colours.
From deep greens to reds, back to green, to dark orange, all juxtaposed with the deep blue of the river’s waters. This display of colours is best experienced first-hand.
From June to November, between the wet and dry seasons, mosses and algae bloom, making this ordinary river come alive with color. As well as being referred to as “the most beautiful river in the world” it has also been called “the river that ran away from paradise,” “the liquid rainbow” and “the river of five colors.”
Explore the Tatacoa Desert
The Tatacoa Desert, the second largest dry area in Colombia after the desert of La Guajira, is one of Colombia’s most attractive natural landscapes.
The Tatacoa, or “Valley of Sadness”, as it was called in 1538 by Conquistador Jimenez de Quesada on account of the deterioration he observed, is not exactly a desert but rather a tropical dry forest. According to scientific discoveries, during the Tertiary Period, La Tatacoa was a garden with thousands of flowers and trees that gradually dried up until it became a desert.
The area is very eroded and crossed by dry canyons that develop temporarily during the rainy seasons. These mysterious shapes are created over surfaces of clay and generate mazes of gullies that can reach depths of 60 feet.
Just remember to take water, some people say that the temperature in the Tatacoa Desert is so high that it is possible to cook an egg buried in the sand.
Mountain Biking the Chicamocha canyon
The Chicamocha Canyon with its 141 miles of grandeur and beauty was shortlisted in 2009 as one of the world’s new seven natural wonders.
It is one of the largest canyons in the world and the popular bike track covers over 50 Km of downhill riding with views passing waterfalls, coffee and tobacco farms, historic towns and natural pools.
This vast, gravity-assisted mountain biking experience drops down by 5000 feet. The ride starts at 6000 feet and dives down into the Chichamocha Canyon and then to Jordan, an old town 1000 feet above the sea level.
Tours are available based out of San Gil.