Located along two oceans, bordering the land bridge between the Americas and housing a great variation in altitudes, it is not altogether surprising that geographically-gifted Colombia boasts the fourth greatest abundance of biodiversity of any country on the planet.
In total, Colombia counts 56 protected parks throughout the country encompassing vast plains, rich tropical rain forests, snow-capped volcanoes, jagged mountain ranges, pristine white sand beaches, and even archaeological sites from ancient pre-Columbian civilizations.
As the country’s security situation improves, tourism has been increasing, with Colombia’s national parks receiving 664,060 visitors in the first nine months of 2013, representing a 6.9% increase from the same period last year.
Listed below are the top 10 most visited parks in Colombia.
1. Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo
Accessibility: Situated one hour away from Cartagena along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Why visit: Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Park hosts diving adventures to explore the splendor of the mysterious marine environments filled with coral, sea turtles, dolphins and a wide array of tropical fish.
Accessibility: Located near Santa Marta along the Caribbean coast.
Why visit: The park features idyllic tropical beaches tucked away in hidden coves that border on the rich rain forest ecosystem. With an abundance of biodiversity to match Colombia’s reputation for natural splendor, the park boasts a recorded 108 species of mammals and 300 species of birds.
3. Island of La Corota
Accessibility: Near the town of Ipiales on the border with Ecuador.
Why visit: As the smallest protected area in Colombia, this island park manages to host a wide abundance of wild species such as the walking frog, wild mice and multicolored butterflies.
MORE: Colombia Travel
4. Los Nevados
Accessibility: The park is normally accessed through the town of Manizales.
Why Visit: Here the peaks of Santa Isabel, Ruiz volcano, and the Tolima define a breathtaking panorama of ice and stone against the sky. The park extends into Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio. Visitors have a chance to catch a glimpse of rare Andean wildlife such as the Spectacled Bear, the Tiger Cat, the Puma, and although rare, the great Andean Condor.
Accessibility: Located less than two hours from Bogota through the town of Manzinales.
Why visit: this park represents one of the best preserved natural setting in the country. There are more than 40 glacial lakes to be explored in treks through this untouched wilderness.
6. El Cocuy
Accessibility: Found in northeastern central Colombia, near the Venezuelan border. Travelers pass through the towns of El Cocuy and Güican to reach the park.
Why visit: According to the New York Times, this park is as beautiful as Mt. Kilimanjaro and ideal for extreme mountaineer or rock climber. Various native tribes also inhabit the great mountain’s foothills and tropical regions. The park is called the land of perpetual snow for the great quantity of year round glaciers, providing an important source of water.
7. Old Providence McBean Lagoon
Accessibility: On the Caribbean island of Providencia.
Why visit: The park offers world class diving in protected marine ecosystem giving visitors a chance to see schools of multicolored fish swim along side sea turtles among other aquatic life.
8. Los Flamencos
Accessibility: Near the small town of Camarones, Riohacha in the Caribbean region of Colombia near Venezuela.
Why visit: The park is primarily known for its namesake, Flamingos. The image of the brilliant pink plumage of the birds fly against the deep blue equatorial skies makes for an excellent contrast.
9. Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
Accessibility: Located in central northwestern state of Boyaca.
Why Visit: The lake, and the native flora and fauna, constitute the principal attraction of this park. According to the ancient indigenous Muisca people, the mist shrouded lake is the cradle of humanity.
10. Gorgona Island
Accessibility: Set on an island situated 35 km off the southern Pacific coast of Colombia.
Why visit: With the best coral reefs in the Colombian Pacific, this park is a great place for divers and aquatic explorers. The island is also noted for its wide variety of native species and its unique tropical ecosystem.