Famed for its diverse landscapes, friendly citizens, and high level of biodiversity, Colombia’s tourism industry has seen major growth since the dawn of the 21st century—and with international travel inching back to pre-pandemic levels, there’s no better time than the present to plan your first visit.
While choosing a city may seem like a daunting task, there’s no shortage of gorgeous urban centers to choose from, each one offering a unique perspective on this storied nation. Whether you plan on lounging shoreside beneath the sun, exploring world-class museums, or dancing the night away to the tune of Maluma and Karol G, Colombia is certain to have the perfect city in store for you.
Cartagena has served as one of Colombia’s most prominent ports for centuries, and in the modern era, this coastal Caribbean city is a particularly popular vacation destination for both domestic and international tourists alike. While the entire urban area of Cartagena measures in at roughly 220 square miles, international visitors will likely spend the bulk of their stay in the walled city, a historic colonial district that earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984. Just south of the walled city, Bocagrande’s sandy coastline is perfect for spending a day at the beach, while any visiting animal lovers should consider a day trip to the Aviario Nacional de Colombia, the largest bird zoo in the nation.
Medellin is known as the City of Eternal Spring thanks to its balmy weather, but there’s a lot more to enjoy across the region than just the temperature. In the southern reaches of the city, the bustling El Poblado district has earned abundant acclaim for its high concentration of upscale restaurants and cafés, serving as the perfect destination for sampling classic Colombian fare. After enjoying a morning bandeja paisa—a hearty dish that’s popular across the Paisa region—visitors can hop on the Medellin Metro and travel north to Parque Explora, a massive educational institution that’s home to the largest freshwater aquarium in all of Colombia.
A famed party destination in the heart of the Andes, Cali serves as the salsa capital of Colombia, with no shortage of bustling nightclubs open until the early hours of the morning. The northern Menga district is a particularly popular dancing destination, but for those planning to explore the city pre-sunset, downtown Cali is the perfect spot. This vibrant neighborhood is home to historic churches, verdant parks, and the Calima Gold Museum, an institution that’s rife with pre-Columbian gilded artifacts. In the western reaches of the city, the Cali Zoo is home to both native Colombian wildlife and species from across the globe, with the park’s Bengal tigers being a particularly popular display.
Established in 1525, the seaside city of Santa Marta is the oldest extant city in all of Colombia, as well as one of the oldest extant settlements in all of South America. While Santa Marta is home to a sprawling beach that’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and jet skiing, visitors should make sure to set some time aside to explore some of the city’s surrounding attractions as well. Just north of Santa Marta, the charming village of Taganga is a top spot for visiting scuba divers, while nearby Tayrona National Natural Park has earned nationwide acclaim for its pristine beaches and abundant wildlife.
Sprawled along the western edge of the Cerros Orientales, the city of Bogota serves as the national capital and economic engine of Colombia, and this massive urban jungle is packed full of fascinating attractions to explore. During daylight hours, world-class institutions like the National Museum of Colombia and Gold Museum are must-visits, with the latter located in Bogota’s vibrant centuries-old colonial district. As twilight approaches, visitors can head to the dazzling Zona T—a district that’s packed with colorful bars, restaurants, and shops—or swing by Zona G, an upscale district that’s home to a wealth of prestigious hotels and fine dining venues.