My name is David. I’m a photographer, filmmaker and traveler at heart. I was born in Bogota, Colombia. From a young age, I had the opportunity to live in various parts of the country thanks to my parents. From paradisaical Caribbean islands to small hidden towns between the Andes – I had the chance to live in (and travel to) the hidden gems of Colombia.
Due to these experiences, my instinct to travel the world began to flourish. At 17 I decided to travel to Australia – a country that forged me into becoming the person I am today. What can I say? I’m a dreamer, a traveler and someone who is passionate about the natural beauty of our world.
It’s for this reason, and some others, that I returned to Colombia to get to know the country on a deeper level. Due to global stigma, my country didn’t have the best reputation. But what a surprise I found when I returned! I found a place that could only be described in the likes of books by the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “a hidden paradise”.
Coming back to my roots inspired me to start taking photography more seriously. I wanted to capture every little corner of this amazing South American country. This is a passion that I still carry with me today. It has become a lifelong project – to photograph and film the beauty of Colombia.
Why Colombia Should Be on your Travel List
To say that you know a whole country really well is difficult. However, I have to confess that I’m lucky to have been able to travel to so many places in Colombia that not many people get the chance to visit. Even so, I still have several places on my bucket list and I can’t wait to explore them all soon.
Colombia is a wild paradise. The only risk about traveling here is that you never want to leave! The country is beautiful in a variety of ways – shown through its landscapes, biodiversity, traditions, people, culture and food. I invite everyone to put Colombia and its hidden gems onto your travel wish list. This wild, green place on earth will surprise you in more ways than one.
10 Hidden Gems of Colombia
Now that Colombia is safer, after years of political turmoil and armed conflict, travelers are beginning to explore the country bit by bit. Some of the most popular spots in recent years have been places like Cartagena, Cocora Valley and Guatape. But beyond those places is a treasure trove of hidden gems in Colombia that I would love to tell you about.
Each of the hidden gems below have this sense of magic to them due to their wild surroundings and fantastic conservation. Without a doubt, they are remote places that are worth visiting. Some of these gems I have experienced myself, while others are still waiting for my arrival. Keep in mind that these 10 hidden gems of Colombia are listed in no specific order.
1. Canon del Guejar, Mesetas (Meta)
Known as the “Lost Kingdom of Giants”, Canon del Guejar is a paradise well off the tourist path. To get here is an adventure in itself. You have to fly to Villavicencio and then take a bus directly to Mesetas. The other option is to leave from Bogota and jump on the night bus for about six hours.
I recommend spending two or three nights at Canon del Guejar to experience all the natural wonders of the region. Rafting in the river and the canyon is a must-do. Enjoy the rapids, marvel at the spectacular landscapes and don’t stop jumping into the river! It’s an incredible feeling to have the water carry you. Also, along the way you can visit Charco Azul.
I booked my tours, hotel and inclusions with the team at Go and Travel (@go_andtravel). You can get in touch with them if you would like to visit Canon del Guejar with an experienced and reputable tour operator. Make sure you bring comfortable clothes, sun protection and endurance shoes.
2. Ciudad Perdida, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Visiting Ciudad Perdida was one of the most magical moments of my life and I’m sure it will be special for you too. Getting to Tayrona’s Lost City, which was covered in jungle for over 400 years and only rediscovered in 1972, is a priceless experience. There are no words to describe the journey.
You have to walk for four days for up to seven hours per day and at the end of each day you will be sweating up a storm! But it’s worth it. Located in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this ancient city of the Tayrona people was built in the year 800 AD (making it 650 years older than Machu Picchu).
This indigenous construction is one of the biggest lost cities in South America. Upon arrival, you will find a series of terraces carved into the mountains and small circular plazas and tiled roads. The only way up is to climb up 1,000 stone steps through dense jungle. As you can tell by now, this experience is suited for those comfortable with long hikes.
3. Parque Nacional Natural Macuira, La Guajira
Parque Nacional Natural Macuira showcases the diversity of nature in Colombia. This is a protected nature area home to a section of desert, some forest and many bird species. Not many places in the world combine desert sands and dense jungle forest! I have given it the name “The Largest Oasis in Colombia” and you will surely agree with that when you go there.
Getting to Parque Nacional Natural Macuira is part of the fun. Expect a long five day journey through the entire Guajira Peninsula until you reach the northernmost town in all of Colombia called Nazareth. The national park is also a sacred region for the Wayuu, Kogi and Arhuaco indigenous peoples.
4. Rio Manso, Norcasia
Norcasia is a little town situated in the Caldas department, a paradisaical mountainous region of Colombia. This area is blessed with a high volume of flora. Two of the highlights of the region are Rio Manso and Rio La Miel. The waters of these rivers have a beautiful emerald color and make for awesome boat trips. You can also see epic waterfalls and wildlife in the area.
5. Nuqui, Choco
Nuqui is the name given to both the municipality and town located in the Choco department of Colombia. Situated on the Pacific coast, Nuqui offers travelers a fusion of dense jungle forests and rugged Pacific coastline. The beaches here are fantastic such as Guachalito, Termales and Jovi beaches.
It doesn’t matter if you are into water sports like surfing or diving, or if you prefer the peaceful calm provided by nature on long coastal walks – Nuqui can deliver a truly heavenly experience, no matter your preferences. Head away from the beaches and into the jungle and more hidden gems can be found. Waterfalls, rivers, hot springs and birds await your arrival.
6. Charco Azul, Mesetas (Meta)
On the way to Canon del Guejar, you can visit Charco Azul – a hidden paradise if there ever was one! Mesetas is an eco-destination with several natural wonders to experience like this waterfall. The falls flow down into a blue pool in the middle of the jungle and there is a little beach beside it. If you plan on visiting the canyon then Charco Azul is an essential add-on.
7. Tayrona National Park, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Since I came back to Colombia in order to reconnect with my roots, I had the opportunity to discover a destination that I fell in love with from the moment I set foot on it. This place became the inspiration for my photography. Not only due to its beauty and diversity, but also because it’s one of those places that transmits an indescribable inner peace.
Located in the north of Colombia is Tayrona National Park – my favorite place! Tayrona is a nature reserve which covers the foothills of the highest coastal mountain range in the world, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, until it reaches the Caribbean coast. It’s a sacred region for indigenous tribes and it has undoubtedly become a sacred place for me too.
8. Cayo Cangrejo, Providencia
Cayo Cangrejo translates to “Crab Cay”, so the island is home to many crabs running around. But more importantly, the crab empanadas that are sold here make it a fantastic little island adventure for foodies – they are simply delicious! Other highlights include snorkeling where you can see colorful fish and walking to the top of the island for beautiful Caribbean views.
9. Paramo de Sumapaz, Bogota
Paramo de Sumapaz is the largest alpine tundra (paramo) on the planet. The conditions are harsh but the tundra has this earthy, rugged beauty to it. An interesting fact about Paramo de Sumapaz is that it’s home to the only native bear species on the continent: the spectacled bear or Andean bear. Spotting bears in the wild would be the highlight of any tour there.
10. Amacayacu National Park, Amazonas
The first protected zone in the Colombian Amazon, Amacayacu is home to a dizzying array of plants and the largest number of primates on earth. My experience walking through the Amazon was incredible. I would wake up and listen to the jungle every morning through the sounds of monkeys, birds, amphibians and insects all creating a peaceful symphony.
I discovered some incredible places at this national park, such as Reserva Natural Natura Park where you can find one of the most iconic plants in the world: The Queen Victoria Water Lily. This floating plant can hold up to 40kg! When you find wonders like this you realize the Amazon is a paradise full of life. It makes you feel like you are part of a perfectly designed world.
Discover the Real Culture & Food
Colombians are authentic, charismatic, cheerful and hospitable people. We always have a smile for those who visit us. As in most countries, the big cities get wrapped up in routine. So if you want to know the authentic Colombian culture, the best way is to look for not-so-touristy areas of cities or towns. There for sure you will find the pure Colombian flavor.
If you are a gastronomy lover, in this South American country you will find a little bit of everything. We love to eat good food. We have Caribbean, Pacific, Andean and Amazonian flavors – simply everything for all tastes. But I have to tell you about some of the most popular local dishes:
- Ajiaco: A typical soup from Bogota made with chicken, potatoes, guasca, cob and certain other ingredients. Delicious to say the least!
- Bandeja Paisa: An exquisite bomb of flavors that is a typical dish of the Antioquia region. Bandeja Paisa is based on beans, rice, ripe plantain, pork rinds, fried egg, chorizo, ground meat, avocado and a mini arepa.
- Tamales: A rather peculiar breakfast but when in Rome! Tamales are wrapped in banana leaf and filled with dough and different ingredients.
- Arepas: But of course, the icon of the region and with more than 75 types of arepas, you can enjoy one of the most traditional flavors.
Tips for Visiting the Hidden Gems of Colombia
Colombia is a mountainous country so I suggest traveling by plane for long distances. But it’s good to take buses as well since there are many places that can only be accessed in this way or by renting a car. The best time to visit Colombia is August-October or February-March. These are the driest months and are not peak season, so the prices tend to drop a bit.
Avoid June-July and December-January as these are busy times. If you are looking for tranquility, this will not be a good option. My final advice is to enjoy every moment in this wonderful country. Try to find the wild, remote and deep Colombia. This is always the best way to get to know a place. Let yourself be amazed by an incomparable South American country!