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How to Choose the Perfect Colombian Cities to Explore: Top Destinations Unveiled

aerial view of santa marta

Updated on 04/24/2024

Dear reader,
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Bogota. Enjoy reading it!

Explore geographic diversity when choosing the ideal cities for your trip. You’ll discover how climate diversity, cultural traditions and local cuisine influence destination selection.

Geography and Colombian Diversity

  • Strategic location: Colombia is located in the northwest corner of South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela and Brazil to the east, Peru and Ecuador to the south, and Panama to the northwest. Its location has influenced the country’s geographic and cultural diversity.
  • Three Cordilleras: The Colombian territory is characterized by the presence of three Andean mountain ranges: the Eastern, Central and Western Cordilleras. These mountain ranges divide the country into different regions, each with unique geographic characteristics.

How to choose cities to visit in Colombia?

  • Define Your Interests: Before selecting a city, determine whether you’re seeking nature, culture, history, or entertainment. This initial choice will help narrow down your search.
  • Explore Available Options: Conduct thorough research on Colombian cities that offer what you’re looking for. Examine their tourist attractions, cultural events, and recreational activities.
  • Consider Geographic Location: Colombia boasts diverse regions, each with unique characteristics. Evaluate the cities’ locations in relation to your preferences. Do you prefer the coastal beaches, the jungle, the mountains, or bustling urban centers?
  • Climates and Seasons: Take into account the time of year you plan to visit. Some cities have special events or more pleasant climates during certain months. Make sure to adjust your choice based on your climate preferences and seasonal activities.
  • Seek Reviews and Experiences: Check out reviews from other travelers and online experiences. Insights from people who have visited the cities can provide valuable information about what to expect and whether it aligns with your expectations.
  • Budget: Evaluate your travel budget. Some cities may be more expensive than others, both in terms of accommodation and activities. Ensure that your choice fits within your financial means.
  • Accessibility: Verify the accessibility of the city you’re considering. Is it easy to reach from your current location? Accessibility can influence the convenience and cost of the trip.
  • Local Culture: Research the local culture of the cities you’re interested in. If you’re keen on immersing yourself in Colombian culture, choose a city that offers authentic experiences, such as festivals, local cuisine, and traditional activities.

Top Cities to visit in Colombia by region

Colombian Pacific Region

Cali – Valle del Cauca

Cali is the third largest city in Colombia and its tourist and cultural offer is one of the largest in the country. Here you will find more than 80 emblematic sites, such as the Cristo Rey, the Cali Zoo, and many nationally popular folk festivals.

Things to do
  • Cali is known for being the salsa capital of the world where thousands of visitors a year come to learn more about the salsa culture. In Cali, you can enjoy live events such as the Cali Fair or the World Salsa Festival, as well as many other cultural events.
  • At the Cali Fair, you can immerse yourself in the Cali culture, with parades, concerts, and dance competitions that more than 80 thousand tourists attend every year. It is the most important festival in Cali.

You can explore the city’s cathedrals like the Gothic-style Ermita Church or take a photo at landmarks like the Cristo Rey, an architectural marvel of the country.

Best Time to Visit Cali

From December to March, Cali celebrates the Feria de Cali, the city’s most important event, featuring dance, gastronomy, and culture. Cali’s climate is warm and humid year-round, ranging between 25°C and 32°C.

Safety Level: Low

Buenaventura – Valle del Cauca

  • Buenaventura, the main port on the Pacific Ocean, offers beaches, but less crowded than those on the Caribbean coast. For example, Barra Beach, which is a beach with calm waves, black sand and weather up to 31 °C, where you can walk quietly.
Things to do
  • The surroundings of Buenaventura provide opportunities for ecotourism, where you can explore tropical rainforests and mangroves. If you are a nature lover, here you will enjoy the regional biodiversity.
  • Buenaventura is very popular for ecotourism because of the humpback whale watching in Malaga Bay between July and October.

If you need more information, you can check out our Buenaventura travel guide.

Best Time to Visit Buenaventura

The best time to visit Buenaventura is between March and December when the weather is warm, ranging from 26°C to 32°C. Rainy months are between March and December; however, the sea temperature is suitable for swimming all year round.

Safety Level: High

Must-Try Dishes in Valle del Cauca
  • Cali is famous for its refreshing and tropical drinks. Lulada, made with a local fruit, and champús, a mix of corn, fruits, and herbs.
  • The gastronomy of Valle del Cauca includes dishes made with Valle del Cauca ingredients such as mazamorra, a kind of cooking with sweet corn and milk or sancocho de gallina, a soup with vegetables, herbs and chicken.

Colombian Caribbean Region

These cities are excellent starting tourist points to explore the entire Colombian Caribbean coast.

Cartagena – Bolívar

Cartagena is famous for its historic past, cobblestone streets, and 19th-century colonial architecture. Here you can explore colonial fortifications as their structures are perfectly preserved.

What Can You Do in Cartagena?
  • White Sand Beaches: Cartagena’s beaches like Bocagrande and Islas del Rosario offer white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and a variety of water sports options like snorkeling, paddleboarding, among others.
  • Walled City: It is the most popular historic district of Colombia. For its colonial architecture is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Here you can enjoy the squares and cobblestone streets of the eighteenth century, is a must-see tourist stop or at least you should know if you go to Cartagena.
  • San Felipe Castle: A fortress built in the XVII century, imposing that you find on a hill with impressive views of the city. This castle represents the military history of Cartagena. It is also a must-see stop, so bring your camera.
Best Time to Visit Cartagena

The best time to visit Cartagena is from December to March, when there is less rain and the weather is warmer and sunny. These are ideal periods to enjoy the beaches of the Colombian Caribbean with climates between 25°C and 32°C.

That’s why we advise you to pack your beach or warm-weather clothes and outfits.

Safety Level: High

Santa Marta – Magdalena

Santa Marta is like Cartagena but a little less luxurious. Still, you’ll find many beaches and some tourist activities you could do.

What Can You Do in Santa Marta?
  • Tayrona National Natural Park: Santa Marta is the gateway to the famous Tayrona National Natural Park, which combines tropical jungle, mountains, and Caribbean beaches. If you like ecological hikes and nature walks, this is a place you must visit.
  • Lost City: It is an activity especially for adventurers through the jungle to the ruins of an ancient indigenous city, where you can learn about the history of pre-Columbian times (before European colonization).
Best Time to Visit Santa Marta

Similarly, the best time to visit Santa Marta is from December to March. The rainy season is between September and November. Generally, you’ll find temperatures between 26°C and 32°C.

Safety Level: Medium

Barranquilla – Atlántico

Barranquilla is a lively and party city, nicknamed as the Golden Gate of Colombia, for its economic and commercial importance, and for being the birthplace of famous artists, athletes and writers. If you like to party 24/7, this is the place for you.

What Can You Do in Barranquilla?

Barranquilla offers cultural, tourist, and gastronomic options for all tastes.

  • You can attend the second most popular carnival in Latin America and the most important in the country, the Carnival of Barranquilla, where you will find an offer of folkloric dances and parades, costumes, music and typical Caribbean cuisine. It’s like all the cultural offerings in one place.
Best Time to Visit Barranquilla

The best time to visit Barranquilla is between April and November when the breezes soften the thermal sensations; generally, you’ll find climates between 25°C and 35°C.

Safety Level: Low

Must-Try Dishes in the Colombian Caribbean Region

If you are a seafood lover, this will be your ideal option, you can enjoy from fried fish to seafood casserole with coconut rice, or street food such as mote de queso or arepa with egg, the meals are delicious, but with a distinctive coastal and local flavor.

Colombian Andean Region

Bogotá – Colombia

Bogota, Colombia’s capital and largest city, offers a mix of colonial history, modernity and artistic richness. Its cultural and economic diversity makes it a very important tourist spot for the country.

What Can You Do in Bogotá?
  • Museums: Bogotá boasts over 60 museums, where you can delve into the historical, cultural, and artistic richness not only of Bogotá but also of the entire country.
  • Gold Museum: With over 55,000 pieces of pre-Columbian gold, this museum ranks among the most significant of its kind globally, allowing you to explore the culture of Colombia’s ancient indigenous civilizations.
  • Monserrate: Situated over 3,100 meters above sea level, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Bogotá. Tourists can reach it by funicular, on foot, or by cable car, and enjoy restaurants and purchase souvenirs.
  • Nightlife: It’s one of the cities with the liveliest nightlife. Here, you can find everything from bars and nightclubs to restaurants, where thousands of visitors come to break away from routine and immerse themselves in the local leisure culture.
Best Time to Visit Bogotá

The best time to visit Bogotá is from December to March, when there’s less rainfall, and the weather is cooler and more pleasant. Generally, the climate is chilly, with temperatures varying between 11°C and 23°C throughout the year.

Security Level: Low

Must-Try Dishes in Bogotá

Some typical dishes you must try in Bogotá are:

  • Ajiaco: a local soup, very typical of Bogotá’s culture.
  • Fritanga: a dish with fried ingredients like ribs, chorizo, and other sausages.
  • Changua: a broth made with milk, onion, and cilantro, typical for breakfast.

Medellín – Antioquia

Medellín stands out for being the most modern city in the country, serving as a significant cultural and economic center. It’s also known for its urban transformation and modernization, as it’s the only city in Colombia with a Metro transportation system.

What Can You Do in Medellín?
  • Parque Arví: It’s a natural park accessible by cable car, where you can enjoy the green views of the city, natural trails, open-air spaces, and panoramic views of the region.
  • Flower Festival: The best time to visit Medellín is from June to August, if you want to enjoy Medellín’s most popular festival, the Flower Fair, a multicultural event full of national gastronomy, dances, folkloric parades, and music.
  • International Tango Festival: The second most important tango festival in the world. Medellín hosts national and international artists, highlighting the musical diversity of tango. With free concerts, the festival attracts jazz lovers from around the world.
Best Time to Visit Medellín

Throughout the year, the climate is pleasant with temperatures between 16°C and 26°C. There isn’t a specific time to avoid. Medellín is known as the city of eternal spring; its moderate climates are present throughout the year, making it a preferred destination for tourists.

Security Level: High

Must-Try Dishes in Medellín

Some of the most popular dishes you should try in Medellín are bandeja paisa, mondongo, paisa arepas, and Antioquian mazamorra.

You’ll notice that many ingredients include corn, beans, pork, and cheese.

The Coffee Region

The Coffee Region stands out as the heartland of Colombian coffee, renowned worldwide for its quality and flavor. Among its highlights, you’ll find its landscapes, gastronomy, and coffee culture.

The landscapes of the Coffee Region were acknowledged as a Cultural Landscape by UNESCO, so you’ll definitely want to capture photos and videos in this place.

What Can You Do in the Coffee Region?
  • Trekking in Cocora Valley: Here, you can witness the world’s tallest palms, Colombia’s national tree.
  • Visit the Towns of Salento and Filandia: These towns preserve their colonial architecture and offer a variety of local restaurants, shops, and viewpoints showcasing the beauty of the Coffee Region.
  • Learn about Colombian Coffee Production: Explore a coffee farm and delve into the history, culture, and benefits of this beloved beverage.
  • Explore Los Nevados National Natural Park: Home to several volcanoes, lagoons, forests, and moorlands where you can spot diverse flora and fauna.
  • Discover Coffee National Park: This park features mechanical, cultural, and ecological attractions related to coffee.
Best Time to Visit the Coffee Region
  • The best time to visit the Coffee Region is between January and March, allowing you to avoid crowds and take advantage of lower prices.
  • If you’re interested in gastronomy and local dishes, December is ideal, as many towns host gastronomic festivals during this month.
  • If you’re keen on experiencing the biodiversity, any time of the year is suitable. The climate is humid and temperate, ranging between 20°C and 28°C, offering ample opportunities to spot numerous birds, amphibians, plants, and more.

Security Level: High

Must-Try Dishes in the Coffee Region
  • High-Quality Coffee: The Coffee Region is renowned for producing the world’s finest coffees. Here, you can savor a cup of fresh coffee at one of the coffee farms, where you’ll experience regional flavors.
  • Arepas and Local Dishes: Taste the “arepas de maíz pelao,” a regional specialty, and enjoy dishes incorporating local products like rainbow trout, common in the mountains of the Coffee Region.

Colombian Amazon Region

Leticia – Amazonas

Leticia is the capital of Amazonas, Colombia, the only Colombian city located in the southern hemisphere. Here you can find cultural richness since its border condition with Brazil and Peru allows it. The tourism proposal offered by Leticia is based on the exploration of biodiversity and adventure. Leticia is the gateway to the Colombian Amazon.

What Can You Do in Leticia?
  • Explore the Amazon River, where you’ll encounter caimans, turtles, exotic birds, and fish, as well as visit indigenous villages and experience or join their daily way of life.
  • Engage in extreme sports like kayaking, canopying, or zip-lining along the slopes of the Amazon River, or go tree climbing and trekking to delve into the natural reserves of the Colombian Amazon.
Best Time to Visit Leticia

For a warm climate, March is ideal, with temperatures ranging from 26°C to 31°C. From July, the weather gets cooler, dropping between 20°C and 26°C. If you’re planning to enjoy river activities, visit between April and May, the high-water season when the river reaches its peak height.

Security Level: Medium

Must-Try Dishes in Leticia

If you make a stop in Leticia, be sure to try the “pescado a la tikuna,” “sopa de motelo,” “tacaco con cecina,” “copoazú,” or the famous edible native Amazonian worm, “mojojoy.” These dishes feature local jungle and river ingredients like fish, fruits, yuca, and plantains, influenced by the indigenous and mestizo cultures of the region.

Recommendations for Visiting Any Place in Colombia

  • Research the place you’ll be visiting. Learn about safe and dangerous areas.
  • Keep your valuables secure and avoid wearing items like jewelry, watches, or cameras.
  • Don’t display your money in public; only carry the necessary amount for daily expenses and keep the rest in a secure place.
  • Use safe transportation; opt for taxis or transportation services recommended by your hotel. It’s also advisable not to hail taxis on the street but to use apps that directly hire transportation services.
  • Keep your belongings close to you, especially in crowded places like markets or public transportation stations.

More travel tips to Colombia


About Author



Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia. I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia. For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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