7 Great National Parks in Colombia to Visit

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia

Last updated on August 3rd, 2021 at 02:19 pm

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My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!

Colombia is a unique country, we are the second most biodiverse nation in the world. There are also countless ecosystems in Colombia. This incredible biodiversity and natural splendor is reflected in the national parks of Colombia in the country. There are countless endemic species and stories related to the cultural pluralism that exists in this country. There are currently more than 50 protected areas in Colombia, but not all of them can be visited.

These areas are managed by the National Parks of Colombia and are categorized as follows:

  • National Natural Parks (PNN): These are areas characterized by their ecosystem value and also by the fact that they are largely free from human intervention. In these spaces there is a large amount of flora and fauna, relief forms with some scientific importance, as well as cultural manifestations of historical value. The NNPs are created to preserve all of these components.
  • Fauna and Flora Sanctuaries (SFF): These are areas dedicated to the conservation of various species of the national flora and fauna.
  • Nature Reserve: These ecological reserves are intended for the conservation and exploration of natural wealth under primitive conditions.
  • Unique Natural Area: It is an area with special conditions in terms of geological aspects and flora that inhabit the area. Only Los Estoraques is classified as a unique natural area.
  • Parkway: it is an area of ​​high natural and cultural value that is crossed by a road and that is to be preserved for both recreational and educational purposes.

Having said this, here are 7 great Colombian National Parks you should visit.

Tayrona National Natural Park

Website: https://www.parquetayrona.com/

beach and mountains in the tayrona park

Possibly one of the most beautiful and famous places in Colombia. Tayrona Park is a paradisiacal place located in the Magdalena department, characterized by its beautiful beaches, incredible green landscapes and history. The climate in the park is tropical and the temperature is usually between 25 and 38° C (77-100° F). The Tayrona area covers around 15,000 hectares. This park is also home to animals such as jaguars, foxes, caimans, among others.

Today Tayrona National Park is one of the most important tourist destinations in Colombia, but in the past, it was a sacred place where one of the most interesting indigenous communities lived, the Tairona. The Tairona no longer exist, but their descendants (the Kankuamo, the Kogui, the Wiwa and the Arhuaco) are trying to protect this area. If you are interested, we have created a separate blog about indigenous peoples in Colombia.

What to do in Tayrona Park?

The Tayrona is characterized by its incredible beaches, which are the main tourist attraction of the area. Some beautiful beaches to visit are:

Cañaveral beach

One of the most visited beaches in Tayrona, because in addition to the beautiful view, you can stay overnight in the famous bungalows, huts made of wood and palm leaves. The sea is dangerous at this point due to the currents and reefs and one should not bathe or swim.

Cape San Juan

Hands down the most famous and most visited place in Tayrona. Cape San Juan offers incredible views as it is surrounded by vegetation and the sea. In contrast to Playa Cañaveral, it is safe to go into the water here. It’s one of the most peaceful places in the park.

Nudist beach

This is without a doubt the strangest place in the whole park. The beach has never been officially declared a nudist beach and even the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada reject this practice. However, some visitors practice nudism there.

For more detailed information about Tayrona Park, we refer to our separate blog.

Some recommendations

If you want to visit the Tayrona, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Bring water to drink.
  • Find out whether you can swim on a beach or not. Some beaches are life-threatening because of their waves.
  • Stay on the official paths and trails, you don’t want to be face-to-face with a wild animal.
  • Telephone connections are poor or non-existent.
  • A yellow fever vaccine is recommended.
  • It is essential to use sun protection.

Prices

Low season

  • If you are a local or foreign national living in Colombia or a member of the CAN (Andean Community) between the ages of 5 and 25, you will pay $ 18,500 (approximately USD 5).
  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia or a member of the CAN and are over the age of 25, you will pay $ 25,000 (approximately USD 7).
  • If you are a foreigner but do not live in Colombia and are not a member of the CAN, you will pay $ 55,500 (approx. USD 15).
  • If you were born in Santa Marta and are over 5 and under 25, you will pay $ 9,000 (this modality is only applicable in the low season).

High season

  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia and aged between 5 and 25, you will pay $ 21,500 (approx USD 6)
  • If you are a member of the CAN (Andean Community) and between 5 and 25 years old, you will pay $ 18,500 (approx. USD 6).
  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia or a member of the CAN and are over the age of 25, you will pay $ 29,500 (approximately USD 8).
  • If you are a foreigner but do not live in Colombia and are not a member of the CAN, you will pay $ 66,500 (approx. 18 USD).
  • Adult citizens or foreigners living in Colombia or members of the CAN who are over 65 years of age have free admission.
  • National or foreign children under 5 years of age have free admission.

Price per vehicle
Depending on the vehicle in which you are traveling, you will also be asked for an amount.

  • Motorcycle $ 10,000 (approximately USD 3).
  • Auto $ 14,500 (about USD 4).
  • Minibus $ 37,000 (about USD 10).
  • Bus $ 78,000 (approximately USD 22).

All of the above prices are for 2020. The prices are per vehicle, not per passenger.

How to get to Tayrona Park?

The closest city is Santa Marta with the Simon Bolivar International Airport. There are 3 terrestrial entrances to enter the park:

  • Palagana Entrance: About 28 km from Santa Marta.
  • Calabazo Entrance: About 25 km from Santa Marta.
  • Zaino Entrance: About 35 km from Santa Marta.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta extends through the departments of Magdalena, La Guajira and Cesar and is one of the most beautiful natural wonders of Colombia.

The park covers an area of ​​around 383,000 hectares. The highest peaks of the Sierra reach a height of 5,775 meters (18,947 feet). This makes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta the highest coastal mountain range in the world. The temperatures vary between 0 and 28° C (32-83° f). This corresponds to the altitude at which you are.

Not only is the Sierra remarkable for its natural beauty, but also it was and is home to several indigenous communities. In the past, it was the home of the Tairona culture we talked about earlier, and today it is the home of the Kankuamo, Kogui, Wiwa, and Arhuaco.

What to do in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Some of the most interesting places to visit in the Sierra are:

Ciudad Perdida

The Ciudad Perdida is undoubtedly one of the most important ancient structures in Latin America. The Tairona people built it centuries ago. There you will find various structures that have been preserved in excellent condition, such as houses, cobblestone streets and temples. The Tairona called this settlement “Teyuna” and archaeological records made in the area indicate that the site is at least 600 years older than Machu Picchu. There are several tour operators to get to Ciudad Perdida.

Lost City Colombia
https://baquianos.com/blog/razones-para-conocer-ciudad-perdida

Buritaca

Buritaca is about 1 hour from the city of Santa Marta. In Buritaca, a river that comes directly from the Sierra Nevada flows into the sea. It’s an ideal place to relax on the beach and enjoy the scenery.

Palomino

Very close to the Sierra Nevada, more precisely about 80 km from Santa Marta, is the village of Palomino, which is in the La Guajira department. Previously, this place was not visited because there were frequent clashes between the guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and paramilitaries.

Thanks to the peace agreement that the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos signed with the FARC in 2016, this destination has achieved certain stability and is currently experiencing a tourist boom. In Palomino, you can enjoy beaches and rivers and visit indigenous settlements. For more information, we recommend our Palomino travel guide.

Seydukwa

Seydukwa is one of the many indigenous settlements found in the Sierra Nevada. This place belongs to the Arhuaco community. There are websites that offer a guided tour. One of the ways to get there is about a 2-hour hike from Palomino. In the settlement, you can visit the houses of the natives, talk to them and learn about their culture.

Some recommendations

  • Remember that places like Ciudad Perdida are sacred places for the indigenous communities, so you should have the utmost respect when visiting these constructions.
  • Bring enough to drink.
  • It is advisable to get vaccinated against yellow fever.

How to get to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park

The entrance to the Sierra Nevada is at the San Lorenzo Experimental Station, which is about 3 hours from Santa Marta. When visiting Colombia, we recommend checking the national parks website to see if entry is possible.

Serranía de La Macarena National Natural Park

The river of 8 colors, Caño Cristales
Mario Carvajal, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The park is located in the Meta department and the most famous attraction is the colored Caño Cristales river. La Macarena has an area of ​​around 629,280 hectares and the average temperature is 27 °C (81 °F). A special feature of this park is that you can find several ecosystems, such as rainforests and flooded forests.

The park’s biodiversity is incredible, with 456 species of birds living here, which makes up 27% of Colombia’s total avifauna. Other animals in the area include the tufted capuchin, capybaras, and the giant otter. Indigenous communities also lived in this area. In certain places, you can still find petroglyphs and pictograms.

What to do in the Serranía de La Macarena National Natural Park

Caño Cristales

Considered by many to be the most beautiful river in the world, the Caño Cristales is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and incredible natural wonders in all of Colombia. It is also called the River of Five Colors because, thanks to the plants found in the depths of the water, you can see different shades of yellow, blue, green, red, and black throughout the day.

Bird watching

As we mentioned earlier, there are more than 400 species of birds in the park. Some of the species found in the Macarena are the red-capped cardinal (Paroaria gularis), the broad-beaked motmot (Electron platyrhynchum), and the short-eared owl (Asio flammeus).

Some recommendations

Some things to consider when visiting this area:

  • The season runs from June to the end of November.
  • You must be vaccinated against yellow fever.
  • To visit the park, you must make a reservation on the park’s website at least 15 days in advance.

Prices

To enter the Macarena, an entrance fee is charged, which depends on certain factors:

Low season

  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia and aged between 5 and 25, you will pay $ 19,500 (approximately US $ 5).
  • If you are a member of the CAN (Andean Community) and between the ages of 5 and 25, you will pay $ 19,500 (approx USD 5).
  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia and are over the age of 25, you will pay $ 35,500 (approximately USD 9).
  • If you are a member of the CAN and you are over 25 years old, you will pay $ 35,500 (approximately USD 9).
  • If you are a foreigner but do not live in Colombia and are not a member of the CAN, you will pay $ 53,500 (approx. USD 14).

How to get to the Serranía de la Macarena Park?

The park is located in the municipality of La Macarena. There is a small airport and you can arrive by plane from Bogotá, Cali or Medellín.

Gorgona National Natural Park

Website: https://www.islagorgona.co/

Gorgona Island is proof that even the saddest and most painful of places can turn into paradise. The island was deserted until 1959. When the then President of Colombia, Alberto Lleras Camargo, decided to turn this island into a prison. One could say that Gorgona was the Colombian Alcatraz.

The prison conditions are said to have been inhuman, the inmates slept on wooden beds and the inmates had to defend themselves daily against poisonous animals. It is said that Gorgona is haunted and that paranormal phenomena occur there. Read our blog about horrible places in Colombia.

The prison was finally closed in 1984 and became a tourist destination. Together with Malpelo, Gorgona is the only island on Colombian territory in the Pacific Ocean. The island is also an excellent dive site and ideal for whale watching. The island has an area of ​​around 61,687 hectares and the temperature is between 25 and 30° C (77 – 86 ° F). Regarding biodiversity, the island is home to animals such as sloths, blue lizards, antbirds, and other species.

What to do on Gorgona Island

Whale watching

One of the main reasons to visit Gorgona is that humpback whales visit the Colombian coast from July to November. The humpback whale is an imposing animal that can reach a length of 16 m. With a little luck, you can also dive with the animals on Gorgona.

Diving

As I mentioned earlier, Gorgona Island is one of the best places to go diving. Animals like turtles, white tip sharks, groupers, octopuses, and many other species live in the depths of the local waters.

If you are interested in other dive sites in Colombia, we recommend consulting our blog about diving in Colombia.

Some recommendations

  • You can rent diving equipment in the park.
  • To dive on the island, a diving certificate must be presented, with a minimum level of open water. If you don’t have a certification, the park offers mini-courses. You then have to stay at least 3 nights.
  • In order to be able to use the diving and whale watching plans, one must stay at least 2 nights.
  • Check-in and check-out on Gorgona Island are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Prices

Prices for access to the diving and whale watching plans depend on the season and days. We recommend contacting Destino Pacifico. +57 321 7680539 / info@vivegorgona.com

How to get to Gorgona Island

There are two ways to get to Gorgona Island.

From Guapi
The first path leads to the municipality of Guapi, located in the department of Cauca. The town can be reached by plane from Cali, Bogotá, and Popayán. From Guapi, a boat trip to Gorgona Island takes around 90 minutes.

From Buenaventura
Buenaventura is around 2.5 hours from Cali. The boat trip to Gorgona Island from the town of Buenaventura takes around 4 hours.

Chingaza National Natural Park

Chingaza is mainly located in the department of Cundinamarca and partly in the department of Meta. This park, which is a huge paramo (moor), supplies the capital (Bogota) with around 80% of its drinking water.

Chingaza is an ideal place for nature photographers because, in addition to the incredible flora, there are also beautiful animals such as the Andean bear, the white-tailed deer, and more than 400 species of birds.

The park has an area of ​​around 76,600 hectares. The temperature is between 4 and 22 °C (39-72 °F). The indigenous communities of Muisca and Guayupe formerly inhabited this area. The name of this park was probably Chim-gua-za, which means “mountain range of the god of the night” in the Muisca language.

What to do in Chingaza

There are several spots for ecotourism in the park:

Suasie path

Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The path is 1.3 km long and a walk takes around 90 minutes. During this walk, with a little luck, you can see several animals. Although it is a relatively easy route, the level of difficulty is moderate so being in good physical condition is recommended.

Dry lagoon

Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The way to Laguna Seca is easy. The distance is around 1.85 km and can be covered in around 1 hour. During the tour, you can admire the beautiful Laguna Seca and Laguna Verde.

Siecha lagoons

Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
The lagoons are located in the municipality of Guasca, about an hour from Bogota. There are 3 lagoons called Sur America, Fausto, and Siecha. The Muiscas named these 3 as Guaiatiqui (weaving of the mind), Tibatiquica (weaving of the territory), and Siecha. The tour takes about 3 hours and is of medium difficulty.

Cuchillas de Siecha path

Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
This is an alternative way to get to the edge of the Siecha lagoons. The route is 7.4 km long and takes about 5 hours. The hike is exhausting.

Some recommendations

  • You have to fill out an online form at least 5 days before a visit.
  • To enter the park you have to take out an insurance policy.
  • Please do not litter.
  • Wear comfortable, waterproof clothing. Depending on the route, rubber boots are advisable.
  • Protect yourself from the sun.

Prices

Entrance fee

  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia or a member of the CAN (Andean Community) and are also between the ages of 5 and 25, you will pay $ 16,500 (approximately US $ 4).
  • If you are a citizen or foreigner living in Colombia or a member of the CAN and are over 25 years of age, you will pay $ 20,000 (approximately USD 5).
  • If you are a foreigner but do not live in Colombia and are not a member of the CAN, you will pay $ 53,500 (approx. USD 14).

Price per vehicle entered

  • Car $ 14,500 (about USD 4).
  • Minibus $ 37,000 (about USD 10).
  • Bus $ 78,000 (approximately USD 22).

Prices are valid for 2020

How to get to Chingaza National Natural Park

The park has 3 entrances. Before visiting, you should always check on the website whether the entrances are open.

  • Guasca: It is a municipality in Cundinamarca which is about 1 hour from Bogota if you take the road to La Calera and then the road to Guatavita.
  • Fómeque: Fómeque is a municipality in Cundinamarca, about 2 hours from Bogotá. Take the road to Choachí. Riding a 4×4 vehicle is recommended.
  • La Calera: The last route is about 50 minutes from Bogota taking the road to La Calera town.

Los Estoraques Unique Natural Area

High rock in Norte de Santander Colombia called Los Estoraques
Julianruizp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Los Estoraques is located in the department of Norte de Santander, about 30 minutes from the historic and heritage town of Playa de Belén. It is one of the most unusual and incredible places in all of Colombia. Los Estoraques covers an area of ​​around 1052 hectares and you will find a multitude of gigantic rock formations. These were created thousands of years ago by land erosion and other natural phenomena.

For many years, the State had problems buying the land around the Estoraques. When the park reopened in March 2021, the Colombian government bought 391.3 hectares, expanding the unique area. Today authorized personnel lead tours.

A large number of animals live in this park, but due to the nature of the area they tend to move in small groups. Some species that live here are rabbits, foxes, and wild cats. It is said that the Estoraques create an atmosphere of extreme calm. There is even a story that says that an American tourist fell in love with this place so she decided to stay and live in a cave in the area. This place would be known as the Gringa Cave.

What to do in the Estoraques

The area is characterized by its unique geological conditions. The park reopened its gates to locals and tourists on March 20, 2021.

The areas open to the public are:

  • Piritama Trail: opening hours are 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. The length is 1.4 kilometers. Up to 300 species of butterflies and a wide variety of birds can be seen on the path.
  • El Origen and Lost City Trail: Hours of operation are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. This path is 800 meters long and also houses various bird species.

Some recommendations

  • Groups to enter these trails must be of 6 or 10 people, including an environmental interpreter.
  • After the first month of reopening, the entrance fee will be $4,500.

How to get to the Estoraques

The closest place to this park is the village of Playa de Belén, the driving time from there is around 30 minutes. The village is located around 194 kilometers from Cucuta, Norte de Santander. Travel time is 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary 

One of the best examples of the incredible biodiversity in Colombia is the Los Flamencos fauna and flora sanctuary, which owes its name to the fact that at certain times of the year the charismatic flamingos visit these areas.

The park is located in the department of La Guajira, an hour from Palomino. The park is 7,000 hectares and consists of 4 wetlands called Ciénaga de Manzanillo, Laguna Grande, Ciénaga del Navío Quebrado and Ciénaga de Tocoromanes. The park has an average temperature of 27 ° C (80.6 ° F), so the climate is quite warm.

While this sanctuary is best known for the flamingos, the truth is that it’s not the only interesting species that live there. A large number of waterfowl typical of the region and migratory birds live in this area. Some of the birds found in the reserve are seagulls, pelicans, and white herons.

What to do in Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Here you can watch and photograph birds. It is recommended that you bring binoculars and if you plan to take photos, do so without the flash.

How to get to the Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

The best way to get to the park is through the town of Camarones, which is an hour from Palomino. From there you can pay for a boat ride to the park. The entrance is free

These were only 7 of Colombia’s national parks, to know more in-depth read the Colombia National Natural Parks and Sanctuaries Travel Guide on Sula.

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