Top 10 Secret Colombian Tour Locations in 2017
“Hallucinatory – that’s just the way everyday life is, in Colombia. All the time, you say to yourself… Did I just see that?”
– Barbet Schroeder, Swiss film director
Unexplored jungles, remote beaches, lonesome mountains, and tranquil lakes and lagoons make up the very best and most secret Colombia tour locations. If you believe our modern world has nothing left to hide, then you’ll have to think again. This is Colombia, a country of amazing biodiversity and natural resources, with snow-capped peaks and barren deserts also sharing its wide-ranging landscape. Its spectacular flora and fauna simply flourishes in abandoned abundance.
The magical beauty of this part of Latin America is well-known the world over, yet there are still many secret stunning tour locations in Colombia, predominantly undiscovered by the myriad of tourists who visit every year, that will leave you wide-eyed with their natural wonder, their exotic elegance, and just their sheer, ridiculous awesomeness.
World-famous Colombian author, Gabriel García Márquez, who knew a thing or two himself about awesomeness, often remarked that “everybody has a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” So, if Colombia were to be encapsulated into a person, its public life would definitely be known to all, and its private life would be the subject of much speculative assumption. Its secret life? Well, that’s where we’re headed now, to find and know those top 10 secret Colombian tour locations, hidden away like priceless gems in a private collection of natural wonders.
10. San Agustín – “Archaeological Park”
Located in Huila, in the southwest of Colombia, lies the remarkable San Agustín Archaeological Park, which features the largest collection of megalithic sculptures and religious monuments within Latin America, and fabled as the world’s largest necropolis. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the park occupies the upper basin of the Magdalena River and its tributaries, in an area known for the emergence of the three Andean mountain ranges – the Colombian Massif. This visually stunning area boasts the remains of several ancient cultural groups, situated on plateaus above and either side of the canyon formed by the Magdalena River.
Without a doubt, the San Agustín Archaeological Park, the first of our secret Colombian tour locations, is a gateway into times long since departed, yet magically kept alive by these inspiring and proud ancient sculptures that adorn the area. That contagious feeling of being swept away by the past into another world is a memory that will lives long in the minds of all who come here.
9. Cerros de Mavecure – “Mavecure Hills”
The Mavecure Hills stand resplendent on the banks of the Inírida River, in the east of Colombia. Geologically-speaking, they’re not hills, but three true mountains, huge yet only accessible from the river itself. These three mountains are named Pajarito (Little Bird), Mono (Monkey), and Mavecure, rising up 2,336 feet, 1,570 feet, and 560 feet respectively. If you’ve been lucky enough to see the excellent and award-winning Colombian film, “El abrazo de la serpiente” (Embrace of the Serpent), the vista of these majestic mountains will be familiar to you. If you haven’t seen the film, consider it essential viewing. And if you haven’t witnessed this mountainous landscape for real, consider that an essential secret Colombian tour location to visit.
8. Caño Cristales – “The River of Five Colors”
Described many times over as the world’s most beautiful river, the Caño Cristales (Crystal Channel) is also known as “The River of Five Colors” and the “Liquid Rainbow.” Located in the Serrania de la Macarena province of the Meta department, this tributary of the Guayabero River flows over a bed of vividly-colored crystal, in varying shades of yellow, blue, green, black, and, most vividly of all, red.
These beautiful quartzite crystals were formed over 1.2 billion years ago, but their undeniable wonder can clearly been seen today. It truly is a liquid rainbow, flowing away beneath your very feet.
Comprised in itself of many waterfalls and rapids, the river also features a number of mesmeric circular pits, known as “giant’s kettles,” as the crystal riverbed has been worn away by harder rocks and the water current, forming these deep, natural wells. A remarkable and truly breathtaking sight to behold for anyone wishing to discover Colombia’s top tour locations. If ever there was a reason put on this earth of ours to own a good camera, it’s this place. Fact.
7. La Guajira & Cabo de la Vela – “Cape of Sails”
Way back in 1499 (but a little more recently than the formation of the above mentioned crystals), an intrepid Spanish explorer by the name of Juan de la Costa sighted, for the very first time, the desert coastline of La Guajira, and, in particular, a windswept cape that would later become known as Cabo de la Vela, the “Cape of Sails.” The small community that exists here are now witnessing more and more adventurous travelers coming to visit, and to marvel at and breathe in the beautiful coastal landscape.
Regardless of your personal preferences, Cabo de la Vela has something for everyone. The more active among you can hit the windsurfing and kitesurfing pursuits (it’s not called the Cape of Sails for nothing), whilst the slightly less active can enjoy a shark or lobster breakfast, followed by relaxing day spent predominantly in a chinchorro, a hammock intricately woven by a member of the local Wayuu Indian population. Either way, you’ll be amazed and inspired by the unique turquoise-colored ocean waters lapping the beach in the middle of a desert! Please remember, however, like many parts of rural Colombia, this region is sadly a poor one financially, so always be respectful to the friendly natives who will welcome you to their home.
6. Rio Claro – “Jungle Wildlife”
A not-so well kept Colombian secret is the thriving city of Medellín. However, did you know that a mere 3 hours away from its center, you can find yourself wandering within a protected tropical rainforest, a real jungle? Yes, dear traveler, indeed you can. Much of the Magdalena Valley was once home to vast stretches of rainforest, inhabited by many wildlife species. So-called progress has reduced their extent, but many still exist within conservation projects for the nature-loving tourist. One of these is the private ecolodge of Rio Claro, situated on the banks of the Magdalena River.
For those who like their personal documentaries to be based firmly in natural history, Rio Claro offers an amazing glimpse into the region’s jungle wildlife. Here, you can see red howler monkeys, white-footed tamarin monkeys, parrots, herons, toucans, giant fish, and even fluorescent scorpions (yes, fluorescent ones), and all the time dodging enormous blue morpho butterflies. A little harder to spot maybe, but the rainforest is also home to sloths and agoutis (big rats, to you and me), and otters can sometimes be seen larking about nearer the riverbanks.
5. Puracé Volcano – “The Surface of the Moon”
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to walk on the surface of the Moon, here’s your chance. Coming in at number five on our list of “Top 10 Secret Colombian Tour Locations” is the truly out-of-this-world landscape of the Puracé Volcano, one of Colombia’s most active, and located in the Puracé National Natural Park, Cauca. Recent(ish) large eruptions have occurred in 1849, 1869, and 1885. Get the feeling it’s due another one? It last sparked into life in 1977, spreading volcanic ash over 4 kilometers away. And in 1990, fumaroles (openings in the earth’s crust, releasing gases and steam) appeared near its summit, with hot springs emerging on the lower slopes of this majestic geological wonder. An out-of-this-world experience, for sure.
4. Puerto Nariño – “The Gateway to the Amazon Jungle”
Located on the banks of the Amazon River lies the ecological community of Puerto Nariño, home to around 6,000 members of the indigenous Ticuna tribe. No cars or motorcycles are allowed here, with the area completely traffic-free for its inhabitants and visitors alike. Transport between other communities in the area takes place using motorboats. Puerto Nariño is named after the famous Antonio Nariño, a Colombian general who actively fought against the country’s colonial rulers in the Spanish-American Wars of Independence. The community, definitive proof that man and nature can co-exist happily, provides a great base from which to explore the huge Amazon rainforest.
3. Támesis – “Magical Petroglyphs”
Another fine and creative example of Colombia’s ancient natural heritage can be found in petroglyphs, large stones with a magical ambiance that depict visually the wisdom and history of its early inhabitants. This ancestral legacy is described on the stones in the form of graphics that have been carved onto the surface. You’ve heard of pop art, so welcome to rock art. The images were left as a means of communication between inhabitants and those to follow. In fact, by simply seeing the stones, you become a guardian of their heritage.
Támesis, located in the department of Antioquia, is an agricultural town and municipality in the southwest of the region. It also happens to be a great place to view outstanding examples of Colombian petroglyphs. El Pirú Rock features around 58 of these, with varying anthropomorphic phytomorphic, geometric and zoomorphic designs, with El Encanto Rock featuring a further 9.
However, if this is all a little too anthropological for you, there’s always an abundance of nature to see, such as the mineral-laden Cerro de Cristo Rey mountain, and why not add a little adrenalin to your Támesis experience with an extreme sport or two? Rappel, the posh word for abseiling down sheer rock-faces, and canyoning, similar to the former with the added bonus of a waterfall accompanying you on the way down, are both available here. In other words, you can enjoy the majesty of the Colombian landscape with your heart in your mouth!
2. Nuquí – “Whales, Jungle & Beaches”
Right on the western coast of Colombia, you’ll find Nuquí in the department of Choco. From here, a mere 1 hour boat-ride away is the paradise of Guachalito, with its beautiful mocha-colored, sandy beach, running alongside lush green jungle. Couple that with the breathtaking marine life on offer, and it’s a stunning place, not to be missed – a real secret Colombian tour location. The Colombian landscape is all about its biodiversity, and you have just landed smack in the middle of it.
There truly is something for everyone in this area. From eco-hikes that take you to the “Waterfall of Love,” thermal springs and pools of skin-enhancing mud, canoe trips along the Jovi River, the Terco Waterfall, endless surfing in the Pacific waters, to the awesome experience of whale watching (from July through to October is the season for this). You really won’t wish to leave here any time soon.
1. Jardín – “A Colombian Colonial Jewel”
And so we finally find ourselves at the last of our top 10 secret Colombian tour locations – the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Antioquian pueblo of Jardín. Meaning simply “Garden,” this pueblo has hardly altered since colonial times of 140 years ago. Still bearing the colonial architecture of the time, the whitewashed buildings are all regaled with bright and colourfully painted doors and windows, balconies and locally-made cowhide chairs. It will really feel as if you are stepping back in time to the true culture of Colombia. Not too heavily featured in guide books, the pueblo of Jardín really is a Colombian colonial jewel. And, if you’re looking fora true testimonial, you need only look at the number of city-dwelling Colombians that come and visit here during the holiday seasons.
Seeing is Believing…
Without a doubt, the above 10 featured Colombian tour locations are the places to visit in 2017. They may not be the secrets they once were, but all still hold a magical place in the hearts of others, like you, who came to seek out the truly beautiful and wondrous hidden treasures a country like Colombia has to offer. From its ancient history to the sheer natural beauty of Colombia, seeing is believing.
What exotic, unspoilt places would you add to this list? Your must-see locations that highlight and capture the true spirit and beauty of Colombia? Please, as always, feel free to leave a comment below for your fellow readers and travelers.
Lastly, forget bucket lists. These top 10 secret Colombian tour locations would make any list.