A backpacker savors the Colombian landscape from a mountain overlook, capturing the vibrant essence of its coffee culture, colonial cities, and rich biodiversity, inviting exploration and cultural immersion.

Backpacking Colombia’s Hidden Gems

Backpacking through Colombia it’s an adventure of a lifetime. Imagine waking up to the aroma of freshly brewed Colombian coffee, strolling through vibrant markets, and hiking through lush, green mountains.

But what if you’re not sure where to start? I’ve been there, and done that, and I’m here to share my insights. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a newbie, this article is for you.

When you venture into this incredible country that’s full of vibrant cities and natural wonders, I bet you’ll swiftly echo my sentiment – I love Colombia!

Best Time to Visit Colombia

Honestly, there’s no such thing as a “bad time” to visit Colombia. Yes, you need to bear in mind that prices may shoot up during Saman Santa, but it’s still worth experiencing this traditional period in person. Now if you ask me, I’d say Colombian Christmas offers the most memorable experiences especially in Medellin – a city known for beautiful, twinkling lights. Colombians adore Christmas and it’s a spectacle in itself.

Every month has its unique charm. Interesting festivals are scattered throughout the year. To list a few – there is the Flower Festival in August in Medellin, the Salsa Festival in December in Cali, and the riotous Carnival in February in Barranquilla.

So if you’re mulling over the best time to backpack Colombia, personalize it to your taste. Stick a pin on the map, pick the festival you’re curious about and mark your dates. Trust me, irrespective of the season, Colombia’s weather won’t let you down!

Top Cities to Explore

Colombia’s cities are teeming with life. They are vibrant, bustling, and full of diversity. Welcoming you with warmth, every city has its unique charm that sets it apart.

  • Bogotá, the country’s capital, stunned me with its impressive street-art and an infectious bohemian vibe. The city is staggering – full of energy and nestling against the mountains.
  • Witnessing the luminous Medellin during Christmas is a sight I’ll forever hold dear.
  • My lovable chaos, the Salsa Festival in Cali, is packed with rhythm and laughter.
  • And how can I forget the contagious energy of the Barranquilla, home to a joyous carnival not-to-be-missed in February!

Backpacking tips for Colombia

Bustling cities, surreal landscapes, rhythmic carnivals – Colombia has it all. But before you begin on your backpacking adventure, remember a few practical tips that’ll help you navigate the country with ease.

Safety should be your first priority. It’s essential to stick to official taxis, especially at airports like in Bogotá. Ignore any touts who approach you offering private taxi services. The official ones line up outside the airports, and they use a meter. Also, pay attention to the signs warning against venturing out alone at night or into certain streets. These suggestions are there for valid reasons and should not be overlooked.

One of the enchanting aspects of Colombia is its vibrant street arts. Cities like La Candelaria showcase streets and alleys blossoming with striking street art. I remember gazing in awe and capturing snapshots that could fill an entire gallery. You’re sure not to miss them!

Colombia’s primary language is Spanish, but English is also widely understood, especially in cities. Yet, learning a few basic Spanish phrases can go a long way when interacting with the locals. They always appreciate your effort, and it adds a dash of authenticity to your journey.

It’s no secret that Colombians love to party. Don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a carnival or a street party during your visit. Jump into the local culture and don’t hesitate to join the fun. You’ll find these experiences to be some of the most memorable from your trip.

For the foodies, Colombia offers a diverse range of delicacies. Be sure to try the Tamales, Arepas, Empanadas, Sanchocho, and Ajiaco. And if you love coffee, you absolutely must visit Salento, located in the plush coffee region of Colombia.

Finally, if you want to explore Tayrona national park, make sure to check the opening times beforehand as it closes annually for a certain period. Also, remember discussing the harsh past revolving Pablo Escobar, especially outside of Medellin, is considered disrespectful. Colombians are trying hard to move away from this part of their history.

Budget Tips for Backpacking in Colombia

If you want to explore Colombia in a smart and affordable way, there are numerous money-saving options that you can adopt. These include considering different accommodation options, trying out the local cuisine, or even taking advantage of cost-effective modes of transportation.

Affordable Accommodation Options

During my backpacking journey in Colombia, I found a wealth of accommodation options catering to all budget levels. Hostels offer a range of environments, from quiet, homely atmospheres to vibrant spaces buzzing with activity. You can find dorms and private rooms alike, the comfort of which can rival some hotels. Hospedajes, smaller establishments run by local families, add a touch of authentic culture to your stay.

Don’t shy away from budget hotels if you’re seeking some solitude and comfort. Couchsurfing, for instance, is also a fine choice, given the extensive community available. Try out Airbnb, with many Colombians renting rooms out, or Workaways, where you live with locals in exchange for labor. For nature-lovers, don’t forget to consider camping, especially in beautiful national parks like Tayrona.

Cheap Eats to Try

Colombian local cuisine is not just a delight to your taste buds but can also be very cost-effective if you know where to look. I uncovered delicious street food that costs next to nothing! Be it mouth-watering empanadas or heartening arepas, you can feast on these delicacies without burning a hole in your pocket.

Transportation Hacks

Transportation in Colombia is as diverse as its landscapes. Even though the challenging terrain, you can choose from various options thanks to the substantial improvements in the country’s infrastructure over the years. Buses and collectivos are excellent options for local travel; they’re reliable and economical.

Further, taxis and Uber can prove to be efficient, especially in urban areas. Remember, always opt for registered taxis for safe travels.

If you’re thinking of intercity travel, here’s a tip from my own experience: Choose domestic flights over long bus journeys whenever possible. The prices aren’t too steep and you’ll save on time and energy.

Tips from a local

Spending time in Colombia isn’t just about seeing the sights, it’s about truly experiencing the rhythm of life here. Let’s face it – Colombians do live life with a unique gusto. Some of my best memories include vibrant fiestas in tiendas (small stores) and witnessing the undeniably contagious Colombian dance culture. Trust me, stating “I can’t dance” isn’t an accepted excuse in Colombia. Here, learning to dance salsa isn’t just fun, it’s an essential part of diving into local life.

Surprising to some, flights here often have similar prices to buses. So, if you’re short on time consider flying. It’s a fantastic way to see more while saving valuable travel time.

One of the fascinating aspects of Colombian culture is the phrase “No dar papaya”. Literally translating to “don’t give papaya”, it’s an emblematic part of the local lexicon. It loosely means not to make yourself an easy target for negative situations. It might seem odd at first, but it’s surprising how quickly this phrase will make sense once you’ve spent some time in Colombia.

When planning your travel here, don’t forget that Colombia celebrates a sea of public holidays, usually involving parades, music, and nationwide celebrations. Avoiding peak travel times can save you a headache, making your experience that much more enjoyable.

Next up, food! Eating out in Colombia is remarkably cheap, and you’ll find the supermarkets surprisingly pricey. Street food is a must-try. Give it a go, your tastebuds will thank you later!

One last thing you should keep in mind is the wide variety in weather across different regions in Colombia. Packing requires consideration – I suggest light layers and a good waterproof jacket.

I hope this provides a helpful glimpse into the Colombian lifestyle. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to blend in beautifully with the locals.

Safety Tips for Backpacking Colombia

During my travels to Colombia – a jewel of a destination, I picked up some essential safety tips that I’d love to share. Strange as it may seem, even after my years of globetrotting, I’m still learning – and that’s part of the fun!

Stay Alert in Crowded Areas

Every seasoned traveler knows this – crowds can be an easy place for pickpockets. Now, I’m not saying that Bogota has more of these than any other city but let’s just say it’s wise to be cautious. Regardless of how safe a place feels, it’s best not to flash your cash or valuables publicly. By doing that, you’re less likely to be targeted.

Remember, your safety is pegged on blending in. Now, I couldn’t look less like a Colombian if I tried – but that doesn’t mean I acted like an obvious tourist.

Secure Your Belongings

Colombia’s diverse weather conditions necessitate packing a variety, and I mean a variety of clothes. Bogota, for instance, next to the majestic Andes, can be quite chilly even though the rest of the country experiencing a wave of warmth. Dressing in layers becomes a smart move here.

But here’s the trick – always secure your belongings. You see, during my solo travel, I did have a few things swiped off me in Bogota. It wasn’t violent or traumatic – more of a lesson learned. If you’ve got it flaunt it, right? Wrong, not when it comes to your valuables – at least not in public!

So there you have it, some personal advice from my adventures. In the end, though, what matters most is adaptability – to tap into your inner chameleon and adjust your behavior accordingly. I hope these tips provide useful insights, preparing you well for an amazing Colombian voyage. More on this as we journey down the roads of Colombia…

What to do in Colombia

Let’s jump into the multitude of activities, tours, and excursions that Colombia has to offer. Everyone’s pocket can find something suitable here as the activities are pretty fairly priced. But remember, it’s a good idea to shop around for the best value. Even your choice of hostel might influence the cost of certain tours. For instance, the Pablo Escobar tour in Medellin can vary in price and depth depending on where you book it.

On the flip side, you’ll find an array of free tour options too. In Bogota, you can choose a free walking, bicycle, or even a graffiti tour. They’re great ways to get your bearings and learn about the city at the same time. And if Colombia is your only South American stop, don’t fret. They offer tours into the Amazon Jungle as well.

I’d say if you’re seeking adventure, Colombia has certain must-dos. At the top of my list is the Lost City Trek. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. You can also venture into the desert either solo or via an organized tour. Learning to kitesurf at Cabo de la Vela is a unique experience in its own right.

Here’s a handy list of some other highlights Colombia offers:

  • Paragliding
  • Visiting a Coffee farm or a Cacao farm
  • Chilling in Salento
  • Dancing salsa in Medellin or Cali
  • Hiking
  • Chasing waterfalls
  • Visiting the salt cathedral
  • Soaking up the culture in Bogota

What to visit


Sure, Bogota is a bit rough around the edges but don’t let that stop you. The city’s got an undeniable charm and a boatload of things to do that you just cannot miss. From free graffiti tours to strolling around the vibrant La Candelaria, Bogota’s rich culture, history, arts scene, and the nightlife are worth exploring.

And hey, you can’t wrap up your Bogota chapter without stepping out for a hike to the La Chorrera waterfall or visiting the otherworldly Salt Cathedral.

Oh, and while you’re there, you might want to check out the neighborhoods like Chapinero, it’s less touristy and a lot more authentic.


Remember Pablo Escobar and his empire? Well, the city does too. But let me tell you, Medellin’s turned its violent past into a tale of rebirth and transformation. It’s now a gorgeous city filled with modern amenities and striking public art.

The city’s Metro Cable Line gives you some stunning views and the Free Walking Tour is perfect to immerse yourself in the city’s history. And of course, don’t forget to admire Botero’s works at the Museo de Antioquia.


Who wouldn’t enjoy a little boat ride on a massive lake with a towering rock and about 600 steps to the top? Guatape is all about that laid-back, outdoorsy vibe that is sure to win you over. And yes, you might want to tighten your laces for that serene 5-hour walk around the lake.


Although it’s been made Disney-esque by tourism, the undeniable beauty of Cartagena makes it worth a visit. You might have to deal with some pushy vendors and spend a few extra bucks but hey, the city’s stunning colonial architecture is totally worth it. Now, I’d personally recommend Casa 4 Cartagena for a stay that’s easy on your pocket and high on comfort.


Coffee lovers, this is your haven – Salento. Home to some of the world’s best coffee, and the Zona Cafetera’s rich bean bounty. I’d highly suggest a trip to the Finca el Ocaso. You get to see the entire coffee making process and enjoy a freshly brewed cuppa too.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta may pass as a regular old town, but its strategic location makes it a perfect starting point for numerous adventures. From here, you can hop on a bus to the most interesting spots on the coast. And if you’re into scuba diving, you might want to pack your fins and goggles, because Taganga is waiting for you for an underwater exploration.

Valle de Cocora

For majestic landscapes shaped by nature, head to the Valle de Cocora. And oh, the towering, slender wax palms here will have your camera’s memory full in no time. Trust me on this, though, the natural beauty of this place makes the hike one for the books.

Tatacoa Desert

If a day spent hiking through a beautiful, intense world sounds like your kind of adventure, wait till you layer in the backdrop of a starry sky. The barren, yet mysteriously beautiful, Tatacoa Desert promises just that. It’s an ideal spot for stargazing and houses an observatory for those who like to go the extra mile in their cosmic explorations. Just remember, stay safe and always travel with others, especially in the early mornings.

Backpacking Itinerary for Colombia

Developing the perfect “Backpacking Colombia” itinerary isn’t easy, considering the abundance of must-visit places. But I’ll give it a shot. While your travel pace is eventually up to you, remember less is more in Colombia. So steer clear of jamming in too many places.

If you have some extra time, adding smaller ‘pueblos’ or villages to your route can make your journey more vibrant. This itinerary covers both popular tourist locales and lesser-known but remarkable areas. It’s crafted to fit varied travel styles, from backpacking trips to solo female travelers.

Most folks choose to begin their exploration of Colombia in Bogota. This bustling city serves as a gateway before venturing out into the heart of Colombia. The itinerary then sweeps in a loop, so whether you’re entering Colombia overland via Ecuador or through the San Blas islands, you’ll find your starting point.

From Bogota, a flight to Leticia in the Amazon is worth the time. Immerse in the dense rainforest before returning to the capital city to continue overland to Cali. This city is the salsa dancing capital of Colombia, so don’t be shy – get your groove on!

Next, head over to Salento, known for its sprawling landscapes and coffee plantations. Take a brief detour to the quaint town of Jardin before making your way to Medellin, a marvelous city brimming with Botero’s sculptures and striking nightlife.

The road then leads you to Bucaramanga or San Gil for a shot of adventure before uncovering the colonial architecture of Cartagena.

From the vibrant carnivals of Barranquilla to the interesting dive spots off Santa Marta and Taganga, there’s no end to the adventure. Continue your journey through Tayrona, Minca, and Palomino.

End your loop by making your way to Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. These are less-visited sites but offer undeniably majestic sunsets and starlit skies. Keep your itinerary flexible to add or remove places based on your time constraints.

A backpacker savors the Colombian landscape from a mountain overlook, capturing the vibrant essence of its coffee culture, colonial cities, and rich biodiversity, inviting exploration and cultural immersion.
A backpacker savors the Colombian landscape from a mountain overlook, capturing the vibrant essence of its coffee culture, colonial cities, and rich biodiversity, inviting exploration and cultural immersion.

Key Takeaways

  • Colombia is a diverse country that is perfect for backpacking, having vibrant cities, rich culture, and natural wonders suitable for every kind of traveler.
  • It offers an array of unforgettable experiences, from the spectacular Christmas celebrations in Medellin to the Salsa festival in Cali and the riotous Carnival in Barranquilla.
  • When visiting Colombia’s cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, travelers won’t get enough of its impressive street art, infectious vibes, and rhythm-packed festivities.
  • Always prioritize safety when backpacking Colombia by using official taxis, avoiding venturing alone at night, and securing belongings.
  • Engaging with the locals can enhance your journey, especially when you attempt to learn basic Spanish phrases. Also, don’t hesitate to join in local festivities and try their delicious local cuisine.
  • For budget-conscious travelers, there are many affordable accommodation options, local eateries as well as cheap modes of transportation available.
  • There are wide varieties of activities to pursue in Colombia including the Lost City Trek, exploring the Amazon Jungle, and learning to kitesurf at Cabo de la Vela.
  • Must-visit sites include cities like Bogota and Medellin, scenic regions like Salento and Guatape, and also unique landmarks like the Salt Cathedral in Bogota.
  • Throughout your visit, ensure to keep up with the Colombian ethos of enjoying life with a unique gusto. Remember the phrase, “No dar papaya” which means not making yourself an easy target for negative situations.
  • Travelers’ backpacking itinerary for Colombia often begins in Bogota and spans over other cities like Cali and Medellin, reaching lesser-known regions like Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.

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