What is Colombia Known For? If you are traveling to Colombia this list of things, facts, and places Colombia is known for, will help you plan your trip and prioritize the most interesting things to do in this amazing colorful country.
The list of the things Colombia is known for is actually really long and varied as there are so many aspects of Colombia that makes it one of the most interesting country to visit.
Starting from her natural landscapes: the Andes Mountain range, the rolling hills of the coffee region, the stunning national parks, the Amazon rainforest, and the beautiful Caribbean coastline.
Colombia is also very well known for its biodiversity – the vast array of flowers, birds, plants, trees, and palms that grow in the country.
In the past, Colombia has had a reputation for danger and drug lords, but a lot of effort has been put in by the people to clean things up.
Now, Colombia is again known for its rich culture. Colombia is famous for dancing, for the interesting and vibrant cities and pueblos, and finally, and maybe most importantly, for the welcoming and friendly people that you will meet as you travel around this beautiful country.
Let’s dive into more detail about all the great places and things Colombia is known for!
What is Colombia known for? Travel Destinations
1. The Amazon Rainforest
Colombia hosts the northwest corner of the Amazon rainforest, which is right along the border of Peru and Brazil.
If you visit the Colombian Amazon, you can actually take advantage of the open border with Peru and Brazil within the region.
The village of Leticia is the gateway to the Colombian Amazon, and you can enjoy activities like jungle hikes, visits to indigenous villages, sleeping in an eco-lodge, boat down the river in search of pink dolphins and piranhas, going bird-watching, and visiting different reserves and natural parks.
Guatapé is one of the most colorful cities in Colombia and is also known as the Pueblo de Zocalos.
The zocalos are the vibrant murals painted on the bottom half of the buildings of the city, which highlight different designs, pictures, or even tell stories.
The most famous feature of Guatapé, though, is the nearby Piedra del Penol.
This large monolithic rock is the second largest in South America, and you can climb the ~750 steps to the top to have epic views over the adjacent reservoir.
You can visit Guatape’ on a day trip from Medellin.
This tour has more than 1600 5 stars reviews.
You will visit Guatapé (Pueblo de Zocalos), home to the magnificent Peñol Rock (La Piedra del Peñol) on a full-day tour Medellin. It includes:
- Ascending the 742 steps leading to the summit of Peñol Rock (La Piedra del Peñol),
- exploring the colorful streets of Guatapé and the famous Guatapé Zocalos
- Take an exclusive boat tour of Guatapé Lake.
- Typical Antioquian lunch
3. The lost city
The lost city, or Cuidad Perdida, is a multi-day trek with a guide through the jungle to reach.
This trek generally takes about 28 miles/46km round trip, and you hike through the rolling hills and valleys, with river crossings and amazing views of the Colombian rainforest.
When you arrive, you’ll climb over 1000 stairs to reach an extensive area with 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, as well as trails and plazas throughout the archeological site.
It’s a stunning and epic trek to a beautiful, ancient city, thought to predate Machu Picchu by around 600 years.
4. Darien Gap
Now, the Darien Gap is a little different than other places on this list because it is definitely not a tourist destination, and I would not recommend you visit. However, it is a very notable location in Colombia.
The Darien Gap is the small 60-mile stretch of land that connects Colombia to Panama.
It is the only area that has a break in the Pan-American highway, and is considered to be a very dangerous area, both due to the extremely difficult terrain, and because guerillas, militant groups, and drug cartels control the area and often assault, extort, or rape migrants.
However, many, many migrants and refugees (mostly from Venezuela and Haiti) are crossing the Darien Gap – around 120,000 in 2021 – due to violence and economic and political upheaval in their home regions.
The Darien Gap is a very sad and difficult place for the people involved.
5. La Tatacoa Desert
The Tatacoa Desert is a surprising semi-desert in an otherwise rainforested and lush country.
Here, you can visit the Red Desert and the Gray Desert, with landscapes and rock formations that remind me a lot of the epic terrain of southern Utah and Arizona.
This is also one of the best places in South America to do some star-gazing.
The Tatacoa Desert is fairly off the beaten track – you will see other travelers, but the remote nature of this destination means it is not overrun by tourists.
6. Cartagena’s Historic Old Town
Cartagena’s old town is almost like something out of a fairytale – the beautiful, colorful town has charming colonial balconies, churches, steeples, and squares all over town, with greenery hanging across the streets and over the doorways.
The old town of Cartagena is also a walled city, with the dramatic Torre del Reloj (the clocktower gate) being the official entrance to the city.
Walking around the city wall, admiring the cannons and towers, while overlooking the western sea, is among some of the most amazing things to do in Cartagena.
Cartagena is right on the Caribbean coast, with many beautiful beaches nearby and home to some of the greatest snorkeling spots in the Caribbean.
All of these things make Cartagena one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia.
You will also find many cute places to stay in Cartagena from luxury boutique hotels in the walled city to big resorts on the beach. Check out my post linked above to learn more. 🙂
7. Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park has become a very popular destination for Colombians and international tourists alike, as it is a park right on the northeast coast of Colombia, and features miles of beautiful Caribbean beaches.
You can visit for a day trip, hike down to the beaches, and spend 5-6 hours on the beach before the park closes, or you can opt to stay overnight.
Be aware, though, the accommodations inside the park are either basic hammocks or rented tents, or luxury hotels.
8. Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
The Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is a really incredible feat of engineering in a beautiful, unexpected place. This cathedral was constructed 200 meters underground, in the middle of a salt mine (the mine is actually still functioning!).
It’s both a tourist attraction and a working Catholic church. Your visit starts by walking through 14 individual chapels representing different scenes from Christ’s final day, which then leads to soaring, open auditoriums and worship areas.
It’s really astounding the craftsmanship that was completed so far underground. Zipaquira is an easy day trip to take during your visit to Bogota.
9. Caño Cristales
This spectacular natural wonder, known as the River of Five Colors offers a truly vibrant display.
During the months of July to November, this river showcases swirling colors of red, yellow, green, blue, and black, created by plants, algae, and different rocks and sand in the river.
The area is pretty remote and requires a dedicated plane ride out to the small town of Maracena, a permit and tour guide, and a yellow fever vaccination.
10. San Andres Island
The San Andres Island is far off the north coast of Colombia, and is actually much closer to the country of Nicaragua than mainland Colombia.
This island features a blend of Spanish, English, and Creole culture, and has beautiful Caribbean beaches – although one that is very popular with tourists, particularly Colombians.
It’s more expensive than many parts of Colombia, but not exorbitantly more expensive than other destinations like Cartagena. Get out of the city of San Andres to more remote parts of the island for the best experience!
11. Providencia Island
About 50 miles north of San Andres Island is Providencia Island. This island is more difficult (and expensive) to get to, and is far more exclusive and remote, even for locals.
The best things to do in Providencia involve relaxing on the beach, going around the island’s one main loop road, and snorkeling or diving in the barrier reef – the 3rd largest coral reef in the world!
You can also explore this coral reef from San Andres island as well.
12. One of the richest biodiversity on earth
What is Colombia known for in regard to biodiversity?
Well, thanks in part to its varying elevation and topography, and that part of the Amazon extends into Colombia, Colombia is the most biodiverse country in the world per square meter and 2nd most biodiverse country by numbers.
It also has the most biodiversity of birds in the entire world! 10% of the species of the world can be found in Colombia.
13. Colorful Orchids
Colombia has the highest variety of orchids anywhere in the world, with over 4,000 different species of orchids in the country, and over 1500 species that are unique to Colombia.
Most of the orchids live in the higher elevations of the Andes, but can be found throughout the country.
✅ FUN FACT: The lavender Cattleya trianae orchid is the national flower of Colombia.
14. Cocora valley
When considering what Colombia is known for, the Cocora Valley is instantly one of the first things that come to mind!
The Cocora Valley is a gorgeous spot in the coffee-growing region of Colombia, just 30 minutes outside the town of Salento.
Visitors to the Cocora Valley generally come to do the 8-mile hike that begins and ends in the Wax Palm Grove, a truly magical grove with rolling hills and pastures, and shockingly tall and skinny wax palm trees towering over you.
These wax palms are the tallest palms in the world, growing up to 200 feet tall.
The rest of the hike in the Cocora Valley takes you in and through the mountains, where you cross rickety bridges over a mountain stream and hike through the thick rainforest vegetation.
It’s a bucket list hike for sure! Lovers of Encanto will appreciate that the film was “set” in the Cocora Valley.
15. Los Nevados National Park
The Valle de Cocora is one of the gateway points to the Los Nevados National Natural Park, an area where you can hike to incredible spots like the Nevado del Ruiz, the highest and most active volcano, snow-capped mountains, the Termales del Cáñon, a natural hot spring, the Laguna del Otún, an alpine lake, or the Santa Isabel glacier.
These are just a sampling of some of the more popular destinations in Los Nevados park.
While you can do these hikes and expeditions by yourself, it is recommended to do them with a guide.
What is Colombia known for? Famous People from Colombia
16. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One cannot talk about what Colombia is known for without discussing Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
He was one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, especially for Spanish literature, and wrote screenplays, novels, news articles, columns, and short stories over his career.
Born in Aracataca, Colombia, he started his career as a journalist, and then moved more into novels throughout his lifetime.
He loved the style of realism, which often moved into the realm of magical realism. His most famous novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which sold over 50 million copies and won him a Nobel Prize.
Fernando Botero is the most well-known and celebrated artist in recent Colombian history.
His sculptures and paintings, done in his own, unique style known as Boterismo, feature people and animals portrayed in exaggerated, fat style.
Botero is originally from the city of Medellin, although he studied art in Europe for several years as his career was developing and currently spends most of his time in Paris.
He has donated over 100 pieces of his own works of art to museums in Bogota and Medellin, and his artwork is displayed throughout the world.
18. Pablo Escobar
Pablo Escobar is probably the most infamous person from Colombia. Escobar lived from 1949-1993 and was a drug lord of the Medellin cartel.
He monopolized the cocaine trade into the United States, which caused him to become unbelievably wealthy – adjusted for inflation, his wealth at the time of his death was around 70 billion USD.
He was a ruthless drug lord, often having rivals or people who opposed him assassinated, and he paid off many political leaders. He was killed by police while they were trying to arrest him in 1993.
One of the most famous Latin singers, Shakira, is Colombian, and was born and raised in the city of Barranquilla. Her most famous song, Hips Don’t Lie, topped charts for weeks in 2006.
She has won numerous awards and is considered the top-selling female Latin artist of all time.
20. Sofia Vergara
Sofia Vergara is a Colombian American actress and model. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, and immigrated to Florida after her brother was murdered during an attempt to kidnap him. She’s lived there ever since.
She has appeared in numerous television films, commercials, and TV series. Her biggest role by far has been playing Gloria in Modern Family. Lately, she has been a judge on America’s Got Talent.
What is Colombia known for? The food
Traditional Colombian food involves a wide array of cuisine, foods, soups, dishes, desserts, and snacks. When you travel to Colombia, you will eat very well and have a lot of new foods to sample!
These are 4 of the most famous and ubiquitous traditional Colombian foods to try.
21. Bandeja Paisa
Bandeja Paisa is probably *the* most popular dish in Colombia, particularly in the city of Medellin. “Paisa” is actually a term that refers to the culture and people of Medellin, and “bandeja” means tray, so a bandeja paisa is a plate full of a variety of foods common to Medellin, including pork rind (chicarron), chorizo and/or other meats, rice, beans, bananas or plantains, an arepa, avocado, and fried egg.
You’ll see this menu item on any traditional Colombian restaurant near Medellin!
Arepas are the mainstay of a Colombian diet. This bread product is about the size and shape of a corn tortilla, but they are thicker and chewier.
They can be served with all meals, and sometimes even as a snack! You can often find arepas being sold off street carts in cities, as well as served in restaurants.
This traditional soup hailing from Bogota tastes delicious and comforting in Bogota’s chilly weather. It’s a thicker stew-like soup that includes 3 kinds of potatoes, corn, chicken, and capers.
This was one of my favorite dishes from Colombia that we ate, especially during our stay in Bogota (I recommend Restaurante San Felipe on Calle 12 in La Candelaria)
24. Colombian Coffee
While Colombian coffee is the most famous type of coffee in the world and is generally held up as a superior form of coffee, Colombia is actually the 3rd highest exporter of coffee, after Brazil and Vietnam.
Colombia produces excellent coffee because the environment in the “coffee triangle” has optimal growing conditions for the beans, and also because Colombians grow the superior arabica beans.
Most coffee beans in Colombia are picked by hand, and you can take tours of coffee farms in towns such as Salento, Pereira, or Filandia.
Interestingly, because Colombians choose to export most of their best coffee beans, drinking great coffee in Colombia isn’t necessarily a given!
What is Colombia known for? History, Culture, And Traditions
25. Beautiful and Artistic Graffiti
Graffiti and street art are important and beautiful forms of expression in Colombia, and in places like Bogota, creating graffiti is actually a protected form of speech.
The graffiti you’ll find throughout Colombia are often really impressive works of art, and generally give political, societal, or cultural commentaries.
For example, in Comuna 13 of Medellin, much of the graffiti showcase the community revival and coming out of hard times.
26. Drug Cartels and Trafficking
Colombia has had a difficult history with drug cartels and trafficking since around the 1970’s. These cartels have been very organized, successful, ruthless, and violent.
While for a long time Colombia was considered to be a very dangerous and violent country, today, the cities are safer and there are many areas safe for tourists to visit without worry.
However, drug trafficking continues to be a big trade in and out of Colombia, with cartels, paramilitary groups, and guerillas controlling certain areas and fighting sometimes breaking out between the groups.
If you want to learn about the FARC operation, you should read this book.
In the midst of her campaign for the Colombian presidency in 2002, Ingrid Betancourt traveled into a military-controlled region, where she was kidnaped by the FARC, a brutal terrorist guerrilla organization in conflict with the government. She would spend the next six and a half years captive in the depths of the Colombian jungle.
She will tell you all about her experience in the book, deeply moving and personal.
27. Colombian Carnival
Carnival is a beloved and enormous celebration in South America that occurs before Lent and involves elaborate and spectacular parades, dancing, and wild parties.
It’s a similar type of celebration as Mardi Gras. The biggest carnival in Colombia is in the northern coastal city of Barranquilla – it has the second largest carnival in South America!
28. Salsa Capital of the World
Colombians love their salsa – not the food, but the dancing! While salsa music and dancing are prevalent all around the country, with dance clubs and bars that play music throughout the night, the salsa capital of Colombia is Cali.
Cali is absolutely saturated with salsa music, and many visitors come specifically to enjoy the music and learn the dance!
What is Colombia known for? FAQ
What are some taboos in Colombia?
✔️ When visiting Colombia, it is recommended to not dress overly flashy or ostentatiously. It’s very poor form to make jokes about the drug cartels or Pablo Escobar.
✔️ While you can haggle with some street vendors, it’s also poor form to haggle too aggressively.
✔️ Definitely don’t flush your toilet paper – the sewage system is not set up to handle anything beyond human waste, and flushing paper will result in blockages. Just put it in the basket next to the toilet.
✔️ Don’t expect to be able to pay for credit cards for many things (cash is king in Colombia), and don’t expect people to speak English to you!
What is Colombia famous for producing?
Colombia is famous for producing several things, but most notably: the famed Colombian coffee, emeralds, and gold.
Colombia is actually known for their emeralds – they produce the highest quality emeralds in the world, and export the 2nd highest number of emeralds.
You can find stores selling emeralds throughout the country, but particularly in Bogota and Cartagena, and there is a fascinating Emerald Museum to visit in Bogota.
What are 5 interesting facts about Colombia?
✔️ Back in 2013 and 2014, Colombia was voted the happiest country in the world, and it often ranks near the top of the list of the world’s happiest countries.
✔️ There are tons and tons of exotic fruits found in Colombia. For example, you can eat guanabana, mangosteen, lychee, mamoncillo, zapote, naranjilla, guava, and more!
✔️ Tejo is the national sport of Colombia and is a really unique pastime! It involves throwing a heavy metal disk at a metal ring on a clay bed. A few little paper packets filled with gunpowder are situated on the ring.
When the disk makes contact with the gunpowder on the ring, a small explosion ensues! If you want to join in the fun, visitors can find tejo bars in just about any city you visit.
✔️ Colombia is the only South American country to touch both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
✔️ The city of Medellin has been named as the world’s most innovative city.
What does Colombia have the best of?
As mentioned above, Colombia has some of the best emeralds and coffee in the entire world. It also has the best salsa dancing, and some of the best biodiversity on earth!
Why you should not visit Colombia?
If you don’t like rain, humidity, or fog, Colombia may not be the best country for you.
Don’t visit Colombia if you’re not willing to try to speak Spanish or use Google translate, as most Colombians don’t speak English.
However, everyone we interacted with was very willing to use the translate apps with us, and we got along just fine knowing very little Spanish.
What are 7 weird or strange facts about Colombia?
✔️ By law, the Colombian National Anthem plays twice a day (at 6 am and 6 pm) on the radio and television.
✔️ At an altitude of 8600 feet, Bogota is the 3rd highest capital city in the world.
✔️ Colombians have the 4th highest number of cosmetic enhancements in the world
✔️ The largest flower festival and the largest salsa festivals in the world are in Colombia. Medellin hosts their flower fair in August, and the Cali Salsa Festival happens in September.
✔️ The legend of El Dorado is based on an indigenous group in Colombia. You can actually go visit the lagoon of Guatavita, which is said to be the site of El Dorado.
✔️ Historically, indigenous groups in Colombia would make a drink called chicha, which was made from women chewing up corn, spitting it into a bowl, and then letting that mixture ferment. Today, you can still try chicha, but it’s made without people chewing and spitting the corn!😂
✔️ Colombia has the 2nd highest number of bank holidays in the world (18).
What makes Colombia different?
What makes Colombia different? I would say it’s the combination of really colorful, vibrant pueblos, the dramatic scenery, the kind people, the forested mountains, and the biodiversity, plus the fact that Colombia is relatively unknown as a great (and incredibly inexpensive) travel destination!
What is Colombia known for? Final thoughts
After reading through this post, I am sure you have a really good idea on what Colombia is known for, and why you absolutely need to visit this great country!
With so many interesting sites to see, Colombia is considered a safe place for visitors.
However, petty crime can occur (like in any big cities, really), so make sure you keep your belongings carefully tucked away when out and about, don’t use your phone on the street, stay in the touristy parts of the big cities, and don’t be out walking on the streets after dark.
Follow these tips, and you should be just fine as you enjoy your vacation in Colombia.
About the Author – Stephanie is the author of the travel blog The Unknown Enthusiast. Her website focuses on exciting, adventure-filled travel around the world on a budget.