If you are a traveler looking for some unusual things to do and hidden gems for your next trip to Colombia, you must not miss these seven best off-the-beaten-path places in Colombia!
Colombia is becoming more and more popular as a mainstream travel destination. Cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena are favorites for travelers worldwide.
However, the amazingly diverse country has a wealth of lesser-known destinations, too. An improved security situation has helped make travel to more remote and rural places easier and safer than ever, and while adventurous, they are no longer only for the bold and brave or intrepid backpackers.
There are some amazing lesser-known destinations in Colombia, from unspoiled beaches to jungle-covered mountains and waterfalls to a wildlife safari to a river full of the colors of the rainbow. Learn about seven awesome off-the-beaten-path places in Colombia here!
7 Off The Beaten Path Places In Colombia Worth A Visit
Visiting these seven hidden gems in Colombia will be an unforgettable experience for any traveler.
1. The Rainbow River Of Caño Cristales
To kick off this list of off-the-beaten-path places in Colombia, we have a river in a remote part of south-central Colombia that is home to one of the most unique and beautiful natural phenomena in the world.
A plant called macarenia clavigera, which only grows in this region of Colombia, flourishes in the river called Caño Cristales, located in the highlands above the larger Guayabero River. During the drier months from December to June, it soaks up sunlight.
When it blooms from July to November, it does so in splendid hues of reds, maroons, pinks, whites, and greens. Mineral deposits give rocks in the river a yellow-looking color, creating an effect that some call a liquid rainbow.
Besides marveling at the lovely river, this is some of the best hiking in Colombia. There are a number of waterfalls, and swimming holes visitors can enjoy along the way.
Caño Cristales is located not far from the tiny and remote town of La Macarena. It is best reached by small airplanes from Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, and it is best to visit Caño Cristales as part of a tour package or group.
You should plan a visit to Caño Cristales from July to November to ensure you see the magnificent colors.
2. San Bernardo Islands
The Rosario Islands near Cartagena are a well-known destination in Colombia. However, their sister chain of islands a bit further to the south, the San Bernardo Islands, are even more gorgeous and unspoiled, not to mention they have fewer crowds.
The two main islands that make up this archipelago, Tintipan, and Mucura, both have gorgeous, white sand beaches overlooking the calm and crystal clear Caribbean waters.
Nearby, the tiny island of Santa Cruz del Isloté is considered the most densely populated island on the planet and is home to an urban area that began as a small fishing community.
The hotel/hostel called Casa en el Agua is a popular choice for where to stay here, but there are some lovely beachfront hotels on Mucura and some great lodges and hotels nestled in the mangroves on Tintipan.
To reach the San Bernardo Islands, it’s possible to travel overland to the towns of Tolú or Rincón del Mar and take boats out of the islands, but the easiest way is to take a longer direct boat ride from Cartagena on the boat known as Tranq It Easy.
To the north of Cartagena, up the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find the city of Santa Marta. It is a popular jumping-off point to explore the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, including the well-known unspoiled beaches and hiking trails of Tayrona National Park or the hip beach town Palomino.
However, a lesser-known Colombia destination nearby is the little town of Minca, nestled in the jungle-covered mountains high above Santa Marta. The little town itself is cute and has a handful of cool little cafes and restaurants. There is even a craft brewery in town!
However, the real attraction of Minca is the surrounding nature. You can hike to several waterfalls and take a dip to cool off. The best is the Marinka Waterfall, about a 90-minute hike outside town.
The whole area is gorgeous as well, and you’ll want to keep an eye out as you hike, as Minca has some of the best birdwatching in all of Colombia.
Another nice waterfall to visit is Pozo Azul, which is a bit closer to town. And beyond Pozo Azul, the La Victoria Coffee Farm is well worth a visit. It still uses machinery from a hundred years ago, all powered by water, and is one of the best coffee tours you can do in Colombia (this is also where the brewery is located).
You can head farther into the mountains and stay at the picturesque hostel Sierra Minca, known for its popular Instagram spots of giant hands and a winged swing overlooking the amazing mountain views.
It’s easy to get to Minca by taxi from Santa Marta.
If you like the nature, hiking, and wildlife spotting opportunities you’ll get in Minca, then you will probably like this next off-the-beaten-path place in Colombia even more.
The province of Casanare is made up of the rugged plains that stretch between the Andes Mountains and the northern reaches of the Amazon Rainforest. Traditionally, it has been cowboy country, but many cattle ranches also double as nature reserves.
That is because there is a variety of wildlife here. Anacondas, jaguars, pumas, giant anteaters, and many bird species range from the Amazon to the plains here. Oh, and you will, without a doubt, see tons of capybaras. They are so prevalent that the locals measure length by the number of capybaras between things!
Coming and staying on one of the ranches here is a unique experience. You can go out on safari across the plains in trucks or by horseback.
During the dry seasons, which run roughly from July to August and December to March, it can be easier to spot rare wildlife as the water sources dry up, meaning they have smaller ranges.
However, during the wet seasons, the area itself is much more lush and green; there are many more migratory birds, and you can take canoe trips across the flooded plains.
To visit Casanare, it is best to plan it through an agency or travel to the city of Yopal and arrange a stay at one of the ranches known as Hatos, such as El Encanto de Guanapalo or Hato San Pablo.
Located to the east of the plains of Casanare, the province of Guaviare sits on the border of the plains and the jungle of the Amazon. Previously a conflict zone, the area is much safer and is quickly becoming known as one of Colombia’s premier nature destinations and off-the-beaten-path places.
There is some terrific hiking here. Probably the neatest things to see are the mysterious ancient rock paintings.
The largest of them are at Cerro Azul, high up a hill, but they can also be seen at the sites known as Nuevo Tolima and El Raudal del Guayabero. Archaeologists are unsure of the exact origin or age, but most believe they date to at least 12,000 years ago.
There are many other things to see here, too. You can go swimming in natural swimming pools known as the Pozos Naturales, feel like Indiana Jones hiking through the rock formations known as Los Tuneles, and see the amazing sunset over the black lagoon.
For an especially neat and unique experience, head to the area of Naré, a few hours away from the city of San José del Guaviare. In a lake here, there is an especially curious group of river dolphins that are known for getting up close and personal with visitors, even swimming right up and touching them.
Guaviare really has a lot to offer. On all the hikes, there is a good chance of spotting various birds and even monkeys. There is even a smaller river where the same plant that gives Caño Cristales its colors grows and makes its own rainbow river.
There is still not a ton of infrastructure here, so don’t expect to be staying at the Hilton, but for those with a bit more adventurous, it’s a great experience.
The city of San José del Guaviare can be reached overland from Bogotá, but most travelers will be more comfortable flying and booking a package with a travel agency. The agency Geotours offers packages and a variety of individual day tours by local guides.
6. Whale Watching On The Pacific Coast
If a rainbow river, wildlife safari, or ancient rock paintings aren’t enough adventure for you, consider heading to Colombia’s Pacific Coast, where you can see another beautiful natural phenomenon.
From June to November, humpback whales migrate here from the cold waters of the Antarctic. They spend a few months enjoying the warm waters and mating. The following year, they return to give birth.
It’s really a special site to see these magnificent animals up close. Some great, practically deserted beaches offer a distinct experience from the better-known Caribbean beaches.
The entire Pacific coast is quite rugged, but it’s possible to get flights from Medellín to either Nuquí or Bahía Solano, both of which have a variety of ecolodges and are good places to spot the whales.
While it is possible to see the whales from late June to early November, the exact dates of arrival and departure vary from year to year. So, it is best to try to plan a trip in August or September when they should be plentiful and easy to spot.
7. Villa De Leyva
If you’re looking for a lesser-known destination in Colombia that isn’t quite as rugged, difficult to reach, or adventurous as most of these other off the beaten path Colombia places, consider checking out the charming colonial town of Villa de Leyva, only a couple hours outside of Bogotá.
The lovely cobblestoned streets and giant plaza, one of the largest in all of South America, are gorgeous. Walking around will have you feeling like you stepped back into town.
You can imagine going even further back in time by seeing the neat examples of fossils found here, too. The site of El fósil, located out of town, is one of the most complete examples of a Kronosaur, a giant marine dinosaur. It is still located in the ground where a farm hand found it years ago.
The Centro de Investigaciones Paleontologos nearby has many more examples of marine dinosaur fossils found in the area, which was a shallow sea million years ago.
Near Villa de Leyva, you can also hike to waterfalls and visit the only vineyards in Colombia. Or you could just relax and enjoy the charm of this lovely colonial town!
7 Best Off-The-Beaten-Path Places In Colombia: Conclusion
There are seven terrific off-the-beaten-path places in Colombia for you to visit. Some are not far from some of the more popular places to visit in Colombia and can easily be tacked on to a larger trip. Some offer unique and remote experiences you can’t find anywhere else in the world and are worth planning a trip for all on their own.
About The Author Of “7 Best Off-The-Beaten-Path Places In Colombia Worth A Visit”
Adam McConnaughhay lived in Cartagena, Colombia, from 2011 to 2022. During that time, he had the opportunity to travel extensively, including to all the places mentioned here. He writes about Cartagena and other destinations in Colombia at Cartagena Explorer.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to the best unique places to visit in Colombia and it has inspired you to travel off-the-beaten path on your next adventure.
Before you go, you may also want to explore some of Colombia’s beautiful, popular mainstream travel destinations: 7 BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBIA.
Thanks for stopping by!
If you enjoyed this post featuring the best off-the-beaten-track places to visit in Colombia, please pin it on Pinterest to help it reach more readers!