The 7 greatest highway journeys in Colombia: household drives, historic excursions, and cruising the coastal highways

Distinctive biodiversity, historic sanctuaries, and surprising landscapes are just some of the unimaginable issues that await you in Colombia. There isn’t any higher method to turn into acquainted with all of the pure magnificence this nation – dwelling to a few of the world’s rarest species of birds, flowers, and amphibians – has to supply than to take an unforgettable highway journey alongside its scenic routes and thru its quaint cities.

Actually get to know the the heat of its individuals and the gastronomic selection that comes from being surrounded by ocean and jungle by hitting the open highway. Listed below are the seven greatest highway journeys to absorb Colombia.

Drive by way of historical past and tradition on the Golden Door to the Walled Metropolis highway journey  

Barranquilla – Cartagena; 130km (80 miles); enable 5 days 

Barranquilla, dubbed “The Golden Door” for being the primary main port of Colombia, is thought for its Carnaval, a celebration of Colombia’s African, Spanish, and indigenous roots. Music, costumes and dances present the affect every tradition has on the historical past of the Caribbean a part of the nation. For an perception into the town’s Carnaval festivities, go to Museo del Caribe, La Casa del Carnaval, and Museo del Carnaval to find out about folklore rhythms comparable to cumbia and mapale. Stroll the Malecón del Rio, a full of life 5km (3-mile) strolling and biking path that stretches alongside the Magdalena River, lined with eating places and stay music. Earlier than you hit the highway, seize a road snack of arepa de huevo (corn cake with a fried egg inside) or butifarra (peppery sausage).

Observe the Autopista freeway (additionally referred to as By way of Paralela Al Mar) to Cartagena, a landmark metropolis enclosed by well-preserved colonial partitions and structure. The controversial historical past of the Spanish conquest, slavery, and inquisition is depicted throughout the buildings and monuments of this pedestrian-friendly metropolis.

Take pleasure in breathtaking views from atop the fortress of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the place the Spanish battled the English and French. You too can admire the within of the Catedral de San Pedro Claver, spend a day on the seashore consuming contemporary coconut water, and go to the Previous Metropolis at evening to look at Las Murallas (the partitions) mild up whereas taking a horse-drawn carriage tour round city. 

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Hit the freeway alongside the Caribbean Coast for a driving route filled with seashores and water sports activities © aetb / Getty Photos

For seashores and water sports activities, cruise alongside the Caribbean Coast

Puerto Velero – Coveñas; 326km (203 miles); enable 6 days 

Street situations in Colombia have improved, which means extra locations are accessible for adventurous vacationers. This highway journey takes the Autopista Paralela Al Mar from Barranquilla to Puerto Velero and Salinas del Rey, a brand new base for these able to hit the waves.

If you happen to want to relaxation and recharge, you may as well take the Autopista to Santa Veronica and spend the day tanning on the seashore, consuming mojarra frita (complete fried fish) with patacones (fried plantains).  

Persevering with on the Autopista, cease in Salinas de Galerazamba to admire the salty pink-colored seashores earlier than heading to the Volcán de Lodo El Totumo for a day of soaking – not sinking – in therapeutic mud and swimming on the close by lagoon.  

Sufficiently relaxed, drive towards the turquoise waters of Islas Barú in Cartagena, making a relaxation cease within the metropolis and from there taking a ship tour to Parque Nacional Islas del Rosario, a coral sanctuary the place you possibly can kayak by way of mangroves and snorkel above the reefs.  

Following the freeway from Cartagena, the go-to spots are Tolú and Coveñas, two locations which might be nice for households and {couples} trying to calm down and luxuriate in actions on the water. The tranquil seashores have shallow entry, making them ultimate for kids to expertise the coral and fish with out swimming too removed from the shore.

Bird's eye view of a highway cutting through mountainous scenery, winding its way towards a city in Colombia
Street situations have improved in Colombia © Edgar Stroessner Delgado Rodriguez / Getty Photos

Discover indigenous heritage on a highway journey by way of pure parks   

Santa Marta – Cabo de la Vela; 473km (294 miles); enable 6–8 days 

On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Santa Marta and Guajira are dwelling to many ancestral indigenous tribes which have preserved their traditions and way of life. Drive across the metropolis of Santa Marta and head to the Sierra Nevada, one of many few coastal mountains on the earth with snowy peaks. On this serene location, the seashores of the Parque Nacional Tayrona are hid from the remainder of the town, whereas the swaying palm bushes and crystalline waters heighten the non secular ambiance of this sacred floor. 

Climbing by way of the jungle to the “Ciudad Perdida” (Misplaced Metropolis) inside Parque Tayrona can take a number of days, however it’s a should for observing endangered species of birds and exploring hidden Pre-Columbian archeological ruins.

Hit the highway once more, taking the Avenida Troncal del Caribe freeway from Santa Marta towards Riohacha in La Guajira, a bustling industrial metropolis with many stunning seashores. Cease to relaxation earlier than heading to Cabo de la Vela, positioned in Uribia, the northernmost a part of Colombia. It’s a secluded vacation spot the place the countless desert and shiny blue Caribbean Sea meet. 

The roads aren’t fully paved, so except you’ve gotten 4WD, it is suggested that you just rent a neighborhood tour information in Riohacha to take you to Cabo de la Vela, and to the indigenous reserves of the Wayuu individuals, the dunes of Punta Gallinas, and the Parque Pure Macuira. 

You’ll be able to assist the ladies of the Arhuaca and Wayuu tribes by buying handwoven mochilas (luggage) or chinchorros (hammocks), one-of-a-kind artisanal equipment created from sheep’s wool or thread, which might be a illustration of their tradition and a contribution to their financial system. 

Two jeeps are parked in an incredible green, lush landscape with extremely tall palm trees towering above
A go to to Valle del Cocora, the inspiration for scenes within the film 

Make recollections on the espresso route highway journey, your best option for household vacationers

Cali – Villamaria; 434km (270 miles); enable 8 days 

If you happen to’re touring with your loved ones and on the lookout for particular spots to discover collectively, head to the Eje Cafetero (espresso axis) zone in Colombia, the place the espresso is simply as particular because the locations the place it’s made. Be enchanted by lush mountains, distinctive wildlife, and unforgettable out of doors experiences.

Nestled within the Cauca Valley, Cali is a historic metropolis near the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Take a tour of the beautiful neo-Gothic church La Ermita, soak within the breathtaking views of the town from the hilltop statue El Cristo Rey within the Cerro de Los Cristales, and dance salsa in Plaza Caicedo.  

Observe Route 23 from Cali towards La Tebaida, and in about three hours you’ll arrive within the metropolis of Montenegro, the place you possibly can keep at a finca (countryside home) adorned with vibrant hanging flowers. Spend the evening taking a look at a transparent sky stuffed with stars and get up to the sounds of the birds earlier than having a enjoyable day on the curler coasters and rides at Parque del Café and letting eye-catching butterflies fly round you on the Jardín Botánico del Quindío. 

An hour’s drive away from Montenegro on By way of a Circasia, you’ll encounter scenic cities like Salento and Finlandia, the place the adults in your group can sip genuine Colombian espresso whereas visiting the fields and studying concerning the coffee-making course of. Head into the unimaginable Valle del Cocora with surroundings that impressed the 2021 film Encanto. Right here, the Quindío wax palm bushes – the tallest on the earth – are the backdrop to a group of endless clouds and endangered wildlife, such because the Andean condor, Andean tapir, and the puma. 

About two hours away on the identical route, cease to expertise the outstanding Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal, waterfalls with cold and warm springs, earlier than concluding your journey by touring to Villamaria on Route 29CL to apply year-round winter sports activities on the slopes of the glacier-covered volcano of the Nevado del Ruiz at Parque Nacional de Los Nevados.  

Drive between prehistoric and archaeological websites to the uncommon macarena flower

Neiva – La Macarena; 864km (537 miles); enable 5–7 days 

Wealthy with historical past, Neiva has fascinating archeological monuments and websites, in addition to festivals devoted solely to the town’s dance of bambuco. The showstopper of this space is the Desierto de La Tatacoa, a powerful dry tropical forest an hour away from the town on Route Neiva-Tello, the place specimens of fossils remained hidden for 1000’s of years. You’ll be able to drive your automotive inside with out paying a price and stargaze or camp below its orange-hued panorama. Be taught extra concerning the space’s paleontological contributions, which incorporates one of many largest accumulations of vertebrae fossils on the earth, on the Museo Arqueológico Regional del Huila.  

Taking Route 37 from Neiva to San Agustín, you’ll encounter two Unesco World Heritage Websites. Proceed your exploration of the previous at Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro, an beautiful underground website with tombs and funerary temples adorned with colourful geometric murals. Get again on the highway and head south for about 4 hours to achieve Parque Arqueológico San Agustín, a ceremonial website that encompasses burial grounds surrounded by megalithic sculptures and carved monuments.   

An tour from San Agustín to the Serranía de la Macarena, the place the distinctive biodiversity of the Andes and Amazon merge, will not be a simple journey. Lots of the roads from Route 20 to Route 65 are unpaved, and it’ll take about 11 hours. Fortunately, cities like Florencia and San Vicente in between are relaxation stops that make the journey simpler. Cease right here to eat caldo de cucha (fish broth) or empanadas (fried, crammed pastries). 

Often known as the “River of 5 Colours,” Caño Cristales positioned within the Serranía de la Macarena is without doubt one of the few locations on the earth the place the macarena flower blooms. From June to November, this uncommon plant mixes with the distinctive algae and minerals of the soil making the water have placing shades of crimson, blue, magenta, yellow, and inexperienced.

A narrow cobbled street runs downhill between low-rise white houses towards the open countryside
Barichara is taken into account Colombia’s most stunning city © Joerg Steber / Shutterstock

Hyperlink up charming small cities on a heritage highway journey

Bogotá – Chichamocha; 471km (293 miles); enable 5 days

This highway journey begins in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia and the epicenter for colonial structure and historical past. Bogotá’s roads can turn into congested so the town has applied a system to stop heavy site visitors and assist with air pollution by limiting days you possibly can drive based mostly in your quantity plate. Earlier than heading out, examine whether or not the license plate of your vehicle has any blocked dates.

Earlier than you get on the highway, stretch your legs on a strolling tour across the public sq. Plaza de Bolívar, the place historic and authorities buildings are positioned. Cease by Catedral Primada (a colonial-era church), Casa de Nariño (the presidential residence) and the famend Museo del Oro, which has greater than 30,000 items of jaw-dropping pre-Columbian gold artifacts and jewellery on show.

Start your highway journey down the Autopista Norte freeway with an hour-long drive towards the city of Zipaquirá and its Catedral de Sal, a outstanding underground church constructed fully with salt. From there, take Route 45A to the majestic Laguna de Guatavita. This lake is the birthplace of the well-known legend of “El Dorado” (the gilded one), which originated from the story of the Muisca indigenous tribe overlaying their king in gold mud throughout their ceremonies earlier than he leapt into the lake. 

Many stunning small cities dot Route 55, however it’s Villa De Leyva, lower than three hours away from Guatavita, that wins hearts with its mixture of historical past and excessive sports activities. You’ll be able to take in the structure strolling across the white cobblestoned Plaza Mayor, style scrumptious vino at one of many up-and-coming wineries, or enterprise out to do rappelling and zip-lining over the mountains.

From Villa De Leyva, you possibly can take Route 62 to Route 45A and arrive at Barichara. Considered Colombia’s most stunning city, this metropolis has maintained its colonial edifices and church buildings, together with the 18th-century Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.

Proceed on Route 45A to complete up this highway journey in Cañón del Chicamocha, a spectacular steep canyon the place you possibly can take a horseback tour of the environment, drive a buggy by way of the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, or admire the mountain views aboard the teleférico (cable automotive). 

Get a dose of Colombia’s unimaginable nature on the Pacific coast highway journey

Medellín – Nuquí; 229km (142 miles); enable 6–8 days

Start this journey in Medellín, a metropolis recognized for its forever-spring climate and picturesque mountains. Go to the Plaza Botero and the Museo de Antioquia to understand sculptures and work by the well-known artist Fernando Botero, recognized worldwide for depicting voluptuous figures of individuals and animals. 

The Pacific coast of Colombia stays one of many least touristy areas of the nation, however it’s completely value visiting for its outstanding fauna, flora, and personal seashores.

Drive down the Autopista del Sur freeway from Medellín, following Route 60 for about six hours, towards Quibdó, the capital of the state of Chocó. On the way in which, make a cease in Cascadas Sal de Frutas. These waterfalls have pure slides surrounded by lush vegetation, which mixed with the sounds of the river and jungle, will assist you to expertise the peacefulness of the realm. 

As soon as in Quibdó, get acquainted with the town’s unimaginable African-influenced tradition. As you are taking a stroll down the Malecon you will see it in dance and music performances, and within the structure of the Catedral San Francisco de Asis. 

Among the seashores and state parks are lower than an hour away from Quibdó however accessible solely by boat or small-engine planes, making them quiet and seemingly untouched. Amongst these are the cities of Nuquí and Bahía Solano, which have an distinctive ecosystem that welcomes humpback whales throughout their mating season from July to November. 

One other spot lower than an hour away from Quibdó is the Parque Nacional Pure Ensenada de Utría, a placing union between wealthy rainforest, paradisiac seashores, and extraordinary wildlife together with sharks, stingrays, and native birds.

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