Colombia is best known as an international destination for its Caribbean beaches and fun cities like Cartagena and Medellín. However, an improved security situation in the country over the last decade has opened up many rural areas that are an outdoor traveller’s dream. Here are 6 amazing outdoor adventures in Colombia. All are hidden gems that remain lightly travelled and offer lots of incredible landscapes and chances to really have an adventure.
Climb the Prehistoric Mavecure Hills
In the far southeastern part of Colombia, you’ll find the Mavecure Hills. These formations are part of the Guiana Shield and date to the pre-Cambrian era, making them billions of years old. Located in a remote area only sparsely populated with indigenous peoples, it’s a mystical place and the hills rising above the river are truly mystical looking.
You can climb the smallest of the three hills and get an amazing view of the other two across the river. Sunset from a smaller hill behind them is also amazing. The rides up and down the river also provide chances to spot river dolphins and other wildlife in this unspoiled area of Colombia. Not far away, you can also visit the “Fluvial Star of the South” as it was named by Alexander von Humboldt where several rivers come together to form the Gran Orinoco.
To visit the Mavecure Hills, you will need to fly to the small town of Puerto Inírida and then take boats east to the hills where you can stay in one of the indigenous communities. For most travellers arranging the trip via a tour agency or operator is the best option.
See the Liquid Rainbow of Caño Cristales
First up on this list of best outdoor adventures in Colombia is something you cannot see anywhere else in the world. In the river of Caño Cristales outside the tiny town of La Macarena, an aquatic plant called the macarenia clavijera grows.
This plant sleeps dormant and absorbs sunlight from December to May. However, in the months from June to November, it blooms in bright reds, pinks, whites, and even shades of green. Yellow minerals in the water give the river the look of a rainbow.
Besides experiencing this natural phenomenon, there is terrific hiking and lots of opportunities to see wildlife in this mostly untouched area of Colombia. While it’s possible to reach La Macarena over land, it’s a long and difficult journey so most travellers are better off booking flights from Bogotá.
In La Macarena, there are a handful of hotels, however, to enter the National Park where Caño Cristales is located, it is required to book a guide through one of the local agencies. There are strict rules about bringing in single-use plastics and chemicals like bug spray or deodorant to help protect the river and the beautiful plants that grow there.
Explore the Amazing Landscapes of Guaviare
Colombia’s best-known outdoor adventure is probably the Amazon Rainforest. Many people visit the small port town of Leticia on the Amazon River. However, there’s a better and lesser known place to see the far northern stretches of the forest.
That place is Guaviare. Located about 8 hours south of Bogotá by bus, it is one of Colombia’s best-kept secrets. There are a variety of outdoor experiences to enjoy here.
You can see the same flower that grows in Caño Cristales in a smaller river here at Caño Sabana. You can see amazing rock structures such as the Gate of Orion and a City of Stone (Ciudad Piedra) evidence of this area’s history of being covered by water millions of years ago.
Even neater, there are 3 sites where you can see ancient indigenous rock wall paintings: Cerro Azul, Nuevo Tolima, and Raudal del Guayabero. All three have terrific hikes with a high probability of seeing monkeys and other wildlife along the way in addition to the neat and mysterious paintings.
Some more neat hikes and places to explore in Guaviare include the natural rock tunnels of Los Tuneles, the natural swimming pools of Los Pozos Naturales, and the picturesque landscape of La Laguna Negra.
Finally, several hours outside of San José del Guaviare, you can swim with pink river dolphins at Naré in the Laguna de las Damas. This curious group of dolphins is known for coming right up to inspect visitors to their swimming hole. The trip up the river is an adventure in and of itself.
The city of San José del Guaviare can be reached by bus or plane from Bogotá. Once there, there are a number of tour agencies, the largest being Geotours, as well as independent guides that offer transportation and guided experiences to the main sites of interest. Larger, all-inclusive packages that include airfare, accommodations, and chosen activities are also available.
Go on a Safari in Casanare
Casanare is probably Colombia’s second best-kept secret. This extensive tract of plains lies between the Andes mountains and the Amazon rainforest. While much of the land is used for cattle, it is also a haven for wildlife. You can enjoy a safari here that is the best wildlife spotting in all of Colombia.
Many species of birds, anacondas, capybaras, deer, turtles, caimans, pumas, jaguars, and giant anteaters all call this area home. Some rarer animals like anacondas and the giant anteaters are easier to spot during the dry seasons from June to August and December to March when their range is reduced. However, the wet season offers a prettier landscape with the plains flooded and lush green and many more opportunities to see migratory birds.
To visit Casanare, you can travel by bus or flight to the city of Yopal. From there, it is best to book time at one of the ranches and nature preserves that usually include activities or via a local agency to arrange transportation and safaris by truck or by horseback.
See the Humpback Whales on the Pacific Coast
Another of the best outdoor adventures in Colombia is to go whale watching on the Pacific Coast. Humpback whales migrate to the warmer waters here from Antarctica every year from July to October. They mate and return the following year to give birth.
In addition to seeing the whales, you can also see Colombia’s rugged and mostly undeveloped Pacific Coast. Lush jungle and unspoiled beaches are the added bonus to seeing whales.
There are several popular places to see the whales, the best being the small towns of Nuquí and Bahía Solano, both of which are reachable by charter flights from Medellín and have nice ecolodges and hostels.
Cross the Desert to the Farthest Point North on the Continent
Most of these outdoor adventures in Colombia have taken you to lush, green jungles filled with wildlife. This last best outdoor adventure is totally different.
In Colombia’s far north, you’ll find the desert peninsula of La Guajira. At the northern tip of this peninsula, you’ll find Punta Gallinas, the most northern point on the South American continent. Nearby, you can visit the massive and rolling Taroa Dunes that slope down to the Atlantic. It’s a very neat sight, like something from another planet.
To get to Punta Gallinas, it’s possible to bus or fly to the city of Riohacha. From there, you can find collective taxi transportation to the town of Uribia and then find transportation to the town of Cabo de la Vela in the desert. There, you can arrange a package that includes transportation and accommodations in Punta Gallinas. It is also possible to arrange tour packages from Riohacha, Santa Marta, and Cartagena.
Have you been to Colombia? Got it on your bucket list? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.