One of the most important things to know about Colombia before you go is that the locals love to explore their big and beautiful country as much as foreigners do. Most tourist hot spots fill up every single weekend and holiday and this can greatly impact how you plan your trip.
In our two months of backpacking around Colombia we came across a few places that were beyond the reach of most travellers. We found these destinations to be either vastly under-appreciated or too hard to get to for the average traveller (and their limited time frame). If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, consider visiting any of these 5 places to escape the crowds!
This small town somewhere between Medellin and Cartagena is absolutely the most under-appreciated place we came across. It’s also the number one town we recommend to everyone who is travelling through Colombia. If you’re coming from Cartagena, it is extremely easy to access (we’re talking one bus…. buy a ticket, sit for a while and voila, you have arrived) so we really don’t understand the lack of interest. Mompox has everything the more popular cities have: white-washed colonial architecture, a variety of beautiful cathedrals, great food, a waterfront promenade, etc. The one thing we found in Mompox that we rarely came across in other highly touristed cities is authenticity. Here life moves as slowly as the waters of the Rio Magdalena. Locals are happy to sit in their doorways or gather to chat in the many town squares. If you’re searching for the heart of Colombia, do not overlook this humble town.
With all the Caribbean coastline, it’s easy to see how this quiet and out of the way beach town gets overlooked. Getting here is likely the main reason, but due to some new transportation options it’s easier than ever to soak up the sun in this slice of tropical paradise. Boats to Sapzurro (and it’s rowdier and more popular neighbour Capurgana) have a bad reputation that we’re here to dispel. Our number one rule for Sapzurro: DO NOT TAKE THE 7AM BOAT FROM TURBO. Our number two rule for Sapzurro: Take your time hiking the trail to/from Capurgana. Along the spectacular trail through the jungle you never know what you will find.
We were extremely surprised to see how quiet this village was mid-week. Short of a couple of other backpackers, we were basically the only tourists in sight. San Cipriano is also one of the least developed places we stayed. The majority of the buildings appear unfinished with rebar sticking straight out of grey concrete homes, but no one comes here for the architecture. The natural setting of San Cipriano is absolutely beautiful! You’ll get a quick glimpse as you speed through the jungle riding a brujita along the train tracks and the best view while floating on an inner tube down the emerald green river. Whether you only make it for a day or decide to stay for a week, this is a lovely place to slow down and unwind. (NOTE: San Cipriano is still a popular weekend destination for those coming from Cali and Buenaventura so go mid-week if you enjoy the sound of silence).
The mountains and valleys surrounding Tierradentro, while breathtaking, are not the main attraction here. It’s all about getting down into the dirt! Dozens of burial tombs from an ancient civilization – that left little else behind – are scattered around the National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro. Hiking around the park shows you a side of Colombia that not many people see. This region is full of mystery and intrigue and receives so few visitors that you will have the incredible sites basically all to yourself!
The desert receives a trickle of adventurous travellers but with 300 square kilometers to explore, there is room to spare. Not many people take the time to actually stay in the desert – or nearby village of Villavieja – which make it an out-of-the-way destination. The closest town, Neiva, gets much of the tourism with people visiting the desert as a day trip. Don’t be silly and deny yourself the pleasure of stargazing at the light-pollution-free observatory and the rare complete silence a night in the desert offers. Oh yeah, and the natural landscapes here are unlike anywhere else in the world!
Have you found any incredible places in Colombia that not many people see? Don’t be cheeky and keep them for yourself, let us know in the comments below!