Colombia is a country in South America that has a rich and vibrant history dating back to 12,000 BC. The cultural and geographic influences are plentiful, with contributions from the Amerindian people, enslaved Africans, and Europeans.
The country borders the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, as well as the countries of Brazil, Venezuela, and Panama.
This fascinating country covers over 440,000 square miles, much of it filled with natural beauty from the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rain-forest to the white sand beaches and crystal clear water.
Ancient artifacts, religious shrines, and rare wildlife are just a few of the things that make Colombia a splendid place to spend time. Below are 10 places that must be visited when in Colombia.
Famous Landmarks in Colombia
1. Salt Cathedral
Located in Cundinamarca, this breathtaking underground Catholic church is 660 feet below the surface. As you make the descent into the former mine, it is damp, dark, and smells of sulfur.
However, the few hundred feet of discomfort will be worth it. Statues of the Archangel Gabriel and Stations of the Cross will be there to greet you. Knowing they are carved meticulously out of salt will be the first of many owners you will behold.
This amazingly beautiful sanctuary was built within the tunnels of an ancient salt mine. All the way to the bottom of the mine is a temple. The area is split into 3 parts that signify the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
This is no simple tourist attraction, but a place considered by many who make the pilgrimage. All of the ornamentation and architectural designs are hand carved from halite (salt) rock.
The church itself was completed in 1950 and does hold services each Sunday. Sometimes upwards of 3,000 people attend.
2. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
This beautiful national park in Magdalena, Colombia is 58 square miles of diverse natural creations. From crystal clear ocean waters and rocky beaches to lush green forests filled with unique wildlife and flora. Visitors will feel like they are on the perfect desert island, far from civilization.
With lagoons throughout, the Puebilito ruins, and the remains of the Tayrona civilization, it’s a tropical paradise, not far from the bustle of Bogota. The park welcomes almost a half million visitors a year. It was established in 1964 to protect the area’s ecological environment.
Parque Nacional has the distinction of being the last place on earth where the endangered Cotton-Tipped tamarin lives.
In addition, the park is home to 108 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, and 770 species of plants. In the waters off the area live an astounding 440 species of crustacean.
3. Valle del Cocora
Named for a Quimbayan princess, (meaning star water), this valley is located in Quindio, in the Colombian corridor of the Andes Mountains.
Established in 1985, the valley receives approximately 150,000 visitors each year. The area covers over 228 square miles. It’s part of the Los Nevados National Park.
The main attraction of this area is the large variety of exquisite fauna and flora, much of it being endangered. Some of the wildlife include pumas, sloths, and the Andean condor. The park is popular for birdwatchers, horseback riders, and campers.
There is a looped trail that is quite popular with hikers. The trail is 6.4 miles long and the hike will take up to 4.5 hours, depending on your stride. It’s a great way to take in the natural beauty the park has to offer.
4. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
Built in 1536, this colonial-era fortress lies within the city of Cartegena. The castle is situated on a high hill named San Lazaro, so enemies could be seen from land and sea.
Built by slave labor, the fort was the site of several battles between the 17th to 19th centuries against European invaders.
The stone structure has a series of tunnels. After it ceased being used by the military, the fort fell into disrepair. In 1984, it was designated a World Heritage Site and was given a much needed face lift.
Since 1990, the fortress has been used for local social and cultural events, as well as political meetings.
5. Las Lajas Sanctuary
Also known as the Las Lajas shrine, this landmark is a basilica cathedral in Ipiales, Narino, in southern Colombia. The structure stands inside the Guaitar River Canyon.
Built between 1916 and 1949 in the gothic style, it’s origins developed much earlier. As lore has it, a miracle occurred at this site in 1754.
A mother and her deaf-mute daughter were seeking shelter from a storm in between the lajas (slabs of stone). Suddenly, the daughter cried out that she’d seen a the Virgin Mary in one of the slabs. Her hearing and speech had been restored.
Since that time, the shrine has been visited regularly. The church, which stands 328 feet high, was built to honor the Virgin Mary and the miracle that happened at the site. The original site of the miracle remains in tact and is enshrined for all visitors to witness.
6. Ciudad Perdida
This archeological site, located in Magdalena, is home to an ancient lost city. It’s believed to have been settled in the year 800 AD and that would make it pre-date Machu Picchu.
If you are able to climb the 1200 steps through dense jungle, you will be stunned at what you see. At the top of the mountain are a series of tiled roads, 169 terraces, and many circular plazas.
The ciudad was unearthed accidentally by a family of looters. Doing what looters do, they stole many of the artifacts.
It wasn’t until the gold treasures started showing up on the black market that the government and archeologists took over the site. The site was reconstructed and opened to the public in 2005. It’s an amazing place, but it is a difficult hike.
Hopefully, at some point, it will be made easier for everyone to visit this vital piece of ancient Colombian history.
Monserrate is a 10,000-foot-high mountain that is the centerpiece of the city of Bogota. At its highest point, there is a church dating to the 17th century. One of the focal points of the church is a shrine dedicated to ” the fallen Lord”.
The mountain was originally inhabited by the indigenous Muisca people during the Pre-Colombian period.
Today, the area is a tourist attraction as well as a place for pilgrimages. There are restaurants and a souvenir shop. The area can be accessed by a cable car or a difficult 1-1/2 mile hike up the mountain.
8. Plaza de Bolívar
Boliver is the main square in Colombia’s capital of Bogota. The area is in the middle of the city’s historical district. There is a statue of Simon Boliver.
The military leader was instrumental in helping Colombia gain its independence from the Spanish.
The plaza spans over 3,400 acres and formal construction began in 1821, although the first building was constructed in 1539. Today, the square is home to the Palace of Justice, the national Capitol building, and Lievano Palace.
The area is heavily decorated at Christmas with thousands of lights. Often crowded with street vendors, tourists, and workers.
This historic square is a key stop on many guided tours. These tours are available for a varied fee range. You can choose from walking, bike, or car tours. The area is also the site of many social gatherings and protests.
9. Coffee Axis
The Coffee Axis refers to the region where the bulk of our delicious Colombian coffee beans are grown.
Also known as the Coffee Triangle, most people simply know it as the Colombian coffee region. The regions (or departments as the country calls them) include, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio, and Tolima.
It encompasses over 350,000 acres. Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest producer of coffee, with over 11.5 million bags a year. They are just behind Brazil and Vietnam. Not bad for an area where coffee started frowning by accident. The area is now protected as a World Heritage Site.
As with most things, it’s also a huge tourist attraction. Many people visit the small towns that surround the coffee fields. This is a good way for the local people to make money and for the towns to generate revenue.
There’s even a theme park in Quindio called the Colombian Coffee Park. The park is obviously coffee themed and has rides, attractions, and entertainment.
10. Parque Arqueológico De San Agustin
Near the town of San Agustin is a large archeological area. It is the biggest collection of religious monuments and megalithic statues in all of Latin America. The necropolis (ancient cemetery) on the property is the largest in the world.
San Agustin was designated a World Heritage site in 1995. The artifacts are thought to have been carved between 5-400 AD. Nobody knows who the artists may have been. Much of the area is yet to be excavated.
The park is open to the public. The foundation in charge of the site offers educational programs to children and adults alike.