South America boasts countries with some of the highest biodiversity in the world, but Colombia in particular is astounding for the ease with which travelers can move from one to another. The Rain forest, the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and mountains are united within Colombia’s borders, giving intrepid travelers the opportunity to experience the spread of South American environments without having to visit any other country.
Still, it takes devotion and organization to effectively check off every region within Colombia. If you keep these travel tips in mind while you’re planning your trip, you’ll have a better chance of seeing all the biodiversity under the Colombian sun — while staying on time and on budget in the process.
4 Places to Visit for Wildlife Viewing
1. Start in the Mountains
Most international flights will take you to Colombia’s capital, Bogota, which is right in the heart of the country. Bogota is nestled in the middle of the Andes, meaning its climate is typical of the mountain range: windy, cloudy, and quite chilly. However, the surrounding mountains anchor the city in a stunning way, providing jaw-dropping scenery in every direction, especially when you see it from atop Monserrate, a two-mile-high mountain.
If you choose to experience the mountainous region of Colombia right from Bogota, you have much to explore. Bogota is a city rich in history, and strolling around La Candelaria provides sights of important cathedrals, city buildings, museums, theaters, and more. However, you may wish to venture outside the capital for another look at Colombia’s segment of the Andes. If this is the case, you can do no better than Medellin, once one of the most dangerous places in the world, this area is now a beautiful and safe metropolis ripe for exploration. Medellin is warmer and greener than Bogota, but it lacks the historic significance of the capital. Instead, you’ll see an emphasis on nature and the arts. Plus, Medellin is easier to get around, thanks to the best transportation infrastructure in the country.
2. See the Pacific
Medellin is just a few hours by bus from the best stretch of Pacific coast in Colombia, and while it might not be the most comfortable trip of your life, you’ll get a chance to see more of the countryside and save a bit of budget in the process.
The Colombian Pacific is known for its wildlife. The waters just offshore are teeming with life, and several Spanish wrecks shelter diverse and colorful marine animals easily spotted during scuba or snorkel adventures. Pods of humpback whales are commonly spotted from the shore during certain times of year. Plus, because some rainforest stretches up the coast, plenty of terrestrial parks showcase the lively animals that call Colombia’s Pacific region home.
3. Experience the Amazon
Unfortunately, some of the most dangerous territory in Colombia is the less-developed rain forest region in the south. Unsavory groups have been known to engage in dangerous and illegal activity under the dense tree cover, making unguided visits to the Amazon risky for travelers. However, if you stick close to Leticia, the capital of the region, you should be able to get a full helping of Colombia’s unique rain forest culture. The fastest and safest way from the coast and into the forest is a direct domestic flight; road transit may cost you your time, your valuables, or more.
Because of the breadth of natural diversity, the Amazonia region’s best attractions lie in its protected parks, especially Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu which boasts 500 species of birds, 150 species of mammals, and dozens of reptiles — not to mention hundreds and thousands of types of flora. Some trekking companies can take you deeper into the forest, but be wary of potential scams or unsafe practices when touring this region of Colombia.
4. Head to the Caribbean
Again, it is hazardous to brave southern Colombia’s roads, and because the Amazon is quite far from the Caribbean, your best bet is another quick domestic flight to Cartagena. When you step off the plane and take your first lungful of fresh tropical air, you’ll know you saved the best for last.
Cartagena is the birthplace of the literary style of magical realism, and it’s easy to see why. The city is incredibly romantic, with its centuries-old architecture and bright colors mixing with the Caribbean breeze. It may be tempting to spend all your time lounging on the white sand beaches — and after this whirlwind vacation, you’ve certainly earned it — but you should devote a few hours to exploring Cartagena’s streets, which are unlike any other in Colombia. The manicured plazas are perfect for people watching, and the many cafes and bars serve refreshing drinks to keep you hydrated in the warm tropical sun. Still, the excitement of Cartagena is in its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere, so be sure to indulge on your journey’s last leg.