From exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cartagena to hiking through the Cocora Valley to see the world’s tallest palm trees, Colombia offers a world-class experience for all types of travelers. We’ve listed below some of the popular sites and cities that past IVHQ volunteers have experienced while on the IVHQ Colombia program, but our local staff are always willing to share with you the many other locations well worth exploring when you arrive in country!
In and around Bogotá
The IVHQ Colombia program has a base in the capital, Bogotá, with volunteer placements also located in suburbs surrounding the city.
Cerro de Monserrate
Sitting 3,160 meters (10,400 feet) above Bogotá, is the Cerro de Monserrate, a sanctuary that has been visited by millions of pilgrims since its foundation in 1640. It offers breathtaking views of all of Bogotá and is the perfect spot to take spectacular sunset shots. To reach the summit from Bogotá, take a four minue teleferico (cable car) ride above the treetops or travel by funicular through the wooded landscape of the Monserrate mountain. You’re sure to be blown away by the natural beauty just minutes from the heart of downtown Bogotá. For those in the mood for a bit of exercise, you can take a one-hour hike to the summit. There are very well-regarded Colombian and French restaurants at the summit, as well as small food stalls offering typical Colombian eats.
This historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá is a favorite spot among tourists and locals alike. Walk the cobblestone streets as you explore the Botero Museum, the Gold Museum, and the Emerald Museum, all of which have free entry at least one day a week. Take a break in one of the many cafes and restaurants, and be sure to try some local tamales and empanadas. Stroll through the Plaza de Bolívar, which sits next to the Palace of Justice and the primary cathedral of Bogotá, built in 1823. The hill of Monserrate is also a short walk away, so be sure to head up there for a stunning sunset view over Bogota.
Usaquen Flea Market and Other Markets
Located in the town of the same name, the Usaquen Flea Market offers a fine display of local crafts and antiques and local cuisine for sale from the many food stalls and restaurants. Open on Sundays and holidays, the market is an ideal place to pick up souvenirs for friends and family, listen to live music, and stroll down cobblestone streets set amid colonial architecture. To taste some Colombian fruits or bite into an arepa con queso (corn patty with cheese), head to the local farmers’ markets in Paloquemao and 7 de Agosto.
While volunteering in Colombia, many volunteers choose to travel further afield together to gain a greater appreciation for the country and culture as a whole. We’ve highlighted a couple of popular weekend destinations, but see our local staff or our Cartagena Travel and Tours page for more travel ideas.
Located on the northern coast of Colombia on the Caribbean Sea, this region is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Cartagena, which contains a colonial-era walled city and fortress, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a favorite holiday destination among Colombians. To the west lies La Guajira, a region of turquoise blue waters, salt flats and sand dunes. Head here to spend some time with the proud Wayúu people and sample fantastic fresh seafood. Santa Marta, Colombia’s oldest city, sits in the western part of the coast, between the Santa Marta Mountains and the Caribbean Sea. Organize treks to the pre-Columbian Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), go camping in Parque Tayrona, or go scuba diving in Taganga. Be sure to take a few days to relax on the beaches of Santa Marta, considered to be some of the best beaches in Colombia - if not the world.
The Andes mountain range runs from the south to the north of Colombia, and is home to its three major cities: Bogotá, Medellin and Cali. This region is characterized by the diversity of its landscapes and natural formations, making it a tourist’s paradise. Head to Medellin, also known as the “City of Eternal Spring”, and walk through the Botanical Gardens, or take the metrocable for amazing views of the city. While in Medellin, take a 2-3 hour bus trip to Guatapé and soak in the incredible views of the lake from the top of La piedra del Peñol (pictured). If you feel like dancing, go to Cali for the annual Feria de Cali, a massive music and dance festival held every December. For some extreme sports, stop by Bucaramanga, where you will find world-class paragliding. Finally, grab a break from the city and head to the Zona Cafetera, where you can trek through the coffee plantations or hike the Cocora Valley to see the tallest palm trees in the world.
An Amazonian experience is essential to round out any traveler’s South American adventure. From Bogotá, fly to Leticia, a cute little jungle town that serves a gateway to the Amazon. From here, you can find many travel companies offering to arrange your jungle experience, whether you’re after a hiking trip, riverboat trip or a village stay. Alternatively, just spend some time exploring the town of Leticia which offers several museums, galleries, markets, a lovely park and plenty of great restaurants and cafes.
To apply for the program or explore the volunteering opportunities available in Bogotá, visit our Volunteer in Colombia- Bogota page.