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.
In and Around Cartagena
Located on the northern coast of Colombia on the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is a popular holiday destination for Colombians and travelers alike.
The stone fortresses and exquisite walls surrounding the old colonial town of Cartagena are a major drawcard for travelers. The walls, which can be up to 20 meters thick, were built by the Spanish in the 16th century to protect Cartagena against pirates and pillagers. Today, the walled city is considered one of the most beautiful and historic landmarks in the Caribbean and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a stroll around the city walls and enjoy the light sea breeze, or head into the colonial town and explore the many cafes and fine restaurants built along the cobblestone streets. During the evenings, be sure to catch some live music and performances by local artists, or jump on a chiva (a Colombian party bus) and tour the city as you dance aboard the bus. The chiva will typically drop you off at a dance club, so you can continue partying with the locals.
Located just 30 minutes by boat from Cartagena, lies the beautiful white-sand beach of Playa Blanca on Baru Island. You can spend the day swimming in turquoise blue waters or relaxing on the sand while sipping a coconut cocktail from one of the many beach vendors. For lunch, head to one of the many restaurant stalls and order fresh lobster or fish, coconut rice and fried plantains for a very economical price. If you’d like to spend the night, rent a hammock or a little cabana and wake up to a nearly-deserted beach all to yourself!
El Totumo Mud Volcano
Take a day trip to the El Totumo Volcano, where you can relax in the crater’s natural mud bath, said to have strong rejuvenating powers. For added relaxation, you can opt for a massage from one of the attendants. Located around one hour from Cartagena, the volcano is nestled in a region surrounded by beautiful mountains, forests and lakes, so you can jump in a nearby lake to wash off after your mud bath! Grab some typical Colombian lunch before heading back into Cartagena for an evening at one of the many fine restaurants in the city.
While volunteering in Cartagena, 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 our local staff are always willing to share with you the many other locations well worth exploring when you arrive in country. Also, take a look at our Bogotá Travel and Tours page for a few more ideas.
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. Take in the cultural and nightlife offerings of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. 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. 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.
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
Tayrona combines gorgeous beaches, starkly beautiful desert and lush tropical jungle into one incredible national park. Take a 5-6 hour bus from Cartagena to the park - there are several companies offering a direct service. There are four different accommodation spots inside the park, each offering different kinds of lodgings: cabins, ecohabs, cabanas, hammocks, or tent sites - take your pick, but bear in mind that some sites won’t be accessible by vehicle. Be sure to bring plenty of food, water, mosquito repellant and other necessities, as buying these in Tayrona can be really expensive.
If you would like more details on any of these locations or activities, our local team in Cartagena can assist you once you are registered onto the IVHQ Colombia - Cartagena program.
To apply for the program or explore the volunteering opportunities available in Cartagena, visit our Volunteer in Colombia - Cartagena page.