Colombia is known for big cities with lots to do like Cartagena and Medellin, but most Colombians suggest leaving the big cities behind to explore the smaller towns. They say it’s where you see real Colombians living real lives. We visited several smaller towns and are so glad we took their advice. The people who live and work in these towns take pride in where they live, and demonstrate it with well-maintained buildings, immaculate public spaces, and welcoming communities. Here are the best towns in Colombia, at least the ones we’ve visited. Stay tuned for detailed posts on each of these beloved towns.
Our Time in Colombia
We’ve spent a lot of time in Colombia over two different visits. The first time was in 2016, when I started this blog. Our second visit to Colombia was on our sailboat in 2021.
When we arrived in March 2021, Covid was still causing lockdowns and more, and we hunkered down in Santa Marta. Fortunately, as vaccinations grew more available, Colombia slowly and safely opened and we ventured further to the interior. In total, we spent almost 6 months docked in Santa Marta and Cartagena, and took multiple road trips and two flights within the country.
What we found is a country of varied landscapes and lots of outdoor adventure opportunities, with beautiful views around most corners.
Best Towns in Colombia Near Medellin
Lucky for us visitors, Colombia seems to have a competition for most beautiful town, and we visited a few. I’ll start with the towns we loved near Medellin. Known for the coffee zone or Zona Cafeteria, a few different places near Medellin made our best towns in Colombia list.
Best Towns in Colombia: Jardin
One of the nicest towns anywhere, Jardin has charming squares, friendly people, and loads of attractions. We spent a few days enjoying the laid-back vibe and excellent outdoor activities in the town of Jardin, which means garden.
Top things to do in Jardin include hiking the mountain to the Jardin sign and Cristo statue and visiting the sanctuary for the gallito de roca bird.
Jardin is a popular weekend getaway from Medellin, and is less than 80km away, but takes longer than you’d think because of winding and mountainous – but beautiful – roads. We rented a car for our road trip to the Zona Cafeteria, but buses run hourly from the city and take approximately 3 hours.
On our first trip outside of Medellin, we went north to Guatapé and spent a few days exploring all this quaint town has to offer. We hiked, biked, and took lots of photos of the colorful buildings.
Here’s a short list of the must dos in Guatape:
- Hike El Peñol
- Wander the town taking photos of the colorful painted buildings
- Visit some waterfalls
Getting to Guatapé is easy: we took a quick bus from Medellin, or you can rent a car and drive yourself. The trip is approximately 2 hours.
We loved Salento so much we extended our stay in this hub of the Zona Cafetera by two nights. With a variety of restaurants and accommodations, and an amazing bike tour company, it’s the perfect town to base a visit to the coffee zone.
The top attraction of Salento is the nearby Cocora Valley, which you can see by bike like us, or in a bus or private car.
Salento is a great base for exploring the Zona Cafeteria, so other things to do include:
- Explore the town including the Salento sign
- Visit a coffee farm
- Visit a botanical garden
- Play Tejo!
Salento is equidistant from two airports: north in Pereira, from where we flew back to Cartagena and our boat, or Armenia to the south. Flights within Colombia are reasonably priced, especially from Bogota. Once there, rent a car though because everything in the Zona Cafetera is worth seeing and it’s pretty spread out in that part of the world. Or do what we did, and drive from Medellin with stops along the way.
Filandia, another of the best towns in Colombia, is located in The Zona Cafetera only 20km from Salento. If you like coffee, beautiful landscapes, relaxed vibes, and pretty towns, this region of Colombia is a must. While we stayed in Salento, Filandia is another popular tourist spot with lots of hotel choices. We considered moving to Filandia for a couple of nights, but instead day tripped there.
Some of the cool things to do in Filandia:
- MIrador Colina viewpoint
- Eat at Helena Adentro Restaurant
Best Towns in Colombia Near Bogota: Villa de Leyva
Once you’ve explored all the great attractions in Bogota, don’t miss Villa de Leyva. A beautiful town, Villa de Leyva is a few hours drive north of Bogota.
TIP: A top weekend getaway from Bogota, do what we did and arrive in Villa de Leyva on Sunday or a weekday. You will get the place almost to yourself!
Villa de Leyva is known for its plaza mayor, the biggest town square in Colombia, so definitely visit that! Much of the top activities are in the region, so having your own car is recommended here.
Top things to do in Villa de Leyva:
- Plaza Mayor
- Fossil Museum
- Pozos Azules
Best Towns in Colombia Map
What’s nice about visiting a small town is you get to know it after a few days walking around from your hotel to the town square. You see and chat to the same people, and discover your favorite coffee shop or beer bar. It becomes familiar and friendly. Sometimes it’s difficult to say adios, as it was for us when we had to leave Colombia. And obviously, we didn’t explore nearly as much as we would have liked, but we got to visit five of the best towns in Colombia.
Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll return to these places again, or see new places in one of our favorite countries. Until then, we’re seeking new favorites in other places and having fun doing it!
Have you visited any of these towns in Colombia or do you have others to recommend? Please share in the comments.