Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
15 June 2023
When you think of Colombia you may not conjure up images of a country brimful with unexplored National Parks, each with their own distinct landscape and biodiversity… Yet a little over 14% of the nation’s landmass is covered by 60 protected areas of land – 43 of which are national parks. Largely untouched by the same swathes of tourists found throughout the rest of the continent, the unparalleled variety of Colombia’s national parks makes them truly special. From the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains, to the tropical jungles of the Amazon Basin and the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Coast, there is quite literally something for everyone to be found here.
To save you the time of picking which of the 43 parks to visit on your Colombian trip of a lifetime we’ve rounded up our favourites, and have been sure to include a wide variety of sights, environments and activities.
Colombia’s position as a megadiverse country is cemented by the high number of both endemic and cosmopolitan species which can be found within its borders. As the second most biodiverse country on the planet, lagging only behind Brazil, it is a haven for wildlife and many of the National Parks within the country offer great opportunities to catch a glimpse of the elusive animals and striking plant life which reside there.
If it’s wildlife you’re after then heading to Colombia’s Amazon Basin region is well worth the trip. Head to Puerto Nariño National Park to spot some of the 670 species of bird found in the nation as they flit between the jungle canopy, feathers awash with bright reds, blues and greens. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can head into the treetops yourself in Amacayacu National Park, where it is possible to climb 115-feet to reach a suspension bridge which offers spectacular views out across the forest.
The Sierra Nevada del Cocuy is situated in the Andes Mountain range of Colombia, and is the perfect National Park for all those interested in hiking. Containing 15 peaks of 5,000 metres or taller, Ritacuba Blanco stands highest at 5,330 metres and conceals a hidden glacier atop its final 1,000 foot summit.
Whilst the park’s most famous hike is a rather gruelling six-day trek which includes camping along the way, it is also possible to stick solely to day trips – venture out in the morning from one of the many cabanas which dot the Park and reach the summit of a peak before returning to the warmth and comfort of your lodgings at night.
If you are an experienced rambler then you can set off into the mountains on your own, however we suggest organising a local guide to take you. The weather is very changeable in the mountains due to the high altitude and it is useful to have someone with you who knows the terrain of the area.
Tayrona is situated on the northeastern tip of the country, and makes for a particularly fascinating visit as it seems to encompass the quintessentially varied landscape of Colombia within one National Park, with its sandy, paradise beaches and dense jungle punctuated by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the world’s second highest coastal mountain range.
Spend your day here lounging on one of the many beaches including the well-known Cabo San Juan. Sometimes referred to as the ‘mirrored beach’, Cabo San Juan is made up of two beaches which back onto one another, meaning there is plenty of space to catch some sun. Many beaches in Tayrona National Park don’t allow visitors to swim as there are strong currents along the park’s coastline, however Cabo San Juan and the aptly named La Piscina Beach do allow swimming. La Piscina is protected from the currents due to the natural barrier created by a large semi-circle of rocks midway out to sea, and the still waters also make for a great place to snorkel.
Made up of 27 islands and located just 100 kilometres off the coast of Cartagena, the Islas del Rosario (or Rosario Islands) was declared a National Park to protect the beautiful coral reef which surrounds the islands. This coral reef makes the Rosario Islands the ideal destination for snorkelling, with brightly coloured fish darting from rock to rock and the occasional inquisitive turtle gliding through the shallows. If you want to explore the deeper waters surrounding the islands then it is also possible to go diving, and there are options to complete your PADI certification here if you have never dived before.
You can take day trips to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena by speedboat, however if you choose to stay overnight on Ilha Grande (the largest of the 27 islands), we highly recommend organising a trip to the Laguna Encantada – a secluded lagoon which is so hidden away in the mangroves it is only accessible by canoe. This lagoon is particularly special due to the presence of bioluminescent plankton, and at nighttime any movement in the water causes an almost electric blue glow to appear, lighting up the pool and creating a thoroughly magical atmosphere.
Make it happen
If you can’t wait to explore the variety of Colombia’s National Parks, whether it’s the pristine waters of the Rosario Islands or the mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, then enquire today and our specialist operators will begin crafting your bespoke Colombian itinerary. With their local expertise they can offer you a world of advice and knowledge about the region and can alter your trip however you please. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.