Due to massive differences in climate and geographical characteristics, Colombia is divided into five natural regions: the Andes, Caribbean, Orinoquia, Pacifico and the Islands, and Amazonian. In this post, we’ll give you a short overview, including some ideas of what to do, in each of Colombia’s natural regions.
1. The Andes
The Andes is probably the most famous of Colombia’s natural regions, known for its astonishing rock formations and active volcanoes, like the Nevado del Hulia. In the Andes, altitude dictates climatic conditions and the flora and fauna. The region is divided into five different altitude levels.
- The Tierra Caliente (hot land) is the lowest level, and home to the tropical rainforest. Cacao, bananas and sugar grow in this level.
- The second level reaches from 1000-2000 meters above sea level and is called Tierra Templada (moderate land). This area is overgrown with tropical mountain forests coffee; tobacco and corn flourish here.
- The most inhabited level is the third, called the Tierra Fria (cool land). It reaches from 2000-3500 meters above sea level, and produces potatoes, grain, and milk, and meat from cattle that graze here.
- Trees no longer grow in the fourth level, called Tierra Helada (cold land). Sheep and llamas feed here, but not much else grows.
- The highest area is the Tierra Nevada (snow land) which begins at 4500 meters above sea level. Agricultural production is not possible here.
Things to Do in the Andes
Trekking to the Púlpito de Diablo
To truly get a feeling for this amazing mountain range, a trekking tour to the Púlpito de Diablo might be just the thing. This day trip is best started from the city of Sisuma. Be prepared and don’t underestimate the potential for altitude sickness or the freezing temperatures at the summit – but the view is worth it!
Exploring the Smaragd Mines
Colombia is the number one country in the world for smaragd (green gemstone) extraction and exportation. Nearly all of these gems come from the Andes region. A trip down the mines is always worth it! You’ll get a feeling for this gruelling hard work and learn more about these famous emeralds. The Asociación Sendero Verde Esmeralda provides day tours through the city of Chivor, including a tour through the nearest mine. For details and booking contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are up for something more active, you should check out the local rafting opportunities. The rivers crossing the Andes offer a wide range of levels for rafting. Check out Colombia Rafting for more information and bookings.
Visit the Zoo in Cali
If you love animals, this is a must-see for you! Since most of Colombia’s national fauna is extremely shy, it is hard to see them in everyday life or on a single trip through the woods. In Colombia’s best zoo, the Zoológico de Cali, you can get an overview of nearly 200 different local species.
2. The Caribbean Region
The Caribbean region, located in the north of Colombia, covers more than 130.000 square kilometers along the Caribbean Sea. Even though this region is mostly low-lying, it is home to the two highest mountains in Colombia: Pico Simón Bolivar and Pico Cristóbal Colón. Both tower over the rest of the region at 5775 meters above sea level.
Things to do in The Caribbean Region
To understand the colonial history of Colombia, Cartagena is a good place to start. The well preserved town, with its massive walls and antique facades, was one of the most important Spanish harbors in the colonial era. Cartagena is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is filled with interesting museums, a variety of theatres, and enough beautiful cafes and restaurants to keep you entertained for days. The best way to explore it is to sign up for the free walking tour, or to wander and explore on your own. It is nearly impossible to get lost within the city walls, and you’ll find more secret spots and beautiful buildings than you could imagine.
Tour the Lost City
For our more adventurous readers, the Caribbean region also has one or two things to do. The trekking tour of the Ciudad Perdida takes 5-6 days and covers 52 km through the jungle, rocky areas and rivers. www.magictours.com offers a fully planned and guided route to this magical place. Due to its prehistoric treasures, tours are only allowed by authorized companies. Since there is a lot of military presence, you shouldn’t try to explore this area on your own.
Relatively flat and located in the north east of Colombia, this natural region is probably best known for its wide river nets and cattle breeding. The latter is still carried out in an old fashioned way, so finding Cowboys, or llaneros, is not uncommon. Bad roads, armed bandits and general lawlessness don’t make this region very attractive to tourists.
Things to do in Orinoquia
Visit the Locals
If your trip takes you here, make sure you go to a bar to hear some local songs. Música llanera combines traditional indigenous and Spanish music with texts about love, treason and the hard life in the countryside.
To see a little more of the nature included in this region, we recommend a tour to the Caño Cristales and the Parque Nacional Natural La Macarena. Since this is former FARC territory, we don’t recommend exploring this region on your own. Instead, book a tour for more insights into the local flora and fauna, as well as some information about pre-Colombian pictograms, which still can be found in this area.
The Pacific coast in the west of Colombia stretches from the equator to Panama and is overgrown with rainforest and mangroves, which are spectacular to see. Nevertheless, most people who travel to this part of the country and to the over 20 islands which belong to Colombia come for the ocean.
Things to do in Pacifico & The Islands
Although you may see whales from the shore, to get a closer look you can book a whale watching tour. Check out this site, but depending on where you stay, you have options.
Another fan favorite are the diving opportunities here. Through the entire region and surrounding the islands, there are more great places underwater than we can count. Two of our favorites are the “Blue Diamond” in front of San Andreas, where you can dive through parts of a sunken ship, and “El Planchon”, a German submarine overgrown with coral.
Although most people tend to connect the Amazon region only with Brazil, Colombia has over 100.000 square kilometers of Amazonian rain forest. With an average temperature of 29 degrees Celsius and 90% humidity, this region is not the most comfortable to live in. The climate explains its other name: “The Green Hell”. The Amazon area in Colombia only has about 60.000 inhabitants. The capital of this region is Leticia, which is a great base camp for any exploration in the region.
Things to do in the Amazon Region
Get to Know the Natives
In this region, more than 17 native tribes live in the jungle. Your best option for getting to know them is through a guided tour. Just ask at your host for a guide recommendation. Unannounced intruders with lack of respect for their traditional way of life are not welcome.
Photography and Nature Hikes
If you are especially interested in the exploration and photography of wild birds and plants of the jungle, we recommend this guide. He is widely recognized as one of the best in the business!
Don’t be Afraid to Explore Colombia’s Natural Regions
The biggest challenge in writing this blog was limiting each region to 2-3 must-see activities. Colombia has so many things to offer that it is hard to do it justice in one article. Take the time to research the possibilities when planning your trip, but be ready to change your plans. You may want to restructure your trip after meeting locals. They may share a secret, off-the-beaten-path spot that you won’t find in a travel guide.