As Colombia’s tourism star continues to rise—from topping 2020 “must travel” lists to tripling its number of foreign tourists from 2006 to 2018—so too does the risk of overtourism in its most popular destinations.
‘Second city travel’—the trend of traveling to lesser-known cities—is skyrocketing. More than half of global travelers want to help reduce overtourism and would choose a lesser-known, similar alternative to more popular options if it reduced their environmental impact. And in Colombia, it’s not hard to find incredible spots that have yet to go viral.
Here are top picks for Colombia’s 2020 lesser-known tourism spots to see:
Swap Caribbean Vibes for Pacific Wildlife
If you think everyone’s visiting Cartagena, you’re right: this preserved colonial city receives over a million visitors a year; noise complaints from the city’s plethora of night clubs are common; and nearby coral reefs have been devastated by beach developments and litter. For an adventurous beach vacation that doesn’t add to this destruction, look to the country’s other coast—the Pacific—which remains among Colombia’s most undeveloped areas. Watch for olive ridley sea turtles while snorkeling in Utría National Park and spot breaching humpbacks off the coast, who arrive from Antarctica between July and November to mate and give birth to their young.
Skip the Strained Caño Cristales for a Cacao-Fueled Jungle Trek
The Caño Cristales, a river known as the “melted rainbow” for its vibrant, multicolored hue, became such a popular, Instagrammable tourist site after the 2016 Peace Accord that just a year later, access to the area was restricted from visitor traffic to give the overloaded ecosystem a break. Instead of adding your name to its waitlist, seek out another recently-opened natural experience: the jungles around Puerto Berrio in Antioquia (near Medellín), one of Colombia’s most diverse wildlife regions. Visit a local cacao farm to see how the bean is cultivated and turned into chocolate, and learn the cultural roots and significance of the cacao bean in Colombia.
Avoid the Bogota Crowds to Party with Pasto’s Locals
Bogota may seem effortlessly cool with its bike tours, chic cafés and mountainous climate, but the influx of international visitors in recent years has landed it on a list of “dawning developers” — cities with a tourism sector growing faster than the infrastructure to hold it up. This year, lessen the strain by visiting a place typically unknown to outsiders: Pasto, one of Colombia’s oldest cities, famous to Colombians for its Carnaval de Blancos y Negros. The largest annual festival in southern Colombia, this celebration is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. Learn about the artistic process and construction of the giant carrozas (festival floats) firsthand from parade participants; visit Las Lajas Sanctuary, a basilica church built into the canyon of the Guáitara River; experience artisanal works at neighborhood galleries; and enjoy local favorites such as empanadas and cuy (guinea pig).