Where to Go
San Gil has gained a reputation as the epicenter for adventure in Colombia; you could spend a week here and still not have done all the available activities. Options include paragliding, rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, rappelling and cave exploration.
Medellín also has a range of activities, including mountain biking, paragliding, and rafting. On the coast, you can try kiteboarding in Cartagena or scuba diving near Taganga. Another great choice for a day of adventure is Rio Claro Nature Reserve, where you can make your way down natural waterslides and through water-filled caves.
If scuba diving is your preferred activity, dive sites are located on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, as well as offshore islands.
What to Do
With two coastlines, reefs and islands, Colombia offers some of South America's best dive sites.
Taganga is the most accessible dive site for most visitors, due to its location near Tayrona National Park. Lobster, lionfish, sea turtles, eels, rays, tropical fish and other sea creatures can be spotted here.
The top destination for most diving enthusiasts is Providencia (and Santa Catalina, a smaller island north of Providencia). Around 40 dive sites are located here and you can spot four different types of shark. Caves, blue holes, and even sunken pirate ships can be visited in these waters.
If you are planning to visit the Pacific coast, you can dive near Bahia Solano. A 30-minute boat ride from town brings you to the sunken Colombian navy ship, the Sebastian de Belcazar, located about 100 ft below the surface. The ship was sunk by the Colombian navy in 2004 to create an artificial reef that would attract marine life. Grouper fish, tuna, reef sharks, pufferfish and other creatures can be seen here.
Serious divers can make their way 300 miles off the Pacific coast to Malpelo, a small island (8 sq km) where whales and large numbers of shark congregate, including hammerheads and silky sharks. Advanced open water certification is mandatory to dive here.
Rafting & Kayaking
San Gil is the center for rafting in Colombia and there are a number of rivers with varying degrees of difficulty. The Río Suarez offers the most challenging rapids while beginners can try the Río Fonce.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
One of the top destinations for rafters and kayakers is the Río Magdalena near San Agustín in southern Colombia. Full-day trips on Class IV-V rapids are available for experienced rafters, and shorter trips on milder whitewater are also available.
Rafting is also possible on the Samana River in Antioquia and the Río San Juan outside Medellín.
Thanks to the excellent wind conditions that are consistent year-round, Bucaramanga in the Department of Santander is the top destination for paragliding in Colombia. High-flying adventures here start at Ruitoque Mesa. If you have the time, you can complete a beginner paragliding course here in 10 days.
Chicamocha Canyon near San Gil is another great paragliding spot. Here you can fling yourself into one the world’s largest canyons, and remain airborne for about 30 minutes. The area has great thermals and very little rain. Curti, also near San Gil, is another good option, although you’ll spend less time in the air.
Paragliding is also popular in Medellín, where you can soar over the outskirts of the city and get terrific views of the urban expanse. A number of schools here offer flights and lessons.
Canyoning, Rappelling & Ziplines
For some heartstopping adventures, strap on a pair of sturdy sandals and go on a canyoning tour. This adventure involves hiking through steep canyons where waterfalls, caves, slippery rock slides and natural pools present obstacles. Tour operators that lead such trips provide equipment for you to rappel (abseil) down waterfalls and other big drops.
San Gil is one of the most popular places for canyoning adventures. Other areas include Río Claro Nature Reserve, in Antioquia Department, Támesis near Medellín, Tobia in Cundinamarca.
If you’d like to try a zip line (flying fox), this can also be done in different places, including Río Claro Nature Reserve, as well as spots near Bogotá, Leticia, Cali and other cities.
For mountain biking thrills, try the forested areas near Medellín. One of the top trails in the country is at Santa Helena, located about 40-minutes by car from Medellín. You can get a ride to the top of the hills near the town and ride down through some serious mountain biking trails with technical sections, high-speed downhills, and natural jumps. Other mountain biking options include:
- Near Salento (in the Coffee Country) you can cycle the exhilarating 13-mile Alegria Mountain trail.
- Minca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, has a well-developed network of mountain biking trails.
- San Gil has a number of well-established biking routes, including a 31-mile trail near Río Suárez.
More details on mountain biking can be found in our article on Cycling in Colombia.
La Boquilla (near Cartagena) is a good place to try kiteboarding; a number of shops here can rent the gear or provide lessons. On the Caribbean coast, the winds tend to be best between January and April.
However, the main site for kiteboarding in Colombia is Lago Calima, which is located 53 miles north of Cali. The winds are consistent year-round competitions are often held in August and September.
San Andrés & Providencia islands also offer very good kiteboarding opportunities in a tropical paradise setting.
Special thanks to Macondo Guesthouse in San Gil for supplying photos for this article.