Colombia is a "pick your pleasure" country in that it offers something for everyone. No matter what the activity, be it a jungle trek, an Amazonian adventure, desert excursion or beach holiday, Colombia has you covered. And if hiking or multi-day trekking is your thing, well, you can do so in any of the aforementioned environments. The options for great short hikes (between one and six hours roundtrip) are near endless. So for the purposes of narrowing down the options, here are the best treks, affording the most beautiful scenery and astounding views, in various parts of the country.
#1 Bogotá, Cerro Monserrate
Kick off your vacay with a short hike in Colombia's capital city of Bogotá. It's here you'll find a breathtaking view that easily matches the drama of the vantage points at Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and Machu Picchu in Peru. This one can be found at the top of Cerro Monserrate, a mountain blanketed in thick verdure just east of the city center and offering sweeping panoramas of Bogotá.
The hike may officially only take an hour each way, but you'll likely want to allow yourself more time—especially if you're a new arrival to Bogotá and are still acclimating to the capital's 8,660-foot elevation (the height of Monserrate tops out at 10,341 feet). It may be steep and rigorous, but the walk up the stone peatonal (pedestrian walkway) puts you in the midst of aromatic pine and eucalyptus forests. And by the time you reach the top, you're exertion will be rewarded with the most priceless view in the city.
The hiking walkway is open daily (except Tuesday) from 5 am to 1 pm (ascent), and from 5 am to 4 pm (descent).
#2 Villa de Leyva
When people first think of Colombia, tropical beaches and dense jungle come to mind before highland mountains and frigid winds. But as a testament to Colombia's diversity of eco-systems, that's exactly what you get with Villa de Leyva, one of the oldest colonial settlements in the country. Located about three hours (102 miles) northeast of the capital city of Bogotá, it's rightfully become a tourist destination due to its expansive cobblestone plaza and white-washed colonial buildings.
But the best place to partake of the scenery of Villa de Leyva and its surroundings isn't on the ground; it's from the top of one of the many green hills that encircle the town. You can pick any hill you'd like for your excursion, but we recommend you follow the hiking trail behind Hostal Renacer, located just north of town (the employees here can point you to the trail). It's a brisk jaunt of about an hour (perhaps a little less depending on your level of fitness), up the path to the top of the hill. The summit overlooks all of Villa de Leyva to the south—and all the highland beauty of Colombia's stunning Boyacá Department.
#3 Puerto Nariño, Amazon Night Trek Safari
Deep in the Amazon region, at the tri-borders of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru, lies the idyllic Colombian town of Puerto Nariño. It's a pristine waterfront outpost, the perfect spot to spend a few days unwinding and taking in the local indigenous culture. The untamed eco-system immediately surrounding the town beckons for exploration as well.
Interestingly, the best way to enjoy local wildlife in their natural habitat is through an evening tour. The Amazon Night Trek Safari leaves at 5 pm and returns at 8 pm. Full disclosure: part of the appeal here is the scare factor. A guide leads you just outside of town as it gets dark, with nothing but flashlights (and the light of your smartphone screen), pointing out all manner of interesting creepy crawlies along the way. These include tarantulas and the innocuous-looking-but-lethal golden poison dart frog. The hike can be booked from tour providers in town or in the main Amazonian city of Leticia. Be sure to wear hiking boots that are mud-resistant.
#4 Parque Tayrona and El Pueblito
In a country teeming with beautiful national parks, Parque Nacional Tayrona is one of its most visited by tourists and locals alike. Not only does it encompass about 93 square miles of pristine Caribbean coastal lowlands, but it has a rich indigenous history. The Kogi people (direct descendants of the pre-Columbian Tairona tribe) still control this land, and you need their permission to enter the local archeological sites. The most famous of these is Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), a stunning relic of a former Tairona community, which is accessible via a multi-day trek (for more on this, check out our Lost City adventure plan). Another (much) shorter hike takes about three hours and leads to another archeological site/Kogi community: El Pueblito.
The hike starts right off the main coastal highway 90 at the Calabazo entrance (the first of two principal land entrances to Parque Tayrona). From here you'll hike three hours north and be treated to the famed flora and fauna of Colombia's Caribbean region, such as tamarin monkeys and blue butterflies. Best of all, the site (comprised of terraced stone walkways and circular thatched-roof huts) is still inhabited by Kogi people who offer an official tour. This is why we don't recommend attempting the hike solo. The tour operators in nearby Santa Marta receive the requisite visiting permissions from the Kogi and provide official guides. For the walk, hiking boots are recommended as you'll be trudging through dirt and mud along rugged terrain through much of it.
#5 Trekking the Cocora Valley
Colombia is famous for its coffee-growing region, the Zona Cafetera. It's known as the Coffee Triangle due to its being comprised of the three departments of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda. One of the most popular destinations in this region is the idyllic town of Salento, in Quindío. People come to see the brightly colored balconies and facades of its colonial houses, but the surrounding countryside, the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley), is the real gem. It's the stuff of postcards.
The best way to experience the valley's rolling green hills and tall wax palms (Colombia's official tree) is on a day-long trek. You can catch a "willy" (shared jeep taxi) in town at the central plaza and it will whisk you 30 minutes to the trailhead (the last jeep back to Salento leaves at 5 pm). Upon arriving you'll see signs directing you on the trekking loop, which lasts about five hours total, depending on your speed. Along the way, you can choose to stop off at the Reserva Natural Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary that also offers hot chocolate (with cheese) and tea. Trekking further (all told you'll ascend over 3,000 feet in elevation during the trek), you can stop at Finca la Montaña, which affords stunning views of the lush green valley below.