Let your mind wander through the diversity of the Colombian landscapes. From lush forests to stunning beaches, from savannas to colourful rivers, from remote islands to mountains and even an active volcano. Although not the largest country in South America, Colombia is one of the most biodiverse, with about 60 national parks on its varied territory. It’s a patchwork of fascinating places and unique ecosystems, the Mecca for wildlife lovers of all stripes. We’ve teamed up with other travel bloggers to present you here with some of the best national parks in Colombia.

All prices expressed here are in Colombian Pesos (COP) and, to the best of our knowledge, valid as of June 2020.


Our selection of Colombia National Parks:


Tayrona National Park

We visited Tayrona National Park in July.

One of the best beaches in Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

The Tayrona Park is the perfect combination of chilling on an idyllic beach paradise and adventure hiking through lush forest. Located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, it’s a protected area of rain forest and secluded, empty beaches, governed by an indigenous group. Imagine a medium-tough, sweaty hike through palm forest leading to secluded beaches of soft Caribbean water for a refreshing splash almost completely alone. 

We spent there a few days camping in a rustic environment, beach hopping, adventure trekking. For us, it was the best beach experience in South America.

What did you like less?

The downside is definitely the high entrance price. We were even hesitating for a long while before deciding whether we should fit Tayrona into our budget, as it meant that we’d have to skip other amazing experiences. In the park there’s no supermarket and food and drinks on sale at the camping places are overpriced. So you cook (on the fire) what you manage to bring with you.

Start planning your Colombia travel: our complete guide to camping in the Tayrona paradise.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona:

Best time to go:All year-round, except January when the park is closed (check the exact dates ahead)
Closest town:Santa Marta
How to get there:Public bus from Santa Marta to Tayrona Park (as of July 2019 bus tickets cost 10,000 COP one way)
Entrance price:66,500 COP (15 EUR / 16 USD) – to be paid in cash
Other expenses:Anything you buy inside the park is overpriced.

 


 

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park

Daniel from Layer Culture visited Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in February.

The best view on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, Colombia

When looking for the best national parks in Colombia you can’t afford to miss out on the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The whole area makes up one of the most sacred areas in the whole of Colombia.

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

From certain viewpoints within the park you can see as far as the snow-capped summits of Mount Colón or even get the opportunity to hike all the way through the mountains and take part in the lost city trek (known in Spanish as La Ciudad Perdida) to see the extraordinary archaeological site. This 400-year-old site which is hidden in the Teyuna archaeological park enables visitors to have an experience like no other.

The Sierra Nevada is a place where you must also be thoughtful and respect the land of the indigenous groups that occupy the mountain range. For example, here you can encounter the Wiwa, Arhuaco, Kogui, and Kankuamo peoples; who are different ethnic communities that all have a unique set of rules, laws, and codes for living and inhabiting the park.

What did you like less?

No matter what your purpose is here, you must come prepared, as the mix of the cool evening breeze, hot midday sun and the constant need to stay protected from insects can prove challenging for many visitors.

Also, places like Minca or Tayrona Park are popular Eco-Tourism destinations that have backpackers and travelers visiting daily from the nearby port city of Santa Marta to get one step closer into the mountains. Immersing yourself in the local culture here is possible but there is a lack of information on how you can be more respectful towards the indigenous community who have their own language too.

In many cases, there is a missing link when it comes to respecting them due to fast tourism vs locals vs the indigenous; who have occupied the land for many hundreds of years. So if you decide to visit the Sierra Nevada mountain range, be sure to pay all due respects by keeping noise and litter down to the absolute minimum. 

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta:

Best time to go:All year-round (peak season: 15 June-15 July, 15 December-15 January)
Closest town:Santa Marta
How to get there:You absolutely need a guide to trek to the Lost City
Entrance price:$23,000 COP
Other expenses:the trek has a fixed price of $1,150,000 COP whatever the number of days

The Lost City Trek is part of our selection of best hikes in South America. Check it out!

 


Further along the coast towards Venezuela, a lump of land protrudes into the Caribbean sea. The peninsula of La Guajira hosts the Macuira National Park, a protected mountain range in the middle of the desert and surrounded with rain forest. You’ll be shocked by this unique ecosystem: a contrast of semiarid sand dunes and tropical cloud forests, overlooking the sea at low altitude.


 

Utría National Park

Adam from Cartagena Explorer visited Utría National Park in July.

Humpback whale off Utría National Park, Colombia

Utría National Park lies on the isolated Pacific Coast of the department of Chocó. It is most well known as a spot to see the humpback whales that migrate to breed and give birth in the warmer waters off the coast of Colombia every year. In fact, I visited Utría as part of my trip whale watching in Nuquí.

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

The head park ranger gave us a great talk about the wildlife of the region. He explained some of the birds, mammals, and snakes that are common to Colombia’s Pacific coast, in addition to the whales.

The little bay at the park’s entrance is known as a natural “cradle” for the whales. The calm waters inside the narrow bay make it the ideal place for mothers to give birth.

I was there a little bit early, at the very start of the July to October season. Increased boat traffic had stopped the whales from entering as often, so I didn’t see any whales in the waters outside the park. But later in the season, whales and their newborns are common sights.

Finally, there’s a nice boardwalk through the mangrove swamp and forest next to the park headquarters. It was a great chance to see lots of birds and enjoy the peace and quiet.

What did you like less?

The park is tough to reach. It was about a 90-minute boat ride from where I was staying outside Nuquí. It is a similar distance from the other popular destination on the Pacific coast, Bahía Solano.

There is no way to reach the park overland, so those not comfortable bouncing on the sea or not able to find a group to share the cost of taking a boat there may be a little less inclined to go. It would also be neat if there were accommodations at the park.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Ensenada de Utría:

Best time to go:All year round
Closest town:Nuquí or Bahía Solano
How to get there:by boat from either of these 2 towns
Entrance price:$42,000 COP
Other expenses:$600,000 COP boat round trip, divided by passengers

 


 

Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Park

Pubali and Indranil from Paradise Catchers visited Rosario Islands National Park in June.

Beach on Rosario Islands National Park, Colombia

Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park in Colombia was founded to protect the coral reefs and the marine ecosystem of the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Cartagena. The major part of the national park is underwater. However, you can visit the park by basing yourself in the archipelago of the Rosario Islands.

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

Rosario Islands look straight out of a picture postcard. Palm trees sway over clear azure water and white sand beaches. Let the coral reefs and the marine life of the park mesmerize you as you sign up for a diving or a snorkeling session. End the day by sipping on to your favorite cocktail as you watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea.

If you can time your trip right, you can also go for a bioluminescent plankton tour at Laguna Encantada.

What did you like less?

Despite the amazing natural beauty of Rosario Islands, the experience can sometimes be diluted if you opt for a group tour on a day trip. The group tours usually rush through different activities and return to Cartagena before sundown. This way you miss out on the best part of an island visit, that is, “island time”.

However, if you choose to stay overnight on the Rosario Islands (which we highly recommend), you may end up shelling out some big bucks on accommodation.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo:

Best time to go:Outside of June-September (busiest months) or September-November (the rainiest)
Closest town:Cartagena
How to get there:Boat ride from Cartagena
Entrance price:$18,500 COP
Other expenses:snorkeling, diving, tour possible; accommodation is expensive

The Rosario Islands Marine Park is one of our favourite national parks in South America.


 

To visit also:

After serving as a nasty prison for 25 years, the Gorgona island opened as Isla Gorgona National Park in 1984. The centre of the island is made up of a dense, humid jungle; the coasts are more welcoming, with creeks, beaches and coral reefs.

This small spit of subtropical rainforest 35 km (22 mi) off the Pacific coast is a shelter for many endemic species: several snakes and lizards, sloths, agoutis, capuchin monkeys and many birds – including one bearing the flavoursome name of ‘bananaquit‘. Offshore, you can spot humpback whales, sharks, sea turtles, pelicans and the funny-looking blue-footed booby.

Fans of urban exploration and of ghost stories can go in search of former jail buildings hidden in the vegetation. Note that a permission is necessary to visit the island and accommodation is provided by the park administration.

 

Los Nevados National Park

We visited Los Nevados National Park in July.

Cocora valley hike

Los Nevados welcomes the visitors in the heart of the Coffee Region, between the towns of Manizales (North), Ibagué (South), Pereira and Armenia (West). It’s the jewel on the crown that are the Colombian Andes mountains.

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

Although it’s not one of the largest national parks of Colombia, its variety is bound to please many types of hikers. It’s perfect for a multi-day hike with wild camping or sleeping at one of the rudimentary accommodations within the park.

There are hills with coffee plantations, there are forests and wetlands, there are (still a few) glaciers. There is a ‘páramo‘, a kind of mountainous tundra made up of grassland, swamps and lagoons. There’s even a ‘super-páramo‘ – not the latest Marvel phenomenon coming soon to a theatre near you, but an otherworldly scenery of rock formations, ashes and almost no vegetation.

And there is, of course, a cohort of mountains to please the climbers among you; damn, there’s even an active volcano, the Nevado del Ruiz.

Even the most touristy part, the Cocora Valley, is certainly not suffocating under swarms of people. That iconic landscape of rolling hills and gigantic palm trees offers a day hike that most (national) visitors decide to overlook, in order to indulge in coffee and chocolate.

What did you like less?

There is no public transportation to get there. So to visit Valle del Cocora, you will need to take a Jeep for $4,000 COP per person. That’s not particularly expensive but it’s restricting, as cars leave only when they’re full. To go further into the park, you don’t need to book a tour and can certainly self-guide yourself to several hikes.

Note that access to the northern area around Nevado del Ruiz might be blocked in case of volcanic activity. For that part, a guide is obligatory.

The weather in Los Nevados National Park isn’t always the friendliest. Try to go early to get there before the clouds. We recommend to bring a rain jacket and rubber boots whatever the time of year you visit.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados:

Best time to go:December-March or July-August, when the weather is supposedly drier and the trails less muddy
Closest cities (town):Armenia, Pereira (Salento), or Manizales for the north
How to get there:by Jeep from Salento
Entrance price:
  • $38,000 COP for the northern area
  • $27,000 COP for the central section
  • $3,000 COP for each of the 2 hikes in the Cocora Valley
Other expenses:/

 


Chingaza National Park might not be the most exotic park you’ll see in Colombia. In fact, temperatures often drop below 10ºC (50ºF) during the day, especially the higher you hike. But, provided you’re properly clothed, the misty aura of the rugged landscape will make up for it. Mountain lakes and short waterfalls are what you get here, a mere 2-hour ride east from Bogotà; the park provides the capital 80% of its drinking water.


 

Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park

Best view on Aguja Mountain in El Cocuy National Park, Colombia
Photo: Martin Roca / CC BY-SA

The glacial erosion is leaving its marks on South America. The effects of the climate change on our blue marble is best observed in El Cocuy, the less secret of all the secret national parks in Colombia. With its snow-topped mountains, its glaciers, cirques and glacial lakes, it’s almost a winter enclave in a country known for its Caribbean beaches. But not for long: the icefield in El Cocuy is expected to entirely disappear within a few decades.

What is unique about this national park?

The charismatic peaks of El Cocuy attract hikers, climbers and rock climbers. It’s a wild playground of rugged, rocky slopes that can only be compared, maybe, with some parts of Patagonia. As you go up, the vegetation, the animals and the oxygen grow more scarce.

The park offers several trails of different difficulty levels which bring, in just a few hours, to glaciers, lakes and mountains. There’s a possibility to remain a few days if you want to follow several of these hikes on a multi-day trek.

What could be a downside?

A visit to El Cocuy can be heavy on some budgets. First of all, it’s compulsory to hire a guide to hike in the park. There is an entrance fee plus an obligatory insurance to purchase. It’s also forbidden to camp inside so one must book and pay to overnight in one of several cabins. 

Make sure you pack warm clothing when you venture into the park, as it gets expectedly cold. The lack of oxygen in high altitude can be painful to whoever isn’t used to it yet; it’s important to take some time to acclimatise before tackling the hardest trails.

 

Useful information about
Parque Natural Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Chita:

Best time to go:December-March for highest chances of clear weather
Closest town:El Cocuy
How to get there:By bus from Bogotá or Bucaramanga, then public truck to the park
Entrance price:$60,000 COP
Other expenses:
  • about $100,000 COP for a guide for up to 6 people
  • $7,000 COP for the compulsory insurance


To visit also:

Far, far East, where the mighty rapids of the Orinoco River divide Colombia and Venezuela, you’ll find El Tuparro National Park. It’s a vast expense comprised of several types of forest and savannas that get partially flooded in winter. Among the many streams crossing the park, the most impressive is the Raudal de Maypures (Maipures Rapids), which was named, back in the day, the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

El Tuparro is a territory of both cultural and ecological importance. It’s home to several indigenous communities and an assortment of wildlife species, including jaguars, peccaries, river stingrays and a great many mosquitoes.

This park is most definitely remote, so it’s a safe bet if you want to immerse yourself in nature. It only costs a few hours of transportation in 4×4 and boat from the closest town of Puerto Carreño.

 

Puracé National Park

CJ from Go Travel and Talk visited Puracé National Park in March.

Puracé National Park, near Popayán, Colombia

Why is this your favourite national park in Colombia?

The Puracé National Park is around a three hour drive from the centre of Popayán. As one of Colombia’s best kept secrets and one of the world’s most important ecosystems, it is paradise on earth for adventure seekers and hikers.

There are so many reasons to visit this magical park – it is full of mixed fauna, flora and culture igniting every one of your senses. Everywhere you turn, the landscape looks different; from trickling streams, impressive waterfalls and luscious green spaces, to imposing mountains enveloped in the clouds, dark rocky formations and deserted plains, with the world’s largest bird (the Condor) flying overhead. It is mesmerising.

And you can experience all of that at your own pace – you don’t need a guide to explore the park. But if you are looking to climb the neighbouring Volcan Puracé which sits at over 4,650 m (1,525 ft) above sea level, one of the locals will take you – and that is another incredible reason to plan a visit to the Puracé National Park.

What did you like less?

The only thing that I could mention is that the park is fairly remote. So if you are visiting Popayán and you are tight on time, it is not easy to get to the Puracé National Park. On a good day, it takes three hours by bus. But bus schedules in South America are temperamental to say the least, which can affect your plans to get there and back. My suggestion here is to plan ahead and leave plenty of time.

Or, and especially if you would like to climb the Volcan Puracé, go with an organised tour which can be booked through your hostel.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Puracé:

Best time to go:June to September are the driest months
Closest town:Popayán
How to get there:by bus or by car
Entrance price:$ 23,000 COP
Other expenses:/

 


A “short” hop south of Puracé, close to the town of Florencia, don’t miss the oldest national park in Colombia. Cueva de los Guácharos National Park –literally ‘Cave of the Oilbirds’– protects since 1960 the ecosystems of the alpine tundra (‘páramo‘) of the Andes mountains and of the cloud forest.

Nearby, the more recent Serranía de los Churumbelos Auka-Wasi National Park adds to these the dry valley of River Magdalena.


 

Serranía de la Macarena National Park

The wonderful colours of Caño Cristales, in Macarena national park, Colombia
Photo: Mario Carvajal / CC BY-SA

The mountain range near La Macarena is famous internationally for its stupefying ‘river of five colours’, and nationally for being the shelter of the FARC guerrilla. Unfortunately, heavy downpours were blocking the roads at the time of our trip in Colombia so we didn’t make it to this part of the country.

What is unique about this national park?

The main sight in the area is really a unique feature: Caño Cristales, a river of 5 different and striking colours. Also known as the ‘Liquid rainbow’, it seems to flow directly from the palette of a pagan god. Scientists rather think that the colours of the river are due to peculiar aquatic plants in this very clear water. Oh well.

Besides the river, the park is a unique mixture of rain forest, dry forest, shrublands and savanna that bred its own varieties of fauna and flora. Its green hills invite to a stroll and its many waterfalls and water pools to a cosy bath.

What are the drawbacks?

If you don’t want to fly, the way there is a tiresome one, wherever your starting point is. With the risk of roads being blocked by the rain, the mud or the guerrilla fighters, it’s understandable that many visitors should think twice (and enquire much) before undertaking the journey.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Sierra de la Macarena:

Best time to go:September to February for clear weather & brighter colours in the river
Closest town:La Macarena
How to get there:by Jeep from Vistahermosa or the closer San Vicente del Caguán; or by plane (sigh)
Entrance price:free
Other expenses:/

Start planning with this very detailed guide on WikiVoyage


Chiribiquete National Park

Flyover view on the mesas of Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia
Photo: Carlos Castaño Uribe / CC BY-SA

Southwest of La Macarena, halfway between the mountains and the jungle, lies a mysterious world. Since it opened to the public in June 2019, nature and adventure lovers can now lose themselves in the fascinating beauty of Chiribiquete National Park.

What is unique about this national park?

We’ve been to tabletop mountains and gawked at dizzying canyons before, particularly in Brazil. But seeing pictures of this park, of its enormous cliffs arising from the cloud forest, instantly bring us to another world. A remote world, a lost world. In fact, rumour has it that Chiribiquete was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fantastic work. One thing for sure, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site since 2018.

The largest national park in Colombia and the largest tropical rainforest national park in the world undoubtedly reminds us of how insignificant we are in nature’s lap. We know there are air plane tours above Chiribiquete. They’re certainly very expensive. But boy, how much money is that breathtaking view worth!

What could be improved?

All things considered, we wonder whether it’s a good thing to have opened the park to the public. It was closed until recently because it’s home to several tribes who don’t have any form of contact with the outside world. The place is sacred to them and some people whisper it might even hide an ancient city.

There is for sure a wide array of Indigenous paintings –some of them thousands of years old– and many endemic fauna and flora species that are still being discovered.

Because of its remoteness, it’s impossible to access Chiribiquete by land; the only options are a 1-hour flyover or a 15-day boat trip.

 

Useful information about
Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de Chiribiquete:

Best time to go:December-January or July-August for the dry season
Closest town:San José del Guaviare
How to get there:Flyover departing from Bogotá or from nearby San José del Guaviare
Entrance price:free
Other expenses:expensive flyover, probably between $1,500-2,000 USD

If you’ve had the chance to visit Chiribiquete National Park, please do share your story with us in the comments!


There must be a historical reason why Colombia owns that strange leg of land in the south, tucked between Peru and Brazil – look up on the map what I’m talking about. My guess is, they wanted access to the Amazon river, an important means of trade back in the day.

Well, that land hosts Amacayacu National Park, a protected piece of the Amazon jungle, a rainforest nature park that extends between that mighty river and the curves of Río Cotuhé.

Only accessible by boat from the fluvial town of Leticia, large chunks of the park are flooded in the “High Water Season” (February-June). Tours can bring you along the river and on hikes; but the best is to find accommodation in a nearby eco-lodge and explore on your own. With a bit of luck, you can spot toucans, monkeys, hummingbirds and the mythical pink river dolphin.

It’s a strange feeling to be completely surrounded by the jungle – a feeling we try to describe in this post.

 Are you planning a trip to Colombia? Which beautiful national parks attract you the most?
Tell us in the comments section below!


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Who am I?

Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and all-kinds-of-art-lovers. They write about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries, mainly in South America, on the budget travel blog Green Mochila.

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2 Comments

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I really think this amazing site needs much more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!

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