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Colombia’s colonial gems
Colombia offers a treasure trove of cobblestone colonial towns and villages. Rich in stunning architecture, heritage and charm, these gems take you back to a different century where you can soak up a slow pace of life and marvel at some of the country’s most stunning architecture. Below are a select few of our favourite colonial gems to get you started:
Nestled on the Caribbean coast, the old city of Cartagena is extraordinarily well preserved and one of the country’s major allures. Given UNESCO World Heritage status, the old town is enclosed by a series of walls, within which resides a maze of cobbled alleys, leafy plazas and carved wooden balconies overflowing with brightly coloured bougainvillea. It is the most vibrant, colourful and utterly romantic city in Latin America and a real highlight of Colombia. Aimlessly wandering around is the best way to get under the skin of the old town and soak up the history and charm the city exudes.
Villa de Leyva
Located three hours north of Bogota, this colonial gem is exquisitely intact. Showcasing over 400 years of architectural heritage, the town is brimming with cobbled streets, colonial churches and boasts the largest and prettiest main square in the Americas. It is a place to leisurely wander, soak up the charming atmosphere and explore its gorgeous surrounding rural countryside.
Rich in cobblestone streets, gorgeous architecture and white-washed houses with red-tiled roofs, Barichara is an atmospheric and charming place to relax after the adrenaline rush of San Gil- the regional Guane dialect, literally translates the name into ‘place of relaxation’ . Compared to Villa de leyva, Barichara is more upscale but less touristy and is often hailed as the prettiest town in Colombia. Encapsulating over 300 years of history and customs, it was declared a National Monument in 1978 and its main attraction is its gorgeous architecture.
Perched on the banks of the Magdalena River, Mompox was once a thriving trading post and played a key role in the Spanish colonization of northern South America. Wonderfully undiscovered, this colonial gem provides a remarkable picture of what a Spanish colonial city was like centuries ago, and for this reason, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. Packed with beautiful colonial architecture, multi-coloured churches and decaying facades, the town has remained perfectly preserved. What’s more, many of the town's historic buildings are still being used for their original purposes, including churches, palatial homes, schools, and the city hall. Hidden and off the beaten track, Mompox, is not easy to reach and most trips involve long rural drives and a local ferry across the river.
Located south of Cali and nestled in the Andes Mountains is the small colonial city of Popayan. Brimming with colonial architecture, chalk-white facades and leafy plazas, the historic downtown is best explored on foot. Sprinkled with churches and cathedrals, Popayan is one of the most important religious destinations in Colombia and its Easter processions are world-famous and one of the oldest traditional celebrations across Colombia, so much so it has been named as having an intangible UNESCO heritage.
For more inspiration take a look at some of our itineraries below that feature the colonial towns above:
Colombia: Off the Beaten Track
Discover a land of contrasts on this itinerary to Colombia. Packed with the country's best archaeological sites, finest colonial architecture and most spectacular scenery, this fascinating journey will lead you to Colombia's best kept secrets.
Discover Colombia and its incredible diversity on this trip. From the emerald-green hilltops of the coffee triangle, to the colonial gem of Cartagena and the wild and beautiful beaches of Tayrona, this itinerary is packed with highlights and adventure.