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Colombia is a patchwork of varied cultures, natural environments, and delicious gastronomy. Such diversity stems from a rich national history, of which the most prominent modern influence is the colonial period that last lasted three centuries. Cartagena is regarded by many as the colonial queen, yet it is the smaller, sometimes lesser-known, colonial pueblos (towns) of Colombia that have best retained the quaint architecture of a past era.
This list will outline five of our favorite colonial towns, which all make part of the 17 heritage towns of Colombia. We’ll show you the distinct activities to do and attractions to see in each location so that you too can go visit these quaint towns that make for perfect day trips from many of the bigger Colombian cities.
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is probably the most popular colonial town on the list, having a variety of attractions that are possible to do both in the town itself and in its surroundings. The town is situated just a four hours ride from Bogotá and merits at least one night, if not more, to see all the amazing activities it has to offer.
One of the town’s main tourists draws is, of course, the famed Casa Terracotta, classified as the biggest piece of pottery in the world. The house is decked wall to wall in intricate details that give it an aura of a luxury mansion. Not only can you venture throughout the winding halls of the house, but you’re also able to mount and traverse the roof of the structure, with some amazing views of the surrounding arid and mountainous backdrop.
Perched atop of the mountain range towering over the town is a stunning lookout that offers the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the rolling plains in the horizon beyond the city.
Outside the town, there are companies running a whole range of activities, varying from more adventurous to tame. These include ropes courses, quad biking in the desert, and horseback riding. It’s easy to book any of them from the town itself.
Tucked away in the walls of the town you’ll find courtyards which are now lined with artisanal cafés, restaurants, handicraft stores, and refreshing bars. There are even a couple of chocolate museums with accompanying stores decked in decadent chocolatey treats, chocoholics rejoice. You’ll never be short of new foods and accessories to try out.
The town also offers a range of cultural activities Sol Música, a small town offering an immersive cultural experience that will teach you about ancestral territory and history of one of the most prominent peoples of the pre-Hispanic era.
Santa Cruz de Mompox
Although retaining the classic whitewashed colonial style, Mompox is characterized by brightly colored buildings popping out with vibrancy under the warm Colombian sun. The Santa Barbara Church is the best example of these brightly colored structures sprawled out around the village. The church is an exuberant shade of yellow, looking like something straight out of a cartoon, Simpsons anyone? The Church of Immaculate conception shares this popping appearance, with more subtle use of the distinct yellow paint.
The cemetery of Mompox is one of the most beautiful and important in the entire nation. The cemetery is loaded with historical significance and cultural heritage and is guarded by a pack of cats, so those with allergies beware! To find out more about it, check out our blog on Colombia’s most important cemeteries.
Mompox is closest to Cartagena, at a 6-hour trip from the highly popular Caribbean city, and makes for a great two- or three-day adventure on your travels. The surrounding nature offers a great way to connect with some exotic wildlife and explore the biodiversity of the Magdalena River, Colombia’s longest stretching river.
Guatapé is by far the brightest of the towns on the list. The streets are quite literally alive with color, looking like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. The village is also easy to reach from Medellín and a fantastic way to escape the rush of the city.
The colors of Guatapé shine under the warm climate and make the town extremely photogenic. Make sure to take some moments away from snapping to soak in the ambiance of the town and enjoy its smaller antique shops and eateries.
Of course, a trip to Guatapé wouldn’t be complete without visiting the nearby El Peñol, the giant rock famous for its vertical 740-step incline to the top. Although this mini trek takes a bit of effort, the views of the surrounding artificial lakes are well worth the effort and a wonderful reward for your efforts!
If the view of the lakes inspires a little day of boating, then you’re in luck! There are many boating tours that take you skirting out on the lakes to get a better view and deeper understanding of these man-made wonders. This experience will also give you an idea of the beauty of the lush surrounds of the town itself, which serve as perfect locations for some great hikes.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Santa Fe is another great day trip from Medellín, being under two-hours’ drive from the current Antioquian capital. Santa Fe was once the capital of the region, until the year of 1826 when the Government of Antioquia relocated to the now renowned city of Medellín. Due to the conservation of its intricate colonial architecture, the city has been included in the national heritage towns of Colombia.
Upon entering the town, you’ll quickly realize why it is so beloved. The pueblo is home to a myriad of churches, each with a distinct interpretation of the old colonial architectural charm. Lining these architectural wonders are the classic cobbled streets and brushed white houses, glistening in the warm Antioquian sun.
The surrounding landscapes of Santa Fe are incredible in themselves and worth some exploration, should you get the chance. The contrasts of the Andean desert plains and the lush jungles of the nearby Antioquian coffee region are a spectacular sight. One notable point of interest is the Puente de Occidente, Colombia’s oldest suspension bridge and also a national monument. The bridge is just a few kilometers out of the city and thus an easy sight to add to your list of things to do in Santa Fe.
You can marry a visit to a local coffee farm with your trip through Santa Fe, and make the most of the surrounding natural views.
Barichara is famed for being known as the most beautiful town in all of Colombia, and for good reason. The streets of Barichara stretch over the hills of the town, with the stark white buildings lining the roads like hedges to a royal garden maze. The city was walled in the times of its construction, leaving the town remaining like a winding labyrinth, enclosing this pocket of architectural beauty in the hills of Santander.
The Church of Immaculate Conception of Barichara is one of the most imposing and stunning, situated at the top of a wide amber staircase that leads you up to the grand open entrance of the sandstone church. Chipped into the material around the grand entrance are figures of spirits and religious figures, with delicate clarity and artistry.
Just up the street from the church sits the town’s cemetery up on top of one of the many hills on which the community is built. The base of the cemetery is lined with slight patches of grass peeking through the arid, red dust ground. This cemetery is by far one of the most stunning, maybe falling just behind its more renowned relative in Mompox.
Go a bit further up the hill beyond the cemetery lies a breathtaking mirador (lookout), perched high above a stretching valley. Grab an ice-cream or a cold beverage at the small shop situated in a quaint wooden cottage and soak in the calming views of this natural gem. Just to the left of the shop you’ll find an abandoned amphitheater where you can sit and enjoy the view with some shade, and maybe the company of a couple of goats!
The main square is lined with cute little panaderias (bakeries) and terrace-lined cafés and restaurants so that you can soak in the sights, the sun and a snack all at once.
A little bonus to a visit to Barichara is the close proximity of another colonial town named San Gil, which is just under an hour’s trip from Barichara. San Gil has a whole range of unmissable and aesthetically wonderful sights to see, but is most famous for its myriad of adventure sports, including rafting along the River Fonce, paragliding and even bungy jumping if you’re feeling brave!
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information about these heritage towns and experiences we can offer you!
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