Colombia’s full of surprises and most of them work in favour of fantastic family holidays whether you want Caribbean islands and beaches; great colonial cities; tropical jungle; Pacific coastline or climbing in the Andes.
Some rugged adventures are better for older kids and teenagers, but children of all ages are warmly welcome everywhere in this friendly South American country.
Direct flights from the UK to Bogota take roughly 11 hours. Bogota has daily flights to San Andres, Providencia, Cartagena and several other cities and regions. San Andres and Providencia are Colombia’s beautiful Caribbean islands, less than two hour’s flight from Bogota.
Cuidad Perdida ‘Lost City of the Tayrona’ is in the Sierra Nevada Santa Marta and the site is known as, Colombia’s Machu Picchu.
Nature and biodiversity
Colombia has 41 National Parks including: Las Hermosas in the Central Andes and Tayrona in the Caribbean.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
There are eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Columbia including Cartagena’s Walled City and the Coffee Landscape of the western Cordillera de los Andes.
Colombia has Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. The Caribbean’s best for beach resorts and the Pacific has most eco-tourism and outdoor adventure.
Where to go
Tayrona National Park
San Andrés & Providencia
Colombia’s lofty capital sits on the Sabana de Bogotá plateau, over 2500m above sea level. At first sight, all your pre-conceptions will be confirmed: it’s an enormous, sprawling city and, apart from the surrounding green hills, seems far from pretty. But if you’re with older kids, it’s worth digging a little deeper – even just for a day or two.
Visit La Candeleria, the city’s historic district, for colourful colonial architecture and a remarkable collection of 17th century churches.
Spend an evening on Plaza Bolívar: traffic’s stopped from 5pm and the streets and squares are filled with musicians, performers and food stalls – everything from llamas to locals will amaze kids.
Don’t miss: Museo Nacional de Colombia; the 360˚ view from Mirador Torre Colpatria; the Zipiquirá Salt Cathedral.
If you only visit one Colombian city, it should be Cartagena. Often said to be the loveliest city in the Caribbean, the walled old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its 11km long ramparts are fun to walk (at least a little of) with kids.
Bocagrande, south of the walled city, has a wide choice of family holiday accommodation.
Make a point of touring the city’s endless plazas, they’re where to see city life at its most local and lively.
Explore the historic quarter on foot, the maze of cobbled streets and colonial buildings is Cartagena’s biggest attraction.
Don’t miss: the Palacio de la Inquisición; Plaza de los Coches and Portal de los Dulces; the 17th century cathedral on Plaza de Bolívar; Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
For Caribbean beaches, catch a boat to the Islas Rosario for a day. This archipelago of 27 tiny islands lies just south of Cartagena Bay. Playa Blanca on Barú is good for families. Several islands also have eco-lodges and small, independent hotels.
Cartagena has temperatures averaging 30˚ year-round and is driest from November to late April.
Santa Marta’s the oldest city in Colombia and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, but stunning beaches rather than colonial heritage are the attraction here. If visitors aren’t descending to laze around on the white, white sands, they’re more than likely heading in the direction of Parque Nacional Tayrona or trekking to Ciudad Perdida in Sierra Nevada Santa Marta.
The Playa Blanca area to the west of the city centre’s good for resort hotels and family holiday apartments.
The best beaches by far are in Tayrona National Park, 45 minutes east of Santa Marta.
Santa Marta has typically Caribbean weather with average temperatures of 30˚ year-round, most sunshine from November to March and highest rainfall in July and August.
Tayrona National Park
Over 150km² of tropical jungle, white sand beaches and protected marine reserve, Tayrona National Park is Colombia’s best known conservation area and one of the most popular places to visit in the country.
Tayrona’s eastern coastline is the park’s most accessible area and the best beaches are: Cabo San Juan de Guia; La Piscina for swimming and snorkelling; and Arrecifes for sunbathing (strong currents make swimming here dangerous).
There are several campsites around the main beaches and a few basic holiday lodges.
Visit the ancient Tayrona village of Pueblito; a well-marked hike from Cabo San Juan.
San Andrés & Providencia
Closer to Costa Rica than Colombia, the tiny Caribbean islands of San Andrés and Providencia have a unique culture, Raizal, and the main language spoken is Creole-English. Both are popular with visitors for gorgeous white sand beaches and outstanding coral reef diving and snorkelling.
Direct daily flights from Bogota to San Andrés take two hours and the island’s coast is trimmed with beach resorts and hotels.
Providencia is smaller, more traditional and sits on the world’s third largest coral reef.
San Andrés is popular for duty-free shopping, boat trips to iguana-rich Johnny Cay, fresh seafood, snorkelling and round-island cycling.
Temperatures between 27 and 30˚ year-round, sunny and dry from November to April.
What to do
Ciudad Perdida Trek, Santa Marta
Colombia’s ‘Lost City of Teyuna’ high in the Sierra Nevada Santa Marta dates back to 500AD but was only discovered in the 1970s. Sometimes compared to Machu Picchu, it’s far less travelled and the five day guided trek is a tremendous experience for kids of 12 and over.
Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral, Bogota
Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral is a church 180m underground created out of a former salt mine. One of the most visited sites in Colombia, there’s a climbing wall for kids and Zipaquirá town’s where Gabriel Garcia Márquez went to school.
Utría National Natural Park, Choco
The Coqui communities in Choco region on Colombia’s Pacific coast organise guide eco-tours in this unspoiled area. Utria National Park is one of the country’s top sites for whale spotting between July and November.
Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta
The most popular national park in Colombia is famous for its jungle edged beaches, wildlife, trekking and horse riding tours.
Mamancanna Reserve, Santa Marta
Tree canopy ziplining, rock climbing, paragliding and trekking through 900ha dry tropical forest in northern Colombia.
Mangrove Forest Canoeing, Choco
Have a sailing adventure in traditional dug out canoes from the village of Jovi through the mangrove-rich rivers of the Choco region.
Guatavita Lagoon, Bogota
This stunning lagoon set in the Andes is where the gilded legend of Eldorado originates. Take a guided tour for the full story.
Johnny Cay, San Andres
The tiny sand cay just off the coast of San Andres has some of the archipelago’s loveliest beaches, great beach music, resident iguanas and idyllic picnic spots.
Monserrate Cable Car, Bogota
The Colombian capital’s dominant peak, Monserrate, has an unrivalled view of the city from the top and an impressive cable car ride to get there.
Taironaka Tour, Santa Marta
Tayrona village constructed to house archaeological discoveries relating to Colombia’s indigenous people and their ancient culture, customs and way of life.
Educational value for kids
Take a walking tour of Cartagena Old Town and the city ramparts, engaging local guides bring the colonial history to life for kids.
See humpback whales migrating along Colombia’s Pacific coast between July and November.
Go horse riding in Tayrona Park’s tropical jungle, the wildlife is astonishing.
Visit Bogota’s grand Bolívar Square in the evening after 5pm to hear traditional music and eat local street food.
Snorkel or dive off the coast of Providencia, the third largest coral reef in the world is an incredible, marine rich underwater world.
Museo Botero in Bogota has South America’s largest collection of modern and Impressionist art.
Visit the Museo Nacional de Colombia in Bogota for a perspective on the country’s complex and tumultuous cultural and political history.
Getting around with kids in Colombia
Public transport and official taxis are the best way to get about cities like Bogota, Cartagena and Santa Marta. Self-drive in Colombia isn’t a good idea with kids: the roads in remote regions can be poor or difficult to navigate and there are high levels of crime in some areas.
Flights from Bogota to most other cities and the Caribbean coast and islands are inexpensive and frequent. There are also several tour operators specialising in family holidays and most include transfers and transport in packages.