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Wind back the clock in Colombia’s enchanting colonial towns

Secondary Categories: ColombiaFeature

With their cobbled streets, colorful buildings, and well-preserved architecture, these colonial gems offer a mesmerizing glimpse into Colombia's complicated past. Join us as we delve deeper into the history and charm of five of Colombia's most captivating colonial towns… 

Vivacious Villa de Leyva 

Panoramic View of Villa de Leyva Main Square in Boyacá, Colombia

Perched on the Andean highlands, Villa de Leyva holds a special place in Colombia's history. Founded in 1572, its immense main square, Plaza Mayor, is one of the largest in South America. Encircled by colonial-style buildings – think whitewashed walls and wooden doors and windows – and lined with majestic trees, Plaza Mayor is the beating heart of Villa de Leyva.  

Visitors can explore the town's historic sites, such as the Casa Museo Antonio Nariño, a beautifully preserved colonial house that was once the residence of a renowned Colombian independence leader. Another must-visit is the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo, a monastery with a tranquil cloister and striking architecture. But the best part is simply getting lost among the cobblestone streets and discovering quaint shops, art galleries, and delightful cafes as you go. 

Brilliant Barichara 

Charming street of Barichara, Colombia

Situated in the Santander region, to the north of Colombia’s capital Bogota, Barichara is a tiny colonial town renowned for its stunning views and well-preserved architecture. Declared a national monument of Colombia, Barichara's architectural beauty lies in its immaculate whitewashed facades, stone buildings, and red-tiled roofs.  

A leisurely stroll along the town's cobbled streets reveals enchanting sights at every turn. Visit the 18th-century Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, an architectural gem that showcases the town's rich colonial heritage. Take a moment to admire the Parque Nacional, a peaceful park adorned with lush greenery and intricate sculptures. Barichara's peaceful ambiance, breathtaking landscapes, and charming colonial architecture make it a favorite destination for artists, writers, and nature lovers alike. It’s also one of the places the makers of Encanto visited on the pre-production fact-finding mission. 

Gorgeous Guatapé 

Aerial drone close up view of Peñon of Guatapé in Colombia

Located just outside Medellin, the vibrant town of Guatapé is famous for its vividly painted buildings and intricate bas-reliefs known as "zocalos." Every corner of Guatapé tells a story through its colorful facades, depicting local culture, history, and folklore. The town's frankly bizarre main attraction is the 220-meter-high monolithic rock, El Peñol. Climbing the 742-step staircase carved into the rock rewards visitors with panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and rolling hills. Guatapé's lively central square, adorned with a magnificent church, is the perfect spot to soak in the lively atmosphere and enjoy local delicacies, like freshly caught trout. The town's vibrant colors, picturesque lakeside setting, and warm hospitality make it one of those places you’ll never want to leave. 

Splendid Salento

Aerial view of Salento town in Quindio, Colombia coffee region

Nestled in the heart of Colombia's coffee region, Salento exudes a unique charm. So unique, in fact, that the film . The town's colorful buildings, adorned with intricate balconies, reflect its rich heritage. Stroll through Salento's vibrant streets, lined with artisanal shops and cafes, and snap selfies in front of the colonial houses that have been converted into boutique hotels and restaurants.  

No visit to Salento is complete without exploring the awe-inspiring Cocora Valley, home to the towering wax palm trees, Colombia's national tree. Embark on a hike through the cloud forests, traverse the wooden suspension bridge, and bask in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Horseback riding through the rolling hills and sampling locally grown coffee are other popular activities in Salento. 

Captivating Cartagena 

Street view of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

We’ve saved the best for last. No list of Colombia's colonial towns would be complete without mentioning Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Latin America's most beautiful cities. Steeped in history, Cartagena's well-preserved colonial architecture, fortified walls, and narrow cobblestone streets evoke a sense of mystery and grandeur. The Old Town, also known as the Walled City, is the heart of Cartagena. Its vibrant streets boast colorful facades, elegant balconies overflowing with bougainvillea, and lively plazas filled with street performers and local vendors.  

Take a stroll along the historic walls, visit the iconic Clock Tower, and explore the charming squares such as Plaza de los Coches and Plaza Santo Domingo. Uncover the city's rich history by visiting the imposing Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress that offers panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. But it’s not all bougainvillea and beach sand: delve into the cultural heritage of Cartagena by visiting the Palacio de la Inquisición, a museum that showcases the dark past of the Spanish Inquisition. The fusion of history, culture, and Caribbean vibes makes Cartagena an unforgettable destination.  

As the Nobel-prize winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez said: “All of my books have loose threads of Cartagena in them. And, with time, when I have to call up memories, I always bring back an incident from Cartagena, a place in Cartagena, a character in Cartagena.” 

Colombia's colonial gems offer an immersive journey through the country's rich history and cultural heritage. See them for yourself on a cultural adventure like no other. First check out our most popular Colombia tours here. Then speak to a Destination Expert about crafting a bespoke itinerary that packs in the colonial charm. 

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