By Briana Seftel
Colombia is a country of miraculously preserved colonial towns, from Mompox on the Caribbean coast to El Retiro in Antioquia. Get behind the wheel and explore these eight gems!
Often the stopover point to Cocora Valley and Los Nevados National Park, Salento is much more than a place to pass though. The charming little town in the Quindio department is becoming an increasingly popular town for its original bahareque architecture, quaint streets and proximity to the stunning Valle de Cocora. The main drag is Calle Real (Carrera 6) full of local craftsmen, restaurants, bars, and internet cafes. Stop at a restaurant and dine on freshwater trout from the valley!
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in all Colombia. Settled in 1572, the town has managed to retain its history and charm even after hundreds of years. Along with its mild, agreeable climate Villa de Leyva has long been a popular destination for Colombians and foreigners. The center of town is Plaza Mayor, which happens the largest square in Colombia. Wander through cobbled roads and pass whitewashed buildings to really soak up its history.
Jardin has everything you would want in a typical Colombian pueblo: striking colonial architecture, a friendly atmosphere, great coffee, and a backdrop of lush green mountains. Take a seat in one of the brightly painted chairs in the town square and enjoy un tinto (black coffee). The town’s main attraction is La Cueva del Esplendor (The Cave of Splendor), a waterfall within a cave that can be reached on foot or by horse.
Guatapé is a bustling holiday town located about two hours from Medellin. On the weekends the town fills up with tourists and expats, but during the weekday it returns to its peaceful state. Guatape is famous for the fresco-like adornment of its traditional houses. Brightly painted depictions of people, animals and shapes cover the lower half of many houses. Outside of town, Guatape is famous for Piedra de Penol, a giant granite rock that can be climbed.
Widely hailed as the most beautiful colonial town in all Colombia, Barichara certainly has a lot to live up to. Set on a high plateau, the town in the Santander department stuns with its whitewashed buildings, cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs.
Cartagena may get all the spotlight, but this town on the Caribbean coast is well worth a visit. Situated on an island in the Magdalena River, in the early days Mompox played an important role as a link to Colombia’s coast with the Andes. In 1810, the town became the first in the country to declare its independence from Spain. Visit the historic center, named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995.
Nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca or the “White City,” Popayan is famous for its chalk-white facades. Situated beneath towering mountains in the Valle de Pubenza, the town was founded in 1537 and became an important stopping point between Cartagena and Quito. In 2005, Popayan was declared by the UNESCO as the first city of gastronomy because of its variety and meaning to the intangible patrimony of Colombian culture.
Literally translating to "retirement," the small Antioquia town of El Retiro is one of the best kept secrets in all of Colombia. The small colonial town known for its woodworking is free from the hustle and bustle of nearby Medellin and is a wonderful little town to explore for the day. It is surrounded by countryside, making it a peaceful getaway.