Colombia Natural Parks and Sanctuaries Travel Guide

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world —and the most biodiverse country per square meter—. This is a privilege not many countries have and Colombia understands how lucky it is for its natural richness.

In fact, it has a National System of Protected Areas (SINAP in Spanish) with a huge network of national parks and sanctuaries. SINAP is a program that protects 1.116 areas equivalent to 15% of the national territory. It includes all protected areas under public, private or community governance and under national, regional or local management.

The National Natural Parks System

Within the system, there is an entity in charge of managing the protected areas and implement the required policies and strategies to pursue the goal of nature conservation in the country.

It is called the National Natural Parks System and comprises 59 natural areas that represent over 14,200,000 hectares (+142,000 km2) of the national area (land and marine).

The Colombian cultural wealth is also present in the system, as 26 out of the 59 areas are inhabited by indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

 These protected areas are divided into 5 categories:

  • National Natural Park (PNN),
  • National Natural Reserve (RNN),
  • Unique Natural Area (ANU),
  • Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (SFF), and
  • Parkway (Vía Parque).

We will focus on defining the national parks and the sanctuaries.

  • National Natural Park (PNN): extension area whose ecosystems have not been substantially altered by human occupation or exploitation, that can have ecological self-regulation and whose plant and animal species, geomorphological complexes and historical or cultural manifestations are of scientific, educational, aesthetic and recreational value.
  • Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (SFF): area dedicated to the preservation of wild animal and plant species or communities to conserve genetic resources of the national fauna and flora.

There are currently 23 stunning parks and sanctuaries you can visit, since they are open for ecotourism and offer several activities for a respectful interaction with nature.

Read on to know about the open national parks that shelter Colombia’s biodiversity!

Ecotourism in National Natural Parks

In Colombia you can find a variety of climates, landscapes, flora and fauna depending on the region you are traveling. There are 6 natural regions and each of them host several national natural parks that offer ecotourism possibilities.

This region comprises the islands and cays that belong to Colombia’s territory in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The most famous ones are San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina islands, El Rosario islands, Gorgona and Malpelo. In each of these islands, there is a protected area, due to the high diversity of fauna and flora that inhabit ecosystems such as colorful coral reefs and tropical rainforests.

Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Natural Park

Area 1,648 ha
Altitude 0 – 80 m.a.s.l
Temperature Warm weather 25°C (77°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP $19,000
Facilities Accommodation and restaurant services on Providencia and Santa Catalina islands.

The small Iron Wood Hill, surrounded by the McBean mangrove swamp, makes up the Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park.

It protects nothing but the second largest coral reef in the Caribbean, and this formation along with the reef lagoon in front of the mangrove produce in the sea an array of colors from deep blue to translucent aquamarine that gives it the name of “the sea of 7 colors”.

Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park

Area 120,000 ha
Altitude 0 m.a.s.l – 50 m deep
Temperature Warm weather,  27 – 30°C (80.6 – 86°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP $9,500
Facilities Accommodation in rooms, hammocks or camping zone, restaurant. Services provided by the community business Nativos Activos.

South of the walled city of Cartagena, this National Park lies and covers 4 islands and a large marine zone in the Caribbean Sea. What you can find here is the most extensive and diverse coral reef in the entire Colombian Caribbean continental coastline.

Colorful organisms give life to the ocean of crystal-clear water and white-sand beaches, as unique mangroves and sea grasses complement the landscape.

Notice: It is advised to be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the planned trip date and carry immunization records.

Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Area 2,667,907 ha
Altitude 0 – 330 m.a.s.l
Temperature Hot and humid weather 25°C (77°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee / day Entry fee / day Divers or instructor $116,000 – $216,000 / Vessels $65,000
Facilities Tour vessels offer accommodation, restaurant, scuba diving and necessary resources.

The Sanctuary was established in 1995 on the Malpelo island, which is about 500 kilometers west of the port of Buenaventura, and now it is the 9th largest protected marine area in the world as it was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2006.

It has 4 other national and international acknowledgments as an area of marine importance which make it a literal “marine jewel”.

How to get there

Birds in colombia
Birds in colombia

From the Buenaventura port, it is a 36-hour trip by boat. Currently, there are only 3 authorized tour operators that offer the tour in specific dates, so you should prepare your visit beforehand.

You can also get to Malpelo from ports in Costa Rica and Panama.

Activities

Diving is one of the preferred activities in Malpelo, but it requires a duly certified lead diver with knowledge of the area for each 6 people and all divers must have an advanced diver certification, or two-star certification, with at least 35 recorded dives, plus the minimal safety equipment.

It is also a place for research and environmental education since there are species such as the hammerhead shark, the devil ray, the masked booby, the alligator, the land crab and the gecko.

Photographs and videos with commercial purposes can be taken only with a previous permit.

Gorgona National Natural Park

Area 61,687 ha
Altitude 0 – 330 m.a.s.l
Temperature Hot and humid weather 25 – 30°C (77 – 86°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old $53,000
Facilities Accommodation, restaurant and transportation

It is well-known for its biological richness in an area of more than 600 km2 that is made up by 2 islands: Gorgona and Gorgonilla. It has two of the most biodiverse tropical ecosystems: coral reefs and the tropical rainforest.

What today is a major nature tourism destination used to be a maximum-security prison built in the 1960s that operated for 25 years. Some call it “Science Island” for all the information it has given researchers to understand the ecosystems and effectively manage the protected area.

How to get there

  • By plane: 4-hour connection flight from Bogota to Guapi. TAC and SATENA operators offer a daily round trip from Cali and Tumaco respectively.
  • By boat: You can book a boat service from Guapi that will take you to the island in an hour and a half up to 2 hours. Otherwise, from the Buenaventura port, there are speedboat services that offer round trips for groups of over 10 people.

Activities

Gorgona offers the public activities to enjoy during the day such as hiking, bird watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, fauna, flora and cultural heritage observation and serves as a place for scientific research and environmental education as well.

Some of the species that can be found include snakes, frigate birds, pelicans, different sea fish, dolphins, marine lions and the humpback whales that come each year to give birth.

Find more information here.

Pacific Region

Utría National Natural Park

Area 54.300 ha
Altitude 0 – 1400 m.a.s.l
Temperature Temperature 23 – 30°C (73.4 – 86°F) / Hot and humid weather
Status Partialy closed – only day-pass activities
Entry fee
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old $55,000
Facilities Tour guide and environmental interpretation

Utría Ensenada is located on the northern Pacific coast of Colombia, in the department of Chocó.

To the south, the visitor will observe the mountains covered with lush tropical rainforest that ends directly at the sea.

The park receives the arrival of migratory species such as sea turtles, birds and whales and the ideal site for spawning fish such as the Ensenada marlin (Tylosurus acus pacificus).

How to get there

  • By plane: You can reach Bahía Solano or Nuquí by plane from Bogotá or Cali (with transit in Medellín).
  • By boat: from Buenaventura you can get to Bahía Solano, Nuquí or El Valle by coastal boat, which takes 26 hours; from there it takes between 30 and 50 minutes to get to the park by boat. Maritime transportation must be arranged in advance with tour operators in the area, and the price varies according to the number of passengers on the boat.
  • By land: it is possible from Bahia Solano, arriving first to the village of El Valle by bus for 40 minutes, and from there on foot to the park through a tropical rainforest trail, in a journey of approximately 3 hours.

Activities

Utría offers magnificent beaches and the relaxing panorama of a deep blue sea. Those who are attracted to more exciting activities can enjoy hiking, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Farallones de Cali National Natural Park

Area 196,429 ha
Altitude 200 – 4,100 m.a.s.l
Temperature Cold to Warm / 5 – 25°C  (41 – 77°F)
Status Open to the public with controlled access
Entry fee
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old $27,500
Facilities Tour guide and environmental interpretation

During sunny days in Cali, you can see the peaks of Farallones de Cali, the youngest rock formations on the Western Range of the Andes. They rise from the plains separating the basins of the Pacific and the Cauca river, forming the greatest protected area in the department of Valle del Cauca.

This place not only houses over 540 bird species and the spring of 30 rivers that supply Southwestern Colombia, but it is a diversity reservoir of unique and threatened species in the country and the world.

How to get there

It is southwest of Valle del Cauca and comprises the towns of Cali, Jamundí, Dagua and Buenaventura.

Activities

There are 3 hiking trails for you to discover the natural beauty of this national park: Burbujas, Pico de Loro and Peñas Blancas from low to medium-high difficulty.

Also, you can enjoy the natural pools that go from 80 cm to 6 m deep in Cañón del Anchicayá, an activity that requires previous reservation.

Wildlife lovers can do observation tours where they can find the spectacled bear, 6 feline species (puma, panther, ocelot among them), different primates, snakes, amphibians such as the Lehmann’s poison frog and birds such as the long-wattled umbrellabird, multicolored tanager,  yellow-green tanager, Cauca guan and Andean cock-of-the-rock.

Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

Area 47,094 ha
Altitude 0 – 20 m.a.s.l
Temperature Tropical hot weather / 18 – 25°C (64.4 – 77°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee No fee
Facilities Accomodation and food services are offered in nearby villages.

This park located in the middle of the Colombian Pacific coast, belonging to the municipality of Buenaventura, in Valle del Cauca department.

It is also a preferred destination to watch the spectacular arrival of the humpback whales each year, when young natives from the local communities work as environmental interpreters. A huge amount of fauna and flora species are found here too.

Andean Region

The Andes mountain chain crosses the center of the country, creating unique ecosystems for each height. This region has 8 National Natural Parks that you can visit!

It is the most populous region of Colombia and contains the majority of the country’s urban centers.

El Cocuy National Natural Park

Area  306,000 ha
Altitude 600 – 5330 m.a.s.l
Temperature Cold to temperate weather / 0 – 20°C (32 – 68°F)
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Entry fee $73,500
Facilities Food service in the homes of farmers and local guides

The Sierra Nevada de Güicán, El Cocuy and Chita is the largest glacier mass in Colombia, with more than 25 snow and ice peaks within two mountain ranges of approximately 30 kilometers long and 4 wide.

Here you can find moorlands and a strip of Andean and basal forest that host a wide range of fauna and flora. This is also a sacred place to the Uwa indigenous community and for this reason the area of the indigenous reserve (eastern side of the park is closed to tourism).

The park rangers are committed to educate visitors about wildlife and its conservation.

How to get there

There are three land routes to access the tourist area on the western side of the park:

  • From Bogota: 440 km – approx. 11 hours following the route Tunja, Duitama, Santa Rosa, Cerinza, Belén, Susacón, until reaching Soatá. From there, you can follow the Tipacoque or the Boavita route that lead to El Cocuy or Güicán. From these towns, it takes between 1 and 2 hours to get to the main entrances of the park on unpaved roads, in regular condition, suitable only for campers and high vehicles.
  • From Bucaramanga: 8 to 12 hours. Get to the town of Málaga, then to Capitanejo, El Espino, Panqueba and finally El Cocuy or Güicán.
  • From Llanos Orientales: 10 to 12 hours by Yopal, Sogamoso, Duitama, Belén, Soatá and from there, El Cocuy or Güicán. Or 8 hours by Tame, Sácama, Chita until El Cocuy.

Notice

  • Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the protected area.
  • To visit the Park you must make a reservation and pay one month in advance.
  • It is prohibited visiting the park by horse since they damage frailejones (endemic plant) and pollute water.
  • Minors under 10 years old cannot enter.

Activities

Hiking and climbing are the major attractions for expert mountaineers and there they can do rock and snow climbing as well as high mountain trekking.

The park has several trails and camping zones that allow visitors to observe condors, eagles, the Andean cock-of-the-rock, the helmeted curassow, the white-winged parakeet, the Apolinar’s wren, cougars, white-tailed deer, Andean bear, white-faced Capuchin and peccaries.

Los Nevados National Natural Park

Area 58,300 ha
Altitude 2600 – 5321 m.a.s.l
Temperature Cold weather  / 3 – 14°C (37.4 – 57.2°F)
Status Open to the public with restrictions
Entry fee

Vehicle fee

Entry fee COP$46,500 (includes entrance, guide and insurance)

Car COP$6,500 – Van COP$19,000 – Minibus COP$38,000

Facilities Cafe and toilets in the Northern sector / Accommodation, camping zone and auditorium available depending on the volcanic activity.

Los Nevados is located in Colombia’s coffee-growing region, in the northern volcanic complex formed by the glaciers Nevado del Ruiz, Nevado de Santa Isabel, Nevado del Tolima, and the paramillos of Cisne, Santa Rosa and Quindío.

Its rivers supply water to the farmlands and aqueducts of cities, towns and villages in the center of the country. Coming to this park, you realize why it is so important to protect its ecosystems (páramo and superpáramo, high Andean wetlands and Andean forests) for the ecological balance.

How to get there

There is access from the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Tolima. You can download an electronic or printable map here.

Notice

  • People under 6 and over 70 years old, with heart or respiratory conditions, pregnant, pets, motorcycles and buses cannot enter the Park.
  • Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the protected area.
  • You must be accompanied by an official guide of the National Park to enter the protected area.
  • Currently, entrance through Brisas sector (northern sector of the Park) is only allowed to Valle de las Tumbas since the Servicio Geológico Colombiano has declared Nevado del Ruiz Volcano’s activity at Yellow Alert Level (level III), so it is highly recommended that travelers consult the entity’s web page before their visit.
  • Plan your visit, tour operators take 3 working days to complete the reservation process.
  • There are some medical recommendations to consider due to high altitudes and cold weather.

Activities

There are about 20 trails with various difficulties for hiking and trekking while enjoying incredible panoramic views and crystalline bathing sites with sights of species such as cougar, northern pudú, lowland paca and mountain tapir, Andean condor, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Rufous-fronted Parakeet, Ruddy duck and Bearded Helmetcrest hummingbird.

Isla de la Corota Flora Sanctuary

Area 16 ha
Altitude 2,784 – 2,820 m.a.s.l
Temperature 11°C (51.8°F) / Cold weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$10,500
Facilities Accommodation and food services are offered in Laguna de la Cocha shore or nearby villages.

This oval-shaped island Isla de la Corota is in the north of Laguna de la Cocha, an internationally important wetland according to the Ramsar Convention.

Although being the smallest protected area in the country, it belongs to the important ecological system of the lake.

You will find it is surrounded by a strip of totora (large Andean reeds) and species such as sparrows, wrens, thrushes, bats and wild mice or over 340 flora species. It is also of spiritual value for indigenous communities, traditional doctors from Putumayo and Catholics.

Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Area 6,923 ha
Altitude 2,400 – 3,800 m.a.s.l
Temperature 4 – 12°C (39.2 – 53.6°F) / Cold weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee

Vehicle fee

Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old $55,000
Car COP$14,500 Van COP$37,000 Bus $78,000 Motorcycle COP$10,000
Facilities Auditorium, parking zone, trail guide

Iguaque Sanctuary has a vital function, as it is a source of water for nearby towns with its 7 glacier lagoons.

There, you will find the Sacred Lagoon of Iguaque, the cradle of humanity according to Muisca mythology! Legend has it that visiting this place helps cleansing the soul and purifying the spirit.

Your spiritual pilgrimage will be accompanied by mammals such as tiger cat, white-tailed deer, weasel and ring-tailed coati, and birds such as the Andean guan, typical of Andean forests, dove, band-winged nightjar, Andean toucanet, woodpecker and hummingbird.

Notice

Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the protected area.

Otún Quimbaya Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Area 489 ha
Altitude 1750 – 2276 m.a.s.l
Temperature 16°C (60°F) / Cold temperate weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old $13,000
Facilities Accommodation and food services provided by Asociación Comunitaria Yarumo Blanco.

Forests grow in 90% of the Otún Quimbaya Sanctuary, located to the west of the Central Andes mountain range in the Risaralda department.

Its beauty and biodiversity, trait of the coffee region, make this a great ecotourism destination. Plus, it is connected to other important conservation spots such as Los Nevados National Natural Park, Ucumarí Regional Natural Park and the Campoalegre Soil Conservation District through the conservation corridor called upper basin of the Otún river.

Here you can enjoy several hiking trails to observe wildlife.

Galeras Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Area 8,240 ha
Altitude 1,950 – 4,276 m.a.s.l
Temperature 3 – 13°C (37.4 – 55.4°F) / Cold to temperate weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$10,500
Facilities No accommodation or restaurant services. These facilities can be found in Telpis sector and the Civil Society Nature Reserves adjacent to the Sanctuary.

Galeras Sanctuary is a special destination in Nariño department, southwest of Colombia. The Galeras volcano is one of the most actives on the continent!

Since great part of the sanctuary is situated in an area of high volcanic threat, only Telpis Sector is open for tourism. Touring the páramo, Andean and high Andean forest ecosystems, you will find a varied fauna and flora, for example, 13 species of hummingbird.

Puracé National Natural Park

Area 83,000 ha
Altitude 2,500 – 5,000 m.a.s.l
Temperature 3 – 18°C (37.4 – 64.4°F) / Cold weather
Status Open to the public, managed directly by the Puracé indigenous corporation
Entry fee

Vehicle fee

Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$27,500
Car COP$11,500 Van COP$28,500 Bus $53,000 Motorcycle COP$5,500
Facilities Accommodation and restaurant.

This ancestral territory and indigenous reserve, whose name means “fire mountain” in Quechua, is a volcanic zone in the Central Andes range with an essential function: it is the cradle of the main rivers of Colombia.

The Magdalena, Cauca, Patía and Caquetá rivers originate in Puraé along with 30 lagoons with clear water and several sulfur springs.

The Coconucos range has 11 volcanoes including Pan de Azúcar, Coconuco and Puracé, the only active one. This incredible landscape is embellished by the mighty Andean Condor, who only is seen by those who perform a ritual in a sacred rock to ask permission, or so they say.

Hot springs and wildlife observation are other attractions of the park.

Cueva de los Guácharos National Natural Park

Area 7,134 ha
Altitude 1,630 – 2,850 m.a.s.l
Temperature 16°C (60°F) / Cold temperate weather
Status Temporarily closed to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$51,500
Facilities Accommodation, camping zone, restaurant, environmental interpretation center.

Guácharo birds inhabit the southwest region of Colombia, staying in caves during the day and going out at night in search of food.

This area is named after these animals was the first declared national park of Colombia in 1960. As an Andean – Amazon transition ecosystem, it hosts great biodiversity, serves as transitory shelter for many migratory bids and as water producer and regulator.

Notice: Currently, Cueva de los Guácharos National Natural Park is closed to the public, check the web page or speak with an agent to consult its status when you visit Colombia.

Caribbean Region

On the north coast of Colombia, it borders the Caribbean sea and it consists of a continental plain and some island territories.

8 departments and 193 towns belong to this region, which accounts for 12% of the national territory.

The flat horizon gets disrupted by the imposing Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serranía de Perijá, bringing biological and ecosystemic diversity.

Most foreign tourists visit the Caribbean coast of Colombia, known for its luxury hotels, beautiful beaches with aquamarine water and joyful people.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park

Area 383,000 ha
Altitude 0 – 5775 m.a.s.l
Temperature 0 – 28°C (32 – 82.4°F) / Freezing to warm weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$
Facilities Accommodation: hammocks in Teyuna – Ciudad Perdida sector, cabins with kitchen, toilets and social areas in Estación Experimental San Lorenzo (currently closed due to maintenance)

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is located in an ancestral territory that was a major indigenous civilization, Tayrona, whose descendants belong to the Kankuamo, Kogui, Wiwa and Arhuaco ethnicities and still live there.

The landscape is stunning: just 42 km from the deep blue Caribbean sea, this mighty mountain rises until reaching a height of 5,775 m in Bolívar and Colón, its highest snow-capped peaks. It is separate from the Andes mountain range and is considered the highest coastal mountain in the world.

The mountain formation was declared Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1979, due to its ecosystemic diversity and cultural wealth.

How to get there

Entrance to Sierra Nevada is in Estación Experimental San Lorenzo, outside the protected area, 3 hours from Santa Marta. From this city, take a 42 km road to the village of Minca, then to El Campano and Bellavista. The first 25 km are paved, but the remaining road requires an off-road vehicle.

Notice

  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever.
  • Entrance to the high zones of the Sierra in the route to Nevados is forbidden, by request of the Tayrona Indigenous Confederation (CIT).

Activities

  • There is a sacred area for the indigenous called Teyuna or “Lost City” where access is restricted but it offers a 5 day trekking route (3 going up and 2 coming down) with options for accommodation, starting from the village of El Mamey. For more info, visit here.
  • In San Lorenzo area, you can enjoy a less difficult hiking trail of 1.5 hours that takes you to Quebrada San Lorenzo, a 15-meter cascade full of wildlife in a Sub-Andean forest.
  • Birders, the Sierra has Important Areas for Bird Conservation (AICAS) in different zones of the park where the roadside hawk, the condor, the Santa Marta parakeet and the blue-billed curassow can be observed.
  • Wildlife includes land mammals such as the jaguar, the paramo deer and the danta or tapir. Here are 44 Colombian animal endemic species and 126 plant endemic species, plus 49 threatened species.
  • One of the sites of archaeological and cultural interest is the Teyuna Archaeological Park (Lost City), the most important historical and architectural find in Colombia, which is about 1,700 m.a.s.l. in the Buritaca river’s basin.

Tayrona National Natural Park

Area 15,000 ha
Altitude 0 – 900 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Tropical hot weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee

Vehicle fee

Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old: COP$53,500 Low season / COP$63,500 High season

Car COP$14,500 Van COP$37,000 Bus $78,000 Motorcycle COP$10,000

Facilities Accommodation: hammocks, camping zone, eco-lodge; restaurant; auditorium; parking zone; Wi-Fi (Cañaveral); certified beaches.

Tayrona is a place where rest and contemplation are the leading principles. Here is where the foothills of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta merge with the crystalline Caribbean sea forming gorgeous bays and coves with white sand beaches surrounded different ecosystems. Ruins of the Tayrona civilization can be also found here.

How to get there

Main entrance to Tayrona is located 32 km from Santa Marta in the direction of Riohacha and is called El Zaíno, trip lasts about 45 minutes in a private vehicle. From this entrance you can get to Cañaveral and Pueblito.

The other entrance is Palangana, on kilometer 5 of the main highway of Riohacha “Troncal del Caribe” and it takes you to Neguanje and Playa del Muerto, which are areas only for day visits.

Notice

  • Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the protected area.
  • #BreatheTayrona – During January/February, the Tayrona Park closes its doors for allowing the restoration of its ecosystems, by the request of the indigenous communities in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
  • The park has a daily capacity of 6,900 tourists, so make your you make your reservations in advance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever.

Activities

  • In Tayrona, white beaches with crystal water surrounded by mangrove swamps, bushes and forests are one of the best attractions of the zone.
  • For those who are more adventurous, snorkeling and diving are available too. The areas for scuba diving are Isla Aguja and Granate, this activity is managed by the diving schools of the village of Taganga. You can snorkel in Neguanje, in front of Playa del Muerto, or in the Tayrona natural pool.
  • There are 4 hiking trails that go from low to high difficulty and from 1 to 4 hours.
  • Birdwatching is one of the best activities, since you can spot the white eagle, paujil, Tayrona bird or pobre toro, guacharaca, king vulture and royal flycatcher.
  • Other animals that can be observed here are the howler monkey, titi monkey, deer, ocelot and the jaguar, reptiles such as the blue poison dart frog, iguanas and the aguja caimán. Local flora includes evergreen trees, moss, bromeliads, plants from the Araceae family and orchids.
  • Other activities are observing cultural and archaeological heritage, since there are about 70.000 indigenous peoples and various architecturally important areas. One of them is Pueblito, where you can find ruins of the ancient indigenous civilization full of myths, after a hike that takes between 45 minutes and 2.5 hours.

Macuira National Natural Park

Area 25,000 ha
Altitude 85 – 867 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee No entry fee
Facilities No accommodation or restaurant services. You can find these facilities in some Wayuu settlements or in the villages of Nazareth and Siapana.

To the north end of La Guajira department, the Macuira mountain elevation rises as the most northern highland in South America.

Its cloud forest ecosystems works as a water regulator in the area and as an oasis in the middle of the dryness of the semi-desert area of Alta Guajira.

Thanks to the diversity of birds living in the area, Macuira was declared an Important Bird Area. Also, this place is culturally important for the Wayuu indigenous community.

Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Area 7,000 ha
Altitude 0 – 5 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee No entry fee
Facilities Restaurant, visitors center is closed.

Also in La Guajira peninsula, In Los Flamencos Sanctuary you get to see how the peaceful blue sky gets disrupted by flocks of pink feathered flamingos that brighten the sight.

This small protected area with lagoons is considered one of the most diverse in aquatic resident and migratory birds.

Notice: It is advised to be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the planned trip date and carry immunization records.

Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Area 1,000 ha
Altitude 230 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$6,500
Facilities Accommodation and restaurant services are provided in San Juan Nepomuceno village.

Red howler monkeys abound in Los Colorados mountain, this is why the Sanctuary has this name. The area consists of a small mountain range made up of sedimentary rocks and a relict dry forest -one of the mot preserved in the region- that houses primates, mammals and over 280 bird species! Thanks to this, it is also an Important Bird Area.

Notice: It is advised to be vaccinated against yellow fever before the planned trip date.

Orinoco Region

Also known as the Oriental Plains, it covers most of the area of the departments of Meta, Arauca, Casanare and Vichada. The little populated region is rich in oil and suitable for extensive ranching.

Chingaza National Natural Park

Area 76,600 ha
Altitude 800 – 4020 m.a.s.l
Temperature 4 – 21.5°C (39.2 – 70.7°F) / Cold to temperate weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee

Vehicle fee

Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$53,500
Car COP$14,500 Van COP$37,000 Bus $78,000 Motorcycle COP$10,000
Facilities Restaurant, equipped camping zone in Monterredondo, visitors center with accommodation, auditorium.

Chingaza is located on the eastern Andes, in the northeast of Bogota, it comprises municipalities in the department of Cundinamarca and in Meta.

This territory was inhabited by the Muiscas and the Guayupes indigenous groups and more recently by farmer communities.

The stories of the ancient civilizations remain in the mountains while Andean fauna and flora embellish the forests and moorlands that characterize the park.

Fun Fact: in the Muisca language, Chingaza may have been called Chim-gua-za, which means Mountains of the Lord of the Night.

How to get there

There are 3 access points, one from Guasca, one from La Calera and one from Fomeque, all towns in Cundinamarca. Find more detailed information here

Notice

Visitors must purchase an all-risk policy for entering and staying in the protected area. You must file an entrance request at least 15 days prior to the intended visit date.

Activities

  • You can go hiking in approximately 6 trails with 3 observation spots that allow a panoramic view of the mountain range, the Chingaza lagoon and the Condors viewpoint, wild fauna and flora watching and environmental education and research. The high Andean and sub-Andean forest and moorland ecosystems are predominant in the area.
  • You can observe some Colombian endangered species, such as the Andean bear, the white-tailed deer, the colored deer, the Andean condor, the wetland spotted paca, the Andean cock-of-the-rock and the cougar Puma. Plus, there are 396 bird species registered in the zone. Birders will love this site!

Sierra de la Macarena National Natural Park

Area 629,280 ha
Altitude 200 – 400 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public with restrictions
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$COP$53,500
Facilities No accommodation or food services

This National Natural Park was established in La Macarena biological reserve that includes the largest geological accident west of the Guiana Highlands, the Sierra de La Macarena.

This range is 130 km long by 30 km wide! Rain forests, floodable forests, scrub and herbaceous vegetation from the Amazonian Savannah constitute the ecosystem here.

There is also historical value in this park, since petroglyphs and pictograms by ancient indigenous cultures can be found.

How to get there

  • By plane: Bogotá – Villavicencio is a 30-minute flight, then drive about 1 hour to La Macarena township to get to Caño Cristales.
  • By car: Bogotá – Villavicencio – Granada, then take the route to San Juan de Arama and upon arrival the Mesetas road to Curia, where you take to the Cerrillo sector and in the old administrative center where there are eco touristic sites of La Recebera and the Indio Acostado. To visit Caño Cristales, drive approx. 16 hours to Neiva – Florencia – San Vicente del Caguan (Las sabanas del Yari) – La Macarena.

Notice

  • Tourism activities are restricted in the following areas: Cristales de Colores, Pailones and Caño Cristalitos paths, until the weather conditions are favorable for the ecosystem.
  • Visitors are advised to be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days prior to travelling and carrying always their vaccination record.
  • You must make your reservation 15 days in advance.

Activities

  • The first attraction of this place is Caño Cristales, also known as the 5 color river and the most beautiful river in the world, and this is because it reflects red, green, yellow, blue and black hues from June to early December. The red hues are caused by Macarenia clavigera plants, which are endemic.
  • Other ecotourism activities are hiking trails, wild fauna and flora watching and nature photography.
  • 456 bird species have been registered in the park and endemic fauna you can see includes the ornate titi, the strong-billed woodcreeper, the rufous-collared sparrow, the Colombian mountain grackle, the Cundinamarca antpitta, the yellow-browed shrike-vireo, among others.

El Tuparro National Natural Park

Area 548,000 ha
Altitude 100 – 330 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (80.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$46,500
Facilities Accommodation and restaurant services are provided in nearby villages.

A large green savanna with powerful rivers, small spots of crystalline waters, forests and large rock formations in the shape of rounded hills, this is the landscape of El Tuparro National Natural Park.

As a National Monument and Nuclear Area of the Biosphere Reserve, the park helps sustainable development, conservation and research-education.

Attractions include the possibility to observe more than 320 bird species and the imposing Maypures Torrent, which was named as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Alexander von Humboldt himself!

Notice: You can only enter with an authorized touristic operator. Make sure they meet the law requirements in regard to activities such as sport fishing, which is forbidden.

You are advised to be vaccinated against yellow fever and measles.

Amazon Region

It is located in southern Colombia over the Amazon Basin, covered by the Amazon Rainforest which is the largest of the world.

It comprises the departments of Amazonas, Caquetá, Guainía, Putumayo, Guaviare and Vaupés.

Amacayacu National Natural Park

Area 293,500 ha
Altitude 100 – 330 m.a.s.l
Temperature 27°C (60.6°F) / Warm weather
Status Open to the public with restrictions
Entry fee Non-resident foreigners over 5 years old COP$50,000.
Facilities Visitors center is currently closed. The communities of San Martín and Mocagua offer basic accommodation, food, transport, guidance and environmental interpretation.

Amacayacu is the first protected area created in the Colombian Amazon and it features a vast flooded forest. The jungle has more than 5,000 species of plants and the biggest diversity of primates in the world, not leaving behind the variety in other mammals and birds.

In the Amazon region there are 2 opposite seasons: low water (September) and high water (May) seasons, which produce a drastic change in natural and human activity and this can only be appreciated by visiting the park at least two times during different seasons.

The activities offered in Amacayacu are always guided by indigenous members of the communities of Mocagua and San Martin as a part of their ecotourism plan.

How to get there

  • By plane: LAN or Avianca offer flights from Bogota to Leticia that take about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • By boat: You can get to Leticia by river from Iquitos (Peru), in a 10-hour motorboat ride; or from Manaus through Tabatinga (Brazil) in a tourism boat for 6 days.

Notice

  • You should be vaccinated against the yellow fever and tetanus.
  • Bring rubber boots, long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Also cash to pay the ecotourism services.
  • Reject all kinds of animal mistreatment.
  • Ask permission from people in the communities before taking pictures of them.

Activities

  • In the The Miquiando trail of the Fundación Maikuchiga in the Mocagua reserve you can learn about the 9 primates in the area who are in rehabilitation process: woolly monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, tamarins, pygmy marmosets, night monkeys, monk saki and coppery titi monkeys.
  • Interaction with locals is possible thanks to cultural displays (dance, singing, storytelling, traditional games) and interesting handcraft workshops (learn ceramic, basket weaving, wood carving and other arts).
  • You can do canoeing through the Amacayacu river and see dolphins and other aquatic fauna, and even navigate almost at the height of the tree canopy during high water season!
  • Trails to the chagras (indigenous polyculture plots) you can see the traditional food such as cassava, plantain, bananas, pineapples and fruit trees such as copoazú, arazá, amazon lulo and medicinal plants.
  • Also, wildlife observation trails allow you to spot the tapir, deer, jaguar and agouti, among other animals.
  • For those more adventurous there is the experience of a night stay in the jungle, where you can sleep in a provisional camp (cambuches) or hammocks.

The list of Colombian National Natural Parks goes on and it should be noted that ecotourism locations such as civil natural reserves and farms managed by local families or NGOs were not taken into account in this post.

Colombia, with all its natural and cultural wealth, has potential to become one of the top destinations for ecotourism. Because of that, conservation of nature is the ultimate goal of all National Natural Parks and Flora and Fauna Sanctuaries in Colombia. Support ecotourism and come visit the wonderful country that Colombia is!

About the author
Ana María Parra.
Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.