The Luxury of Colombia: Natural and Cultural Diversity

Sleeping in ecohotels in front of the beach, enjoying spa services among the mountains, or just camping with glamour surrounded by natural forests or deserts. In Colombia, the experiences that nature offers have been adjusted to the comfort and exigencies of luxury tourism.

This is why many media and world wild touristic guides present Colombia as a must to visit, highlighting its touristic quality, and the wealth of its culture and nature.

In Colombia, Everything is about Nature

In Colombia, we have 98 different ecosystems spread across five regions: the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Andean mountains, the Amazon, and the Orinoco River basin. All of this makes Colombia one of the 17 countries considered to be megadiverse.

Besides that, Colombia is an emergent destination with a huge potential for luxury tourism in nature and culture products focused on gastronomic experiences, music, bird watching, trekking, safaris, adventure among many other activities.

Western Striolated-Puffbird, Nystalus obamai. Fin del Mundo, Putumayo, Colombia.

Luxury Travel in Nature

Colombia’s Private Trips and Safaris

In the country it is possible to take private helicopter expeditions to remote destinations such as Ciudad Perdida on the Caribbean coast; fly over the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Natural Park in the Guaviare; take an aero Safari over the Eastern Plains; or visit the San Agustín Archaeological Park, on the Colombian Massif.

Aerosafari in Colombia

It is also possible to make private trips in 4×4 vehicles for bird watching all over the country; take a private boat with all the comforts to practice sport fishing in the Amazon, in the Pacific, and in the Caribbean; take a private boat for whale watching in Bahia Solano, or Amazon Pink Dolphin watching in San Jose del Guaviare. The possibilities are endless, even safaris you can make by plane, by boat or on a horse.

Fishing in Puerto Carreño © FishIn Colombia
Undulated Savanna – Mururito Nature Reserve
Mururito Nature Reserve

Colombia’s Gastronomic Assets

As for the food, you won’t have to worry. Colombia’s gastronomic assets are very relevant. The climatic conditions of the five regions of Colombia make it possible to find a great variety of fruits and vegetables you can enjoy.

Mix of Fruits: papaya, passion fruit and pineapple, Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.
Oro Molido dessert, Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.

There are also products such as coffee, cocoa, rum, and many desserts, juices and typical dishes in each region. Some examples include lulada and champus in Valle del Cauca; agua de panela with cheese in Bogota and the Cundiboyacense highlands; bocadillo, a sweet made from guava, among many others.

Coffee Taste Experience at Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.
Rum Taste at Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.

During your travels, you can schedule tasting experiences or gastronomic tours. However, if the exotic is not your thing, you can also order your own food, and furthermore, if you are vegetarian or vegan there is nothing to worry about.

Local Products

Among the gastronomic experiences that show the richness of the country are visits to market places such as Paloquemao in Bogota, Bazurto in Cartagena and Silvia in Cauca, or visits to coffee plantations in the Coffee Cultural Landscape or cocoa farms in Santander. These activities can also be done in the company of local chefs and cooks.


Luxury Restaurants and Chefs in Latin America

It is important to highlight that there are also high-level restaurants and internationally recognized chefs who have worked to exalt Colombian cuisine such as Leonor Espinosa, Juan Manuel Barrientos, Harry Sasson, Álvaro Clavijo, Alejandro Gutiérrez, brothers Jorge and Mark Rausch, among many others, which made it to the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World and at the Latin American level.

In addition, the 50 Best organization chose Colombia as the venue for 2018 and 2019 for its Latin American awards ceremony.

Leo Restaurant – The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 ©Leo Restaurant

High-Quality Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation offers such as five stars hotels, glamping, villas, farms, and private homes that have all the services a luxury traveler deserves and demands.


In glamping experiences, we have a very good offer. For example, Niddo in Suesca, or La Villa Suiza in Neusa and Guatavita; Bosko in Guatape; Corocora Camp in the Eastern Plains; Bethel in the Tatacoa Desert, and many others in destinations such as the Coffee Triangle, Tayrona, Barichara, or Villa de Leyva.

Niddo – Suesca
Corocora Camp, Casanare, Colombia

These experiences are very well known, because the contact with nature is unique, in addition to the fact you can see starry skies from the inside of your rooms since these are built with glass ceilings.


Among hotel offer, there are hotels oriented to quality services such as Four Seasons Casa Medina and W (Marriott), both in Bogota; Casa San Agustin and Sofitel Legend Santa Clara (Accor), located in Cartagena or, Las Islas, located in Baru, 45 minutes from Cartagena. These hotels are part of the Virtuoso portfolio, another of the world’s important luxury tourism networks.

Hotel Las Islas
Aurum Spa, Casa San Agustin Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia

Ecolodges and Private Houses

Among the eco-hotel offers, there are famous places with high-quality service such as El Dorado and Casa Oropendola, both in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; Casa del Presidente in Barichara; El Almejal and El Cantil, located in Bahia Solano or, La Manigua Lodge, located in La Macarena, very near to the rainbow river. These hotels are growing as important luxury tourism destinations in Colombia.

La Manigua Lodge© website
Casa Oropendola, Minca

Coffee Farms

Yes! You can stay at a real coffee farm, and still enjoy high-quality luxury accommodation. The best destinations are Hacienda Venecia in Caldas, at the heart of the Coffee Triangle, and Hacienda La Sierra in Fredonia, Antioquia.

Hacienda La Sierra, Coffee Farm, Fredonia, Antioquia, Colombia

The Quality of the Colombian People

Friendly and welcoming, this is how many travelers describe Colombians in their testimonies. The people of Colombia really make a difference during a trip.

One of our greatest qualities is our Hospitality. The Colombian is always ready to receive people, and not only offers his home but also attends you with pleasure and the best care, even better than if you were in a hotel. Generally, their generosity goes beyond that.

We like to show the beauty of our country, and thus change the collective imagination and stigmas about Colombia, around the world.
Also, Colombians are hard-working, creative, and supportive.

Miguel Portura, one of the best birding guides in Vaupes.


Tourism has played a positive role in building peace in Colombia. It offers people the possibility to work and generate income, and it is also an opportunity for reconciliation.

The Government of Colombia and the tourism industry have played an active role in supporting communities throughout the country with the development of community-based tourism projects, such as an adventure destination for rafting in the Eastern plains, guided by former guerrilla members.

Picture from Audubon: “Wayuu indigenous students and teacher Alvaro Jaramillo are bird watching in La Guajira. The program teaches locals to become tour guides for travelers interested in spotting birds. Photo: Carlos Villalon”

Visit our entry Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenarium to know more about tourism, sustainability, and the post-conflict scenario.

Know more about our sustainable destinations in our entry Recommended Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia and Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia.

Costs of a Luxury Travel in Colombia

Don’t think that Colombia is an economic country. It can be inexpensive for food, services in the cities, or for shopping in a mall. However, if you want to make private excursions to remote places, with helicopters, charter flights, private boats, and private cars you should know that this is what will make your trip more expensive.

Even more, if you are a photographer and carry a lot of equipment, you need to include the excess baggage in your expenses, since many airlines and charter flights have limited baggage capacity on their flights.

In some cases, you will have to send your extra luggage via cargo, or buy extra seats. This may happen if you are going to Bahia Solano, San Jose del Guaviare, Mitu, La Macarena, among other remote destinations.

Safari in Casanare

Additionally, road transfers may require high-powered cars, as many secondary and tertiary roads are not paved in Colombia. Also, in the rainy season, you will not be able to enter by land to some places, such as Hato La Aurora or Altagracia in the eastern plains; or Cano Cristales, the rainbow river, in La Macarena.

Because of this, some costs may vary depending on the weather season, or the demand. But don’t feel discouraged, this is part of the adventure!

Another thing that can make your trip a bit more expensive is a specialized guide and/or a guide who speaks your language. In general, in Colombia, most guides only speak Spanish, and if you need someone who speaks your language, this will have an extra cost.

Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Recommendations for your visit

  • Plan your trip in advance.
  • Travel with a travel agency you trust.
  • Ask questions, get informed, don’t be fooled, but also don’t abuse the services that an agent or a guide can give you.
  • Understand that as a country we do our best, but we are still developing and growing.
  • The risk is that you want to stay!

If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!

  • ProColombia
  • Avianca
  • Virtuoso
About the author

Sara Colmenares
The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenario

Colombia is a megadiverse country. It is also a country with a difficult history. War has been around for more than 60 years. With the signing of the peace agreement in 2016, Colombia opened up as never before, presenting a rich, unexplored and under-exploited territory. It also was the starting of the post-conflict struggle.

Paradoxically, the conservation of natural habitats in Colombia was facilitated by the war conflict, preventing territories from being invaded by development and deforestation.

Colombia’s Post-conflict Scenarium

Tourism has been one of the sectors that have benefited the most from the peace agreement, especially nature tourism.

One of the economic benefits of the peace agreement in Colombia has been that local communities have an alternative business opportunity in bird watching tourism.

The most remarkable result was the bird-watching expansion to areas, that were formerly unsafe, such as Caquetá and Putumayo.

Western Striolated-Puffbird, Nystalus obamai. Fin del Mundo, Putumayo, Colombia.

However, not everything has been rosy. This time of transition has cost us, especially due to the lack of proper administration and governance in the territories that were liberated from the conflict.

The Environmental Cost of the Post-conflict


Many studies on post-conflict dynamics have concluded that the social, political, and administrative imbalance that remains in the new peace territories leads to environmental degradation, especially through increased deforestation.

Unfortunately, it has been recognized that the main threat to Colombian birds is the loss of habitat caused by deforestation. Deforestation occurs when people begin to use the resources to which they did not have access before.

Carrying Capacity Excedeed

Another aspect is the deterioration of the new sites due to uncontrolled visitation by tourists and visitors, which exceeds the carrying capacity limits of many of these sites.

Deforestation Hotspots in the Colombian Amazon, part 3: Chiribiquete-Macarena ©MAAP

An example of this is the Chiribiquete National Natural Park, which had to be closed to visitors due to vandalism and overcrowding. In addition, the park has also been threatened by deforestation.

Other Conflicts

Likewise, demobilization has not been complete, and there are still some illegal groups that continue with their own agenda.

Finally, it is unfortunate to have to mention that the murder of environmental leaders has also seriously affected the country.

The Boom of Scientific Expeditions

In Colombia, the peace process also allowed scientific explorations to expand in the territory, as it was possible to visit places previously closed due to public safety issues.

Colombia Bio Expeditions

Colombia bio ©Colciencias

After the signing of the peace treaty, the Colombia Bio project, promoted by Colciencias, was launched in the country.

Colombia BIO aimed to carry out 20 expeditions in the period between 2016 and 2018 in order to generate knowledge about biodiversity. The expditions were possible thanks to the end of the conflict.

The expeditions were conducted in continental and marine areas that were:

  • Unexplored areas,
  • In post-conflict territories,
  • Under threat, or
  • Associated with transformed landscapes.

Many of the explored areas shared several of those characteristics. The Colombia Bio expeditions discovered countless new species of fauna and flora in the country.

Thanks to this, and to the great impulse that the Colombian government gave to birdwatching tourism, Colombian ornithologists, as well as bird lovers, now have more and better information about the birds of the most bird-rich country in the world.

2021: 5 Years After the Signing of the Peace Agreement

In 2021 it will be five years since the signing of the peace agreement. Since then, the country has been preparing to become a world-class bird-watching destination.

Today we have improvements such as:

Additionally, today we have a big advance in terms of policy for tourism and nature tourism training.

First Sustainability Policy for Tourism in Colombia

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism launched the first sustainability policy for tourism in Colombia in December 2020. It is called the Sustainable tourism policy “United for Nature”.

This sustainability policy aims to position sustainability as a fundamental pillar for the development of tourism in Colombia through a strategic plan for 2030 called the Roadmap for Sustainable Tourism.

This plan is composed of six strategies, 14 programs, 32 projects and 140 policy actions.

Sustainable Development Goals

The objectives of the plan focus on the following guidelines:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Efficient energy management and investment in renewable and non-conventional energy sources.
  • Responsible management of solid waste.
  • Saving and efficient use of water.
  • Adequate wastewater treatment.
  • Protection of the country’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

First Guide for Nature Tourism in Colombia

They also launched the first guide for nature tourism in Colombia together with ProColombia, and the support of USAID’s Natural Wealth Program; the Humboldt Institute; and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

©Illustrated Handbook for Nature Tourism Guides in Colombia

The guide is called “Contemplation Comprehension, Conservation: An Illustrated Handbook for Nature Tourism Guides in Colombia”.


It will be a tool for the country to take advantage of its potential as an international destination with sustainable and responsible practices.

You can take a look to the Handbook in the website

The Colombian Birding Trails

At the same time, Since 2015, Audubon, in collaboration with Asociación Calidris, has been working on bird-based ecotourism initiatives in Colombia to support local development and conservation.

Picture from Audubon: “Wayuu indigenous students and teacher Alvaro Jaramillo are bird watching in La Guajira, Colombia this past June. The program teaches locals to become tour guides for travelers interested in spotting birds. Photo: Carlos Villalon”

Audubon has been training many people as specialized bird tour informers in all regions of Colombia, and developing the following birding routes:

However, bilingual and bird-focused guides, as well as specialized birding infrastructure, such as canopy towers or canopy trails, platforms, hides, etc., are still underdeveloped.

Therefore, if you come to Colombia to watch birds, especially on your own, you will have the best guides in local people, as they have a first-hand experience with the local landscape and wildlife, but with low or basic training in bird identification and foreign language skills (i.e. English).

How We are Helping

In Sula we always work with the local community. Whether it is with the accompaniment of a local guide, with local transportation services, with lodging in hotels and lodges developed by local people, among others.

Visiting Usiacurí and Luriza Reserve

We have first-hand knowledge of all our allies, and also help people in their regions to develop and/or improve their products and services.

Organize your trip with us, so that you have the best services, and at the same time help the economic development of the regions you visit.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Why should you Visit Guaviare in Colombia? Remnants of a Remote Past

Guaviare is one of the least populated departments of Colombia, and one of the most pristine nature destinations in the country.  

Additionally, this department is located in the Colombian Amazon region, although part of its territory is also in the Orinoquia. Its capital is San José del Guaviare. 

Brief history of Guaviare

In the past, the colonization of Guaviare was mainly due to the enormous natural riches of its soil and the exploitation derived from these.

People came there to cultivate balata and rubber. Moreover, trade of wild animal skins, native plants and ornamental fish was also common.

Finally, the illicit cultivation of coca attracted many people, bringing also war and chaos to the region.

Today, tourism is opening as a new possibility for the economic development of the region, and it works as a good strategy for the protection and conservation of natural and archaeological areas.

Weather and Landscape

The dry season happens from December to February, and the rainy season during the rest of the year (especially April-July and October-November). Annual rainfall ranges from 2,000 to 3,500 mm. The temperature during the day reaches 25° to 30 °C, dropping at night to 12 °C between July and August.

Its soils are bathed by numerous rivers and a network of streams, divided mainly into two basins: Orinoco River Basin and Amazon River Basin.

Tourism in Guaviare 

Tourism is making its way in this destination dedicated to adventure and sustainability. It is an opportunity for sustainable development in he region. The natural environments for swimming, the sunsets, and its ecosystems make it a unique destination.

Archaeological places, and the fauna and flora that make up an abundant biodiversity, are the greatest attraction of Guaviare.

The Most Featured Destinations in Guaviare 

Serrania de La Lindosa and Cerro Azul

Serranía de la Lindosa @Parques Naturales

This place is one of the eight archaeological zones declared as a protected area by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

Here you will find the famous cave paintings, among others those of the Guayabero River and the Caño Dorado, with vivid colors. In the Cerro Azul in the Serranía La Lindosa, you can observe paintings that are twelve thousand years old.

The summit of Cerro Azul can be reached by a medium level hike of approximately 40 minutes. In Cerro Azul, there are a series of cave paintings painted with reddish pigment by indigenous people who inhabited the La Lindosa mountain range 7,250 years ago.

It is a two-hundred-meter-high peak to explore and walk. During the walk you can find giant trees and native species of flora and fauna. From the top you can see numerous streams of crystalline water and the jungle.

Raudal of the Guayabero

Raudal del Guayabero @ Juan Pablo Rozo – Wikiloc

This spectacular spot is one hour by river, and one hour and thirty minutes by land, from San José del Guaviare.

The Guayabero River, before its encounter with the Ariari, is framed in a canyon formed by walls of rocks of Pre-Cambrian origin.

From there, a current is unleashed that reaches half a kilometer in length. Although it is navigable throughout the year, the summer season is the best time to cross it.

Throughout the tour you can see the gray freshwater dolphin or Tonina (Sotalia fluviatilis), as it is called by the inhabitants of the region.

Natural Bridges

Rocky Bridges Pic. by Parques Nacionales

These natural bridges are high and have been shaped and polished by water over time. They stand on a ravine to which it is possible to descend with certified guides.

The City of Stone

Serranía de la Lindosa ©Parques Naturales

The Stone City of San Jose, is an enigmatic place that consists of ancestral rocks distributed with an impressive and mysterious symmetry.

In the company of guides, you can tour this site that has labyrinths, caves, and monoliths with very old petroglyphs. A special place for hiking and caving.

Natural Baths of Agua Bonita, Villa Luz and Tranquilandia.

Tranquilandia Bath

They are located only five miles from the city, in Caño Sabana. The ancient rock formations form pools of crystalline waters of different colors. The rich plant and mineral environment is the one that colors these waters, so it is very similar to the rainbow river in La Macarena. You can go there and enjoy a good swim and landscape.

Puerta de Orión

Puerta de Orión Pic. by Parques Nacionales

Orion’s Gate is a rock formation emblematic of the city, found 9 kilometers from San José del Guaviare. It is twelve meters high and 20 meters wide. It has two natural holes, one on top of the other.

To get to Puerta de Orión you must pass through cavities and cornices that make it an enigmatic scenery.

The particularity of this natural wonder is that in the summer solstice you can observe Orion’s Belt through the upper window, creating a unique spectacle.

Sport fishing and Kayaking at Laguna Negra 

Sunsent at Laguna Negra ©El Tiempo

Laguna Negra is located 11 kilometers from San José del Guaviare. The black color that the water projects is because at the bottom there are decomposed leaves from the surrounding forests.

Its name is due to the dark tone of its waters seen from the air. Once on land, you can see a scenario of crystalline water, according to experts, because of the thick vegetation that surrounds it.

This natural reserve, 11 km from San José del Guaviare, constitutes the ideal scenario for the practice of artisan fishing and snorkel. You can find “cachazas” and “payaras”.

Kayaking and sailing, among other practices, are part of the new offer.

Chiribiquete National Park

Jaguar Petroglyph Chirbiquete ©Parques Nacionales Naturales

Because it is a complete planetary treasure, in 2018 it has been declared a mixed heritage of humanity.

It is located in the departments of Caquetá and Guaviare, and preserves the largest sample of rock art in the world.

In Chiribiquete there are approximately 70,000 paintings and 50 panels of an average height of 7 meters.

These have served to distinguish a cultural tradition of roots, apparently very old, of the Paleo-Indian. Therefore, they have been associated with groups of hunter-gatherers of the Tropical Rainforest and semi-dry enclaves of the Guianas and the Amazon.

Other Attractions

Guayabero Pic. by Juan Pablo Rozo – Wikiloc
  • Rural and community tourism: Finca Chontaduro, Finca Diamante, replacement of coca for fruit.
  • The “Flor del Guaviare” (Paepalanthus formosus Moldenke) is one of the emblems of the department.
Guaviare Flower, ©Gabriel Arroyo – iNaturalist
  • Thermal waters, unique in the Orinoco and Amazon;
  • The Inírida River;
  • The natural National Parks of Chiribiquete and Nukak; and
  • An endless number of lakes and lagoons where pink dolphins and fishing abound.
Nukak ©Nathaly Londoño – Parques Nacionales

How to get to Guaviare

The trip Bogotá – Guaviare by plane takes about 1.20 hour. The tourist sites are easily accessible by 4X4 vehicles. The capital, San José del Guaviare, has become a center of operation with a wide range of lodging facilities: three stars hotels, hostels, and camping.

Where to stay in San José del Guaviare

We recomend you the following hotels in San José del Guaviare:

  • Hotel Quinto Nivel
  • Hotel Aeropuerto

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Can Zoos be Considered as Fair Ecotourism Destinations?

Yes, I know, defending zoos or not is a thorny subject. And believe me, there is not a satisfactory conclusion for everybody. In the end it is up to you to make your choices. Here I will give some information to take into account.

The tourism industry uses animals in many different ways and scenarios: races and competitions, gastronomy, hunting, sportfishing, and watchers.

In general, people interested in wildlife have two options:

  1. Experience direct contact with wildlife in the field, in nature, by visiting natural reserves or parks, but not having any direct contact with it; or,
  2. Visiting zoos, aquaria, or botanical gardens, and enjoy encounters that give them an opportunity to interact directly with wild species, by having the opportunity to touch, hold, feed, and record them.

In addition, in wildlife tourism, there is a known strong relationship between the success of tourists in seeing animals and satisfaction. They always expect to receive realistic expectations about where and when they will be able to see most of the wildlife they want to see to avoid disappointment.

Why do Zoos Exist?

Human beings have always been captivated by the unknown, the rare, the exotic… and by vanity and pride also. Having a collection of wild animals or plants was a hobby for Kings and Monarchs since ancient times. And this is why and how zoos appeared in their origins.

They started as animal collections, called menageries (house of beasts), owned by wealthy people wanting to display their monetary power.

Equus grevyi in the Ménagerie (house of beasts) Jardin des Plantes Paris. Gift of Menelik II to France (Image from 1882) ©Henri Viallanes (1856-1893) Public Domain.

Later on, the Age of Enlightenment brought a new interest for everything, and intellectual and scientific knowledge became more relevant than power displays.

During this time nature expeditions began, and many menageries became into zoos, even though they were still very limited and uncomfortable for animals and plants. One of the most famous was the Jardine des Plantes in Paris.

Modern Zoos

With the rise of the scientific community and research, and so the growth of understanding about other living beings and ecosystems, menagerie – museums like zoos started to transition to what we know as a modern zoo.

A modern zoo is supposed to be meant principally to recreate and educate people, and put them in contact with wildlife while supporting scientific research, education and species conservation.

Sea lions relaxing at the Central Park Zoo in New York City ©CreativeCommons

Zoos are more than the city zoos we see in movies and television (watch Penguins of Madagascar show as an example). There are several other types of zoos, among them safari parks, game preserves, petting zoos, rural and roadside zoos, aquaria, animal theme parks and specialized collections.

There are also specialized zoos and gardens focused on recreate the natural habitats of specific animals and plants, where they live in semi-captivity conditions.

In Colombia, we have examples of these specialized zoos such as the Oceanarium in Cartagena, the botanical garden of Bogotá, Los Ocarros Park in Villavicencio, the Ukumari Park in Risaralda, just to mention a few of them.

Defending Zoos or Not

As mentioned before, for many of us, a zoo and a botanical garden is our first and perhaps only introduction to a living wild animal or plant species.

In some regions even common species can be difficult to see, not to mention rare ones that require conservation care. And it is in these cases that a zoo takes on a greater role in educating, researching and conserving wildlife.

However, there is a tiny gap between exploitation and education. Not everything is a bed of roses. There are many examples of cruel management in zoos, out of all logic, common sense and compassion.

For example, let’s remember the case of Marius, the giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo, who was euthanized in 2014, only because he could not reproduce, even though he was a healthy animal.

Sit-in protest against zoos and conservation of animal species under conditions of confinement and according to rules that involve practices such as euthanasia for reasons of conservation of the species. In the foreground a puppet giraffe, to represent the case of Marius ©CreativeCommons

In addition, there are several studies addressing the issue of “whether zoos are a morally acceptable form of ecotourism. The biggest criticisms of zoos have been the captivity of animals and the conditions of animal welfare. Thus, animal welfare and their removal from nature are persistent challenges for zoos.

Despite zoos have put more importance on conservation and compassionate animal treatment, and play an important role in protecting endangered species, animal rights defenders say it is cruel to keep animals in captivity. They argue that “living in captivity takes away wild animals’ natural behavior and instincts” (PETA-UK).

Is it a Zoo Defensible as an Ecotourism Setting or Attraction?

This question raises another even more complex question, that of why we, the species Homo sapiens sapiens, are using other species for our enjoyment? And even more so in contexts that harm the animals, such as fishing or hunting?

Perhaps zoos are not defensible as tourist attractions in moral terms. But ethics and good practice can defend them.

Bioparque La Reserva Foundation – Natural theme park and sanctuary of plants and animals rescued from illegal traffic

The relationship between ecotourism and zoos must be based on an understanding of what is an acceptable use of animals for ecotourism purposes and what is not. This is despite the fact that many zoo visitors do so for entertainment rather than education and conservation.

And here is the divide: while some people support conservation and endure enjoying wildlife at a distance, or through documentaries, the growing wildlife tourism industry shows that there are others with a strong interest in having close and personal experiences as well.

How can it be solved? Including as ecotourism interactions those zoos where the interests of animals are above the interests of humans, i.e. places that apply clear practices in accordance with international standards and animal ethics.

WAZA: World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

WAZA is a global alliance dedicated to the care and conservation of animals and their habitats around the world since 1935. It also guides and encourages zoos to maintain best practices according to international standards and animal ethics.

The WAZA has two types of membership: one of them is an association member that is through another regional or local zoo association such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in America. The other one is a direct institutional membership of WAZA.

If you want to know more about WAZA and related associations, visit the WAZA website or the article World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Wikipedia.

There is also a link that helps you to find the best zoos around the world on the AZA’s website.

Despite the existence of these alliances, less than a third part of the total zoos are recognized for maintaining best practices according to international standards.

Sustainable Zoos in Colombia

There are many reserves and natural parks where you can observe free animals and plants in their natural habitat. If you are interested in seeing wild animals up close I recommend you to read our entries Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options! and When and Where to Go to See Humpback Whales in Colombia

Related to zoos, in Colombia there are two organizations linked to WAZA which are the Colombian Association of Zoos, Aquariums and Related (ACOPAZOA) and the Fundación Zoológico de Cali.

Affliated to AZA there is only the Zoológico de Cali in Colombia.

Pink flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) at the Zoológico de Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Affiliated to ACOPAZOA you can find the following zoos, aquaria and foundations in Colombia which are committed to animal welfare, research and conservation in Colombia:

  1. Marine World Aquarium
  2. Rodadero Sea Aquarium and Museum
  3. Tití Project Foundation
  4. Barranquilla Zoo
  5. National Aviary of Colombia
  6. Rosario Islands Oceanarium
  7. Explora Park Aquarium
  8. Santa Fe Zoo
  9. Santa Cruz Zoo Foundation
  10. Piscilago Recreational Park and Zoo
  11. Guátika Zoo
  12. Cali Zoo
  13. Los Ocarros Biopark
Colombian Zoos Affiliated to ACOPAZOA which are committed to animal welfare, research and conservation in Colombia (Photo took from ACOPAZOA

How Wildlife Tourism and Zoos can Protect Animals and Habitats in the Wild?

Thousands of tourists and local people travel to several places around the world to see animals or plants semi-wild in a reserve, a zoo, a botanical garden or captive in a rehabilitation center.

Several academic studies on nature tourists’ choices showed that many of them travel to see specific species. For example, many people travel to Australia to know the kangaroos or the koalas, or travel to Malaysia to know the Orangutans, or travel to Colombia to watch the endemic Multicolored Tanager, or to Brazil for jaguars in the Pantanal.

Many tourists travel to Colombia to see the unique and special wax palm.

The studies also found that many tourists would be happy not to see these wildlife species, as long as they were preserved in their natural habitats.

Thus, the wildlife experience can be separated from the wildlife and that could benefit both tourists and animals still living in the wild (Garnett and Zander, 2014).

Extinct in the Wild but Alive in Captivity

It is also true that for many species, zoos became the only place where they have shelter and protection, and this is why, in my opinion, it is not correct to attack zoos, but to question the causes of the huge loss of natural habitats around the world.

The critically endangered cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) at the Tití Project Foundation Reserve in Los Límites, Atlántico, Colombia

A well-known example of an animal that has been classified as extinct in the wild (category EW, IUCN) is the famous Spix’s Macaw, known from the film Rio. Centuries of deforestation, human settlement and agricultural development devastated their natural habitat. Today less than 100 individuals live in captivity in preservation centers, parks and private collections around the world.

Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) – Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin – ©CreativeCommons

The loss of habitat due to land use transformation for businesses and occupation, and the exaggerated increase of the human population with its corresponding, and badly planned, expansion, are the true executioners of wildlife.

Mass Extinction and the Anthropocene

We are witnessing a mass extinction of species, the sixth to be precise, since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Now we live in the Anthropocene (10,000 BCE – 2020 CE), a time in which human activity has been the trigger for the extinction of other species on a large scale.

The western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) or West African black rhinoceros was a subspecies of the black rhinoceros, declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011. ©CreativeCommons

It is expected that up to half the world’s species will be gone by 2050. We need to care more about the choices we can make and what comes next, to avoid such devastation.

The Role of Zoos in Biodiversity Conservation

If tourists want to see wildlife in its natural habitat, they are likely to face a long and uncomfortable journey by bus, canoe, or on foot or by diving, in places such as dense jungles, deserts or the open sea – all for a very small chance of glimpsing a terrified animal or an unblooming plant.

So, the upside of visiting a place where wildlife still looks and behave as if they are wild, but without the long trip and discomfort, becomes a realistic and better option.

As for the true wildlife, they would happily never feel additional stress than the one caused by poachers, lumberjacks, bulldozers, among other horrible things.

Ostrich Park, Puerto López, Meta

Both, wild and semi-captive populations can benefit from each other. People get to see and be in touch with wildlife, without perturbing the real natural habitats. On the other hand, they will take the message for supporting conservation and research.

The Role of Zoos in Sustainable Tourism

Zoos are an important part of responsible wildlife tourism, not only for their contribution to conservation but to the local economies.

For example, in countries like Malaysia, tourists can contribute, on average US$16.5 million a year to the local economy, by paying for specialized nature trips to see orangutans.

Tourists also expect that their contributions go to help the remaining truly wild species in and around remote and natural areas in the region.

Community-based tourism in Atlántico, Colombia

Unfortunately, conservationists are finding that many threatened species do need to earn a dollar to justify their protection and existence.

Examples of it are orangutans, penguins, jaguars, which show that they can attract an appreciative public capable of paying not only with their admiration but with their money, which also helps to support the local people by increasing tourism.

Conclusion: To Visit Zoos or Not?

If you do not have the time or money for a trip to a remote place, or if you have never had a close experience with wildlife, a zoo or a botanical garden is a good option to start.

When visiting a zoo or a botanical garden, besides getting involved with exotic animals or plants, many of which are in threat of extinction in nature, you will also help research and conservation projects.

But remember! There is a link between the experience of visiting animals in captivity and their conservation in the wild, as well as their habitat. The zoo you choose to visit and the causes you support will make all the difference.


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

19 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint During a Nature trip to Colombia

Global warming is an issue that should concern everybody on this planet. Therefore, reduce your carbon footprint. Sadly, what we love the most, which is to travel, generates a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in general, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in particular. And this is why many authors and organizations call on travelers to change their travel behaviors.

However, some of the proposals are not the most attractive for many tourists, among them:

  • Travel less often, which is unmotivating.
  • Stay longer in the destination, which could be unaffordable in terms of money or time.
  • Reduce aerial transportation, which becomes difficult if you live very far away, as in another continent…
  • Switch from air transport to train, ship, public transport or bicycle, which may be very unfeasible in less developed countries.
  • Choose destinations that are closer to home, which sounds boring
  • Participate in carbon offsetting programs or purchase carbon credits, from what you know nothing about, and
  • Purchase goods only from certified tour operators, hotels and destinations, but without falling into the hands of greenwashers*!

*By definition, a greenwasher is someone who does greenwashing. And greenwashing is “behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is” (Source: Cambridge Dictionary).

Changes to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Begins Through Your Own Habits

Studies on environmental behavioral change identified a significant gap between awareness and action. There are even studies suggesting that the most aware individuals are unlikely to change their behaviors when traveling.

On the other hand, some extreme conservationists and journalists have come to say that tourism, traveling, is an expendable activity and that it only fulfills superficial and selfish interests.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint ©Glasbergen Cartoon Service

But nothing could be further from the truth. Tourism is one of the main sources of income in many places. Also, it can even bring benefits for the conservation of local biodiversity and the maintenance of surrounding human populations.

However, if our attitude to travel does not change, they will be right. Today sustainability is a must. It is also a must to be aware of the impact we produce when we travel, or when we do whatever other activity.

Thus, tourism development must be ecologically bearable in the long term, and economically viable and equitable for local communities from an ethical and social perspective.

Realistic Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

If you are looking for realistic ways to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling, here are your options:

1. Know your impact.

Calculate your carbon footprint. By definition, the carbon footprint is “the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community” (Source: Oxford Languages).

Now, try to understand what it is. Make your numbers with this FREE CARBON CALCULATOR by Carbon Footprint TM:

I also recommend you to visit CeroCO2 (In Spanish) to calculate your carbon footprint, and just in case you feel motivated to help. Also visit Flight2Fart (very funny!) to know your flight emissions.

2. Investigate the tour operators and destinations

Do some research on the measures taken to care for the environment in the place where you are going to travel.

Look for information on how sustainable development is applied, how you can support this practice, how to make your carbon footprint lower when you visit the area.

  • Try to choose environmentally responsible suppliers: Choose service providers that are environmentally responsible and try to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible.
  • Try to choose socially responsible suppliers: Choose service providers that are respectful of local communities and also help their economic and social development.

Read our blog: Recommended Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia.

The Government of Colombia recognizes that the country’s wealth does not correspond to the policy of sustainability. So, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MinCIT) is working on the creation of Colombia’s first sustainable development policy, to be released at the end of 2020.

Today, Colombia is part of VIRTUOSO, the tourism committee of the OSD, among other important organizations related to sustainable tourism worldwide.

Colombia’s first sustainable development policy may become the most important and best made policy at regional and worldwide level. It has 6 strategies, 120 lines of action, among other things.

It goes hand in hand with updated definitions of sustainable development, ecotourism, carrying capacity, sanctions for environmental violations, incentives.

It also proposes the development of manuals for nature guides in Colombia, with the support of USAID, to strengthen the guidance of nature tourism in the country.

3. Choose sustainable and eco-friendly hotels.

In Colombia there are several options among nature reserves, eco lodges, and hotels. For more information, read our entry Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

Zero Footprint Project at Rancho Camaná in Meta

4. Travel also to help and care.

Look for a trip that has something else to offer, not only for you but also for the local community you visit and for the environment. Look for value-added tours.

For example, you can go plant trees during your trip, help remove trash from nature, saving animals, providing humanitarian aid etc. We recommend one of our trips to Casanare, which support the conservation of the moriche palm and the anteater.

5. Bring your own towel.

It sounds funny, but bringing your own towel avoids huge expenses in water, chemicals, and energy. Nowadays, there are towels that don’t weigh anything and dry very fast in a natural way. One of the most reviewed and recommended is the Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Travel Towel. If you are already in Colombia, go to any Decathlon store and find your towel there.

6. Use good, durable clothing.

Poor quality, non-durable clothing has devastating effects on the environment. Buy durable clothing produced in your country and in environmentally responsible factories. If you travel to Colombia, buy at local stores as GEF, Velez, Tennis

7. Unplug all electrical chargers.

If you are not using your electrical chargers or do not need to have your devices connected, please unplug them. Although chargers are not in direct use, they still consume energy and contribute to global warming, which is why they are called “energy vampires”.

8. Don’t produce unnecessary waste.

Avoid single-use plastics. Always carry your reusable bottle with you. Also use cloth or recycled material bags to carry your objects. Use your own cutlery and containers for your meals.

9. Leave no trace.

Do not leave trash everywhere. If you produce garbage, take it with you until you find the right place to dispose of it. The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

10. Try not to waste water or light.

Use only the essential water. Do the same with light. Remember that in some places these resources are very limited. Turn off lights when they’re not needed.

And don’t leave devices on standby — some of them use quite a lot of energy still, adding to your footprint. Turn off the lights and air conditioning when you leave your room in a hotel.

11. Apply the rule of the 3 “R” plus two.

Try to apply this rule whenever you can: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REJECT and RECOVER. Read our entry: Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia.

Reduce – Reuse -Recycle – Reject – Recover

12. Eat with the locals.

Having breakfast in Caquetá at the main square of Morelia

Visit farm-to-table restaurants and hotels. Eat at the local squares. And do not waste food! Buy local and seasonal food, both at home and during your trip.

13. Support Local Economies

Locally made crafts and souvenirs are not always the cheapest, but buying them ensures that your contribution to the economy will have a more direct and positive impact.

Buying local products contributes to the maintenance of cultural heritage and makes the work of local residents sustainable.

Find here what you can buy when you visit Colombia:

Masks made by local designer LifeWings with the Multicolored tanager as an inspiration. ©Sula’s Instagram

14. Try to use eco-friendly products.

Try to use animal and environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products. Here some examples from Colombia:

  • ArthroFood: producing flour made from crickets to eradicate hunger in vulnerable populations by giving them the opportunity to use cricket flour in their cooking.
  • Carton Made: Design customized products made with cardboard.
  • Natpacking: 100% organic bags made with Cassava.
  • Magnolia: Handmade food bags made with beeswax, essential oils and natural textiles.
  • Conceptos Plasticos: Bricks made from recycled plastic to construct houses at a cheaper rate.
  • Baobab: Circular-economy fashion, without waste of water.
  • Lifepack: Biodegradable plates made with corn and pineapple to create disposable plates, which can then be planted.
  • Mayorga Design: Bags made with natural fibers, exalting the Wayuu indigenous people.
  • Papelyco: Biodegradable products. 
  • Vana: Clothes made with recyclable material.

15. Say no to trafficking.

Picture by Agencia EFE. Saimiri sciureus at the Wildlife Center in Bogotá, Colombia, after it was seized from animal traffickers. EFE-EPA/ Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda

Never buy products made from animals. Period. And don’t eat exotic animals either. Look what happened to us with the coronavirus! When you do that, you’re contributing to a growing market for trafficking in products made from rare and endangered animals or plants such as souvenirs. Just say no.

16. Travel light.

Don’t carry what you don’t need. Besides, there are many places in Colombia where you will have a baggage limit of 15 kg per person. Some of these places are:

17. If you can, offset your flights.

You could try to offset the emissions that you are unable to reduce using transparent and recognized certified carbon offsets. Search for Gold Standard offset projects.

There are websites where you can calculate your flight carbon footprint and then offset your Flight’s Carbon Emissions for Free such as FlyGreen.

18. Offset your travel to reduce your carbon footprint.

Some travel agencies make it easy to offset emissions. Or just make your calculations and PLANT TREES! For more information about the initiatives in Colombia to plant trees, read the blog Colombia wants to plant 180 million trees: Is it a realistic goal? at Mongabay News Website.

Tree Counter – Environmental Minister of Colombia

“The Ministry of the Environment has a dedicated area for the Sembratón campaign on its website. They have a tree “counter” figure that allows Colombians to know exactly how many trees are being planted and where. The objective is to keep track of how close or far the country is from achieving its goal of planting 180 million trees between 2018 and 2022.”

Wrote Antonio José Paz Cardona in the Mongabay Report. 23 April 2020. Mongabay Series: Global Forests

Follow the Tree Counter at Cifras Contador de Árboles.

19. For smokers

If you are used to smoking, bring your portable ashtray (buy it on Amazon) so that you do not fall into the temptation of throwing away your cigarette butts.

If you are interested in knowing about sustainable destinations in Colombia, how to help local communities or the conservation of biodiversity, follow our blog, visit the entries … And contact us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia

Sustainable nature tourism initiatives in Colombia are key to be implemented to avoid the negative impact that tourism may bring. Even more so when Colombia has never had massive visitors to its most preserved natural areas.

Tools for Conservation and Challenges

Sustainable tourism in Colombia: A report from Colombia BirdFair 2018, Cali, Colombia.

1. Promotion

Colombia has been promoted as a nature tourism destination, with special emphasis on the birdwatching segment, at important international tourism fairs in the world such as the International Tourism Fair of Madrid, FITUR, and at the World’s Leading Travel Trade Show, ITB.  This is because Colombia has more than 1950 bird species to see. The National Government of Colombia, through the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT), seeks to positionate Colombia as a world-class birding destination par excellence. The objective is to join forces, at regional and country level, to create birding trails which offer high quality standards and sustainability criteria.

2. Bird Fairs

Among the activities that enhance bird tourism are the local, regional, national and international bird fairs and festivals. Among the main bird fairs in the world are the British Bird Fair, the American Birding Expo, the Asian Bird Fair and the South American BirdFair. These fairs are an opportunity to promote products related to avitourism, such as birding equipment, destinations, companies and agencies. At the same time, bird fairs serve as an space for scientific divulgation, financially support actions for the conservation of species around the world, and invite people of all conditions to be closer to nature, and enjoy spending time outdoors through this activity.

The Colombia BirdFair

The most important international bird fair in Colombia is the Colombia BirdFair. This fair was created in tribute to the more than 1950 bird species that inhabit the country. All the Colombia BirdFair versions have offered a program that includes birding trips, lectures and several workshops offered to professionals and the general public from children, youth and adults. Lectures and workshops are offered by scientists and professionals working on ornithology, tourism, arts, environmental policy and many other interesting topics. Colombia BirdFair is held in the city of Santiago de Cali, in the department of Valle del Cauca, known as the city of birds due to its high number of species (around 561).

In the words of the director of the fair, Carlos Mario Wagner, the objective of the fair is to “unite wills, unite friends and unite the passion for birds”. The main purpose is to make “a tribute to birds as symbols of union and conservation and as a bridge of brotherhood and fraternity among peoples”.

Carlos Mario Wagner, Colombia Birdfair Director

The fair has generated a social and cultural impact at a local level. This has been expanding to the point of positioning Colombia as one of the most important destinations for birdwatching.

During the Colombia Birdfair 2018 the main topic was Sustainability, and the main lecturers were: Megan Epler Wood (International Sustainable Tourism Initiative), David Lindo (The Urban Birder), Carolina Murcia (Conservation Expert), Miles McMullan (Illustrator and Author of the Field Guide of the Birds of Colombia), Sussy de la Zerda (Founder of the Colombian Ornithological Association ) and Horacio Matarasso (Expert in Avitourism).

Here I brought a resume of the lectures who impressed me more during the 2018’s version of the Colombia Birdfair.

3. Citizen Impact on Restoration 

Extended 3R Rule

Carolina Murcia brought the message of Restoring the House of Birds. The call is to the citizens to contribute by expanding the rule from the three R’s to five. This rule, also known as the three R’s of ecology or simply 3R, proposes to develop three habits of responsible consumption: Reduce, reuse, recycle. The expanded rule includes reject and recover.

The 5 Rs

Reduce, reuse, recycle, reject and recover. For example, reject the excessive use of plastic packaging such as polystyrene for food packaging on the market, promoting the recovery of reusable materials, such as cloth bags or biodegradable material to replace existing bags and containers.

The following actions, made by each citizen, are important keys to contribute to sustainable tourism:

  • Try to consume local products to promote social equity, keeping the countryside alive by supporting small local producers,
  • Measure your own carbon footprint,
  • Buy food from clean production systems,
  • Get involved with political decisions and commit to the country’s destiny.

All this has an effect on the house of the birds avoiding the gradual disappearance of the ecosystems.

Companies also play an important role in committing to responsible production and consumption, some of the expected actions to develop are:

  • Restoration projects in forests,
  • Rehabilitation projects in productive areas,
  • Planting native trees,
  • Controlling the use of polluting agents, among others.

4. Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: The Role of Education

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not?

In her conference “Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet“, Megan Epler Wood shared her research experiences looking for tools to mitigate the growing global negative impacts of tourism, being community development projects and sustainable ecotourism the best ones worldwide.

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not? Those are the questions that she put on the table. The ability of people to do tourism is growing very rapidly in the world and the effect of this can be very positive for the environment and local communities, but it can also be very destructive.

Given this panorama, Colombia faces the challenge of how to use its great natural heritage in a sustainable way in the face of a tourist demand that is growing by leaps and bounds. The solution for this is education, because by knowing and valuing the natural and cultural heritage of each region of the country, it will be possible to make a good management. In Colombia it is necessary to encourages actions for conservation that can bring benefits for local economic development, which has proven to be a great success in other parts of the world similar to Colombia.

The post-conflict in Colombia

The other scenario for Colombia is the post-conflict. The post-conflict opens up the possibility of carrying out activities that promotes the maintenance of peace in the country, such as the ecotourism. However, it depends on the decision of the post-conflict actors.

The effective progress of sustainable tourism in Colombia needs: (1) planning, (2) to establish the value of resources and, (3) to establish investment values ​​for their protection. By following these three steps, it will be possible to determine the cost of local investment needed to develop use and protection strategies that safeguard Colombia’s natural and cultural capital.

5. Urban Birding

In his talk, David Lindo told us about his mission: to involve the people of the cities with the urban nature that surrounds them, because this can help develop urban conservation initiatives through citizen participation.

His interest in birds came from an early age, he was 7 years old when he found “The guide of Great Britain Birds“, a book he treasured as the Holy Grail. David has revolutionized interest in birds in cities through activities led by himself. His call is to people, through birding in cities, to open their senses and love what is around, and even more, to come to understand that the garden of your window or the neighborhood park may be connected with the Amazon, Antarctica and with the rest of the world, since they are biological corridors for the species. Thus, people become aware that nature is at the door of the house.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder.

For years, David, as an urban birder, learned to see in each source, crack, light pole or abandoned building, the potential and realized niche of many species. He also chose his own birding patch in the city, which he regularly visits to follow the birds that live there.

You can start doing the same: choose your favorite birding spot in your city. Do not forget that the most important thing as an urban birder is to develop passion. And do not forget to look at the sky, always!


As a tourism experience for conservation, David told us about a small town in Serbia called Kikinda. There is park in Kikinda, the size of a block, that houses a huge population of Long-eared owls, which makes it look like a Harry Potter set.

In 10 years of guided visits to this place the local people have learned to value both: the owls and their small habitat. The impact was so big that the government of Serbia declared this small urban park as a nature reserve, one of its kind in the world, establishing penalties for up to 10,000 euros on anyone who disturbs the birds or their habitat.

This also shows that it is not necessary to be in the middle of the jungle to admire the wonders of nature.

The long-eared owl (Asio otus), also known as the northern long-eared owl, is a species of owl which breeds in Europe, Asia, and North America.

A good Example for Sustainable Ecotourism in Colombia

After listening to the wonderful conferences for three days, the Colombia BirdFair 2018 ended with the screening of the film “A Cloudy Destination: The Tropical Andean Forests” made 30 years ago in La Planada Reserve, in Nariño, with the participation of Megan E. Wood.

The documentary tells the story of the reserve and how the local Awá indigenous community remained steadfast in preserving the territory despite the war and social conflict. Few years ago, the reserve was transferred completely to the Awá community for its management, with great success.

This is an example in favor of sustainable development with community development. The documentary shows the natural richness of the region and reinforces the message that biodiversity should be protected. It proposes sustainable development as the best way to guarantee conservation in Colombia, ensuring that people from local communities can benefit financially and also be in harmony within each ecosystem.

La Planada Nature Reserve returns to the Awa indigenous community (SP). Read morhere.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Covid-19: Let’s take care now so we can meet soon in Colombia!

Colombia is an exceptional nature tourism destination where it is possible to enjoy a variety of activities from scientific research to simple contemplation and living the natural experience. This is why Colombia is a good post-covid 19 destination for everyone who wants to connect deep with nature. Worldwide, it ranks second as the most biodiverse country on the planet, supported by its offer of protected ecosystems, unique landscapes, fauna and flora and the geographical and climatic characteristics of its six natural regions: Andean, Caribbean, Pacific Coast, Insular, Amazon and Eastern Plains.

Colombia’s Natural Resources Facts

  • 3,000 species of fish at inland waters
  • Diverse marine and coastal ecosystems covering 95% of the continental shelf with coral reefs, mangrove forests, lagoons with coastlines and deltas, phanerogams meadows, beaches and cliffs.
  • 53 million hectares of natural forest.
  • 22 million hectares of savannahs, arid zones, wetlands, and snow peaks.
  • one million hectares of inland waters.
  • 14% of the national territory is a protected area in which there are national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries.
  • First place worldwide with 20% of bird species in the world.
  • 17% of amphibians in the world.
  • 8% of freshwater fish in the world..
  • 8% of reptiles in the world.
  • 16% of butterflies in the world.
  • 10% of mammals in the world.
  • First place worldwide with 258 species of palms.
  • Third place worldwide with +2890 species in vertebrates and 222 species of reptiles.

Additionally, Colombia is rich in heritage and culture. In the natural and rural areas of Colombia are located the vast majority of indigenous communities, afro-colombian, raizales and palenqueras, in collective territories and reserves, which include rainforests, natural savannas in the Orinoco, the inter-Andean valleys, the Caribbean plain, the vastness of the Chocó Biogeographic and the Amazon.

Therefore, nature tourism in Colombia, besides preserving the natural heritage, promotes the integral development of local ethnic and peasant communities, because tourism is their possibility of generating economic incomes, through the provision of tourism services. In return, local communities are the basis for the development of nature tourism, and this constitutes an option for enhancing economic development, environmental sustainability, social and cultural integration, and the peace process.

Tourism as a factor of sustainable development in Colombia: post-covid 19 destination

International tourism is experiencing the “worst crisis” in its history because of the Covid-19. Experts in the field point that travelers’ preferences and demands will be oriented towards sustainable tourism experiences after the crisis. We know that nature destinations can help you offset the effects on your physical and mental health during the pandemic. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) plans to make Colombia a good post-covid 19 destination, as a major tourist destination in the region, when the coronavirus crisis is overcome, since Colombia has the potential to offer a vast nature tourism activities and wellness for travelers after the Covid-19 crisis.

Regarding on this, Colombia and the tourism sector are preparing to expand the offer of sustainable tourism around activities in nature such as ecotourism, wellness, birdwatching, safari, whale watching, among others, as well as community tourism experiences. In turn, more than ever, nature tourism will help people in rural areas to recover economically from this crisis, especially local nature guides, small nature reserves, ecological parks, zoos and small towns near important nature destinations.

“Check in Certificate” Covid-19 biosafety

Colombia would be the first country in the world to agree with the organization on a biosecurity seal for post-Coronavirus tourism. The Ministry of commerce, industry, and tourism (MinCIT), with the support of ProColombia and Icontec, created the “Check in Certificate” quality seal and established the conditions for its use. This seal, which is voluntary, seeks to generate trust among travelers and consumers so that they use tourist services that comply with the protocols issued by the National Government, minimize the risks of virus infection and encourage tourism in the country. This certification seal is a logo that can be carried by an airline, service provider, area or tourist attraction, according to the certification issued by the conformity assessment body, for complying with technical standards and/or biosafety protocols and the conditions established by the Colombian law.

The purpose of the “Check in Certificate” quality seal will be to minimize the risks for workers, users, visitors and suppliers. Also, to generate confidence, to increase the competitiveness of the productive sectors and to promote the recovery and sustainability of the tourism industry in Colombia.

We want our visitors can check in with confidence, whether it be in a hotel, restaurant, bar or any tourist site. The idea is to make you feel that you are entering into a protected space. Similarly, it will be an informative and commercial tool to differentiate those establishments that offer biosecurity conditions, providing guidance and verifiable, non-deceptive and scientifically based information on compliance with biosecurity conditions. In this regard, the certificate may facilitate the surveillance functions regarding compliance with biosecurity protocols and health standards.

The stamp will also be used in several regions of Europe, Africa and America.

Let’s take care now to meet soon!

Let’s take care now so we can meet again soon!

We want you to know that tourism is an absolutely key sector for the development of Colombia. For nature tourism it is crucial for the conservation of our biodiversity and for the development of local communities. That is why we joined the campaign “#StayHome – Take care now to meet soon”.

Tourism in Colombia will continue to develop with the same strength that it has been developing in recent years, now, and once the process of reactivation takes place!

In Sula we have been taking care of ourselves, working from home. We are preparing to offer you the best natural and sustainable destinations in Colombia, with the complete safety required. We are tired of not having you around, can’t wait to see you soon again!

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Responsible Travelers and Nature Reserves in Colombia

One of the great attractions of Colombia is, without a doubt, the beauty of its nature reserves. These places offer a unique sensory experience in which visitors can contemplate the landscapes, let themselves be carried away by the sounds of nature, participate in ecotourism activities and disconnect from the routine and noise of the city. According to the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, IDEAM (2014 and 2015), Colombia has a total of 98 marine and terrestrial ecosystems (74 natural and 24 transformed). The creation of protected areas has had a very beneficial impact in terms of protecting water resources and water supply. However, the country needs it to serve as much, if not more, for the effectiveness of these areas in conserving Colombia’s rich biodiversity.

Protected areas and their systems contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and provide space for recreation and ecotourism development, benefiting local populations, regions and the business sector (Natural National Parks of Colombia, 2014). In addition to the protected areas, there are several figures aimed at the conservation of Colombia’s natural and cultural wealth, such as Ramsar sites, biosphere reserves, Peasant Reserve Areas, among others.

Nature Reserves in Colombia

There are three types of nature reserves in Colombia: UNESCO-declared biosphere reserves, public reserves and private civil society nature reserves. The Biosphere Reserves in Colombia are places that innovate and demonstrate the relationship that human beings can achieve with nature in the effort to combine conservation and sustainable development. Currently, Colombia has five biosphere reserves recognized by UNESCO: The Andean Belt (Cinturón Andino – 1979), El Tuparro (1979), Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (1979), Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (2000) and Seaflower (2000). We will tell you about them in another entry.

In relation to the other types of reserves, the public reserves are known as Nature Reserves and the private reserves are known as Civil Society Nature Reserves. In Colombia there are only two public Nature Reserves which are the Nukak Nature Reserve in Guaviare, and the Puinawai Nature Reserve in Guainía, both of which are not open to tourism. For this reason, in this post I will focus on the private reserves, since they are mostly the ones that offer the main services and destinations for ecotourism in Colombia.

What is a Civil Society Nature Reserve?

Colombian legislation defines this type of nature reserve as “a part or as the whole of the area of a property that conserves a sample of a natural ecosystem and is managed under the principles of sustainability in the use of natural resources”. In Colombia, any person who owns a rural or natural property can register a natural reserve as long as they demonstrate that they have the interest and commitment to conserve a sample of one or several natural ecosystems and, at the same time, develop sustainable production activities with low environmental impact and friendly to biodiversity. It does not matter the size of the reserve as long as it represents a sample of natural ecosystem.

When a nature reserve is registered with the National Parks of Colombia, it is legally recognized and becomes part of the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP), and incorporated into the National Registry of Protected Areas (RUNAP). One of the main benefits of Colombia’s protected areas is the preservation of natural resources and the promotion of the care of flora and fauna species, especially those at risk of extinction. The owner who registers a natural reserve in Colombia gains: (1) participation rights in the planning processes of development programs, (2) prior consent for the execution of public investments that affect them, and (3) the right to receive government incentives, among others. At the same time, the owner must safeguard the integrity of the territory and report any activity or situation that is endangering the protected area.

Importance of Private Nature Reserves in Colombia

Much of Colombia’s natural ecosystems are being radically transformed. Factors such as deforestation, the expansion of the agricultural frontier and the accelerated growth of extensive cattle ranching have directly affected the country’s natural ecosystems. Many reserves have gone from being a farm divided into paddocks, with severe erosion, to become recovered and well-developed ecosystems that are home to countless species of birds and mammals, attracting international tourism. But its scope has gone beyond, and many reserves have developed sustainability programs related to waste management, organic plantations, permaculture, planting agroforestry crops. They have even specialized in receiving illegally trafficked wildlife and conducting environmental education programs.

Civil Society Nature Reserves are recognized by the Colombian Government as recipients of (1) compensation measures for biodiversity loss, (2) investments in environmental control, (3) payment for environmental services, and (4) tax exemptions through ecotourism. These benefits have encouraged natural and legal persons of all kinds to create or support nature reserves in Colombia, and this is how, to date, there are more than 900 civil society nature reserves in all the Colombian territory that protect around 202,550 ha of land and marine territories (Source RUNAP). All the civil society nature reserves in Colombia belong to IUCN category IV. Many IUCN category IV protected areas exist in densely populated regions, with relatively high human pressure in terms of potential illegal use and visitor pressure. Category IV reserves require management undertaken voluntarily by local communities or private actors. They also require constant and successful management to sustain them over time, because they normally protect only part of an ecosystem.

This is why ecotourism plays a fundamental role in their maintenance. Private nature reserves help to fill the gaps that public reserves cannot fill. They serve as connectors between patches of natural habitat that have become disconnected from each other. In addition, they foster the development of local communities around them by providing common objectives of conservation and sustainable production. Thus, activities such as bird watching, ecotourism, agrotourism, experiential tourism, wellness tourism, sustainable coffee and cocoa production, sport fishing, among others, have become an employment engine for hundreds of rural citizens who depend directly or indirectly on the guarantees provided by the nature reserves. Likewise, the reserves are important actors in the construction of rural scenarios of peace and dignified life for the farmers.

How is the ecotourism experience in most of Colombia’s  nature reserves?

As we mentioned in a past entry, what prevails in Colombia is the offer of basic accommodations in private reserves, sanctuaries and national parks. Despite the importance for environmental protection and local development of the regions, not many places have a full infrastructure for the development of ecotourism. In many of them the accommodation is basic, with rustic houses, built in wood and served by the local farmers themselves, who do not have much idea on how to provide a first class service. In any case, the natural charisma of the Colombian can far surpass these shortcomings. You will see and feel that you will be attended as if you were one of their own family.

There are other services that do not depend only on the community, but on the action of local and national governments. So, many times, the service of drinking water and electricity is limited, especially in the reserves that are located in remote places. The same goes for access roads, which are not maintained, or even exist, and you will have to get there on foot or by horse.

Your visit to a nature reserve in Colombia is very important, because it not only benefits the quality of life of local communities that provide services of any kind, or the protection of the environment, but also encourages and facilitates people’s investments to increase the quality of services. This way, every time you visit them again you will have something new to discover, experience and enjoy!

Check out our trips and also find in our blog the best reviews about the nature reserves you can visit in Colombia.


About the author

Sara Colmenares 

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching. 

Recommended Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia

Being the world’s most biodiverse country per square kilometer and having an outstanding cultural heritage, Colombia is a potential world-class sustainable tourism destination.

Colombians are beginning to realize that natural wealth is the key to the country’s development, when managed with responsibility and respect.

Following the guidelines of sustainable tourism can be challenging, however there are numerous destinations apt for sustainable tourism in Colombia and communities willing to preserve the environment while showing to the world the beauty of the country’s biodiversity.  

Let’s talk about what sustainable tourism is, why it is important in recent times and some sustainable destinations in Colombia.

Defining Sustainable Tourism   

The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as a form of “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.

In this way, there has to be a balance between these three dimensions for sustainability to exist and last. In 3 concepts, sustainable tourism is: conservation of biodiversity, social welfare and economic security. 

To understand better, think of these principles of sustainability in the tourism industry: 

  1. Natural resources are a crucial element in the development of tourism, they should be optimally used as long as there are processes that guarantee the conservation of biodiversity and natural heritage. 
  2. Tourism should respect the sociocultural heritage of host communities, ensuring the preservation of their traditions and the promotion of interculturality. 
  3. Tourism-based business models should generate economic benefits fairly distributed among all stakeholders, representing opportunities to the host communities to develop a better quality of life. 

With the tourism sector gaining importance in Colombia, more tourists coming each year and generating more employment and income, it is essential to regulate how the operators and travelers impact the environment and the host communities’ welfare and economy.

Colombia has an immense natural and cultural wealth that needs to be preserved for the future generations. 

How to Support Sustainable Tourism 

If you are interested in supporting sustainable tourism, but don’t know how apart from visiting these certified sustainable tourism destinations in Colombia, here are some tips:  

  • Do research. Making informed decisions when choosing a tour operator, a hotel or any other service is the key. Choose those who are local based and that return profits to the community. 
  • Prefer local agencies, local restaurants and local guides. Who knows better the region that its inhabitants? 
  • Appreciate the work of natives. Buy crafts and souvenirs hand-made by local communities, it is their way to obtain income. 
  • Choose activities with low environmental impact. Ecotourism activities such as hikes, camping, wildlife tours and interaction with host communities are becoming more popular just as the eco-friendly trend. 
  • Be aware of your habits. Don’t depend on the destinations or the hotels’ sustainability policies, but adopt ecological and socially responsible habits in your everyday life so you don’t leave a negative footprint in the places you visit. 

Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia 

Governmental bodies such as the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT), the Ministry of Environment and the Vice-ministry of Tourism, along with the ICONTEC and Universidad Externado de Colombia issued a technical standard to certificate tourist destinations as being of tourist quality, once they met all the sustainability requirements.

This certificate complies with the Colombian Sectorial Technical Standard NTS TS 001-1, which includes the necessary environmental, socio-cultural and economic requirements.

This technical standard seeks to promote sustainable tourism, where economic, social and aesthetic needs can be met, while respecting cultural integrity, ecological processes and diversity.

Today, there are 20 certified sustainable tourism destinations in Colombia, as specified in the official document here.

Here you have a brief of what you can experience in each of these amazing destinations.

Parque Arví, Medellín 

Bird Watching during the Bird Festival of Medellín, at Parque Arví, 2018

Parque Arví is a public park where everyone can have a great time in contact with nature. It is on the outskirts of Medellin, easily accessible by cable car, which is connected to the city’s public transportation system.

It has a wide sustainable tourist offer that includes day and night hiking, bird watching, picnics, bike tours, archaeological and cultural tours, and even obstacle course races!

Within its commitment to the environmental conservation, Parque Arví offers an environmental and cultural agenda in its Ignacio Vélez Escobar Center, has educational tours to learn about traditions, flowers, birds, recycling and much more! 

Jardín, Antioquia 

Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

Another Colombian Heritage Town, Jardin, attracts hundreds of national and international tourists for its beauty, but recently, for its sustainable tourism offer. It is located 130 km away from Medellin, which means a 3-hour ride south.

What stands out the most are its bright-colored houses that match the joyful inhabitants. All tourist activities are engaged in protecting natural resources and using them adequately, and fostering the job creation by employing locals with fair conditions and supporting the commercialization of local goods and services.

This is an important bird watching destination in the western Andes of Colombia, here you can find the Gallito de las Rocas Reserve, where there is the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus), and the Proaves Bird Nature Reserve Loro Orejiamarillo (Ognorhynchus icterotis). 

Jericó, Antioquia 

This colorful little town appeared on the radar of Colombians when Madre Laura Montoya, born in Jericó, was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013, becoming the first Colombian saint. Apart from visiting her house museum, you should climb the Cristo Rey hill and enjoy the view of the village from the top, where a statue of Christ with open arms lies.

The main square in front of the church has big trees and the houses are embellished by bright colored designs. 

The verification process to certify Jericho as a sustainable tourism destination lasted a year and a half. This qualification was endorsed by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the National Tourism Fund (Fontur).

One of the aspects that deserved the recognition of this population was the preservation of the historical center and the environmental actions to preserve it.

Armenia, Quindío 

Siproeta stelenes (malachite) at the Mariposario of the Botanical Garden of Quindío

Armenia is a major city of the coffee region and the Coffee Cultural Landscape, apart from being an important trade and tourism center of the Western part of Colombia. In Armenia, the process of certification as a sustainable destination began in 2017 and ended in December 2018.

The city hall and its surroundings make the sustainable tourist zone up and include spots such as the Bolivar square, the Cathedral, the metropolitan cultural center, some museums, parks and malls. You can visit the Park of Life, one of the largest green lungs of the Quindian capital.

With a total area of about 8 hectares, this eco-tourist space serves the inhabitants of the city as a paradise amid the concrete and chaos of daily life. You can also visit The Botanical Garden of Quindío, 30 minutes from Armenia, in Calarcá, a significant pole of scientific exploration and environmental training.

This garden has one of the largest collections of butterflies and palms of Colombia and the earth. 

Salento, Quindío 

Colorful Streets of Salento

Salento is home to the Quindío wax palm that serve as bridges between the ground and the sky, reaching up to 60 meters. The Cocora Valley is Salento’s biggest attraction, is known as ‘the first natural wonder of Quindío’, and borders Los Nevados National Park.

The landscapes and natural wealth of this valley dazzle every tourist that gets there to hike or go bird watching. The architecture of the town maintains the colonial style typical of the coffee region. 

Filandia, Quindío 

Filandia is a village northwest of Salento that gained recognition for its model of sustainable tourism. Before, it was inhabited by the Quimbaya indigenous group, now it offers several cultural and natural attractions.

Viewpoints with jaw-dropping sights, the main church, the Bolívar square, the artisan neighborhood and museum, the Rio Barbas canyon and religious festivities make Filandia worth visiting. 

Santa Rosa de Cabal, Risaralda 


15 km from Pereira, the capital of Risaralda, is this beautiful town part of the Colombian Coffee Triangle. Although coffee is the axis of its economy, the tourism activity has increased in recent years.

The main attractions are hot springs resorts, a lake of medicinal mud, the typical 20th century houses with flowered balconies, the main square with its church and park and let’s not forget the chorizos santarrosanos -the specialty of the village. 

Also near to this town, there is an interesting birding point, at Finca Cortaderal where the Fuertes’s parrot (Hapalopsittaca fuertesi) is easy to observe.  

Marsella, Risaralda 

Marsella has a national reputation of being a green town and it is a main destination in the department of Risaralda.

Apart from being the only village in Risaralda with its own botanical garden, it has La Nona municipal park and hundreds of hanging gardens in the balconies of the colonial houses.

Landscapes vary from the riverbanks of the Cauca river to a forest reserve over 2,000 MASL. 

Manizales, Caldas 

Tinamú Birding Lodge, Manizales, Colombia

The capital of Caldas, Manizales, is located in the Central Andes range, in the central western part of Colombia. Today it has great economical, industrial, cultural and tourist importance and hosts the famous Feria de Maniales and the Theater International Festival.

The historic center has tourist spots such as Bolivar Square, the Cathedral Basilica, historic houses, cultural centers and streets such as Calle del Tango. Its proximity with Nevado del Ruiz and Los Nevados NNP makes Manizales a good destination for ecotourism.

Take a look on our Coffee triangle Birdwatching tour here.

Buga, Valle del Cauca 

The historic center of this small town, about 1 hour northeast from Cali, is quite visited by Catholics, since there is the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) Basilica. Pilgrims go there to ask for favors and thank for the blessings granted.

Guadalajara de Buga -its actual name-, is one of the Heritage Towns of Colombia and boasts a classic architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries. Also, it has natural attractions around such as Laguna de Sonso natural reserve, Lago Calima and El Vinculo Regional Natural Park. 

Usiacurí, Atlántico

Community-based tourism Usiacurí

Usiacurí is one of the oldest towns in Colombia’s Atlantic coast, founded in the most important indigenous territory of the region. The name is made up of Usía (lordship) and Curí (name of the regional indigenous chief).

Mineral water wells

Its medicinal water sources are the town’s most known attraction, since visitors from all over have come to treat their diseases. Other tourist spots are the Santo Domingo de Guzman church, Julio Florez museum and square, and the Panama hat plant handicraft stores. 

Luriza Reserve

Here it is also posible to visit the Luriza Regional Integrated Management District, where conservation objects are the artisan tradition with Iraca palm (Carludovica palmata) and the protection of the tree species Carreto (Aspidosperma polyneuron), the typical bird communities of the Tropical Dry Forest, the bodies of water, and the ancestral knowledge about medicinal plants.

Ciénaga, Magdalena 

This town nestled on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, close to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is an strategic site of transit of people travelling to La Guajira, Barranquilla and the center of Colombia.

It boasts many water bodies such as lagoons, rivers, hot springs and, of course, the sea. Among its attractions are the beaches, cultural heritage sites including churches and historic buildings, and an archaeological zone.

La Piscina Beach, Tayrona NNP 

La Piscina is one of the few beaches in Tayrona National Natural Park where you can have a relaxing and private bath, far from tourist spots. Although small, this beach is gorgeous and is between Cabo San Juan and Arrecife beaches.

Its name comes from the rock barrier that surrounds the place, reducing the waves and simulating a pool. 

Mompox, Bolívar 

Santa Cruz de Mompox is a remote heritage town in the Caribbean region of Colombia that is worth visiting. Goldsmithing, architecture and gastronomy are some of its highlights.

Go visit its several swamps and gorges, tour the streets to find artisans of different disciplines, a lot of churches and go looking for exotic birds. 

Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar 

‘The heroic city’ of Cartagena is perhaps the most visited city in Colombia, thanks to its history, architecture and 11 km of Caribbean beaches that offer plenty of options for luxury travel. 

The historic center and Getsemaní neighborhood, where the wealthy families used to live, are the sustainable tourism destinations in Cartagena. The San Felipe Castle and the walled city are a must. 


From Cartagena it is possible to depart to Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo National Natural Park where marine-coastal ecosystems are protected in order to contribute to the provision of environmental and / or ecosystem services.

You will find Coral Reefs, Seagrasses, Sedimentary Funds, Tropical Dry Forest, Coastal Lagoons, Rocky and Sandy Coastline and Mangrove Forest and its associated species. 

To know more about nature destinations is Cartagena visit our entry The Most Awesome Nature Destinations to Visit in Cartagena.

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá 

Villa de Leyva is one of the top tourist destination in Colombia. It is a must-visit when you are travel to Colombia, thanks to its architecture heritage and natural wonders around the town. Its central square is the largest in the country, with 14,000 square meters.

Cobbled paths keep unchanged the colonial style, while the plenty museums preserve landmarks of the Colombian history.

Fossil, El Fósil Museum, Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Paleonthology, archaeology, astronomy and adventure tourism play an important role in the success of Villa de Leyva in national tourism. 

From Villa de Leyva you can visit Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, where you can find the Sacred Lagoon of Iguaque that, according to Muisca mythology, is the cradle of humanity. 

There are a total of 7 lagoons of glacier origin in the Sanctuary, altitudes between 2,400 and 3,800 MASL, and one of the main areas of oak in the country. Visit our entry Discover the Natural Attractions of Villa de Leyva, Colombia to find more nature attractions in Villa de Leyva. 

Monguí, Boyacá 

Páramo de Ocetá

Monguí is part of Colombia’s heritage towns list and is known as one of the prettiest towns in Boyacá. Its architecture is incredible and well-preserved, religious landmarks stand out and nature is well-represented by the wonderful Paramo de Ocetá, a water factory and biodiversity shelter.

Craftsmanship is big in Mongui, since it is the mecca for the hand-sewn soccer balls. 

La Macarena, Meta 

To he south of Meta department, part of Los Llanos Orientales, is La Macarena. The municipality shelters a great natural heritage, being Sierra de la Macarena and Caño Cristales -the 5 color river– its highlights in ecotourism.

Other tourist spots are Parque Los Fundadores, Salto del Aguila, Los Pailones, Caño Intermedio, Caño Escondido and Los Pianos trails, and Cristalitos viewpoint.  

La Tatacoa Desert, Huila 

Tatacoa Desert

A 40-minute ride north from Neiva takes you to Villavieja, the municipality where La Tatacoa Desert is.

Out of the 3 zones of this amazing dry area, Cuzco, a reddish zone of 256 hectares, is a certified sustainable tourism destination.

This place is quite attractive because of its eroded soil adorned with mazes of gullies, cactuses and little wildlife. 

Colombia offers quite a lot of ecotourist destinations for all tourists, if you want to learn more about them, click here.

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.

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.