Our Panama to Columbia Top 10

Surfing & Diving, Wax Palms & Rainbows, City Life and Coffee

Our Panama to Columbia Top 10

Surfing & Diving, Wax Palms & Rainbows, City Life and Coffee

It’s hard to develop a top 10 list for Panama and Columbia since there are so many amazing things to do in both countries, but we’ll give it a shot. After spending 8-weeks from Panama to Columbia, we wanted to share our top 10 adventures with you. Most of them we did. Others we could not fit in, but wished we had the time.

Playa Venao is getting popular but it’s still a magical place. The beach break is great here and there’s several places where you can surf which makes it less likely you will be impaled by someone else’s board. Playa Venao also has a lively nightlife including great electronic music and is home to several electronic music festivals including the Sonica Venao festival every March.

# 3. Exploring Cartagena, Colombia

A Local Woman in Cartagena

# 6. Exploring Bogota, Colombia

You might be surprised that Bogota is on our top 10 list. Despite the fact that Bogota is a huge city, we found it to be really interesting. For us the highlights included the Barrios (we’d recommend hiring Ivan Dario (+57 301 6101 1828) who can take you on a tour of several of them including Barrio Egipto and Ciudad Bolivar), the graffiti (we’d recommend taking the Original Graffiti Tour), the museums (including the Botero and Gold museums), the nightlife and the restaurants. But if big cities aren’t your thing though, definitely skip Bogota!

# 7. Soaking up the atmosphere in Colombia’s coffee region –

Salento seems to be the place from which most gringos and westerners explore the coffee region but we’d recommend identifying an opportunity to stay at a coffee finca outside of Salento. We stayed at Hacienda Guayabal outside of Manzanillo.

# 8. Exploring Barichara, Colombia (a city frozen in time)

For us (and other overlanders), Barichara, a small colonial town in northeastern Colombia, is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Colombia (and perhaps the world). Unlike other towns like Villa de Leyva, which was discovered years ago, for the last several hundred years, Barichara has been frozen in time so walking down it’s beautiful cobblestone streets is especially magical. There’s also lots to do there including hiking and mountain biking.

# 10. Hiking (and going mountain biking) in Cocora Valley

1. Scuba diving and surfing in Santa Catalina, Panama

There are several breaks in Santa Catalina including some “heavier” world class reef/rock breaks. But there is also a mellower beach break. We’d recommend staying at the Surfers Paradise has an amazing view and is close to several breaks including a beach break that’s suitable for beginners/intermediates. The diving on Coiba National Park is some of the best in South America. And if you want to dive with hammerheads, it’s one of the best places to do this in the world. We’d recommend diving with Panama Dive Center which is by far the most organized and professional dive shop in Santa Catalina. Keep in mind that visibility can be poor at certain times of the year in Coiba National Park but the team at Panama Dive Center will be let you know how good or bad it is.

# 2. Relaxing and Surfing in Playa Venao, Panama

Oz taking a break for the heat on Playa Venao

Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city with great restaurants, interesting colonial architecture and a vibrant nightlife. If you do go, we’d recommend staying in the old town or in Getsamani, not in Bocogrande which is like a run down version of Miami Beach. Don’t expect beautiful white sand beaches in Cartagena (they aren’t). But do expect an interesting introduction to the diversity of Colombia, beautiful colonial architecture (and graffiti) and great food and nightlife.

# 4. Scuba diving in Providencia, Columbia

I dove in Providencia over 10 years ago. Providencia is home to one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. And the reef is still very healthy in large part because the island it’s so far offshore. Expect amazing cave, reef and wall dives and super cheap prices, in large part because the dives are all shore dives! How cool is that?

# 5. Narcotourism in Medellin

Yes, narco tourism rewards former members of the Cali Cartel (many of whom served years in prison and were now released. But where else can you get a tour of the barrios that were Pablo Escobar’s stronghold by former members of the Cali Cartel, including some of Pablo Escobar’s hit men.

A bartender at Carne de Res in Chia outside of Bogota. Don’t miss having dinner there if you are in Bogota.

# 9. Soaking in the Hot Springs in Colombia

There are numerous hot springs in Colombia but we’d recommend the Termales San Vicente outside of Santa Rosa de Cabal. The Termales de Santa Rosa are also beautiful but at San Vicente, you can hot springs to yourself, especially if you stay there overnight.

Leah in one of the hot springs at Termales San Vicente

Salento, the gateway to Cocora Valley wasn’t our favorite (it’s nothing to write home about) so we’d recommend camping at one of the campgrounds at the end of the Cocora Valley road and getting up early to complete the 4 hour loop (we’d recommend starting the hike by 7 before the Willy’s Jeeps start arriving from Salento). There’s also good mountain biking in the area (contact Pedro at the Beta Hostel if you need a bike and/or ride to the trailhead).

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