Five Ways to Spend Christmas in Colombia

Christmas lights in Colombia

Few countries celebrate the Christmas season with as much enthusiasm as they do in Colombia. For the entire month of December, the entire country is alive with vibrant celebrations that include festivals, dancing, family get-togethers, and of course, lots of eating and drinking.

So, if you’re planning a visit to South America or just looking for some alternate ideas for your holiday celebrations, why not consider spending your Christmas in Colombia?

Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Colombia in December, including weather conditions, travel tips, and some local traditions you won’t want to miss out on!

Weather in December

Weather-wise, December is an incredible time to take a trip to Colombia. As this country is located near the equator, temperatures in the region tend to be fairly even year-round. However, visiting Colombia in December means the notoriously rainy skies will start clearing up and you’ll be able to enjoy mildly warmer temperatures and typically dry weather.

Travel Tips

Considering the holiday season and Colombia’s more travel-conducive weather during December, it’s no surprise that travel costs do rise during this time. Be prepared for higher prices for your flights and accommodations, as well as a minimum stay of 3-4 nights imposed by most hotels. There are many fun things to do in Colombia in winter, but you may have to pay a little more for some of the top attractions as well.

Colombian Christmas Traditions

Tradition has always been an important aspect of Colombian culture, and this is particularly emphasized around the Christmas season.

As Catholicism is still the main religion in Colombia, many of the traditional values expressed over the holiday season carry a strongly religious tone. You’ll find festivals in honor of the Virgin Mary, midnight masses, and nativity scenes displayed throughout the country. But while Christmas is a time of expressing religious values for Colombians, it’s also a very important time for connecting with family and friends.

Colombia has some amazing traditions that help them make the most of the convivial holiday spirit! Let’s take a look at three of the most beloved Colombian Christmas traditions: food, decorations, and celebrations.

Christmas Food in Colombia

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without traditional culinary specialties. And, as in most cultures, cuisine definitely plays an important role in Colombian Christmas celebrations!

There are a variety of delicious Colombian Christmas foods that are specifically prepared over this time of year. While there are a number of tantalizing savory plates that are typically served, desserts are the most looked-forward to dishes in most families.

Christmas Food in Colombia

The local favorite is natilla, a sugary cinnamon and coconut custard that is usually paired with buñuelos, fried cheeseballs. If natilla isn’t on the menu, arroz con leche, a rice pudding topped with raisins and cinnamon, or hojuelas, hot fried pastries sprinkled with powdered sugar, usually are.

During the primary Christmas celebrations on December 24, Colombians often serve lechona, pork stuffed with peas and rice, for the main meal. Some common alternatives to this dish are ham, turkey, or other year-round favorites like Tamales or Ajiaco.

Colombians host dinners and parties with family and friends throughout most of December, especially in the nine days leading up to Christmas. So, if you’re traveling through the region over the holiday season you’ll be almost certain to try one or more of these sweet and savory dishes!

Decorations

If you’ve been to Colombia in December, you’ll know one thing for certain: Colombians love Christmas decorations! Throughout the cities and in almost every home, you’ll find decorated Christmas trees, exquisite holiday lights, figures of Santa Claus or snowmen, and plenty of decorative candles.

Decorations

One of the most central Christmas decorations in Colombia is known as El Pesbre, or the nativity scene. Hotels, apartment complexes, and restaurants go to great lengths to design impressive scenes that sometimes include water features and planted flowers. El Pesbre also plays an important role in Colombian home decorations.

In early December, most children will write letters to niño díos (baby Jesus) asking for specific gifts. They place these letters in the nativity scene and hope that baby Jesus, not Santa, will bring them gifts on Christmas Eve.

Colombia Christmas Celebrations

Leading up to the final Christmas celebration and gift exchange, it’s common for friends and family to play aguinaldos. These are silly games or challenges that must be completed in order to “win” gifts. Some examples are “three feet,” where you have to keep your opponent from placing their foot between yours, and “straw in the mouth,” which involves keeping a straw in your mouth all day. These games provide a lot of laughs and, of course, you usually “win” your gift even if you lose the game.

The most important celebration of the holiday season takes place on Christmas Eve in Colombia. On this day, the entire family gets together for a meal, games, and a gift exchange. After all the festivities of the day, families usually go to a midnight mass and some people will stay up all night continuing their celebrations. After an entire day and night of celebrating on the 24th, Christmas Day in Colombia usually finds people relaxing, eating delicious leftovers, and spending time with the family.

If you’re planning to stay for New Year, don’t miss our New Year’s Eve post about what is one of the best nights of the year in Cartagena. And of course, get in touch with us if you’re looking for the best prices on villas and yachts, because the holiday season can get expensive without local contacts.

Your Need-to-Know Guide
to Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena Cityscape - historical centre and Bocagrande

Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most thriving cities. Founded in 1553 as a portal of trade between Spain and the American colonies, this beautiful historic city boasts impressive colonial architecture, a rich history, a vibrant culture, and a beautiful landscape. Today, Cartagena is considered the safest metropolis in Colombia and one of the best spots for tourism in South America!

Located in the northwest area of Colombia, this city sprawls between the inland hills of the department of Bolívar and the white sand coastline of the Caribbean. There’s plenty to see and do in Cartagena—soak up the sun on the beaches, take in the spectacular views of the tropical scenery, or wander through winding cobbled streets in charming neighborhoods. Just a short boat ride away, you’ll find the Rosario Islands – a protected reserve or picture perfect islands and coral reefs.

Two places you absolutely won’t want to miss within Cartgena, are the Walled City of Old Cartagena and the neighborhood of Getsemani. Between these two districts, you can get a thorough taste of the culture and people of Cartagena while experiencing some of the city’s most noteworthy sights, tastes, and sounds!

The Walled City of Old Cartagena

Castillo San Felipe in Cartagena

One of the most memorable neighborhoods in all of Colombia, the Walled City of Old Cartagena is famous for its rich history and magnificent architecture. This district is so important to Colombian culture that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site In 1984!

Castillo San Felipe outside the historical centre, and the fortifications that surround and protect the city were built by Spanish colonists to protect from pirates, most notably Sir Francis Drake, during the 16th century. The entire neighborhood is surrounded by a massive stone wall and can only be entered through one of many arched gateways.

Despite the constant flow of tourists and the passage of three centuries, this enchanting fortified city has managed to preserve much of its authentic architecture and colonial charm. Visitors today find a winding network of cobbled streets, colonial churches, ancient mansions, and rows of brightly painted cottages protected behind the castle-like walls.

Today, Old Cartagena hosts a thriving tourist community. Many of the antique family mansions have been transformed into luxury hotels that still maintain some of the original construction and showcase authentic colonial decor. There are hundreds of world-class restaurants here, and it is expected that the Walled City will soon overtake Bogota as the culinary capital of Colombia!

You can expect to pay a little more for your accommodation, dining, and adventures within the walls, but it will be well worth it to experience this enchanting old-world city.

Things to Do in the Walled City

Cartagena historical street

During the day, wander through the Old City’s streets, lined with brightly painted houses and seemingly perfectly preserved colonial architecture. Travelers will find tropical blooms draping from colorful balconies, enchanting stone archways, and a tantalizing selection of local street food.

If fine-dining is what you’ve come for, be sure to try La Cevicheria for exquisitely prepared Colombian seafood, Montmartre for classic French cuisine, or Alma for contemporary classics in a romantic setting.

The Walled City is an amazing place to watch the sunset over the Caribbean! Just before dark, head to the Cafe del Mar to enjoy cocktails and fine dining with the view, or purchase drinks and a fruit cup from one of the street vendors and join the locals on the western wall. Either way, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the sun setting over the vibrant Caribbean waters!

Getsemaní – Cartagena’s Williamsburg

Once considered Cartagena’s shadiest neighborhood, today, Getsemaní has evolved into a modern and trendy corner that draws tourists with its vibrancy and artistic expression. Located just outside of the Walled City, no trip to Cartagena is complete without a tour of this neighborhood.

Taking photos in Plaza Trinidad, Getsemani, Cartagena

Like the Walled City, Getsemaní features colonial architecture, winding streets, and bright colors. Mingled in with this classic aesthetic is an astonishing array of talented street art. Painted on buildings, walls, and sidewalks, the colorful local artwork has become an identifying characteristic of this trendy neighborhood.

Getsemani revolves around Plaza Trinidad, a large open square bustling with food vendors, cafes, and musicians. Every night, the plaza comes alive with a mix of tourists and locals coming together to enjoy good music, food, dancing, and company. While it’s still a bit rough around the edges, the local vibe, amazing street art, and authentic feel of Getsemani make it well worth the visit!

Things to do in Getsemaní

Getsemani seems to have been designed for wandering. The first thing you should do here is just that: walk! Amble up and down the narrow streets to enjoy the fantastic artwork, brightly colored homes, and prolific tropical plants that line almost every road.

For food, head to the Plaza Trinidad. The main square of the city has a wide selection of vendors to choose from, all of it well-priced and delicious. For a more formal setting, try out Di Silvio Trattoria for pizza and Italian food, or, go to Cafe del Mural for some of the best coffee in Cartagena!

Whatever you decide to do in the city of Cartagena, get in touch if you would like help with nightlife and restaurant reservations, tours, boat hire, day trips of the best villas in the city.

Top 10 Things to Do in Medellin

With its spectacular mountain views, diverse culture, traditional cuisine, and sightseeing attractions, Medellin is one of South America’s most popular travel destinations! Located in the Colombian department of Antioquia, this region is one of the top suppliers of Colombian coffee beans, home of some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders such as Parque Arvi and El Peñón de Guatapé, and a well-known shopping and dining destination.

Check out this comprehensive guide to find out what to do in Medellin!

Explore Downtown Medellín

One of the best ways to experience the culture of Medellin is by exploring the downtown district, El Centro. Whether you take a guided walking tour or stroll through the streets with your travelling companion, El Centro is the ideal place to learn about Medellin’s history, culture, and architecture. Downtown is bustling and active, and by day this district is very safe. However, it’s important to travel in pairs or with a group and stay off the streets at night. We recommend making a point of touring El Centro on your first full day in Medellin, as it will help you get your bearings and make the most of the rest of your trip!

Botero in Medellin

Plaza Botero & Museo de Antioquia

Be sure to enjoy some of Fernando Botero’s internationally acclaimed sculptures and paintings during your stay in Medellin! A native to Medellin, Botero patronized his home town with an impressive collection of stunning artwork.

Visit the Plaza Botero to admire his colossal human statues, or wander around the Museo de Antioquia to see some of his most famous paintings. Located side by side in the city center, these two Medellin attractions have free admission!

Jardin Botanico

Located north of the city center in Zona Norte, the botanical gardens of Medellin are worth taking a bit of time to see. Among an impressive array of native plants and animals, these gardens feature a butterfly house and an orchid exhibit. Throughout the gardens, you’ll find many places to sit down and admire the exotic flora and fauna. Completely free to enter, the Jardin Botanico is a fantastic place to take a break from sightseeing and relax for a few hours!

Parque Arvi

Brimming with hiking trails, fresh water streams, and picnic areas, Parque Arvi is sure to be one of the most memorable destinations on your journey. As one of the region’s largest nature reserves, this park is the perfect spot to enjoy the tranquility of nature and observe wildlife. The easiest way to access Parque Arvi is by taking the Medellin metro cable, but you can also hike up to it if you’re feeling adventurous!

Metro Cable

The Metro Cable connects the valley-based hub of the city to some of the surrounding mountain communities. The city’s innovative metro system offers more than just easy accessibility around Medellin, though. Whether you take the metro cable all the way up to Parque Arvi or just to a hillside town, you’ll enjoy unparalleled sights of Medellin and the surrounding countryside!

Pueblito Paisa

Constructed to resemble a traditional small pueblo, or village, Pueblito Paisa is located right in the center of Medellin on Cerro Nutibara. From this elevated hill, you can enjoy incredible views of the city and surrounding countryside. Pueblito Paisa is worth visiting for more than just the vantage point though! Home to a variety of quaint shops, this village is an excellent place to pick up a souvenir of your travels.

Parque Explora

An interactive science museum located just next to the botanical gardens in Zona Norte, Parque Explora is a fun and educational choice for a free afternoon! Visitors can partake in interactive science programs or gaze at the exotic animals hosted in the large indoor aquarium. Full of activities for the entire family, this museum is a must-see for anyone traveling with kids!

Guatapé

El Peñón de Guatapé

For anyone staying in Medellin over an extended visit, the small pueblo of Guatapé is a must-see. Just two hours away by bus, the main attraction in this beautiful lake town is El Peñón de Guatapé, a granite monolith.

For a small fee, you can climb the 740 steps carved into the rock and experience the stunning views of the nearby lake, islands, and mountains. After the climb, be sure to pick up some delicious and affordable Colombian street food from local vendors in Guatapé!

Local Cuisine

There are some amazing fine dining opportunities in Medellin! For contemporary cuisine and local ingredients, reserve seating at Carmen Restaurant in El Poblado. While the prices are fairly high at this fine dining restaurant, you’ll enjoy an exquisite meal experience! For slightly more moderate prices and a family friendly atmosphere, try out Mondongos, where you’ll find a variety of delicious local favorites. If you’re looking for a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines, visit the gastronomic market of Mercado del Rio. With more than fifty food vendors located in one building, you’ll be sure to find something that suits your taste!

Medellin Coffee Shops

Colombia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers, and many of the beans come from the region of Antioquia surrounding Medellin. The best place to go for freshly harvested, roasted, and brewed Colombian coffee is the trendy neighborhood of El Poblado. Pergamino coffee shop has a large selection of hot and cold beverages, made almost entirely from beans grown on the owner’s family farm. We’d also recommend sampling craft coffee brews at Café Velvet, and Urbania Café, also in El Poblado. Each of these coffee shops offers bags of regional beans at unbeatable prices, so you can even take home an aromatic blend as a souvenir of your journey!

If you’re planning a trip to Medellín and the coffee region, get in touch. We’ll design an itinerary tailored to your time and interests, so you can enjoy this very special region to the max!

Traveling to Colombia: Safety, Sights, and Culture

Woman in Guatape

Is a trip to Colombia on your bucket list? If it isn’t, we think you just might want to put it there. Colombia is one of the most well known countries in South America, and has become a popular travel destination for long and short term visits.

Why is everyone racing to get to Colombia? Situated just south of Panama on the northern coast of the continent, this country is home to thriving cities, world-class dining, and breathtaking sights. Colombia is renowned for its intriguing history, exquisite natural beauty, and flourishing agricultural community. With so much diversity of culture and landscape, Colombia offers seemingly endless opportunities for adventure!

If traveling to South America is next on your list, our cultural guide to Colombia will help you gain an understanding of this enchanting region!

Safety in Colombia

Increasing safety has meant that Colombia has become one of the most desirable South American tourist destinations over the last decade.

Safety in Colombia

Before we take a look at the unique draws of Colombian culture, it’s important to consider the safety of the region. Like many of its neighboring South American countries, Colombia has had a past reputation of crime and violence. However, due to the diligence of the government, Colombia’s safety standards have seen incredible amounts of improvement over the past ten years.

The US government recommends that visitors should still be cautious, but for the most part, Colombia is considered a safe destination for travelers. The Colombian drug empire from the 80s and 90s has been disbanded, and the most powerful guerrilla terrorists have signed peace treaties.

Culture in Colombia

Culture in Colombia

Colombia’s history is as intriguing as its current culture is charming. In pre-colonial times, Colombia was settled by the Tayronas and the Muiscas, small communities of people who were known for their abundance of fine South American gold.

When the Spaniards arrived in the region, they were captivated by the incredible wealth of the indigenous people and their story of the city of gold, El Dorado. The Spanish conquest and colonization of present-day Colombia lasted until 1819, when the revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar helped gain the country’s independence.

Today, Colombian culture is still strongly influenced by its history as a Spanish colony. Colonial architecture, cobbled roads, and whitewashed or brightly painted buildings invite visitors to explore the past. While over two hundred indigenous languages are preserved throughout the country, Castilian Spanish is the official language of Colombia. The colorful traditional clothing and richly spiced cuisine also carries some Spanish influence.

Colombian people tend to be very open, friendly, and generous. They enjoy close relationships with friends and give generous gifts on many occasions. The family-centric culture thrives on traditional music, such as Champeta, vibrant festivals, and delicious cuisine. The people are welcoming to tourists and enjoy sharing their language and rich cultural heritage with visitors!

Landscape in Colombia

Landscape in Colombia

Sometimes called the “gateway to South America”, Colombia is located in northwestern South America, where the Panama canal connects Central and South America. The fourth largest country in continent, Colombia has more natural biological diversity than almost any other nation in the world.

Spanning the continent from coast to coast, it is bordered by tropical beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. On the west coast, hikers find lush green rainforests descending to hidden coves, while the east side enchants travelers with white sandy shores and secluded island havens.

The interior of the country is populated by the dense rainforests of the Amazon, the vast grasslands of Los Llanos, and the towering heights of the Andes mountains. This mountain range itself hosts three microclimates, with rainforests at the base, cloud forests at higher elevations, and the tropical high mountain páramo in the peaks.

The breath-taking beauty of the country’s lush rainforests, pristine lakes, tropical beaches, and snow-capped mountains is enough to lure any visitor. Sightseeing, hiking to hidden paradises, observing exotic wildlife, or relaxing on the coast—Colombia has it all!

Agriculture in Colombia

Agriculture in Colombia

The Republic of Colombia has a thriving agricultural community which provides employment to one fifth of the population. The country produces a wide variety of goods from cut flowers, sugarcane, and cocoa beans to bananas, rice, and corn, and, of course, coffee.

As the fourth largest coffee producer in the world, Colombia is famous for its aromatic blends and single origin roasts. Most of the coffee beans come from the department of Antioquia, a region located in the central northwestern part of the country.

Medellin, the capital of Antioquia, is known for its trendy selection of craft coffee shops. The top rated Medellin coffee shop, Pergamino, makes almost all of their coffee beverages from beans grown on the owner’s family farm in the nearby mountains!

Colombia is also one of the world leaders in the flower industry, second only to the Netherlands as the largest exporter of freshly cut blooms. Bananas, sugarcane, and palm oil follow closely behind flowers as the most prominent agricultural outputs of the country.

With agriculture being such a large part of the country’s economy, Colombian street markets are definitely worth seeing! While most of the nation’s agricultural products are exported, a fantastic selection of locally grown goods makes it to the farmers markets. Whether your travels take you to Medellin, Cartagena, or Bogotá, you can usually purchase beautiful tropical flowers, freshly harvested tropical bananas, and famous Colombian coffee blends directly from the source at a street market.

With its increasing safety, diverse cultural heritage, rich natural beauty, and unique agricultural developments, it’s easy to see why Colombia has recently become a favorite spot for long and short-term visitors!

Photography Tour

Urban Art in Getsemani Cartagena
Palenque Woman Smiling in Cartagena
Grafiti in Plaza Trinidad, Cartagena
Taking photos in Plaza Trinidad, Getsemani, Cartagena
Street Flags in Cartagena

Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and well preserved examples of a colonial city in the whole of South America, but it is also the heart of a vibrant modern Caribbean culture. The mix of old and new, the light, the bright vibrant colors, friendly local people and an ever-changing urban art scene makes Cartagena one of the best places for a photography tour. Be it for Instagram or for art. We’ll take you to all the best spots!

Evening Welcome Tour

Cartagena bay sunset

Perfect for wedding parties and larger groups, we can organise a sunset excursion in Cartagena From the Spanish Inquisition to the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cartagena is one of the most interesting cities in Colombia from an historical perspective.

See the sunset from the walls, walk the city in the evening, as people come out to enjoy the cooler temperatures. You’ll see the city from a new perspective and we’ll finish up with a delicious cocktail.