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The Top 6 National Parks to Explore in Colombia

Monkey in green tree



Many people seem to visit Colombia for its thriving culture and exciting cities, and while we totally understand that appeal (we were taken in by Medellin’s magic just like everyone else) we instead think what makes Colombia so exciting and rich is its outstanding biodiversity.

In fact, Colombia is ranked number two in the world in terms of biodiversity...behind Brazil - a country 648% larger. For example, as of 2016, more than 56,000 species were registered in Colombia, of which 9,153 are endemic (meaning they only are found in Colombia). In fact, Colombia occupies the first position worldwide in the number of orchids and birds, the second position in plants, amphibians, butterflies and fresh water fish, the third place in species of palm trees and reptiles and the fourth position in biodiversity of mammals. All of this put together has made Colombia one of seventeen megadiverse countries in the world (a couple of other ones? China, India, Australia, and the USA). How absolutely incredible is that?!

Luckily, Colombia understands its good fortune and has been establishing nationally protected natural areas since 1960, and as of 2020, it is home to 59 national natural parks. And all of these protected areas are grouped into the National System of Protected Areas, which in total, covers about 169,545 square kilometers (65,462 square miles) and represents more than 14% of the country's total area (!).

Now before we dive into some of the country's best parks, there is one important thing to note: that unlike national parks in the United States, some of the national parks in Colombia are actually closed to the public. This could be due to a number of reasons, including focusing on preserving the landscape from human impact, or local indigenous groups not wanting tourists visiting.

For example, Puinawai National Natural Park is currently closed to the public and because of that, and the fact that the park is pretty inaccessible, only 1% of Puinawai has been deforested (according to Colombia's national park services).

While numerous national parks are closed to the public, or at least have some restrictions in place, there are still plenty to explore (there are 59 national parks after all…). Below are a couple of parks to add to your list if you are looking to explore Colombia’s outstanding landscapes and biodiversity.




1 | Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park

Established in 1960, Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park is the oldest national park in Colombia. Similarly, besides being designated as a national park, it is also part of the Cinturón Andino (Andean Belt), a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve.

GOOD TO KNOW: the name of the park comes from the guácharo birds (oilbirds) which inhabit the dark caves of the park during the day and go out at night looking for food. Similar to bats, the birds are guided by a system of echo-location.

Cueva de los Guacharos National Natural Park is located in the western face of the Colombian Eastern Andean Range in the departments of Huila and Caquetá. The park covers an area of 9,000 hectares or 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) much of which is made up of cloud forests and paramo ecosystems.

The main point of interests in the park are the Caves of the Oilbirds, as well as one of the last remaining intact oak forests in all of Colombia. The oak forest is definitely worth exploring, as well as the other biomes that call the park home.

In Cueva de los Guacharos National Park, you can see monkeys, tapirs and pudus - the world’s smallest deer. Similarly, in 2005 the National Natural Parks System identified 300 species of birds within the park, including the eponymous oilbird, Andean cock-of-the-rock and the torrent duck.

Top Adventures


There are four trails in the park, some of which do take you very close to the famous guacharos caves:

  • Roble Negro (6 hours, 3.9 km and high difficulty)

  • Camino de los Gigantes (4 hours, 2.7 km and medium difficulty)

  • Lluvia de Cristales (4 hours, 1.7 km and medium difficulty)

  • Cascada de Colores (6 hours, 3.1 km and high difficulty)

➳ Learn more about the park here.

Green  forest and orange colored river
PC Mi Viaje

2 | Tayrona National Natural Park

Often rated as one of the best national parks in Colombia (and the second most visited in 2019), Tayrona National Natural Park is one of the best places to see the incredible biodiversity endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The national park includes geography ranging from the arid sea, including 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) of maritime area in the Caribbean Sea, to 900 meters (2,952 feet) above sea level.

Scientists found done extensive studies of the park and have counted about 108 species of mammals, including Mantled howler monkeys, oncillas (a wild cat), deer, and more than 70 species of bats. Similarly, Tayrona National Natural Park is the last place in the world where the endangered cotton-top tamarin lives.

The park is also home to 300 species of birds. Including, montane solitary eagles, military macaws, black-backed ant shrikes, white-bellied antbirds and lance-tailed manakins. There are also approximately 31 species of reptiles, and 15 species of amphibians. Finally, there are more than 770 species of plants. Talk about biodiversity.

GOOD TO KNOW: Tayrona is one of three national parks in the Colombian Caribbean with coral reefs on its territories, the other two are Old Providence McBean Lagoon and Rosario and San Bernardo Corals (near Cartagena).

Top Adventures


  • Kogui or Knowledge Trail, from Cañaveral to Arrecifes (low difficulty, 1 hour)

  • Arrecifes – Boca del Saco Trail through Arrecifes Beach, the natural pool and Cabo San Juan del Guía (low difficulty, 2 hours)

  • The stone road to Pueblito from Cabo San Juan del Guía (high difficulty, 3 hours)

  • Calabazo – Pueblito – Cabo San Juan del Guía Trail (high difficulty, 4 hours)


You can snorkel in Playa del Muerto “Playa Cristal”, Granate and the Tayrona natural pool. You can also go scuba diving at Isla Aguja and Granate. All diving trips, equipment rentals and diving courses are managed by the diving schools of Taganga, a small village of fishermen near the national park.

➳ Learn more about the park here.

Tropical beach cove and mountains in Colombia
PC MedellinGuru

3 | Uramba Bahía Málaga National Natural Park

Even though it is one of the newest Colombian national parks (it was created in 2010), Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park is already a popular ecotourism destination. The park is located in and around Málaga Bay along the Colombian Pacific coast and near the municipality of Buenaventura.

The park has a high level of biodiversity and is a favorite spot for reproducing humpback whales. Which in turn has made it a popular whale-watching destination not only in Colombia but around the world. Most of the natural areas within the park is pristine, with the exception of the areas around a few small towns like Juanchaco, Ladrilleros, and La Barra.

Uramba Bahia Malaga National Natural Park is home to a wide array of ecosystems; including wet tropical forest, transitional forest, flooded forest, mangroves, estuaries, beaches, and ocean.

>> Explore our in-depth guide to visiting Colombia's Pacific Coast.

Top Adventures


The main animal of interest in the park is the humpback whale, which uses the waters to raise calves between June and October. It is said that this area has the largest concentration of breeding humpbacks along the Colombian Pacific coast.


There are a few trails you can explore within the park. And like almost all national parks within the country, you have a high likelihood of seeing various birds, plants, butterflies and mammals.

➳ Learn more about the park here.