Family travel: follow in the footsteps of Disney's Encanto in Colombia

Fan of Disney’s Oscar-winning Encanto? Discover the country that inspired the animation, from its soaring Andean peaks and lush rainforest to an unspoiled Caribbean coastline.

By Rhonda Carrier
Published 13 May 2022, 06:04 BST
Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), in Medellín, Colombia’s buzzy cultural hub.

Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park), in Medellín, Colombia’s buzzy cultural hub.

Photograph by ProColombia

This year’s winner of Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the enchanting Disney movie Encanto shone a light on the colourful, cultural highlights of Colombia. It might not instantly spring to mind as an obvious destination for a family adventure, but Colombia brims with diverse experiences, be it encounters with tropical wildlife to tackling the four-day Lost City Trek or catching one of the country’s ravishing, raucous festivals. 

Most families tackle Colombia through a bespoke trip tailored to their needs. The starter age tends to be about six years, as active itineraries often include cycling, hiking in the mountains and rafting, although there’s often plenty of time for a beach break to round things off. Here are seven reasons to inspire an unforgettable Colombian adventure. 

1. Explore the Cocora Valley 

Set off into the central Cordillera of the Andes, where the Cocora Valley dazzles with its palm-studded mountains. It’s accessed via the tiny heritage town of Salento, which inspired a number of locations in Encanto. Older children will love it for the jungle hikes, spotting pumas, mountain tapirs and black-billed toucans. Part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, the Cocora Valley is threaded with trails and dotted with campsites. It’s pure adrenaline junkie terrain, with mountain-biking, horse-riding, rafting, scenic flights and river swimming also popular pursuits in the area. Andean Trails offers a five-day trekking tour of the Valle Cocora from £946 per person, including all entrance fees to parks and reserves, an expert guide and more

2. Spot wildlife in Tayrona National Park 

Encanto makes lots of references to Colombia’s staggering biodiversity — something very much in evidence in the Tayrona National Park on the edge of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, one of the world’s highest coastal mountain ranges. Come with thrill-seeking teens for activities such as hiking, tubing and snorkelling, all the while keeping eyes — and ears — open for a colourful cast of jungle creatures, including black howler monkeys, jewel-like hummingbirds, iguanas and even an elusive, nocturnal jaguar. 

3. Go underground in Zipaquirá

Colombia’s buildings are bright and eclectic, with Indigenous, Spanish and Indian influences all in evidence. One of the best buildings to explore with kids is the unique Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Built in the 1930s within the tunnels of an old rock-salt mountain in the city of Zipaquirá, the church was used by miners who would come to pray for their safety at the start of their shift. Illuminated in blue light, it was part of the inspiration behind Bruno’s room in Encanto and is now part of an activity complex with a kid-friendly tour along the old mining route, as well as cycling and climbing walls.

Finca El Ocaso Salento, a coffee farm in Salento, the gateway to the Cocora Valley.

Photograph by AWL Images

4. Learn about coffee in Quindío

Encanto is all about family, and one of the best places for some family time is the Parque del Café (or ‘National Coffee Park’) in Quindío. No ordinary theme park, along with rides and shows for different ages, there’s a museum on the history, culture and processes of regional coffee-growing, an eco-trail through various varieties of coffee bush and even food stalls serving up delicious coffee-based products. 

5. Escape to Múcura Island

For a Caribbean getaway like no other, head for Múcura Island or the other islands of the San Bernardo del Viento archipelago. Part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, this protected marine system has fabulous snorkelling and diving, beaches bright with bioluminescent plankton — dubbed ‘blue beaches’ and best viewed beneath a full moon — and relaxed, low-key accommodation, if you’re keen to stay the night. 

6. Revel at the Carnival of Barranquilla

Some members of Encanto’s Madrigal family have musical, magical powers: Dolores can hear every melody and rhythm, while Mirabel plays bambuco, a traditional Colombian musical style, on her accordion. To hear bambuco in the ‘Land of a Thousand Rhythms’ itself, time your trip to coincide with the four-day Carnival of Barranquilla, which takes places in February or March. UNESCO Intangible Heritage-listed and one of the country’s most important folklore celebrations, the festival has its roots in the 19th century and is a treat for all ages, with live performances, art and flamboyant costumes. 

7. Spot flowers along the Caño Cristales river 

Isabela’s ability to conjure and grow flowers in Encanto echoes Colombia’s status as the second-largest flower exporter in the world. One of the best displays of blooms occurs at the Caño Cristales or ‘River of Five Colours’ in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park. The river provided inspiration for the river in Encanto and features in David Attenborough’s recent BBC series The Green Planet. Between July and October, the river’s water-flowers are a riot of neon-pinks, blues and reds. 

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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