Travelers who like to be on the move can check off three cities on this whirlwind 12-day tour starting with Bogotá's Spanish colonial sites and buzzing nightlife. You'll then fly to Medellín — a city with a rising culinary and art scene, as well as constant spring-like weather. Take a couple of days to experience the excitement of whitewater rafting on the Rio Verde before heading to the Caribbean Coast. You'll spend a couple of days exploring Tayrona National Park before ending the trip exploring Cartagena's inner-walled city and taking a day trip to explore the nearby Rosario Islands.


  • Tour Colombia's bustling capital city
  • Take a day trip to Guatapé and climb the stairs of El Peñon Rock for stunning views
  • Raft down a free-flowing river that locals have fought to preserve
  • Explore the colorful, winding streets of Cartagena's historic center
  • Spend a day island hopping in the Caribbean

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 4 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 5 Río Verde  
Day 6 Río Verde Day 2 and return to Medellín Medellín
Day 7 Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona Park Santa Marta
Day 8 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona  
Day 9 River Tubing Santa Marta
Day 10 Transfer from Santa Marta to Cartagena ( optional PM city tour) Cartagena
Day 11 Rosario Islands Day-Trip  
Day 12 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá

Sunset in La Candelaria
Sunset in La Candelaria

Welcome to Bogotá! A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the hotel.

Colombia's biggest city has culture to spare, and its regional gastronomy has made it a global foodie destination. You'll have ample free time to explore this Andean capital on foot. Start with the cobblestone streets of the La Candelaria neighborhood, where trendy restaurants and colonial-era landmarks are located. You'll also find excellent museums, shopping, and street food ranging from empanadas to exotic fruit salads. 

Depending on what time you arrive, you can experience Bogotá's local history and culture by taking a tour with an English-speaking guide.

Day 2: Bogotá City Tour

The Gold Museum, Bogotá
The Gold Museum, Bogotá

After breakfast, it's time to hit the streets and explore! A local guide will pick you up and accompany you on a half-day walking tour of the city. You'll begin in colorful La Candelaria—the heart of Bogota's historic center. Amble along its narrow streets, visiting cultural landmarks and local shops selling artisanal goods. Eventually, you'll reach Plaza Bolívar, the city's main square dating back to 1539. There's a grand cathedral here as well as many important government buildings, such as the Capitolio Nacional (Colombia's congress building). 

To spend a full day with your guide, take the aforementioned walk through La Candelaria and then explore two of Bogotá's best museums in the afternoon: the Gold Museum (closed on Mondays), which features the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world, and the Botero Museum (closed on Tuesdays), which houses a collection of masterpieces from renowned Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero.

If you are an early riser, start the morning sunrise tour of Bogotá by visiting its best and biggest food market—Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao—which supplies produce for many of the city’s best restaurants. Return to La Candelaria and downtown, strolling the streets and stopping to photograph walled graffiti art.

Day 3: Arrive in Medellín

Plaza Botero, downtown Medellín
Plaza Botero, downtown Medellín

Welcome to Medellín! Despite its turbulent past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. A car will pick you up at the airport and transfer you to a nearby hotel. You're now free to spend the remainder of the day exploring.

Start by visiting Parque Lleras, in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where most of the city's tourism is centered. This is where some of the best dining, nightlife, and hotels are located. Perhaps take a ride on the city's gondola (Metrocable) system to see the views, or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums near the downtown area. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to a high elevation near the equator, the city has year-round spring temperatures.

Depending on the time of your flight, you can sightsee with an English-speaking guide and learn more about this thriving, modern city from a local perspective.

Day 4: Medellín City Tour

Metrocable cars
Metrocable cars

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a fun day exploring Medellín on a private tour with a local guide.

Walking Tour: This excursion includes a mix of sightseeing by foot and taking the Metro through one of Colombia's most successful urban projects. The guide will pick you up from your hotel and you'll take a ride downtown, visiting the Administrative Center (La Alpujarra) and Botero Square. From here, enjoy the views from the city's iconic Metrocable (gondola car system) then head to the Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 flowers. The tour ends by taking the Metro to Central Mayorista, Plaza Mayor, and a zen-inspired public park in Medellín before returning to your hotel by public transport. (There's also an option that includes graffiti street art and riding the Metrocable towards remote neighborhoods on the valley side.)

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure.

Day 5: Río Verde

Whitewater rafting on the Río Verde
Whitewater rafting on the Río Verde

The Río Verde is a vivid green river that meanders through undeveloped Colombian rainforest. Accessed from a steep jungle canyon, the area combines excellent trekking and whitewater rafting. After breakfast, you'll travel to this canyon for some hiking. Don't worry about a heavy load—there will be mules carrying your gear.

Once you've reached the river, cool off with a swim and then participate in a river safety discussion. You'll be rafting with a team of experienced guides and safety kayakers who know their way around these intermediate rapids. Along the way, they'll treat you to lagoons, secluded beaches, and waterfalls. One of the defining characteristics of Río Verde is the marine life; keep an eye out for a variety of fish swimming in the translucent water.

At basecamp, you'll stay in sheltered hammocks and enjoy a French-Colombian dinner cooked over a campfire. If that's not enough, the location is right next to the river. Let the softly running waters lull you to sleep.

Plan your trip to Colombia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Río Verde Day 2 and return to Medellín

Your expert guide will coach you through the rapids 
Your expert guide will coach you through the rapids 

You'll start the day bright and early with an optional bird-watching tour. After breakfast at the camp, you'll continue rafting the Rio Verde. The intermediate white-water is exciting, yet manageable, as the major rapids flow into inviting, natural swimmable pools for frequent dips. At the end of the second day, arrive at Puente Samana, which has the only road access over the river. 

From here, you will be driven back to Medellín

Day 7: Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona Park

Colombia's Caribbean coast
Colombia's Caribbean coast

After breakfast, a car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your flight to the city of Santa Marta, on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Upon arrival, you'll drive to just outside the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona Park), where you'll stay overnight. 

You'll have rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy your hotel, located on a peaceful spot overlooking the Caribbean Sea at the foot of the mountains. Wander down to the nearby beach, which has a beautiful sunset view.

Day 8: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

The Sierra Nevada Mountains are the tallest coastal mountain range in the world
The Sierra Nevada Mountains are the tallest coastal mountain range in the world

After breakfast at your hotel near Tayrona, you'll be transferred to the park where you'll experience some of South America's loveliest coastline with a local guide while visiting the stunning beaches and rainforests of Tayrona — one of three national parks on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Tayrona Park Walking Tour

This tour includes 4-5 hours of walking and some additional time to relax on the beaches.

You'll first hike in the tropical foothills near Cañaveral, the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then visit the exotic beaches of Arrecifes and stop at La Piscina, an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Continue to Cabo San Juan del Guia and see a wonderful bay of white sand surrounded by huge volcanic rocks. On the way here, you can observe several species of local flora and fauna pointed out by your knowledgeable guide. The afternoon is your free time to enjoy lunch on your own and relax on the shore.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon.

Tour Duration: Full Day (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 9: River Tubing

Time for some inner-tubing
Time for some inner-tubing

Today, throw on your bathing suit and take a relaxing innertube ride along the lazy Río Don Diego, which runs down from the Sierra Nevadas all the way to the ocean. This fun route unfolds at a manageable pace, with hilly green jungle lining both sides of the river. From the riverbanks, you'll hear howler monkeys and spot a variety of birds and butterflies. You'll even see views of snowy Sierra Nevada peaks in the distance. 

If that's not enough, the river culminates at a beautiful white sand beach along the Caribbean Sea. Here, you will have the chance to relax on the sand, swim in the turquoise water, and enjoy the sunshine. Then it's back to Santa Marta and your hotel.

Tubing: 1.5-2 hours (lunch included)


Day 10: Transfer from Santa Marta to Cartagena ( optional PM city tour)

The ancient ramparts surrounding Cartagena's old town at sunset
The ancient ramparts surrounding Cartagena's old town at sunset

Now it's time to travel a few hours overland to Cartagena. Upon arrival, you'll enjoy a walking tour of this well-preserved Spanish-colonial fortress city. This includes breezing through the old neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo, with stops at landmarks like the Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana, Parque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa. The rest of the afternoon and evening you can relax as you see fit, perhaps discovering the wide array of restaurants, Cuban & Caribbean-themed bars, and more.

Day 11: Rosario Islands Day-Trip

Island hopping between the Rosario Islands
Island hopping between the Rosario Islands

Rise and shine! After an early breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel bright and early and transferred to the pier for a speedboat transfer (an hour by boat) towards the Baru Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, an ancient fort that once protected Cartagena.

Once you arrive to the Rosario Islands, change into your swimwear before you head to Playa Azul, a stunning white-sand beach on the bright turquoise Caribbean Sea. After a buffet lunch is served, you will have time to relax and sunbathe, or rent a kayak (pay directly) in the sea before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. A car will pick you up at the pier to take you back to your hotel.

Day-Trip Duration: 7 Hours (including transfers)

Day 12: Depart Cartagena

Street in old town Cartagena
Street in old town Cartagena

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you didn't do the guided tour the previous day, explore the bulk of the city.

Enjoy Cartagena's cobbled maze of vividly colorful houses and ancient squares dating from the 16th century. Meander through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about important historical sites like Saint Philip's Castle. Perhaps pay a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition in Plaza de Bolívar, which was once the seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and is now a macabre museum. 

A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.

Written by Emily Strauss, updated Feb 18, 2021