On this multifaceted, 11-day tour, you’ll explore the Caribbean region of Colombia and its biodiverse landscapes. The trip begins in Cartagena, a vibrant port city with a rich history and plenty of sites to see. Then, you’re off to Santa Marta and Minca for four, full days of birding among the various ecosystems. The trip concludes in Tayrona Park, with its beautiful beaches and cultural excursions among the natives.

Highlights

  • Tour the port town of Cartagena and its colorful neighborhoods
  • Visit the Baru Aviary, which hosts more than 1,800 birds on 17 acres
  • Go birding in multiple ecosystems in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
  • Spend a day with the indigenous Kogui natives in Tayrona Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Cartagena - Guided City Tour Cartagena
Day 3 Baru Aviary - Day Trip Cartagena
Day 4 Travel to Santa Marta Santa Marta
Day 5 Minca - Birdwatching Minca
Day 6 Minca - Birdwatching Minca
Day 7 Santa Marta - Birdwatching Santa Marta
Day 8 Travel to Tayrona Park Tayrona Park
Day 9 Taironaka - Day Trip Tayrona Park
Day 10 Katanzama Village - Full-Day Cultural Excursion Tayrona Park
Day 11 Depart From Santa Marta Airport  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena

Colorful Cartagena
Welcome to Cartagena!

Welcome to Cartagena! Once you are settled in your hotel, embark on your own walking tour of Cartagena’s historic center. You will notice the city is designed like a fortress. This is because it once was the principal shipping port of gold from the New World back to Spain! The stone ramparts formerly protected the port from countless pirate attacks, including from the most famous of all: Sir Francis Drake.

While absorbing the history, visit myriad plazas, the church and the monastery of San Pedro Claver, the Minor Basilica cathedral, and stroll along narrow cobblestoned streets lined with colonial houses featuring beautiful bougainvillea-draped balconies. 

In the evening, make sure to take advantage of Cartagena’s best restaurants. You will find Colombian food in unique settings, along with ceviche, Italian, and even tacos.

Day 2: Cartagena - Guided city tour

Stroll Cartagena
Take a guided tour of Cartagena

Cartagena is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in America. Its walled, historic center still boasts original architecture and nowadays displays infinite colors that fill this city with the vibrancy of Caribbean life.
 
Today, embark on a guided tour of the city that starts by visiting the Cerro de La Popa, an old Augustinian convent stationed nearly 500 feet high–the highest point of the city. From here, you’ll have the best view over Cartagena, and you’ll get a good overview of the defense strategy of the city during colonial times.

Next, continue with a visit to the Fort of San Felipe de Barajas, the largest military base ever built by the Spanish in their colonies. On this walk (approximately 45 minutes), take time to appreciate this masterpiece of military architecture in coral stone, learn about the magnificent defense strategy of the city against pirate attacks, and appreciate the topography of Cartagena.

Afterward, visit the authentic market of Bazurto, a place of color, life, and contrasts, where you’ll interact with hardworking, friendly people who sell everything from exotic fruits to the most extravagant sound equipment.

Then, experience a panoramic tour through the neighborhoods of Bocagrande and Castillogrande to get to know the modern city and its bays. From there, walk to the historic center, where you can enjoy lunch. To finish the tour, you’ll walk to the most beautiful squares, churches and streets of the historical center, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dinner and the evening are at your leisure.

Day 3: Baru Aviary - Day trip

Flamingo
Spot flamingos at the Baru Aviary

Did you know Colombia leads the world in bird diversity? It has 1,903 species, equivalent to 20 percent of the bird species on Earth. Among them, scientists count 197 species of migratory birds and 71 endemic species. Near Cartagena, in the peninsula of Baru, the largest aviary of the continent was found and is a tourist attraction that promotes the conservation, reproduction, and repopulation of the Colombian avifauna.

Today, you’ll visit the Baru Aviary, where you’ll walk through six environments, including the tropical rainforest, the coastlines, and the desert. These natural settings are located in an area of 17.3 acres, in which you get to see some 138 species of birds and about 1,800 birds. Species to bookmark include the harpy eagle, toucan Caribbean, pink flamingos, crane crown, and condor.

Note that the transfer from the hotel to the peninsula of Baru takes about 1 hour, and crosses the port and industrial area of the city, as well as the Dique Canal. The visit to the Aviary takes around 2.5 hours. Then, you’ll drive back to your hotel in Cartagena and enjoy your last evening in the port city before heading to the mountains tomorrow.  

Trip Duration: 4.5 hours

Day 4: Travel to Santa Marta

Birding in Santa Marta
An endemic Santa Marta sabrewing

Today, you will make the journey to the mountains in Santa Marta.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, at 18,947 feet above sea level, is the highest coastal mountain range on the planet. This makes the Colombian Caribbean one of the most diverse coasts in the world. Its contrasting geography houses all climates, from the tropical dry forest to the cloud forest, and the barren plateau to the eternal glacier. It is the No. 1 place in the world in terms of diversity of indigenous birds and offers a variety of waterfalls and sightseeing spots with a spectacular view toward the Caribbean Sea, the Big Marsh of Santa Marta, and the snowy peaks.

Once you arrive, get settled in your accommodations. You will spend one night in Santa Marta and will begin your bird exploration in the morning.

Day 5: Minca - Birdwatching

Minca
Minca

In the morning, you will hop into a 4x4 vehicle to successfully ascend Minca, which is a village between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. You’ll first check into your hotel, then meet with your guide, who is an ornithologist, over lunch. Go over your itinerary for the day, and then take the ride to Marinka Valley. In this lower portion of the Sierras, you’ll be able to spot the native birds who reside at this part of the mountain range. The area is also home to the beautiful Marinka Waterfall, which hosts two waterfalls and a small watering hole.

Following your exploration, you’ll return to your hotel in Minca and enjoy dinner and some relaxation before heading out for more birding in the morning.

Day 6: Minca - Birdwatching

Dorado Reserve
El Dorado Bird Reserve

After breakfast, start another ascent in your 4x4 car to the El Dorado Bird Reserve. On the way, your guide will call for several stops at specific sites. Upon arrival, have lunch and rest a little. In the afternoon, explore the innumerable trails of the Reserve in search of more birds. On this day, you’ll be covering altitudes of 3,280 to 6,233 feet.

If you happen to be here at dawn, there is a nearby viewing site, to appreciate the snowy peaks and the sunset over the Big Marsh of Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea. The El Dorado Natural Reserve is part of the Colombian foundation ProAves, which, along with the American Bird Conservation, strives to protect the more than 400 species of birds found in the area. Located at 3,117 to 8,530 feet above sea level, and with an expanse of more 2,471 acres, El Dorado has several trails into the High Andean Forest, where you can discover the 20 species and 55 subspecies of endemic birds.

Day 7: Santa Marta - Birdwatching

Bolivar and Colon
Snowcapped peaks of Bolivar and Colon

Today, wake up early to climb up to 9,186 feet via your 4x4 SUV. Then, cross into the cloud forests to arrive at a sector known as La Laguna, where you can watch a great number of birds, the spectacular landscape toward the Valleys of Guachaca, and the snowy peaks Bolivar and Colón, which sits at almost 19,000 feet.

On your way back to the Reserve, there will be several stops to complete your list of species to observe. Feel free to take a stroll along the breathtaking bromeliads path, as well. Back at the reserve, you’ll have lunch. Then, in the afternoon, you’ll begin your return to Santa Marta. The evening will be yours to enjoy, before heading to the coastal beaches tomorrow.

Day 8: Travel to Tayrona Park

Tayrona Park
Tayrona Park

This morning, a car will pick you up and drive toward Colombia's Caribbean coast by Tayrona Park.

Once you are settled in, you will have the afternoon to relax. There are plenty of peaceful spots overlooking the Caribbean Sea at the foot of the mountains to enjoy. Wander down to the nearby beach, which is an ideal spot to view the sunset. Then, enjoy dinner and the evening before your full-day excursion tomorrow.

Day 9: Taironaka - Day trip

Taironaka
Taironaka

Today begins your journey into Tayrona–to Taironaka, an authentic, natural paradise located in the Don Diego riverbanks and the foothills of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This extinct, indigenous settlement still counts with paths and terraces of the Tayrona civilization, and nowadays is visited by their descendants, the Kogis. This reserve delights visitors with its exuberant flora, fascinating landscapes, and crystal-clear rivers.

From your hotel, you’ll go through the unique coastal road, until you reach the Don Diego riverbanks. From there, the journey will continue on a boat going upstream, until you get to the reserve. Later is a visit to the small Tayrona Museum to get to know a little more about the native history and this culture’s way of living from the past to the modern-day. You’ll visit a typical Kogui home, called a bohío, and then continue around the pre-Hispanic terraces until you get toa small viewpoint, around 45 to 60 minutes away.

The rest of the day offers you free time to relax and explore more of the area. You can even go for a swim or a soak in the Don Diego River to wind down from your adventuring.

Day 10: Katanzama Village - Full-day cultural excursion

Mochila bags
Mochila shoulder bags

The indigenous Kogui, who are said to be the direct descendants of the ancient Tayrona civilization, inhabit the valleys of the Palomino, Don Diego, San Miguel, and Ancho Rivers. The Tayrona population is estimated to be more than 10,000 members, and all of them live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The “Elder Brothers" take care of the natural treasure of the Sierra, a mountain that, in their culture, represents the center of the world and source of all life. Even today, they naturally take the role of guardians of cosmic balance and are considered one of the most valuable ancestral cultures on the planet.

You’ll begin in Buritaca at 8 am, and then drive along the stunning coastal road to the town of Perico Aguao, Magdalena. Here, you’ll be welcomed by a community guide, and after a brief introduction, start a 1.5-mile walk for about 45 minutes through the tropical forest to the indigenous village Katanzama, which is located in a magical place on the shore. The community's indigenous leader will take you on a tour around the houses and community buildings, explaining the traditional cooking and the culture of the Koguis, and from there you’ll continue to the plantations to learn about their farming and working materials. Afterward, you’ll gather around a tree in a sacred place, and have the opportunity to chat with a Mamo–a spiritual leader of the community.

After a short visit to the school, head to the beach to enjoy a delicious picnic, where you can learn to knit the traditional mochilas (traditional shoulder bags) if you wish. To complete the tour, you’ll visit the community plantation and sow, along with the locals, and leave your footprint as a visitor of honor.

Tour Duration: 7-8 hours

Day 11: Depart from Santa Marta Airport

Adios, Colombia!
Adios, Colombia!

Today, you’ll travel from the Tayrona area to Santa Marta Airport. Take with you all of the cultural and birding memories you’ve collected throughout your tour of Colombia.