Sandwiched between Colombia’s mountainous capital and its romantic inner-walled city on the northern coast, this scenic 9-day journey highlights one of South America's most beloved ecological gems: Caño Cristales. After completing this two-day river adventure, you’ll fly back to Bogotá to visit the salt mines before heading north to Cartagena. Here, you'll have two days to explore the sites, culminating with a speedboat ride to the Rosario Islands.

Highlights

  • Ride Bogotá's cable car to Monserrate for incredible city views
  • Experience the capital's lively restaurants and nightlife 
  • Hike around pristine waterfalls and swimming holes in Caño Cristales
  • Walk through a series of preserved salt tunnels from the 19th century 
  • Explore the narrow, winding streets of Cartagena’s inner-walled city
  • Sunbathe, swim, and kayak on a relaxing Caribbean Island

Overview

Between May and November (and depending on water levels), Colombia's Guayabero River turns shades of red, blue, yellow, orange and green in a vibrant natural display. Your trip will start in the buzzing capital city before you fly to this remote region for a two-day outdoor adventure where you can learn about the area's unique biodiversity and enjoy swimming holes, hiking trails, and waterfalls. 

You'll fly back to Bogotá to visit the salt mines before heading north to Cartagena. Here, you can wander photogenic colonial streets, eat fresh seafood, and visit key historic landmarks before you speedboat to the Rosario Islands for a relaxing dose of white sand beaches and Caribbean Sea. 

Colombia is an ideal year-round destination with warm, tropical weather. If you want to skip the high season and crowds (December and January), then February to April is a great choice with dry weather and lower prices. Keep in mind that October and November tend to be the wettest months of the year.   

Brief Itinerary

Day  Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá (optional city tour) Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Boat trip along the Guayabero River, wildlife spotting La Macarena
Day 4 Hike to Caño Cristales La Macarena
Day 5 Return to Bogotá (optional city tour) Bogotá
Day 6 Zipaquira & Salt Mines Day-Trip Bogotá
Day 7 Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour) Cartegena
Day 8 Rosario Islands Day-Trip Cartagena
Day 9 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá (optional city tour)

Bogotá's impressive skyline view.

Welcome to Bogotá!
A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the hotel, your home base for the next few days.

Explore by foot
Bogotá is on the rise in terms of gastronomy and culture, so spend your free time discovering this vibrant Andean capital by foot. Explore the cobblestone streets through the La Candelaria neighborhood where trendy restaurants and colonial-era landmarks are located.

While here, don't forget to explore the excellent museums, shopping, and street food options ranging from empanadas to exotic fruit salads.

Day 2: Explore Bogotá's museums, markets and historic sites

Bolívar Square in La Candelaria. 

After breakfast, continue to explore the city by yourself or with a guide. Here are some things that you should see:

  • Stroll through Bogota’s lively streets for walled graffiti art, coffee cafes, bookstores, art galleries, and historic plazas and statues while learning about the fascinating political history of Colombia’s capital.
  • Take the cable car to Monserrate for one of the best views of the city.
  • Visit La Concordia market to learn about fruits, vegetables, and spices used in local cuisine.
  • Spend a few hours gazing at pre-Hispanic works at the Gold Museum.
  • Check out the local music scene with live bands and street festivals.

Day 3: Explore the waterfalls and swimming holes along the Guayabero River

Caño Cristales vibrant display.

Today, you'll take a short, but scenic flight to the remote village of La Macarena, south of Bogotá. When you arrive, there will be a quick 10-minute presentation highlighting the environmental practices necessary when visiting the biological wonder that is Caño Cristales (everyone who visits the area must attend this). 

After the presentation, you will head to your hotel to check-in. If you arrive early enough in the day, you can head out for a boat trip along the wide Guayabero River (Caño Cristales is a tributary flowing into the Guayabero) with several waterfalls and swimming holes. Enjoy the stunning landscape, as well as a range of birds, turtles, monkeys, and other plant and animal species unique to the region.

This river – said to be one of the most beautiful in the world – turns into a vibrant explosion of color between the wet and dry seasons when a mix of aquatic factors come together to give the water its rainbow hues. Time your visit right and this could be your lucky day. Either way, the river is well worth a hike. 

Day 4: Hike to Caño Cristales

River scenery in Caño Cristales. 

After breakfast, depart early for Caño Cristales park. Transportation is by motorboat on the Guayabero River, and then by land to the disembarkation of Caño Cristales. Set out on the ecological trail selected for you by the organization in charge of the park. You'll have lunch next to the river before going back to the village of La Macarena. Later that evening, enjoy a traditional dinner and live show with folkloric music and dance.

Day 5: Return to Bogotá (optional city tour)

Graffiti art in Bogotá.

It's time for your return trip to Bogotá! Depending on your arrival, you may be able to fit in a walking tour of the city. 

This guided tour starts with a ride on the scenic cable car to the mountainous peaks of Montserrat to see one of the best panoramic views of the city. On your return trip, visit the food market of La Concordia where you can practice your Spanish while tasting fruits, vegetables, and spices used in local cuisine. Stroll through Bogota’s lively streets to experience walled graffiti art, coffee cafes, bookstores, art galleries, and historic plazas and statues while learning about the fascinating political history of Colombia’s capital.

Day 6: Zipaquira & Salt Mines Day-Trip

Zipaquirá's underground salt mines.

Your journey north of the capital starts at Colombia's famous underground Salt Cathedral. While in the area, you'll also head to the Nemocón Salt Mine, thirty minutes outside of Zipaquirá. There, 80 meters underground, are a collection of immaculately preserved tunnels where eight million tons of salt were extracted between 1816 and 1968.  The various chambers off the main routes show the history of salt mining amidst spectacular atmospheric light effects, with no less than 28 mirrors.

Day 7: Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour)

One of Cartagena's charming streets.

Welcome to Cartagena! This picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is rich in culture, architecture, romance – and, yes, even pirate history. Head to your hotel from the airport, and depending on the time of your arrival, consider a few options. You can relax and enjoy the hotel amenities or jump into action with a walking tour, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide. Here are some things that you should see:

  • Wander the narrow, winding streets of the inner-walled city with a camera to photograph colorful houses and lively squares overflowing with bougainvillea.
  • Visit the Palace of Inquisition, which despite its original use, is one of the finest buildings in the city
  • Tour Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards.
  • Pay respects at Santo Domingo, reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Walk along the original fortress wall and see panoramic views of the city. 
  • Check out La Vitrola – the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home. 

Finish the day on your own with mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s hip restaurants or rooftop bars.

Day 8: Rosario Islands Day-Trip

Tropical islands off the coast of Cartagena.

Rise and shine! Today, you will be picked up from your hotel bright and early and transferred to the pier for a speedboat transfer 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 lunch is served, you will have time to relax and sunbathe or do some kayaking 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 9: Depart Cartagena

Horsedrawn carriage in Cartagena's Old Town.

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! Enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a relaxing café, or (if you have not done so yet) take a walk around the city with an English-speaking guide to gain a new perspective of the city from a local. 

This optional tour covers Cartagena's enchanting maze of colorful houses and lively squares from the 16th century. Meander through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about main sites like the Popa Monastery, Saint Philip's Castle, and El Museo del Oro. 

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

Map

Map of Bogotá, Caño Cristales & Cartagena - 9 Days
Map of Bogotá, Caño Cristales & Cartagena - 9 Days