This fun 6-day adventure hits two major highlights along Colombia's northern coast. First, you'll experience the culture and fairy-tale romance of Cartagena's Old Town, an inner-walled city oozing with colonial architecture and history, not to mention hip hotels and rooftop bars. Then drive east towards Santa Marta to spend a few days at Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona Park) for a slice of South America's prettiest coastline. Explore on your own or take a guided tour of the park's hiking trails and exotic beaches.

Highlights

  • Explore Colombia's most remarkable natural park, Tayrona
  • Discover the best local spots for snorkeling and swimming
  • Soak up the historical significance of old town Cartagena
  • Devour the best ceviche, seafood, and chocolate in the world

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 3 Cartagena -> Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Santa Marta
Day 4 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Santa Marta
Day 5 Free Day Near Tayrona National Park Santa Marta
Day 6 Depart Santa Marta  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena

Cartagena's historic walled city and modern Bocagrande neighborhood
Cartagena's historic walled city and modern Bocagrande neighborhood

Welcome to Cartagena! This picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is rich in culture, architecture, romance — and, yes, even pirate history. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel.

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 neighborhood walk, 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.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo stopping at key sites like Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana, Parque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls, built (starting in 1586) with the purpose of protecting Cartagena from any attacks. You'll get some amazing panoramic views of the city (and the sunset!) from here. 
  • Pay respects at Santo Domingo, reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Peek in La Vitrola for future reference — this is the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home. 
  • Explore Getsemani, the up-and-coming neighborhood just outside the walls of Cartagena's historic Old City. Once a seedy area, Getsemani is now a haven for hip culture with charming Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

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

Day 2: Explore Cartagena

Fruit vendors in Cartagena
Fruit vendors in Cartagena

After breakfast, take your pick of numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour. Maybe a surfing excursion on the coast, or a day lazing near the Caribbean waters of Playa Blanca, or even a sunset sail with a glass of bubbly.

Other options include a guided walking tour of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city. Together with an English-speaking guide, you will delve deep into Cartagena's Spanish-colonial history. You'll visit the city's extensive fortifications and famous fortresses like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Also stroll the city's cobbled plazas, like the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, with its Andalusian-style Cathedral.

If an organized tour isn’t appealing, simply create your own adventure around the city. At dusk, take part in the unforgettable atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 3: Cartagena -> Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

The park is a perfect place for spotting exotic wildlife
The park is a perfect place for spotting exotic wildlife

After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel in Cartagena for your private car transfer to the area just outside the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona's (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 4: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Beach inTayrona National Park
Beach inTayrona National Park

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.

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.

Day 5: Free Day Near Tayrona National Park

Snorkeling is a great way to spend a day near Tayrona
Snorkeling is a great way to spend a day near Tayrona

After breakfast, enjoy a free day to experience the surroundings outside Tayrona Park. This is your chance to explore the region's singular topography on your own, which includes the world's highest coastal mountain range.

You can take your pick between a range of organized activities such as snorkeling, sailing, river tubing, hiking, or wildlife spotting. You can also take a day-trip to Minca, a beautiful Colombian village in the mountains, and visit a coffee farm. 

Day 6: Depart Santa Marta

City street, Santa Marta
City street, Santa Marta

It's time to say goodbye to Colombia! Enjoy your last morning in Santa Marta with a leisurely breakfast and walk along the sea. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your next transfer and connecting flight home.

Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019