Experience stunning highlights along Colombia's northern coast in this active 10-day adventure. You'll soak in the romance and colonial history of Cartagena's Old Town, hike in Tayrona National Park, 4x4 through remote jungles, wander majestic sand dunes, visit indigenous cultures, and go birdwatching in Minca at sunrise. Circle back to Cartagena and end the trip with a relaxing beach day in the Rosario Islands.
Watch kimkim travelers enjoy their trip to Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast:

Highlights

  • Walk along Cartagena's original fortress wall at sunset
  • Dine on mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s rooftops
  • Explore Tayrona Park’s magnificent beaches and trails 
  • Unplug while visiting the remote sand dunes of Taroa
  • Take a sunrise birdwatching hike in Minca's rainforest
  • Sunbathe, swim, and kayak on a Caribbean island

Overview

This adventurous road trip meanders along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast starting west in Cartagena, a port city founded in the 16th century, with picturesque squares, cobblestone streets, and colorful buildings. 

When you've had your fill of Spanish colonial culture, you'll drive east towards Santa Marta, the first Spanish settlement in Colombia — and also the gateway to Tayrona National Park, where you'll spend the next two days hiking amongst rare flora and fauna. 

The next several days will take you even further east towards the Venezuelan border, where lesser-visited beaches and sand dunes are yours for the taking (a great place to unplug and get back to nature). After a trip to one of Colombia's new backpacker hotspots — Minca — you’ll return to Cartagena and reward yourself on a nearby island before heading home. 

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 Cartagena (optional city tour) Cartagena
Day 2 Explore Cartagena (free day) Cartagena
Day 3 Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona
Day 4 Encounter Tayrona's rainforests, beaches and swamps Tayrona
Day 5 4x4 journey across the desert to Cabo de la Vela Cabo de la Vela
Day 6 Visit Taroa Dunes and Punta Gallinas lighthouse Cabo de la Vela
Day 7 Experience Wayuu culture at Cabo de la Vela Minca
Day 8 Sunrise Birdwatching and hiking at Minca Cartagena
Day 9 Rosario Islands Day-Trip Cartagena
Day 10 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour)

Cartagena's charming colonial 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, located 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 2: Explore Cartagena (free day)

Cartagena's Old Town.

There are numerous ways to experience Cartagena on a private tour, whether it’s a surfing trip along the coast, a boat trip to pristine Caribbean beaches, or even a sunset sail with a glass of bubbly.

Other options include a guided walking or bicycle tour of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city. Together with an English-speaking professional, you will delve deeper into South America’s most extensive fortifications and visit famous sites like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, located on the Hill of San Lázaro, and San Pedro, with its Andalusian-style palaces and 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: Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

One of Tayrona's year-round residents.

This morning, you'll depart for Tayrona at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The picturesque national park sits between the Piedras River and the Caribbean Sea and is quite a sight to behold. Here, you will encounter a wide range of landscapes from tropical rainforests, white sand beaches, mangrove swamps, and one of the few coral reefs in Colombia. With this diverse array of landscapes comes a huge variety of plants, birds, mammals and marine life. 

When you arrive, spend some free time exploring the area and enjoy the scenery.

Day 4: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Tayrona's Caribbean Sea and rainforest views.

Today, you'll experience some of South America's loveliest coastline with a guided tour to the stunning beaches and rainforests of Tayrona — one of three national parks on Colombia's Caribbean coast. The trip starts with a hike in the tropical foothills near Cañaveral, the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You'll 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 and relax on the shore.

Day 5: 4x4 journey across the desert to Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela's remote beaches.

Today, you'll meet in Riohacha and depart for the remote fishing village of Cabo de la Vela, located in the northern panhandle of Colombia. The adventurous 4x4 journey starts by crossing Uribia before continuing via desert paths to Manaure, where you'll have free time to explore the salt mines. 

Upon arrival to Cabo de la Vela, there will be free time to enjoy swimming at the village's scenic beach. Recently, this little town has become a hotbed of ecotourism and it boasts a wealth of indigenous-style accommodations (beachside huts and hammocks) with generator electricity and very few phone lines, so it's a great place to unplug.

Day 6: Visit Taroa Dunes and Punta Gallinas lighthouse

Taroa sees few visitors due to its remote location at the northern tip of South America.

Today, you'll delve even deeper into the La Guajira peninsula towards Punta Gallinas on the northernmost edge of South America, where the sun-soaked scenery seems otherworldly.

After lunch, served at a typical farm, you'll visit the majestic dunes of Taroa — a remarkable area where golden sand extends far beyond the spotless beaches. The slope of the sandy mountain is steep and its summit affords a view of the Caribbean Sea. From here, you can spend the remainder of the day wandering the shore, swimming, and then watching the sunset from Punta Gallinas lighthouse.

Day 7: Experience Wayuu culture at Cabo de la Vela

Explore the sand dunes by foot.

Today, you'll have a chance to spend more time in Cabo de la Vela, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Colombia. The entire region is inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu people who have lived there for hundreds of years and is considered sacred. 

Day 8: Sunrise Birdwatching and hiking at Minca, transfer to Cartagena

Birdwatching near Minca.

Today, experience the awesome nature and diversity of Minca, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with a unique birdwatching excursion. The area's dry scrub is great for colorful viewing, so you won't want to miss this.

You will leave from Minca at dawn! It is not a difficult hike, and the results are worth it. Your guide will be able to show you a wide variety of rare species such as the golden-winged sparrow, the black-backed antshrike, and the rosy thrush-tanager.

After lunch in Minca's pleasant village, bid farewell and drive back to Cartagena.

Day 9: Snorkelling, kayaking and beachcombing on the Rosario Islands

An idyllic view of the sea from the Rosario Islands. 

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 at 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 10: Depart Cartagena

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, such as 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 Cartagena & the Caribbean Coast - 10 Days
Map of Cartagena & the Caribbean Coast - 10 Days