Perfect for first-timers, this classic Colombian itinerary starts in the cosmopolitan capital of Bogotá and then travels north to the Caribbean Sea. Along the route, you'll visit the rolling green hills and colorful colonial houses of the coffee region. Once you reach the coast, you'll spend a few days exploring Tayrona National Park before heading to the romantic inner-walled city of Cartagena and jetting off to the San Bernardo Islands.

Highlights

  • Check out street art and snack on empanadas in Bogota
  • Get a tour of a working coffee plantation with a local farmer
  • Explore Medellín's difficult past and innovative future with local guides
  • Devour the world's best ceviche, seafood, and chocolate in Cartagena
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of the San Bernardo Islands

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the City Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Zipaquira Salt Cathedral & Village Day-Trip Bogotá
Day 4 Bogotá to Salento and Afternoon Coffee Tour Salento
Day 5 Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento Salento
Day 6 Exploring more Quindío Villages from Salento Salento
Day 7 Transfer from Salento to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 8 Tayrona National Park Tour Tayrona Park
Day 9 Free Day Near Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 10 Tayrona National Park - Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Cartagena City Tour & Sunset Mangrove Excursion Cartagena
Day 12 Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands Isla Mucura
Day 13 Múcura Highlights Isla Mucura
Day 14 San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena Cartagena
Day 15 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the City

Plaza Bolívar in La Candelaria, Bogotá
Plaza Bolívar in La Candelaria, Bogotá

Welcome to Bogotá! A driver will meet you at the airport and transport you to your 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

Sunset in La Candelaria
Sunset in La Candelaria

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: Zipaquira Salt Cathedral & Village Day-Trip

Zipaquira's Salt Cathedral
Zipaquira's Salt Cathedral

After breakfast at your hotel, your journey north of the capital heads to Zipaquira. This town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, is known for its Salt Cathedral which was built inside a salt mine—considered a major breakthrough in Colombian architecture. After the Salt Cathedral, you will visit Zipaquira's village with its noteworthy churches and central square.

Return to Bogota in the afternoon and have the rest of the day to explore the city. 

Day 4: Bogotá to Salento and Afternoon Coffee Tour

The colorful homes of Salento
Colorful homes of Salento

This morning you'll check-in for your flight to Bogotá, and from there connect to the bustling city of Pereira in Colombia's Coffee Region. From the airport, a driver will transfer you to the colorful town of Salento and to a working coffee farm.

Here you'll learn the process of coffee making—from the planting and harvesting to the washing, drying, and packaging the final product. You'll also glean insight into the unique history and culture surrounding Colombian coffee, one of the country's most dominant industries. Finally, you'll observe the roasting and preparation process before heading back to Salento where you'll have a bit of free time to discover this lovely mountain town.

Day 5: Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento

The wax palms of the Valle de Cocora
Wax palms of the Valle de Cocora

Wake up with a hearty breakfast. From here, you'll be picked up and transferred to a trail in the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley), near Salento's charming center. As you make your way to the trail, you’ll find yourself in view of the distinctive Quindío wax palms, which are among the highest trees in the world reaching a height of up to 70 meters. 

This remarkably lush (and thankfully, protected) cloud forest set against the Andean mountainside gives the phrase "verdant green" new meaning. Add in these soaring, skinny wax palms — Colombia's national tree — that cheerfully dot the mountainous landscape, and the Valle de Cocora makes for an outstanding hiking opportunity that you won't want to miss. This loop takes you along dirt tracks through tropical forests and streams for some incredible views and amazing photos, so bring your camera!

After the hike, head back to the colorful streets of Salento and enjoy the rest of the day on your own. Despite Salento's rise in tourism (mostly backpackers) over the past decade, this magical place retains an old-world charm with colorful Paisa architecture, musicians on street corners, and an incredible range of handicrafts. 

Day 6: Exploring more Quindío Villages from Salento

Traditional transport
Traditional transport

Breakfast at your hotel in Salento and departure in a jeep with our local guide for an escapade to traditional villages of the region. You will explore lovely towns like Montenegro, Circasia and Cordoba (the exact villages visited is subject to change). 

You will succumb to the charm of this region and its beautiful landscapes, its authentic villages and the warmth of its people. Our local guide will introduce you to local fruits (tasting encouraged) and you will stop by splendid viewpoints overlooking on coffee, pineapple, and banana plantations.

Day 7: Transfer from Salento to Tayrona National Park

Beaches along the Caribbean Coast
Beaches along the Caribbean Coast

After breakfast, you'll be picked up and transferred from your hotel in Salento to the airport, about an hour's drive, for your flight for the Caribbean coast. After a layover in Bogotá, you'll arrive in Santa Marta. Upon arrival, you'll be met at the airport and driven to just outside the entrance of Tayrona National Park, about an hour, where you'll stay overnight. 

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

Day 8: Tayrona National Park Tour

Beach in Tayrona
Beach in Tayrona

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). This 58-square-mile protected area is home to some of South America's loveliest coastline. Its jungles are also the home of the Kogi indigenous tribe, who are direct descendants of the ancient Tairona people of whom the park is named. 

With your entrance ticket in hand, you'll enter the park and hike in the foothills near Playa Cañaveral, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Then visit the exotic beaches of Arrecifes and La Piscina, the latter of which is an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling. Continue to Cabo San Juan, a windswept cove anchored by huge volcanic rocks. This incredibly picturesque route gives you a complete experience inside the National Park. During the hike, your guide will point out several species of flora and fauna. You'll have the afternoon free to enjoy lunch on your own and relax on the shore.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy dinner. 

Day 9: Free Day Near Tayrona National Park

Try some snorkeling in the Caribbean
Try some snorkeling in the Caribbean

Enjoy a free day to experience the surroundings outside Tayrona Park. With its idyllic location tucked away in the exuberant nature of the area, enjoy some time at your hotel and it's surrounding jungle paradise. 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 10: Tayrona National Park - Transfer to Cartagena

Sunset in Minca
Sunset in Minca

After breakfast at your hotel near Tayrona Park, take one last stroll on the beach. Today, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to Cartagena. If you arrive early enough, explore a bit of Cartagena's walled city (Old Town) by strolling its cobbled streets lined with colonial homes painted in bright pastels.

Day 11: Cartagena City Tour & Sunset Mangrove Excursion

Calle San Juan de Dios, Cartagena
Calle San Juan de Dios, Cartagena

After breakfast, you will meet your guide and begin a walking tour of Cartagena’s historic center. The reason the city is designed like a fortress is that it was the principal shipping port of gold from the New World back to Spain. The stone ramparts helped protect it from countless pirate attacks, including from the most famous of all: Sir Francis Drake. On top of this history, you will visit myriad plazas, the church and the monastery of San Pedro Claver, the Basilica Minor cathedral, and you'll stroll along narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial houses featuring bougainvilia-draped balconies. 

In the late afternoon, you'll transfer from your hotel to La Boquilla, an authentic Afro-Colombian fishing village. You'll enjoy a short stroll to meet the local fishermen and a canoe trip in the Ciénaga Juan Polo wetlands through mangrove waterways to Fisherman Island and the Bird Park. The end of the day is the perfect time to visit the area, as the sky is alive with birds coming home to nest during the sunset. You'll then return to your hotel in Cartagena after your tour.

Day 12: Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands

Arrive at the island by boat
Arrive at the island by boat

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and transport you to the pier. You will depart from the mainland in a speedboat to Múcura—one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast. Have lunch at your hotel and then spend the afternoon swimming and snorkeling in the calm turquoise water, or just relax on the white sand beach.

Day 13: Múcura Highlights

Isla Múcura, Colombia
Isla Múcura, Colombia

Today you'll enjoy a peaceful breakfast at the hotel before hiking around the island. This coral islet is tiny yet packed with beauty, and you can walk around the entire thing in about an hour. 

Lunch will be served back at the hotel, followed by a boat tour in the afternoon to visit other islands in the chain such as Tintipán and Santa Cruz del Islote (tour fees are not included). The latter of which is a manmade, soccer-field-sized outpost home to about 500 people. It's regarded as the most densely populated island in the world.

The rest of your afternoon is up for grabs. You can rent kayaks, go windsurfing, or explore underwater marine life with snorkel gear or scuba equipment (they even offer night dives!)

Day 14: San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena

Farewell to paradise
Farewell to paradise

This is your last day on Múcura! Have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and enjoy one final swim in the turquoise water. You will then transfer back to Cartagena by boat. Keep your eyes open and your camera close, as you'll pass by the beautiful Rosario Islands on the way.

The boat returns in the early afternoon, so you'll have more time to explore Cartagena, take in the sights you may have missed thus far, and have dinner out on the town.

Day 15: Depart Cartagena

Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena
Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena

It's time to say goodbye to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you haven't already, explore the bulk of the city on a guided tour. Otherwise, take one last stroll along those cobbled streets.

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. Maybe 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.

Map

Map of Highlights of Colombia: Cities, Caribbean Coast, & Tayrona National Park - 15 Days
Map of Highlights of Colombia: Cities, Caribbean Coast, & Tayrona National Park - 15 Days