This all-encompassing itinerary combines Colombia's popular attractions with some roads less traveled. You'll begin your journey in the "city of the eternal spring," Medellín, and visit El Peñon de Guatape, a landmark granite rock jutting hundreds of feet out of the ground. If you're a caffeine lover, get ready to visit Colombia's mountainous Coffee Region. You'll embark from this area and hike, mountain bike, and birdwatch through the adjacent sub-Andean forests. Next it's off to the indigenous archeological site of Tierradentro, with its ancient underground burial chambers. Learn about the civilization who built them, then end your stay in the southern colonial town of Popayán.

Highlights

  • Explore the history and vibrant modern culture of Medellín
  • Explore Colombia's famed coffee region
  • Visit the ancient archeological site of Tierradentro, with its stone idols and burial chambers

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Medellin Medellín
Day 2 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 3 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 4 Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 5 Visit the Valle de Cocora Salento
Day 6 Coffee Finca - Driving Tour of Zona Cafetera Pereira
Day 7 Birding in the Rainforest Pereira
Day 8 Pereira -> Transfer to Tierradentro San Andrés de Pisimbala
Day 9 Visit Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro San Andrés de Pisimbala
Day 10 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medellin

View of Medellín's skyscrapers nestled in the Andean Mountains
View of Medellín's skyscrapers nestled in the Andean Mountains

Welcome to Colombia and the "city of the eternal spring"! Despite its turbulent past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. A car will pick you up at the airport and transfer you to a nearby hotel. You're now free to spend the remainder of the day exploring. 

Start by visiting Parque Lleras, in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where most of the city's tourism is centered. This is where some of the best dining, nightlife, and hotels are located. Perhaps take a ride on the city's gondola (Metrocable) system to see the views, or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums near the downtown area. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to its elevation, the Medellín has year-round spring temperatures.

Depending on the time of your flight, you can sightsee with an English-speaking guide and learn more about this thriving, modern city from a local perspective.

Day 2: Medellín City Tour

Plaza Botero in downtown Medellín
Plaza Botero in downtown Medellín

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a fun day exploring Medellín on a walking tour with a local guide. This excursion includes a mix of sightseeing by foot and taking the Metro system through a neighborhood that represents one of the city's most successful urban projects.

The guide will pick you up from your hotel and you'll transfer downtown, visiting Plaza Botero, which features works by Colombia's foremost sculptor, Fernando Botero. You'll then take a ride on the city's iconic Metrocable gondola system and enjoy panoramic views of Medellín below. Next, stop in at the Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 flowers. After visiting some parks and landmarks in the downtown area, you'll eventually return to your hotel by public transport. (There's also a tour option that includes graffiti street art and riding the Metrocable to more remote neighborhoods higher in the hills.)

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure.

Day 3: Guatapé Day-Trip

El Peñol, or La Piedra Rock
El Peñol, or La Piedra Rock

After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel for a full-day excursion to one of the crown jewels of Colombia's Antioquia region: the lakeside town of Guatapé. This private tour includes a guided walk through the village and a mini-history lesson. You'll learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that created the reservoir here, which is known as Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address this reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

Your guide will then transfer you to El Peñol (La Piedra Rock). Relax at the base of this natural granite landmark in one of the many market stalls. Or work up an appetite by climbing the 740 steps to admire the view from the top (entrance fee not included). Halfway up the rock, you'll see a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Return to the town of Guatapé and explore the streets. This is one of the most colorful villages in Colombia, with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a restaurant and enjoy lunch on your own (try the freshwater fish and/or other local delicacies). In the late afternoon, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Medellín with free time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Day 4: Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca

The coffee fields of Colombia's Zona Cafetera
The coffee fields of Colombia's Zona Cafetera

Today, a driver will pick you up from your hotel after breakfast and transfer you to the airport for your flight to either Armenia or Pereira, cities in Colombia's Zona Cafetera (coffee region). 

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to an organic coffee finca (farm) in the beautiful countryside of this region, surrounded by sloping Andean mountains coated in green coffee fields. Be sure to keep your camera within easy reach. Upon arrival to the finca, you'll learn every step of the coffee production process. Furthering this authentic experience, you'll stay overnight and learn even more about Colombia's famous export (the country is the world's third largest producer of coffee). Of course, there will be frequent tastings. 

Day 5: Visit the Valle de Cocora

Cocora Valley
Cocora Valley

Climb into a Jeep in the morning and transfer 1-1.5 hours to the impressive Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley). Named after a local pre-Hispanic chieftain's daughter, this bucolic region is known for its sweeping panoramic views of the Andes. It's also home to Colombia’s national tree, the towering palma de cera, or wax palm.

Your base of operations will be the popular town of Salento. You'll have time to explore it on foot, and you won't miss its charming mash-up of Antioquian/colonial architecture, as well as the colorful, Spanish-style balconies of the local homes. If you have the energy, consider embarking on an activity. Maybe go on a 10 km (six-mile) trek into the cloud forest to visit a hummingbird reserve. Or cycle your way through the hills on mountain trails.

Day 6: Coffee Finca - Driving Tour of Zona Cafetera

Coffee fields in the famous Zona Cafetera
Coffee fields in the famous Zona Cafetera

After breakfast at your coffee finca, you'll be picked up for a full-day excursion.

This guided tour by private car explores the Zona Cafetera (coffee region), where you'll get to know lovely little villages like Montenegro, Circasia, and Cordoba. Experience the authentic charm, beautiful landscapes, and friendly, tight-knit communities. Your guide will stop by fruit stands for tastings and splendid viewpoints looking over coffee, pineapple, and banana plantations.

When you return to your coffee finca, enjoy the rest of the afternoon on your own. Have dinner on-site and stay overnight.

Day 7: Birding in the Rainforest

There are many types of hummingbirds in Colombia
There are many types of hummingbirds in Colombia

Colombia is home to more bird species (around 2,000) than any other country on the planet. It also boasts 79 endemic species (birds that aren't found in any other country). Take advantage of the Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary's location and enjoy an early morning walk along the trails in search of local birds like the masked trogon and red-ruffed fruitcrow. 

Depending on timing, you can also head to Refugio Ecológico La Pastora along the Otún River canyon. There's some great birding opportunities in this ecological refuge too, so bring your binoculars. Again, you'll overnight at the sanctuary.

Day 8: Pereira -> Transfer to Tierradentro

Ancient burial chamber, Tierradentro
Ancient burial chamber, Tierradentro

Catch your early morning flight to Bogotá from the airport in Pereira, then make the connecting flight to Pitalito, Colombia's largest coffee producing district. Meet your driver and transfer from Pitalito to the archeological park of Tierradentro (about 4.5 hours) with a stop for lunch along the way. After arriving at your hotel in the village of San Andrés de Pisimbala (adjacent to the park), take the evening to unwind and enjoy dinner.

Day 9: Visit Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro

Painted walls in a hypogea, Parque Arqueológico Tierradentro, Cauca, Colombia
Painted walls in a hypogea, Parque Arqueológico Tierradentro, Cauca, Colombia

After breakfast, you'll have the whole day to explore the Pre-Columbian wonderland of Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro (National Archaeological Park), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tierradentro is famous for its painted underground burial chambers, known as hypogea (some are as wide as 39.4 feet). Created around 700 CE, there are four sites that make up the park: Alto de San Andrés, Alto de Segovia, Alto del Duende, and El Tablón. Located outside the park boundary but just as significant is Alto del Aguacate. However, arriving there requires a difficult hike that would take the whole morning or afternoon. 

Return to your hotel for lunch and dinner.

Day 10: Departure

View of the Inza Valley from Popayán, Colombia
View of the Inza Valley from Popayán, Colombia

This morning, a transfer will bring you to the city of Popayán, a 3-5 hour drive from Tierradentro. Nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for its chalk-white colonial buildings, Popayán is one of Colombia's most impressive and well-preserved examples of a colonial settlement.

Depending on your departure time, explore a little of Popayán. Don't miss the Iglesia de San Francisco (San Francisco Church). Popayán’s largest colonial church sits in front of a spacious plaza in the heart of the old city. You can also visit Puente del Humilladero (Humilladero Bridge): a 787-foot brick bridge. Constructed in the middle of the 19th century, it remains an important landmark. Another site of note is the Iglesia La Ermita (La Ermita Church), the oldest church in the city, which dates back to 1546.

Finally, say farewell to Colombia and make your way to the airport for your return flight home.