With this itinerary, you'll see the best of Colombia in 12 days. Begin on the Caribbean coast with a visit to Tayrona National Park, where you'll snorkel and hike to your heart's content. From there, hop a flight to the Coffee Region for mountain biking, birdwatching in sub-Andean forests, and a tour of a working coffee farm. End your journey in colonial Popayán and Tierradentro, an archeological site famous for its underground burial chambers.

Highlights

  • Discover Tayrona National Park, one of Colombia's beautiful protected areas
  • Stroll the cobbled streets of the Spanish colonial city, Cartagena de Indias
  • Tour Colombia's famed coffee region, with tastings on working farms
  • Visit stone idols and more at the ancient archeological site of Tierradentro

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santa Marta - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 2 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 3 Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona - Pueblito Ruins Tayrona Park
Day 4 River Tubing - Return to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 5 Free Day Near Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 6 Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 7 Visit the Valle de Cocora Salento
Day 8 Mountain Bike in the Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún-Quimbaya Wildlife Sanctuary Otún Quimbaya
Day 9 Birding in the Rainforest Pereira
Day 10 Pereira - Transfer to Tierradentro San Andrés de Pisimbala
Day 11 Visit Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro Tierradentro
Day 12 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Marta - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Sunset in Santa Marta
Sunset in Santa Marta

Welcome to Santa Marta, site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia! After arriving at the airport in Santa Marta, you'll transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (an hour outside of the city). Here the Sierra Nevada Mountains roll right on down to the shore before disappearing into the Caribbean Sea. It's just this singular landscape that makes Tayrona home to some of South America's loveliest coastline.

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, before heading back to the property for dinner served on-site.

Day 2: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona
Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona

After breakfast, you'll begin a half-day tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. This protected area is known for having some of the most virgin coastal landscapes in the entire country. Indeed, when you see promotional images of Caribbean Colombia, often you're seeing images of Cabo de San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You'll experience much of this coastline with a local guide while visiting the white-sand beaches and rainforests further inside Tayrona.

First, it's a hike in the tropical 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 and enjoy the bay of white sand surrounded by large volcanic rocks. On the way here, you can observe several species of flora and fauna pointed out by your knowledgeable guide. The afternoon is yours to enjoy on your own. Have a bit of lunch and relax on the shore.

You'll return to your hotel in the late afternoon with time to enjoy the sunset and dinner served on-site.

Day 3: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona - Pueblito Ruins

Ruins at Pueblito
Ruins at Pueblito

Leave your accommodation bright and early for a full day of hiking through the jungles of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Natural Park). The park consists of a 150-square-kilometer (58-square-mile) protected area covering the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills where they meet the Caribbean coast. Today, your destination is the archaeological ruins of Pueblito Chairama.

Get ready for a challenging hike to this archaeological site reached by forest trails. These Pre-Columbian ruins were home to the ancient Tairona people who once inhabited the area. Continue on to the beach of Cabo de San Juan for a well-deserved dip in the sea before enjoying lunch. Afterward, walk back to meet your driver at the park entrance and return to your hotel where dinner will be served.

Day 4: River Tubing - Return to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Take a relaxing float down the river
Take a relaxing float down the river

Today, throw on your bathing suit and take a relaxing innertube ride along the lazy Río Don Diego, which runs down from the Sierra Nevadas all the way to the ocean. This fun route unfolds at a manageable pace, with hilly green rainforest lining both sides of the river. From the riverbanks, you'll hear howler monkeys and spot a variety of birds and butterflies. You'll even see views of snowy Sierra Nevada peaks in the distance. 

If that's not enough, the river culminates at a beautiful white-sand beach along the Caribbean Sea. Here, you will have the chance to relax on the sand, dip your toes in the sea, and enjoy the views. After the excursion, you'll be transferred to your hotel near Tayrona Park for dinner served on-site.

Day 5: Free Day Near Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

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

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: Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca

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

Today you'll take a 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 7: 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 8: Mountain Bike in the Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún-Quimbaya

Red howler monkey
Red howler monkey

Pack your mountain bike and transfer by car 25 minutes to the El Roble trailhead. Here you'll embark on an exhilarating 10 km (six-mile) ride to the Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún-Quimbaya (Fauna y Flora Sanctuary). After lunch, take an afternoon walk along the sanctuary trails. There are more than 50 species of birds, butterflies, and small animals here, so keep an eye out for those red howler monkeys, the rare, turkey-like Cauca guan, and the endangered mountain tapir. You'll overnight here at the sanctuary.

Day 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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. 

Day 12: 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.

Map

Map of Ancient and Modern Cultures in Colombia - 12 Days
Map of Ancient and Modern Cultures in Colombia - 12 Days