See the wonders of Colombia's Caribbean coast on this 15-day tour. Start in Cartagena, where you'll take in the city sights via bike and practice your Caribbean rhythms at a Colombian dance class. Then, it's off to Isla Múcura for white-sand beaches, snorkeling, and swimming. See the Carnival city of Barranquilla, hike the beaches and forests of Tayrona National Park, and surround yourself with thousands of species of birds as you canoe through a protected flamingo sanctuary.


  • See the city lights of Cartagena on an evening dinner cruise 
  • Snorkel and swim in the aquamarine waters of Isla Múcura 
  • Discover the history of Colombia's Carnival in the vibrant city of Barranquilla
  • Float down the Sierra Nevada's Río Don Diego via inner tube

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena, Dinner & Bay Tour  Cartagena
Day 2 Cartagena Bike Tour, Colombian Dance Class Cartagena
Day 3 Day Trip to San Basilio de Palenque Cartagena
Day 4 Transfer to Isla Múcura Isla Múcura
Day 5 Beach Day & Maria Mulata Spa Isla Múcura
Day 6 Hike Múcura & Boat Tour Isla Múcura
Day 7 Transfer to Barranquilla, Afternoon Tour   Barranquilla
Day 8 Isla Salamanca & El Torno Swamp, Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona National Park
Day 9 Hike Tayrona National Park Tayrona National Park
Day 10 Tayrona National Park: Bay of Neguanje & Playa Cristal Tayrona National Park
Day 11 Transfer to Minca, Tubing on the Río Don Diego Minca
Day 12 Sunrise Bird-Watching, Coffee Farm & Village Tour Minca
Day 13 Transfer to Santa Marta, Afternoon City Tour Santa Marta
Day 14 Los Flamencos Sanctuary Santa Marta
Day 15 Visit a Kogui Community, Depart Santa Marta  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena, Dinner & Bay Tour 

The Bay of Cartagena

Welcome to Cartagena! Your driver will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. This tropical port town, located on Cartagena Bay, was founded in the 1500s, gaining fame as an important trade hub. After being under Spanish rule for 275 years, the city declared independence from Spain in the 1800s, continuing as a major port for some time. The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, and modern Cartagena has evolved into one of Colombia's most popular tourist destinations. 

Start your visit with a walk through the historic central district, Ciudad Amurallada, a small neighborhood packed with bars, restaurants, and shops. Then, head to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress built in 1536 that overlooks the city. The castle includes a series of tunnels, originally built to help facilitate evacuations and store supplies, and some of these original passageways are open for tours. The fortress itself is enormous, and you'll appreciate the impressive architecture. 

Tonight, set out into the bay on a two-hour yacht cruise. Head to the pier, Muelle de Los Pegasos ("Pegasus Pier"), and the clock tower there, and board your ship, which will take you along the shoreline and bay. The cruise includes a three-course meal and wine, all with the backdrop of Cartagena's city lights and Caribbean breezes cooling the air. 

Day 2: Cartagena Bike Tour, Colombian Dance Class

Touring Cartagena by bike 

Explore the city via bike with a guided bike tour that starts in the historic center and takes you to some of Cartagena's main attractions and landmarks. Visit the neighborhood of Getsemaní, a lively spot with colorful buildings, food vendors, and gorgeous street art. See the home of Florentino Ariza (the main character in Gabriel García Márquez's novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera") the busy main plaza, and cruise by the shops and restaurants. Cross the Roman Bridge and ride toward the Manga district, known for its seafront promenade, where you can visit the local cemetery, the oldest in Cartagena.

Later this evening, you'll have a chance to truly immerse yourself in Colombian culture with a dance class. Learn the rhythms that are the heartbeat of the people, with basic lessons in salsa, merengue, vallenato, and education on vallenato music. Afterward, head out to a local bar or club to try out your new skills! 

Day 3: Day Trip to San Basilio de Palenque

Women in traditional Palenquera dress

Located approximately 1.5 hours from Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque is a small slice of Africa in Colombia, offering visitors a window into Afro-descendant history in Colombia and America. The settlement began with a runaway enslaved man, Benkos Bioho, who, accompanied by 36 others, hid in the area. With no connection to the main roads or city, their Palenquero language and traditions remained intact until the 1970s when the famous boxer "Kid Pambelé" placed the settlement on the map, bringing access roads to the village, now declared an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. 

A private driver will pick you up at your hotel today and transport you to the village, where a local guide will meet you and take you on a tour. You'll learn about the Palenquero dialect, history, and culture, while seeing demonstrations of their storytelling, art, and handicrafts. After exploring the village and its surrounding areas,  enjoy a delicious traditional Palenquero lunch before returning to Cartagena in the afternoon.

Day 4: Transfer to Isla Múcura

Beach huts on Isla Múcura 
It's off to the San Bernardo Islands today, with your final destination being Múcura, one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast. Your driver will transport you to the pier, where you'll depart from the mainland via speedboat, a ride that takes about two hours. Upon arrival, check-in at your hotel and relax, then head out to see some of the island.
Part of Corales del Rosario National Natural Park, Múcura is known for its white-sand beaches, restful waters, and welcoming residents. You can spend your afternoon relaxing and sunbathing, or take a snorkel tour of the underwater reefs that make up much of the park. Active visitors might want to rent kayaks or go windsurfing, and of course, there will be opportunities to enjoy delicious cocktails on the beach! Have dinner at your hotel this evening and take in the sunset across the endless ocean views. 

Day 5: Beach Day & Maria Mulata Spa

Beautiful beaches of Múcura

Enjoy some more beach time this morning before heading out for a luxurious spa day at Maria Mulata Spa, part of Hotel Punta Faro. The spa sits on a secluded deck overlooking the water and consists of three outdoor treatment rooms. Services include relaxation therapy, body hydration, and hot stone massage, all while being surrounded by breathtaking ocean views and cool island breezes. Later, you can have dinner at the hotel, or take an evening walk on the beach for more of those incredible Caribbean sunsets. 

Day 6: Hike Múcura & Boat Tour

Beautiful trails on Isla Múcura

Take a hike around the island and see some of its natural beauty on display. There are several walking trails through the forested areas, and you're likely to see plenty of birds and other wildlife. The island is quite tiny, so you'll be able to walk around it in its entirety in about an hour. 

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After lunch back at your hotel, take a boat tour to visit some of the other nearby islands. Stop in Tintipán, the largest of the San Bernardo Islands and home to some of the region's best beaches, and Santa Cruz del Islote, a manmade, soccer-field-sized outpost home to about 500 people. It's regarded as the most densely populated island in the world. 
This evening, take a snorkel tour of the bioluminescent plankton beaches near the mangroves of Tintipán. These "blue beaches" are visible at night, with phosphorescent blue lights that transform the waters into something otherworldly. And if you happen to be there during a full moon, you'll get even better views of these amazing lights.

Day 7: Transfer to Barranquilla, Afternoon Tour

Carnival in Barranquilla
Carnival in Barranquilla

Head back to Cartagena via boat, then take a private transfer to the city of Barranquilla. Named the "Golden Gate of Colombia" because of its major trading port, Barranquilla has a rich history and is the stage for one of Colombia's biggest yearly celebrations: the Carnival of Barranquilla. 

After settling at your accommodations, take a guided 3.5-hour tour of the city. Discover Barranquilla's traditional neighborhoods, such as El Prado, where you'll find beautiful architecture, historic mansions, and colorful gardens. Visit Los Fundadores Park and pass by the Carnival House, the official landmark of the annual festival. You'll also tour the Carnival Museum, where you'll see exhibits dedicated to preserving the legacy of Carnival. Learn about the traditions, parades, masks, and music that makes this event so important. 

The tour continues to the Teatro Amira de la Rosa, a 1,000-seat venue that hosts cultural events, the outdoor graffiti exhibition of the Par Vial, and to one of the city's main sports arenas, the Estadio Edgar Renteria. Walk through the former public customs office, Plaza de la Aduana, and the old tramway station, and stop at the Caribe's Museum to learn more about the area's history. Finish with panoramic views of the Río Magdalena along the malecón (riverwalk). 

Day 8: Isla Salamanca & El Torno Swamp, Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Salamanca National Parkway
Salamanca Island Park

Travel the Río Magdalena through different canals of Salamanca Island Park, a protected area of Colombia known for its immense variety of plants and wildlife. Take a private transfer from your hotel and meet your guide at the park entrance, where you'll board a private boat that takes you downriver. Enjoy the beautiful trees, plants, and birdsong as your guide shares insight into the history of the park. 

Eventually, you'll arrive at El Torno swamp and the pristine beaches of the Caribbean Sea. With a view of Barranquilla as your backdrop, you'll explore these unusual ecosystems just a few minutes from urban life. From the swamp, you'll take a walk to the shore,  where you'll see sand dunes, endemic plants of the region, and wildlife. Later today, you'll transfer to Tayrona National Park, where you'll overnight. 

Day 9: Hike Tayrona National Park

The shores of Tayrona
The shores of Tayrona
Tayrona National Park covers the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as they meet the Caribbean coast. The park encompasses 58 square miles (150 sq km) and is made up of two ecosystems, creating a perfect blend of lush jungles, white-sand beaches, and turquoise lagoons. Today, take a taxi from your hotel and take a day hike into the park.
Start with a walk along nature trails that take you through the forest and to Playa Arrecifes, which takes about an hour. At the beach, you'll find large boulders along the shore, crashing waves, and warm white sand. You won't want to swim here, as the shore break is quite dangerous, but you can continue another 20 minutes to Playa Cabo San Juan, where you can snorkel, admire the landscape, or relax on the beach. In the afternoon, head back to Arrecifes and then to the Cañaveral sector to return to your hotel. 

Day 10: Tayrona National Park: Bay of Neguanje & Playa Cristal 

Sunset in Tayrona
Sunset in Tayrona

Continue your exploration of the park with a visit to the Bay of Neguanje. From the park's west entrance, your tour takes you on an unpaved road through the tropical dry forest of the Sierra foothills to Neguanje, a drive of approximately one hour. From here, you'll board a boat and take a 10-minute ride to beautiful Playa Cristal ("Crystal Beach). This ocean oasis offers white-sand beaches and clear waters great for snorkeling and swimming. 

Later, you'll visit nearby Gairaca, a solitary bay located on the road to Playa Neguanje. The beach here is less visited, and is well-preserved, retaining much of its natural beauty. You can also visit Playa Mirador Siete Olas, which has panoramic rows of waves that break the shore in a very particular sequence. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel after a full day of hiking and swimming.

Day 11: Transfer to Minca, Tubing on the Río Don Diego 

Views of the Sierra Nevadas in Minca

After breakfast, a driver will meet you for your transfer to Minca, a mountain village located on the coastal hillsides of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Despite being just down the coast from the bustling city of Santa Marta, Minca feels like it's a world away. The village sits at an altitude of more than 2,000 feet (650 m), so pack accordingly for cooler temperatures. After hotel check-in, you'll take an excursion to the nearby Río Don Diego.

Descending from the Sierra Nevadas, the Don Diego winds down the valleys and through various settlements, ending at the sea. Your tour starts with a walk through the forest to the river, where you'll hop on a provided inner tube and start your four-hour "tubing" adventure. As the peaceful waters carry you downstream, you're likely to see howler monkeys and tropical birds, with occasional glimpses of the snowy Sierra Nevadas in the background. Upon arrival at the mouth of the river, you can relax on the beach there before taking a boat back upstream to your original starting point. 

Day 12: Sunrise Bird-Watching, Coffee Farm & Village Tour

Biodiverse Minca known for its many hummingbirds
Biodiverse Minca is known for its many hummingbirds
The dry tropical forests of Minca support a huge variety of birdlife, and this three-hour guided tour allows you a closer view of them. You'll depart at dawn, making a modest forest hike into the jungle, where you'll have a chance to see the more than 2,000 species of birds that call the forests of Minca home. Your expert guide will point out rare and exotic species, such as the keel-billed toucan, golden-winged sparrow, and the rosy thrush-tanager, as well as more common hummingbirds and sparrows. Even casual birders will be entranced by the plethora of colorful birdlife. 
This afternoon, take a half-day tour of a working coffee farm. You'll be picked up in a 4WD vehicle, and after driving around the farm, you'll learn about the production process and enjoy some complimentary tastings. Afterward, you'll make a stop at the natural swimming hole of Pozo Azul for a refreshing dip, so be sure to bring your bathing suit! 
If you're looking for a longer excursion, you can take a full-day trip that includes the stunning Marinka Waterfall, and a driving tour of Santa Marta. Otherwise, after your bird-watching and coffee farm tours, enjoy an afternoon strolling the streets of Minca and having dinner at a local café. For more birds, you can also visit the hummingbird balcony at Hotel Minca, where you can observe hundreds of hummingbirds that regularly feed there.

Day 13: Transfer to Santa Marta, Afternoon City Tour

Santa Marta's Cathedral
Santa Marta Cathedral

Take a private transfer from Minca to Santa Marta today. Your driver will drop you at your hotel, and from there, you'll head out on a guided city tour. Founded in 1525, Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia, and is the site of the first church built in continental America. The huge white cathedral is often referred to as the "mother" of Colombian churches, featuring some of the city's finest architecture. 

The tour includes other major landmarks such as Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the hacienda where the great Libertador and Venezuelan president, Simón Bolívar, spent his last days, and the historic city center where you'll find shops and restaurants. You'll also have a chance to take in the coastal views of the adjacent fishing village of Taganga.

Day 14: Los Flamencos Sanctuary

An adult flamingo at the sanctuary in La Guajira

Located in the Guajira Peninsula, the Los Flamencos Sanctuary is a must-see for wildlife lovers. With its system of marshes, coastal lagoons, mangroves, and dry forests, this reserve is home to one of the most diverse populations of shorebirds in the Colombian Caribbean. Bird species here include the white heron, Caribbean flamingoes, gulls, thrushes, kingfishers, and pelicans. 

Your driver will take you from Santa Marta to the park entrance, a drive of just over an hour. Then, you'll get in a handmade canoe and head downriver, surrounded by lush mangroves and countless flocks of wild birds. Learn about the importance of this ecosystem, its preservation, and various facts about the bird species. Afterward, you'll have the option of lunch on-site, or you can return to your hotel for your last evening in Colombia. 

Day 15: Visit a Kogui Community, Depart Santa Marta

Traditional Kogui huts

If you have time before you leave today, find out more about the history of the people here by visiting the Kogui population, one of four original groups to settle in the Sierra Nevadas. The tour takes you to the town of Calabazo, where you'll make a 1.5-mile trek through lush forests and to the Tayku community. A local Kogui will guide you through the small community of approximately 15 huts and their ceremonial house. Visit the Mamo (the community's spiritual leader) to have a brief cultural exchange before returning to Santa Marta. You also have the added option of lunch at nearby Playa Los Cocos

This afternoon, it's time to say goodbye to the laid-back vibes of Caribbean Colombia. Your private driver will collect you from your hotel and take you to the airport for your trip home. Safe travels! 

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Map of Colombia's Caribbean Culture, Islands & Beaches - 15 Days
Map of Colombia's Caribbean Culture, Islands & Beaches - 15 Days