This scenic two-week trip loops around Colombia's interior, focusing on two of Latin America’s most exciting cities and one of its best national parks: Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. Though it’s harder to get to, El Cocuy boasts stunning mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes, and plenty of hiking trails, so this adventure is ideal for travelers who want to explore a lesser-known slice of Colombia's great outdoors. You'll also have time to explore Bogotá and Medellín, as well as the Colombian Highlands, Río Claro Nature Reserve, and Guatapé's lakeside region.

Highlights

  • Explore the cobblestone streets through Bogotá's La Candelaria neighborhood
  • Visit colonial villages in the Colombian Highlands region
  • Hike through waterfalls, glaciers and crystal clear lakes in El Cocuy 
  • Walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums of Medellín
  • Enjoy a range of activities in a protected tropical rainforest 
  • Climb 740 steps of La Piedra Rock for views of Guatapé

Overview

In addition to its coastal areas, Colombia's interior offers another world of natural and cultural pleasures. For one, there are the varied landscapes, with mountainous topography home to natural attractions, archaeological sites, and stunning parks. Then there are the cities, such as Bogotá and Medellín, which are home to extensive cultural attractions, as well as excellent nightlife and diverse dining options.

What makes this itinerary unique is that a good portion of it involves traveling to the remote national park of El Cocuy. Wild and unspoiled, El Cocuy is one of the best-kept hiking secrets in the world. National Geographic calls it “a haven for mountaineers and rock climbers, with glaciated peaks over 17,000 ft and tons of rarely explored alpine terrain.” Not a mountaineer or rock climber? Don't worry, the park offers a plethora of beautiful day hikes where you can experience this rarely-visited slice of Colombia. 

After exploring Colombia's sophisticated capital, you'll spend a handful of days getting to El Cocuy and enjoying the park before connecting to your next stop – Medellín. From here, you'll have time to explore this hip, up-and-coming city before heading to a protected nature reserve in the tropical rainforest. Finish the adventure in Guatapé, Colombia's most colorful town.

Overview Map

Brief Itinerary

Day  Highlight Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Zipaquira Salt Mine Tour and Transfer to Villa de Leyva Villa de Leyva
Day 4 Transfer to El Cocuy El Cocuy
Day 5 Tour of El Cocuy and Preparations El Cocuy
Day 6 Trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy - Day 1 El Cocuy
Day 7 Trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy - Day 2 El Cocuy
Day 8 Transfer to Bucaramanga Bucaramanga
Day 9 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 10 Transfer to Río Claro Nature Reserve Río Claro
Day 11 Río Claro Nature Reserve Río Claro
Day 12 Return to Medellín Medellín
Day 13 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 14 Depart Medellín  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá

Bogotá's scenic skyline.

Welcome to Bogotá!
A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the hotel, your home base for the next few days.

Explore by foot
Bogotá is on the rise in terms of gastronomy and culture, so spend your free time discovering this vibrant Andean capital by foot. Explore the cobblestone streets through the La Candelaria neighborhood where trendy restaurants and colonial-era landmarks are located.

While here, don't forget to explore the excellent museums, shopping, and street food options ranging from empanadas to exotic fruit salads.

Day 2: Bogotá city tour

Bogotá's Spanish colonial architecture. 

After breakfast, continue to explore the city by yourself or with a guide. Here are some things that you should see:

  • Stroll through Bogota’s lively streets for walled graffiti art, cafes, bookstores, art galleries, historic plazas and statues while learning about the fascinating political history of Colombia’s capital.
  • Take the cable car to Monserrate for a great view of the city.
  • Visit La Concordia market to learn about fruits, vegetables and spices used in local cuisine.
  • Spend a few hours gazing at pre-Hispanic works at the Gold Museum.
  • Check out the local music scene with live bands and street festivals.

Day 3: Zipaquira salt mine tour and transfer to Villa de Leyva

The underground Salt Cathedral.

Your journey north of the capital starts at Colombia's famous underground Salt Cathedral. While in the area, you'll also head to the Nemocón Salt Mine, thirty minutes outside of Zipaquira. Here, 80 meters underground, are a collection of immaculately preserved tunnels where eight million tons of salt were extracted between 1816 and 1968.  The various chambers off the main routes show the history of salt mining amidst spectacular atmospheric light effects, with no less than 28 mirrors.

Your route will pass through Raquira, known as “the pottery capital of Colombia”. This village features brightly painted facades where you can watch pottery being made with numerous craft shops selling items like ponchos, handbags, woodcarvings, and jewelry. If visiting on a Sunday, you will see a market in full swing!

Continue driving north through the highlands. Tonight you'll stay in Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia with cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings.

Day 4: Transfer to El Cocuy

El Cocuy's beautiful surroundings.

Today, you'll drive to Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, home to some of Colombia's most impressive landscapes, including several peaks, like Ritacuba Blanco at 5330m.

Rising near the Venezuelan border, El Cocuy covers over 1,000 square miles of terrain and 15,000 vertical feet. Its stratified ecosystems shelter red-footed tortoises, pumas, howling monkeys, tapirs and, soaring above them all, condors. Tourism is concentrated in the Sierra Nevada, covering just 2% of the park.

Along this scenic drive, you can make stops to visit colonial villages in the Colombian Highlands region.

Day 5: Tour of El Cocuy and park preparations

A hiker in El Cocuy. 

Once off-limits because of security, the park is now safe to visit, however, access can still be complicated. Once you arrive in El Cocuy, you'll need time to take care of entrance fees and registrations, which are required by the local national park authorities, the day before entering the park. You'll need to give them your plan for how long and where you're going to be in the park; if you don't return on time, they'll send search and rescue.

While in the area, you can take a walk to acclimate to the elevation and then tour the village of Cocuy, visiting local artisans. Spend the night in the village or in one of the mountain huts near the entrance of the park.   

Day 6: Trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy - Day 1

High-altitude day hiking in El Cocuy.

Today, you'll get an early morning start in one of Colombia's best and most scenic trekking destinations. Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy (El Cocuy National Park ) used to be an unsafe region in the past but that has changed. It's safe to visit now, and tourists are just starting to discover the stunning scenery and trekking routes. (This has long been South America’s undiscovered gem of mountaineering.) If you don't want to hike much, simple stay close to the entrance and enjoy the scenery. 

The park contains 21 glorious peaks, most of which are higher than 5000 m. The dramatic landscape consists of snow-clad vistas, towering waterfalls, glaciers and crystal clear lakes. There's an abundance of flora and fauna that includes deer, spectacled bears, puma, ocelot, tapirs, eagles and condors. The indigenous U'wa people still live here, as well, and their reservations make up half the park’s domain. 

The park is well set up for this high-altitude day hiking, and there are a number of huts scattered around the boundary of the park. From these, you can literally wake up, step out the front door, and you're on the trail.  

You'll stay overnight in Cocuy or in a mountain hut near the entrance. 

Day 7: Trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy - Day 2

The park has an abundance of flora and fauna. 

Today, you'll have another full day for hiking in El Cocuy through an alternative road. There are a number of great day hikes you can do, and the trails are well marked, either by the worn path of other hikers or cairns (piles of rocks).

You'll stay overnight in the village of El Cocuy or the nearby village of Guican.

Day 8: Transfer to Bucaramanga

Stunning vistas near Bucaramanga.

Today, you'll depart El Cocuy and make the scenic drive through the Andes mountains to the airport near Bucaramanga. Since this is a long drive, you can either stay in Bucaramanga or in Girón before taking a morning flight to Medellín.

Day 9: Arrive in Medellín

The free gondola in Medellín.

Welcome to Medellín! You will be picked up at the Medellín airport and then transferred to a hotel nearby. Depending on the time of your flight, you can explore on your own, or join a local tour to learn more about this thriving, modern city. 

Despite its dangerous past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. Most of the city's tourism is centered around Parque Lleras in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where the best dining, nightlife, and hotel options are within easy reach. You can take a ride on the city's gondola (Metrocable) to see the views or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums. Either way, enjoy the weather – due to a high elevation near the equator, the city has year-round spring temperatures.

Day 10: Transfer to Río Claro Nature Reserve

After breakfast, you'll head out on the road towards Río Claro Nature Reserve. Within just three hours of Medellín lies a stunning area of protected tropical rainforest. Most people tend to associate tropical jungles with Colombia’s Amazon region and don’t realize several important conservations pockets exist in this area. Río Claro is one of them.

Day 11: Caving in the Río Claro Nature Reserve

Caving in the nature reserve.

You'll spend the day at this beautiful nature reserve, enjoying a range of activities including caving, zip-lining, horseback riding, rafting, and tubing, If you prefer a more relaxing day, you can hike and swim along the banks of the river while looking for exotic birds.

There's also the option of driving an hour to the town of Prodigio, where you will be greeted by a community-run archeological preservation group that will guide you to a cave covered in petroglyphs from pre-hispanic cultures. In the afternoon, you will return to Río Claro Nature Reserve.

Day 12: Return to Medellín, riding the Metrocable 

Medellín enjoys consistent, spring-like weather.

It's time for your return trip to Medellín! Depending on your arrival, you may be able to fit in a tour of the city on your own or with a guide.

If choosing the latter, a guided tour takes you through one of Colombia's most successful urban projects. Named the World's Most Innovative City in 2013, the city has undergone a massive transformation through a number of social and infrastructure victories aimed to include, empower and revitalize some of Medellín's worst areas.

Enjoy a ride on the Metrocable, the city's iconic gondola car system (great views!) towards remote neighborhoods on the valley side. You'll also visit entire areas that have been redeveloped allowing the 'Paisas' (people from Medellín and Antioquia -- the department of which Medellín is the capital) to enjoy their city once more. 

Day 13: Guatapé Day-Trip

An aerial view of this lakeside region.

Today, you'll head east from Medellín and explore the picturesque lakeside town of Guatapé. Take a two-hour walking tour through the countryside and learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that was renamed Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address the reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

As you walk towards the neighboring town of El Peñol, absorb stunning vistas of the dazzling granite La Piedra Rock. Climb the 740 steps to admire the classic view from above. Return to Guatapé and explore the streets. This is truly the most colorful town in Colombia with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a restaurant for a relaxing meal of freshwater fish and other local delicacies.

Day 14: Depart Medellín

Take advantage of Medellín's public art sculptures. 

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! Enjoy your last moments in the beautiful city of Medellín with a leisurely breakfast, city stroll, and/or souvenir shopping.  A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.