This urban-meets-outdoorsy Colombian itinerary is jam-packed with sightseeing and excursions. The 16-day trip starts in the capital of Bogotá, then heads north for a challenging hike in the heart of Iguaque Sanctuary, and a cycling tour through along the Suarez River. From there, you will fly to the Caribbean Coast and spend time exploring a stunning national park, followed by birding in Minca. You will end your adventure in romantic Cartagena, with a relaxing trip to Múcura Island.

Highlights

  • Explore the markets, museums, and street art of La Candelaria
  • Experience the turquoise waters and go scuba diving on Múcura Island
  • Go birding in Minca, where you can spot 2,000 species 
  • Tour Tayrona National Park and swim and hike among the Sierra Nevada range

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Bogotá  Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Travel to Villa de Leyva Villa de Leyva
Day 4 Guided Hiking Tour of Iguaque Lagoon Villa de Leyva
Day 5 Villa de Leyva and Travel to Barichara Barichara
Day 6 Barichara - Hiking or Biking Tour Barichara
Day 7 Fly to Santa Marta Tayrona Park
Day 8 Guided Tour of Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 9 Drive to Minca - Coffee Farm and Village Tour Minca
Day 10 Birding in Minca - El Dorado Nature Reserve El Dorado Nature Reserve
Day 11 Travel to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 12 Cartagena City Tour and Evening Mangrove Tour Cartagena
Day 13 Travel to Múcura Island Isla Mucura
Day 14 Solo Tour the San Bernardo Islands Isla Mucura
Day 15 Travel Back to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 16 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Bogotá

Plaza de Bolivar
Plaza de Bolivar in Bogotá

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

Colombia's largest 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

Streets of La Candelaria
The colorful streets of La Candelaria

Good Morning! If you are an early riser, start the day with a 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. 

Then, it will be time to hit the streets of La Candelaria and explore! A local, English-speaking guide will pick you up and accompany you on a half-day walking tour of the city. La Candelaria is the heart of Bogota's historic center, and the town is painted with street art murals that are great to photograph. Stroll 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 is a grand cathedral here, as well as many important government buildings, such as the Capitolio Nacional (Colombia's congress building). 

After your walk through La Candelaria, explore two of Bogotá's best museums in the afternoon: the Gold Museum, which features the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world, and the Botero Museum, which houses a collection of masterpieces from renowned Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero. 

For dinner, make sure to taste the local Colombian fare. Some of the best restaurants in La Candelaria include Capital Cocina y Café, Fulanitos, and Abadia Colonial Restaurante.

Day 3: Travel to Villa de Leyva

The Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá
The Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá

Today, you will drive through Zipaquirá on your way to Villa de Leyva. Zipaquirá, which was declared a Colombian heritage site, is known for its famous underground Salt Cathedral. You will pay a visit to this Roman church that was built within the tunnels of an underground salt mine. Entry into this popular site includes a 2-hour guided tour, along with some free time to explore on your own. 

From here, continue driving north through the Andean highlands to Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia, featuring cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings.

After the day of driving, have a nice dinner in Villa de Leyva at:

  • Mercado Municipal: This chef-driven eatery is located in the gardens of a colonial-era house.
  • Restaurant Savia: This spot is ideal for vegans, vegetarians, and those who like to eat organic.
  • Entre Panes: Enjoy a sandwich or a classic French dish at this outdoor café.
  • miCocina: Which specializes in authentic Colombian food, beyond just soup and fried plantains.
  • Restaurante Carbon: Where you can indulge in plenty of meat dishes, like ribs and lamb.

Day 4: Guided hiking tour of Iguaque Lagoon

Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva at night

Following breakfast, take a challenging hike with a local guide in the heart of Iguaque Sanctuary, a scenic pathway through the Andeans near Villa de Leyva. Considered by the sedentary indigenous Muiscas as the birthplace of mankind, the trail winds upward all the way to Laguna Bachue, a beautiful high-altitude lake; the higher you climb, the more unique stages of vegetation you will experience, from moss-covered trees and ferns to pine forests. Keep an eye out for frailejones (plants that look like palm trees). 

When the conditions are not too foggy, the panoramic views allow you to see the endless layers of mountains, villages, and farms.

If you would like to pamper yourself after the taxing hike, you can get a massage at a local spa. Getsemani Spa Hotel and Hotel Spa Duruelo are two of the top options. Once you are nice and relaxed, you can have dinner at one of the recommended local restaurants, or keep it casual at the Pizzeria Ristorante Italia. 

Hike duration: 6 hours

Day 5: Driving tour of Villa de Leyva and travel to Barichara

Barichara
Barichara 

After breakfast, take a driving tour of the village's outer surroundings. You can visit the main points of interest, many of which encompass fossils from long ago. Some stops on your driving tour include:

  • Museo El Fósil, a museum built around a bus-sized fossil on the side of the highway
  • Museo Paleontogico, which houses the fossils of many prehistoric animals that resided in the area up to 65 million years ago. 
  • Convento del Santo Eccehomo, which was founded by the Dominican Fathers in the 1600s. The stone and adobe building has a peaceful courtyard and houses more fossils. 

In the afternoon, you will take the drive to Barichara by private car, which is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia. Once you arrive, make plans to have dinner at one of the local favorites. These include:

  • Carambolo: A fine dining option where you can eat Mediterranean food and enjoy views of the canyon of Río Suárez.
  • 7 Tigres: Here, you can indulge in the thin-crust, pita-style pizzas native to Colombia.
  • Shambalá: Which is an ideal choice for conscious eaters, including vegetarians. 
  • El Compa: One of the best local spots to enjoy casual eats. 

Day 6: Barichara - hiking or biking tour

Rio Suarez
View from Suarez Canyon

Good Morning! Greet the day in Barichara, which is located in the northern-central area of Santander, and is surrounded by beautiful, craggy mountains and powerful waterfalls and rivers. After breakfast, you will have the chance to explore the region on two wheels.

Your bicycle tour is categorized as "medium-difficulty," and is lead by a local guide who speaks Spanish. This beautiful and rewarding 15-mile route starts in the Cabrera area, which is 6,000 feet above sea level (so make sure to hydrate appropriately) and descends downhill to the bottom of the majestic Suárez Canyon. There will be opportunities to stop for photos along the way and make sure to bring a bathing suit, so you can cool off with a dip in the river.

If you do not want to bike, you can embark on a half-day hike to the village of Guané. Led by an English-speaking guide, this trip includes a downhill walk that includes views of the Suárez River. On your hike, you will stroll through the village, where goats roam and relax in the shade. 

On the way back to Barichara, you will have some free time. Make sure to stop to enjoy an authentic Colombian lunch on your own. Then, you can continue exploring Barichara (without a guide). Some places to visit include cathedrals and sites like Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, Capilla de Santa Bárbara, El Mirador, and Capilla San Antonio

Bicycle tour duration: 4-5 hours 

Day 7: Fly to Santa Marta 

Beach near Santa Marta
Beach in Santa Marta

This morning, once you eat breakfast, a car will pick you up and drive you to the airport for your flight to the city of Santa Marta, which is located on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Upon arrival, you will drive to your hotel, which is located just outside the entrance of Tayrona National Park.

Once you are settled in, you will have 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. Dinner for the evening will be served at your hotel.

Day 8: Guided tour of Tayrona National Park

Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona
Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona

After you have breakfast, you will begin a half-day tour of Tayrona National Park. This protected area is known for having some of the most iconic, untouched coastal landscapes in the entire country. Indeed, when you see promotional images of Caribbean Colombia, often you're seeing images of Cabo San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You will experience a large part of this coastline with a local, English-speaking guide while touring the white-sand beaches and rainforests further inside Tayrona.

First, you will take a hike in the tropical foothills near Playa Cañaveral, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then, you will 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.

In the afternoon, you can have some lunch and relax on the shore on your own. After some free time, you will return to your hotel in the late afternoon. Take in another sunset before dinner, which is served onsite again this evening.

Day 9: Travel to Minca and guided village tour

Sunset in Minca
Sunset in Minca

Good Morning! Following breakfast, a driver will meet you to take you to Minca, a mountain village located on the coastal hillside. Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains, remote Minca is seemingly a world away from the bustling city of Santa Marta, which is just down the Caribbean coast. It's also at a higher altitude, so remember to hydrate and bring an extra layer or two, as the temperatures here are cooler than they are at sea level.

Your Minca adventure includes a half-day guided tour (with an English-speaking guide) by 4x4, and you will start at one of the working coffee farms in the region. After learning about the coffee production process (and enjoying complimentary tastings, of course), you will visit the natural swimming hole of Pozo Azul for a refreshing dip (don’t forget to pack your swimsuit).

Enjoy some free time and have lunch on your own before you embark on an afternoon walking tour of Minca's town center. Alternatively, visit the hummingbird balcony at Hotel Minca, where you can relax and observe the hundreds of hummingbirds that feed there.

If you prefer, you can also choose a full-day excursion that includes a trip to the stunning waterfall of Marinka, as well as a driving tour of the area with beautiful views of Santa Marta.

Day 10: Birding in Minca and El Dorado Nature Reserve tour

Keel-billed toucan, one of many bird species you can spot around Minca
The keel-billed toucan, one of many bird species you can spot around Minca

Today, you will meet with your expert birding guide and begin the exploration. Colombia is world-renowned for its biodiversity, and it is home to 2,000 bird species! This region of the Sierra Nevada is ideal for birding and is comprised of two distinct types of forest: native dry forest and middle-elevation premontane wet forest.

In and around Minca, you can spot a myriad of exotic birds; if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive royal flycatcher. You won't miss them–they sport a colorful headdress that makes them look ready for Mardi Gras!

You will finish the day by making a 2-hour trip from Minca up the mountain in a rugged 4x4 to the El Dorado Nature Reserve. Located 6,233 feet above sea level, this means you will have panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada range, all the way out to the Caribbean. The Reserve is also a premier birding site, and you will get up-close and personal with some exotic feathered friends as they enjoy a sip at the various feeders around the property.

You will stay overnight in a lodge at the Reserve, so pack accordingly.

Day 11: Travel to Cartagena

Cartagena
Cartagena

Following breakfast, prepare to say goodbye to this charming mountain village. Then, you will head back down the coast on the 5-hour drive to the colorful city of Cartagena. Your driver will drop you off at your hotel, and you will have the rest of the evening to explore the vibrant nightlife of the Pearl of the Caribbean. 

Before you dance the night away, though, you must enjoy a lively dinner. Some of the best restaurants in Cartagena include:

  • Carmen, which hosts a tree-filled patio area, with beautiful lights, that resembles a jungle.
  • Alma, which is housed in a colonial-era mansion, and offers candlelit dining by the pool.
  • La Cevicheria, which was made famous by Anthony Bourdain, and offers exceptional, no-frills ceviche.
  • Di Silvio Trattoria, a hidden Italian gem with pizza and pasta located inside of an old soap factory.
  • Maria Bonita Taqueria Cantina, which is the best spot in town if you are in the mood for some tacos.

Once you have had your fill of fare, take some time to digest. Then, you can make your way to the nightlife scene, and discover Cartagena after hours. Bookmark spots like Café Havana and Bazurto Social Club.

Day 12: Cartagena - guided city tour and evening mangrove tour

Historical Downtown Cartagena
Historical Downtown Cartagena

After breakfast, you will meet your English-speaking guide and begin a walking tour of Cartagena’s historic center. You will notice the city is designed like a fortress. This is because it once was the principal shipping port of gold from the New World back to Spain! The stone ramparts formerly protected the port from countless pirate attacks, including from the most famous of all: Sir Francis Drake.

While absorbing the history, you will visit myriad plazas, the church and the monastery of San Pedro Claver, the Minor Basilica cathedral, and you will stroll along narrow cobblestoned streets lined with colonial houses featuring beautiful bougainvillea-draped balconies. 

In the late afternoon, you will take a field trip from Cartagena to La Boquilla, an authentic Afro-Colombian fishing village. Here, you will enjoy a short, guided stroll (with an English-speaking guide) to meet the local fishermen and take a canoe trip. The excursion will go from the Ciénaga Juan Polo wetlands through the mangrove waterways to Fisherman Island and the Bird Park. The end of the day is the perfect time to visit the area when the sky is alive with birds coming home to nest during the sunset.

After the evening tour, you will return to your hotel in Cartagena, where you can relax and unwind for the evening.

Day 13: Travel to Múcura Island

Mucura Island
Múcura Island

Once you have had breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and take you to the pier. You will depart from the mainland–in a 2-hour speedboat ride–to Múcura Island, one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast.

Once you are checked into your hotel, you can have lunch at your leisure, and then spend time enjoying the island. The beaches boast calm, turquoise waters and white sand. You can choose to kick back for some relaxation, or indulge in some watersports, like kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming.

Day 14: Solo tour of the San Bernardo Islands

Hike through a palm forest on Isla Múcura
Hike through a palm forest on Múcura Island

Today is yours to do as you wish. You can choose to:

  • Relax on the private beach.
  • Take a bicycle ride around the island.
  • Go on a private, guided eco-walk through a mangrove forest.
  • Rent kayaks or paddleboards.
  • Get a massage at the spa.

If you have the experience, you can visit the Punta Faro dive center, which can set you up with a scuba diving excursion, whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned expert.

At night, make sure to take a refreshing evening swim in the glowing waters of the bay.

Day 15: Travel back to Cartagena

Mucura Island Trees
Farewell, Múcura Isalnd!

This is your last day on Múcura Isalnd! Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, and take one final swim in the turquoise waters. Then, you will transfer back to Cartagena on a 2-hour speedboat ride. Keep your eyes open and your camera close–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, including areas you may have missed thus far. Enjoy Cartagena's cobblestoned maze of vibrant houses and ancient squares dating back to the 16th century. Stroll through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about important historical sites like Saint Philip's Castle. 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. 

Enjoy your final dinner in Colombia at one of the recommended restaurants, and then go dance freely at a nightclub.

Day 16: Depart Cartagena

Cartagena Culture
Take in the culture of Cartagena

Sadly, your time has come to an end in Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena from a patio café, stroll the lively streets, and take it all in. Once you have bid farewell to Cartagena, a chaperone will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your flight home.

Map

Map of Colombia: From the North to the Caribbean Coast - 16 Days
Map of Colombia: From the North to the Caribbean Coast - 16 Days