A big draw of Colombia's Caribbean coast is its large amount of diversity in a relatively small space. Over just a few hundred miles you're in close proximity to Spanish-colonial architecture, the towering mountains of the Sierra Nevadas, white-sand beaches, running rivers, arid deserts, and biodiverse marshland. It's the ultimate tropical adventure.

Highlights

  • Stay on a working coffee farm in the coastal Sierra Nevada Mountains
  • Spot exotic birds in Minca, an oasis in the Sierra Nevadas
  • Stroll the cobble streets and walk the ancient ramparts of Cartagena
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of the coral island of Múcura

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 2 Tour of Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 3 River Tubing Tayrona Park
Day 4 Drive to Minca - Coffee Farm and Village Tour Minca
Day 5 Free Day Around Minca Minca
Day 6 Sunrise Birdwatching -> Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 7 Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market Cartagena
Day 8 La Boquilla Fishing Trip Cartagena
Day 9 Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands Isla Mucura
Day 10 Múcura Highlights Isla Mucura
Day 11 San Bernardo Islands: Free Day Isla Mucura
Day 12 San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena Cartagena
Day 13 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Santa Marta is the gateway city for Tayrona National Park
Santa Marta is the gateway city for Tayrona National Park

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

You'll have the rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy your hotel, which is located on a peaceful spot at the foot of the mountains and overlooks the Caribbean. Wander down to the nearby beach, which makes for great sunset viewing, before heading back to the property where dinner will be served on-site.

Day 2: Tour of Tayrona National Park

Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona
Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona

After breakfast, you'll begin a half-day tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). 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 San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You'll experience much of this coastline with a local guide while touring 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: River Tubing

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 transfer to your hotel near Tayrona Park for dinner served on-site.

Day 4: Drive to Minca - Coffee Farm and Village Tour

Sunset in Minca
Sunset in Minca

After breakfast, a driver will meet you for your transfer 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 just down the Caribbean coast. It's also at altitude, so remember to 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 tour by 4x4, and you'll start at one of the working coffee farms in the region. After learning about the production process (and enjoying complimentary tastings), you'll visit the natural swimming hole of Pozo Azul for a refreshing dip, so bring your bathing suit! 

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.

There's also 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 5: Free Day Around Minca

Marinka Waterfall, Minca
Marinka Waterfall, Minca

Today is yours to enjoy however you see fit. If you want to relax in a hammock and let the sounds of nature lull you into an extended nap, that is certainly an option. You can also get your binoculars and do a bit of birding. After all, Colombia is home to 2,000 species of birds, and many exotic species are endemic to this mountain region. Or you can opt for a hike from town up to the lookout point of Los Pinos. Here you're treated to panoramic views of the mountains all the way out to Santa Marta and the ocean. 

Day 6: Sunrise Birdwatching -> Transfer to Cartagena

Keel-billd toucan, a denizen of the forests around Minca
Keel-billd toucan, a denizen of the forests around Minca

After an early breakfast, experience the biodiversity of Minca's surroundings with this unique birdwatching excursion. The area's dry tropical forest is a haven for many species of the country's whopping 2,000 species of birds. You will leave from Minca at dawn on a moderate hike through the forest. During this time your local guide will point out a wide variety of rare and exotic species such as the keel-billed toucan, golden-winged sparrow, black-backed antshrike, and the rosy thrush-tanager.

After lunch on your own in Minca's village, you'll transfer by vehicle to Cartagena de Indias.

Day 7: Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena

After a leisurely breakfast, prepare to dive into the city. First, head outside the colonial Old Town to the Mercado Bazurto, an expansive market bustling with vendors selling everything from fresh fish and produce to electronics. This is the "people's market," a local institution off the tourist trail. Stroll the narrow aisles and savor the sights, sounds, and smells. Bazurto is the gastronomic pulse of the city, where you'll find all the exotic fruits and vegetables that give costeña cuisine its identity. Enjoy a traditional lunch here while your guide introduces you to some of the chefs and purveyors who frequent this local institution.

Your day's adventure continues beyond the historic center, as now you're off to visit two landmarks emblematic of the city's colonial past: La Popa Monastery and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Both the monastery and the imposing castle were strategic sites used to defend Cartagena against pirates and invaders. San Felipe was built in 1536 to protect the bay and was once the mightiest fortress in the New World. La Popa sits on a hill in Cartegena and offers panoramic views all the way out to the Boca Grande neighborhood and its glittering skyscrapers. 

After this cultural immersion, return to your hotel and unwind in the evening. 

Day 8: La Boquilla Fishing Trip

Fishing boats in La Boquilla
Fishing boats in La Boquilla

After breakfast at your hotel, a driver will transfer you to the mangroves and rivers outside of Cartagena. Here you'll experience a small sampling of Colombia's diversity. The inhabitants of this region are predominantly Afro-Colombians who subsist on the abundant fish that populate the delicate fresh-and-saltwater ecosystem here. A local fisherman will take you by boat to catch some of these fish, and you'll assist in checking cages and nets to see what delights will be served later on.

After reaching the local community of La Boquilla, you'll chat with the locals as they teach you how to prepare the fish you've just caught. Enjoy a feast for lunch before heading back to Cartagena. The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to explore the city however you wish.

Day 9: Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands

Arrive at the island by boat
Arrive at the island by boat

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and transport you to the pier. You will depart from the mainland in a speedboat to Múcura—one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast. Have lunch at your hotel and then spend the afternoon swimming and snorkeling in the calm turquoise water, or just relax on the white sand beach.

Day 10: Múcura Highlights

Isla Múcura, Colombia
Isla Múcura, Colombia

Today you'll enjoy a peaceful breakfast at the hotel before hiking around the island. This coral islet is tiny yet packed with beauty, and you can walk around the entire thing in just a couple hours. 

Lunch will be served back at the hotel, followed by a boat tour in the afternoon to visit other islands in the chain such as Tintipán and Santa Cruz del Islote. The latter of which is a manmade, soccer-field-sized outpost home to about 500 people. It's regarded as the most densely populated island in the world.

The rest of your afternoon is up for grabs. You can rent kayaks, go windsurfing, or explore underwater marine life with snorkel gear or scuba equipment (they even offer night dives!)

Day 11: San Bernardo Islands: Free Day

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

Today is yours to do as you wish. You can relax on the private beach or take a bicycle ride around the island. Other options include an eco-walk through a mangrove forest led by your own private guide, or an evening swim among the glowing bioluminescence in the bay. If you want to delve even deeper into the water, there's a certified dive center at Punta Faro that can set you up on a scuba excursion fit for all levels of experience.

If you're interested in some aquatic exercise, you can rent paddle boards and kayaks. Punta Faro also has a spa on site and you can book a massage to help further relieve those stress levels.

Day 12: San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena

Farewell to paradise
Farewell to paradise

This is your last day on Múcura! Have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and enjoy one final swim in the turquoise water. You will then transfer back to Cartagena by boat. Keep your eyes open and your camera close, as 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, take in the sights you may have missed thus far, and have dinner out on the town.

Day 13: Depart Cartagena

Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena
Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena

It's time to say goodbye to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you haven't already, explore the bulk of the city on a guided tour. Otherwise, take one last stroll along those cobbled streets.

Enjoy Cartagena's cobbled maze of vividly colorful houses and ancient squares dating from the 16th century. Meander through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about important historical sites like Saint Philip's Castle. Maybe 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. 

A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.