This diverse 9-day itinerary showcases the highlights of Colombia's Caribbean coast. Start by soaking up the colonial charm, vibrant nightlife, and myriad attractions of Cartagena, then head north to the bustling Pacific port of Santa Marta. Spend your final three days immersed in the natural beauty of Tayrona Natural Park, where you'll hike through biodiverse rainforests, explore sandy beaches and volcanic coves, and tour the lush coffee farms of nearby Minca.

Highlights

  • Fall in love with Cartagena's colorful Old City
  • Try your hand at Colombian cooking & Latin dancing in Cartagena
  • Relax on the pristine, golden beaches of the Caribbean coast
  • Explore the flora & fauna of Tayrona National Park
  • Tour a mountain coffee farm in Minca

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Cartagena City Tour Cartagena
Day 3 Flavors of Cartagena - Market Tour & Cooking Class Cartagena
Day 4 Volcanoes, Dancing, & Nightlife in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 5 Arrive in Santa Marta Santa Marta
Day 6 Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 7 Tayrona National Park Tour Tayrona Park
Day 8 Tayrona to Minca - Coffee Farm & Village Tour Tayrona Park
Day 9 Adios Colombia!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Cartagena

Welcome to Cartagena!
Welcome to Cartagena!

Welcome to Cartagena! After a private transfer from the airport, get settled into your hotel and then head out to explore. 

A colonial jewel bathed in sunshine, culture, gastronomy, and dancing, Cartagena de Indias is one of the world’s most romantic cities. With its magical sunsets, intricate architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine, it's the perfect place for anyone who wants to experience authentic Colombian culture. Take an afternoon stroll around the city to get your bearings and lose yourself in its historic streets.

In the evening, discover Cartagena's thriving culinary scene, choosing from casual cafes frequented by locals to the upscale restaurants of some of Latin America's most famous chefs. 

Day 2: Cartagena City Tour

The colorful alleys of Cartagena's Old City.
The colorful alleys of Cartagena.

This morning, a private bilingual guide will pick you up for a four-hour city tour; make sure you bring comfortable shoes, water, hats, and sunscreen!

You'll start in the Manga neighborhood to see the beautiful republican style houses and the fort of Pastelillo. The next stop is La Popa Monastery, where you can take in sweeping views across the city. From there, you'll continue to the fort of San Felipe de Barajas, an impressive remnant of Spanish colonial strength, and on to the Walled City, where you'll see the Bóvedas, another example of military architecture and fascinating history. Browse arts and crafts from local artisans at Las Bovedas, then continue the tour by walking through the Old City and discovering its magical streets, houses, squares, and churches. After a visit to the San Pedro Claver Church, named for the patron saint of Colombia's slaves, the tour continues by car to the modern part of the city, with a panoramic view of Bocagrande, the beach area, and the island of Tierra Bomba

Your tour ends in the Old City, so choose a nearby spot for lunch. Try La Cevicheria for its excellent ceviche and seafood, or head to nearby La Mulata, for a superb daily menu that showcases local flavors at great prices. In the late afternoon, put your feet up and have a rest before getting ready for dinner. Make sure to skip the flip flops and shorts—most restaurants in Cartagena expect something a little more formal.

Start at Cafe del Mar for sunset drinks with a view, and then choose from the city's diverse and thriving restaurant scene for a late dinner. Some local favorites include Cande, Carmen, Restaurante Donjuan, Mistura, and Alma

Day 3: Flavors of Cartagena - Market Tour & Cooking Class

Sample fresh fruits and vegetables on your market tour.
Sample the freshest fruits and vegetables on your market tour.

Today starts with a fascinating excursion to Cartagena's bustling local market. A private guide will introduce your small group to the colors, sights, and sounds of the city's emblematic meeting place, where producers, farmers, and merchants of the region converge. As the only market in town, you'll find all walks of life here, shopping for the freshest poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables.

Afterward, you'll join a cooking class inspired by the diversity of flavors from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and its many cultures. You'll have the chance to interact with the chefs and learn about the aromas, recipes, ingredients, and local flavors that create delicious Colombian dishes, before sitting down to enjoy a three-course lunch prepared by you and the group.

In the afternoon, you can rest and relax or walk around the walled city and enjoy Cartagena on your own!

Day 4: Volcanoes, Dancing, & Nightlife in Cartagena

Find your rhythm with a Latin dance lesson.
Find your rhythm with a Latin dance lesson.

This morning starts with a trip to the Totumo Mud Volcano, a memorable natural attraction that lies just a few miles outside the city. The 65 foot (20 meter) high volcano is filled with mud, traditionally renowned for its medicinal and healing properties. Climb a rustic wooden staircase to reach the top, where you can dive into the mud, receive a relaxing massage from the natives, and finish the experience by taking a dip in the Laguna del Totumo. A private driver will drop you off and pick you up from this relaxing excursion, giving you plenty of time to enjoy a soak in the soothing mud.

Return to the city in time for lunch, stopping at Mila Pasteleria for great coffee, local food, and amazing desserts. A favorite spot for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or afternoon snacks, make sure to sample the  "carimañolas" de queso (cheese Carimañolas), the coconut lemonade, and the cold Milo drinking chocolate. 

Part of the charm of Cartagena is getting lost in the streets and exploring the Old City on your own, without a set itinerary. Take the afternoon to wander and discover some of the city's hidden gems, such as the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) and the Choco Museo in Plaza Fernandez Madrid. As you stroll through the character-filled streets, pop into local boutiques, shops, and cafes, or stop for an ice cream to cool off. 

In the afternoon, lace up your dancing shoes for an exclusive private dance lesson for you and your group, taught by some of the country's best instructors. Practice your moves and learn the different local rhythms such as Salsa, Merengue, Reggaeton, and Bachata.

In the late afternoon, take a stroll to one of the outdoor bars on top of the walled city to enjoy some afternoon drinks and a beautiful Caribbean sunset. Sip some local rum or aguardiente, then head to dinner—nearby La Vitrola and Alma are both popular local spots with excellent seafood and live music.

After dinner, walk or take a taxi to Getsemani for a lively area filled with bars and clubs. Cafe Havana, Bazurto Social Club, and Quiebra Canto are all popular Latin music clubs within a five-minute walk of each other.

Day 5: Arrive in Santa Marta

Sunset on Rodadero Beach, Santa Marta.
Sunset on Rodadero Beach, Santa Marta.

Today takes you from Cartagena to the city of Santa Marta, with private transportation and a local bilingual guide. The 4.5-hour drive follows the coast and offers scenic sea views.

The busy port of Santa Marta enjoys the distinction of being the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. Though it’s often used as a stopping point for day-trips in the area, the historic downtown has been restored and is worth a visit. Stroll its cobbled streets lined with multi-colored buildings and take plenty of photos (don't miss the stately, white-washed cathedral).

Nearby, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains are home to Colombia’s tallest peak, Pico Cristóbal Colón, which sits at a whopping 18,700 feet (5,700 meters). These mountains are also the gateway to postcard-worthy Tayrona National Natural Park, on the palm-fringed Caribbean coast.

* You also have the option to hire a  local guide who will pick you up at your hotel and share his/her knowledge about Santa Marta. This tour includes a visit to the botanical garden and Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino (where the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, died in 1830). You'll explore the city's historic center and then head to the Caribbean waterfront for panoramic views of Taganga, a traditional fishing village.

Day 6: 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.

Day six takes you into the wilds of Tayrona National Park, where the lush Sierra Nevada Mountains roll down to the shore before disappearing into the Caribbean Sea. Encompassing just under 30,000 acres of protected land, the park is one of the country's most popular destinations, with a perfect blend of rich Colombian culture, diverse wildlife, and tropical rainforest. 

After a transfer from Santa Marta, you'll settle into one of Tayrona's beautiful eco-hotels. For your first day, relax and enjoy the afternoon surrounded by the peaceful sights of sounds of the park's natural surroundings. 

Day 7: Tayrona National Park Tour

Tayrona's golden beaches.
Tayrona's golden beaches.

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park) with your local bilingual guide. This 58-square-mile protected area is home to some of South America's loveliest coastline. Its jungles are also the home of the Kogi indigenous tribe, who are direct descendants of the ancient Tairona people who give the park its name.

With your entrance ticket in hand, you'll enter the park and hike in the 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, a windswept cove anchored by giant volcanic rocks. This incredibly picturesque route gives you a complete experience inside the National Park. During the hike, your guide will point out several species of flora and fauna. You'll have the afternoon free to enjoy lunch on your own and relax on the shore.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon, watch the sunset, and enjoy dinner. 

Day 8: Tayrona to Minca - Coffee Farm & Village Tour

The coastal mountain range of the Sierra Nevada.
The coastal mountain range of the Sierra Nevada.

Your bilingual guide will meet you at your hotel this morning for a 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 tend to be cooler.

Your Minca adventure includes a full-day tour, 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 (make sure to 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, or take an excursion to the beautiful nearby waterfalls of Marinka.

Day 9: Adios, Colombia!

Enjoy a final stroll along Tayrona's picture-perfect beaches.
Bid Colombia farewell.

It's time to say farewell to Tayrona National Park and the Caribbean region of Colombia. Enjoy your last morning near Tayrona with a leisurely breakfast and seaside walk before transferring to the airport to fly home or continue on your travels. Hasta pronto!

Map

Map of Colombia's Caribbean Coast: Tayrona & Cartagena - 9 Days
Map of Colombia's Caribbean Coast: Tayrona & Cartagena - 9 Days