This 13-day itinerary eliminates the hard choices travelers often have to make when planning a visit to a country as diverse as Colombia. You don't have to choose between cities and culture or nature and beach time. On this adventure, you can have it all. Your journey begins with the Spanish colonial plazas and pulsing discos of Bogotá. You'll then jet to the reinvented city of Medellín and experience its rising culinary and art scene. End the trip on the Caribbean coast where you'll explore the beaches and mountains of Tayrona National Park and the cobbled streets of Cartagena's walled city.

Highlights

  • Visit Bogotá's Gold Museum, with the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world
  • Tour the city of Medellín on foot and by cable car
  • Enjoy the remote Caribbean beaches in Tayrona National Park
  • Stroll the cobble streets and ancient ramparts of Cartagena

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Take a Food Tour of the Mercado de Paloquemao Bogotá
Day 3 Flight to Medellín (Optional City Tour) Medellín
Day 4 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 5 Coffee Finca Day-Trip Medellín
Day 6 Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 7 Tour of Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 8 Tayrona National Park - Pueblito Ruins Tayrona Park
Day 9 Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 10 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Day Trip to Palenque Cartagena
Day 12 Explore Cartagena - Mangrove Tour Cartagena
Day 13 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá

Plaza Bolívar, in La Candelaria, Bogotá
Plaza Bolívar, in La Candelaria, Bogotá

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

Colombia's biggest 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: Take a Food Tour of the Mercado de Paloquemao

Truck loaded with flowers, Mercado de Paloquemao, Bogotá, Colombia
Truck loaded with flowers, Mercado de Paloquemao, Bogotá, Colombia

Begin your day with a walking tour of Bogotá's largest food market, the Mercado de Paloquemao. Open every day, Paloquemao supplies fresh ingredients for the majority of the city's best restaurants. Wander the aisles, marvel at the sheer number of flowers for sale, and sample the variety of exotic fruits and local dishes served up by the market's vendors and restaurant stalls.

In the afternoon take part in a foodie tour around Bogotá. This unique excursion takes in Bogotá's budding gastronomy scene, where you'll sample the fare at some of the best restaurants in the city, many of which are at the forefront of Latin American cuisine. Cap off the evening at Andrés DC, the city location of Andrés Carne de Res, one of Colombia’s liveliest and most popular steakhouses.

Day 3: Flight to Medellín (Optional City Tour)

Skyscrapers of Medellín nestled in the Andean Mountains
Skyscrapers of Medellín nestled in the Andean Mountains

After breakfast, transfer to the airport and hop a flight to Medellín. Despite its turbulent past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. A car will pick you up at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. You're now free to spend the remainder of the day exploring. 

Start by visiting Parque Lleras, in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where most of the city's tourism is centered. This is where some of the best dining, nightlife, and hotels are located. Perhaps take a ride on the city's gondola (Metrocable) system and enjoy the 360° views of the city below. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to its elevation, Medellín has year-round spring temperatures.

Get an insider's perspective of Medellín on a private tour of the city by car. You'll make several stops on this route, including at Pueblito Paisa (a replica of a traditional Antioquian town), and San Antonio Park. You'll also visit the iconic bronze sculptures at Botero Square, and stop in at the city's expansive Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 blooms plus a butterfly enclosure. The last leg of the tour stops at the Metropolitan Theater and Los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park). 

Day 4: Guatapé Day-Trip

View from atop the rock
View from atop the rock

After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel for a full-day excursion to one of the crown jewels of Colombia's Antioquia region: the lakeside town of Guatapé. This private tour includes a guided walk through the village and a mini-history lesson. You'll learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that created the reservoir here, which is known as Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address this reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

Your guide will then transfer you to El Peñol (La Piedra Rock). Relax at the base of this natural granite landmark in one of the many market stalls. Or work up an appetite by climbing the 740 steps to admire the view from the top (entrance fee not included). Halfway up the rock, you'll see a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Return to the town of Guatapé and explore the streets. This is one of the most colorful villages in Colombia, with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a local restaurant and enjoy lunch on your own (try the freshwater fish and/or other delicacies). In the late afternoon, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Medellín with free time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Day 5: Coffee Finca Day-Trip

Coffee plant ripening in the Andies
Coffee plant ripening in the Andies

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer by car 1.5 hours to a scenic coffee finca (farm) located in the mountains outside of Medellín. From here, you'll embark on a walking tour with a coffee farmer who will explain the growing process and the steps it takes for the coffee bean to reach the cup. You'll also learn about the daily life of these farmers and how this important trade is linked to many Colombian families, making it a source of pride for locals.

Return to Medellín in the afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day on your own.

Day 6: Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Colombia's Caribbean coast
Colombia's Caribbean coast

After breakfast, a car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your flight to the city of Santa Marta, on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Upon arrival, you'll drive to just outside the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Park), where you'll stay overnight. 

You'll have rest of 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 has a beautiful sunset view. Dinner will be served on-site so there's no need to rush.

Day 7: Tour of Tayrona National Park

Cabo San Juan, the "postcard image" of Parque Tayrona
Cabo San Juan, the "postcard image" of Parque 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 8: Tayrona National Park - Pueblito Ruins

The ruins at Pueblito, in Parque Tayrona
The ruins at Pueblito, in Parque Tayrona

Leave your accommodation bright and early for a full day in the jungles and beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Natural Park). The park consists of a 150-square-kilometer (58-square-mile) protected area covering the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills where they meet the Caribbean coast. Today, your destination is the archaeological ruins of Pueblito Chairama.

Get ready for a challenging hike to this archaeological site, which is reached by forest trails. These Pre-Columbian ruins were home to the ancient Tairona people who once inhabited the area. Continue on to the beach of Cabo San Juan for a well-deserved dip in the sea before enjoying lunch. Afterward, walk back to meet your driver at the park entrance and return to your hotel where dinner will be served.

Day 9: Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena

One of Cartagena's many colonial churches
One of Cartagena's many colonial churches

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel in Tayrona Park and transfer you to Cartagena. This colonial fortress city on the Caribbean is rich in culture, architecture, romance, and even pirate history. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. 

Depending on the time of your arrival, you'll have a few options for activities. You can relax and enjoy the hotel amenities or get right into the mix with a neighborhood walk, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide (optional add-on). Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Wander the narrow streets of the historic Old Town, snapping photos of the lively plazas and colorful houses with bougainvillea-draped balconies.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo, stopping at key sites like Plaza de los CochesPlaza de la AduanaParque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls (dating back to 1586), constructed to protect Cartagena from sea attacks. These ramparts also afford panoramic views of the city and make great sunset-viewing spots.
  • Visit Santo Domingo, which, having been erected in 1552, is reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Explore Getsemaní, the bohemian neighborhood just outside the walls of Cartagena's Old Town. Once a seedy area, Getsemaní is now a cultural enclave filled with Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

Finish the day with mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s hip restaurants or rooftop bars.

Day 10: Explore Cartagena

The main gate of Cartagena's Old Walled City
The main gate of Cartagena's Old Walled City

After breakfast, take your pick of numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour (optional add-on). Maybe a surfing excursion on the coast, or a day lazing on the white sands of Playa Blanca, or even a sunset sail with a glass of bubbly.

Other options include a guided walking tour of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city (Old Town). Together with an English-speaking guide, you will delve deep into Cartagena's Spanish-colonial history. You'll visit the city's extensive fortifications and famous fortresses like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. You'll also stroll the walled city's cobbled plazas, like the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, with its Andalusian-style cathedral.

If an organized tour isn’t appealing, simply create your own adventure around Cartagena. At dusk, take part in the sultry coastal atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 11: Day Trip to Palenque

Palenquera women
Palenquera women

Today you'll leave the city on a day trip to visit the town of San Basilio de Palenque. Centuries ago, Cartagena was Colombia’s main port of entry for slaves abducted from Africa. During the 17th century, escaped slaves built isolated forts in the jungles surrounding Cartagena. Palenque, located just over an hour from Cartagena, is the only such fort that survived during the intervening years.

Today, the Afro-Colombian inhabitants of San Basilio de Palenque have preserved many of the customs of their African ancestors. You see it in the traditional dress of the palenqueras—women who sell fresh fruit and other goods out of baskets often carried on their heads. You'll speak with locals, learn about their heritage, and enjoy a traditional lunch. 

Day 12: Explore Cartagena - Mangrove Tour

Snowy egret in the mangroves
Snowy egret in the mangroves

After breakfast, enjoy Cartagena any way you see fit. You can head back into Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city and perhaps relax in a cafe or stroll the city's cobbled plazas, like the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, with its Andalusian-style Cathedral. Or, if you haven't seen them already, maybe visit the city's extensive fortifications and famous fortresses like Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

In the late afternoon (4 pm) you'll transfer from your hotel to La Boquilla, an authentic Afro-Colombian fishing village. You'll enjoy a short stroll to meet the local fishermen and a canoe trip in the Ciénaga Juan Polo wetlands through mangrove waterways to Fisherman Island and the Bird Park. The end of the day is the perfect time to visit the area, as the sky is alive with birds coming home to nest during the sunset. You'll then return to Cartagena around 7.00 pm.

Day 13: Depart Cartagena

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

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you didn't do the guided tour, explore the bulk of the city.

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.

Map

Map of Colombia's Cities and Caribbean Coast - 13 Days
Map of Colombia's Cities and Caribbean Coast - 13 Days