This robust 12-day itinerary eliminates the hard choices travelers often face regarding a visit to a country as diverse as Colombia. The journey begins by enjoying Bogotá's Spanish colonial plazas and pulsing nightlife. Then jet to the heart of Colombia's Zona Cafetera for an overnight stay on a working coffee farm. Then it's off to the reinvented city of Medellín and 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 narrow streets of Cartagena's walled city.

Highlights

  • Visit the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world
  • Stay on a working farm in Colombia's coffee region
  • 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 walk the ancient ramparts of Cartagena

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Bogotá - Transfer to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 4 Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento Pereira
Day 5 Arrival in Medellín Medellín
Day 6 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 7 Flight to Santa Marta - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 8 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 9 Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 10 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Kayaking Around Barú Island Cartagena
Day 12 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá

Plaza Bolivar
Plaza Bolivar

Welcome to Bogotá! A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the 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: Bogotá City Tour

The streets of La Candelaria, Bogotá
The streets of La Candelaria, Bogotá

After breakfast, it's time to hit the streets and explore! A local guide will pick you up and accompany you on a half-day walking tour of the city. You'll begin in colorful La Candelaria—the heart of Bogota's historic center. Amble 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's a grand cathedral here as well as many important government buildings, such as the Capitolio Nacional (Colombia's congress building). 

To spend a full day with your guide, take the aforementioned walk through La Candelaria and then explore two of Bogotá's best museums in the afternoon: the Gold Museum (closed on Mondays), which features the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world, and the Botero Museum (closed on Tuesdays), which houses a collection of masterpieces from renowned Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero.

If you are an early riser, start the morning 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. Return to La Candelaria and downtown, strolling the streets and stopping to photograph walled graffiti art.

Day 3: Bogotá - Transfer to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca

Sorting the harvest
Sorting the harvest

Today, after a full breakfast, transfer from your hotel to Bogotá's El Dorado Airport. You'll then catch a flight to either the Armenia or Pereira airports in Colombia's Zona Cafetera (coffee region).

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to an organic, working coffee finca (farm) in this bucolic region. You'll immerse yourself in every step of the production process. Adding to the authentic experience is an overnight stay and even more demonstrations about this nation's legacy industry (Colombia is the third highest producer of coffee beans in the world). Yes, the presentations include frequent tastings.

Day 4: Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento

View of quaint and historic Salento
View of quaint and historic Salento

Wake up with a hearty breakfast. From here, a car will pick you up and drive you to a trail in the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley), outside the historic town of Salento. As you make your way to the trail, you’ll find yourself in view of the distinctive Quindío wax palms, which can reach an impressive height of up to 70 meters (230 feet). This protected cloud forest in the Andes is peppered with these soaring palms, which just happens to be Colombia's national tree.

The Valle de Cocora offers hiking opportunities second to none. The route here takes you along dirt tracks through tropical forests and streams and up to lookouts providing some sweeping views. After the hike, head back to the colorful streets of Salento and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Despite Salento's rise in tourism (mostly backpackers) over the past decade, it retains an old-world charm with colorful Paisa (Antioquian) architecture, street musicians, and an impressive range of handicrafts. 

In the afternoon, you'll be transferred back to your accommodations. 

Day 5: Arrival in Medellín

Medellín at dusk
Medellín at dusk

Welcome to Colombia and the "city of the eternal spring"! 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 a nearby 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 to see the views, or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums near the downtown area. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to its elevation, the Medellín has year-round spring temperatures.

Depending on the time of your flight, you can sightsee with an English-speaking guide and learn more about this thriving, modern city from a local perspective.

Day 6: Guatapé Day-Trip

The colorful town of Guatapé
The colorful town of Guatapé

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 restaurant and enjoy lunch on your own (try the freshwater fish and/or other local 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 7: Flight to Santa Marta - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

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 Park), where you'll stay overnight. 

You'll have rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy your hotel, 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 8: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Cabo de San Juan, the "postcard image" of Parque Tayrona
Cabo de San Juan, the "postcard image" of Parque Tayrona

After breakfast, you'll begin a half-day tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. 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 de San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You'll experience much of this coastline with a local guide while visiting 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 9: Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena

Sunset in Parque Tayrona
Sunset in Parque Tayrona

After breakfast at your hotel near Tayrona Park, take one last stroll on the beach. Today, a driver will pick you up and transfer you to Cartagena. If you arrive early enough, explore a bit of Cartagena's walled city (Old Town) by strolling its cobbled streets lined with colonial homes painted in bright pastels.

Day 10: Explore Cartagena

The Portal de los Dulces, an outdoor sweets market
The Portal de los Dulces, an outdoor sweets market

After breakfast, take your pick of numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour. Maybe a surfing excursion on the coast, or a day lazing near the Caribbean waters 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. 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 the city. At dusk, take part in the sultry coastal atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 11: Kayaking Around Barú Island

Kayaking the Caribbean
Kayaking the Caribbean

This morning you’ll embark on a kayaking trip around Isla Barú, one of the gems of Colombia’s Caribbean. Located just south of the city of Cartagena, Barú was once part of the peninsula but is now separated by the narrow Canal del Dique, which runs inland and eventually connects to the Magdalena river. You’ll be exploring this canal and its attendant flora and fauna. The mangroves here are home to manatees, turtles, capybaras, and caimans. Some bird species you might encounter include hummingbirds, herons, and the yellow warbler.

Spend the remainder of the day relaxing. The best spot for this is also on Barú at Playa Blanca. It's generally regarded as Cartagena’s most beautiful beach, and the crystalline waters and soft white sands make a perfect spot to while away the afternoon hours.

Day 12: 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 the previous day, 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. Perhaps 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.

Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019