With 13 days you can experience all of the highlights Colombia is renowned for throughout the world. Your journey starts in the heart of Colombia's Coffee Region, where you'll overnight on a working coffee farm. From there, head to the reborn metropolis of Medellín, a city whose reputation as a global hotspot is enhanced by its rising culinary and art scene. Then, it's time for a bit of nature as you embark on a rafting trip down the Río Verde and end your adventure on the Caribbean coast where you'll explore Cartagena and nearby islands.

Highlights

  • Learn the secrets of coffee production on a working coffee farm
  • Venture out into the Valle de Cocora—one of the best hike's in the country
  • Brave the rapids of the Río Verde
  • Stroll the cobble streets and ancient ramparts of Cartagena

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 2 Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento Pereira
Day 3 Zona Cafetera -> Transfer to Medellín Medellín
Day 4 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 5 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 6 Río Verde Rio Verde Campsite
Day 7 Río Verde (Day 2) - Transfer to Medellín Medellín
Day 8 Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 9 Cartagena Walking Tour - Cooking Class Cartagena
Day 10 Rosario Islands Day Trip Cartagena
Day 11 Day Trip to Palenque Cartagena
Day 12 Kayaking Around Barú Island Cartagena
Day 13 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca

Colombia's coffee region
Colombia's coffee region

Welcome to Colombia! Today you'll take a flight to either Armenia or Pereira, cities in Colombia's Zona Cafetera (coffee region). 

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to an organic coffee finca (farm) in the beautiful countryside of this region, surrounded by sloping Andean mountains coated in green coffee fields (be sure to keep your camera within easy reach). Upon arrival to the finca, you'll learn every step of the coffee production process. Furthering this authentic experience, you'll stay overnight and learn even more about Colombia's famous export (the country is the world's third largest producer of coffee). Of course, there will be frequent tastings.

Day 2: Hiking in Valle de Cocora - Explore Salento

Colorful houses in Salento
Colorful houses in 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 transfer back to your accommodations. 

Day 3: Zona Cafetera -> Transfer to Medellín

Plaza Botero, Medellín
Plaza Botero, Medellín

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Medellín. (Note: this is a small plane and luggage will be limited; however, road transfers are also available.) Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel.

Depending on your arrival time, you can enjoy the afternoon/evening on your own, or explore the neighborhoods with an English-speaking guide. Enjoy the city's trendy cafes and upscale restaurants. Visit the local plazas and maybe even venture to Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a traditional Antioquian town.

Day 4: Medellín City Tour

Metrocable cars
Metrocable cars

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a full day exploring Medellín on a walking tour with a local guide. This excursion includes a mix of sightseeing by foot and taking the Metro system through a neighborhood that represents one of the city's most successful urban projects.

The guide will pick you up from your hotel and drive you to Medellín's downtown. You'll visit Plaza Botero, which features works by Colombia's foremost sculptor, Fernando Botero. Then it's time to take a ride on the city's iconic Metrocable gondola system, during which you'll enjoy panoramic views of Medellín below. Next, stop in at the Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 types of flowers. After visiting some parks and landmarks in the downtown area, you'll eventually return to your hotel by public transport. (There's also a tour option that includes graffiti street art and riding the Metrocable to more remote neighborhoods higher in the hills.)

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure.

Day 5: 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 6: Río Verde

Río Verde Canyon
Río Verde Canyon

The Río Verde is a vivid green waterway that meanders through undeveloped Colombian rainforest. Accessed from a steep jungle canyon, the area combines excellent trekking and whitewater rafting. After breakfast, you'll transfer from Medellín 2.5 hours travel to this canyon. You'll then embark on a 2-3-hour hike down to the river. Don't worry about a heavy load—there will be mules carrying your gear.

Once you've reached the river, cool off with a swim and then participate in a safety discussion. You'll be rafting with a team of experienced guides and safety kayakers who know their way around these intermediate rapids (up to class IV). Along the way, you'll stop at lagoons, secluded beaches, and waterfalls. One of the defining characteristics of Río Verde is the marine life; keep an eye out for a variety of fish swimming in the translucent water.

At basecamp, you'll stay in sheltered hammocks and enjoy a French-Colombian dinner cooked over a campfire. If that's not enough, the location is right next to the river. Let the softly running waters lull you to sleep.

Day 7: Río Verde (Day 2) - Transfer to Medellín

You might spot a green macaw on the riverbanks
You might spot a green macaw on the riverbanks

You'll start the day bright and early with an optional birding tour. Colombia is home to some 2,000 birds and many of them exist in this region. Be on the lookout for tanagers, various species of hummingbirds, green macaws, and the bright green/yellow Antioquia bristle tyrant. 

After breakfast at the camp, you'll continue rafting the Río Verde. The intermediate whitewater here is exciting yet manageable, as the major rapids flow into inviting, natural pools that make for refreshing dips. At the end of the second day, arrive at Puente Samana, which has the only road access over the river. 

From here, you'll transfer back to Medellín where you'll have the rest of the evening to enjoy the city's dining and nightlife scene.

Day 8: Transfer to Cartagena

Trinidad Plaza, Getsemaní
Trinidad Plaza, Getsemaní

Today you will fly from Medellín, in Colombia's interior Antioquia Department, to your new destination of Cartagena, located on the Caribbean coast. Transfers to and from both airports will be organized for you.

If you arrive with enough time (and aren't exhausted), stroll the cobbled streets of the city's old town and take in the costeña vibe. Maybe leave the center for the adjacent neighborhood of Getsemaní, Cartagena's bohemian enclave, which is filled with intimate bistros, cocktail lounges, and salsa bars.

Day 9: Cartagena Walking Tour - Cooking Class

Learn the secrets to Colombian cuisine
Learn the secrets to Colombian cuisine

If you didn't get a chance to explore the city yesterday, not to worry—today you'll experience the "Pearl of the Caribbean" on a walking tour. Let these cobbled streets transfer you back to colonial times as you stroll amid colorful houses and lively squares. You'll start in the expansive Plaza de los Coches, at the entrance to Old Town, and finish at the yellow arcades and galleries of Plaza Las Bovedas, experiencing all of Cartagena in between. 

In the afternoon, you will take part in a cooking class! Gilles and his wife will welcome you to his restaurant in Cartagena's historic Old Town and you'll discover the exotic, rich flavors that comprise Caribbean cuisine. After a welcome cocktail, you will start cooking. The class culminates with an epic dinner where you'll get to enjoy the delectable dishes you've prepared.

Day 10: Rosario Islands Day Trip

A petit island in Rosario
A petit island in Rosario

After an early breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the pier where you will board a speedboat for an hour trip to the Barú Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, ancient forts that once protected Cartagena from hostile invaders.

After arriving at the Rosario Islands, change into your swimwear and head to Playa Azul, a crescent beach with soft white sands hugging the turquoise Caribbean Sea. After enjoying a buffet lunch, you will have time to relax and sunbathe. An optional add-on is to rent a kayak and embark on a two or three-hour paddling excursion before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. A car will pick you up at the pier to take you back to your hotel.

Day 11: Day Trip to Palenque

Palenquera woman sells fruit
Palenquera woman sells fruit

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: 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 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.