Perfect for first-timers, this classic Colombian itinerary starts in the cosmopolitan capital of Bogotá and then travels north to the Caribbean Sea. Along the route, you'll visit the famous salt mines and charming colonial towns like Barichara and Villa de Leyva, with hiking in the Iguaque Sanctuary and biking in the Suarez Canal. Once you reach the coast, you'll spend a few days exploring the stunning Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona where you'll encounter white sand beaches, rainforests, and one of the few coral reefs in Colombia. You'll end with two nights in the romantic inner-walled city of Cartagena.

Highlights

  • Visit the famous salt mines of Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral
  • See the charming colonial towns of Barichara and Villa de Leyva
  • Hike Tayrona National Park
  • Explore the cobblestreets of Cartagena

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the City Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Zipaquira Salt Cathedral - Transfer to Villa de Leyva Villa de Leyva
Day 4 Hiking the Iguaque Lagoon Villa de Leyva
Day 5 Driving Tour of Villa de Leyva - Transfer to Barichara Barichara
Day 6 Suarez Canyon Biking Tour Barichara
Day 7 Walking Tour of Barichara Barichara
Day 8 Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 9 Tour of Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 10 Free Day Near Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 11 Sailing Day-Trip - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 12 Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 13 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 14 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the City

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. 

(Optional add-on.) 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

Sunset in La Candelaria
Sunset in La Candelaria

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). 

(Optional add-on.)
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.

(Optional add-on.)
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.

Half-day tour duration: Four hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 3: Zipaquira Salt Cathedral - Transfer to Villa de Leyva

The Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá
The Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá

Today you'll transfer to Zipaquirá. This town, declared a Colombian heritage site, is known for its famous underground Salt Cathedral—a Roman church built within the tunnels of an underground salt mine. Entry to this popular site includes a guided tour along with some free time to explore on your own. 

From here, continue driving north through the Andean highlands and stay overnight in Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia, featuring cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings.

Zipaquira visit: Two hours (guided tour)

Day 4: Hiking the Iguaque Lagoon

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After breakfast, take a challenging hike with a local guide in the heart of Iguaque Sanctuary—a scenic pathway through the Andeans near Villa de Leyva, considered by the sedentary indigenous Muiscas as the birthplace of mankind. The trail winds upwards all the way to Laguna Bachue, a beautiful high-altitude lake; the higher one climbs, the more unique stages of vegetation one will experience from moss-covered-trees and ferns, to pine forests, to frailejones—plants that look like palm trees. 

When not foggy, the panoramic views allow you to see layers upon layers of mountains, villages, and farms.

Hike duration: 6 hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 5: Driving Tour of Villa de Leyva - Transfer to Barichara

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After breakfast, you'll have the opportunity to learn more about the village's outer surroundings visiting main points of interest with a driving tour. (Optional add-on.) The sites include El Fossil (a museum built around a bus-sized fossil on the side of the highway), the pre-Colombian archaeological park, and the Monastery of Santo Ecce Homo.

In the afternoon, you will be transferred to Barichara by private car, which is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia. 

Tour duration: 3-4 hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 6: Suarez Canyon Biking Tour

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The spectacular village of Barichara is located in the northern-central department of Santander, surrounded by beautiful craggy mountains and powerful waterfalls and rivers. After breakfast, you'll have the chance to explore the region on two wheels.

This bicycle tour* (medium difficulty) is led by a Spanish-speaking local guide. This beautiful and rewarding 15-mile (25 km) route starts in the Cabrera area, which is 1800 meters above sea level and descends downhill to the bottom of the majestic Suarez Canyon. There will be opportunities to stop for photos along the way and make sure to bring a bathing suit if you want to cool off with a dip in the river. On the way back to Barichara, enjoy some free time, perhaps stopping for an authentic Colombian lunch on your own. 

*For those who prefer hiking, you can choose a half-day trek to the village of Guané led by an English-speaking guide.

When you return from the bike tour, spend the rest of the day exploring Barichara on your own. 

Bicycle Tour Duration: 4-5 Hours (with a Spanish-speaking guide)

Day 7: Walking Tour of Barichara

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After breakfast at your hotel, you'll get to know Barichara, considered one of the most beautiful Spanish Colonial villages in Colombia, on a more intimate level. This half-day walking tour with a local guide takes you along the atmospheric streets, where you'll visit ornate churches (Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and Santa Barbara Church) and discover village workshops, including stone carvers and a cigar factory. 

Your tour will end at the watchtower, which offers a splendid panoramic view over the Rio Suarez and the Cordillera de los Cobardes. In the afternoon, you'll have free time to enjoy lunch in town and explore the streets on your own.

Tour Duration: 3-4 Hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 8: Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Beach near Santa Marta
Beach near Santa Marta

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 is an ideal spot to view the sunset. Dinner will be served on-site so there's no need to rush.

Day 9: 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.

Tour duration: 4-5 hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 10: Free Day Near Tayrona National Park

Try some snorkeling in the Caribbean
Try some snorkeling in the Caribbean

Enjoy a free day to experience the surroundings outside Tayrona Park. This is your chance to explore the region's singular topography on your own, which includes the world's highest coastal mountain range.

(Optional add-on.) You can take your pick between a range of organized activities such as snorkeling, sailing, river tubing, hiking, or wildlife spotting. You can also take a day-trip to Minca, a beautiful Colombian village in the mountains, and visit a coffee farm. 

Day 11: Sailing Day-Trip - Transfer to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Set sail and see spectacular coastline views
Set sail and see spectacular coastline views

Today, it's time to dust off those sea legs. After breakfast, you'll head out for a sailing trip on the Caribbean where you can relax and partake in a range of water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. This area of Colombia is known for its various bays and secluded beaches, so take advantage of the protected coastline as well as the nearby coral reef system, which boasts a highly diverse marine habitat. 

After the excursion, you'll be transferred to your hotel near Tayrona Park where you'll have time to watch the sunset and enjoy dinner served on-site.

Day 12: Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena

Entrance to Cartagena's Old Town
Entrance to Cartagena's Old Town

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel in Tayrona Park and transfer you to Cartagena. This ancient fortress city on the Caribbean is rich in culture, colonial 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 13: Explore Cartagena

Colorful buildings of Cartagena
Colorful buildings of Cartagena

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.

Walking tour of Cartagena: 2.5 hours

Day 14: 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.

Map

Map of Colombia's Quintessential Highlights - 14 Days
Map of Colombia's Quintessential Highlights - 14 Days