This classic Colombia itinerary starts in Bogotá and then travels north to the Caribbean. Along the route, you'll visit famous salt mines and charming colonial towns like Barichara and Villa de Leyva, with a couple of days to explore the modern metropolitan city of Medellín. Once you reach the coast, you'll spend a few days exploring Cartagena before relaxing on the pristine beaches of the San Bernardo Islands.

Highlights

  • Check out street art and snack on empanadas in Bogota's historic district
  • Visit the largest central plaza in Colombia in the Andean city of Villa de Leyva
  • Enjoy sweeping Andean views from the lookout points of Barichara
  • Devour the best ceviche, seafood, and chocolate in the world in Cartagena
  • Laze on the white-sand beaches of the San Bernardo Islands

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the City Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Villa de Leyva and Colonial Colombia Bogotá
Day 4 Explore In & Around Villa de Leyva Villa de Leyva
Day 5 Driving Tour of Villa de Leyva - Transfer to Barichara Barichara
Day 6 Hike from Barichara to Guane Barichara
Day 7 Barichara - Flight to Medellín Medellín
Day 8 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 9 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 10 Medellín - Flight to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market Cartagena
Day 12 Explore Cartagena - Mangrove Tour Cartagena
Day 13 Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands Isla Mucura
Day 14 Múcura Highlights Isla Mucura
Day 15 San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena Cartagena
Day 16 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. 

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). 

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: Villa de Leyva and Colonial Colombia

Villa de Leyva's massive central plaza
Villa de Leyva's massive central plaza

In the morning, you'll transfer by private car about three hours north to the colonial pueblo of Villa de Leyva. Enjoy the scenery as you pass along the rolling hills of Boyacá Department, past the site where the great Liberator, Simón Bolivar, won his decisive battle in Colombia’s war of independence.

Shortly afterward you'll arrive in Villa de Leyva. Founded in 1572, this colonial village is so well-preserved that in 1954 it was declared a national monument. Moreover, it features the largest central plaza of any town or city in Colombia. You can explore the town by visiting its galleries and viewing the works of local artists. If history is your thing, stop in at the house of Antonio Nariño, the Colombian revolutionary who first translated "The Declaration of the Rights of Man" into Spanish. If you'd like to indulge your sweet tooth, enjoy a decadent tour and sampling of house-made chocolate at the Chocolate Museum

Enjoy dinner on the plaza before retiring to your luxury boutique hotel for the evening.

Day 4: Explore In & Around Villa de Leyva

The expansive central plaza of Villa de Leyva
Expansive central plaza of Villa de Leyva

After breakfast embark on a tour of Villa de Leyva. Start in the town's central plaza (the largest such plaza in the nation), and venture out into the foothills and surrounding nature. You'll be surprised to learn that this highland region is a hotbed of archeological sites. Pay a visit to the most popular landmark, El Infiernito—an ancient grouping of stone fertility monuments. If you're an amateur paleontologist you'll be thrilled to visit El Fosíl, a small museum housing the fossil of a 110-million-year-old kronosaurus (an aquatic relative of the crocodile). Other sites of interest include the Monastery of Santo Ecce Homo.

The afternoon is yours to explore Villa de Leyva on your own. There are a number of local treasures within a block or two of the plaza, and these include French bakeries, artisanal ice cream shops, chocolate confectioners, and more. 

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

Barichara quaint cobblestone street
Barichara quaint cobblestone street

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. 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. 

Day 6: Hike from Barichara to Guane

Colonial village of Guane
Colonial village of Guane

After breakfast, hike up to the edge of town where you'll find the start of the Camino Real (or "royal path"). You'll walk along this path two hours until you reach the small colonial village of Guane. Along the way, you'll be treated to some great views of the canyons as well as a bit of solitude in the peaceful countryside.

Once in Guane, you'll visit the archaeological and paleontological museum. It displays ceramics and jewelry made by the Guane indigenous people, as well as fossils that are millions of years old. Finally, you'll visit the Chapel of Santa Lucia, located in the iconic main square.

You'll then return to Barichara on a moto-taxi (approx. 35 mins.). This means of transport is perfect to relax and enjoy the views of the Río Suarez Canyon whizzing by. You'll have the late afternoon and evening to enjoy as you see fit.

Day 7: Barichara - Flight to Medellín

Medellín's outlying scenery
Medellín's outlying scenery

After breakfast, depart for Medellín! This will be a day of transfers, starting with a 3.5-hour drive to Bucaramanga airport. You'll then fly to Bogotá in order to catch your connecting flight to Medellín. Upon landing, you will be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel.

Depending on your arrival time, enjoy the afternoon/evening exploring the city's vibrant neighborhoods and lively restaurant scene.

Day 8: Medellín City Tour

Medellín barefoot park
Medellín barefoot park

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 9: 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 10: Medellín - Flight to Cartagena

Colorful streets of Cartagena
Colorful streets of Cartagena

After breakfast, you'll be transferred to Medellín airport for your flight to Cartagena. This picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is rich in culture, architecture, romance—and, yes, even pirate history. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel.

Depending on the time of your arrival, consider a few options. You can relax and enjoy the hotel amenities or jump into action with a neighborhood walk, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide (optional add-on). Here are some things that you should see:

  • Wander the narrow, winding streets of the inner-walled city with a camera to photograph colorful houses and lively squares overflowing with bougainvillea.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo stopping at key sites like Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana, Parque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls, built (starting in 1586) with the purpose of protecting Cartagena from any attacks. You'll get some amazing panoramic views of the city (and the sunset!) from here.
  • Pay respects at Santo Domingo, reputedly the oldest church in the city.
  • Peek in La Vitrola for future reference — this is the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home.
  • Explore Getsemani, the up-and-coming neighborhood just outside the walls of Cartagena's historic Old City. Once a seedy area, Getsemani is now a haven for hip culture with charming Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

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

Day 11: Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market

Fresh produce in Cartagena
Fresh produce in Cartagena

After a leisurely breakfast, prepare to dive into the city. First, head outside the colonial Old Town to the Mercado Bazurto, an expansive market bustling with vendors selling everything from fresh fish and produce to electronics. This is the "people's market," a local institution off the tourist trail. Stroll the narrow aisles and savor the sights, sounds, and smells. Bazurto is the gastronomic pulse of the city, where you'll find all the exotic fruits and vegetables that give costeña cuisine its identity. Enjoy a traditional lunch here while your guide introduces you to some of the chefs and purveyors who frequent this local institution.

Your day's adventure continues beyond the historic center, as now you're off to visit two landmarks emblematic of the city's colonial past: La Popa Monastery and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Both the monastery and the imposing castle were strategic sites used to defend Cartagena against pirates and invaders. San Felipe was built in 1536 to protect the bay and was once the mightiest fortress in the New World. La Popa sits on a hill in Cartegena and offers panoramic views all the way out to the Boca Grande neighborhood and its glittering skyscrapers. 

After this cultural immersion, return to your hotel and unwind in the evening. 

Day 12: Explore Cartagena - Mangrove Tour

Mangrove Forest
Mangrove Forest

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: Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands

Arrive at the island by boat
Arrive at Isla Múcura by boat

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and transport you to the pier. You will depart from the mainland in a speedboat to Múcura—one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast. Have lunch at your hotel and then spend the afternoon swimming and snorkeling (optional) in the calm turquoise water, or just relax on the white sand beach.

Day 14: Múcura Highlights

Isla Múcura, Colombia
Isla Múcura, Colombia

Today you'll enjoy a peaceful breakfast at the hotel before hiking around the island. This coral islet is tiny yet packed with beauty, and you can walk around the entire thing in about an hour. 

Lunch will be served back at the hotel, followed by a boat tour in the afternoon to visit other islands in the chain such as Tintipán and Santa Cruz del Islote. The latter of which is a manmade, soccer-field-sized outpost home to about 500 people. It's regarded as the most densely populated island in the world.

The rest of your afternoon is up for grabs. You can rent kayaks, go windsurfing, or explore underwater marine life with snorkel gear or scuba equipment.

Day 15: San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena

Farewell to paradise
Farewell to paradise

This is your last day on Múcura! Have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and enjoy one final swim in the turquoise water. You will then transfer back to Cartagena by boat. Keep your eyes open and your camera close, as you'll pass by the beautiful Rosario Islands on the way.

The boat returns in the early afternoon, so you'll have more time to explore Cartagena, take in the sights you may have missed thus far, and have dinner out on the town.

Day 16: 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 Highlights of Colombia: Cities & the Caribbean Coast - 16 Days
Map of Highlights of Colombia: Cities & the Caribbean Coast - 16 Days