This itinerary starts and ends in two of Colombia's most exciting cities, the capital of Bogotá and the "city of the eternal spring," Medellín. In between, you'll embark on a high-altitude trek into Los Nevados National Park. In Bogotá, you'll get to know the food scene of the city before heading to the Coffee Region. You'll visit a working coffee farm and set off on a four-day trek through the central Andes. After your trek, you'll relax in the thermal pools outside of Manizales, with the still-active Nevado del Ruiz volcano as a backdrop. Then it's off to Medellín, where you'll get to know this dynamic city as you ride its Metrocable network of gondolas.

Highlights

  • Sample the regional cuisine of Colombia's capital city, Bogotá
  • Embark on a high-altitude trek through Los Nevados National Park
  • Relax in thermal pools outside Manizales, in Colombia's Zona Cafetera
  • Tour the city of Medellín on foot and by cable car

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 Zipaquira Salt Cathedral & Village Day-Trip Bogotá
Day 4 Explore Bogotá (free day) Bogotá
Day 5 Bogotá - Transfer to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 6 Trek in the Valle de Cocora (Day 1) On Trek
Day 7 Trek in the Valle de Cocora (Day 2) On Trek
Day 8 Trek to Refugio Ecológico La Pastora On Trek
Day 9 Trek to El Cedral Wildlife Sanctuary Otún Quimbaya
Day 10 Birding - Visit Manizales Manizales
Day 11 Nevado del Ruiz - Birding Manizales
Day 12 Flight to Medellín (Optional City Tour) Medellín
Day 13 Pablo Escobar Tour Medellín
Day 14 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 15 Depart Medellín  

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: Zipaquira Salt Cathedral & Village Day-Trip

Zipaquira's Salt Cathedral
Zipaquira's Salt Cathedral

After breakfast at your hotel, your journey north of the capital heads to Zipaquira. This town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, is known for its Salt Cathedral which was built inside a salt mine—considered a major breakthrough in Colombian architecture. After the Salt Cathedral, you will visit Zipaquira's village with its noteworthy churches and central square.

Return to Bogota in the afternoon and have the rest of the day to explore the city. 

Day 4: Explore Bogotá (free day)

Street market in Bogotá
Street market in Bogotá

Take the day to soak up Bogotá's bustling and lively atmosphere any way you'd like! You can visit Carlos Jacanamijoy's painting studio, or wander through one of Latin America's most important international art collections at the Museo Botero. Another great option is to soak in the hustle and bustle of Bogota's largest food market, Paloquemao. Here, you can sample local foods (alongside locals) and learn about fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy, and even flowers that grow in Colombia's diverse landscapes.

Another option is to check out Mambe's shop houses with a selection of weekly rotating Fair Trade handicrafts from artisan-driven communities around Colombia, or the flea market, Mercado de Pulgas San Alejo for vintage clothes and vinyl. Or simply soak in the cafe culture in La Candelaria. In the evening, experience Colombia’s cultural scene including notable international restaurants, theatres, and live music venues.

Day 5: 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 6: Trek in the Valle de Cocora (Day 1)

A farmer with his cows in the Quindío Department, Colombia
A farmer with his cows in the Quindío Department, Colombia

Leave the hotel bright and early and drive a short distance to the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) viewpoint, which sits at an altitude of 2,407 meters (7,897 feet). Shortly after arriving, you'll begin the nearly seven-mile hike. Not to worry, though—there will be breaks during this trek. You'll stop along the way at a lookout point to enjoy your packed lunch and the beautiful views of the colorful sub-páramo (alpine highland) flora, as well as the basin of the Cárdenas River.

You'll then make your way up to 3,475 meters (11,404 ft), where you'll find your campsite at La Argentina Hacienda. You'll arrive at camp in the early afternoon, leaving plenty of time to explore your surroundings. Perhaps choose a trail that heads deep into the forest to watch the sunset over the Cárdenas Canyon.

Day 7: Trek in the Valle de Cocora (Day 2)

Páramo landscape dotted with espeletia plants near Nevado del Ruis, Colombia
Páramo landscape dotted with espeletia plants near Nevado del Ruis, Colombia

After breakfast, break camp and continue the 8.3-mile (13-km) hike up the 2,789-foot ascent to your next destination, a campsite located near the small village of El Bosque (11,843 feet). This is a strenuous hike, so a decent level of physical fitness is required. 

You'll be trekking through the páramo, an ecosystem found in Colombia's Andean highlands. The landscapes here are more rugged and common vegetation includes the espeletia plant, which resembles a cactus and sunflower. Stop for lunch at the El Berlin farm before making the final climb to the village. You'll encounter a landmark school at El Bosque (the only remote-access school in the region) and nearby you'll find your nearby campsite.

After setting up camp, join a walk through an elfin forest (a unique ecosystem featuring miniature trees and small animals) for some birdwatching. Or try your hand at fishing in the nearby river.

Day 8: Trek to Refugio Ecológico La Pastora

Pumas also live in Ucumarí
Pumas also live in Ucumarí

Today's 5.6-mile (9 km) moderate trek descends to Refugio Ecológico La Pastora (La Pastora Refuge), located at an elevation of 8,057 ft, in Parque Regional Natural Ucumarí. You'll pass through one of the most well-preserved river basins in South America, as well as a mixture of high-altitude Andean forests, home to exotic birds and animals like pumas and mountain toucans. Enjoy a late lunch at La Pastora and take the afternoon to relax.

If you have the energy, there is an optional walk you can take to explore local waterfalls, as well as birdwatch. Then retire for the evening around the campfire with a cup of wine and good company. You'll overnight at the refuge here. 

Day 9: Trek to El Cedral

Butterfly on a zinnia elegans flower, Colombia
Butterfly on a zinnia elegans flower, Colombia

Rise early and start on the final 3.7-mile (six-km) descent through the Otún river valley to the El Cedral trailhead. On the way be on the lookout for the elusive endangered mountain tapir. Once you arrive at El Cedral, celebrate with a refreshing beverage.

Next, hop in a waiting 4x4 and drive to the Santuario de Fauna y Flora Otún Quimbaya (Flora and Fauna Sanctuary)—a protected area of 489 hectares (1,208 acres) run by a community association promoting sustainable development. The sanctuary is home to over 250 species of birds, butterflies, and small animals (including the tapir) and sits amid rainforest vegetation and sub-Andean forest.

Relax during the evening and enjoy the provided dinner. You'll overnight at the sanctuary, 

Day 10: Birding - Visit Manizales

Our Lady of Rosary, Plaza de Bolívar, Manizales
Our Lady of Rosary, Plaza de Bolívar, Manizales

Colombia contains more bird species (around 2,000) than any other country on the planet and is home to 79 endemic species (birds that aren't found in any other country). Take advantage of the Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary's location and enjoy an early morning walk along the trails in search of birds. Species you may encounter include the rare, turkey-like Cauca guan and the red-ruffed fruitcrow. Keep an eye out for the Sanctuary’s emblematic red howler monkeys, too.

After lunch, transfer a couple hours to Manizales. About 20 minutes outside the city you'll arrive at your unique accommodation, the natural hot springs of Termales El Otoño. Now you're really in for a treat: each of the modern cabins at this wellness hideaway features its own private geothermal pool. Enjoy a soak in one of these pools, surrounded by nature and manicured gardens, before returning to Manizales for a walking tour of the city.

Day 11: Nevado del Ruiz - Birding

Nevado del Ruiz
Nevado del Ruiz

Have breakfast early, at 5 am, before transferring to Nevado del Ruiz. Also known as La Mesa de Herveo (or Kumanday in the local indigenous language), Nevado del Ruiz is what's known as a stratovolcano—a volcano comprised of layers of lava, ash, and pumice. 

After enjoying a photo-op with the snowcapped, 5,311-meter (17,424-foot) volcano, continue on to the nearby thermal bath complex, Termales del Ruiz. You'll enjoy total relaxation as you soak in even more thermal pools, this time with Laguna Negra (Black Lake) as a backdrop. You'll also have the opportunity to sample coca tea, an Andean staple.

Around Termales del Ruiz is a diverse páramo ecosystem waiting to be explored. On a hillside, you'll find a birding shelter where 17 species of hummingbirds come to feed, including the golden-breasted puffleg, rainbow-bearded thornbill, and shining sunbeam. Other rare and exotic birds abound in this region, like the grey-breasted mountain toucan, rufous-fronted parakeet, buffy helmetcrest, and various mountain tanagers. With luck you might even spot Colombia's national bird, the Andean condor. 

Much time will be allotted to observe the many birds at the various feeders along the property. You'll have lunch at Termales del Ruiz or a nearby restaurant before returning to your hotel, where you can spend the remainder of the day as you choose.

Day 12: Flight to Medellín and City Tour

Medellín's skyscrapers nestled in the Andes
Medellín's skyscrapers nestled in the Andes


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 13: Pablo Escobar Tour

Relics of Escobar's old cars
Relics of Escobar's old cars

Today you’ll embark on a tour around Medellin focusing on the person that used to be its underworld king: Pablo Escobar. Led by ex-policeman Carlos Palau, this tour offers shocking insight into Medellin's most infamous drug lord. Forget what you've seen on TV—the tour uncovers the harrowing realities of what life was like during the heyday of Escobar's rule in the '80s and '90s.

During the outing, you'll stop at his "prison," La Catedral, which he constructed himself after agreeing to terms of surrender from the Colombian government. You'll also visit the townhouse Escobar used as a hideout until he was shot dead by national police while trying to make a daring rooftop escape. Throughout the day, your guide will recount noteworthy events from the timeline of Escobar's life. The tour culminates with a visit to Escobar's grave.

Day 14: 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 15: Depart Medellín

The Metrocable, Medellín
The Metrocable, Medellín

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! Enjoy your last moments in the beautiful city of Medellín with a leisurely breakfast, city stroll, and/or souvenir shopping.  A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.