Take advantage of the ample time off work in late December and travel to a place that knows how to do the holidays. This fun and festive 7-day Latin American adventure starts in the up-and-coming city of Medellín. With hip restaurants, art galleries, and eternal spring-like temperatures, this city goes bonkers with Christmas lights. From here, you'll head to lakeside Guatapé for hiking, visit a coffee farm, and then fly to Cartagena -- a fairy-tale city that draws a vibrant international crowd. Reserve early and get a seat at one of the city's best rooftop bars overlooking stunning colonial architecture and the Caribbean Sea -- what a way to start the new year!

Highlights

  • See the city of Medellín completely light up at night with festive Christmas lights in December.
  • Hike the rock of Guatapé and see a dazzling view of jewel-colored lakes in Guatapé
  • Visit a coffee finca and taste the latest harvest
  • Experience the culture and fairy-tale romance of Cartagena's Old Town
  • Explore the beautiful Tayrona National Park

 

Brief Itinerary 

Day  Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Christmas Lights Spectacle Medellín
Day 2 Hiking in Guatapé Medellín
Day 3 Coffee Finca Day-Tour Medellín
Day 4 Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour) Cartagena
Day 5 Rosario Islands Day-Trip Cartagena
Day 6 New Year's Eve in Cartagena! Cartagena
Day 7 Depart Cartagena   

Detailed itinerary

 Day 1: Christmas Lights Spectacle (December)

Medellín lights up in December

You couldn't have picked a better time to visit Medellín than the month of December. One event that the city is famous for is the annual Medellín Christmas lights display, known locally as "El Alumbrado".

These are not your average Christmas decorations — the city goes all out, and last year the display exceeded a whopping 31 million LED lights spread over 100 parks and neighborhoods. People take their walking tours after sundown, enjoying the city’s mild weather while vendors sell goodies and street performers entertain.  Each year there is an overall theme that ties the whole show together.

They’ve been hanging Christmas lights in Medellín for over 160 years. Good news for environmentalists, some of these lights are powered by solar energy, a tradition that started in 2014. If you are here during the “lighting" season, Medellín is not to be missed!

Day 2: Hiking in Guatapé

Panoramic view from Rock of Guatapé in Medellín

Today, you'll head east of Medellín and explore the picturesque lakeside town of Guatapé. Take a two-hour walking tour through the countryside and learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that was renamed Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address the reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

As you walk towards the neighboring town of El Peñol, absorb stunning vistas of the dazzling granite La Piedra Rock. Climb the 740 steps to admire the classic view from above.  Return to Guatapé and explore the streets. This is truly the most colorful town in Colombia with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a restaurant for a relaxing meal of freshwater fish and other local delicacies.

Day 3: Coffee Finca Day-Tour

Coffee Berries

Visit a gorgeous coffee finca (farm) located near the small town of Los Palomos -- about an hour drive from Medellín. Here, you will taste the plantation's most recent harvest, and take a walking tour with a coffee grower who will explain the bean growing process first-hand. Learn how coffee is linked to every Colombian family and how it became a source of pride for locals.

Day 4: Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour)

Cartagena's colorful streets

Welcome to Cartagena! This picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is rich in culture, architecture, romance -- and, yes, even pirate history. Head to your hotel from the airport, and 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 walking tour, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide. 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.
  • Visit the Palace of Inquisition, which despite its original use, is one of the finest buildings in the city
  • Tour Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards.
  • Pay respects at Santo Domingo, reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Walk along the original fortress wall and see panoramic views of the city. 
  • Check out La Vitrola -- the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home. 

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

Day 5: Rosario Islands Day-Trip

Blue waters of Rosario Islands

Rise and shine! Today, you will be picked up from your hotel bright and early and transferred to the pier for a speedboat transfer towards the Baru Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, an ancient fort that once protected Cartagena.

Once you arrive to the Rosario Islands, change into your swimwear before you head to Playa Azul, a stunning white-sand beach on the bright turquoise Caribbean Sea. After lunch is served, you will have time to relax and sunbathe, or do some kayaking in the sea 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 6: New Year's Eve in Cartagena!

Cartagena at night

One of the many reasons that Cartagena is such a popular tourist attraction is because of its fun and vibrant nightlife scene, only helped by the fact that Old Town is quite a stunner after dark. If you're lucky enough to be here on New Year's Eve, you will see another level of international partying in this gorgeous city.

You can celebrate the new year in one of the exclusive restaurants, bars or clubs around town (make sure to reserve your space in advance). Or, get off the beaten track and keep it real with the locals in Plaza San Diego, who dance to blaring salsa music well into the early hours.

Day 7: Depart Cartagena

Horsedrawn carriage in Cartagena's old town

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! Enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a relaxing café, or (if you have not done so yet) take a walk around the city with an English-speaking guide to gain a new perspective of the city from a local. 

This optional tour covers Cartagena's enchanting maze of colorful houses and lively squares from the 16th century. Meander through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about main sites like the Popa Monastery, Saint Philip's Castle, and el Museo del Oro. 

A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.