This whirlwind 15-day Colombian itinerary covers everything from culture and heritage to adventure and Caribbean beaches. Start in the reborn metropolis of Medellín, a city whose reputation as a global hotspot is enhanced by its rising culinary and arts scenes. After city life, it's time for a bit of nature as you embark on a two-day rafting journey down the Río Verde. Continue your adventure on the Caribbean coast, where you'll explore Cartagena's Old Town and enjoy a day trip to the nearby Rosario Islands. End your journey in the paradise of Tayrona National Park, with its perfect mix of beaches, jungles, and mountains.

Highlights

  • Discover the vibrant street art of Medellín
  • Kayak the rapids of the Rio Verde
  • Visit a coffee farm in the Andean foothills
  • Wander Cartagena's historic Old City
  • Lose yourself in the nature of Tayrona National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Colombia -> Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 2 Enjoy a Guided Tour of Medellín - Try Colombian Street Food Medellín
Day 3 El Peñol and Guatapé - the "Most Colorful Town in Colombia¨ Medellín
Day 4 Medellín Reborn - "Comuna 13" Neighborhood Medellín
Day 5 Explore Medellín (Free Day) Medellín
Day 6 Río Verde Rio Verde Campsite
Day 7 Río Verde - Transfer to Medellín Medellín
Day 8 Adventure on a Coffee Farm Medellín
Day 9 Transfer to Cartagena -> Cartagena on Canvas Cartagena
Day 10 Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Cartagena
Day 11 Enjoy the Beaches and Coral Reefs of the Rosario Islands Cartagena
Day 12 Cartagena -> Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 13 Discover the Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 14 Tayrona -> Cartagena Cartagena
Day 15 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Colombia -> Arrive in Medellín

Medellín is nestled in the heart of the Andes Mountains.
Medellín is nestled in the heart of the Andes Mountains.

Welcome to Colombia! As you arrive at the international airport outside the “City of Eternal Spring” you’ll be greeted by a driver ready to escort you through a beautiful mountain pass and 1,000 feet down into the trendy and popular neighborhood of El Poblado. On the way to your hotel, your English-speaking guide will give you all the recommendations you need to make the most of your stay in Colombia.

Once one of the most notorious cities in the world, Medellín is now known as one of the safest places in South America, as well as one of the most innovative. The hub of Colombia’s medical and tech sectors, the city is nestled in the Valle de Aburrá and offers breathtaking views in every direction.

A modern and efficient metro runs north to south with sky gondolas reaching the heights of the surrounding Andes Mountain range. The tropical temperatures average 72 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, with average daily highs around 80 degrees, and nightly lows of 60.

Day 2: Enjoy a Guided Tour of Medellín - Try Colombian Street Food

Medellín's mountainous skyline.
Medellín's mountainous skyline.

Start your day in the Comuna 13 neighborhood, where you'll embark on a guided tour revealing the historical, aesthetic, and political history of Medellín. This tour is designed and led by local hip-hop artists, ensuring an entertaining day filled with local knowledge. You'll hear emotional stories of hope deeply embedded into the city's streets, all while perusing its dynamic art and graffiti scene.

Next, you'll take a short trip on the gondola, soaring up into the hills of Medellín. Enjoy unparalleled panoramic views of the city and typical Antioquia cuisine at a local cafe for lunch.

In the afternoon, head back into the city center to discover some of Medellin's most famous attractions, including the Nutibara Hill (a replica of a typical Antioquia village lies at the top) and Ruta N Innovation and Technology Center. Enjoy the city's many parks, such as the Botanical Garden, Explora Park, the Park of Desires, and Barefoot Park. Lastly, you'll visit the Antioquia Museum and Botero Square, where you can view the exhibit of 23 outdoor bronze sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

The evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure. Head back into your neighborhood to find a traditional restaurant for dinner, or enjoy some of the city's amazing street food at the sprawling market, Mercado del Rio.

Day 3: El Peñol and Guatapé - the "Most Colorful Town in Colombia¨

View From Atop the Peñol de Guatapé
View From Atop the Peñol de Guatapé

Today, you'll travel through the municipality of Peñol to reach the Andean hill town of Guatapé. This small resort town offers a peaceful break from the city, while also featuring a stunning panoramic view of nature and the surrounding scenery from the top of its dramatic hilltop setting.

Start with a visit to the iconic Rock of Guatapé, where you can climb 649 steps to reach the viewpoint with a 360-degree view of the Guatapé reservoir and its neighboring lands. Then, you will be transferred to Guatapé itself, known as the most colorful town in Colombia. Make sure to keep your camera close—it's hard to find a street in Guatapé that isn't worthy of being admired and photographed! Enjoy a walk through the streets, where a specialized guide will inform you about the history of typical houses, its ¨zocalos," and the town's unique culture. 

After a day of sightseeing, return to Medellín for the evening.

Day 4: Medellín Reborn - "Comuna 13" Neighborhood

The vibrant murals of Comuna 13.
The vibrant murals of Comuna 13.

Return to Medellín's Comuna 13 neighborhood today, also known as the San Javier. On this excursion, you’ll explore Medellin’s history, violent past, and amazing transition to the diverse and bustling metropolis it has become.

Meet local community leaders & activists, who will share their stories about how they survived during Medellin’s dark days and the efforts they’ve put into place to ensure efforts to improve the quality-of-life of for residents are inclusive and representative of the city’s diversity.

Day 5: Explore Medellín (Free Day)

Plaza Botero, Medellín.
Plaza Botero, Medellín.

Today is free to explore the beautiful city of Medellín at your own pace.

Day 6: Río Verde

An aerial view of the stunning Río Verde Canyon.
An aerial view of the stunning 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 on a 2.5-hour drive to this magnificent 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 its abundant marine life; keep an eye out for a variety of fish swimming in the translucent water.

Spend the night at a picturesque campsite near the water's edge, where you'll be treated to a campfire-cooked dinner and fall asleep to the gentle sounds of the river.

Day 7: Río Verde - Transfer to Medellín

Toucans are among the Rio Verde's many exotic bird species.
Toucans are among the Rio Verde's many exotic bird species.

Start today bright and early with an optional birding tour. Colombia is home to some 2,000 bird species, with many native to 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: Adventure on a Coffee Farm

Views Across a Colombian Coffee Plantation
Views Across a Colombian Coffee Plantation

Today you’ll head out for a cultural experience on an authentic working coffee farm 1.5 hours from Medellin. After passing through Antioquia’s gorgeous green landscape, you'll arrive at the "finca" (farm). Here you'll learn about the entire process of making coffee—from the plant to the cup— and discover the daily life of Colombian coffee cooperatives who still produce coffee in a traditional and ethical way.

Stroll through the plantation as the farm manager explains process of growing and harvesting the coffee bean. After working up a healthy appetite from the fresh country air, sit down for a delicious traditional Colombian-style lunch.

After a hearty meal, you’ll learn about the roasting process that takes plain green coffee beans and converts them into the rich brew that we all know and love—full of flavor and fragrant aroma. Listen closely as the coffee farmer explains the key characteristics of a great coffee, both in scent and taste, and shares how to prepare a great cup at home.

After seeing the involved, manual process required to grow, harvest, dry, roast, grind, and then brew a cup of coffee, you’ll never take this everyday drink for granted again. At the end of the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to buy freshly roasted coffee straight from its source, the perfect souvenir from Colombia to share with family & friends (or drink all on your own)! 

Return to Medellín in the afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure.

Day 9: Transfer to Cartagena -> Cartagena on Canvas

Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena.
Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena.

Fly from Medellín, in Colombia's interior Antioquia Department, to your new destination of Cartagena, located on the Caribbean coast. 

Cartagena is the sum of its incredible parts; a city of colonial, republican and modern architecture, vibrant nightlife, cultural festivals, exuberant landscapes, magnificent beaches, and outstanding gastronomic offerings. It is a town that guards the secrets of its history in its walls and balconies, its buildings and its narrow, cobbled streets.

Today you'll experience the "Pearl of the Caribbean"  with an artistic excursion through the city's modern and historic quarters. Start the tour by visiting iconic monuments like La India Catalina, La Torre del Reloj, El Convento de La Popa, El Castillo de San Felipe, Los Baluartes, and Las Botas Viejas. Afterward, you will be transferred to a workshop and learn about the life of great Cartagena painters, such as Alejandro Obregón and Enrique Grau. Finally, channel your inner artist and recreate one of the monuments on canvas, while a master painter helps and directs you. Take your finished masterpiece home with you as a special memento of Cartagena.

Day 10: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The historic fortress of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.
The historic fortress of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.

After breakfast, transfer the short distance across the bridge from Getsemani to Cartagena’s most striking landmark: the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This fortress sits on San Lorenzo Hill and was constructed in 1657 to protect the vast amounts of gold the colonists were shipping back to Spain. After wandering the tunnels on a guided tour, be sure to walk the scenic ramparts. Since the fortress was built on an elevated, strategic location, you’ll have magnificent panoramic views of Bocagrande and the Walled City.

In the afternoon, head back into Getsemaní and enjoy a refreshment at one of the patio cafes or restaurants around the bustling Plaza de la Trinidad. The plaza fronts an old yellow church of the same name, which was built around 1600. Head back into the old city for dinner at one of Cartagena’s famed restaurants around Plaza San Diego.

Day 11: Enjoy the Beaches and Coral Reefs of the Rosario Islands

The Caribbean Landscape of Isla Grande.
The Caribbean Landscape of Isla Grande.

A visit to the Rosario Islands will take you on an exciting day trip to the warm, crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea. Located just 45 minutes from Cartagena, this beautiful archipelago is made up of 27 islands off Colombia's west coast.

The Rosario Islands are part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Park, one of the most important nature reserves in the country. Here, both the islands and the surrounding waters are protected, leaving them as remarkably well-preserved ecosystems.

In the morning, transfer from your hotel to the pier, where you'll board a boat headed for Isla Grande, the largest of the islands. Start with lunch at San Pedro de Majagua, and spend the afternoon discovering coral beaches and swimming amongst the diverse fauna of the reefs. If you're interested in water sports, Isla Grande is known for its scuba diving, snorkeling, standup paddleboarding, and kayaking. You can also take short boat trips to neighboring islands.

You'll return to Cartagena in the evening, where you can relax at your hotel and enjoy dinner.

Day 12: Cartagena -> Tayrona National Park

Lush jungle, white beaches, and diverse wildlife in Tayrona National Park.
Lush jungle, white beaches, and diverse wildlife in Tayrona National Park.

Discover a jewel of the Caribbean coast today, as you transfer from Cartagena to the lush wilds of Tayrona National Park. After being picked up from your hotel in the morning, sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular scenery during the 4-5 hour drive.

Head deep into the park to one of its beachside eco-resorts, where traditional native wooden bungalows are sprinkled throughout the emerald hillside overlooking Canaveral Beach. Check-in and get settled into this unique location, then spend the afternoon exploring at your own pace. Take a long walk down the coast, learn about organic farming, relax with a soundtrack of jungle birds and monkey calls, or take a nature tour of Tayrona Park.

Day 13: Discover the Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is considered the jewel among Colombia's national parks.
Tayrona National Park is considered the jewel among Colombia's national parks.

Devote today to the wonders of Tayrona National Park—with a nature tour, a trip to its archaeological sites and ruins, or an afternoon spent relaxing on its pristine beaches. Encompassing over 30,000 acres, the park's diverse landscapes include mangrove swamps, coral reefs, algae prairies, thorny scrubland, and lush cloud forests. Aside from its natural and archaeological attractions, Tayrona Natural Park is also a thriving site for eco-tourism, thanks to the untouched nature of its beaches and diving sites. 

The park is a haven for nature and animal lovers, with over 100 mammal species, including howler monkeys, pumas, deer, and bats. Birdwatchers have the chance to spot white eagles and the rare Andean condors amongst its rich avian population, while divers can get up close with its more than 1,000 marine species.

Day 14: Tayrona -> Cartagena

Balconies of Cartagena de Indias
Balconies of Cartagena de Indias

After breakfast,  meet your guide and transfer by car back to the beautiful city of Cartagena, enjoying the scenery on the 4-5 hour drive. After settling into your hotel, take the afternoon to explore any highlights you might have missed earlier in the week. 

Learn more about the city's rich history with visits to the church and monastery of San Pedro Claver and the Basilica Minor cathedral.  Stroll along narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial houses featuring bougainvilia-draped balconies, then visit the modern neighborhoods of Bocagrande and Manga, where a sleek modern architecture contrasts with the beauty of historic houses from the twentieth century.

Day 15: Depart Cartagena

A traditional horse-drawn carriage in Cartagena.
A traditional horse-drawn carriage in Cartagena.

It's time to say goodbye to Colombia. After breakfast at the hotel, a driver will transfer you to the airport to catch your return flight home.