Colombia's heritage extends from the shores of the Caribbean to the rainforests of the Amazon. This unique 11-day itinerary hinges on an event which takes place in Medellín every August: the Batalla de Flores, or "Festival of the Flowers," is one of the biggest spectacles in the entire country. So set aside some time at the end of summer and prepare for an excursion that you won't soon forget.

Highlights

  • Tour the Amazon rainforest and meet an indigenous shaman
  • Visit a primate rescue center in Amazonas
  • Revel in Medellín's epic Festival of the Flowers
  • Stroll the cobble streets and walk the ancient ramparts of Cartagena de Indias

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Flight to Leticia - Maloka Huitoto Amazon Rainforest
Day 3 Mocagua and Fundación Maikuchiga Amazon Rainforest
Day 4 Visit to the River Matamata - Amacayacu Park Amazon Rainforest
Day 5 Isla Mocagua -> Transfer to Medellín Medellín
Day 6 Santa Elena Tour and Free Time Medellín
Day 7 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 8 Flower Festival Medellín
Day 9 Flight to Cartagena (Optional City Tour) Cartagena
Day 10 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Depart Cartagena  

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: Flight to Leticia - Maloka Huitoto

Morning fog over the rainforest
Morning fog over the rainforest

In the morning you'll transfer to Bogotá's airport and catch a flight to Leticia. This remote outpost of a town is located in the extreme south of the country, in the department of Amazonas. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel.

After checking in you'll visit a maloka (a lodge used by indigenous communities) for your introduction to the Amazonian native culture. You will meet with a local shaman and learn about the traditions, myths, legends, and rituals that inform life here. You'll then venture out and explore the area. The surrounding rainforest offers hiking trails abounding with rare species of flora and fauna. Your guide will also point out the various medicinal plants and traditional crops that thrive in the jungle.

Day 3: Mocagua and Fundación Maikuchiga

Squirrel monkey, one of the many species found at Foundacion Maikuchiga
Squirrel monkey, one of the many species found at Foundacion Maikuchiga

Wake up early (6 am) and embark on a walk to Fundación Maikuchiga, a primate rescue center founded by Dr. Sara Bennett and hosted by the local community of Mocagua. The foundation works with captured primates from the illegal animal trade as well as those who have been raised in captivity. The goal is to nurture these animals back to health for an eventual return to their native habitat.

After a brief introduction, you'll venture off into the surrounding forest and spend time with a few species of primates, including squirrel monkeys, capuchins, and yellow-handed titis. If they aren't too shy, you might even spot the pygmy marmoset (the smallest primate in the world). Back at the center, you’ll have a chance to play with rescued monkeys, some of whom are very mischievous (keep an eye on your pockets).

After eating a packed lunch you'll walk over to the Calanoa Reserve for some birding and wildlife spotting. You'll meet with local Ticunas (an Amazonian indigenous tribe) and observe their community mural art project. It's run by the Calanoa Foundation, an organization dedicated to recording the ancestral knowledge of the local indigenous peoples through the painting of murals. You'll overnight at the Calanoa Reserve.

Day 4: Visit to the River Matamata - Amacayacu Park

River Matamata, Amazon, Colombia
River Matamata, Amazon, Colombia

Today will be either a boat trip or walking expedition into the jungles to the north of Calanoa Reserve, depending on your preference. The winding River Matamata borders both the reserve and one of Colombia's most famous national parks, Amacayacu. This park will serve as the entry point into some primary forest abounding with exotic flora and fauna. You'll spend all day spotting wildlife (keep an eye out for tamarin monkeys and pink river dolphins) before heading back to Calanoa, where you'll enjoy dinner. 

Day 5: Isla Mocagua -> Transfer to Medellín

Hoatzin birds in the Amazon
Hoatzin birds in the Amazon

Today you'll head out at daybreak to Isla Mocagua, just a 15-minute boat ride away. This large island located in the middle of the Amazon River is a haven for wildlife. Red howler-Monkeys call this island home, as do various exotic birds, including the wildly colorful hoatzin and the rare Amazonian umbrellabird.

You'll head back to Calanoa for lunch before packing and transferring to Leticia. You'll then fly to Bogotá and connect to Medellín. Upon arrival, a transfer will take you to the hotel for check-in and rest.

Day 6: Santa Elena Tour and Free Time

A silletero with his ornate floral display
A silletero with his ornate floral display

To properly experience one of Colombia's most famous festivals, you need to fully immerse yourself in the culture. So this morning you’ll transfer about an hour to Santa Elena, a village located high in the Andes above Medellín. Colombia is one of the biggest exporters of cut flowers in the world, and it's in villages such as this where residents harvest their prized flora in preparation for the Festival of the Flowers.

You'll spend the morning meeting local silleteros (flower farmers/vendors), touring Santa Elena, and visiting a working flower farm. You'll learn the process of making a silleta—the wooden frame that holds the ornate floral displays carried on the backs of silleteros during the festival procession. Today some 500 silleteros take part in the festival each year. 

You'll return to Medellín in the afternoon and have free time to explore the city.

Day 7: Medellín City Tour

Skyscrapers of Medellín nestled in the Andes
Skyscrapers of Medellín nestled in the Andes

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 8: Flower Festival

The silleteros in procession
The silleteros in procession

Today you'll be present at the most important festival in the city of Medellín (some say the entire country). The Batalla de Flores is the culmination of nearly a year of farming and harvesting flowers in Colombia's Antioquia region, as well as preparing all those majestic floral displays. Now the silleteros will take to the streets and show off the fruits of their labor.

During this desfile (parade) you'll see long processions of silleteros of all ages carrying great flower displays on silletas strapped to their backs for hours on end. The entire event is one giant party, and it's not limited to mere flowers. There's live music on hand, horse parades, car shows, and of course great crowds of paisas (people from Medellín) dancing in the streets. So do like the locals and enjoy the party all day and into the night!

Day 9: Flight to Cartagena (Optional City Tour)

Cartagena city street
Cartagena city street

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight to Cartagena. This colonial fortress city on the Caribbean is rich in culture, 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 10: 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.

Day 11: 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.