This adventurous two-week itinerary covers major highlights along Colombia's stunning and diverse Caribbean coast with plenty of opportunities to get in the water. You'll start off in the sophisticated colonial city of Cartagena with a speedboat trip to Rosario Islands and then head east for Santa Marta. You'll then travel by 4x4 to the lesser-visited La Guajira Peninsula for remote sun-soaked dunes and indigenous tribes. Circle back around to tube down the Rio Don Diego, and then spend a few days hiking around Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, surrounded by tropical rainforests and one of the few coral reefs in Colombia. Sprinkle in sailing, fishing, and a range of water activities before ending the trip back in Cartagena for a walking tour of the city's hipster neighborhood, Getsemani.
Watch kimkim travelers enjoy their trip to the Caribbean Coast of Colombia:

Highlights

  • Explore the "Pearl of the Caribbean" city , Cartagena and wander the narrow, winding streets of the city with colorful houses and lively squares.
  • Speedboat across to Rosario islands, with Turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. 
  • Get off the beaten path, and visit the remote fishing villages near Cabo de la Vela, and spend some time wandering in the majestic dunes of Taroa. 
  • Experience the loveliest coastlines of South America with a guided tour of Tayrona National Park, and explore Cabo San Juan del Guia and see a wonderful bay of white sand surounded by huge volcanic rocks.
  • Visit the mangroves and rivers just outside of Cartagena to experience fishing with a local fisherman, feast upon your catch for lunch!

Overview Map

Overview map

 

Brief Itinerary 

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Rosario Islands Day-Trip Cartagena
Day 3 Explore Cartagena: Tour Options Cartagena
Day 4 Drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta Santa Marta
Day 5 Riohacha -> Manaure -> Cabo de la Vela Cabo de la Vela
Day 6 Punta Gallinas & Taroa Dunes Cabo de la Vela
Day 7 Arrive in Cabo de la Vela Cabo de la Vela
Day 8 Visit Indigenous Cultures Palomino
Day 9 River Kayaking & Tubing Palomino
Day 10 Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona
Day 11 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona
Day 12 Sailing Day-Trip Tayrona
Day 13 La Boquilla Fishing Trip Cartagena
Day 14 Depart Cartagena Cartagena

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour)

Blue hour in Cartagena old town

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 2: Rosario Islands Day-Trip

Blue waters near the 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 at 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 3: Explore Cartagena: Tour Options

Exploring Cartagena old town

There are numerous ways to experience Cartagena on a private tour, whether it’s a surfing trip along the coast, a boat trip to pristine Caribbean beaches, or even a sunset sail with a glass of bubbly.

Other options include a guided walking or bicycle tour of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled city. Together with an English-speaking professional, you will delve deeper into South America’s most extensive fortifications and visit famous sites like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, located on the Hill of San Lázaro, and San Pedro, with its Andalusian-style palaces and Cathedral.

If an organized tour isn’t appealing, simply create your own adventure around the city.  At dusk, take part in the unforgettable atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 4: Drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta

Sunrise over Magdalena River

This morning, you'll depart Cartagena and head east along the coast towards Santa Marta. Outside of Barranquilla, you'll stop at the Bocas de Ceniza, where the waters of the Magdalena River meet the Caribbean Sea, the main mouth of Colombia’s most important waterway. This unique walking tour takes you through narrow embankments and islands that separate the sea and river -- an estuary environment alive with various species of birds from the sea and river. 

Midday, you'll continue driving to La Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta and stop to experience more of the natural surroundings. This is another incredible part of Colombia's coast and is the largest of the swampy marshes between the Magdalena River and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Village fisherman lives in houses on stilts and the bird population is one of the richest in Colombia.

Finish the drive to Santa Marta, South America's oldest surviving city. Stay in the historical downtown and explore the city on foot.

Day 5: Riohacha -> Manaure -> Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela beaches

Today, you'll meet in Riohacha and depart for the remote fishing village of Cabo de la Vela, located in the northern panhandle of Colombia. The adventurous 4x4 journey starts by crossing Uribia before continuing via desert paths to Manaure, where you'll have free time to explore the salt mines. 

Upon arrival to Cabo de la Vela, there will be free time to enjoy swimming at the village's scenic beach. Recently, this little town has become a hotbed of ecotourism and it boasts a wealth of indigenous-style accommodations (beachside huts and hammocks) with generator electricity and very few phone lines, so it's a great place to unplug.

Day 6: Punta Gallinas & Taroa Dunes

Taroa sand dune views

Today, you'll delve even deeper into the La Guajira peninsula towards Punta Gallinas on the northernmost edge of South America, where the sun-soaked scenery seems otherworldly.

After lunch is served in a typical farm, you'll visit the majestic dunes of Taroa -- a remarkable area where golden sand extends far beyond the spotless beaches. The slope of the sandy mountain is steep and its summit affords a view of the Caribbean Sea. From here, you can spend the remainder of the day wandering the shore, swimming, and then watching the sunset from Punta Gallinas lighthouse.

Day 7: Cabo de la Vela

Running on sand dunes

Today, you'll have a chance to spend more time in Cabo de la Vela, which has some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Colombia. The entire region is inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu people who have lived there for hundreds of years and is considered sacred. 

Day 8: Visit Indigenous Cultures

Indigenous people of the area

The tiny tropical village of Palomino, located on the northern coastline of Colombia, is far less visited by tourists even though it's only 45 minutes from the popular tourist destination of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. Though it has the same breathtaking ocean views and raw natural beauty, Palomino remains a secret paradise. What's even more enchanting about the village is its proximity to Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the worlds highest coastal mountain range which is inhabited by four ethnic tribes: Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo.

Today, you'll visit the area's indigenous cultures to see their traditional arts and crafts. For example, the Arhuaco people make characteristic knit bags that can take up to one month to make. Each individual bag is unique in which the artist portrays a different story during each creation process.

Day 9: River Kayaking & Tubing

Rafting down the river

Today, bring your bathing suit and choose between kayaking or tubing along the lazy Rio Don Diego all the way to the ocean. This fun route winds at a manageable pace through hilly green jungle on both sides of the river where you can hear howler monkeys and see a variety of birds, butterflies and even snowy peaks in the distance. 

If that's not enough, the river culminates at a beautiful white sand beach along the Caribbean Sea. Here, you will have the chance to relax on the sand, swim in the turquoise water, and enjoy the sunshine. 

Day 10: Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Iguana on the rock in Tayrona national park

This morning, you'll depart for Tayrona at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The picturesque national park sits between the Piedras River and the Caribbean Sea and is quite a sight to behold. Here, you will encounter a wide range of landscapes from tropical rainforests, white sand beaches, mangrove swamps, and one of the few coral reefs in Colombia. With this diverse array of landscapes comes a huge variety of plants, birds, mammals and marine life. 

When you arrive, spend some free time exploring the area and enjoy the scenery.

Day 11: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

View of jungle in Tayrona national park

Today, you'll experience some of South America's loveliest coastline with a guided tour to the stunning beaches and rainforests of Tayrona -- one of three national parks on Colombia's Caribbean coast. The trip starts with a hike in the tropical foothills near Cañaveral, the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You'll then visit the exotic beaches of Arrecifes and stop at La Piscina, an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling.

Continue to Cabo San Juan del Guia and see a wonderful bay of white sand surrounded by huge volcanic rocks. On the way here, you can observe several species of local flora and fauna pointed out by your knowledgeable guide. The afternoon is your free time to enjoy lunch and relax on the shore.

Day 12: Sailing Day-Trip

Snorkeling in the blue waters of the Caribbean

Today, put on your sea legs and enjoy a sailing trip in the Caribbean Sea where you can relax and partake in a range of water activities like sea kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. This area of Colombia is known for its various bays and secluded beaches, so take advantage of its protected coastline as well as the nearby coral reef system with a highly diverse marine habitat.

Day 13: La Boquilla Fishing Trip

Setting up your fishing gear

Today, you'll visit mangroves and rivers outside of Cartagena to experience a small example of Colombia's unmatched natural landscape. This region, populated by afro-descendants whose ancestors came from the west of Africa, lives on the abundant fish that swim among the roots of this delicate ecosystem of fresh and salt water. A local fisherman will take you by boat to catch some fish where you'll assist in the process of checking cages and nets to see what delights will be served later on.

After reaching the local community of La Boquilla, you'll interact and chat with the locals as they teach you how to prepare the fish you've just caught. Enjoy a feast for lunch before you head back to Cartagena for some rest.

In the afternoon, hit the pavement for an urban walking tour of 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.

Day 14: Depart Cartagena

Cartagena 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.