This laid-back 12-day itinerary takes you through the highlights of Colombia's Caribbean coast, then detours south to explore the heart of the country's lush coffee-growing region. Stroll Cartagena's historic Old Town, swim in the turquoise waters of the Rosario Islands, and discover the pristine beaches of Tayrona National Park. Fly south into the Zona Cafetera for two days visiting coffee farms and hiking amongst giant palms in the Valle de Cocora, then return to Cartagena to end your journey with more culture and cuisine in the "Pearl of the Caribbean."

Highlights

  • Fall in love with Cartagena's historic Old Town
  • Relax on the Caribbean beaches of the Rosario Islands
  • Discover the diverse ecosystems of Tayrona National Park
  • Hike among the towering palm trees of Cocora Valley 
  • Immerse yourself in Colombia's coffee culture in the Zona Cafetera 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Cartagena! Cartagena
Day 2 Transfer to the Rosario Islands Rosario Islands
Day 3 Free Day in the Rosario Islands Rosario Islands
Day 4 Return to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 5 Transfer to Santa Marta, Stop at Barranquilla Santa Marta
Day 6 Tayrona National Park Excursion Santa Marta
Day 7 Free Day in Santa Marta Santa Marta
Day 8 Fly to the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region) Pereira
Day 9 Cocora Valley Hike & Coffee Farm Tour Pereira
Day 10 Fly to Cartagena, Optional Cooking Class Cartagena
Day 11 Cartagena Half-Day City Tour Cartagena
Day 12 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Cartagena!

Balconies of Cartagena
Cartagena's colorful balconies

Welcome to Colombia! Upon arrival at the airport in Cartagena, a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your accommodations. 

A colonial jewel bathed in sunshine, gastronomy, and dancing, Cartagena de Indias is one of the world’s most romantic cities. With magical sunsets, intricate architecture, and mouthwatering cuisine, it's the perfect place for anyone who wants to experience authentic Colombian culture. Take an afternoon stroll around the city to get your bearings and lose yourself in its historic streets.

In the evening, discover Cartagena's thriving culinary scene, choosing from casual cafes frequented by locals to upscale restaurants by some of Latin America's most famous chefs. 

Day 2: Transfer to the Rosario Islands

The clean, clear waters of Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Park

Today you'll transfer to the nearby paradise of the Rosario Islands to enjoy 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 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.

A driver will pick you up from your hotel and take you to Port Muelle de la Bodeguita, where you'll board a shared boat to reach Blue Island Beach, a Balearic-inspired beach club, restaurant, and boutique hotel that serves as your base for the next two nights. Get settled in and enjoy a cocktail as you experience a spectacular Caribbean sunset. 

Day 3: Free Day in the Rosario Islands

Relax by the pool!
Relax by the pool today

Today is free for you to experience the Rosario Islands at your leisure. You can snorkel or dive, go swimming, soak up the Caribbean sun, practice kayaking, or just relax and enjoy the sounds and sights of your natural surroundings. 

Hit the spa in the afternoon, or enjoy the flavors of local cuisine prepared with care and passion by local chefs. At dusk, enjoy the sunset, grab a drink, and let yourself be lulled by the symphony of the waves.

Day 4: Return to Cartagena

Sunset over Cartagena

Today you will say goodbye to the islands and take a boat back to Cartagena in the early afternoon. A driver will be waiting at Port Muelle de la Bodeguita to transfer you back to your hotel in Cartagena. Spend your afternoon relaxing, or head out and head out and explore more of the walled city.

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Day 5: Transfer to Santa Marta, Stop at Barranquilla

Stroll the beaches of Santa Marta  

Today a private driver takes you up the Caribbean coast from Cartagena to Santa Marta, breaking up the journey with a stop for lunch in Barranquilla. The largest city on the northern Caribbean coast and the main industrial, shopping, educational, and cultural center of the Caribbean region of Colombia, Barranquilla is also home to the Carnival Museum, dedicated to the most important folk and cultural festival of Colombia.

Upon arrival at Santa Marta, you will check into your hotel where you can relax and enjoy the afternoon with beautiful natural surroundings, the beach, and the sea. The busy port of Santa Marta enjoys the distinction of being the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. Though it’s often used as a stopping point for day trips in the area, the historic downtown has been restored and is worth a visit. Stroll its cobbled streets lined with multi-colored buildings and take plenty of photos (you won't miss the stately, white-washed cathedral). There is a slew of hotels, restaurants, and bars in the area, too.

Nearby, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains are home to Colombia’s tallest peak, Pico Cristóbal Colón, which sits at a whopping 5,700 meters (18,700 feet). These mountains are also the gateway to postcard-worthy Tayrona National Natural Park on the palm-fringed Caribbean coast.

Day 6: Tayrona National Park Excursion

Cabo San Juan, the "postcard image" of Parque Tayrona

Wake up surrounded by the beautiful Santa Marta beaches and get ready for an active day of amazing views and abundant nature. After breakfast, you will embark on a half-day tour of Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). This protected area is known for having some of the most virgin coastal landscapes in the entire country. Indeed, when you see promotional images of the Colombian Caribbean, often you're seeing images of Cabo San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You'll experience much of this coastline with a local guide while touring the white-sand beaches and rainforests further inside Tayrona.

Start with a hike in the tropical foothills near Playa Cañaveral, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then visit the exotic beaches of Arrecifes and La Piscina, the latter of which is an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling. Continue to Cabo San Juan and enjoy the bay of white sand surrounded by large volcanic rocks. On the way here, you can observe several species of flora and fauna pointed out by your knowledgeable guide. 

In the late afternoon, you'll be transferred back to your hotel in Santa Marta. 

Day 7: Free Day in Santa Marta

Relax on Santa Marta's postcard-worthy beaches

Today is yours to relax and enjoy the beaches of Santa Marta at your leisure.

Day 8: Fly to the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region)

The lush hills of Colombia's Zona Cafetera

This morning your driver will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the Santa Marta airport, where you'll board a flight bound for the heart of Colombia's Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region). Upon arrival in the city of Pereira, you'll be transferred to your hotel by a bilingual guide, who will also give you an introduction to this extraordinary region. 

Set among the rugged hills between Medellin, Cali, and Ibague, the Zona Cafetera produces some of the finest coffee in the world. The region is blessed with perfect weather conditions for growing, and coffee produced here is still carefully selected and picked by hand. Visitors to the area can experience stunning walks and hikes through the surrounding hills, see the tallest palm trees in the world, and eat delicious and fresh food with local ingredients all produced in the region.

Day 9: Cocora Valley Hike & Coffee Farm Tour

Hike through the world's tallest palms in the Valle de Cocora

Wake up today with a hearty breakfast—and of course, a cup or two of excellent coffee. From here, a car will pick you up and drive you to a trail in the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley), outside the historic town of Salento. As you make your way to the path, you’ll catch sight of the distinctive Quindío wax palms, which can reach an impressive height of up to 230 feet (70 meters). This protected cloud forest of the Andes is peppered with the soaring palms, which also serve as Colombia's national tree.

The Valle de Cocora offers hiking opportunities second to none. The route here takes you along dirt tracks through tropical forests and streams and up to lookouts providing sweeping views. After the hike, head back to the colorful streets of Salento to explore. Despite Salento's rise in tourism over the past decade, it retains an old-world charm with colorful Paisa (Antioquian) architecture, street musicians, and an impressive range of handicrafts. 

In the afternoon, lose yourself amongst the magical scenery as you visit the source of one of Colombia’s best coffees. Visit a family-owned coffee finca (farm) for a private specialized tour of their facilities, discovering the many steps of the coffee growing process. After a walk around the farm, awaken the senses with a coffee-tasting experience as you learn to appreciate and enjoy the particular attributes of specialty coffee through a delicious sensorial exploration.

At the end of the day, your private local driver will take you back to your hotel where you can spend the rest of the evening at your leisure.

Day 10: Fly to Cartagena, Optional Cooking Class

Discover more of Cartagena today

Today you say goodbye to the Coffee Region, and return to Cartagena! After a transfer to the Pereira airport, catch a flight back to the Caribbean coast, where a driver awaits to transfer you to your hotel. Spend the afternoon exploring more of Cartagena, or simply relax at the hotel and watch the sunset over the Old Town

In the evening, you have the option of joining a memorable cooking class and dinner experience inspired by the diversity of flavors from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and its many cultures. You'll have the chance to interact with the chefs and learn about the aromas, recipes, ingredients, and local flavors that create delicious Colombian dishes, before sitting down to enjoy a three-course dinner prepared by you and the group.

Day 11: Cartagena Half-Day City Tour

Discover the history and culture of Cartagena on today's walking tour

After breakfast, you will meet your guide and begin a walking tour of Cartagena’s historic center. The reason the city is designed like a fortress is due to its status as the principal shipping port of gold from the New World back to Spain. The stone ramparts helped protect it from countless pirate attacks, including from the most famous of all: Sir Francis Drake. On top of this history, you will visit myriad plazas, the La Popa Monastery, the church of San Pedro Claver, the Basilica Minor cathedral, the San Felipe de Barajas fort. Along the way, stroll narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial houses featuring bougainvilia-draped balconies. Stop at Las Bovedas, where you can buy local arts and crafts by local artisans, then visit the up-and-coming neighborhood of Getsemani, where you'll learn about the history of Cartagena through street art and graffiti.  

After the tour, your guide can leave you at La Cevicheria inside the Old Town for lunch, to sample some of the area's famed and ultra-fresh seafood. You can also head to nearby La Mulata, for a superb daily menu based around delicious local flavors.

Day 12: Depart Cartagena

Goodbye, Colombia!

This morning you'll bid Colombia farewell as a private transfer takes you to the airport to catch your departing flight. Hasta pronto!

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Colombia? Check out these other Colombia itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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