This 15-day itinerary explores the diverse Caribbean coast of Colombia, from the sand dunes of La Guajira desert to the mountain village of Minca. Start in Cartagena, with its charming streets and markets, before a tubing excursion on a jungle river in Palomino. Next, you'll hike through Tayrona National Park. Your adventure finishes back in Cartagena and ends with a relaxing day trip to the beaches of the Rosario Islands.

Highlights

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets and walk the ancient ramparts of Cartagena
  • Meet local indigenous groups on the rugged La Guajira desert
  • Go for an adventure tubing down the Río Don Diego in Palomino
  • Explore the breathtaking mountains and beaches of Tayrona National Park 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cartagena Cartagena
Day 2 Cartagena - Landmarks and Market Tours Cartagena
Day 3 Travel to Riohacha Riohacha
Day 4 Travel to Cabo de la Vela La Guajira Desert
Day 5 Punta Gallinas and Taroa Dunes Tour La Guajira Desert
Day 6 Tour Cabo de la Vela & Travel to Palomino Palomino
Day 7 Palomino - River Tubing Palomino
Day 8 Travel to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 9 Tayrona National Park - Guided Tour Tayrona Park
Day 10 Minca - Coffee farm & Village Tours Minca
Day 11 Minca - Free Day Minca
Day 12 Travel to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 13 La Boquilla - Fishing Day Trip Cartagena
Day 14 Rosario Islands - Day Trip Cartagena
Day 15 Depart From Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cartagena

Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, a bohemian neighborhood in Cartagena

Welcome 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. 

After settling into your hotel, you will have a few options for activities. Get to know the town on a guided tour with an English-speaking guide, or you can explore on your own. Some ideas include:

  • Wandering the narrow streets of the historic Old Town, where you can snap photos of the lively plazas and colorful houses with bougainvillea-draped balconies. You can also stroll the original fortress walls (dating back to the 1580s), constructed to protect Cartagena from sea attacks. These ramparts also afford panoramic views of the city and make great sunset-viewing spots.
  • Stopping at key sites like Plaza de los CochesPlaza de la AduanaParque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa, which all hold historical significance.
  • Visiting Santo Domingo, which, having been erected in 1552, is reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Exploring Getsemaní, the bohemian neighborhood. It is a cultural enclave filled with Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

After you clock some decent, first-day exploration, head back to your hotel for a good night of rest. 

Day 2: Cartagena - Landmarks and market tours

Fresh Fish in Cartagena
Fresh fish available at Mercado Bazurto

Take your time with breakfast this morning, and then prepare to dive into the city for a day-long tour with your English-speaking guide.

First, you will head outside the colonial Old Town to the Mercado Bazurto, an expansive market bustling with vendors selling everything from fresh fish to electronics! This is the "people's market," a local institution off the tourist trail. Stroll the narrow aisles and savor the sights, sounds, and smells. Bazurto is the gastronomic pulse of the city, and you will find all the exotic fruits and vegetables that give the local cuisine its identity. Enjoy a traditional lunch here while your guide introduces you to some of the chefs and purveyors who frequent this well-known destination.

Your day continues beyond the historic center, off to two landmarks emblematic of the city's colonial past: La Popa Monastery and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Both the monastery and the imposing castle were strategic sites used to defend Cartagena against pirates and invaders. San Felipe was built in 1536 to protect the bay and was once the mightiest fortress in the New World. La Popa sits on a hill in Cartagena and offers panoramic views all the way out to the Boca Grande neighborhood and its glittering skyscrapers. 

After this cultural immersion, you will return to your hotel to unwind.  

Day 3: Travel to Riohacha

Sunset on the Caribbean
Sunset on the Caribbean

Good Morning! Today, you will check out of your hotel in Cartagena and head all the way up the coast to the town of Riohacha, which is about 6.5 hours away. Settle in and enjoy the views of Colombia's Caribbean coast. This small coastal city is on the desert's edge and the northernmost city before embarking into the rugged La Guajira, and where you'll begin your desert adventure.

Since it has been a long day of travel, take some time to relax by the water and enjoy a nice dinner. There is an abundance of fresh seafood to indulge in! Some restaurant options include Restaurant La Casa Marisco, Lima, and Al Arz Delicias Arabes.

Day 4: Travel to Cabo de la Vela

Cabo de la Vela
Cabo de la Vela

In the morning, you will travel east of the coastal city of Ríohacha to the gateway of the arid desert landscapes of La Guajira Peninsula. From Ríohacha, you will depart to the remote fishing village of Cabo de la Vela, located in the northern panhandle of Colombia. On this adventurous 4x4 journey, you will pass through the major Guajiran city of Uribia before continuing via desert paths to the town of Manaure, where you will have free time to explore the famous salt mines!

Upon arrival at Cabo de la Vela, there will be free time to enjoy swimming at the village's scenic beach. Recently, this little town became a hotbed of ecotourism, and it boasts a wealth of rustic, indigenous-style accommodations with generator electricity and very few phone lines, where visitors can embrace the escape from the real world.

The most authentic sleeping option is to rough it–hang a hammock (which will be provided to you) a few meters from the waves. It's a great place to unplug and unwind. Let the sounds of the sea lull you to sleep in nature.

Day 5: Travel to Punta Gallinas and Taroa dunes tour

Sunrise at Punta Gallinas
Sunrise at Punta Gallinas

Today, you will delve even deeper into La Guajira, as you arrive at Punta Gallinas, which is located on the northernmost edge of South America. Here, the sun-scorched earth and steep dunes taper off into the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean.

Indulge in a local lunch served on a typical farm and then visit the sloping dunes of Taroa. The angle of the sandy mountain here is steep, and its summit affords a view of the Caribbean Sea.

You can spend the remainder of the day wandering the shore, swimming, and then watching the sunset from the Punta Gallinas Lighthouse. Tonight, you will, again, spend the night in your cozy, outdoor hammock arrangement by the water.

Day 6: Tour Cabo de la Vela and travel to Palomino

 Indigenous culture on La Guajira Peninsula
Indigenous culture on La Guajira Peninsula

Today, you will have a chance to spend more time in Cabo de la Vela. The entire region is inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu people who have lived here for hundreds of years. The land is even considered sacred. The two most popular activities here include kitesurfing and relaxing on the beach, but there is more fun to be had! You can also:

  • Climb Pilon de Azucar, which is a hill overlooking the sea.
  • Visit Playa del Pilon, which is a beautiful nearby beach.
  • Shop for Wayuu artisan goods, like the iconic mochilas (woven bags).
  • View the sunset from El Faro lighthouse.

In the afternoon, you will return to Riohacha. Then, you will make the trip to your hotel in Palomino.

Day 7: Palomino - River tubing

Take a relaxing float down the river
Take a relaxing float down the river in Palomino

The outdoor adventures continue today! Throw on your bathing suit and take a relaxing, two-hour innertube ride along the lazy Río Don Diego, which runs down from the Sierra Nevadas all the way to the ocean. This fun route unfolds at a manageable pace, with the hilly, green rainforest lining both sides of the river. From the riverbanks, you will hear monkeys howling. Keep an eye out for a variety of birds and butterflies, as well as the snowy views of the iconic Sierra Nevada 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, dip your toes in the sea, and, of course, enjoy the views. 

Day 8: Travel to Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park's stunning beach setting

After breakfast, enjoy your morning at your beachfront hotel. Palomino is a gem along the Caribbean coast, with its beautiful sandy beaches and quiet oasis vibe. 

Then, you will be picked up from your hotel and driven 1.5 hours down the coast, where you will settle into your new accommodations and get ready for your hike into the Tayrona National Park tomorrow.

Once you arrive, you have the rest of the day free to experience the setting outside Tayrona National Park. This is your chance to explore the region’s gorgeous surroundings on your own, which includes the world's highest coastal mountain range.

Day 9: Tayrona National Park - Guided tour

Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona
Arrecifes Beach in Tayrona National Park

After you have breakfast, you will begin a half-day tour of Tayrona National Park. This protected area is known for having some of the most iconic, untouched coastal landscapes in the entire country. Indeed, when you see promotional images of Caribbean Colombia, often you're seeing images of Cabo San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You will experience a large part of this coastline with a local, English-speaking guide while touring the white-sand beaches and rainforests further inside Tayrona.

First, you will take a hike in the tropical foothills near Playa Cañaveral, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Then, you will 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 afternoon, you can have some lunch and relax on the shore on your own. After some free time, you will return to your hotel in the late afternoon. Take in another sunset before dinner, which is served onsite again this evening.

Day 10: Travel to Minca - Coffee farm and village tours

Coastal mountain range of the Sierra Nevada
Minca at sunset

Good Morning! Following breakfast, a driver will meet you to take you to Minca, a mountain village located on the coastal hillside 2 hours away. Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada mountains, remote Minca is seemingly a world away from the bustling city of Santa Marta, which is just down the Caribbean coast. It's also at a higher altitude, so remember to hydrate and bring an extra layer or two, as the temperatures here are cooler than they are at sea level.

Your Minca adventure includes a half-day guided tour (with an English-speaking guide) by 4x4, and you will start at one of the working coffee farms in the region. After learning about the coffee production process (and enjoying complimentary tastings, of course), you will visit the natural swimming hole of Pozo Azul for a refreshing dip (don’t forget to pack your swimsuit).

Enjoy some free time and have lunch on your own before you embark on an afternoon walking tour of Minca's town center. Alternatively, visit the hummingbird balcony at Hotel Minca, where you can relax and observe the hundreds of hummingbirds that feed there.

If you prefer, you can also choose a full-day excursion that includes a trip to the stunning waterfall of Marinka, as well as a driving tour of the area with beautiful views of Santa Marta.

Day 11: Minca - Free day

Marinka Waterfall, Minca
Marinka Waterfall, Minca

Today is yours to enjoy! If you want to relax in a hammock and let the sounds of nature lull you into an extended nap, that is certainly an option.

You can also grab a set of binoculars and do a bit of birding, which is a favorite, local pastime in Minca. Colombia is home to 2,000 species of birds, and many exotic species are endemic to this mountain region. In and around Minca, you can spot a myriad of birds; if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive royal flycatcher. You won't miss them–they sport a colorful headdress that makes them look ready for Mardi Gras!

Additionally, you can opt for a 3-hour hike from town up to the lookout point of Los Pinos. Here, you will be treated to panoramic views of the mountains–all the way out to Santa Marta and the ocean. For a more relaxing adventure, you can also visit the beautiful Cascada de Marinka waterfalls.

Day 12: Travel to Cartagena

Cartagena's picturesque streets
Cartagena's picturesque streets

Once you have had breakfast, it will be time to say goodbye to this charming mountain village. You will then head back down the coast on a 5-hour drive to the colorful city of Cartagena.

Your driver will drop you off at your hotel and you will have the rest of the evening to explore the Pearl of the Caribbean. Treat yourself to a dinner filled with local flavors. Some of the best restaurants include:

  • Carmen, which hosts a tree-filled patio area, with beautiful lights, that resembles a jungle.
  • Alma, which is housed in a colonial-era mansion, and offers candlelit dining by the pool.
  • La Cevicheria, which was made famous by Anthony Bourdain, and offers exceptional, no-frills ceviche.
  • Di Silvio Trattoria, a hidden Italian gem with pizza and pasta located inside of an old soap factory.
  • Maria Bonita Taqueria Cantina, which is the best spot in town if you are in the mood for some tacos.

Day 13: La Boquilla - Fishing day trip

La Boquilla
Take a day trip to the quaint fishing village of La Boquilla

After breakfast at your hotel, a driver will take you to explore the mangroves and rivers outside of Cartagena. Here, you will experience a small sampling of Colombia's diversity, alongside your English-speaking guide. The inhabitants of this region are predominantly Afro-Colombians who sustain themselves on the abundant fish that populate the delicate freshwater and saltwater ecosystem. A local fisherman will take you–by boat–to catch some of the local fresh fish. You can also assist in checking cages and nets to see what delights will grace the day’s menu.  

After reaching the local community of La Boquilla, you will chat with the locals as they teach you how to prepare the fish you've just caught. Enjoy the catches of the day as a lunchtime feast before heading back to Cartagena.

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to explore the city however you wish. You can relax and then enjoy dinner at one of the recommended restaurants–if you are hungry. Or, you can make your way to the nightlife scene, and discover Cartagena after hours. Bookmark spots like Café Havana and Bazurto Social Club.

Day 14: Rosario Islands - Day trip

Rosario Islands
Enjoy a beach day in the Rosario Islands

After an early breakfast, you will take a ride from your hotel to the pier, where you will board a speedboat for a 1-hour ride to the Barú Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, which are ancient forts that once protected Cartagena from hostile invaders.

Once you arrive in the Rosario Islands, change into your swimwear and head to Playa Azul, a crescent beach with soft white sands hugging the turquoise Caribbean Sea. After enjoying a buffet lunch, you will have time to relax and sunbathe. You can also rent a kayak and embark on a paddling excursion for 2-3 hours before returning to Cartagena in the late afternoon. A car will pick you up at the pier to take you back to your hotel.

Plan for one last Colombian outing tonight as you prepare for the end of your trip. Toast to your final evening at a local cocktail bar. Some of the best picks are Alquímico, Café del Mar, and Demente.

Day 15: Depart Cartagena

Cartagena
Adios, Colombia!

Today, it is time to say goodbye to Colombia. After breakfast, take some time to explore the colorful town. Depending on your schedule, and what you have explored already, you can walk Cartagena's cobblestoned maze of vibrant houses and ancient squares dating back to the 16th century. Stroll through the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo while learning about important historical sites like Saint Philip's Castle. 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. 

Keep an eye on the time, and make sure to be back at your hotel surrounding your travel plans. A driver will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home. Adios, Colombia!

Map

Map of Colombia's Caribbean Coast: Tayrona, Cartagena, Rosario Islands - 15 Days
Map of Colombia's Caribbean Coast: Tayrona, Cartagena, Rosario Islands - 15 Days