This outdoorsy, action-packed itinerary hits the crown jewels near two of Colombia's most exciting cities. Start off in up-and-coming Medellín before driving to the "coffee triangle" where you'll stay in a traditional ranch in the Andes. From here, embark on a three-day hike through some of the last surviving snowcapped peaks in the tropics before rafting in two of Colombia's major rivers. Next, you'll head north to the Caribbean coast for white sand beaches, sailing, and a chance to scuba dive in one of the few coral reefs in Colombia. Finish off the two-week adventure with time to explore the romantic cobbled alleys of Cartagena's Old Town.

Highlights

  • Explore Medellín's dangerous past and innovative future and ride the cable car for a beautiful view of the city
  • Visit Rió Blanco Nature reserve just outside of Manizales to view plants and animals unique to the Andes
  • Hike the Los Nevados national park over 4 days, through a forest of local palms and 3 snowy peaks
  • Whitewater raft down the Río Samana in an exotic jungle setting

Overview Map

Brief Itinerary 

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 2 Manizales & Río Blanco Nature Reserve Manizales
Day 3 Los Nevados Trek - Day 1 On the Trek
Day 4 Los Nevados Trek - Day 2 On the Trek
Day 5 Los Nevados Trek - Day 3 On the Trek
Day 6 Río Claro Nature Reserve Río Claro Reserve
Day 7 Río Samana Rafting Río Claro Reserve
Day 8 Arrive in Santa Marta Santa Marta
Day 9 Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona
Day 10 Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona
Day 11 Sailing Day-Trip Tayrona
Day 12 Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour) Cartagena
Day 13 Rosario Islands Day-Trip Cartagena
Day 14 Depart Cartagena Cartagena

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medellín

Medellín city gondola (metrocable)

Welcome to Medellín! You will be picked up at the Medellín airport and then transferred to a hotel nearby. Depending on the time of your flight, you can explore on your own, or join a local tour to learn more about this thriving, modern city. 

Despite its dangerous past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. Most of the city's tourism is centered around Parque Lleras in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where the best dining, nightlife, and hotel options are within easy reach. You can take a ride on the city's gondola (metrocable) to see the views, or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums. Either way, enjoy the weather -- due to a high elevation near the equator, the city has year-round spring temperatures.

Day 2: Manizales & Río Blanco Nature Reserve

Old coffee finca in Manizales

This morning you will drive to Manizales -- the most adventurous of the three cities that make up Colombia’s “coffee triangle”. Have lunch by the neo-gothic Catedral de Manizales, and then visit the massive Monumento a los Colonizadores bronze sculpture for spectacular views of the region’s surrounding mountains.

From here, take an afternoon excursion to the Río Blanco Nature Reserve, located a quick two miles from the city. In terms of biodiversity, Colombia is second only to Brazil in the world, with nearly 2000 bird species. Hit the trails of this 30,000-acre reserve and look for unique plants and animals of the central Andes cloud forests. After your visit, begin the one-hour drive (via switchback roads!) that leads you to a traditional Colombian ranch in the mountains. Enjoy a home-cooked dinner and a night of peaceful sleep while you acclimate to the high-altitude.

Day 3: Los Nevados Trek - Day 1

The volcano of Nevado del Quindio in Los Nevados Andes 

To start this epic trek, you'll drive in a durable 4x4 vehicle to get to the entrance of Los Nevados National Park. Begin your guided three-hour hike through a sub-tropical tundra to the panoramic view of Lake Otun. On the way, explore the Pàramo ecosystem, a fascinating spectrum of endemic species.

Establish base camp at a breathtaking alpine lake, where you will enjoy quality food, and meet the local, knowledgeable park ranger. Stay overnight at a designated camp and wake early to hike to the summit of El Nevado del Santa Isabel.

Day 4: Los Nevados Trek - Day 2

View of the peaks in Los Nevados national park

After a hearty breakfast, this early alpine morning allows you to hike six hours with your guide to the snowy summit of El Nevado del Santa Isabel. Look out for high-altitude flyers such as the bearded helmet-crest hummingbirds and Colombia’s National Bird: the Andean condor. As the largest flying bird in the world, the Andean condor can fly up to three hundred kilometers in a single day.

The hike evolves from a soft walk to a rockier, steeper path to the summit. Once you have reached this part of the trail, a stupendous 360° panoramic view reveals the entire Magdalena valley and its coffee farms on a clear day. Here, witness one of the last remaining glaciers in Colombia. Stay overnight in tents by a lagoon.

Day 5: Los Nevados Trek - Day 3

Snowy peaks of Los Nevados national park

The next morning, complete a new trekking route along Lake Otun and return to the park entrance. Share lunch and tea with the “guardians" of the park, a knowledgeable and warm Colombian family who live in the park full-time. Return to Medellín or Manizales.

Day 6: Río Claro Nature Reserve

Río Claro Nature Reserve

Today, you'll spend the day at this beautiful nature reserve to enjoy a range of activities like caving, zip-lining, rafting, tubing, or just hike and swim along the banks of the river while looking for exotic birds.

There's also the option of driving an hour to the town of Prodigio, where you will be greeted by a community-run archeological preservation group that will guide you to a cave covered in petroglyphs from pre-hispanic cultures. In the afternoon, you will return to Río Claro Nature Reserve and stay overnight.

Day 7: Río Samana Rafting

Cooking fire at rafting camp

This rafting overnighter is a real gem for adventurists. Río Samana is a short 20-minute drive from Río Claro and offers a captivating river expedition packed with natural wonders along 40 kilometers of exhilarating whitewater. No prior rafting experience is necessary since you will be guided by friendly experts.

The day starts with breakfast before you head out on the Samana River. Travel through a beautiful silver-rock canyon and admire the tropical plants and birds. Midday, you'll stop at a secluded beach for lunch. Continue down the river until late afternoon when you reach camp, which is walking distance to a secluded lagoon and natural swimming pool. After dinner, sleep in hammocks set up in the rainforest.

Day 8: Arrive in Santa Marta

White cathedral of Santa Marta Colombia

Welcome to Santa Marta! Depending on your arrival time, you may have time to explore this Caribbean city before dinner.

This busy port has a long history as the first Spanish settlement in Colombia and South America’s oldest surviving city. Though it’s often used as a stopping point for numerous day-trips in the area, the historical downtown has been restored, so take a stroll to see the multi-colored buildings and its magnificent cathedral, as well as a slew of hotels, restaurants, and bars.

Nearby, Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada Mountains are home to Colombia’s tallest peak. It’s also the gateway for ecological trips to the stunning Tayrona National Natural Park on the palm-fringed Caribbean coast.

Day 9: Travel to Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Iguana 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 10: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

View of the 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 11: Sailing Day-Trip

Snorkeling

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 12: Arrive in Cartagena (optional city tour)

Blue hour in Cartagena

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 13: 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 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.