The three diverse regions highlighted in these itineraries offer well-rounded combinations that cater to any kind of family, from first-timers to Colombia to those who are returning for more. This is an expansive country, but excellent (and inexpensive) domestic air service makes it easy to combine several regions in just seven days. Read on for three of the many ways to spend an unforgettable week in the land of “magical realism." For more information on traveling with children in Colombia, see this article.
#1 Bogotá, Coffee Country, and Cartagena (Ideal for Adults and Teens)
This itinerary includes three popular regions and offers a perfect mix of activities for adults and teenagers. Spend your week exploring the highlights of the capital city of Bogotá, roaming coffee country by horseback and "Willys" Jeep, and reveling in the historic sites of Cartagena. Add in a soak in warm mud at a real volcano, plus time to frolic and laze on the beach, and you have a perfect one-week trip.
Start your adventure in the historic La Candelaria quarter of Bogotá, where most sites of interest are located. Although hilly, the area is walkable and best explored on foot. Spend a morning visiting Plaza de Bolívar (where the seat of Colombia's government is located), the Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo (the site where Bogotá was founded in 1538), and the Museo Botero, which displays art and sculptures by world-renowned artist Fernando Botero. Then walk the short distance to the Museo de Oro to marvel at its displays of pre-Columbian gold. In mid-afternoon head 45 minutes north of the city to Zipiquirá and roam the underground Catedral de Sal (salt cathedral) before returning to your hotel. Don’t depart Bogotá without riding the cable car to the top of Cerro de Monserrate for sweeping sunset views of the city. For more things to do, check out this article on sights and activities in Bogotá.
On day three, fly to Armenia, in the heart of the Zona Cafetera (coffee country). The first stop is the Jardín Botánico Quindío—a botanical garden where a highlight is the walk-through butterfly enclosure. Then venture into the mountains by classic Jeep (called "Willys") to arrive at Finca San Alberto. Here you’ll tour a coffee estate and get a fun, educational insight into coffee production and tasting. For lodging, choose one of the many traditional hacienda hotels where you get a real sense of the ambiance of the coffee region.
Next day, travel to Salento, considered the region’s most beautiful colonial-era village. Explore the fascinating artists’ workshops and shops selling traditional ponchos, straw hats (sombreros vueltiaos), and art. Then venture into the exquisite Valle de Cocora, famous for its wax palms—the tallest palm in the world—for a lunch of locally caught trout before exploring the valley on horseback. If you're lucky you may see the endangered yellow-eared parrot.
On day five depart Armenia by air to Bogotá and your onward flight to Cartagena. After checking into your hotel in the historic quarter, visit the massive Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, one of the largest defensive forts ever built in the Spanish Americas. Then wander the cobbled streets and plazas in the cool of late afternoon before a romantic evening ride in a lantern-lit horse-carriage.
On day six, tear yourself away from colonial Cartagena and journey outside of town. Begin with Volcán El Lodo de Totumo, where you'll don swimwear and bathe in this active mud volcano. Finally, end your week-long itinerary by spending the afternoon enjoying the fine sands and turquoise waters at Playa Blanca at Barú, a short distance south of the city. Time permitting, you might also admire the many bird species displayed at the Acuario Nacional. Then return for a final night in Cartagena before your departure next day—be sure to check out this list of family-friendly lodging options.
#2 Santa Marta, Tayrona, El Dorado, and La Guajira (Ideal for Adults, Teens, and Kids)
This Caribbean-coast itinerary takes you off the tourist trail for some fun and enlightenment that adults and kids of almost any age can enjoy. It involves hiking in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains, visiting a scenic coastal reserve, and encountering two indigenous cultures. One group, the Wayúu people, are natives of La Guajira—a huge desert region at the extreme northern tip of South America. You can rent a 4-wheel-drive vehicle in Santa Marta, but we recommend arranging a guided tour. Some of the roads in this region are challenging and having someone who knows the terrain will pay dividends.
Begin by arriving in Bogotá. If this is your first time in Colombia, don't miss the Museo de Oro and Cerro de Monserrate—both are sure to thrill every family member regardless of age. Then fly to Santa Marta, a popular resort destination. Upon arrival, pay a visit to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino to pay your respects to Simón Bolívar—the great Liberator of South America—buried here within a marble sarcophagus. Then head out of town to Minca, a peaceful mountain village at a refreshingly cool 2,100 feet elevation. Located in coffee country in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, this is a good place to overnight and visit the Hacienda La Victoria coffee farm. Or head further up the mountain to overnight at a rustic lodge at the end of the road in Reserva Natural de las Aves El Dorado, one of Colombia’s foremost birding sites. Kids will love hiking the trails, including to a tower from where Andean condors are often sighted.
Back at the coast, spend two days and nights at Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a protected area of rainforest hugging 20 miles of rugged Caribbean shoreline. Overnight at the upscale EcoHabs Tayrona, by the park entrance. It has a pool, and trails extend along the shore; you’re sure to spot monkeys, iguanas, agoutis and scarlet macaws. You can also camp at designated sites near the beach.
On day five drive east along the coast to Riohacha, gateway to La Guajira—a desert region populated by the fiercely independent but friendly Wayúu peoples. Your destination is Sainn Wayúu, one of several rancherías (indigenous communities) within one hour of Riohacha and a great place for children to interact with Wayúu children and learn about their culture.
On your last day, rise early for the 100-mile, dusty journey through the cactus-studded desert to windswept Cabo de la Vela, the Guajira region’s ecotourism enclave. Kids can play on the beaches or try kite-surfing while parents shop for colorful Wayúu jewelry, hammocks, or woven bags called mochilas. Rise early on your final day for the drive back to Riohacha and your onward flight to Bogotá, then home.
#3 Cali, Popayán, and San Agustín (Ideal for Adults, Adolescents, and Teens)
Southern Colombia is a gem that receives relatively few foreign visitors. You’ll wonder why as you revel in all it has to offer on this week-long adventure. Begin by arriving in Bogotá (See Itinerary #2 for your best options for things to do). Then fly south to Cali, one of Colombia’s hippest cities and its undisputed capital of salsa (the music and dance form, not the sauce). Cali has a walkable colonial center; don’t miss the impressive Museo de Arte Colonial. The city also boasts the nation’s most impressive zoo—the world-class Zoológico de Calí—where spectacled bears, giant anteaters, and other rare endemic creatures can be admired almost within fingertip reach.
Love to dance? Cali’s sexy salsa vibe is irresistible, and people flock here to learn to dance like a pro—the city boasts more than 200 schools. We recommend Tango Vivo y Salsa Viva, which has classes for children. On day three drive south through the Valle de Cauca to the town of Piendamó. Turn left (east) for Silvia and Guambia, two mountain market towns populated by the Guambiano peoples, who all dress alike in trademark black and blue tunics and pork-pie hats. Time permitting, take a guided horseback excursion to outlying Guambiano hamlets. Returning to the main highway, continue south for 25 miles to Popayán—the "White City"—notable for its many whitewashed colonial churches and lovely historic hotels.
Next day the real adventure begins as you drive east via Carretera 20 across the Andes and through remote and rugged Parque Nacional Natural Puracé. Keep your eyes peeled for tapirs as you cross the marshy, mist-shrouded paramó (high plateau) grasslands before descending to the lovely hill town of San Agustín. Overnight at one of the lovely lodges. Adolescents and teens will enjoy roaming the hundreds of surreal pre-Columbian monuments—from fierce warrior figures to frogs and monkeys—at Parque Arqueológico Nacional de San Agustín. Visiting the various sites will take up all of day five; a horseback ride is an efficient way to get between them.
On your last day, drive north through the valley of the Río Magdalena to Parque Arqueológico Nacional Tierradentro and explore the eerie underground funerary tombs carved into the bedrock. End your day in the city of Neiva, from where you can fly to Bogotá on the morning of day seven for your departure flight. Or, stick around Bogotá and enjoy some of these fun activities.