This sweeping Colombian itinerary covers major highlights from the country's Caribbean coast all the way to the Ecuadorian border. Start off with two relaxing days where you can unwind in a protected national park with white-sand beaches and tropical rainforests. Continue making your way through three of South America's most scenic and important cities — Cartagena, Medellín, and Bogotá — eventually heading south towards lesser-known destinations known for gorgeous Baroque architecture, salsa dancing, and a Gothic church built into a gorge.

Highlights

    • Spend a glorious free day on the Caribbean Sea, perhaps snorkeling and sailing
    • Dine on mojitos and fresh ceviche in Cartagena's hip restaurants and rooftop bars
    • Tour a coffee farm outside of Medellín and learn about this important local trade
    • Bike around Popayán and see the city's gorgeous white architecture
    • Watch (or partake!) in dancing in Cali — the salsa capital of the world

Overview

This two-week adventure is a trip of a lifetime for Colombia enthusiasts. With short flights and private car transfers (not to mention several English-speaking guides in many of the destinations), you'll get a once-in-a-lifetime local perspective to South America's northern tip, which is enjoying a new spot on the global stage. The 1993 death of drug lord Pablo Escobar began this revival, ending what was the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere. The country has been on the rise ever since, so this is a great time to visit. 

The trip starts on the northern Caribbean Coast with time to explore Tayrona's beautiful national park, sandwiched between the turquoise sea and rugged rainforested mountains. From here, you'll spend a few days exploring the romantic UNESCO-listed inner-walled city of Cartagena, and then take a flight to the mountainous city Medellín, with a gondola, spring-like temperatures, and thriving arts and culture scene. Then, you'll visit a coffee farm before heading to the vibrant capital of Bogotá with two days to get to know this buzzing capital with new boutique hotels and. Continue the journey with a flight to Cali, the salsa capital of the world. Keep driving south spending two nights in the “white city’ of Popayán, and finish the trip near Ecuador's border, visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia's iconic basilica church built over a bridge on a canyon.

Colombia is an ideal year-round destination with warm, tropical weather. If you want to skip the high season and crowds (December and January), then February to April is a great choice with dry weather and lower prices. Keep in mind that October and November tend to be the wettest months of the year.   

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santa Marta Bergen
Day 2 Santa Marta - Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 3 Free Day Near Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona Tayrona Park
Day 4 Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 5 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 6 Flight to Medellín Medellín
Day 7 Coffee Finca Day-Trip Medellín
Day 8 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 9 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 10 Arrive in Cali Cali
Day 11 Arrive in Popayán Popayán
Day 12 Explore Popayán Popayán
Day 13 Arrive in Pasto Pasto
Day 14 Depart Colombia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Marta (optional city tour)

Spend an afternoon exploring the oldest city in South America.

Welcome to Santa Marta! 

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 a the gateway for ecological trips to the stunning Tayrona National Natural Park on the palm-fringed Caribbean coast.

If you have time, consider a private tour with a local guide. 

City Tour (3 Hours): A local guide will pick you up at your hotel and share his/her knowledge about this beautiful city. Your tour includes a visit to the botanical garden and Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino (where the liberator Simón Bolívar died in 1830). You'll explore the city's historical center, which has a notable cathedral and gold museum, and then head to the Caribbean waterfront for panoramic views of Taganga, a traditional fishing village. (Optional add-on.)

Day 3: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Hike through the rainforest to get to beautiful beaches.

After breakfast at your hotel near Tayrona, you'll be transferred to the park where you'll experience some of South America's loveliest coastline with a local guide while visiting the stunning beaches and rainforests of Tayrona — one of three national parks on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Tayrona Park Walking Tour

This tour includes 4-5 hours of walking and some additional time to relax on the beaches.

You'll first hike in the tropical foothills near Cañaveral, the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 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 on your own and relax on the shore.

You'll have rest of the evening to relax and enjoy your hotel just outside the entrance of the park, located on a peaceful spot overlooking the Caribbean Sea at the foot of the mountains. Wander down to the nearby beach, which has a beautiful sunset view.

Tour Duration: Full Day (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 3: Free Day Near Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Take a snorkel trip to one of Colombia's best coral reefs on this free day.

After breakfast, enjoy a free day to experience the natural surroundings around Tayrona Park, since entry inside the park is only allowed for one day. This is your chance to explore the region's stunning topography on your own, which boasts the world's highest coastal mountain range. 

(Optional add-on.) You can also take your pick between a range of organized activities such as snorkeling, sailing, river tubing, hiking, or wildlife spotting. You can also take a day-trip to Minca, a beautiful Colombian village in the mountains, and visit a coffee farm. 

Day 4: Arrive in Cartagena

Cartagena is especially romantic after the sun goes down.

Welcome to Cartagena! This picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean Sea is rich in culture, architecture, romance — and, yes, even pirate history. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel.

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 neighborhood walk, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide (optional add-on). 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.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo stopping at key sites like Plaza de los Coches, Plaza de la Aduana, Parque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls, built (starting in 1586) with the purpose of protecting Cartagena from any attacks. You'll get some amazing panoramic views of the city (and the sunset!) from here. 
  • Pay respects at Santo Domingo, reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Explore 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.

Finish the day checking out the great dining scene — perhaps La Vitrola, the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home. 

Day 5: Explore Cartagena

Narrow streets in Cartagena's Old town.

After breakfast, take your pick between numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour (optional add-on), 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 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 6: Flight to Medellín 

Medellín's mountainous surroundings enjoy spring-like weather year-round. 

After breakfast, depart for Medellín! Upon landing, you will be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time, you can enjoy the afternoon/evening on your own, or explore the neighborhoods with an English-speaking guide who will cover some of the following sites:

Panoramic City Tour (4 Hours): Hop in a car and get an insider's perspective of Medellín from your private transfer. You'll make several key stops including the Pueblito Paisa, San Antonio Park, La Plazuela de San Ignacio, La Playa Avenue, Metropolitan Church, and the iconic bronze sculptures at Botero Square. You will visit the Music House, Antioquia University, and the city's expansive botanical garden with more than 4,500 blooms. The last leg of the tour includes a stop at the Convention Center in Plaza Mayor, the Metropolitan Theater, and Los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park). On your way back to the hotel, check out Poblado Parque, a popular city park surrounded by bars and restaurants. (Optional add-on.)

Day 7: Coffee Finca Day-Trip

Learn about the coffee-growing process from a pro. 

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll be picked up and taken to a scenic coffee finca (farm) located in the mountains outside of Medellín with a local guide. 

The tour includes a walk with a coffee farmer who will explain the bean growing process and the steps it takes for the coffee bean to reach the cup. Also learn about the daily life of a Colombian coffee farmer and how this important trade is linked to every Colombian family, making it a source of pride for locals.

Return to Medellín in the afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day on your own.

Day-Trip Duration: 4 Hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 8: Arrive in Bogotá

Bogotá's sprawling capital is both historic and cosmopolitan.

Welcome to Bogotá! A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the hotel.

Colombia's biggest city is on the rise in terms of gastronomy and culture, so spend your free time discovering this vibrant Andean capital by foot. Explore the cobblestone streets through the La Candelaria neighborhood, where trendy restaurants and colonial-era landmarks are located, as well as excellent museums, shopping, and street food options ranging from empanadas to exotic fruit salads. 

Depending on what time you arrive, you can experience Bogotá's local history and culture by taking a tour with an English-speaking guide. (Optional add-on).

Day 9: Bogotá City Tour

Cultural landmarks in La Candelaria. 

After breakfast, it's time to hit the streets and explore Bogotá! You'll be picked up at your hotel by a local guide who will share his/her city knowledge on this half-day tour. 

Half-Day Walking Tour: Take a thorough walking tour through colorful La Candelaria — the heart of Bogota's historic center with narrow streets, cultural landmarks, and shops selling local goods. 

To spend a full day with your guide, take the aforementioned walk through La Candelaria and then explore two of Bogotá's best museums in the afternoon: the Gold Museum (closed on Mondays) for the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world, and the Botero Museum (closed on Tuesdays) for a collection of masterpieces from this renowned Colombian painter and sculptor. (Optional add-on.)

If you are an early riser, start the morning sunrise tour of Bogotá's best and biggest food market — Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao — which provides ingredients for the vast majority of the city’s best restaurants. Wander through the stalls and continue strolling through neighborhood streets stopping to photograph walled graffiti art. (Optional add-on.) 

Half-Day Tour Duration: 4 Hours (with an English-speaking guide)

Day 10: Arrive in Cali

Expect to see and hear a lot of salsa musicians on the streets.

Welcome to Cali! A driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to the hotel.

Lesser-known in terms of tourism, Colombia's third largest city has its share of historical, cultural and recreational sites to keep the visitor busy, particularly in three walkable neighborhoods: the Centro, San Antonio, and Granada. While Cali's galleries and museums could occupy your time for a day or two, the most memorable experiences will be watching quotidian life pass by in vibrant neighborhoods and leafy parks — especially after sunset when it cools down and Cali springs to life with music and dancing. While in town, here are some highlights to check out:

  • Hike to the top of Las Tres Cruces Hill
  • Take a walking tour of the center of town (el centro)
  • Explore Cali's salsa clubs and modern art scene
  • Sit in a café and enjoy people-watching in the Parque San Antonio
  • Shop and check out street performers at La Loma de la Cruz
  • Sample Cali's street food scene

Day 11: Arrive in Popayán

Baroque style architecture in the 'White City'. 

Today, you will continue onwards to the university hub of Popayán, a historic and charming colonial city famous for its chalk-white facades (nicknamed the white city!) This is a full-day drive through mountain scenery where you can stop at a couple of small villages along the way to have lunch and take a dip in the area's thermal hot springs.

Popayán sits beneath towering mountains in the Valle de Pubenza, and for hundreds of years was the capital of southern Colombia before Cali took it over.

Day 12: Explore Popayán

The Popayán Cathedral.

This is one of Colombia's most picturesque, multicultural, and well-preserved colonial cities. Surrounded by undulating countryside, Popayán offers beautiful Baroque-style architecture with impressive churches and museums like the Popayán Cathedral, the Museum of Natural History, and Colonial Religious Art Museum. 

The historic center is compact and explore by foot or bicycle. Make sure to check out Cauca University (the nation's most prestigious university), Caldas Park, and numerous coffee shops and great restaurants -- after all, Popayán is a city that has been recognized by UNESCO for its gastronomy.

Day 13: Arrive in Pasto

This jaw-dropping basilica is a major attraction near the Colombian border. 

Just two hours from Ecuador, Pasto is a common jumping off point before crossing Colombia's border. 
The region is mountainous and surrounded by several indigenous towns making it a great base for nature lovers who are exploring the spectacular countryside, as well as Lagoa da Cocha, Laguna Verde and the restless volcano of Galeras. Another site not to miss is the nearby Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia's iconic basilica church built over a bridge on a canyon.

The city of Pasto itself has several fine colonial buildings as well as a bustling downtown area, making it a convenient overnight stop.

Day 14: Fly to Bogotá - Depart Colombia

If there's time, take a last minute stroll through Bogotá's colorful streets.

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! You'll fly to Bogotá and then connect to your return flight home. If there's time before the airport, enjoy your last moments in Colombia with a leisurely breakfast, a stroll, and/or souvenir shopping.  

Map

Map of Journey Across Colombia: North to South - 14 Days
Map of Journey Across Colombia: North to South - 14 Days