This diverse, action-packed itinerary covers a lot of Colombian ground in about two weeks. The trip starts on the northern Caribbean Coast with time to explore Tayrona's beautiful national park, sandwiched between the turquoise sea and rugged mountains. From here, you'll spend a few days in the stunning inner-walled city of Cartagena, and then take a flight to up-and-coming Medellín, with a thriving arts and culture scene. Then, you'll visit a coffee farm before heading to the vibrant capital of Bogotá. Continue the journey with a visit to the famous salt mines and then, end the trip in Cali, the salsa capital of the world.

Highlights

  • Hike to remote beaches in Tayrona National Park
  • Enjoy mojitos and fresh ceviche in Cartagena's hip restaurants and rooftop bars
  • Explore Medellín, Colombia's "re-invented city"
  • Watch (or partake!) in dancing in Cali — the salsa capital of the world

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 2 Tayrona National Park Tour Tayrona Park
Day 3 Tayrona National Park - Pueblito Ruins Tayrona Park
Day 4 Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 5 Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market Cartagena
Day 6 Rosario Islands Day Trip Cartagena
Day 7 Flight to Medellín (Optional City Tour) Medellín
Day 8 Guatapé Day-Trip Medellín
Day 9 Flight to Bogotá Bogotá
Day 10 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 11 Take a Food Tour of the Mercado de Paloquemao Bogotá
Day 12 Flight to Cali Cali
Day 13 Salsa Dancing in Cali Cali
Day 14 Cali Free Day Cali
Day 15 Depart Cali  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Santa Marta is the gateway city for Tayrona National Park
Santa Marta is the gateway city for Tayrona National Park

Welcome to Santa Marta, site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia! After arriving at the airport, you'll transfer to Tayrona National Park (an hour outside of the city) and check into your hotel. Here the Sierra Nevada Mountains roll right on down to the shore before disappearing into the Caribbean Sea. It's this singular landscape that makes Tayrona home to some of South America's loveliest coastline.

You'll have the rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy your hotel, which is located on a peaceful spot at the foot of the mountains and overlooks the Caribbean. Wander down to the nearby beach, which makes for great sunset viewing, before heading back to the property where dinner will be served on-site.

Day 2: Tayrona National Park Tour

Beach in Tayrona
Beach in Tayrona

After breakfast at your hotel in Santa Marta, you'll transfer to Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). This 58-square-mile protected area is home to some of South America's loveliest coastline. Its jungles are also the home of the Kogi indigenous tribe, who are direct descendants of the ancient Tairona people of whom the park is named. 

You'll enter the park and hike in the foothills near Play 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, a windswept cove anchored by huge volcanic rocks. During the trek, your guide will point out several species of flora and fauna. You'll have the afternoon free to enjoy lunch on your own and relax on the shore.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy dinner. 

Day 3: Tayrona National Park - Pueblito Ruins

The ruins at Pueblito, in Parque Tayrona
The ruins at Pueblito, in Parque Tayrona

Leave your accommodation bright and early for a full day in the jungles and beaches of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Natural Park). The park consists of a 150-square-kilometer (58-square-mile) protected area covering the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills where they meet the Caribbean coast. Today, your destination is the archaeological ruins of Pueblito Chairama.

Get ready for a challenging hike to this archaeological site, which is reached by forest trails. These Pre-Columbian ruins were home to the ancient Tairona people who once inhabited the area. Continue on to the beach of Cabo San Juan for a well-deserved dip in the sea before enjoying lunch. Afterward, walk back to meet your driver at the park entrance and return to your hotel where dinner will be served.

Day 4: Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena

Plaza San Pedro de Claver, Cartagena
Plaza San Pedro de Claver, Cartagena

After breakfast, a driver will meet you at your hotel in Tayrona Park and transfer you to Cartagena. This ancient fortress city on the Caribbean is rich in culture, colonial architecture, romance, and even pirate history. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. 

Depending on the time of your arrival, you'll have a few options for activities. You can relax and enjoy the hotel amenities or get right into the mix with a neighborhood walk, either by yourself or with an English-speaking guide (optional add-on). Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • Wander the narrow streets of the historic Old Town, snapping photos of the lively plazas and colorful houses with bougainvillea-draped balconies.
  • Check out the colonial neighborhoods of San Diego and Santo Domingo, stopping at key sites like Plaza de los CochesPlaza de la AduanaParque Bolívar, and Plaza de Santa Teresa.  
  • Walk along the Old Town's original fortress walls (dating back to 1586), constructed to protect Cartagena from sea attacks. These ramparts also afford panoramic views of the city and make great sunset-viewing spots.
  • Visit Santo Domingo, which, having been erected in 1552, is reputedly the oldest church in the city. 
  • Explore Getsemaní, the bohemian neighborhood just outside the walls of Cartagena's Old Town. Once a seedy area, Getsemaní is now a cultural enclave filled with Spanish colonial architecture, graffiti art, boutique hotels, and street food vendors.

Finish the day with mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s hip restaurants or rooftop bars.

Day 5: Cartagena Landmarks - Bazurto Market

Fresh produce in Cartagena
Fresh produce in Cartagena

After a leisurely breakfast, prepare to dive into the city. First, head outside the colonial Old Town to the Mercado Bazurto, an expansive market bustling with vendors selling everything from fresh fish and produce 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, where you'll find all the exotic fruits and vegetables that give costeña cuisine its identity. Enjoy a traditional lunch here while your guide introduces you to some of the chefs and purveyors who frequent this local institution.

Your day's adventure continues beyond the historic center, as now you're off to visit 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 Cartegena and offers panoramic views all the way out to the Boca Grande neighborhood and its glittering skyscrapers. 

After this cultural immersion, return to your hotel and unwind in the evening. 

Day 6: Rosario Islands Day Trip

A petit island in Rosario
A petit island in Rosario

After an early breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the pier where you will board a speedboat for an hour trip to the Barú Peninsula. Along the way, you will see Tierra Bomba Island and Boca Chica, ancient forts that once protected Cartagena from hostile invaders.

After arriving at 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. An optional add-on is to rent a kayak and embark on a two or three-hour paddling excursion 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 7: Flight to Medellín and City Tour

El Poblado, the trendiest neighborhood in Medellín
El Poblado, the trendiest neighborhood in Medellín

After breakfast, transfer to the airport and hop a flight to Medellín. Despite its turbulent past, Medellín today is quite charming with its beautiful mountain setting, friendly locals, and vibrant culture. A car will pick you up at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. You're now free to spend the remainder of the day exploring. 

Start by visiting Parque Lleras, in the heart of the trendy El Poblado district, where most of the city's tourism is centered. This is where some of the best dining, nightlife, and hotels are located. Perhaps take a ride on the city's gondola (Metrocable) system and enjoy the 360° views of the city below. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to its elevation, Medellín has year-round spring temperatures.

Get an insider's perspective of Medellín on a private tour of the city by car. You'll make several stops on this route, including at Pueblito Paisa (a replica of a traditional Antioquian town), and San Antonio Park. You'll also visit the iconic bronze sculptures at Botero Square, and stop in at the city's expansive Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 blooms plus a butterfly enclosure. The last leg of the tour stops at the Metropolitan Theater and Los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park). 

Day 8: Guatapé Day-Trip

View from atop the rock
View from atop the rock

After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel for a full-day excursion to one of the crown jewels of Colombia's Antioquia region: the lakeside town of Guatapé. This private tour includes a guided walk through the village and a mini-history lesson. You'll learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that created the reservoir here, which is known as Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address this reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

Your guide will then transfer you to El Peñol (La Piedra Rock). Relax at the base of this natural granite landmark in one of the many market stalls. Or work up an appetite by climbing the 740 steps to admire the view from the top (entrance fee not included). Halfway up the rock, you'll see a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Return to the town of Guatapé and explore the streets. This is one of the most colorful villages in Colombia, with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a local restaurant and enjoy lunch on your own (try the freshwater fish and/or other delicacies). In the late afternoon, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Medellín with free time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Day 9: Flight to Bogotá

The Cathedral of Colombia, on Plaza Bolívar
The Cathedral of Colombia, on Plaza Bolívar

Today, you will transfer by private car to the airport and take a flight to Bogotá. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you for transportation to your four-star hotel.

Now it's time to get out and explore. Colombia's biggest city has culture to spare, and its regional gastronomy has made it a global foodie destination. You'll have ample time to explore this Andean capital on foot. Start with the cobblestone streets of the La Candelaria neighborhood, where trendy restaurants and colonial-era landmarks are located. You'll also find excellent museums, shopping, and street food 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.

Day 10: Bogotá City Tour

The Gold Museum, Bogotá
The Gold Museum, Bogotá

After breakfast, it's time to hit the streets and explore! A local guide will pick you up and accompany you on a half-day walking tour of the city. You'll begin in colorful La Candelaria—the heart of Bogota's historic center. Amble along its narrow streets, visiting cultural landmarks and local shops selling artisanal goods. Eventually, you'll reach Plaza Bolívar, the city's main square dating back to 1539. There's a grand cathedral here as well as many important government buildings, such as the Capitolio Nacional (Colombia's congress building). 

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), which features the largest collection of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts in the world, and the Botero Museum (closed on Tuesdays), which houses a collection of masterpieces from renowned Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero.

Return to La Candelaria and downtown, strolling the streets and stopping to photograph walled graffiti art at your own pace.

Day 11: Take a Food Tour of the Mercado de Paloquemao

Exotic fruits, Mercado de Paloquemao, Bogotá, Colombia
Exotic fruits, Mercado de Paloquemao, Bogotá, Colombia

Begin your day with a walking tour of Bogotá's largest food market, the Mercado de Paloquemao. Open every day, Paloquemao supplies fresh ingredients for the majority of the city's best restaurants. Wander the aisles, marvel at the sheer number of flowers for sale, and sample the variety of exotic fruits and local dishes served up by the market's vendors and restaurant stalls.

In the afternoon take part in a foodie tour around Bogotá. This unique excursion takes in Bogotá's budding gastronomy scene, where you'll sample the fare at some of the best restaurants in the city, many of which are at the forefront of Latin American cuisine. Cap off the evening at Andrés DC, the city location of Andrés Carne de Res, one of Colombia’s liveliest and most popular steakhouses.

Day 12: Flight to Cali

Municipal Theater, Cali
Municipal Theater, Cali

Today you'll hop a flight from Cartagena to Cali, all the way at the southern end of Colombia. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport for transportation to your hotel. If you aren't too tired, you can take the opportunity to hit the town and explore.

There's much to do and see here. Colombia's third largest city has its share of historical, cultural and recreational sites to keep visitors busy, particularly in three walkable neighborhoods: Centro, San Antonio, and Granada. While visiting Cali's galleries, museums, and ornate churches is a great way to spend an afternoon, the real enjoyment occurs after the sun goes down. That's when Cali springs to life with music and dancing.

Day 13: Salsa Dancing in Cali

Street musicians in Cali
Street musicians in Cali

Cali is legendary for its dance culture. This city of seduction has no shortage of salsa clubs that boom long after midnight. You can even find welcoming locals dancing in the city's parks. Be prepared to hear foot-tappingly infectious music everywhere in Cali, from the suburbs to the supermarket.   

If the mood strikes, you can join a Salsa 101 class (as a newbie or a refresher) before heading out to authentic local bars like La Topa Tolondra, or full-on nightclubs like Club Tin Tin Deo, to show off your moves. Lastly, on the third Saturday of every month, there is a free open-air dance party called Salsa al Parque, held at Antiguo Club San Fernando.

Day 14: Cali Free Day

The church at San Antonio, Cali
The church at San Antonio, Cali

Today is yours to enjoy however you see fit. As mentioned before, there are many highlights in Cali. You could hike to the top of Cerro de Las Cruces. As the name implies, the top of this hill is home to three looming crucifixes and some sweeping views of Cali down below. If hiking isn't your thing but you still want great views, head up to Parque San Antonio and do some people watching in front of the old church. You could also sample the culinary scene. Cali is famous for its tamales—meat and masa (dough) wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

Day 15: Depart Cali

La Ermita Church, Cali
La Ermita Church, Cali

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! Enjoy your last hours in Cali with a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, a city stroll, and/or souvenir shopping. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.