This active, 13-day adventure is designed for those who want to experience Colombia’s vast, cultural interior. Start off in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín, with a scenic gondola and its year-round spring-like weather. Next, you'll head to Cali, the salsa capital of the world, and Popayán, with its stunning Baroque architecture. Finally, you’ll explore archaeological parks in San Agustín and Tierradentro, while finishing the trip in the Tatacoa Desert.

Highlights

  • Tour Medellín's past and innovative future with local guides
  • Learn to salsa in Cali, the world capital of salsa dancing
  • Stroll Popayán, one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Colombia
  • Visit the ancient archeological site of San Agustín
  • Enjoy stargazing from the observatory in the Tatacoa Desert

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 2 Medellín - City Tour Medellín
Day 3 Fly to Cali Cali
Day 4 Cali - Salsa Dancing Cali
Day 5 Travel to Popayán Popayán
Day 6 Puracé National Park - Day Trip Popayán
Day 7 Travel to San Agustín San Agustín
Day 8 San Agustín - Archeological Site Tours San Agustín
Day 9 Travel to Tierradentro and Tour Inza Pyramids Tierradentro
Day 10 Tour Tierradentro Archaeological Park Tierradentro
Day 11 Travel to Neiva via the Tatacoa Desert Neiva
Day 12 Travel to Bogotá Bogotá
Day 13 Depart From Bogotá  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medellín

Welcome to Medellin!
Welcome to Medellín!

Welcome to Colombia and the “City of the Eternal Spring!" Despite its turbulent past, the Medellín of 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 a nearby hotel. Then, you’ll be 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 Metrocable gondola system to see the views, or walk around the various parks, plazas, and museums near the downtown area. Either way, enjoy the weather—due to its elevation, Medellín has year-round spring temperatures.

Depending on the time of your flight, you can sightsee with an English-speaking guide and learn more about this thriving, modern city from a local perspective.

Day 2: Medellín - City tour

Plaza Botero
Plaza Botero

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a full day exploring Medellín on a walking tour with a local, English-speaking guide. This excursion includes a mix of sightseeing by foot and taking the Metro system through a neighborhood that represents one of the city's most successful urban projects.

The guide will pick you up from your hotel and drive you to Medellín's downtown. You'll visit Plaza Botero, which features works by Colombia's foremost sculptor, Fernando Botero. Then, it's time to take a ride on the city's iconic Metrocable gondola system, where you'll enjoy panoramic views of Medellín below. Next, stop in at the Botanical Garden, which features more than 4,500 types of flowers. After visiting some parks and landmarks in the downtown area, you'll eventually return to your hotel by public transport. (There's also a tour option that includes graffiti street art and riding the Metrocable to more remote neighborhoods higher in the hills if you’re interested.)

The rest of the afternoon and evening is yours to enjoy at your leisure.

Day 3: Fly to Cali

Municipal Theater, Cali
Municipal Theater, Cali

Today, you'll hop a flight from Medellín 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 4: Cali - Salsa dancing

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. Note that 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 5: Travel to Popayán

Popayán, the "White City"

Today, you will continue onward to the university hub of Popayán, a historic and charming colonial city famous for its chalk-white facades, which is why it is 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.

After the long trip over, take the evening to relax before heading on another long excursion tomorrow.

Day 6: Puracé National Park - Day trip

Puracé National Park
Puracé National Natural Park

Today, you'll embark on a morning departure by car with your local guide for a full-day excursion to the Puracé National Natural Park. This is a mountainous, protected area, and is home to many lakes and volcanoes. The landscapes you'll see are part of an alpine páramo ecosystem, where high-altitude flora thrives. One unique plant endemic to the area is the frailejone, which resembles both a cactus and a sunflower.

Upon reaching the village of Puracé, you will visit sites such as the following:

  • Thermal of San Juan (which features colored sulfurous waters)
  • Waterfall of the Bedón River
  • Laguna San Rafael
  • San Nicolas Waterfall
  • Piedra del Condor (a popular lookout point and hangout spot for the region's avian citizenry, including the namesake condor)

You’ll return to Popayán in the late afternoon, and enjoy the evening and some downtime at your leisure.

Day 7: Travel to San Agustín

San Agustín archaeological statues

After a leisurely breakfast in Popayán, you'll drive to San Agustín in the Andes and stay overnight. San Agustín is an area known for its incredible archaeological park–a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to numerous pre-Columbian remains spread over several locations.

If there is some time to spare, you can embark on preliminary visits to El Tablon, La Chaquira, and La Pelota, where you can find sculptures and statues that were painted in natural dyes that represent the archaeological discoveries you will experience tomorrow.

The evening is at your leisure to do as you wish.

Day 8: San Agustín - Archeological site tours

Photo Credit: Nathalie Clavel
Photo Credit: Nathalie Clavel

San Agustín is the archaeological capital of Colombia. Its namesake park offers visitors the opportunity to discover impressive statues set in the heart of lush nature.

You’ll depart from your hotel with your local guide to visit the famed San Agustín Archaeological Park on a 4-hour tour with an English-speaking guide. Start with the visit of the archaeological museum, and a walk in the park to discover gigantic statues and sacred tombs amidst forest and tropical flowers. Visit Mesitas A, B, and C, along with Alto del Lavapatas and Bosque de las estatuas.

In the afternoon, depart from your hotel with your guide for a half-day trip on horseback. You will ride through the countryside to the Pelota site, where the last San Agustin colored statues can be observed, then to the Chaquira for a beautiful view of the Magdalena river canyon. Then, you’ll head back to the hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy the evening on your own time.

Horseback Riding Tour: 3 hours

Day 9: Travel to Tierradentro and tour Inza pyramids

Inza

Today, you'll travel north toward another stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site—this time in Tierradentro. Though it's not as popular with tourists as San Agustín, this peaceful archaeological park is noted for its elaborate, underground tombs. A private driver will take you on the 5-hour drive from San Agustín to Tierradentro.

Located near Inza, the site of the Pyramid offers a stunning panorama of the Tierradentro region. It is easy to access, and the beauty of the landscape is worth the short walk.

Then, you’ll depart from Tierradentro toward the village of Inza. A few miles before reaching Inza, you will start walking for about 15 minutes to get to the Pyramid. Enjoy a spectacular view of the entire valley and venture into one of the tunnels dug under this pyramid-shaped mountain.

Then, you’ll return to Tierradentro after the visit, and enjoy dinner and the evening at your leisure.

Day 10: Tour Tierradentro Archaeological Park

Tierradentro Archeological Park

Today, you'll have an opportunity to explore Tierradentro Archeological Park, famous for its painted, underground burial chambers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these subterranean tombs were created around 700 AD and were rediscovered and excavated between 1930 and 1995.

Located off the beaten track through some rough dirt roads, you'll discover a peaceful place with friendly locals. Archaeologists have discovered about 100 of these unusual funeral temples, the only examples of their kind in the Americas. Wear your walking shoes to take advantage of paths along the major tomb sites amid the mountain scenery.

Accompanied by your local guide, you will start the tour by visiting the Archaeological Museum and the Ethnographic Museum. You will then climb to reach the Alto de Segovia and Alto del Duende and their many subterranean tombs. Your adventure will continue to the site of Tablon, adorned with statues of the human form.

After the tour, you’ll return to your hotel for dinner and the evening at your leisure.

Day 11: Travel to Neiva via the Tatacoa Desert

The red desert of Tatacoa
The red desert of Tatacoa

Today, you’ll travel 4.5 hours from Tierradentro to the Tatacoa Desert.

Located 22 miles from the city of Neiva, the village of Villavieja is the gateway to the Tatacoa Desert. This desert is actually a dry, tropical forest that consists of candelabra cacti and sandy formations of different colors. 

During this excursion, you’ll explore El Cuzco (the red desert) and Los Hoyos (the white desert), where you can have a swim in a spring-fed pool as a nice, refreshing break. This is the second-largest desert in Colombia and is a top sightseeing recommendation when visiting the country. 

In the evening, you’ll go to the astronomical observatory. This specific desert is an ideal place for stargazing because it is close to the equator and away from any visual pollution.

Day 12: Travel to Bogotá

View from atop the rock
View from atop the rock

Take the 15-minute ride via private driver from Neiva to the airport. Then, hop the flight to Bogotá. Once you arrive in the capital city, a driver will take you on the 30-minute trip to your hotel. Then, you will embark on a tour of the city.

Monserrate Hill is located 10,341 feet above sea level in the Andean Cordillera and offers a stunning view of the city and valley. The Señor de Monserrate Basilica is neoclassical in its style and was built on top of the hill in 1925. It was later transformed into a neocolonial style church. You will take a cable car to the top and later return to your hotel in the historical center.

Once you are back in the city, visit 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 fruit salads. Enjoy the rest of your day on your own time, and a final dinner before departing in the morning.

Day 13: Depart from Bogotá

La Candelaria district, Bogotá
La Candelaria district, Bogotá

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

Map

Map of Medellín & Colombia's Southern Interior - 13 Days
Map of Medellín & Colombia's Southern Interior - 13 Days