This cultural, yet outdoorsy Colombian adventure starts off in one of Latin America's most striking and up-and-coming cities — Medellín — safe for travelers after a turbulent past. Enjoy the constant spring-like weather while exploring vibrant neighborhoods by foot and gondola before flying north to the Caribbean coast. From Santa Marta, relax on the beaches and trails of Tayrona Park and then head for the cobblestoned streets of Cartagena's inner-walled city, oozing with Spanish colonial romance and history.

Highlights

    • Tour Medellín's sculptures and Botanical Garden with more than 4,500 flowers
    • Photograph Guatapé's lakeside views and colorful architecture 
    • Take a guided hike through Tayrona's tropical rainforest trails and beaches
    • Sit back and enjoy a private car transfer along Colombia's northern coast
    • Explore Cartagena's UNESCO-listed sites, art galleries, and rooftop bars

Overview

For those who don't mind skipping Colombia's capital city, this is a great way to experience Medellín and Cartagena, and — in between — one of the country's most beloved national parks. And with three nights in each stop, this itinerary takes a slower, more relaxed approach compared to other options that keep you on the move. 

You'll start off with Medellín, a city rising on the world stage with progressive art, a scenic gondola, and year-round spring weather. Then, enjoy a day in lakeside Guatapé before you fly to Santa Marta. Here you'll spend three nights outside of Tayrona Park with access to a beach on the turquoise water. You'll take a guided tour of the park's trails and then have a free day to enjoy this gorgeous stretch of Caribbean Sea any way you choose. Finally, travel by car to Cartegena on the Caribbean coast where you'll spend two days exploring the narrow streets of this inner-walled city. 

Colombia is an ideal year-round destination with warm, tropical weather. If you want to stay clear of 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, though they offer the best prices.   

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 2 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 3 Guatapé Day Trip Medellín
Day 4 Medellín - Flight to Santa Marta - Transfer to Tayrona Park Tayrona Park
Day 5 Tour of Tayrona Park Tayrona Park
Day 6 Free Day: Tayrona Park Tayrona Park
Day 7 Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 8 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 9 La Boquilla Fishing Trip Cartagena
Day 10 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medellín

Take the gondola for spectacular city views.
Take the gondola for spectacular city views.

Welcome to Medellín! You will be picked up at the airport and then transferred to a hotel nearby.

Despite its turbulent 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.

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

Spring-like weather occurs all year round in Medellín. 
Spring-like weather occurs all year round in Medellín. 

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a fun day exploring Medellín on a private tour with a local guide.

Walking Tour: This excursion includes a mix of sightseeing by foot and taking the Metro (fares included) through one of Colombia's most successful urban projects as if you were a citizen of Medellín yourself. The guide will pick you up at your hotel and you'll take a ride downtown visiting the Administrative Center (La Alpujarra) and Botero Square. From here, enjoy the views from the city's iconic gondola car system (pay directly) — and head for the Botanical Garden with more than 4,500 flowers. The tour ends by taking the Metro to Central Mayorista, Plaza Mayor, and a zen-inspired public park in Medellín before you return to your hotel using public transportation. (Hint: there's also an option that includes graffiti street art and riding the Metrocable towards remote neighborhoods on the valley side.)

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

Day 3: Guatapé Day-Trip

Guatapé's scenic lakeside surroundings.
Guatapé's scenic lakeside surroundings.

After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel for a full-day excursion to the picturesque lakeside town of Guatapé. This private tour includes a guided walk through the village where you'll learn about the town's conflict surrounding the building of the dam that was renamed Guatapé Lake. You'll gain an insider’s perspective on local efforts to pressure the government to address the reservoir’s encroaching blue-green algae.

Your guide will then transfer you to La Piedra Rock. Relax at the base of this natural granite landmark where there are market stalls, or work up an appetite by climbing the 740 steps to admire the view from the top (not included). You can also climb about halfway for a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Return to Guatapé and enjoy free time to explore the streets. This is truly the most colorful town in Colombia with beautiful artwork along the lower half of its buildings. Head to a restaurant and enjoy lunch on your own — keep an eye out for freshwater fish and other local delicacies.

In the afternoon, you'll be transferred back to your hotel in Medellín with free time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Day 4: Medellín - Flight to Santa Marta - Transfer to Tayrona Park

Frolic on white-sand beaches in and around Tayrona Park.
Frolic on white-sand beaches in and around Tayrona Park.

After breakfast, you'll be picked up and transferred to the Medellín airport for your flight to Santa Marta. Upon arrival, you'll be driven to the area just outside the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona's (Tayrona Park), where you'll stay overnight. 

You'll have rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy your hotel, which is 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.

Return to your hotel for dinner on-site.

Day 5: Tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Hike in Tayrona's tropical rainforest and then hit the beach.
Hike in Tayrona's tropical rainforest and then hit the beach.

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.

Return to your hotel in the late afternoon.

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

Day 6: Free Day Near Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Take a boat tour to great snorkeling spots near Santa Marta.
Take a boat tour to great snorkeling spots near Santa Marta.

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.

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 7: Transfer to Cartagena

A leafy street corner in Cartagena.
A leafy street corner in Cartagena.

After breakfast, you'll be picked up from Tayrona Park and transferred 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 flowers.
  • 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.
  • Peek in La Vitrola for future reference — this is the city's most famous restaurant in a 400-year-old colonial home.
  • 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 on your own with mojitos and fresh ceviche in one of the city’s hip restaurants or rooftop bars.

Day 8: Explore Cartagena

Wander through narrow streets in this lively part of town.
Wander through narrow streets in this lively part of town.

After breakfast, take your pick between numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour, 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 9: La Boquilla Fishing Day-Trip*

Learn about Colombia's fishing industry on this unique day-trip.
Learn about Colombia's fishing industry on this unique day-trip.

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll be picked up and transferred to the mangroves and rivers outside of Cartagena where you can experience a small example of Colombia's unmatched natural landscape. This region, populated by afro-descendants whose ancestors came from the west of Africa, lives on the abundant fish that swim among the roots of this delicate ecosystem of fresh and salt water. A local fisherman will take you by boat to catch some fish where you'll assist in the process of checking cages and nets to see what delights will be served later on.

After reaching the local community of La Boquilla, you'll interact and chat with the locals as they teach you how to prepare the fish you've just caught. Enjoy a feast for lunch before you head back to Cartagena for some rest.

Spend a free afternoon in Cartagena.

*Alternatively, take a relaxing day trip to a nearby Caribbean island by speedboat.

Day 10: Depart Cartagena

Capture your last sunset in romantic Cartagena.
Capture your last sunset in romantic Cartagena.

It's time to say farewell to Colombia! After breakfast at your hotel, 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 (optional add-on) to gain a new perspective of the city from a local. 

This 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 important historical sites like 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.

Map

Map of Explore Medellín & the Caribbean Coast - 10 Days
Map of Explore Medellín & the Caribbean Coast - 10 Days