Go off the beaten path and discover the highlights of southern Colombia, from cultural treasures to diverse landscapes and stunning vistas. This two-week itinerary offers something for everyone. You'll go canoeing, hiking, and rafting in the wild beauty of lush tropics, explore the scenic Tatacoa desert, and see fascinating ancient pre-Colombian monuments. You'll also visit a coffee plantation, tour historic colonial towns, and learn to salsa dance.

Highlights

  • See ancient stone statues in San Agustín Archaeological Park
  • Sample freshly roasted coffee on a coffee plantation tour 
  • Go hiking and enjoy spectacular panoramas near Mocoa
  • Visit the impressive La Lajas Sanctuary, built over a canyon
  • Learn to dance salsa in Cali, the "Salsa Capital of the World"

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá Bogotá
Day 2 Tour Bogotá Bogotá
Day 3 Bogotá - Neiva Neiva
Day 4 Tatacoa Desert - San Agustín San Agustín
Day 5 San Agustín Archaeological Park San Agustín
Day 6 Whitewater rafting and coffee plantation tour San Agustín
Day 7 San Agustín - Mocoa Mocoa
Day 8 Mocoa - La Laguna de la Cocha La Laguna de la Cocha
Day 9 La Laguna de la Cocha - Las Lajas Sanctuary - Pasto Pasto
Day 10 Pasto - Popayán Popayán
Day 11 Parque Natural de Puracé Popayán
Day 12 Popayán - Silvia - Cali Cali
Day 13 Tour Cali; salsa lessons Cali
Day 14 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Bogotá

Bolivar Plaza, Bogota, Colombia
Plaza de Bolivar, Bogotá

Welcome to Colombia! Arrive at Bogotá airport and transfer to your hotel in the historic center. Spend the rest of the day exploring your surroundings and enjoying Colombia's capital on your terms.

Day 2: Tour of Bogotá

La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogota, Colombia
La Candelaria neighborhood

Start your day with a full-day walking tour of the city center. Discover the colonial district and Bogotá's beating heart, Barrio La Candelaria. Tour its narrow and lively streets before you make your way through Bogotá's historical center and its various squares and markets. Immerse yourself in the local culture. In the afternoon, visit the famous and highly popular Museum of Gold and admire the masterpieces of renowned Colombian artists at the Botero Museum.

Day 3: Bogotá to Neiva

Paloquemao fruits
Paloquemao fruits

Spend the morning visiting the fruit and vegetable market of Paloquemao. Stroll through the lively market — it's the largest in the country and where most of Bogotá's restaurants find their supplies. Return to the historic center and visit Cerro de Monserrate.
Monserrate is a mountain in the Andean Cordillera and, at 10,341 feet above sea level, offers a stunning view of the city and the valley below. Built in 1925, the Señor de Monserrate Basilica sits on top of Monserrate and is worth a visit.

In the afternoon, transfer to Bogotá airport to fly south to Neiva. Drive to your hotel and spend the evening as you like.

Day 4: Tatacoa Desert to San Agustín

Tatacoa Desert, Colombia
Tatacoa

Located 24 miles north of Neiva, the village of Villavieja is the gateway to the Desierto de la Tatacoa  (Tatacoa Desert).  Considered a dry tropical forest, Tatacoa is made up of sandy formations of reds and grays and is spotted with magnificent candelabra-shaped cacti.  Head into Tatacoa from Villavieja and settle into your room at a rustic posada (hotel or inn). Explore the red and ochre desert of Cuzco and the whites and grays of Los Hoyos. Go for a dip in a spring-fed pool in Los Hoyos, a nice refreshing break! In the afternoon, drive to San Agustín and settle into your hotel.

Day 5: San Agustín Archaeological Park

A pre-Colombian idol 
A pre-Colombian idol 

With your local guide, drive to visit the impressive San Agustín Archaeological Park, a major UNESCO World Heritage Site. Start at the archaeological museum before walking in the park to discover gigantic pre-Colombian statues and sacred tombs amid forest and tropical flowers. Spend three hours in the afternoon horseback riding through the countryside to La Pelota to see the remaining San Agustín naturally dyed statues. Continue on to La Chaquira, a magical place with a stunning view of the Magdalena River Valley.

Day 6: Whitewater Rafting and Coffee Plantation Tour

Rio Magdalena, Colombia
Magdalena River

The Magdalena River is over 932 miles long and flows through Colombia crossing various terrain. Around San Agustín, however, it flows through a deep canyon. This part of the river is great for rafting as it has quality rapids and the surrounding wild beauty offers a scenic backdrop. Drive from San Agustín to nearby Sombrillero to participate in a safety briefing before picking up your paddles. Start your 7-mile-long rafting adventure, navigating bumpy class II and III rapids along the way, before eventually reaching Versailles. Meet your driver and head back to San Agustín.

Visit a coffee plantation just outside of San Agustín in the afternoon and learn all there is to know about coffee from bean picking to tasting.

Day 7: Mocoa

Mocoa jungle, Colombia
Hike lush vegetation outside of Mocoa

Leave bright and early and drive southwest to Mocoa, located three hours away on the border of the Amazon Rainforest. Drive a short distance towards Villagarzon to begin your hike among lush vegetation. Work your way towards the Dantayaca River and enjoy the many natural pools and waterfalls — magical places for a swim. The walk ends at a 230-foot high waterfall called Fin del Mundo (End of the World).

Hiking distance: 4 hours

Day 8: La Laguna de la Cocha 

La Laguna de la Cocha
La Laguna de la Cocha

Follow 86 miles of winding road and enjoy the stunning views as you make your way to La Laguna de la Cocha. Break up the drive with stops in a number of villages along the way, like San Francisco, Sibundoy, Colon, and Santiago, where you can take part in the Inga and Kamsa indigenous handicraft workshops. Spend the night on the shores of La Laguna de la Cocha.

Day 9: Las Lajas Sanctuary to Pasto

La Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
La Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales

La Laguna de la Cocha is 8,793 feet above sea level and offers beautiful views. The lush greenery and wooden structures surrounding the lake gave rise to the area's nickname, "The Switzerland of Colombia." Today, paddle a canoe out to Isla de la Corota Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, in the center of the lake. Walk around the island keeping an eye out for tropical birds in the dense greenery.

Later on, make your way to the city of Ipiales to visit La Lajas Sanctuary. Located six miles from the Ecuadorean border, the basilica was built on a bridge over a canyon, 328 feet above the river. The church is an impressive example of Gothic Revival architecture and one of Colombia's treasures. From here, continue on to Pasto and check in to your accommodation.

Day 10: Popayán

The White City, Popayán
The White City, Popayán

In the afternoon drive to Popayán — also known as the "White City" due to its many whitewashed colonial structures — and check into your hotel. Meet your guide and spend a few hours visiting Popayán's many sights, including the cloisters of San Francisco, the Caldas Park, the sundial, the Humilladero Bridge, and the municipal theater, Guillermo Valencia. If you like museums there are a few options: the Guillermo Valencia Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Religious Art. Return to your hotel and spend the evening as you choose.

Day 11: Parque Natural de Puracé

Frailejones plants, Paramo Highlands, Colombia
Frailejones in Paramo Highlands

With your local guide, drive to Parque Natural de Puracé (Puracé National Natural Park). The park is a mountainous area consisting of many lakes, volcanoes, and a variety of frailejones plants located within the páramo ecosystem. Upon arrival to Puracé village, you will visit the colorful sulfurous waters of Termales de San Juan, the Bedón River waterfall, Laguna San Rafael, San Nicolas waterfall, and if time allows, the Piedra del Cóndor (Condor Stone). Return to Popayán in the late afternoon. 

Day 12: Silvia to Cali

Indigenous women on market day in Silvia, Colombia
Market day in Silvia, Colombia

Leave Popayán bright and early and drive north to Cali, but not before stopping along the way at Silvia, a pleasant little town where numerous indigenous communities meet on market day. Explore the market and immerse yourself in the cultures of Colombia. Later, check into your hotel in Cali and take the rest of the afternoon to explore at your leisure. 

Day 13: Cali, The Capital of Salsa

Colombia Folk dancing
Colombian Folk dancing

Santiago de Cali, commonly referred to as Cali for short, is known as the "Salsa Capital of the World." Follow your guide and tour this modern city. Start in the historic district and go up to Cristo Rey. Enjoy the best views of Cali from this vantage point before visiting the Chapel of San Antonio. Participate in a salsa class and learn the steps at a world-class school. Return to your hotel in the late afternoon and spend your evening as you choose.

Day 14: Departure

Cali, Colombia
Cali River, Cali

Depending on your departure details, spend your last hours enjoying Cali before transferring to the airport and making your way home.

Map

Map of Off the Beaten Path in Southern Colombia - 14 Days
Map of Off the Beaten Path in Southern Colombia - 14 Days