Discover Colombia's southern region on this two-week adventure, covering major highlights of the country from the capital city of Bogotá to the Pre-Columbian idols of San Agustín and to the well-preserved colonial town of Popayán. It's an itinerary fit for active travelers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife aficionados, and anyone with a thirst for adventure. You'll even have an opportunity to shake your hips to the sultry rhythms of Colombia's lifeblood: salsa music.

Highlights

  • Stargaze from the observatory at Tatacoa Desert
  • Visit the ancient archeological site of San Agustín
  • Whitewater raft in Colombia's coffee region
  • Explore Popayán, one of the most well-preserved colonial cities in the country
  • Dance in the city of Cali, the capital of salsa music in Colombia

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the city Bogotá
Day 2 Bogotá City Tour Bogotá
Day 3 Transfer to Neiva - Transfer to Tatacoa Desert Neiva
Day 4 Tatacoa Desert - Transfer to San Agustín San Agustin
Day 5 San Agustín - Archeological sites San Agustin
Day 6 San Agustín - Rafting & coffee plantations San Agustin
Day 7 San Agustín - Transfer to Mocoa Mocoa
Day 8 Mocoa - Transfer to La Cocha Lagoon La Cocha
Day 9 La Cocha Lagoon - Transfer to Las Lajas Sanctuary - Transfer to Pasto Pasto
Day 10 Pasto - Transfer to Popayán Popayán
Day 11 Popayán - Transfer to Puracé National Park Popayán
Day 12 Popayán - Transfer to Silvia - Transfer to Cali Cali
Day 13 Salsa dancing in Cali Cali
Day 14 Depart Cali  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Bogotá - Explore the city

Plaza Bolívar, in La Candelaria, Bogotá
Traipse through Plaza Bolívar in La Candelaria

Welcome to Bogotá! A driver will meet you at the airport and transport you to your hotel. Colombia's biggest city has culture to spare, and its regional gastronomy has made it a global foodie destination. You'll have ample free 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. 

Day 2: Bogotá City Tour

Sunset in La Candelaria
Enjoy a Colombian sunset from several viewpoints in La Candelaria

After breakfast, 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 Bogotá'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). 

The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore at your own pace. Consider a visit to two of Bogotá's best museums, the Gold Museum (closed on Mondays), which features the most extensive 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.

Day 3: Transfer to Neiva - Transfer to Tatacoa Desert

The red desert of Tatacoa
Trek through the red desert of Tatacoa

Today, you will travel south of Bogotá to Neiva, the capital of Huila Department in the Magdalena River Valley. You'll then transfer another 22 miles (35 km) to the village of Villavieja, the gateway to the Tatacoa Desert. Rich in fossils, Tatacoa is the second largest arid zone in Colombia and is excellent for hiking and horseback riding amid rugged rock formations. Since this is a desert, it's better to explore in the morning so you can avoid the hottest hours of the day. 

Stargazing is another can't-miss activity in Tatacoa. Once the sun goes down, you may wish to visit the astronomical observatory, which is located in the El Cuzco region of the desert. Due to the lack of light pollution here, the view of the night sky is more vivid than many places on earth. 

Day 4: Tatacoa Desert - Transfer to San Agustín

Tatacoa Desert, Colombia
Discover cacti and interesting formations in El Cuzco and Los Hoyos

This morning, continue exploring the geologic wonderland that is Tatacoa. Enjoy a mini walking tour with a local Spanish-speaking guide where you'll learn that this desert is actually a dry tropical forest, and you'll be treated to its natural highlights, such as the candelabra cactus and sandy desert formations in varying shades of red and white. Let the natural beauty engulf you as you explore El Cuzco (red desert) and Los Hoyos (white desert). For a refreshing break, take a bath in a spring-fed natural pool.

In the afternoon, transfer to San Agustín, the capital of Huila department. You'll check in to your hotel and then have the rest of the evening free.

Walking tour: 1 hour (with a Spanish-speaking guide)

Day 5: San Agustín - Archeological sites

Pre-Columbian colored idol, San Agustín
Pre-Columbian colored idol, San Agustín

Depart from your hotel with your local guide to the impressive San Agustín Archaeological Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to many Pre-Columbian statues and artifacts. You will start with a visit to the archaeological museum followed by a walk in the park. You'll meander among gigantic stone idols and sacred tombs peeking out from jungle rainforest. After indulging in the sites of this mystical place, you'll then return to your hotel.

After a little rest, you'll venture back out again, this time with your guide for a half-day trip on horseback. You will ride through the countryside to La Pelota, an area that features idol statues painted bright colors. Then it's off to La Chaquira, another archeological site as well as a lookout point—this one affording views into the depths of the Magdalena River canyon. In the late afternoon, you'll return to your hotel.

Archeological park tour: 4 hours (with local English-speaking guide)
Horseback riding: 3 hours (with local English-speaking guide)

Day 6: San Agustín - Rafting & coffee plantations

Get ready for some rafting
Get ready for some rafting

In the morning, depart by car from the village of San Agustín to Sombrillero, located about three miles (5 km) away. It's now time for some active adventure. Colombia's Magdalena River flows through here at the base of a deep canyon, and this part of the river is great for rafting. After the safety briefing, you will start a descent of seven miles (11 km) over class II and III rapids to the final destination of Versailles, where a vehicle will be waiting to bring you back to San Agustín.

In the afternoon, you will visit a coffee plantation. The department of Huila is now widely known as a major coffee producing-region. Take advantage of your stay on this coffee farm by learning all about the making of Colombia's precious export. You will tour the grounds and visit the facilities as an expert local guide explains the entire coffee-making process, from picking the beans to roasting, to the final tasting.

Rafting: 1.5 hours
Coffee farm tour: 2 hours (with a local English-speaking guide)

Day 7: San Agustín - Transfer to Mocoa

Waterfalls are the order of the day in Macoa
Waterfalls are the order of the day in Macoa

Rise early and transfer from your hotel three hours south to the small river city of Mocoa, at the border of Colombia's Amazon region.

There's no time to spare because upon arrival it's time to venture into the wild. You'll depart Mocoa on a quick 15-minute drive to the town of Villagarzon. There you'll embark on a hike through tropical vegetation along the Dantayaca River, which you will cross several times. Along the way, you can enjoy the many natural swimming lagoons and waterfalls. The trek continues until you reach a final waterfall that plunges a whopping 230 feet (70 meters) into a natural pool. This cascade is known as Fin del Mundo (the "End of the World" in English). The view of Mocoa from here is nothing short of breathtaking. 

Upon returning from the hike, you'll have a free evening to spend relaxing. 

Waterfall hike: 4 hours (with a local Spanish-speaking guide)

Day 8: Mocoa - Transfer to La Cocha Lagoon

Pasto, La Cocha, Colombia
Enjoy the slower pace of life in La Cocha

In the morning, transfer from Mocoa to La Cocha Lagoon. This lake (also named Guamez lake), is located 8,800 feet (2,680 m) above sea level. To arrive, you will drive along a winding mountain route for five hours, offering up picture-perfect views of the surrounding nature. At various stops on the journey, you'll discover different villages, like San Francisco, Sibundoy, Colon, and Santiago, where you can browse the handicrafts workshops of the Inga and Kamsa indigenous peoples. 

Upon arrival at the lake, you'll see how it earned its reputation as a highlight of Colombia. The Andean landscapes are unforgettable, and the wooden homes and shops dotting the lakeside give La Cocha its nickname: The Switzerland of Colombia. You'll overnight on the shore of La Cocha.

Day 9: La Cocha Lagoon - Transfer to Las Lajas Sanctuary - Transfer to Pasto

Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas is the subject of myth and legend
Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas is the subject of myth and legend

In the morning, you'll take a canoe from the shores of La Cocha to Corota Island. This nature sanctuary on the lake is home to a large variety of animals (mainly birds) and abundant vegetation. After touring the island, you will return to shore and transfer three hours south to the city of Ipiales.

Ipiales is famous as the last major metropolis before the Ecuadorian border. But that's not why you're here. You've come to visit one of the most mystical sites in Colombia. About six miles (10 km) from the border sits Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas, a Roman Catholic religious sanctuary built high over a river on a stone bridge. Its neo-gothic architecture and multiple sharp pinnacles lend it a medieval look, while the surrounding mountains and greenery make it seem like something out of a storybook. It's one of Colombia's most striking and heavily visited cathedrals. 

After visiting the sanctuary, you will then head to the nearby city of Pasto, where you will spend the night.

Day 10: Pasto - Transfer to Popayán

Popayán
Wander amid whitewashed colonial buildings in Popayán

Today, wake early and prepare for a six-hour transfer from Pasto to the city of Popayán, enjoying all the scenery along the way. You will arrive at your hotel located in the historic center.

In the afternoon, you'll have an opportunity to explore Popayán, which is known as “the White City" due to its abundance of whitewashed colonial houses. On a guided tour you'll visit the Iglesia de San Francisco, Caldas Park, the sundial, the Humilladero Bridge, and the municipal theater, Guillermo Valencia. There are also some options for museums: the Guillermo Valencia Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Religious Art. Then it's back to your hotel at the end of the afternoon to enjoy a free evening.

Popayán tour:
 3 hours (with a local English-speaking guide)

Day 11: Popayán - Transfer to Puracé National Park

Purace National Natural Park, Colombia
Traipse through part of the Puracé National Natural Park

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, 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 cactus and sunflower.

Upon reaching the village of Puracé, you will visit sites such as the Thermal of San Juan (which features colored sulfurous waters), the waterfall of the Bedón River, Laguna San Rafael, San Nicolas Waterfall, and the Piedra del Condor. This last one is a popular lookout point and hangout spot for the region's avian citizenry, including the namesake condor.

Return to Popayán in the late afternoon.

Day 12: Popayán - Transfer to Silvia - Transfer to Cali

Guambiano indigenous women at the Silvia market
Guambiano indigenous women at the Silvia market

It's another early day as you depart from your hotel in Popayán north to Cali. The five-hour road journey will be broken up by a stop at Silvia, a pleasant little town where numerous indigenous communities congregate on market day, which occurs every Tuesday. You will have free time to explore the colorful market and engage with the locals. It's as authentically Colombian an experience as you can have in this country.

Then it's time to embark again. You'll arrive at your hotel in Cali and have the rest of the day to enjoy at your leisure.

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: Depart Cali

La Ermita Church, Cali
La Ermita Church, Cali

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

Map

Map of Southern Colombia Loop - 14 Days
Map of Southern Colombia Loop - 14 Days