Depending on personal preference, some folks like rugged activity on their vacation while others prefer relaxing on white-sand beaches fronting crystalline waters. Others opt for the museums and nightlife found in more cosmopolitan destinations. We wonder why not enjoy it all? That's just what this itinerary offers: city life, culture, the great outdoors and plenty of time to relax.

Highlights

  • Take a walking tour of Medellín and the see the city by cable car
  • Stay on a working coffee farm in Colombia's coffee region
  • Visit Tayrona National Park, one of Colombia's most beautiful protected areas
  • Stroll the cobbled streets and ancient ramparts of Cartagena

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Medellín Medellín
Day 2 Medellín City Tour Medellín
Day 3 Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca Pereira
Day 4 Manizales - Río Blanco Nature Reserve Manizales
Day 5 Los Nevados Trek (Day 1) On Trek
Day 6 Los Nevados Trek (Day 2) On Trek
Day 7 Los Nevados Trek (Day 3) - Transfer to Salento Salento
Day 8 Flight to Santa Marta - Transfer to Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 9 Tour of Tayrona National Park Tayrona Park
Day 10 Tayrona National Park - Transfer to Cartagena Cartagena
Day 11 Explore Cartagena Cartagena
Day 12 Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands Isla Mucura
Day 13 Múcura Highlights Isla Mucura
Day 14 San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena Cartagena
Day 15 Depart Cartagena  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Medellín

Avocado vendor, Medellín
Avocado vendor, Medellín

Welcome to Colombia and the "city of the eternal spring"! 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 a nearby 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 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. Welcome to Medellín! You will be picked up at the Medellín airport and then transferred to a hotel nearby. Depending on the time of your flight, you can explore on your own, or join a local tour to learn more about this thriving, modern city. 

Despite its dangerous 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.

Day 2: Medellín City Tour

Medellín barefoot park
Medellín barefoot park

After breakfast at your hotel, spend a full day exploring Medellín on a walking tour with a local 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, during which 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.)

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

Day 3: Flight to Zona Cafetera - Coffee Finca

The coffee fields of Colombia's Zona Cafetera
The coffee fields of Colombia's Zona Cafetera

Today you'll take a flight to either Armenia or Pereira, cities in Colombia's Zona Cafetera (coffee region). 

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to an organic coffee finca (farm) in the beautiful countryside of this region, surrounded by sloping Andean mountains coated in green coffee fields. Be sure to keep your camera within easy reach. Upon arrival to the finca, you'll learn every step of the coffee production process. Furthering this authentic experience, you'll stay overnight and learn even more about Colombia's famous export (the country is the world's third largest producer of coffee). Of course, there will be frequent tastings. 

Day 4: Manizales - Río Blanco Nature Reserve

The Zona Cafetera
The Zona Cafetera

This morning you will transfer to Manizales, the most prominent of the three cities that make up Colombia’s “coffee triangle." Have lunch by the neo-gothic Catedral de Manizales, and then visit the massive Monumento a los Colonizadores. This impressive bronze sculpture sits at the top of a lookout offering 360° views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Take the afternoon and visit the Río Blanco Nature Reserve, located just two miles from Manizales. Hit the trails of this 30,000-acre protected area and look for unique plants and animals endemic to the central Andes cloud forests. Hundreds of Colombia's some 2000 bird species exist here, including toucans, rusty-faced parrots, owls, tanagers, and more. After your visit, begin the one-hour drive (via switchback roads) leading to a traditional Colombian ranch in the mountains. Enjoy a home-cooked dinner and a night of peaceful sleep while you acclimate to the high-altitude.

Day 5: Los Nevados Trek (Day 1)

Los Nevados National Park
Los Nevados National Park

To start this epic trek, you'll ride in a durable 4x4 vehicle to the entrance of Los Nevados National Park. Begin your hike through a sub-tropical tundra to the panoramic view of Lake Otún. On the way, explore the high-altitude pàramo ecosystem, home to a wide spectrum of endemic species, such as the sunflower/cactus-like frailejón plant. 

Establish base camp at an alpine lake. You'll enjoy quality food and meet the local park ranger who can impart a wealth of knowledge about the region. Stay overnight at a designated camp near the volcano El Nevado de Santa Isabel.

Day 6: Los Nevados Trek (Day 2)

The Andean condor, Colombia's national bird
The Andean condor, Colombia's national bird

After a hearty breakfast, embark for a hike to the snowy summit of El Nevado de Santa Isabel. Along the way, look out for high-altitude flyers such as the bearded helmetcrest hummingbird and Colombia’s national bird, the Andean condor. As the largest flying bird in the world, the Andean condor can travel up to three hundred kilometers in a single day.

The hike evolves from a soft walk to a rockier, steeper path to the summit. Once you have reached this part of the trail, a 360° panoramic view reveals the entire Magdalena Valley below. On a clear day, you'll even be able to see the coffee farms. Here, witness one of the last remaining glaciers in Colombia. Stay overnight in tents by a lagoon.

Day 7: Los Nevados Trek (Day 3) - Transfer to Salento

The town of Salento
The town of Salento

In the morning, you'll finish your trekking route along Lake Otún and return to the park entrance. Then it's time for lunch and tea with the “guardians" of Los Nevados. This is a knowledgeable and warm Colombian family who live in the park full-time. You'll then embark on the 4.5-hour car transfer to the popular town of Salento. 

If you arrive in time, be sure to check out the sunset from the mirador (lookout) on a hill above town. Salento is a charming mix of paisa (Colombia's Antioquia region) style and Spanish architecture. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the brightly colored balconies of the homes lining the narrow town streets.

Day 8: Flight to Santa Marta -> Transfer to Tayrona National Park

Sunset in Santa Marta
Sunset in Santa Marta

After breakfast, a car will pick you up and transfer you to the airport for your flight to the city of Santa Marta, on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Upon arrival, you'll drive to just outside the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National 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 is an ideal spot to view the sunset. Dinner will be served on-site so there's no need to rush.

Day 9: Tour of Tayrona National Park

Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona
Arrecifes Beach, Tayrona

After breakfast, you'll begin a half-day tour of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). This protected area is known for having some of the most virgin coastal landscapes in the entire country. Indeed, when you see promotional images of Caribbean Colombia, often you're seeing images of Cabo San Juan, which is located in Tayrona. You'll experience much of this coastline with a local guide while touring the white-sand beaches and rainforests further inside Tayrona.

First, it's a hike in the tropical foothills near Playa 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 and enjoy the bay of white sand surrounded by large volcanic rocks. On the way here, you can observe several species of flora and fauna pointed out by your knowledgeable guide. The afternoon is yours to enjoy on your own. Have a bit of lunch and relax on the shore.

You'll return to your hotel in the late afternoon with time to enjoy the sunset and dinner served on-site.

Day 10: Tayrona National Park -> Transfer to Cartagena

Entrance to Cartagena's Old Town
Entrance to Cartagena's Old Town

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 11: Explore Cartagena

Colorful buildings of Cartagena
Colorful buildings of Cartagena

After breakfast, take your pick of numerous ways to experience Cartagena, either on your own or with a private tour. Maybe a surfing excursion on the coast, or a day lazing on the white sands of Playa Blanca, 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 (Old Town). Together with an English-speaking guide, you will delve deep into Cartagena's Spanish-colonial history. You'll visit the city's extensive fortifications and famous fortresses like the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. You'll also stroll the walled city's cobbled plazas, like the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, with its Andalusian-style cathedral.

If an organized tour isn’t appealing, simply create your own adventure around Cartagena. At dusk, take part in the sultry coastal atmosphere as the city comes alive with street performers and musicians.

Day 12: Cartagena - San Bernardo Islands

Arrive at the island by boat
Arrive at the island by boat

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up from your hotel in Cartagena and transport you to the pier. You will depart from the mainland in a speedboat to Múcura—one of 10 small islands in this archipelago off the Caribbean coast. After your two-hour speedboat ride, have lunch at your hotel and then spend the afternoon swimming and snorkeling in the calm turquoise water, or just relax on the white sand beach.

Day 13: Múcura Highlights

Isla Múcura, Colombia
Isla Múcura, Colombia

Today you'll enjoy a peaceful breakfast at the hotel before hiking around the island. This coral islet is tiny yet packed with beauty, and you can walk around the entire thing in just a couple hours. 

Lunch will be served back at the hotel, followed by a boat tour in the afternoon to visit other islands in the chain such as Tintipán and Santa Cruz del Islote (tour fees are not included). The latter of which is a manmade, soccer-field-sized outpost home to about 500 people. It's regarded as the most densely populated island in the world.

The rest of your afternoon is up for grabs. You can rent kayaks, go windsurfing, or explore underwater marine life with snorkel gear or scuba equipment (they even offer night dives!)

Day 14: San Bernardo Islands - Cartagena

Farewell to paradise
Farewell to paradise

This is your last day on Múcura! Have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and enjoy one final swim in the turquoise water. You will then transfer back to Cartagena by boat. Keep your eyes open and your camera close, as you'll pass by the beautiful Rosario Islands on the way.

The boat returns in the early afternoon, so you'll have more time to explore Cartagena, take in the sights you may have missed thus far, and have dinner out on the town.

Day 15: Depart Cartagena

Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena
Sunset over the ancient ramparts, Cartagena

It's time to say goodbye to Colombia! After breakfast, enjoy your last moments of Cartagena in a patio café. Or, if you haven't already, explore the bulk of the city on a guided tour. Otherwise, take one last stroll along those cobbled streets.

Enjoy Cartagena's cobbled maze of vividly colorful houses and ancient squares dating 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. Maybe pay a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition in Plaza de Bolívar, which was once the seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition and is now a macabre museum. 

A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Colombia Adventure: Zona Cafetera, Tayrona Park, & Caribbean Coast - 15 Days
Map of Colombia Adventure: Zona Cafetera, Tayrona Park, & Caribbean Coast - 15 Days