Northern Colombia: Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Santa Marta/Tayrona

  Group of 2 friends visited Colombia in June 2017

“I am traveling 2 friends, and we are flying into Cartagena on June 8, and flying our of Medellin on June 18t. We would like to spend 2 days in Cartagena, maybe go to Playa Blanca if possible, then head to Santa Marta/Tayrona, and also go to Cabo de la Vela and La Guajira if possible. If there is time, we are interested in Mompox (maybe just one full day?). To end the trip, we would like to spend 2-3 days in and around Medellin, including doing a coffee tour. We realize this itinerary might be too ambitious for the length of our trip, and we are open to suggestions.”

Tara Davis, a local specialist from Colombia, helped this traveler put together a customized itinerary.

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Trip planning highlights

160 messages exchanged
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Santa Marta-Medellin

Day 1: Meet in Baranquilla
Days 2-3: Explore Tyrona by Sailboat
Day 4: Coffee Tour Medellin
Days 5-6: Rafting the Rio Verde Canyon

Summary of the trip planning conversation

Below are some useful excerpts from the trip planning conversation
Jules Domine
Hi! Great to meet you and welcome to kimkim. My name is Jules, I'm the founder of Expedition Colombia, and I have been living and guiding in Colombia for 5 years now.

I love your trip request, and great initiative on wanting to step off the traditional Cartagena, Medellin, Coffee triangle.

If you would like to jump on a quick call, I'de be happy to.

Otherwise, here are my recommendations :
Start in Santa Martha, and explore the Tyronna Park by sail boat ! This options give you access to hidden bays of the Tyronna, and place no one else sees... Plus our Captain, Franco Ospina, is such a wonderful person and guide!

Guarija is great too and I would say do a 2 day trip from Santa Martha.

After that, going to Mompox is an option, but for just a day, you will probably spend more time getting there and back than actually enjoying the village. I would recommend instead visiting the Cienaga grande de Santa Martha, and nueva Venecia. It's a wonderful trip though the Mangrove and the village is built on stilts... Interact with local fisherman, do some incredible birdwatching, listen to traditional music... Very special place.

For Medellin, you have endless choices ! My top activities are for sure, Coffe tour in Fredonia, Rafting the the Rio Verde, or a hike into the unique Paramo Ecosystems. You can aslo enjoy a City tour and paragliding over the city day !

I look forward in hearing back from you and please let me know you thoughts on the suggestions above.

Also, if you feel like telling me a little bit more about what kind of accommodation you would like, this will be helpfull for me to create a trip that truly fits your budget and expectation!

Have a wonderful day !


Hi Jules,

All of that sounds amazing! Would we still be able to spend time in Cartagena for the first day or 2? Also, what would this timeline look like? Something like this?

Cartagena: June 8-10 (leave for Santa Marta in the afternoon on June 10? ) - also fyi our flight arrives at 4:00 pm on June 8- how much time do you recommend in Cartagena?

Santa Marta/Tayrona/Cienaga Grande/Nueva Venecia: June 11-13?

La Guajira: June 14-15

Medellin: June 16-17? Is that enough time? Our flight leaves at 11:30 am on June 18.

To answer your question about accommodations, we are ok with 3 star hotels, as long as they are clean and decently comfortable. We have all traveled pretty extensively, and are looking for an adventure, and to see things that not just the typical tourist destinations. We do want to go to some pretty beaches though.

Let me know what you think.


Jules Domine
Hi again!

This will be an active trip, and I believe that if you are looking for something relaxing, you should consider cutting a bit out of the Guajia part, and add a bit of Medellin.

Also I would not spend too much time in Cartagena, as it is great, but there is so much more to Colombia and you can quickly visit the best of the city.

For the hotels, I made some suggestions, witch I love and are very good and clean. Their are Colombian run, traditional, and very classy and relax, at an affordable price.

June 8-9 : Cartagena

City tour, Beach day and visit to the botanical Garden ( night in Chocolate hotel )

June 10 : Cienaga Grande ( cut the transportation time from Cartagena and you can actually do a part of the transit by boat ) Start on one side of the Cienaga, then finish on the side closer to Santa Martha. ( Night in Casa Verde )

June 11-12 : Sail into Tayrona Park, night onboard. Return to Santa Martha early, and drive to the Tyronaka Reserve for the nigth ( on the way to Guajira). Relax for the nigth in a beautiful place, enjoy the the Don Diego river side archeological site.
June 13 : Head to Guajira. 20 km away from Riohacha you can find Los Flamencos Sanctuary. It is a 7 682 hectares reserve with mosaics of marshlands, lagoons and dry forests. The place is home to 185 bird species (of which 80% are migratory birds), such as sea eagles and roseate spoonbills. Four species of marine turtles come to the shores to put their eggs.

June 14-15 : Get to Punta Gallinas and from there, you can achieve the headland of Cabo de Vela. The journey is definitely worth it. On one site, the Caribbean Sea meets the desert and on the other site you will see the roots of the mangroves in the green waters of the Bahia Hondita. Return to Santa Martha and Relax in Casa Verde.

June 16 : Relax and city tour, Night in Art hotel.

June 17 : Coffee tour or Bike Ride around Guatape. Art Hotel Or Charlee hotel for Party.

June 18 : Airport transit.

Let me know your thoughs, and feel free to make more suggestions.

I'm also back and at the office for the next few days, so you can be sure I'll be in touch and reactive to your questions.

I look forward in hearing from you!
- Jules

Your suggested itinerary looks so great
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Travelers Review

Jules, Tara and the staff at Expedition Colombia helped us to plan an AMAZING itinerary, but once we began our active holiday, the places we went and sights we experienced were beyond anything I could've dreamed. The entire trip was truly extraordinary. I figured Colombia was a beautiful place, but everything far surpassed all of my expectations! A great big thanks to the team of wonderful and charming people at Expedition Colombia! The knowledgeable and charismatic guides for our adventures (Nicho, Mael and Lucho) and drivers made our experience that much better. I highly recommend an active holiday with Expedition Colombia for anyone who is looking for a truly memorable, once in a lifetime experience in Colombia. Thanks again for such an incredible time!!!!!

Tara was incredibly friendly, knowledgable, helpful and responsive while coordinating with her to plan our amazing itinerary in Colombia. She is an absolute pleasure to work with!

It is truly difficult to put into words how amazing our trip to Colombia was! When my friend and I initially decided to travel to Colombia, I did some research and found that there were SO MANY places that looked amazing, but some of them were a little off the beaten path and it seemed like going with a guide would be the best option. I had previously done a private tour with a local guide in India, and it was such an amazing experience that I was hoping to find something similar in Colombia. This is when I found Kimkim and was connected with Jules.

Jules, Tara, and their team really went above and beyond helping us plan the tour. They were very responsive to our questions (and there were a lot of them), and they worked with us for at least a month, going back and forth with different tour options until we had planned a trip that fit our budget and our desired itinerary. I'm sure I drove them a little crazy, but they were extremely kind, patient, and professional throughout the entire planning process. Jules was so enthusiastic about all of the places that we wanted to visit, and it was obvious that he was very genuine and excited for us to be experiencing a side of Colombia that a lot of tourists never see.

Since Jules had another obligation, he set us up with Nico, one of his teammates, as our tour guide for the majority of our tour. Nico was super laid back and fun (and funny!), and we had an amazing time touring with him to La Cienaga Grande/Nueva Valencia, Taironaka Reserve, La Guajira, and Medellin. He was very knowledgeable about all of the places we went, and he was also kind enough to share with us some personal stories about his life and about growing up in Medellin, a city I really never thought I would visit, but one that ended up being really vibrant and beautiful, and that I am so glad I was able to visit. During our 4 days with Nico, we visited a village on stilts in the middle of the swap, cooled off in a peaceful river after a very hot day and spent the night at an archaeological reserve, drove through La Guajira desert and interacted with the Wayuu people, swam in the Caribbean at the most insanely gorgeous beach (that we literally had to ourselves) in Cabo de la Vela, saw Flamingos in the wild, and toured a coffee plantation in Medellin! Every single place we went was incredible in its own way.

After we left Nico in Medellin, we lucky enough to go on a 2-day rafting trip on the Rio Verde, with our guides Mael and Lucho, who were also super cool guys, and who obviously love what they do. It is hard to pick my favorite part of the trip, but the rafting trip was definitely up there. The drive to the town of San Francisco was beautiful, and the 3-hour hike through the mountains down to the river was some of the most beautiful, lush green scenery that I have ever seen. We camped in the jungle that night, and saw fireflies, shooting stars, butterflies, birds, and even a monkey! The next day we rafted for about 3 or 4 hours, swam in a gorgeous waterfall, and just enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us.

This trip was truly unforgettable, thanks to Jules, Tara, Nico, Mael, and Lucho, and also the wonderful drivers that we had for different parts of the trip. I only wish I could have stayed longer! Thank you all SO much!! It truly was a magical experience that exceeded our expectations. There is really nothing better than swimming in the Caribbean on a beach that you have almost entirely to yourselves and seeing Flamingos in the wild.

Tara was very friendly, quick to respond to my messages, and also very helpful in tailoring our trip to make it fit our budget and desired itinerary. I really appreciate her help with adjusting our plans when one of our friends was unable to come on the trip due to work.

Thank you, Tara!