Planning Your Colombia Itinerary: 3 Awesome Routes

Colombian Flag overlooking Cartagena

There are countless options when it comes to planning an itinerary for Colombia. This is a land of extremes. From steaming jungle to arid desert; sandy beaches to lush mountains; cities that never sleep to tiny towns, this country has it all.

The sheer diversity lends itself to abundant activities. Beach bums can laze the day away on the coast while salsa lovers can dance till dawn in Cali or Medellín.

Colombia is absolutely huge and you could easily spend three months here and not see everything – take it from someone who’s tried! But fear not! However much time you have, there is a Colombia itinerary to suit you. Here, I outline three options: 10 days, 2 weeks and 1 month (with additional recommendations if you decide you want to stay even longer!).


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3 Amazing Itineraries for Colombia 

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10-Day Colombia Itinerary – Cities and Coast 🏙️

In 10 days you can get a taste of Colombian culture in buzzing cities and explore the country’s Caribbean coastline. 

Day 1-3: Medellín

Recommended accommodation: Masaya

To make the most of your 10 days, fly into Medellín, Colombia’s second city. Medellín is a transformational success story, having shed its reputation as the world’s most dangerous city to become a thriving centre of art, culture and innovation. There is plenty to keep travellers occupied for weeks, but even with a few days, you can still see the highlights.

  • Find your way around on a free walking tour. Walking tours are a great way to orientate yourself when you arrive in a new city and provide an opportunity to learn interesting facts and history about the place. Real City Walking Tours offers some of the best in town.
  • See the street art in Comuna 13. Once known as the murder capital of the world, Comuna 13 has transformed itself into the street art capital of Colombia. Marvel at the amazing murals on a guided tour.
  • Practice your Spanish at Gringo Tuesdays. While you might not have time to take a Spanish class in Medellín, you can still learn some local lingo at Gringo Tuesdays, a language exchange event that turns into a party from 9 pm.
  • Ride the cable car and hike in Parque Arví. Enjoy panoramic views of Medellín’s skyline as you travel up to the mountains that surround the city, before taking a walk in Parque Arví, an ecological nature reserve.
  • Gawk at the oddly proportioned Botero sculptures. Fernando Botero is a national treasure and famed for his unusual take on the human form. You’ll find great examples of his work Plaza Botero. If you haven’t had your fill, check out the nearby El Museo de Antioquia for more.
  • Take a day trip to Guatapé. Just a couple of hours away by bus, Guatapé is a colonial town known for its colourful buildings and La Piedra del Peñol, an imposing rock from which you can enjoy panoramic views of the town and the surrounding lakes.
View of the Medellin skyline
There’s a lot to explore in Medellín.

Day 4-6: Cartagena

Recommended accommodation: Republica Hostel

Take a short flight or overnight bus from Medellín to the coastal colonial city of Cartagena. Perhaps Colombia’s most striking city, the Old Town is famed for its outstanding architecture and bright colours. Popular with honeymooners, Cartagena is a romantic and charming city and the nearby beaches and islands make great places to escape the heat!

  • Admire the architecture. Cartagena is known first and foremost for the magnificent colonial buildings that line the streets of Old Town, the area surrounded by the old city walls. Take a stroll and soak in the sights and atmosphere.
  • Wander through Getsemaní, an area of the Old Town, which, much like Medellín, has undergone a makeover. It was once unsafe for tourists, but today it draws them in with its vibrant street art, trendy eateries and nightlife.
  • Walk the battlements at San Felipe de Barajas Fort. Check out the largest Spanish fortress in South America. Built in 1536, the fort was constructed to protect the city from attack by pirates and privateers. 
  • Learn about Cartgena’s history at one of the city’s museums. Visit Museo de Cartagena de Indias, housed in a former colonial home, to find out more about Cartagena from before the arrival of Europeans and/or the Museo Naval del Caribe to learn about the region’s maritime history.
  • Day trip to the Rosario Islands. Spend the day touring the island chain, a protected marine national park that sits just 35 kilometres off the coast of Cartagena.
A street with colonial buildings and pink flowers in Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena is Colombia’s most romantic city.

Day 7-8: Tayrona National Park

Recommended accommodation: Ecolodge Playa Brava Teyumakke

Take a 4-5 hour bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta, followed by a 1-hour local bus to Tayrona National Park. The ultimate beach destination in Colombia, Tayrona National Park features some of the best beaches in the country

  • Start early at the main entrance gate and hike 2-3 hours through the jungle to reach the coast. Most visitors head for Cabo San Juan, which is arguably the most beautiful but also the busiest.
  • Spend the night camping on the beach. Late evening and early morning are the best times to enjoy the park when those staying overnight will have the beaches all to themselves. 

I am so glad that I booked overnight accommodation in the park. While the trail was pretty well beaten and there were lots of people about, the campsite felt like a beautiful retreat from the crowds. Waking up to the sound of howler monkeys in the distance is something I’ll never forget!

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South America Backpacker

Day 9-10: Palomino

Recommended accommodation: Casa del Pavo Real

A short (1 hour) bus journey will take you to backpacker favourite Palomino, a small town just east along the coast from Tayrona National Park. Spend your last couple of days relaxing, enjoying the laidback vibes and lazing along the nearby rivers.

  • Float along the river. Tubing is one of the most popular pastimes in Palomino. Grab a ring, sit back and relax as you meander down the river, passing jungle and exotic birds along the way.
  • Hit the waves with a surfing lesson. If you want a break from relaxing on the beach, why not try a surfing lesson? The waves on Palomino Beach provide plenty of whitewash, which is perfect for beginners.
  • Take a dog for a walk. Dog Shelter Palomino works to help the street dogs in the town. You can do your bit and have fun at the same time by taking one of the pooches for a walk. (All money goes towards the shelter to support the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of the dogs.)
  • Watch the sunset. Grab yourself a coco loco at one of the beach bars and enjoy the view over the Caribbean Sea as the sun goes down.

From Palomino, it’s an easy 2-hour bus journey back to Santa Marta for onward travel. Santa Marta has its own international airport and good bus connections to Cartagena, Bogotá and Medellín. 

Palomino-Colombia
The coastal town of Palomino is a great place to end your trip.

2-Week Colombia Itinerary – Nature and Hiking 🥾

Colombia is a paradise for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts. A two-week trip offers great opportunities to explore the great outdoors.

Day 1: Bogotá

Recommended accommodation: Selina La Candelaria

Start in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, where you can sample some of the country’s best food and take a short, but challenging, hike to ease into the trip.

  • In the morning, hike up Cerro Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city. While the trail is not particularly long (it takes approximately 1.5 hours to hike up), the altitude makes this far from a walk in the park. Bogotá sits at around 2,600 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l.) and the peak of Monsteratte is 3,152 m.a.s.l. Take it slow and drink plenty of water.
  • Spend the afternoon at the excellent museums; Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and Museo Botero.
  • Take a salsa class in the evening. No visit to Colombia is complete without wiggling your hips to the beat of salsa!

Day 2-3: Salento

Recommended accommodation: Viajero Salento

A short flight or overnight bus journey will take you to Salento, home to the world’s tallest wax palm trees.

  • Hike in the Valle de Cocora. The hike through the verdant Cocora Valley is a loop trail that passes through El Bosque de Las Palmas (The Forest of Palms) and cloud forest. It takes around 5 hours.
  • Visit a coffee farm. A trip to Colombia’s coffee belt wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the local fincas, where you can learn about the process of growing, harvesting and roasting coffee – and of course, enjoy a sample of the good stuff too!

The hike around Cocora Valley was one of my favourite walks in Colombia. The path was the perfect level of varied and challenging and the flora and fauna en route was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe how many hummingbirds I saw! Hiking next to the towering wax palms was the definite highlight – I’m yet to see a landscape like it anywhere else!

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South America Backpacker
Wax palm trees in Valle de Cocora, Colombia
You can’t miss the tallest wax palm trees in the world!

Day 4-5: Medellín

Recommended accommodation: Masaya

Take an overnight bus to Medellín, the City of Eternal Spring. Surrounded by mountains, the city is surprisingly green and offers plenty of opportunities for nature lovers.

  • Walk the Cerro de las Tres Cruces hike for excellent views and an outdoor gym.
  • Look out for local plant life on the Flora Trail in Parque Arví.

Day 6-7: Tayrona National Park

Recommended accommodation: Ecolodge Playa Brava Teyumakke

From Medellín, it’s a 1-hour flight or overnight bus to Santa Marta, which is just a short hop from Tayrona National Park.

  • Tackle some of the hiking trails in the park, including the classic trek to Cabo San Juan. For a quieter but more challenging hike to the beaches, enter from the Calabazo entrance rather than the main entrance (El Zaino).

Day 8-9: Minca

Recommended accommodation: Mundo Nuevo Eco Lodge

Head into the hills to visit the tranquil town of Minca, just 45 minutes by bus from Santa Marta. The altitude makes a pleasant escape from the heat and with rolling hills in every direction, lush vegetation and coffee farms, the views are simply stunning. 

  • Rise with the lark for a bird-watching tour. Colombia is famed for its plethora of beautiful and exotic birds. There are over 160 species around Minca, making it a great place to spot some of these colourful creatures. Lucky twitchers might see hummingbirds, toucans and macaws.
  • Hike to a waterfall. There are plenty of hiking trails around Minca, including several leading to waterfalls, such as Marinka Waterfall, Pozo Azul, and Cascada Oido del Mundo (The Ear of the World Waterfall).
  • Watch the sunrise over the Sierra Nevada. For fantastic views over Minca and the surrounding mountains, tackle the 360 mirador hike, a short but steep trail that offers spectacular vistas as a reward.
  • Learn about making chocolate on a cacao tour. Don’t miss a tour of one of the local fincas (coffee and cacao farms). Discover how cacao is grown, harvested and turned into the tasty confectionery loved the world over.
Sunset over the mountains in Minca, Colombia
Minca offers amazing mountain views and great trekking trails.

Day 10-14: The Lost City Trek

Recommended tour: Lost City Trek with Expotur

Colombia’s most popular hike – and with good reason – the trek to La Ciudad Perdida is an adventurous multi-day journey through the jungle.

  • Choose either a 4 or 5 trek to the Lost City. Spend your days hiking through the rainforest, crossing rivers and meeting indigenous peoples, and your nights falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the jungle on your way to discover the Lost City.

Lost City Treks include transport back to Santa Marta, which has an airport and good bus connections for onward travel.

Trekking to Colombia’s Lost City is an unforgettable experience. Prepare for mud, unsanitary sleeping conditions and limited opportunities for washing. In exchange, expect to forge strong friendships, experience mind-blowing views and gorge on as much local food as you can handle!

Tim Ashdown, Writer at South America Backpacker
Lost City Upper Levels
The view of the Lost City that makes all the effort worthwhile!

1-Month Colombia Itinerary – Dramatic Landscapes and Adventure 🏜️

With one month in Colombia, it’s possible to get off the beaten track and experience the country’s wilder side.

Day 1-2: Medellín

Recommended accommodation: Masaya

Start your adventure by exploring the exciting city of Medellín from a different perspective.

  • Take the cable car to Parque Arví and enjoy a hike through the ecological park.
  • See the city from a bird’s eye view with a paragliding flight from the surrounding mountains.

Day 3-6: Isla San Andrés

Recommended accommodation: Dreamer Beach Club

Take a 2-hour flight to Colombia’s far-flung Caribbean island of San Andrés.

  • Go scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea. San Andrés is famed for its crystal clear waters, which make it one of the best places to go diving in Colombia.
  • Walk at the bottom of the sea with a weighted helmet to explore an underwater sculpture and get up close to the sealife.
  • Enjoy some watersports. Take your pick of snorkelling, jet skiing, parasailing or kayaking and take to the water.
Boat next to Johnny Cay island
See the Sea of Seven Colours on San Andrés Island.

Day 7-11: The Lost City Trek

Recommended tour: Lost City Trek with Expotur

Fly to Barranquilla and take a short (2 hours) bus to Santa Marta, the starting point of one of South America’s top treks.

  • Spend five days trekking through the heart of the Colombian jungle to explore the mesmerizing Ciudad Perdida.

Day 12-14: Minca

Recommended accommodation: Mundo Nuevo Eco Lodge

Head to Minca in the mountains to explore some of its hiking trails, waterfalls and abundant nature.

  • Make a splash in one of the nearby waterfalls. Hike or grab a motor taxi to one of Minca’s many watering holes and take a refreshing dip.
  • Trek up Cerro Kennedy. Take the overnight trip to hike one of the best trails in Minca. The viewpoint near the summit of Cerro Kennedy is around 3,000 m.a.s.l. and offers unrivalled views across the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
  • Take a coffee or cacao tour. Colombia is one of the top producers of two of life’s greatest pleasures – coffee and chocolate. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about how they are made on a visit to a local finca.

Day 15-16: Tayrona National Park

Recommended accommodation: Ecolodge Playa Brava Teyumakke

Take a 2-hour bus journey (via Santa Marta) to Tayrona National Park.

  • Hike through the jungle to the spectacular Caribbean coastline and spend the night on the beach.
Cabo San Juan, Tayrona
Tayrona National Park beaches are some of the best in Colombia!

Day 17-19: La Guajira

Recommended tour: 3-day Guajira Tour with Guanabana Adventure Tours

Hop on a local bus along the coast to Riohacha (2-3 hours), the jumping-off point for tours to La Guajira, Colombia’s wild northeastern frontier. 

  • Explore the wild and dramatic desert in the northernmost tip of South America.
  • Drive through desert landscapes on a 4WD adventure.
  • Meet indigenous tribes and learn about local culture.

Day 20-22: San Gil and Barichara

Recommended accommodation: This is Colombia Hostel

An overnight bus will take you to Bucaramanga, from which it’s another 3 hours by bus to San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia.

  • Sail over one of the world’s largest canyons in a paragliding flight over Chicamocha Canyon.
  • Feel the adrenaline of white water rafting along the Suarez River.
  • Go canyoning and rappel 120m down a rock face.
  • Launch yourself 140m into the void in a bungee jump.
  • Take a day trip to nearby Barichara, known as the prettiest town in Colombia.
Street view of Barichara, Colombia
Does Barichara get your vote for Colombia’s prettiest town?

Day 23-34: Bogotá

Recommended accommodation: Selina La Candelaria

Buses (8 hours) run direct from San Gil to Bogotá. Spend a couple of days in the capital sampling some of the best food and soaking up the sights.

  • Enjoy a food tour of Bogotá and experience some of the best gastronomic delights the city has to offer.
  • Hike, or take the cable car, up to Cerro Monserrate for panoramic views.
  • Get some culture with a visit to the Gold Museum or Botero Museum.
  • Visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, an underground cathedral constructed in a former salt mine.

I love Bogotá. At first glance, it feels like another large, intimidating Andean city, but after some time exploring a gritty charm shines through. This is a working city and outside the main attractions, people don’t have much time for tourists. You’re pretty much just left alone to explore!

Tim Ashdown, Writer at South America Backpacker
View of Bogota skyline
Cerro Monserrate offers stunning views over Bogotá.

Day 25-26: Tatacoa Desert

Recommended accommodation: Hotel Colonial Villavieja

Take an hour flight to Neiva to access the otherworldly Tatacoa Desert.

  • Walk through the Red Desert. Take the trail through the dramatic landscape of peaks of sand formations, created by wind and rain.
  • Visit the Grey Desert, where the colours and unique shape of the landscape give it a lunar-like appearance.
  • Stargaze. The desert’s remoteness and lack of light pollution make it an excellent place to observe the night sky in all its dazzling glory.

Day 27-30: Amazonas

Recommended tour: 4-day Amazon Adventure with Tarapoto Amazonas Jungle Tours

Return to Bogotá and fly onwards to Leticia, the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest. Take a multi-day tour for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the world’s largest rainforest.

  • Spot pink and grey dolphins on a boat ride along the Amazon River.
  • Meet indigenous communities on a visit to a local village.
  • Go jungle trekking in the Amazon Rainforest where you can spot the area’s unique flora and fauna.

From Leticia, take a flight back to Bogotá for onward travel, or take a 3-day boat to Iquitos in Peru to continue your adventures!

Boat on the river in the jungle
Take a boat ride in the Amazon for ‘oarsome’ views!

Visiting the Amazon was the highlight of my three months in Colombia. Witnessing the amazing wildlife and trekking through the dense jungle was a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. Spotting pink dolphins while boating along the Amazon River was certainly one of my most memorable moments!

Lisa Barham, Writer at South America Backpacker

Other Places to Consider:

With so much to see, it’s impossible to cover all of Colombia’s top sites, even within a month. If you’re lucky enough to have more time, below are a few other highlights you may wish to add to your itinerary.

Cali

The salsa capital of Colombia, people come here for one reason and one reason only: to dance!

Santa Cruz de Mompox

A UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning colonial architecture. Think Cartagena without the crowds.

Parque Nacional el Cocuy

The glacial Andean peaks pose a stark contrast to the sweltering coast and jungle of lowland Colombia. The park is a stunning hiking destination.

Caño Cristales

Also known as The Liquid Rainbow, here the river runs not only red, but also green, blue, yellow, and even black!

Villa de Leyva

A charming town known for its whitewashed buildings, huge town square and cute cobbled streets, it’s well worth a stay for a couple of days.

Street view in Villa de Leyva, Colombia
Villa de Leyva is definitely worth a stopover.

Planning a Trip to Colombia

  • Time of Year

As a general rule, Colombia’s dry season, which runs from December to March, is considered the best time to visit the country, especially if you plan to go hiking or spend time on the coast. This is also peak season though, so expect popular destinations to be busy. June to August are also relatively dry.

Note that the differing altitude across the country affects the climate more than the time of year, so even when it’s stifling in Cartagena, it can be chilly in Bogotá. Semana Santa (Easter week) is the busiest week of the year. If you plan to travel during this time, book well in advance.

  • Getting Around Colombia

First-time travellers to South America are often surprised at just how vast the continent is. Getting from A to B even within the same country can be time-consuming so ensure you factor this into your plans. There are excellent bus connections across Colombia and booking is easy and cheap (RedBus.co is a great website for booking in advance). Internal flights are affordable and time-saving if you’re on a tight schedule.

  • Costs of Travelling Colombia

Colombia is one of the cheapest countries in South America. However, certain activities come with a relatively high price tag, such as the Lost City Trek. As a general rule, food and accommodation is more expensive in the north along the Caribbean coast.

  • Risks, Dangers and Scams

Colombia has done much to turn its dangerous reputation around. Yet, many still view it as a risky destination. While there are areas that should be avoided (check your country’s government advice for areas you should not travel to), much of the country is safe to visit. 

You should, of course, exercise the usual precautions, such as not flashing expensive items, not travelling alone at night and only using registered taxis or Ubers. For more about safety in Colombia see this article.

  • Food in Colombia

Colombia is not renowned for having the most exciting food, but dig beneath the surface and there are some tasty treats to be had. Staples include arepas (corn bread), patacones (plantain fried into a pancake shape) and empanadas (corn dough stuffed with meats or cheese). 

Meat features heavily in the cuisine and vegans and vegetarians may struggle outside of the big cities or touristy towns – be prepared to eat lots of arroz al wok (stir-fried rice and vegetables).

Bowl of ajiaco soup
Ajiaco soup is a popular dish in Bogotá.

As diverse as it is beautiful, Colombia truly has something to offer every traveller. City-dwellers will love the thriving cities and picturesque pueblos. Nature lovers will be spoilt for choice with desert, rainforest, mountains and coastline all jostling for attention. Adventure-junkies can find thrills galore and laid-back souls will enjoy the chilled vibes of seaside or mountain towns.

With a burgeoning backpacker scene, relatively cheap cost of living and a big heart that beats to the rhythm of salsa, this is a country that promises to deliver on adventure and rich experiences, whichever of these Colombia itineraries you choose!

Do you have anything to add to our Colombia itineraries? Let us know in the comments!

Lisa-Barham-author-pic
Lisa Barham

Lisa is a writer and traveller who left her nine-to-five in London for life on the road. Today, she spends her time solo backpacking, navigating through life and unfamiliar streets. After eating, hiking and surfing her way through Southeast Asia, she headed for a new adventure in South America, to travel through the continent learning Spanish, and a few other valuable lessons along the way!

Follow her on: Instagram

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