Colourful colonial houses in Cartagena Walled City, Colombia

3 Weeks in Colombia: Itinerary for an Amazing Trip

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Are you planning on backpacking Colombia?  Creating an itinerary for 3 weeks in Colombia is no easy task.  There are just so many amazing places equally worth the time to explore.  We had an incredible time during our trip and could easily have spent longer but work beckoned us home.

3 Weeks in Colombia

Our 3 week Colombia itinerary will take you to the major cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena.  You will visit Salento in the coffee region, complete the Lost City trek and even find some time for relaxing at the beach (because who wants to return home from vacation exhausted?).

Colourful Guatapé, stunning Cocora Valley and Isla Grande make for perfect day trips as well.  We personally followed this trip plan almost exactly and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to visit this colourful country.

While it is impossible to see all of Colombia in 3 weeks, following this detailed itinerary will give you a glimpse of the best of Colombia and what it has to offer.  In a country with so many incredible options, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with planning – we’re here to help!

Stone cathedral with a sculpture plaza in front and a bright blue sky, Cartagena, Colombia.

Why should you visit Colombia?

Just a few short years ago, Colombia was mostly known for its drug cartels and violence.  Medellín was even named ‘the murder capital of the world’!  Today, however, the country has shed this reputation and emerged as a backpacker’s favourite.  It is now more widely known for it’s stunning, diverse nature and rich culture.

While safety should always be a concern, it is no more a worry in Colombia than any other Latin America country.  Keep a close eye on your valuables and don’t stray into certain areas and you will be fine.  We certainly never felt unsafe during our time travelling around Colombia.

Want to know the best time to visit Colombia?  Hoping to see the very best of Colombia?  Curious about the ideal time in Colombia? Read this post, it’s chockful of Colombia Travel Tips!

Colombia Itinerary: 3 Weeks

This detailed Colombia 3 week itinerary is jam-packed with activity, nature and culture.  It is easily customizable for your preferences.  We tell you where to go and how to get there.  So what are you waiting for?  Find out the best way to spend three weeks in Colombia.

More than likely you will be flying into Bogotá so our three weeks in Colombia begins there.  To maximize your time we planned to fly out of Cartagena.  If you book return tickets through the same airport (Cartagena or Bogotá) then allow enough time for one more internal flight.

Day 1- Bogota

Try to book a flight that lands as early as possible to take advantage of your time here.  Check into your accommodation (we strongly recommend staying in the historic district, la candelaria).

While it’s not the cheapest option, the bus system is rather confusing so if you’re arriving in Bogotá for the first time it’s a lot easier just to pay for a taxi.

Depending on your arrival time, spend the rest of the day exploring the city.  Perhaps even check out a museum or two before nightfall.  The Gold Museum is highly rated by everyone who visits.

Street art of a girl with alien on her head and a red background in Bogota, Colombia.

Where to stay in Bogota

We stayed in Hotel Muisca and would totally recommend this amazing hotel.  It was located right in the Candelaria district in a really interesting old building with each room surrounding a courtyard.  A delicious breakfast was included as well.  Check prices and availability now.

There are some amazing tours that will help you see all the best Bogotá has to offer without the hassle and worry of navigating the vast city alone. Check these out!

Day Two – Bogota

Sign up for the Bogota Graffiti Tour starting at 10am.  It’s free (although a tip is expected) and a really great way to get oriented while seeing the old colonial centre from a different perspective.  Bogotá has a really interesting street art history so it’s really worth taking the time to do this.  It was definitely one of our favourite walking tours we have done.

One of the things to do in Bogota on everyone’s list is to go up Monserrate.  In the afternoon, walk, take the cable car or train (assuming all options are available) to the summit.  The view from the top is spectacular!

Day 3 – Bogotá

Take the morning to wander the streets of la candelaria.  Visit a few museums or just take in the sights and sounds of the streets.  This should be high on anyone’s list of what to see in Colombia!  There are also great tours if you’d rather see the city from a different perspective. See the tours mentioned above.

In the afternoon head to Usaquén, a cute neighbourhood that has a huge street market every Sunday.  Even if your schedule doesn’t fall on a Sunday, the central plaza is still a lovely place to spend some time and have an artisan beer at the Bogotá Beer Company across the street.

View of Bogota from Montserrate, Colombia.

Our next stop on our 3 week itinerary will be Salento.  To get from Bogota to Salento without losing an entire day, take the last overnight bus to Armenia.  There is a Bolivariano bus that leaves at 10pm and is the most comfortable option.  While no one ever is happy about sleeping on a bus, this will keep your entire day free to enjoy more of Colombia.  

If an overnight bus isn’t for you, find more options for how to get to Salento here.

Day 4 – Salento

Salento is the heart of Colombia’s coffee-growing region and is surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery.

The overnight Bogota – Armenia bus arrives in Armenia early – like 5am early.  From here, it’s a 45-minute bus to Salento.  If you’re wondering if this is a place you can skip, stop right there.  Salento is most definitely among the best places to go in Colombia.

Drop your bags at your hotel.  Head off to the Plantation House in time for their 9am coffee tour.  Colombia is world-renowned for its coffee so even if you are not a coffee drinker (like us), you cannot visit Colombia and not taste some of their famous Colombian coffee.  Learn about, and participate in, the coffee process while enjoying breathtaking views across the landscape.

Looking down a street in quaint town of Salento at dusk.

After a delicious lunch in main plaza (we recommend the local dish of trucha), perhaps take a nap in your hotel room before walking up to the mirador, one of the more popular things to do in Salento.  There are actually two viewpoints: one with fantastic views of the hills behind town and another looking over the rooftops of Salento.  

End your walk in town with an evening drink as the streets come alive.  Perhaps even join the locals for a game in the local pool hall.

Where to stay in Salento

We stayed in the Hotel Salento Real Eje Cafetero and loved it.  Not only did they let us actually check in at 6am (6am!!!), we had a cute room overlooking a central courtyard and the best shower we had experienced in over a year at least!  Check prices and availability here.

Day 5 – Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora)

Get up early and head to the main square to catch a Willy.  These Jeeps leave when full and will take you to the Cocora Valley and the Valle de Cocora hike.  If you are trying to decide what to do in Colombia make sure this is on the list – this is one of the absolute best places in Colombia!

Put in the extra effort to hike up to the finca de las montañas before descending through the valley and you will be rewarded with stunning views.  We set a pretty good pace and were back in town shortly after lunchtime.

If the weather cooperates hike down to the river.  There are trails from the mirador.

Something that needs to be on your Colombia travel itinerary is to learn how to play Tejos.  This is a traditional Colombian game kind of like horseshoes with gunpowder, and just as much fun as it sounds!  There is a bar in Salento that welcomes foreigners and happily teaches you the basics.

Man walking through field of tall wax palms in Cocora Valley, Salento, Colombia.

Day 6 – Medellín

The old stomping grounds of Pablo Escobar and once named the murder capital of the world, Medellin has become an incredibly popular ex-pat destination.

One overnight bus is enough for any trip plus the views on this are well worth losing a day. We took the direct Salento – Medellín service offered by Flota Occidental and arrive in the evening, just in time to explore the nightlife and restaurant scene.  

If you’re a glutton for punishment and want to gain an extra day, you could go for an indirect overnight bus.  El Poblado is a popular area for travellers as is Avenida 70; filled with salsa bars and restaurants.

Tip: have detailed instructions and/or a map for a taxi driver to take you to your destination in Medellín. We found out the hard way that roads are confusing and drivers don´t know where they are going half the time.

Where to stay in Medellin

We stayed at Paisa City Party Hostel (before they added the party to their name)!  It is in a fantastic location with awesome social areas – just don’t expect a good night’s sleep.  Click here for more information.

If you’re looking for a better night’s sleep, check out the many other hotels in the same area.

Day 7 – Guatape day trip

Make sure you add a day trip to Guatapé into your Colombia itinerary. There are organized trips available which include transportation, lunch and a boat trip.

 Check out this Full Day Tour to Guatape – it has an amazing introductory special price right now!

However, it is very easy to do on your own. Take the metro to the terminal norte bus station and then a two-hour bus ride.  Make sure you buy a ticket to El Peńon, not Guatapé.  It’ll save you a little money.

After climbing the rock and marvelling at the stunning views, either walk or take a tuk-tuk into town for lunch and stroll around the colourful streets. If you feel like it, there are plenty of water sports on offer as well as boat tours.  Without question one of the best day trips from Medellin!

Blue lakes and green islands fill the landscape view from top of el Penon, Guatape, Colombia.

If you’re in Medellín around Christmas time, spend the evening taking in the famous Christmas light display.

Day 8 – Medellin

Sign up with Real City Tours for their fantastic morning free walking tour.  Medellin doesn’t have a huge amount of ‘sights’ but what sets it apart is its interesting social history.  This tour takes you through a number of significant locations and explains a lot about the city’s history that made it one of the most famous places in Colombia.  All from the perspective of a local.  This really is a must during your time in Medellín – it is probably the best walking tour we have done.

There are a wide variety of tours available in Medellin.  If the walking tour doesn’t tickle your fancy, maybe one of these will:

In the afternoon, hop on the metro to Comuna 13 and take the outdoor escalators.  These escalators were built to connect the poor neighbourhood with the city and are an excellent example of social architecture promoting regeneration.

Alternatively, walk up Cerro Nutibarra to Pueblito Paisa.  This is a replica historical village with a great view of the city.  The surrounding hill is also a nature park so take some time to walk the trails.

Day 9 – Medellín

Take the cable car to Parque Arví.  These cable cars are an example of the excellent social architecture that has taken place in Medellín over the past few years.  They were designed to connect the poorer neighbourhoods of the city and give them easier access to the central business districts.  Aside from getting a glimpse at these neighbourhoods, you will also be rewarded with views across the city.

Take the metrocable to Santo Domingo, one of Medellín’s poorest neighbourhoods.  After discovering the area and its famous library, change onto the second cable car up to Parque Arví and explore the area and its trails.

Man and woman Botero sculptures in front of ornate building in Medellin, Colombia.

Day 10 – Medellín to Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a hidden gem in Colombia.  It doesn’t get the crowds but offers beach, mountains and culture.  It’s the perfect jumping-off point for a number of adventures along the northern Caribbean coast so take the day to get any tours or transportation organized.

Fly to Santa Marta and arrive by midmorning.  We found the best prices using Viva Air Colombia (then called VivaColombia) but be sure to shop around.

Once you have tomorrow sorted, spend the day walking around the downtown, and find time for a quick dip in the Caribbean!

Where to stay in Santa Marta

As we had one night to get some rest before four days hiking through the jungle and sleeping in rough camps, we figured we’d splurge a little on a nice place.  Hotel Tayromar was comfortable, friendly and the beds were comfortable.  What more could we ask for?  Well, perhaps the free breakfast on an ocean-view rooftop patio.  Check prices and availability now.

After returning from the Lost City, we had a few more nights in Santa Marta.  We reigned in the budget slightly and moved to Hostal Parque Real.  In reality, despite not being as ‘pretty’ on the outside this was just as comfortable a stay.  The only noticeable difference was the lack of free breakfast on a rooftop patio.  Find prices and availability here.

Day 11-14: Lost City Trek / Parque Tayrona / Palomino

Top of our list of things to do during our 3 weeks in Colombia was the Ciudad Perdida trip.  In fact, this was a major factor in choosing Colombia!  We used Expotur and were picked up from our hotel around 8 am and were returned to their offices around 5:30 pm four days later. It was tough but awesome!

This is definitely one of the best things to do in Colombia if you’re looking for culture, history and adventure all rolled into one – and you don’t mind working for it.  It’s getting more and more popular so be sure to check this off your list before it becomes one of the busiest Colombia tourist attractions!

Panoramic view across Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on Lost City trek in Colombia.

If jungle hiking isn’t your thing, add a few days of beach relaxation into your 3 week Colombia itinerary.  Take the bus to the popular Parque Tayrona or continue further afield to the beach town of Palomino.  Another option is to head to Taganga and get your SCUBA dive certificate, or just enjoy the party scene.  If you really want to get away, Cabo de Vela is the northernmost point of South America and a perfect spot to escape the world and enjoy wind sports such as kiteboarding.

If you’d rather escape the heat of the Caribbean coast, head into the mountains to Minca.  This is a great place for scenery, hiking and coffee!

Day 15-16: Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a small city on the Caribbean coast with a colonial centre.  It has a nice plaza surrounded by delicious restaurants and fun bars.  Many people skip over this city or, if they do stick around, don’t really enjoy it.  However, I found it to have a beautiful historic centre that is just tatty enough to feel real.  It’s a great spot to spend a couple of days to recover and relax before boarding a bus to Cartagena.

By now, you may be in need of some clean clothes, I know we were.  So this is a great opportunity to get some laundry down while you enjoy the town and beaches in this underrated Colombian city.

Golden sunset on the beach backed by mountains in Santa Marta, Colombia

Day 17 – Santa Marta to Cartagena

No itinerary for Colombia would be complete without seeing Cartagena.  This hot and humid city has a well-preserved colonial city within the ancient walls.  While incredibly touristy, it is still well worth a visit.

Mirasol offers a door to door bus service to Cartagena.  Around 10 am you will be picked up from your hotel in Santa Marta and dropped at or near your hotel in Cartagena.  This trip will take around 5 hours so you will be checked in and ready to explore a couple of hours before sunset.

Take a stroll along the top of the old city wall and watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea.  There are a few cafes along the wall that make a great place to stop for a break.

Where to stay in Cartagena

Our home in Cartagena was in Getsemani, just outside the walled city but still very much in the historical district.  We actually much preferred this area to the overly touristy and ‘polished’ walled city.  Hotel Leyendas del Mar was brand new and we had the place to ourselves.  The location was perfect and the staff were fabulous.  I can only imagine how fantastic it will be once the rooftop with a bar and hot tub is finished.  Sound good?  Check prices and availability here now.

Day 18 – Cartagena

Explore the walled city of Cartagena.  There are free walking tours available but it is also very easy to navigate independently.  Around every corner is another photo opportunity and cafe to take a break.  Take some time out of your day to figure out travel plans for tomorrow.

cartagena, things to do in colombia, getsemani, colonial

The walled city is beautiful but we actually preferred Getsemaní.  Equally historic, it’s a little rougher around the edges and comes alive at night.  There are numerous eating options, from really nice restaurants to delicious street food.  Plaza de la Trinidad is ground zero for all the action.  Every evening it would fill with locals and travellers enjoying food and drink.  We enjoyed spending time here each night.

Day 19 – day trip from Cartagena

There are popular day trips from here to Rosario Islands, Isla Grande, mud volcanos and Isla Barú.

Tours are easy to book, just walk along the harbour outside of the city wall.  If you don’t get stopped ten times first there are booths at the end to book tours.  Be prepared for tourist overload though!  Alternatively, skip the circus and pre-book your tour here.

Don’t forget, staying overnight on one of the islands is also an option if you don’t mind packing up your things a couple more times!

Day 20 – Cartagena beaches

Beach day!  There are many beaches around Cartagena depending on what you are looking for.  Some are more swimmable than others, however.  Don’t expect picture-perfect beaches but the atmosphere makes up for it and the weather is perfect.  

We visited Bocagrande.  While not the prettiest, it is walking distance from town but the contrast is striking.  Within minutes of leaving the colonial streets, you are on a strip of high-rises akin to Miami.  There are less developed beaches on the other side of town for a more tranquil experience.

If you are not a beach person, or went to Playa Blanca yesterday, there are plenty of interesting museums around town, or other places of interest, to keep you entertained.

In the afternoon, walk up to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas for a view over all of Cartagena.

Skyline of the old city of Cartagena, Colombia from the rocky beach.

Day Twenty-one – Depart from Cartagena

You have now seen some of Colombia’s best places to visit.  You’ve had some adventures and some time to relax, some city explorations and beach.  This 3 weeks Colombia itinerary took you to big cities, small mountain towns, coastal cities and into the jungle.  Now take a taxi to the airport and head home!

How to Customize your Itinerary for Colombia

We had to make some tough decisions about what was and wasn’t going to be included in our Colombia itinerary – 3  weeks just isn’t enough time in such an incredible country.  These decisions were based on research and, in part, our personal preferences.  You may have different priorities.

Places we would love to see but just didn’t have the time:

You could easily trade a destination for one of the above.  Check out this post on the best places to visit in Colombia for more inspiration!

If you opted not to do the Ciudad Perdida trek, you will have a little more flexibility over your time.  You also won’t need two days in Santa Marta to ‘recover’.  If you’d rather spend less time there shift one or more of those days somewhere else.

2 Weeks in Colombia

However, if you only have 2 weeks in Colombia it is still definitely worth it.  We would recommend taking out one or two locations from this itinerary depending on your preferences.  My personal choice would be to omit Medellin as it held the least amount of appeal to us, however, logistically that may not be the best choice for you if you still want to visit Salento.

You may also want to consider choosing either the highlands (Bogotá, the coffee region,…) or the Caribbean Coast.  The travelling distances between those two are huge so keeping travel times to a minimum will buy you some time for exploring.

How Successful was our 3 Week Colombia Itinerary?

We followed this itinerary almost exactly (we only had 19 days) and had a fantastic time!  Overall, we were happy with the pace of this itinerary and we felt we got to do some of the best things Colombia has to offer without going home exhausted.

Colombia is full of incredible adventures just waiting for you to discover!

Click here for all our Colombia posts in one place.
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Night street scene with bistro tables and lights. Text overlay: Perfect Colombia Itinerary.

Cartagena Cathedral with text: 3 week itinerary for Colombia

What do you think?  Have you already been?  What would you want to see on your Colombia itinerary? 

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