Looking to spend three weeks in Colombia? Want to see the best the country has to offer without coming home exhausted? This itinerary will take you to the best places to visit in Colombia.
Planning a trip to Colombia? Read our Colombia Travel Tips.
Researching Colombia, it becomes very clear that there is a lot to see in such a short time and choices need to be made. With just three weeks, there is little room to be flexible. Therefore, I created a very detailed itinerary so make the most of each day (although there is also plenty of choice built in). I think it has a good balance of city and beach, activity and relaxation. Let us know what do you think!
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Here it is, in detail, with information on how we traveled between cities.
Colombia Itinerary: The Best Places to Visit in Colombia
More than likely you will be flying into Bogotá so our Colombia itinerary begins there. To maximize your time in Colombia we planned this itinerary to fly out of Cartagena, although you could easily fly back to Bogotá before connecting to your home destination on the final day.
Arrive in Bogotá and make your way to your hotel. 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 your first time it’s a lot easier just to pay for a taxi. Depending on your arrival time you may have time to explore, perhaps even check out a museum or two, before nightfall.
Get oriented by signing up for the Bogotá Graffiti Tour starting at 10am. This is a unique way to get to know the historic centre, la candelaria, while learning a lot about the local street art culture. One of the things to do in Colombia on everyone’s list was to go up Montserrate. 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! Read about our Two Days in Bogota in more detail here!
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. 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.
To save a day, take the overnight bus to Armenia. There is a Bolivariano 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, read our post on Salento, Colombia to find your preferred travel option.
The overnight bus arrives in Armenia early – like 5am early. From here, it’s a 45 minute bus to Salento, one of the best places to visit in Colombia. Drop your bags at your hotel and head off to the Plantation House for a 9am coffee tour. Salento is in the coffee region of Colombia so this is a great place to take a tour and taste some of the world-famous Colombian coffee.
After a delicious lunch in town (we recommend the local dish of trucha), perhaps take a nap in your hotel room before walking up to the mirador. End your walk in town for an evening drink as the streets come alive. Perhaps even join the locals for a game in the local pool hall.
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, or Valle de Cocora, for its famed hike. 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 itinerary is to learn how to play Tejos, a traditional Colombian game kind of like horseshoes with gunpowder! There is a bar in Salento that welcomes foreigners and happily teaches you the basics.
Travel day to Medellín. One overnight bus is enough for any itinerary plus the views on this are well worth losing a day. We took the direct Salento – Medellín service offered by Flota Occidental. If you’re a glutton for punishment and want to gain an extra day you could go for an indirect overnight bus. Read our post about Salento to find out more. An extra day would be amazing for Medellín but probably not worth it if you just end up napping it away!
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.
Take a day trip to Guatapé. There are organized trips available which include transportation, lunch and a boat trip. 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.
If you’re in Medellín around Christmas time, spend the evening taking in the famous Christmas light display.
Take the free walking tour of Medellín with Real City Tours for the morning. This tour was really good! There aren’t a huge amount of ‘sights’ in Medellín 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 from the perspective of a local.
In the afternoon, take the cable car out to the neighbourhood of Santo Domingo, one of Medellín’s poorest, and up to Parque Arví. Alternatively hop on the metro to Comuna 13 and take the outdoor escalators. Another option is to 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.
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 and change onto the second cable car up to Parque Arví and explore the area and its trails.
Fly to Santa Marta using VivaColombia and arrive by midmorning. Spend the day walking around the downtown, complete payment for Ciudad Perdida trip if you take that option, and find time for a quick dip in the Caribbean!
Days Eleven – Fourteen
Top of our list of things to do 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 8am and were returned to their offices around 5:30pm four days later. It was tough but awesome! This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you’re looking for culture, history and adventure all rolled into one – and you don’t mind working for it.
If you choose not to include this trek in your Colombia itinerary, now is the time to get out of town for a few days. If you want to mix some nature with beach time go straight to Parque Tayrona. Go a little further and really escape the crowds in favour of the beach life and head to Palomino or Cabo de Vela. Another option is to head to Taganga and get your SCUBA dive certificate, or just enjoy the party scene!
Days Fifteen – Sixteen
Spend a couple of days enjoying Santa Marta. By now, you may be in need of some clean clothes so take the time to get some laundry done while you enjoy the colonial centre and Caribbean beaches of this underrated city.
Cartagena is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Colombia. Mirasol offers a door to door bus service to Cartagena. Around 10am 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. Check in and head out for a walk along the waterfront then along the top of the old city wall in time for sunset. There are a few cafes along the wall that make a great place to stop for a break.
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.
The walled city is beautiful but we actually preferred Getsemaní. Equally historical, 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 around here each night.
Take a day trip to either the mud volcano or Playa Grande. 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!
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 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.
You have now seen some of the best places to visit in Colombia. You’ve had some adventures and some time to relax, some city explorations and beach. This 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!
Things to Note
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.
In creating a Colombia itinerary for just 3 weeks, we had to make some decisions about what wasn’t going to be included. 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:
- Villas de Leyva
- Camino Real hike from Barichara to Guane
- San Gil for adventure sports
- Caño Cristales
- San Andres islands
- Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira
- Lake Guatavita
You could easily trade a destination in our Colombia itinerary for one of the above.
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. Contact us here if you want help modifying this Colombia itinerary to better suit your needs!
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What do you think? Have you already been? What do you think are the best places to visit in Colombia? What would you add to this itinerary?
Note: this post was originally published in September 2017 but was updated in December 2017.