Medellín, Colombia
Colombia Latin America

Colombia: Three Weeks Itinerary

August 31, 2018

Thinking of visiting Colombia? Well, I highly recommend it! Yes, violence and narco-trafficking has plagued the country for many years, but it’s now generally safe to travel there, so long as you follow common sense (as the Colombians say, no dar papaya). Colombia has an unparalleled richness in culture, history, and landscape that you simply cannot miss.

If you have the time, I’d recommend allocating about 3-4 weeks to do a loop around the country and see the main cities (though there’s always more to see!). Note: I first traveled to Colombia with a travel group organized by El Camino, which started in Cartagena and ended in Medellín (going in a counter-clockwise direction), but you can always start at a different city and loop in a clockwise direction.

Here is my itinerary:

  • Day 1: Fly to Cartagena
  • Day 2-4: Cartagena
  • Day 5: Travel to Medellín
  • Day 6-9: Medellín
  • Day 10: Travel to Salento
  • Day 11-13: Salento
  • Day 14: Travel to Bogotá
  • Day 15-17: Bogotá
  • Day 18: Travel to Minca (via Santa Marta)
  • Day 19-20: Minca
  • Day 21: Travel to Parque Tayrona (outside the park)
  • Day 22: Parque Tayrona (inside the park)
  • Day 23: Parque Tayrona (outside the park)
  • Day 24: Travel to Cartagena
  • Day 25: Cartagena
  • Day 26: Leave Colombia

Cartagena de las Indias

Cartagena is a port city located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Its known for its colonial buildings, historic charm, and proximity to beautiful beaches. Wander through the historic walled city and you’ll know why Cartagena is the birthplace for magical realism.

Cartagena, Colombia

A visit to El Totumo Mud Volcano is considered a must-see in Cartagena. For me, it was a unique experience floating on top of the volcanic mud. However, it can be crowded and feel pretty touristy if you go later in the day. My group with El Camino went early in the morning and we had the place all to ourselves. They also handled all the tipping for us.

Totumo Mud Volcano

It should be worth noting that it’s a very “handsy” type of experience. The guys in the mud will give you a massage, then squeegee the mud from your legs when step out. Then you step into the lake where some ladies will somewhat aggressively take off your bathing suit, douse your head and body with water, and scrub out the mud from your bathing suit. It makes for a interesting, laughable experience, but it may be uncomfortable for some people.

Close to Cartagena is also the Rosario Islands, which has warm beaches with Caribbean blue water. It makes for a relaxing contrast to the city life. Again, this part of our trip was organized by El Camino, but you either book a tour or just pay for the boat fare to get there.

Rosario Islands, Cartagena


Medellín

If you’ve seen the Netflix hit Narcos, you may imagine Medellín as a city still corrupted by drugs and violence. However, the city has transformed itself in recent years. High rises peak out among a endless valley of red brick buildings. Modern-day cable cars brings thousands of hillside residents into the city each day (the metro system is so much cleaner than what I’ve seen in the U.S.!). Residents feel proud and a sense of ownership of their neighborhood. In fact, some now dub Medellín as a model city. And personally, Medellín was my favorite city in Colombia.

Medellín, Colombia

In case you’re wondering, Pablo Escobar has a legacy that still haunts many local today. While you may want to satiate your morbid curiosity to learn more about him (especially after watching Narcos), please don’t go on a Pablo Escobar Tour. It’s disrespectful to the thousands of families who were torn apart during Colombia’s dark past. Instead, I’d encourage you to visit the Memory House Museum (Museo Casa de la Memoria), which honors the victims of Colombia’s armed conflict and provides several different perspectives. I would also recommend a graffiti tour through Comuna 13, which was once considered Colombia’s most dangerous neighborhood.

Comuna 13, Medellín

If you have time, you can visit the beautiful Lake District, which is about 2 hours away from Medellín. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb to the top of El Peñón de Guatapé, which offers breathtaking views (quite literally) above the lakes.

Lake District, Guatapé


Salento

Medellín was my favorite city, but Salento was probably my favorite town. Located in the Eje Cafetero (Colombia’s coffee region), it’s a charming countryside escape surrounded by lush nature and a handful of coffee fincas. We found plenty of fun things to do in four days, including hiking Valle del Cocora. You can read more about how we explored Salento here.

Salento, Colombia

To get to Salento from Medellín, you can take the Flota Occidental bus. You can purchase tickets for about $47k pesos at Terminal del Sur bus station. The journey takes about 6-7 hours with one stop in the middle. It’s a windy road, so you may want to take dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness. The bus may also pick up roadside passengers along the way, so don’t be alarmed if that happens.

Once you arrive at the bus station in Salento, you can walk up the hill toward the town plaza. You should see an information kiosk. There, you can order a jeep willy or a taxi toward your hostel (if you stay at Finca La Serrana, it’s about a 20 minute walk).


Bogotá

Bogotá is Colombia’s capital city. It’s a bigger urban sprawl than Cartagena and Medellín, which can make it trickier to navigate, but we found Uber to be particularly helpful here. Some people are disappointed by their visit to Bogotá, claiming there aren’t that many things to see or do, but I thought it was a worthwhile visit. Bogotá is colder since it’s situated by the mountains, so don’t forget to bring warmer clothes!

La Candelaria, Bogotá

To get to Bogotá from Salento, you can take a shuttle from Salento to Pereira or Armenia and fly out from the airport, which is an hour journey. Otherwise, you can take the bus, which is a 7-9 hour journey. Once you’re in Bogotá, you can call for a ride using Uber, which is a more reliable option than a taxi. Because Uber isn’t actually legal in Colombia, a few drivers had to contact me to arrange a discreet pick-up location. If you don’t speak Spanish, I’d recommend having a translation app readily available.


Minca

Minca is a small town (think smaller than Salento) packed with a handful of opportunities to immerse yourself in the tropical jungle. You can hike, contemplate the beautiful sunsets, visit coffee and chocolate farms, and even play on the world’s largest hammock at Casa Elemento. With limited internet and occasional power outages, we were forced to truly unplug at Minca. You can read about our adventure here.

Minca, Colombia

To get to Minca from Bogotá, you can fly from Bogotá to Santa Marta and then go to Minca (we decided to not spend any time in Santa Marta). We opted to take a taxi directly from Santa Marta to Minca for $40k pesos. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a colectivo (shared van ride) to Minca from the Santa Marta town center at the corner of Carrera 9 and Calle 12. The colectivo costs about $8k pesos and leaves once the car is filled with passengers.


Parque Tayrona

Parque Tayrona is a national park located just east of Santa Marta. It’s truly a tropical paradise, but getting in and out of the park isn’t an easy endeavor (you can read my tips on how to maximize your stay).

Parque Tayrona, Colombia

We spent one day right outside the park at Eco Hostal Yuluka before we visited Parque Tayrona. The hostel is a bit of a tropical paradise in itself — it even comes with a waterslide! It was so nice that we decided to stay another night after we returned from the park.

Eco Hostal Yuluka

To get to Eco Hostal Yuluka from Santa Marta, take the colectivo from the town center toward Parque Tayrona, which costs about $7k pesos. Tell the driver or their assistant that you want to get off at the 28th kilometer of the road (el kilómetro 28). Upon booking the hostel, you’ll get a confirmation email with directions to the location, which you can also show directly.

Have you traveled to Colombia before? Did you have similar experiences? Leave a comment!

 

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