COLOMBIA BACKPACKING ROUTES

Much of the Latin America continent remains unexplored, but if there’s any country with undiscovered magic, it’s Colombia. Until recent years, Colombia was an unthinkable destination for many travellers, deemed too dangerous; ruled by crime and drug-traffickers. Of course, Netflix’s Narcos has very much put Colombia on the map (for better or for worse) and last year’s Peace Agreement has catapulted Colombia to new-found fame, landing top spots on Conde Nast Traveler, NY Times, and The Telegraph. Of course, having lived in Colombia for a year with my Colombian boyfriend – I don’t need any convincing! We have travelled all over to come up with the ultimate guide and complete Colombia backpacking route – with itinerary ideas, bespoke maps and recommendations to suit your backpacker needs.

For those who have ventured to Colombia, they are likely to have discovered beautiful beaches, colourful colonials towns and some of the friendliest people in the world! However, the main mistake foreigners make is believing that the the tropical climes of the Caribbean coast is the best that Colombia has to offer when in reality, Colombia’s true charm lies in its incredibly varied topography and ecosystems. Colombia is 60% rainforest with jungles that open onto large stretches of coastline and snow-capped mountains Xkm from the sea. Altiplanos, cloud forests and paramos spread across the extensive Andean mountains, which traverse the country in three parts. It is the second most biodiverse country in the world whose ecological diversity makes Colombia a heaven for hikers, wildlife-lovers and adventurers.

Colombia is our home, and even though we have travelled around most of it – there is always more to see! We would recommend spending one or two months in Colombia, but even then it’s always difficult to squeeze everywhere in. Check out our Colombia hotspots for the best places to visit in Colombia.

TWO MONTHS IN COLOMBIA

Colombia Backpacking Routes 2 months map

THE ‘INTERIOR’ (4-5 weeks)

Bogota – Tatacoa – San Agustin – Pasto – Cali – Salento – Medellin

Let’s start in the sprawling mountains of the Colombian capital, Bogotá, which geographically, is also the heart of the country. Head south towards Neiva and enjoy the starry sky of Tatacoa Desert. Keep heading south and wonder at ancient statues of San Agustin. Next, the southwestern corner of Colombia will take you to Pasto, whose traditional country folk are more Andean than Colombian. Visit the fairytale church of Las Lajas and Laguna Verde near Ipiales, by the Ecuadorian border.

Heading back up the West side of the interior, you will reach the colonial White City of Popayán. Next, dance all night in Calí, salsa capital. Heading up towards the centre again, and you will reach the rolling hills of the Coffee region where you will find the colourful town of Salento and the wax palms of Cocora Valley. Then, keep heading north to the once notorious city of Medellín. Here, you have the option to detour to the wild beaches of Chocó (Nuqui or Bahía Solano) and back. Alternatively you can head to the northwestern border with Panamá to the Darien jungle-beach paradise that is Sapzurro, perhaps stopping in Capurganá (where San Blas boats to Panama).

The interior region is often overlooked, but no less magical – particularly forkeen hikers!

THE CARIBBEAN COAST (2 WEEKS)

Cartagena – Santa Marta – Tayrona – Palomino – Cabo de la Vela – Punta Gallinas

Now you can make your way along the Caribbean coast, starting in the walled city of Cartagena, and the bustling beaches nearby. Moving northeast you will find the mountains of Santa Marta and its surrounding beaches (Taganga, Costeno Beach). A 4-day detour south from Santa Marta take you to the incredible Lost City, or head straight to the famous National Park Tayrona, navigating the leafy, dense jungle to reach the sea. Another hour and you will reach Palomino, where you can experience real-life Lazy River tubing down the gentle Magdalena river, immersed in the sounds of the jungle. If you are feeling adventurous, venture to the arid, desert region of the Guajira; witness the beautiful sunsets of Cabo de la Vela and brave the rough seas to Punta Gallinas, the northern tip of South America where desert meets the sea.

SANTANDER AND BOYACÁ(1-2 WEEKS)

Mompox – Barichara – San Gil – Villa de Leyva – Bogotá

Heading back down south, you can cross the departamento of Cesar, stopping in Valledupar, where Vallenato originates from, or Mompós (Bolivar), allegedly the most beautiful city of Colombia. Further south is the department of Santander where you will find Canon de Chicamocha (apparently deeper than the Grand Canyon!); Barichara, one of the most beautiful, colonial towns of Colombia; and San Gil, for the adrenaline-junkies, where you can do extreme sports. On route back to Bogotá lie the little explored towns of Boyacá, apart from the colonial Villa de Leyva. Boyacá also boasts the incredibly ecologically important páramos of Cocuy and Oceta. Finally pop to underground salt cathedral of Zipaquira on the way back to Bogotá.

COLOMBIA ITINERARY: ONE MONTH

Colombia Backpacking Routes 1 month map

Bogota – Salento – Medellin – Cartagena – Santa Marta – The Guajira – Mompox – Barichara – San Gil – Villa de Leyva – Bogota

Bogota – Tatacoa – San Agustin – Pasto – Popayan – Cali – Salento – Medellin – Cartagena – Santa Marta

COLOMBIA ITINERARY: TWO OR THREE WEEKS 

Colombia Backpacking Routes 2 weeks map

Bogota – Salento – Medellin – Cartagena – Santa Marta – The Guajira – Mompox – Barichara – San Gil – Villa de Leyva – Bogota

Bogota – Tatacoa – San Agustin – Pasto – Popayan – Cali – Salento – Medellin – Cartagena – Santa Marta

COLOMBIA ITINERARY: FROM PANAMA TO ECUADOR

Colombia Backpacking Routes from Panama to Ecuador

EXTRA TIME OR MONEY?

If you have plenty of time and no financial constraints, consider heading to some places which are off-route and may be difficult to get to – but totlly worth the effort!

THE AMAZON

No matter how long you are willing to sit on a bus for, The Amazon rainforest is not a destination that can be reached by road. You must fly from Bogota to Leticia (there are no flights from any other city!) which is served by LATAM or Avianca. Although it is a costly detour, discovering in the local communities of the Amazon river is an unforgettable experience!

THE LOST CITY

The Lost City, or La Ciudad Perdida are pre-Inca ruins 600 years older than Machu Picchu! However, unlike Machu Picchu, the only way to get the Lost City is a sweaty but rewarding 4-day trek through the humid Santa Marta Jungle.

SAN ANDRES

San Andrés is the Caribbean island paradise of your dreams – incredible turquoise blue seas and fine soft sands – with prices to match! San Andres may belong to Colombia but its prices are sky high and is dominated by luxury resorts, not unlike Cancun in Mexico. If you’re looking for a break from backpacker life, this may be the answer!

ISLA GORGONA

While San Andres is a Caribbean paradise streaming with tourists, Gorgona is a Pacific Island with untouched beaches on the edge of dense jungle which has only recently opened up to tourism. It’s biological diversity makes it heaven for wildlife lovers and keen divers!

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