One of the most difficult parts of planning a trip is deciding which specific places you want to visit and how long to spend in each place, espeically in such a large and varied country like Colombia. Unless you have unlimited time, it’s difficult to squeeze everywhere in – we believe it’s best to see fewer places and take your time rather than rush just to tick off more boxes.
Our map shows all the places you might considering visiting, hopefully this can help you visual a feasible route that is suits you!
The whole circuit would take around 8 weeks to cover, not including the Amazon, Lost City, San Andrés and Gorgona Island. It’s easy and inexpensive to fly between the coast (Cartagena or Santa Marta), Bogotá and Medellín if you are short on time and want to cover more – otherwise, expect some very long bus journeys!
The ‘Interior’ (4 weeks)
Let’s start in the sprawling mountains of the Colombian capital, Bogotá, which is also the geographical heart of the country. Head south towards Neiva where you will find Tatacoa Desert and its starry skies. Keep heading south to 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, the salsa capital. Heading up towards the centre again, and you will reach the rolling hills of the Eje Cafetero (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, stopping in Capurganá on the way (where San Blas boats to Panama).
Caribbean coast (2 weeks)
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. 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 La 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.
Back to Bogotá (2 weeks)
Heading back down south, you can cross the departamento of Cesar, stopping in Valledupar, the origin of Vallenato (blessing or curse… you decide), or the colonial city of Mompós (Bolivar). Further south lies 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. En route back to Bogotá lies the famous colonial town of Villa de Leyva and less explored towns of Boyacá. 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.
If you’re heading to Ecuador…
You can go from Bogotá to the Eje Cafetero, then follow the upper loop to the Caribbean before looping back down to Bogotá and heading south down to Tatacoa Desert, San Agustin and finishing in Pasto.
Places that are no less incredible, but off-route and therefore you need that extra time (and money!) to visit:
The Amazon – Flights only between Bogotá and Leticia, around 4 days.
The Lost City – 4-day tour only, leaving from Santa Marta.
San Andrés – Caribbean island paradise, easy to fly there but generally expensive place. People spend anything form a weekend a week here!
Gorgona Island – You can only arrive by boat from Buenaventura, or flying Cali-Guapi and boat from Guapi. Probably a few days to a week here.
So little time, so much to do...
If you don’t have enough time to see everything, here are some ideas to help you prioritise based on your interests:
- For beach lovers – well you have the entire Caribbean coast. The most popular are the islands near Cartagena, and locals also love Santa Marta’s beaches, such as Tayrona. For quieter, virgin beaches, head to Gorgona, Chocó and Sapzurro.
- For – salsa lovers Calí is a must! Or if you generally just love partying, Medellín – especially if you love reggaeton. Bogotá has a mix of everything – including great gay scene.
- If you’re a sucker for archeology and ruins, the mysterious ancient statues of San Agustin is a must, and The Lost City if you can handle the trek.
- If you love astronomy, you can’t miss camping under the stars in Tatacoa Desert (very similar to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
- Cartagena, Popayán, Villa de Leyva and Barichara are known for their colonial architecture.
- If you love vibrant, colourful houses – head to Cartagena, Salento and the little known town of Jardín.
- If you love mountains, hiking and nature – Colombia has a host of National Parks – Los Nevados in the Coffee Region, the unique paramós of Cocuy and Oceta in Boyacá, Chingaza close to Bogotá. And if you don’t mind hiking in sticky humidity and heat, The Lost City is incredible.
- The diverse landscapes that rarely meet… Tayrona and Chocó offer rainforest jungle meets the sea, La Guajira offers giant desert sand dunes meets the sea.
- If you hate people and you’re looking for remoteness, La Guajira, Chocó and Sapzurro are paradise.
- For small, traditional towns – head to the beautiful mountains of Boyacá!
- For diving, head to Gorgona and Capurganá