Colombia – hugely diverse, wonderfully vibrant and colourful. It’s safe to say our time spent in Colombia has been some of our most-loved.
When we visited, we spent close to five weeks in Colombia, and there were changes I’d make to our journey if I had the chance to do it again. If you’re wondering how many days you should spend in Colombia, I’d suggest no less than 14 days. This will give you time to explore at least one big city, and a couple of towns. To get a good feel for the country, spending a month in Colombia is highly recommended.
If you’re planning a four week trip, here’s how I’d recommend doing it.
3 Days in Bogota
Days 1 – 4
Avg. temp. 14.5c
Stay – Hostal Sue Candelaria
Start your journey in Colombia’s capital – Bogota. El Dorado International Airport welcomes in flights from all over the world, so it’s the most logical place to start. If you’re coming from the UK as we did, you’ll most likely be arriving via the USA. We came in through Miami, where we spent a few days before heading to Colombia.
I’ve written before about how to spend time in Bogota, but I personally don’t think you need more than three or four days in Bogota. It’s gritty, the weather is wet, and I don’t think it shows the best side of Colombia, in my opinion.
Bear in mind that you might need a day or two to adjust to the altitude here. Bogota is 2,640m above sea level. We didn’t struggle too much, it just took a bit longer for us to walk up hills…
Having said that, we did find a few cool things to do in Bogota.
Best things to do in Bogota
- Take a food walking tour to discover some of Colombia’s local delicacies. We’re talking arepas, chocolate cheese and tamales.
- Play a game of Tejo. Tejo is a traditional Colombian game played using small targets filled with gunpowder. Yes, you read that right. Tejo bars can be found all over the city
- Take the funicular up to Monserrate for panoramic views across the city
- Visit a local bar to try BBC beer. No, not the British Broadcasting Corporation. Bogota Beer Company. I highly recommend the Cajica and the Monserrate.
- Discover street art in Candelaria
Once you’ve adjusted to Colombian life and managed to work out the peso (it’s about £1 GBP to $5,200 peso – updated June 2023), it’s time to move onto Colombia’s Caribbean coast for some sunshine.
5 days in the Santa Marta area
Days 5 – 10
Avg. temp. 28c
Stay: Masaya Hostel
To save on time and money, take a flight from Bogota up to Santa Marta. The airport in Santa Marta is the smallest and cutest airport I’ve ever been to. It’s situated right on the seafront, so it’s one of those aircraft situations where it feels like you’re going to land IN the sea. From there, take a bus to Santa Marta town centre.
“What will I do whilst in Santa Marta?!” I hear you cry. Personally, we spent five days around the pool and on the local beaches, and in the town’s perfect bar-lined square. We also took a boat round to Taganga Beach, which I’d highly recommend. We missed Tayrona National Park and the Lost City Trek – due to cost and time restrictions more than anything (we had Machu Picchu booked in Peru, so were limited to an extent).
However, if you’ve the budget, spend some of your time in the Santa Marta area exploring Tayrona National Park. Alternatively, book the 4, 5 or 6 day Lost City Trek, if you’ve the extra time. So many people told us how amazing it was.
Best things to do in Santa Marta
- Explore the town and its many bars and restaurants
- Watch the sunset on the seafront
- Head to Tayrona National Park for a day or two, and enjoy the relaxed way of life
- Book onto the Lost City Trek and discover the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Note: this is quite a difficult and demanding trek, so make sure you have the right footwear.
Whatever you choose to do in this part of Colombia, prepare yourself for the heat that is soon to hit in Cartagena…
4 days in Cartagena de Indias
Days 11 – 15
Avg. temp. 28c
Stay: Casa Del Pozo Boutique Hostel
A port city on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, Cartegena certainly encourages a slower way of life…
I have never experienced heat like I have in Cartagena. The temperature averaged around 33 degrees while we were there, but the humidity absolutely knocked us out! We stayed in the hip neighbourhood of Getsemani which was full to the brim with bars and restaurants. And travellers. There were so many of us. Downtown Cartagena is where the architecture is at, and Bocagrande is home of the expensive skyscrapers and long, long beaches. It’s easy to spend more than four days in Cartagena, but you won’t want to miss out on what’s coming next!
Best things to do in Cartagena
- Take a walking tour of the city to discover its rich history. Don’t forget to take a bottle of water!
- Spend a day in Bocagrande and take a dip in the Caribbean Sea
- Sit on the steps of the church in the Holy Trinity Square one evening and watch all of the street performances, share a beer with a local, and try some of the tasty street food
- Explore Cartagena’s walled city, and pop into the chocolate shop and museum for a couple (ahem) of free samples
You’ll no doubt be taking it slow in Cartagena, the humidity mixed with an inevitable hangover means days start late and end in the early hours. It’s a really vibrant city with a lot of character, and the food is great!
5 Days in Medellin
Days 16 – 21
Avg. temp. 27c
Stay: La Playa Hostel & Rooftop
We braved a 20 hour bus from Cartagena to Medellin overnight. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but the mountain views were incredible. If you’ve a little more in the budget, a flight takes a little over an hour.
Where to begin with Medellin? We spent a week here and could have stayed for longer. There are hundreds of places to visit, sights to see and parks to relax in – the city of eternal spring quite literally has it all. The food in Medellin is also top class. There’s a hugely diverse range of restaurants and bars, with food from all over the world. Five days in Medellin is the perfect length of time to explore everything that the city and its surrounding areas has to offer.
Best things to do in Medellin
- Get a cable car up to Parque Arvi, marvel at the views across the city on the way up, and then take a long and relaxing hike through the greenery and across streams in the park
- Take a Comuna 13 tour to discover how Colombia’s most dangerous neighbourhood turned its life around
- Discover the El Poblado neighbourhood and drink in one of its many bars
- Spend a day at Parque Explora – Medellin’s great science museum
- Medellin’s Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to relax and spend an afternoon. There’s some interesting wildlife here too…
The next destination is a short 2-hour bus journey away, but you’ll need to head to Terminal Del Norte to get there. Medellin’s vast public transport system makes it easy to get around.
2 Days in Guatapé
Days 22 – 23
Avg. temp. 27c
Stay: Lake View Hostel
Guatapé is a gorgeous and colourful town just a short drive from Medellin. We only spent the day here, but I wish we’d stayed the night. It’s very Instagram friendly due to the colourful houses, and there’s the opportunity to try some water sports and horse riding through the countryside.
One of the major draws of the area is El Peñol. The 2,135m granitic rock is certainly a site to behold, but the views from the top are even better! The staircase built into the side consists of a cool 649 steps. These are numbered so you can begin to question your sanity and fitness as you escalate higher. There are also about 100 steps to even get to the foot of El Peñol, so bring water. It’s actually the walk down which makes your legs wobble!
Best things to do in Guatape
- Climb El Peñol and marvel at the views from the top – there are fruit and water sellers at the top, too. So you can refresh before you start the decline
- The Plazoleta de los Zocalos is the centre-point of the town, and is the perfect place to sit and people watch
- Walk around the town and look at the beautiful coloured houses and their artwork. Many of the houses have tiled images depicting life in Colombia – from farmers at work to locals playing pool in the local pool hall
- Guatape is the perfect place to take up water sports, rock climbing or horse riding due to the reservoir in the centre, and El Peñol which is actually available for rock climbing!
Whatever you choose to do, soak up the atmosphere as the next stop in Colombia is the final one!
3 Days in Salento
Days 24 – 27
Avg. temp. 23c
Stay: Coffee Tree Boutique
Salento is an Andean town known for its coffee estates and the Valle de Cocora. From Guatape, it’ll be a quick bus back to Medellin and then either an hours flight to Armenia followed by another short bus to Salento.
We took the backpacker route – cheaper but longer. This consisted of a six hour bus to Pereira followed by a short one-hour hop to Salento. It’s well worth it.
Salento was the nature fix we didn’t know we needed. It’s a quaint town with a few really great eateries and local bars, but it’s the scenery which is the draw here. Spend time on the hostel balcony surrounded by mountains and trees, and take exhilarating 4×4 rides through the countryside to coffee plantations and the Cocora Valley. There are plenty of hiking opportunities, too. The fresh Andean air will have you leaving Colombia feeling refreshed and revived.
Best things to do in Salento
- Take a 4×4 to the Valle de Cocora. Take the circular hike anti-clockwise and see the incredible 200ft palm trees. For a full breakdown of the hike, see my previous post
- Book a tour of a local coffee farm. Learn about the process of coffee growing, from bean to cup and then drink as much as you can. It’ll be the best coffee you ever taste
- Hike the Kasaguadua Natural Reserve – a beautiful cloud forest in the area. Book a tour for the best experience
- Spend time exploring Salento town and visit the colourful shops and craft stores
- Walk up to El Mirador for impeccable views over the town
Heading back to the UK from Colombia
Take a bus or flight back to Bogota to then take onward travel back to the UK and head home. It’s likely that you’ll have to fly via the USA again, or spend some time in Mexico and fly from there.
Colombia is incredibly diverse and one of my favourite countries in the world. From cities to seaside and forests to rivers, the landscape in this wonderful country is so varied, it would take years to discover it all. And one day, I’m determined to.
I hope this example itinerary is of some use to those of you planning a trip to Colombia. As always, if you’ve ever any questions, drop a comment below or contact me via my social media channels.