Colombia is one of the first countries I’ve come across where everyone has very unique itineraries. I was expecting many people to be following the well trodden Gringo trail north or south around South America, but it turns out this doesn’t really apply to Colombia.
This is how I chose to spend my time in this diverse country but I know there are a variety of different routes out there. Personally, I think my route is one of the better ones as it covers most of the things you want to see, with one or 2 exceptions but this was by design as other parts of South America will have similar attractions so there was no need to duplicate.
Bogotá (3 days):
I flew into Bogotá so it was my natural first stop. It’s certainly a big city but the old town around La Candalaria is fascinating. It’s old, beautiful and quintessentially Spanish. I like to immerse myself in a country’s history pretty quickly so I signed up for a free walking tour of the city and clued myself up with the happenings around Colombia and the capital. You can keep yourself busy in the city with food tours and graffiti walks, as well as a climb up Monserrate if you feel the need to stretch your legs.
You can read more about my time in Bogotá here.
San Gil (3 days):
San Gil is a decent bus ride from Bogotá and doesn’t attract the tourist masses I anticipated it would. I immediately liked it as it was my first taste of small Colombian towns and I loved the vibe – the central Plaza, the domineering cathedral and the friendly locals. It’s easy to get around the town too. San Gil is known as an adventure hotspot where you can sign up for a number of adrenalin-inducing activities. For me, the big attraction was hiking to Guane from Barichara (a 45 minute bus ride from San Gil).
I would definitely recommend San Gil as a stop on your journey north to the Caribbean coast. You can read my blog on San Gil and Guane here.
Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park (4 days):
Santa Marta is an overnight bus ride away from San Gil and like all overnight buses in Colombia, dress as if you were going on an arctic expedition. Completely different to the bus, Santa Marta is HOT! It’s a big city on the Caribbean Coast and worthy of some exploration as it has a plaza and the oldest cathedral in Colombia.
Having spent one night in the city itself, I missioned off to Tayrona National Park for some trekking along the coast and camping in one of the camp sites. The scenery is beautiful and the beaches are decent. The hike to the campsites are relatively easy but if you want to venture up to the ancient city of Pueblito, it’s another beast and the hike can get a little demanding if you aren’t expecting it. You can read my impressions on Santa Marta and Tayrona here.
Cartagena (4 days):
Having gone as far north in Colombia as possible, it was time to venture westwards to Cartagena and begin our southerly journey down the coast, then inland towards the border with Ecuador.
Cartagena is an incredibly beautiful city and worthy of some decent time. In fact, it’s the perfect place to relax a bit as the journey preceding this destination was quite an intense one.
Apart from the incredible architecture and postcard perfect setting, there are some beaches you can explore (notably Playa Blanca). Don’t rush yourself through Cartagena – it’s a cool place. You can see my photo-blog here.
Medellin and Guatape (3 days):
It’s a long bus ride away from Cartagena but a necessary one if you want to make it to one of Colombia’s most modern cities (although first impressions won’t corroborate this statement).
Many travelers I met raved about Medellin but if I’m honest, I can’t really say I felt the same way. Full disclosure – I was man down with flu since Cartagena so maybe this clouded my judgment a bit. There certainly are some cool things to see and the Pablo Escobar history does add something to the city.
For me, the real appeal to Medellin was that Guatape was a 2 hour bus ride away and I love Guatape and the neighboring El Penol rock. For some information on how to make the most of your time here, read my blog.
Salento and the Valle de Cocora (4 days):
Getting to Salento is easy enough, the logistics of which you can read in my blog post here. What makes Salento famous is its coffee as it’s located in the prime coffee region of the country. Coffee tours and cafes are the rage in and around the town.
When you’ve had enough coffee, you really should head out and do some hiking in the Valle de Cocora and check out the wax palms – some of the tallest trees I’ve seen.
If you have any questions, get in touch!