Colombia. Now one of the hottest up and coming destinations, it was a country once considered too dangerous for the average traveler. Despite it’s troubled past, Colombia has emerged over the last few years as one of South America’s gems and a favorite among travelers. But Colombia is such a diverse and large country, how do you plan a Colombia itinerary?
After spending a bit of time in Salento, Jardín, Medellín, Guatapé, Tayrona National Park, Cartagena, and Bogotá, I was able to experience some of the best places to visit in Colombia. There are plenty of others (perhaps less touristy areas), but I chose these areas for my Colombia itinerary for the simple fact that they looked amazing to me and there is good reason for them being popular. I also got some great tips from a travel blogger who had gone to Colombia shortly before me.
The following is my suggested Colombia Itinerary for an unforgettable and memorable 2 weeks in Colombia. The order can certainly be changed, but this whole Colombia itinerary worked quite well for us and these are definitely the highlights of Colombia that I wouldn’t miss. I felt very overwhelmed planning this trip, and this post is intended to help others who feel the same way.
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- 1 Days 1-3 of Colombia Itinerary: Salento
- 2 Days 4-5: Travel from Salento to Jardin
- 3 Day 6: Medellín
- 4 Day 7: Day Trip to Guatapé and El Peñol
- 5 Day 8: Travel from Medellin to Santa Marta
- 6 Day 9: Hike Tayrona National Park
- 7 Day 10: Travel to Cartagena
- 8 Day 11-12: Explore Cartagena
- 8.1 Where to Stay in Cartagena
- 8.2 Things to do in Cartagena
- 9 Day 13 – Travel by Plane to Bogota
- 10 Day 14: Colombia Itinerary Ends, Sadly Fly Home
- 11 General Tips for Colombia Travel
Days 1-3 of Colombia Itinerary: Salento
Ahhh, coffee lovers can rejoice because the town of Salento, Colombia is heaven on earth. Part of the “coffee triangle,” Salento is arguably the most beautiful area for tourists to visit. Imagine if an old fashioned Spanish cowboy town had a thriving gastronomy and hipster coffeeshop scene. Seems hard to believe, but Salento comes pretty close.
How to Get to Salento, Colombia
Salento is in the gorgeous green mountains about a 6-9 hours drive from Medellin or Bogota. If you zoom in on the map, you can see there are two other small cities called Pereira and Armenia near Salento. You can either take a bus or fly to either of these cities from Bogota, Cartagena, or Medellin, then catch a bus or taxi to Salento which is 45 minutes from Pereira or 60 minutes from Armenia.
Domestic flights within the country are quite reasonably priced if purchased in advance and we used them for the bigger legs of our travels to save time. The main airlines are Avianca, Easy Fly, Latam, and Viva. Skyscanner seems to have all the airlines show up in searches, whereas I didn’t see Viva on Google Flights. I suggest looking into the details about what is included in the cost and weight limits for bags since some of the budget airlines have some pretty strict exclusions.
Things to do in Salento, Colombia
Visit the Valle de Cocora (aka Cocora Valley)
This is one of the most stunning places you will ever see. No trip to Salento is complete without it. Catch a Willys Jeep from the town square for a couple dollars (cash only) for the approximately 20 minute ride into part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park where Colombia’s preserved national symbol, the wax palm, resides by the multitudes. This area is bustling with people, there is camping, restaurants, tons of horses for hire, and it’s a very popular hiking area. The climate is very temperate, humid, and cloudy so it rains periodically almost every day.
Visit a Coffee Farm in Salento
No visit to Salento (or even Colombia) would be complete without learning about coffee production. There are a handful of coffee tours in the Salento area and you can compare and read reviews HERE.
We did the Ocaso Coffee Farm tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can take a Willys Jeep from the Salento square there and back. Just stop by and ask what time they leave. You can’t miss it in the main square. We saw people walking to the farm but it would be a crazy long walk. It seemed that reservations were preferred, but we were able to join a tour shortly after we got there.
The other great coffee tour is Finca Don Eduardo, which is like a 10 minute walk from town making it quite convenient. It is smaller and has English tours at limited set times per day so inquire about that before you arrive.
Eat, Drink, and be Merry in Salento
I could suggest to hike, camp, bike, take a hot air balloon ride, go paragliding…which you totally should. But don’t miss out on the great food and coffee scene in Salento. Of course most of the best quality coffee grown in Colombia is exported, but not all. There are some fantastic cafes with wonderful vibes.
I pretty much insisted on trying all the top rated restaurants and coffeeshops. Here is a list of some of the best, with varying prices, specialties, and vibes.
- Cafe Jesus Martin – One of my personal favorite places in Colombia, this coffeeshop is the best in Salento. It’s super photogenic with a hanging bicycle, wall art, and the most colorful building across the street. The coffee is heavenly.
- Le K’fee – This is an adorable and colorful little cafe that is excellent for breakfast or lunch. They have great coffee along with healthy food options (think avocado toast, quinoa, yogurt and granola with fruit).
- Bernabe – This place is kind of contemporary, healthy, and has a great atmosphere for dinner. Chris had a bacon wrapped filet mignon and I had salmon, we had drinks, and dessert. It was one of the most delicious meals we had in Colombia and it was super affordable for the quantity, and quality. Also great for coffee.
- Acaime – With a treehouse hippy vibe, this outdoor restaurant is along the edge of town. It’s actually rated the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor. They have a wide range of well priced delicious food options along with novelty coffees like my marshmallow cappuccino.
- El Rincon de Lucy – This authentic little place right along the main street in Salento is very popular, especially among Colombians. Very typical food, there really isn’t even a menu. The waiter just asks which kind of meat you want and you get a massive plate with typical Colombian food. It’s delicious and the price was so low, we thought there was a mistake. It was less than $10 for both of our huge meals.
There are tons of other things to do in Salento. You can walk or ride horses from town to a waterfall (Santa Rita), walk to the mirador (aka viewpoint) at the edge of town, play the local came of tejo, go shopping along the main drag of Calle Real where there are lots of adorable shops with local goods. I bought some handmade pants that I get tons of compliments on and a little white boho dress.
Where to Stay in Salento, Colombia
I want to help make your itinerary for 2 weeks in Colombia as fulfilling and balanced as possible. Colombia is quite an affordable country, so I’ve listed what I consider some of the best hotels in the mid to upper range of price. Sometimes hotel choice can make all the difference in how you feel about a certain place. So I’ve put in a good deal of research to present you with the best possible choices. There are a handful of super cool ecolodge hotels and hostels outside of town as well.
- Hotel El Mirador del Cocora – Depending on your budget, you may feel like this is a bit of a splurge for Colombia, but I’m pretty sure they have the best view in town. The outdoor jacuzzi room with a mountain view is a nice little treat too. The rooms are a little dated, but clean and comfortable and you have to walk up a bit of a hill to get there that will get your heart pounding. It’s on a quiet hill at the edge of town, like 5 minutes walk to everything. It’s also right by the view point, El Mirador.
- Hotel Salento Plaza – One of the best reviewed places in town, mid-priced and really well located.
- Hotel El Jardin – In true Salento style, this colorful and lovely hotel is a great pick right in town with great reviews and awesome prices.
- Hotel Salento Real – Probably my favorite of the bunch, this authentic and beautiful hotel is well priced and in a great location as well. If it wasn’t booked up, I probably would’ve stayed here.
- Lumbre Glamorous Camping – This is one of the most unique and beautiful places I’ve ever stayed. If your Colombia itinerary affords you the time to spend a night or two here, you shouldn’t miss it! Our first hotel stored our luggage for us so we could just bring small backpacks for the one night stay at the glamping hotel. You can get there by asking a Willy Jeep to drop you off on the way to the Cocora Valley or take a taxi. This magical luxury glamping hotel has it’s own private waterfall hike, a restaurant, one of the most remarkable views, and it’s only a few minutes drive to the Cocora Valley.
- Other notable places to consider and check out: EcoLodge Kasaguadua, Coffee Tree Boutique Hostel, Finca Hotel Rancho San Antonio, Montana Guesthouse, Ecoresort Gran Azul, Terrazas de Salento.
What to Pack for Salento
Salento is a lush green paradise, so naturally it rains a lot. We got shockingly lucky and it only rained once for a few minutes at the Cocora Valley, but it’s quite common. So consider bringing these items:
- Lightweight rain jacket that stuffs well in your suitcase, nothing big and bulky. We brought these Houdini jackets by Patagonia mainly because they weigh nothing and take up like a couple inches of space.
- Hiking shoes or sandals that you don’t mind getting muddy or you can rinse off and dry quick. I love a lightweight Teva personally, and Keen makes a closed toe one that’s probably safer for hiking, but Chris likes lightweight tennis shoes that he can get wet.
- Packable sun hat because even though it periodically rains and the temperature is mild in Salento, when the sun comes out, it is scorching and you’re quite high in elevation. We got burned in Salento more than anywhere else in Colombia, surprisingly.
- Umbrella because it could rain anywhere in Colombia. Some hotels may provide them, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a small, travel sized one with you.
- Stuffable down jacket seems like a weird thing to bring, but I wish I’d had mine. I was cold glamping at night in the Cocora Valley and I was cold in Bogota in the mountains. Just check the weather report before you go. A stuffable down jacket barely takes up any room.
Days 4-5: Travel from Salento to Jardin
Day 4 is the exciting and crazy journey from Salento to Jardin. I could and probably will write a post just on that process. It suffices to say it is an all day journey with 3 bus rides, the last of which is a rickety, open bus with wooden bench seats. This bus travels through the lush mountains on a single lane dirt road going less than 20 mph until dark before reaching the town of Jardin. You can also get to Jardin from Medellin by bus in around 4 hours, so if you prefer more modern buses you can go from Salento to Medellin first, and then back track. Honestly, our crazy route was part of the experience I was looking for with our Colombia itinerary, so I’m happy we chose this.
After the all-day journey, you may be wondering why the heck you made such an effort to reach Jardin, but that question will melt away in the morning when you finally see the little town in all its quaintness and color.
Things to do in Jardin, Colombia
The beautiful thing about creating your own Colombia itinerary is you can make it what you want. Research what there is to do, and pick and choose what makes your heart flutter. Jardin is quite small, similar to Salento, but the square is even more beautiful in my opinion. The church is stunning, there are flowers in the square, the colorful buildings encircling the square are mostly small restaurants where cowboys pass their mornings together drinking coffee, and there are fewer tourists than in Salento.
Take the Cable Car La Garrucha
This is a cheap, fun little adventure that doesn’t require a lot of time. Walk to the far south end of Calle 12 in town and you’ll come to a little booth that sells tickets. You’ll hop in the next rickety, yellow cable car and ride up to the viewpoint where there is a restaurant, tables, and lovely views of Jardin.
La Cueva del Esplendor
This fascinating cave with a waterfall coming through an opening in the ceiling looks really beautiful. With limited time in Jardin, we didn’t get to visit. You can either walk a long ways from town or take a guided tour either by Jeep or by horse and it’s around a half day trip. TripAdvisor reviews have been hit or miss as to whether or not the cave is open to visitors. At the time of writing this, it is back open.
People Watching and Coffee Drinking in the Square
One of the most beautiful squares I’ve seen, this is the perfect place to people watch. Most of the tourists here are Colombian or South American, with the occasional backpackers from Europe or Canada.
There are food stands and restaurants all around the square and the church is just stunning. It’s also fun to make conversation with locals and ask them about their town.
Where to Eat in Jardin, Colombia
If there’s any one place in Jardin that you must go, it is Cafe Macanas. You’ll find the most delicious and beautiful desserts, coffees, and smoothies in Jardin to the left of the church entrance. Cafe Macanas also has the most photogenic and adorable setting in town. It’s not my opinion, it’s a fact. I mean, check out this wall.
They have the most incredible alfajores cookies and blackberry smoothies. For one of these blended fruit drinks, you can ask for “jugo” which is juice then “con agua” which indicates it is blended with ice or “con leche” for blended with milk. Blackberry in Spanish is “mora” which was our personal favorite and we ordered countless ones all over Colombia.
Just look at the view from the open air Cafe Macanas of the church!
El Artesano Cafe Art is also a lovely coffeeshop with great coffee.
My dinner recommendation is Cafe Europa. Yes it’s Italian in Colombia, but the pizza is first class. Maybe you’ll be tired of typical Colombian and you want to change it up. This is the place to go. They often have people waiting outside to get in for dinner. It is a tiny restaurant with an awesome reputation.
Dulces Del Jardin is a sweets shop with candies, jellies, and pastries. It also has a neat potted plant wall too! But it still doesn’t beat Macanas.
Absolute best for vegans and vegetarians (or anyone really) is Consulado Vegetal which has excellent reviews.
Where to Stay in Jardin, Colombia
There are so many affordable, modest little hostels and hotels in Jardin, it’s impossible to list them all.
- Two with great reviews and private room options right in the town square in the $20/night range are Sergeant Pepper’s Hostel and Fami Hotel Vive Jardin.
- A little more expensive (like $50/night), a little farther from the town center, and absolutely colorful and stunning in garden settings, are Hosteria El Paraiso and Casa Hotel Porton Campestre.
- If you’re with a group or family, and wanted to rent an adorable apartment in the heart of town, consider Macondo Jardin.
- Currently the best reviewed hotel in Jardin (as well as the most expensive) is Casa Passiflora Hotel Boutique. This is where we opted to stay in Jardin. It’s quite lovely, has a beautiful outdoor jacuzzi area, and is just a few minutes walk to the town square.
They have a super cute little restaurant and your stay includes breakfast.
Day 6: Medellín
Start your day traveling from Jardin to Medellin via bus. This route is not nearly as complicated as the trip from Salento to Jardin. There is one bus station in Jardin with buses that run to Medellin each day at different times. If your itinerary is set, I suggest buying your ticket a day or two ahead, just in case they sell out. They cost around 26,000 Colombian pesos (or $9 US) and take around 3 hours. Once at the Terminal Medellin del Norte (north terminal), you can take a taxi or another bus to your hotel in Medellin.
I almost skipped Medellin completely since 2 weeks in Colombia is not that much, but after devouring the series Narcos, I decided it had to be a part of our Colombia itinerary. Also known as the city of eternal spring, nobody prepared me for what a beautiful city Medellin is. It sits in the lush green mountains with incredible views all around. And I’d been pronouncing it wrong for the months leading up to our trip. The last syllable is emphasized and the double L’s are silent. It is pronounced with more of a “Y” or “J” sound. So say it like “me-de-yeen” or “me-de-jeen.” That’s simplified of course, as Spanish speakers say it with more finesse than that.
What to do in Medellín
Medellin was once one of the most dangerous cities in the world. With some out-of-the-box thinking and urban development projects, Medellin is repairing the damage and its reputation.
Take a Pablo Escobar and Comuna 13 Tour
You should not come to Medellin without visiting the neighborhood of Comuna 13. This neighborhood was one of the darkest and most troubled in the world with an extremely high murder rate. Today, you can walk safely through this lively and vibrant neighborhood with children riding bikes and laughing, art covering the walls, and tourists everywhere.
Since we arrived in Medellin with the afternoon to spare, we took a private tour with an awesome guide that I booked ahead. The company was Transporter Medellin and we had a really amazing time. Our guide picked us up at our hotel, took me to a spot to grab some street food since I was starving, then we were on our way.
The tour began with some of the most historical Pablo Escobar locations. We had devoured the Narcos series prior to our trip, so we were thrilled to see some of these places first hand. We visited the home Pablo had lived in, his place of death, his final resting place (along with some of his closest friends and relatives) at the cemetery, and finally we spent some time in Comuna 13 strolling the streets and learning about the neighborhood’s history and continuing evolution.
There are a number of awesome tours through Viator and Get Your Guide. Some of the top reviewed ones are:
- Pablo Escobar Historical Tour of Medellin
- Private 4 Hour Pablo Escobar Tour
- Pablo Escobar and La Comuna 13 Sightseeing Tour
Where to Stay in Medellin
The most popular neighborhood for tourists and expats is El Poblado. Laureles is also popular. Rated best overall value in Medellin according to Trip Advisor, is the Hotel Du Parc Royal. We chose to stay here and it was a great location and very nice hotel for the price. Breakfast is included, it is on a quiet street, there is a sauna, and plenty of restaurants within walking distance.
For a classy hostel scene or a private affordable room, none have better reviews than Los Patios Hostal Boutique.
For affordable luxury, consider Inntu Hotel in Laureles.
And can I just throw in a recommendation for Cafe Zorba in El Poblano? The hummus and pita bread was quite possibly the best thing ever. For a yummy burger, hit up Chef Burger.
Day 7: Day Trip to Guatapé and El Peñol
This was probably one of my least favorite places we visited in Colombia (and part of that could have been that I wasn’t feeling well that day). Having only visited as a day trip from Medellin, I found it touristy and crowded. If you have an extra day, I think an overnight stay in Guatapé would be well worth it. To see the colorful and adorable town after most of the tourists are gone in the evening and early in the morning would probably have been more pleasant.
There are plenty of day trips and tours that take you to climb the big rock of El Peñol and to visit the nearby town of Guatape, but trust me when I say it is easy and cheaper to go on your own, not to mention more enjoyable than following around a group. So unless you really like group tours, which is fine, I’ll explain how to get there on your own.
CLICK HERE for a popular day tour to Guatape from Medellin.
Getting from Medellin to Guatapé and El Peñol
You will have to get to the Terminal de Norte in Medellin (we took a taxi and it was cheap). At the time of writing this, when you arrive at the station, go down to the first floor and there are two companies at ticket booths 9 and 14 that sell tickets for the same price on each hour. The destination will either be La Piedra (if you want to get off to climb El Peñol first) or Guatape (if you want to go to the cute, colorful town first). It is slightly cheaper to buy your ticket to La Piedra. You go through security and wait by the ramp number indicated on your ticket to board your bus. The bus ride takes about 2 hours.
You get dropped off then either walk up a big hill or pay a little bit for a tuk tuk to take you to the base of the rock. I figured I’d already have to climb those switchback stairs, so why bother having to climb the hill to get there too. You buy your ticket at the booth, then begin climbing. It’s slow going and crowded, at least it was around 10am. If you like to go fast, this will probably irritate you a bit because the stairs are so narrow, it’s pretty difficult to pass slow movers until they move off to the side.
Once you get to the top, which surprisingly doesn’t take THAT long, there are snacks, views, and hoards of people. It’s a neat view of the unique lake and I’m glad we did it, but it was nothing to write home about.
Afterwards you can grab a 10 minute tuk tuk ride to Guatape and visit the town. We found our favorite food to be served out of a family’s kitchen converted into a little restaurant on a back street where we went to just duck out of the rain. But there are tons of restaurants, especially along the lake road.
One of the most popular things to do in Guatape, besides walk around and admire the quaintness, is taking a boat tour on the lake. We especially wanted to visit one of Pablo Escobar’s old mansions, but opted to skip it.
At the end of the day, take the bus back to Medellin and have dinner in the city or consider staying the night and heading back to Medellin the next day. For somewhere modest but cute and right in town, consider Hotel Bahia. If you want something a little different, like privacy, nature, and lake views, consider something more like this unique cabin rental at El Trebol.
Medellin is emerging as one of South America’s most progressive cities. Today, the city is welcoming of diversity. Read this awesome guide to the gay scene in Medellin.
Day 8: Travel from Medellin to Santa Marta
Medellin has two airports, so pay attention to which you are booked out of. If you take a taxi to the large, main airport of José María Córdova from Medellin, keep in mind that the airport is quite a long, but beautiful drive. Budget about an hour on average. The taxi price is relatively affordable and should be fixed so be familiar with the rates ahead or use Uber.
The flight is a little over 1 hour long. There is supposedly a requirement for Yellow Fever vaccination by airlines upon arrival to Santa Marta, as well as for entering Tayrona National Park. We stressed about this for weeks and worked desperately to get Chris his vaccine before we left despite the worldwide shortage of the vaccine. Go figure, no one even asked about it or mentioned it.
Santa Marta is not widely loved among most travelers. We met a couple girls from Canada who were robbed at gunpoint on the beach. The vast majority of people we met said to skip the town of Santa Marta entirely so we did. Minca, a small jungle village near Santa Marta is quite popular for backpackers, but with limited time, we also skipped this area.
If you’re visiting this area solely to hike Tayrona National Park, you can pretty much stay anywhere and catch the bus to the park. There are also a small number of hotels and hostels much closer to the park entrance and you don’t have to stay in the city of Santa Marta. Despite the 1 hour drive, we opted to take a taxi from the airport to stay at the lovely Villa Maria Tayrona, which is quite secluded, reasonably priced, has it’s own restaurant and a pool, and is just 5 minutes drive to the park. If you want that “Jane of the Jungle” feel, this is a great place.
For a beachfront rustic hut experience, consider Playa Pikua Ecolodge, still only about 15 minutes to the park entrance.
For luxury, and being extremely close to the park entrance, definitely choose Villa Playa Los Naranjos.
Day 9: Hike Tayrona National Park
Some of the most famous photos from Colombia come from Tayrona National Park, and specifically the beach of Cabo San Juan. It is a protected area that requires a rather expensive entrance fee for Colombian standards of around $19 at the time of writing this. Many people camp at numerous campgrounds in tents or sleep in hammocks. If you really want to splurge and go all out, stay at the Ecohab huts within the park.
Get an early start from your hotel. Frankly, my goal is always to be somewhere touristy (and photogenic) before the crowds. There are public buses or collectivos (shared taxi vans) from Santa Marta or the area hotels closer to the park. Purchase your tickets for the park online ahead of time via their (Spanish) website. You have to print out tickets that come to your email, but the hotel should be able to print them for you. Buying them at the park can significantly delay you. Also bring a photo copy (or picture on your cell phone) of your passport.
When you arrive to the park, you have to watch a short video while you’re in line on rules and then get a wristband. Once you’re admitted, you have the choice of paying a tiny fee (like $1) to take a shuttle to the start of the hike, or you can walk along the road to the hiking trail. Personally, I knew I’d be hiking all day, so of course I’m going to save my feet and legs, not to mention time (about an hour).
The hike is NOT that difficult. The footing can be a bit rocky and uneven, so hiking shoes are definitely recommended and you’ll be grateful to have comfortable shoes. Don’t try to do flip flops, please. I did just fine in Teva sandals like these. The trail seems to go up and down in cycles, so there was never a section in either direction where the climb lasted extremely long. You can also travel by horseback, but I personally was there to hike and they seemed to be worked too hard in my opinion. However, if you are camping and have heavy packs, I can see why you would opt to use a horse.
You see your first glimpse of a massive beautiful beach to your right, but it is not a swimmable beach and the signs make that quite clear. You’ll pass through a pretty cool tunnel of foliage. You’ll pass by other beaches, campgrounds, restaurants, cross a small stream, and you’re welcome to stop at any of these. Our ultimate objective was to reach the best beach, Cabo San Juan as early as possible, so we pushed on.
There is food and water available once you reach the beaches at a number of different restaurants. The prices are quite marked up so be prepared with enough cash. There are even restaurants that accept credit cards too. We brought snacks and water with us then also had one meal in a restaurant prior to hiking out.
Camping at Cabo San Juan is probably the nicest (and most popular) spot for camping. There is also this cool lookout with hammocks for sleeping.
This hike can quite easily be done as a day hike though. It took roughly two hours each way, so budget your time at the beach so you don’t hike out in the dark and don’t miss the last shuttles at the end of the day (around 5:30).
Tayrona National Park is definitely a place you should visit while you’re in Colombia. It is a stunning natural area and a must see.
Day 10: Travel to Cartagena
There are a few ways to get from Santa Marta area to Cartagena. It is roughly a 4 hour drive, so you could either rent a car, take a taxi, fly, take the regular bus (Expreso Brasilia), or take a mini bus. For us, the mini bus was the best option as our hotel was an hour from Santa Marta. The company that runs the mini bus transfers is called Marsol and they come to the hotels to pick people up. But you must prebook so ask your hotel how to do this ahead of time. And have cash to pay; they wouldn’t take my credit card. The ride takes a while because it stops a few times for bathroom and snack breaks and it’s not very comfortable. But it was affordable and relatively hassle free.
Once you arrive to Cartagena, the driver will drop you off somewhere near your hotel. The city feels inviting and warm (literally and figuratively) immediately! The colonial architecture stunningly contrasts with the Miami-esque modern skyscrapers.
Day 11-12: Explore Cartagena
There is plenty to do and see for more than a couple days in Cartagena. We had two and a half days and felt like we saw the historic parts of the city quite thoroughly. We opted to not visit the nearby Rosario islands due to time limitations and we both got a cold so lying in the sun all day didn’t sound very pleasant. But with an extra day, this would be the thing to do. Whereas the beaches in Cartagena leave something to be desired, Playa Blanca and some of the other white sand beaches in the Rosario islands nearby have crystal clear turquoise water.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
The general consensus is that the best neighborhoods to stay in Cartagena are the Centro Histórico (walled old city) and Getsemani.
The historical center and oldest part of Cartagena, the Centro, is also is the most touristy. But here you will find the most restaurants, upscale hotels, and high end shops. The big beautiful colonial churches grace the neighborhood with their dominating presence and you’ll hear the click of horses’ hooves pulling carriages around the walled city. It truly is beautiful and very safe to walk around at all times. The old city will feel the most like traditional, Colombian culture.
Hotels in Centro, Cartagena
Honestly, I put a lot of effort into hotel selection. Part of the reason is because I look for places that inspire me and are photogenic. I put heavy emphasis on boutique character, being in a great location, having a view, and review scores. I’m going to highly recommend the hotel we booked in Centro Historico, Hotel Aguamarina.
- Hotel Aguamarina – if you can book one of the suites (we sprung for the superior suite), this hotel will not disappoint you. The turquoise decor is stunning, the balcony from the second floor is gorgeous for breakfast, and the rooftop pool is fantastic for sunset. We had it to ourselves the entire time. The staff is just lovely and the location can’t be beat.
- Sophia Hotel – Great location, amazing rooftop views, stylish rooms, and of course, great reviews.
- Ananda Hotel – This place is gorgeous. Great street location and gorgeous interior and pool.
- Hotel Boutique Casa Del Arzobispad – All around awesome.
- Hotel Casa San Agustin – The only thing that kept me from booking this place was the price. Like this place is goals.
- Hotel Quadrofilio – Lovely centro street and beautiful stylish interior. Excellent reviews.
- Casa de Alba Hotel Boutique – Incredible reviews, gorgeous decor, and the location does not get better as the massive cathedral is right outside.
- Movich Hotel – This stylish and modern hotel is in an amazing location and the rooftop view cannot be beat. Anyone can come up for drinks on the rooftop; you don’t have to be a guest. See photo below.
Ok. I could go on for longer, but I’ll stop. If you splurge on an awesome hotel at any time in Colombia, Cartagena is a great place to do it. The options for affordable (and not as affordable) boutique luxury are quite plentiful.
This neighborhood is like the authentic, edgy, hipster version of Centro. Only a 10 minute walk outside the walled area, the buildings are still historical and colonial, but there’s an artist vibe that is totally unique. Prices are lower, there are more hostels, lots of vibrant restaurants, and photogenic streets.
Hotels in Getsemani, Cartagena
- Hotel Capellán – The style and decor of this hotel is to die for. This was one of my top choices, and I definitely would love to stay there in the future.
- Life is Good Hostel – This is a very well reviewed beautiful hostel with both shared and private rooms in a great location in Getsemani.
- Casa Pizarro Hotel – Very lovely boutique hotel with a pool in a great area of Getsemani.
- Allure Chocolat by Karisma – If more modern and sleek is your style, you’ll find this hotel your style. The rooftop pool is stunning.
- Hotel Boutique Casa Isabel – This cute and colorful little hotel has a bit of a Balinese theme. It has a view of the water and excellent reviews.
Things to do in Cartagena
There is so much to see in Cartagena and every street is beautiful.
Take a City Tour
It would be good to see some of the historical sites and learn more about them with a cultural tour like THIS one or THIS one from Viator. I always like to do some sort of orienting city tour when I arrive somewhere but because I wasn’t feeling well in Cartagena, I opted not to and kind of regret it.
Eat, Drink, and Wander the Walled Old City and Getsemani
Every street is lined with beautiful restaurants, bars, and cafes. Some of the most famous landmarks include the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver and St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral (the most iconic landmark of the city).
There are a few restaurants, cafes, and coffeeshops that you absolutely can’t miss.
- Abaco Libros y Cafe – Everything about this place is heaven. It is the most photogenic bookstore/coffeeshop I’ve ever seen. And it also happens to be on the prettiest street with a perfect shot of the Cathedral.
- Epoca Espresso Bar – This is a super cool coffee shop and bar that is open till 9. They have food and excellent coffee and craft cocktails.
- Zauitun – This was one of our favorite restaurants right in the heart of the old town. The decor was cool and the food was just delicious.
- Cafe Lunatico – This quirky and edgy cafe has healthy unique dishes in a cool area of Getsemani.
- Cafe Stepping Stone – Also in Getsemani, right on a very photogenic street with colorful flags, this place has excellent reviews and serves up healthy breakfasts like avocado toast.
Visit the Beaches of Playa Blanca and Rosario Islands
The beaches in Cartagena are notoriously disappointing, but go just a short distance from the city and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference.
There are also the Rosario Islands (a national park) where you can visit for the day or stay longer in a modest accommodation like a hammock or enjoy a more luxury hotel. You can take a speedboat to the beautiful Isla Grande or a day tour to a private island for a picnic and snorkeling. But spend a night in the islands to enjoy them without the crowds.
Check out some of these great hotels you can book on different islands:
Day 13 – Travel by Plane to Bogota
The end of your 2 weeks in Colombia itinerary is coming to a close. If you flew internationally roundtrip to Bogota, then this is your chance to visit the city for a day. If you have limited time and are able to fly roundtrip to Cartagena, then I wouldn’t judge you for skipping Bogota altogether. It’s a cool city, but it wasn’t a highlight for me, sorry Bogota. I still love you!
If you do visit Bogota, a day in La Candelaria is perfect before flying home the next morning. This neighborhood is considered the historic old part of the city. The streets are cobblestoned and beautiful, but with with an edgy, graffiti-covered, grunge vibe much different from Cartagena. The mountains set the backdrop and the temperature is much cooler than other parts of Colombia at almost 9,000 feet above sea level.
What to do in Bogota
Where to Stay in Bogota
Even if you’re only in Bogota for one night like us, I still suggest a hotel located in La Candelaria. We absolutely adored our hotel (The Orchids). It was unique, historic, and on an amazing street. Tons of great food around too. You must try the hot chocolate with cheese because it’s a Colombian tradition. And it’s just weird.
- The Orchids – I just love this hotel! I wish I had photos of it to show you, but go to the Booking link to check it out. They were so kind to let us check out super late because of a midnight flight. Both of these awesome churches are like a 3 minute walk away. Of course the price is much higher than the dozens of super cheap hostels in the area.
- Casa Candelaria B&B – This place is so funky and unique. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it would make for an unforgettable experience.
- Hotel De La Opera – Another beautiful, historical hotel in the old city, and pricier than most. But absolutely stunning.
- Zohar Hostel – If all the previous suggestions would totally blow your budget, here’s a really well reviewed hostel for a fraction of the price on an awesome street.
- The Crank Croc Hostel – Also a great looking hostel. You can get a private room and bath for $30 per night.
Day 14: Colombia Itinerary Ends, Sadly Fly Home
But only if you have to. If you have more than 2 weeks in Colombia, keep your Colombia itinerary going!
General Tips for Colombia Travel
My personal suggestions are to download Google offline maps of each area you will visit while you have access to wifi, along with Google Translate Spanish or some other translation app that works offline. Unless, of course, you speak Spanish. We don’t (I tried to fumble my way along a little), and occasionally it got a little difficult ordering food or buying bus tickets. I ended up just giving up on trying to be vegetarian in Colombia because of the language barrier and the lack of options in some places.
My other suggestion is to buy bus tickets a day ahead unless you are really flexible. There were times where the bus we took was completely full and not everyone was able to get on because they hadn’t purchased tickets ahead. Also be patient, because not everything happens on time or takes longer than it’s supposed to.
I hope you enjoyed this Colombia itinerary for 2 weeks in Colombia. Feel free to message me if you have questions or comments! I’d love to hear about other areas of Colombia that you discover and some off-the-beaten-path discoveries you make. Let us know in the comments!
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