Get ready to book your ticket because this itinerary for two weeks in Colombia promises a mix of colorful history, hot street art, soft white sand, good strong coffee and some pretty crazy trees.
If you are interested in visiting Colombia, go now, because its popularity is rising. The influx of tourism is great for Colombia’s economy and their infrastructure has (largely) risen to meet the occasion. However, it also means more crowds and a risk of over tourism in top spots like Cartagena. So get ahead of the curve and commit now for your Colombia itinerary.
Itinerary for Two Weeks in Colombia
During Facebook’s early development, Zuckerberg used the phrase “move fast and break things” as a mantra to balance their atomic pace of development with a willingness to fail. However in travel, if you try to move too fast, what will break is your spirit as you exhaust yourself trying to keep up. Colombia is a large, geographically and culturally diverse country and with only two weeks there, you won’t be able to see it all. I didn’t even try.
Rather, I focused on four locations which combined some popular cultural and historic spots with a few offbeat experiences (’cause we are all about the alternative itineraries here at Wayfaring Views.) Focusing on four locations allowed time for travel between the locations and enough downtime to chill out and enjoy each place.
If you do like to move fast and break things, you could probably tighten up this Colombia two week itinerary and squeeze in a fifth location.
This Colombia itinerary visits: Cartagena, San Andrés Island, Salento and Bogota. Keep scrolling for a breakdown of each location, plus insanely useful tips for trip planning logistics.
Getting Around Colombia
This Colombia travel itinerary starts in Cartagena and ends in Bogota. You can easily do the reverse order, but if you are going to completely rearrange the blocks, be mindful of time required to travel from one location to another.
Flying Within Colombia
Most people from English-speaking countries (The US, UK, Canada and Australia) do NOT need a VISA to visit Colombia.
I chose to fly between my locations in Colombia. The primary air carriers are Avianca, Latam and Viva Air. One-way flights range from $70-$160. However, if you check pricing on Google Flights, be aware that the rates are for Colombian citizens. If you aren’t Colombian, expect to pay ~30% more when you book.
This itinerary routing is a little complicated. So, you will either need to piece together a series of 1-way tickets, or you can pay a bit more on Avianca and book it all on one reservation. I did the latter but used the United Airlines website, because Avianca’s English portal is a hot pile of bad code.
Viva Air is the low cost carrier and a good budget choice but their offerings to the Salento region are very limited.
Taking the Bus in Colombia
There are several long distance coach providers in Colombia, including Expresso Palmira, Flota Occidental, Berlinas, MarSol and TransCaribe. They each seem to cover different routes. Using Rome2Rio will help you make a well-informed choice about flying vs taking the bus. A bus may only cost $30 vs a $100 airfare but if you lose a whole day to travel, it may not be worth it.
Simply ask your hotel or host to recommend your best bus option. For this particular two week Colombian itinerary, it would really only make sense to take a bus for a Bogota-to-Salento segment. For the other segments, air travel will be much much faster.
Ground Transportation from the Airports
Each of the four locations on this itinerary have their own particular form of ground transportation. Here are the basics for how to get from the airport to the downtown tourist areas:
- Cartagena: Take a taxi from the airport ($10). Then you can walk nearly everywhere else.
- San Andres: It’s so small that as long as you are staying downtown and don’t have too much luggage, you can just walk from the airport to your lodging.
- Salento: The nearest main airport to Salento is actually in Armenia, which is about an hour away. You can pay ~$10 to take a taxi to downtown Armenia and then a bus to Salento. We arrived late and were leaving early, so it was worth it for us to pay $35 each way for a pre-arranged private ride. Once in Salento, you can get around using the Willy Jeeps.
- Bogota: Bogotá taxis are not metered and problematic. Just use Uber. I pre-arranged a private car pick-up from the airport to my hotel for ~$20. Then paid ~$8.50 to Uber back.
When to Plan your Colombia Itinerary
Because of Colombia’s proximity to the equator, all four destinations on this itinerary maintain a year round steady temperature. Cartagena and San Andrés will always be hot, Salento will be cool-ish and Bogotá will be chilly.
However, the rainfall varies quite a bit. So, unless you want to do your full two week Colombia travel itinerary in the rain, I recommend the dryer season between November and April.
Day 1: Travel Day
Just one more word about transportation– I’ve seen too many blog itineraries that completely ignore the time required to travel to and from your destination. Do they think that you are going to teleport there?
If you only have two weeks in Colombia, then you probably only have 12 days on the ground. This itinerary has baked in that travel time. If you can get there faster, perhaps you can do an extra day tour or consolidate the schedule to add in Medellín or Santa Marta.
Now, for day 1. Carefully wedge yourself into that cheap middle seat, crack open a book set in Colombia and settle in.
Day 2-4: Cartagena
I have wanted to visit Cartagena ever since watching the 1984 romcom Romancing the Stone. It only took 25 years to get there. I should get out more.
Cartagena was colonized in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia and was an important port city well into the late 1800’s. This Spanish colony was under constant attack from the English and French (twice each). It defended itself by walling in the city and building a huge fort.
This defensive posture explains why the city has such narrow, crooked streets– all the better to thwart cannonballs. Cartagena’s location in the Caribbean also gave it a racial mix of Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous and White cultures.
Four Top Things to Do in Cartagena
Most of Cartagena’s sites center around the city’s historical fortifications and it’s unique cultural identity. You can see most of it in two days, allowing time for a day trip on your third day.
- Take a slow stroll through old town: Cartagena is popular because it’s pretty, and the best way to experience it, is with a slow meandering stroll. If you want to really see the architecture and get great pictures, take your walk right after sunrise when the streets are empty.
- Explore the wall: Cartagena’s walls are intact and you can walk on or next to the wall for three sides of old town. You can take in the sunset views with a table and a pricey drink at the Cafe del Mar, or you can do the budget version by simply buying a drink from one of the many vendors plying beer on the wall. Either way, the sunset it worth it.
- Tour the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas: Don’t miss the fort! It’s a long-ish walk or a quick cab ride from old town. The fort has a ton of English-language signage about Cartagena’s history, 360′ views of Cartagena from the top and cool rabbit warrens within the walls.
- Do Getsemeni at night: Getsemeni is a gentrifying neighborhood just outside the old town walls. They have cheaper restaurants, fun bars, street art and the square in front of the Iglesia Santisimia Trinidad is hopping at night.
Three Day Trips from Cartagena
My day trips from Cartagena involved visiting a community-based wildlife conservation program that operates in the area. They work to preserve habitat for the endangered Cotton-Top Tamarin monkey. This is not a tourist activity, but I still encourage you to read my article on the program. It will get you thinking about the challenges of doing conservation work in a developing country like Colombia and you’ll get some inspiring information about their community programs.
Here are three other fun days trips that you can take from Cartagena:
- If you are into wildlife (and flamingos), take a 1/2 day tour to the National Aviary on Isla Baru. The tour includes transportation and entry. Get more info and book here.
- If you’d rather do the beaches on Isla Baru, you can go there as a day trip or a quick overnight getaway. This Isla Baru guide will give you all of the relevant info.
- If you like getting down and dirty, take a mud bath in the Volcan de Totumo volcano. This kitschy experience includes the mud bath, transportation, lunch and a stop at a nearby beach. Get more info and book here.
Foodie Tip for Cartagena
Cartagena specializes in all manner of starchy goodies stuffed with meat and cheeses. They have empanadas, arepas, deep fried potato croquettes and pandebono. Don’t be afraid to buy some from a street vendor. I also recommend the ColombItalia arepa hut in Getsemini. It always has a line and the wait is worth it.
Where to Stay in Cartagena
I stayed at the Hotel Balcones de Alheli, but don’t recommend it. What should have been a splurge on a nicer hotel with a rooftop deck ended up being disco hell until 4am. Here are a few other suggestions:
- Old Town splurge: Hotel LM is a converted historic mansion with a perfect location and a rooftop pool. Check reviews on Trip Advisor or book on Booking.com.
- Budget Boutique: Hotel Boutique Casa Isabel budget place in Getsemini with more perks than you might think: water view, air con and full breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Check reviews on Trip Advisor or book on Booking.com.
Day 5-7: San Andrés
Most two week Colombia itineraries would have you go to Santa Marta and Tayrona National park after Cartagena. However, the national park was closed for some habitat restoration during my visit.
But I was more keen to visit San Andrés anyway. This little island 200 miles offshore from the mainland is very Afro-Caribbean. It’s fully stocked with soft white sand beaches, coconut drinks, pirate lore and quirky museums.
I’m on a mission to convince you to go there.
San Andrés is not a “hidden gem” (how I hate that phrase). Plenty of Colombians vacation there. But very few North Americans or Europeans go. In fact, while there, I never heard any American or Canadian accented English, and only a few instances of French or German accents. Well, there was this one totally confused French lady who asked me to help her communicate with the restaurant staff. Of course, I used my powerful Spanglish skills to save the day. But otherwise, it was just me, Ken and a bunch of fun loving Colombians.
You should go there and hang out with them. For a full itinerary and planning tips, check out this guide to San Andrés Island.
Foodie Tip for San Andrés
Try the coco loco, but only drink one. It’s delicious and tastes like a vodka fruit punch, but I’m pretty sure it’s made from jet fuel.
Day 8-10: Salento
Salento is a coffee growing in central Colombia within two hour flight/drive from Bogota. The area features green jungle, excellent coffee, hiking and a very chill vibe. It’s got an edge over other coffee growing areas in Colombia, because of their well-developed tourism infrastructure. So, it has become a popular inclusion for two week or ten-day Colombia itineraries.
Two full days in town are sufficient to allow you to see the top things and also have a bit of chill time.
Top Four Things to do in Salento
- Hike Cocoro Valley. This valley is notable for wax palms, the national tree of Colombia. These skinny trees shoot out of the ground like Olive Oyl’s heavenly aspirations and the landscape is incongruously beautiful. You get up to the trail head by taking one of the Willy Jeeps. The shorter loop is a 3.5 mile moderate hike up to a lookout point. The longer loop is a 7.7 mile difficult hike with natural jungle landscapes, waterfalls and stream crossings. It’s not for the feint of heart on a rainy day.
- Kasaguadua Jungle Tour. Those wax palms are incongruously beautiful because they sit in a landscape reshaped by agriculture. The natural habitat for the trees is in the tropical cloud forest that surrounds the undeveloped parts of the Salento. You can get a tour of that cloud forest and a 101-level course in local ecology by taking the Kasaguadua tour from Carlos. He’s on a personal mission to restore his chunk of land to its original habitat. Take a Jeep to the meet point, or do a 45 minute walk out of town.
- Ocaso Coffee Tour. Once you’ve worked up a sweat on Carlos’ jungle tour, walk up to the road to Ocaso and take the coffee tour. There are a number of coffee tours available in Salento. I chose Ocaso because they are English fluent and they have a nice cafe with good strong coffee and high views overlooking the plantation.
- Chill out why don’t you. Salento is quiet town with colorful buildings, a pretty square and plenty of cafes, boutiques and bars to help you kill a half day.
Foodie Tip for Salento
If you have a hankering for a milk shake, head over to Brunch. The shakes there are a full meal.
I can’t say no to nachos of any sort, so we tried the patacones, which is a nacho-ish platter covered in fried plantain “chips” and shredded meat. They are served in a number of the smaller places around town.
Where to Stay in Salento
You have to try hard to spend a lot on lodging in Salento. Most of the accommodations are hostels, usually offering a mix of dorm beds and private rooms.
Great private room and social vibe: I stayed at the Viajero Hostel. It’s just up the hill from town. My large private room was only $45, and it had a shared balcony overlooking the valley. They offer a good breakfast, have a small bar area and a very friendly social vibe. Check reviews on Trip Advisor or book with Booking.com.
Go off the grid: In addition to running tours, Kasaguadua also has an ecolodge. They are off the grid with solar, composting toilets and funky huts made largely from natural materials. Be prepared to walk your luggage down a canyon trail. The scenery is stunning and the revenue helps to rehab the cloud forest. Check reviews on Trip Advisor and book with Booking.com.
Day 11-13: Bogotá
Plan to spend the morning traveling from Salento to Bogotá. I chose Bogotá over Medellín on the advice of a fellow travel blogger who is as nuts for street art cities as I am. While both cities have good street art, he preferred the scene in Bogota, and it didn’t disappoint. But Bogotá isn’t just about modern urban art, it has a lot of history as well. It was founded in 1538 and became Colombia’s capital in 1717. It’s a huge sprawling city with a downtown core that houses most of tourist sites.
Top Four Things to Do in Bogotá
- Take a street art tour: I booked a tour with Bogotá Graffiti Tour. I specifically chose them because they are tapped into the local street art scene. Their tours are run by artists and they also have an urban art gallery. Their regularly scheduled tours are free but you can also schedule a private tour which is more customized.
- Take a (self or guided) tour of Calendaria: If you aren’t so into street art (what?!?), you can still see the best of the UNESCO heritage designated Calendaria neighborhood with a free walking tour. You can also wander around on your own. Don’t forget to leave time for the Gold Museum, (which will burn your retinas with bling) and the free entry to the Museo Botero (which features modern art and whimsy).
- Take the funicular to the top of Monserrate: Bogota is already a high altitude city at 8,600 feet (2,640m) and Monserrate towers another 1,679 (512m) above that. You can claw your way up through the tree cover…or…you can take the funicular. You’ll see all of busy Bogotá from one side of the old monastery, and beautiful green space from the other. It’s not cheap at $12 but the view is worth it.
- Take a craft beet tour: The national beers of Colombia are Aguila and Primo, and they are like every other boring lager sold around the world. However, there is a craft beer scene emerging in Bogotá and the Bogota Craft Beer Tour is a fun way to explore it. We went to four locations and tasted several beers at each. Our group of beer nerds were fun company and it was a cool way to explore the hipster Chapinero neighborhood.
Day Trips from Bogotá
Foodie Tip for Bogotá
If you like beer but don’t have time for the full tour, check Madriguera in Chapinero. They have a full selection of craft beers on tap, a rooftop deck and a super friendly staff. If you are hankering for something spicy, go to El Antojos del Coyote in Calendaria. This four table shoe-box has home cooked Mexican food.
Safety in Bogotá
Bogota is a big urban city in a poor country and it’s not as safe as London or San Francisco. The tour books warn about how it’s not a grand idea to wander around alone at night in Calendaria, a notion which I validated with the locals. Keep your phone in your pocket, your money discretely tucked away and leave the big camera in your room at night. Do not flag taxis on the street. Ubers are cheap and plentiful.
That said, we stayed in the Chapinero neighborhood, which is more hipster and upscale. We felt very comfortable walking around at night to visit restaurants.
Where to Stay in Bogotá
I chose Chapinero because I wanted to explore a neighborhood outside of the old town core. It’s a twenty minute ride from Calendaria.
Full service and pretty lux: We stayed at the Lugano Suites. It’s a full service hotel with huge rooms and a great breakfast. If you want a little lux at the end of your trip, there are many hotels in Chapinero fitting that bill. You can explore the neighborhood through Booking.com or check reviews on Trip Advisor.
Budget but nice in Calendaria: There are many budget lodgings and hostels in Calendaria. The Arch Noah Boutique Hostel offers private rooms, well-designed and clean public spaces and helpful staff. Check reviews at Trip Advisor or book at Booking.com.
Day 14: Travel Day
Cry big wet tears in your Uber because you had a great time on your two weeks in Colombia and now you have to go home to: snow, a deadline, rotten food in your refrigerator and/or a large pile of laundry.
3 Essential Items to Pack for Colombia
Speaking of laundry, here are a few essential items that you should bring on your trip to Colombia.
- Sea to Summit Laundry Wash. This tiny little packet will give you enough soap to cover 10-12 sink washes.
- SteriPen water purifier. I’ve committed myself to reducing my plastic use, and yet, I’ve had quite enough traveler’s diarrhea to last me a lifetime. The SteriPen is the perfect solution to buying bottled water. It kills 99.9% of bacteria and protozoa, is USB rechargeable and fits easily into your gear bag.
- Permetherin. Colombia is buggy…and sometimes these low-budget lodging options are even buggier. Spraying your bag and outdoorsy clothing with Permetherin will help you repel bed bugs and mosquitoes.
Two weeks in Colombia sounds like a long time, until you realize how much cool stuff there is to do there. I chose these destinations because they offered a mix of Colombia’s history and culture with a sufficient dollop of the offbeat. Enjoy your trip, and as they say in Colombia, buen viaje!
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