2 Weeks in Colombia: The Ultimate 14 Day ItineraryColombia
Incredible beaches, breathtaking valleys, invigorating cities, tasty food, and color around every corner: all of this and more is waiting for you during 2 weeks in Colombia.
Busy shaking off a negative stigma leftover from drug violence of the 80’s and 90’s, Colombia is working hard to bring tourists into the country–and with what they have to offer, it’s not hard to imagine why.
Planning your first trip to Colombia? Here’s what to add to your Colombia itinerary!
You’ll notice that we have only budgeted for 11 days in this itinerary, shaving off three days. There’s a good reason for that: visiting Colombia for 2 weeks with the intention of covering a lot of the highlights is going to mean some long travel days that won’t include a lot of sightseeing.
Rather than calculate a 14-day Colombia itinerary, then, we left a few days off to count as “travel days”: these will most likely apply between Santa Marta and Medellin (we highly recommend a flight here), between Medellin and Salento, and between Salento and flying home (likely from Medellin).
Now for the fun part: follow this Colombia itinerary and watch yourself fall in love with Colombia in 2 weeks!
Table of Contents
- The First Timer’s 2 Weeks in Colombia Itinerary
- Cartagena: 2 Days
- Tayrona National Park (Santa Marta): 2 Days
- Medellin/Guatape: 3 Days
- Salento: 4 Days
- More Time in Colombia?
- Getting Around Colombia
- The Best Time to Visit Colombia
- Safety in Colombia
- Speaking Spanish in Colombia: Is it Necessary?
- What to Pack for Colombia
The First Timer’s 2 Weeks in Colombia Itinerary
Cartagena: 2 Days
Highlights of Cartagena
We absolutely adored Cartagena: its colorful buildings and enchanting Old Town, remarkable nearby beaches, and Caribbean culture make it an absolute dream to visit (and photograph!).
While you’re there, be sure to head over to Isla Baru to experience the beauty of Playa Blanca, to wander the streets of the Old Town with a camera in hand, to munch on plenty of street food, and to watch the sunset over the city from the town walls.
Things to Consider in Cartagena
Though Cartagena itself is stunning, the beaches that are within walking distance of town are generally not the Caribbean paradise you probably have in mind while planning your 2 weeks in Colombia itinerary.
Most of Cartagena’s best beaches are located a boat ride and/or day trip away, whether that’s to the famous Playa Blanca or to a lesser-known beach among the Rosario Islands.
Keep in mind that while you can reach Playa Blanca without a tour, many of the Rosario Islands are privately owned, meaning a day trip or tour is required to access many of them.
If you want a self-led beach experience closer to town than Playa Blanca, we heard decent things about Tierra Bomba, though we didn’t make it out there ourselves.
Also–though obvious, it’s worth mentioning that Colombia (and especially the Caribbean coastline) is hot. Many tourists are shocked by how hot and humid it is here, so be prepared (and bring a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin).
Where We Stayed in Cartagena
Casa La Espanola — This was a great place to stay on a budget in Cartagena! Cartagena can get pricey toward the center, but with a little distance, we found a bargain here: the room was clean, the family running the place very nice, the hotel is set in a gated community, and if we didn’t feel like walking the 20 minutes to Old Town, a taxi was easy to grab and only $2-3 USD each way.
We definitely wouldn’t mind staying here again
Casa Primaveral — After visiting Minca and Tayrona National Park, we doubled back to Cartagena to catch our flight to Medellin and stayed here for one night.
For that purpose, this place was absolutely perfect: it is literally a 5-minute walk to the airport–easiest airport commute we’ve ever done!
The property was clean, cozy, and felt perfectly safe–though it was a bit too far out of the way for us to consider staying there while visiting Cartagena, as a night-before-the-airport spot, we couldn’t have asked for more.
Tayrona National Park (Santa Marta): 2 Days
Highlights of Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is, hands down, one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited.
The famous Cabo San Juan Beach may be a bit crowded during the day, but it has earned every bit of its fame–it is an incredible place.
The best way to experience Tayrona National Park is to camp for a night on Cabo San Juan Beach, and use the afternoon before and morning after to explore other parts of the park, including beaches such as La Piscina (perfect for swimming) and Arrecifes (definitely don’t swim–people commonly drown here, but the view from the sand is gorgeous).
There are also ruins that you can hike to during the day, and snorkeling equipment can be rented in the park as well.
To reach Cabo San Juan Beach to camp, you’ll need to hike about 2 hours into the park, or, if that’s not your thing, you can opt for a horseback ride to the beach instead.
Things to Consider in Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is known to close on occasion, which we sadly experienced ourselves–a couple of weeks before arriving, we learned that the park was closing for a month the day after we were supposed to arrive!
Unfortunately, that meant we had to downgrade our hopes of camping at Cabo San Juan to a simple day trip to the park–still absolutely worth visiting for, but we hope to stay longer next time!
Be sure to pack plenty of bug spray for your visit to Tayrona National Park–you’ll need it–and of course, bring cash as well.
Cabo San Juan Beach does have a small restaurant available if you’d like to eat there while camping.
Where We Stayed in Santa Marta
Hotel Paisamar — Colorful, affordable, clean, great air conditioner, big rooms, close to the beach, and a delicious included breakfast–Hotel Paisamar was a winner on all levels, and we would not hesitate to stay here again.
Hotel Sierra Nevada — A bit more of an upscale property than Hotel Paisamar, Hotel Sierra Nevada is very clean and modern inside, though the rooms are small and the location is not as excellent as Hotel Paisamar. We would have no qualms about recommending this place to someone looking for modern features in a hotel, but personally, we’d probably take Hotel Paisamar over this place again.
Medellin/Guatape: 3 Days
Highlights of Medellin
Medellin is a fascinating city: ruled the most dangerous city in the world less than 25 years ago, Medellin today is considered one of the most innovative cities in the world!
The Paisa people of Medellin are working hard to improve their city and its reputation abroad, and that’s obvious everywhere you look, from rehabilitated public spaces to the incredible cable car system that has been installed to give the communities in the mountains surrounding Medellin better access to the city and its resources.
A ride in the cable cars is a must while in Medellin–it’s an incredible way to experience the city, and also to get amazing views of it! Do keep in mind, though, that the cable cars are public transportation, not a tourist attraction, and exercise due caution.
Definitely plan on taking the Real City Free Medellin Walking Tour (and tip your guide!)–the tour has a great reputation among travelers to Medellin, and it definitely lives up to it. We also loved the Exotic Fruits Tour by Real City, and highly recommend it.
Guatape, the colorful gem of a lake town set 2 hours outside of Medellin, is a must on any Colombia itinerary that passes through the area–stick to a day trip if you must, but personally, we recommend spending one night in Guatape instead of Medellin during this portion of your Colombia trip.
Things to Consider in Medellin
Medellin is a fascinating place to visit, but we found that we had to dig a little deeper to find the highlights of Medellin than in many popular cities around the globe. In part, I think this is because Medellin’s history, more than its monuments or traditional sightseeing options, are its highlight.
For that reason, we recommend taking the Real City Walking Tour on the first morning you arrive in the city (you need to book in advance, so sign up online a few days ahead of time)–it will help orient you, give you context for the rest of your visit, and help you plan what to do next.
Regarding safety, though we felt very safe overall in Medellin (as do the bulk of the other thousands of tourists each year), it is still a large city in the process of coming away from a violent reputation. Be cautious about venturing into areas you’re unfamiliar with without researching them first, and generally be aware of your surroundings.
Where We Stayed in Medellin
16th Floor Studio Apartment (Airbnb) — We loved this apartment! The back wall is almost entirely windows… and the windows look out all over the city skyline. In addition, the apartment is clean, modern, comfortable to stay in, and made for a cozy retreat for a week.
One potential downside to consider: this is not in the popular Poblado neighborhood that the bulk of tourists stay in. We didn’t mind, but if you’re looking for the feel of a backpacker hangout, this isn’t it (though there’s a nice supermarket a five-minute walk away!).
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Prefer more traditional lodging? Check out Booking.com for great hotel & hostel options in Medellin!
Where We Stayed in Guatape
Lake View Hostel — Lake View Hostel hosted us for two nights in Guatape, and we loved our time there! The rooms were clean, the location great, the Thai restaurant on the top floor was a great option for dinner, and we’re still dreaming about their breakfast burritos that are served in the morning.
The only downside? Slow wifi–don’t plan on getting a lot of work done while here (which shouldn’t be a big problem–there’s plenty of playing to do in Guatape).
Salento: 4 Days
Highlights of Salento
In our totally biased opinion, we saved the best for last on this 2 week Colombia itinerary: though it’s a very close call, Salento is our favorite place in Colombia.
Set in the Andes Mountains, the town of Salento is bright, colorful, and beautiful. Nearby valleys, waterfalls, and rushing rivers make the perfect backdrop, and panoramic views might occasionally leave you asking if you’ve been suddenly transported into Middle Earth.
The crown jewel of the Salento area is, of course, the famous Cocora Valley–and it absolutely deserves all the praise it gets.
That being said, the Cocora Valley is far from the only reason to visit Salento during your 2 weeks in Colombia: we also recommend making sure to add horseback riding, a visit to the Santa Rita waterfall, a tour of a coffee plantation, and a few rounds of the addicting game tejo to your list.
Things to Consider in Salento
The ride from Medellin to Salento, and visa versa, is said to only take about 6 hours each way–but it took us 11 hours one way and 10 the other.
Why? Well, the best we could tell (the bus drivers weren’t too expansive), the main road used to travel between Salento and Medellin is closed, so buses are having to make do with other routes. The projected completion date for the road work is roughly sometime between next week and never.
So, we’d recommend planning a solid day of travel when heading to and from Salento, and get started as early as you can.
Where We Stayed in Salento
Posada Martha Tolima — This guesthouse made for a perfect quiet retreat in Salento, with low prices, unassuming but decent rooms, and a very tasty included breakfast (eggs, arepa, fruit, coffee, and bread, with the eggs made to order!). The hotel is just a 5-minute walk from the main square, and the price was right. We would not hesitate to stay here again!
More Time in Colombia?
Two weeks in Colombia is definitely not enough to see the entire country, but it is enough to give a fantastic overview!
If you’re lucky enough to have more than 14 days in Colombia, consider adding on visits to Bogota and San Gil (Colombia’s adventure capital, set about 5-6 hours away from Bogota), spending extra time in your favorite destinations (we’d recommend at least a couple more days in Cartagena and Salento), bumming around the Caribbean coast for longer (we’ve heard good things about towns like Palomino) or making your way down to towns and cities like Cali, Popayan, and Ipiales–all very logical destinations if you’re planning on making your way to Ecuador overland.
If you’re looking for something a bit more offbeat, consider making the journey out to the Tatacoa Desert (the photos remind us of the Southwestern USA), or heading to Punta Gallinas for some golden sand dunes, kitesurfing, and to say you’ve been to the northernmost point in South America.
Getting Around Colombia
Colombia has an expansive and affordable bus system to use for getting between destinations, but bear in mind that it might not always be the best option.
Colombia is enormous (roughly twice the size of France and Texas), and home to part of the Andes Mountain Range–distances are not always what they seem, buses sometimes never run on time, and motion sickness can be a problem.
If all of that sounds rather negative, don’t worry–the buses can also be fun! Like most places in Latin America, various entertainers hoping for tips might hop onboard at any moment, and hawkers selling homemade snacks are common. The seats were generally comfortable, and the a/c tends to work a little too well.
For very long distances, though, consider a flight–especially if you only have 2 weeks in Colombia. While flying between countries in South America costs about as much as a kidney, flying within a single country can be very affordable, Colombia included.
Viva Colombia, LATAM, and Copa Airlines are all popular for flying within Colombia, and personally, we took a Viva Colombia flight between Cartagena and Medellin (they also fly to Medellin out of Santa Marta).
The Best Time to Visit Colombia
Colombia, like many countries, has essentially two seasons: wet and dry.
In the Andean mountains (think Salento and Medellin on this itinerary), the driest months will be between December and March, and July and August.
The coast, such as Cartagena, is always hot and always has a chance of rain, though showers don’t tend to last as long there.
If you happen to make your way out to the Amazon… well, expect rain whenever you go–but you knew that, right?
When it comes to temperature, Colombia’s climate is fairly even–the coast is always hot, and temperatures are always cooler-but-not-cold inland.
If you’re looking for low prices, you’ll find the highest prices in Colombia between December and March, as it’s their peak travel season, and especially during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Easter weekend.
Safety in Colombia
As a country that is working hard to emerge from a prior reputation for severe cartel violence, safety in Colombia was on the tip of most people’s tongues when we told them we were going.
Broadly, the safety situation in Colombia has improved dramatically since the 1980’s and 1990’s. While the country does still have some issues, of course (mostly far outside of areas that tourists would choose to go), we felt perfectly safe there as tourists and would not recommend anyone to hesitate over planning a trip to Colombia due to concerns about cartel violence.
Petty crime, particularly in large cities, is a factor (as it is everywhere), but with normal precautions, you should feel perfectly safe while on the tourist trail. Be aware of your surroundings, try not to stick out, stay in reputable neighborhoods, don’t wear flashy jewelry, and generally behave in a friendly and normal way, and you should not have any issues.
Though I cannot speak personally to this (traveling with Jeremy has the lucky bonus of tending to render me invisible to these folks), solo female travelers report that the catcalling and street harassment situation in Colombia is similar to the rest of Latin America: generally obnoxious, but not typically dangerous.
Overall, we felt that traveling in Colombia felt similar to traveling in Costa Rica, Mexico, or Cambodia in terms of safety, and we certainly felt more secure there than in destinations like mainland Honduras.
When planning your route, feel free to check the US Travel Advisory for updated news on travel warnings in Colombia (be sure to check for particular states/departments, rather than the country as a whole)… but also keep in mind that more than 3.2 million foreign tourists visited Colombia in 2017 alone, the vast majority of which were perfectly safe.
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Hello, Cartagena (... and Colombia... and South America)! It's so nice to finally meet you. 😍 * We are having so much fun getting our first glimpse of continent number five: after months of traveling in fall and winter weather, we are all about sundresses and shorts and bathing suits here on the Caribbean coast. * Cartagena is incredibly vibrant: it's covered in brightly colored buildings and flowers spilling out of balconies and fruit piling up on stands and the smell of Colombian coffee wafting down the street from the dozen or so coffee shops that are always nearby. * Have you ever been to Colombia? If so, let us know your tips! We're planning to spend about a month exploring the country (assuming we can tear ourselves away from this city and the nearby beaches, of course)! * * * * #cartagena #colombia #ig_cartagena #ig_colombia #southamerica #igerscolombia #caribbean #abmlifeiscolorful #abmtravelbug #theprettycities #gltlove #wearetravelgirls #femmetravel #dametraveler #darlingescapes #flashesofdelight #instapassport #unlimitedparadise #planetdiscovery #globelletravels #sidewalkerdaily #travelstoke #openmyworld #thetravelwomen #thatsdarling #thatauthenticfeeling #forahappymoment #finditliveit #pursuepretty #mytinyatlas
Speaking Spanish in Colombia: Is it Necessary?
While we do feel it is possible to get by in Colombia without speaking Spanish, it will be significantly more difficult if you don’t speak any Spanish at all.
The language barrier is fairly significant in Colombia, more so than in other popular Latin American destinations like Mexico, and we personally found the Colombian accent (particularly on the Caribbean coast) much more difficult to understand than in places like Guatemala.
Speaking Spanish (neither of us is fluent, but we’re well beyond simple words and phrases at this point) was enormously beneficial during our trip to Colombia–it made it easier to connect with locals, to travel from point A to point B, and also helped us feel safer–it’s naturally isolating when you know it’s likely that no one nearby can understand you.
If you’re planning 2 weeks in Colombia, we recommend you start learning Spanish now–every little bit will help.
What to Pack for Colombia
Colombia’s variety of climates, available attractions (salsa dancing! hiking! scuba diving!) makes packing for Colombia a little tricky–here are a few items to be sure to put on your packing list for your 2 week Colombia trip.
Bug Spray — Bug spray is a must on any Colombia packing list. The mosquitos will try to eat you alive–just look at the legs of all the other tourists when you get to town. The ones who didn’t bring bug spray are easy to pick out.
SteriPen — We love using our Steripen to cut down on the waste from plastic bottles around the world, and Colombia was no exception.
Sunscreen — The sun is very strong in Colombia. Avoid getting burned by wearing sunscreen daily.
Rain Poncho — Ponchos are a must, especially in Salento. You can buy disposable ponchos in the area, but we recommend purchasing a reusable one before going and using it over and over again–if you’re in Salento for any length of time, you’ll likely keep pulling it out.
10L Dry Bag — Easy to pack, and an easy way to stop worrying about your camera and other belongings getting soaked in an afternoon rain shower in the Cocora Valley.
Pacsafe Travelsafe 12L GII Portable Safe — We love our Pacsafe! Whenever we leave our lodging for the day, we put our laptops and other valuables into this sturdy safe, attach it to the most secure thing in the room (like a pipe), and leave with peace of mind about the safety of some of our most valuable items.
Many thanks to Lake View Hostel for hosting us for two nights in Guatape! All other expenses detailed in this 14-day Colombia itinerary we covered by us, and all opinions are, as always, our own.