Last updated on August 25th, 2023 at 02:57 pm
My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!
Colombia is a dream country
Colombia is the second most bio diverse country in the world after Brazil. Here we have a variety of biotopes, such as Andean mountains, the Amazon, the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast and the list could be extended much more, because Colombia is so diverse. I’ve been living in this beautiful country for over 4 years, traveling a lot and still have not seen everything myself yet.
Therefore, I would like to describe a 4-week trip that I recently put together for one of my clients. It was about packing as much of the culture and natural beauty as possible, but without having to run from one place to another. Of course, even in 4 weeks it will not be possible to travel all the regions of Colombia, but it is at least a good start and offers a certain overview. Because Colombia has the size of California and Texas combined.
However, for everyone who wants to discover Colombia, we have summarized the best destinations and information in our Colombia travel guide.
Arrival in Colombia
Arrived at the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, you will not be heading into the city but directly change flights for an onward flight to Bucaramanga, the capital of the department of Santander. This should be possible for travelers from various destinations, since the last flight to Bucaramanga leaves the airport of Bogota at around 10 pm.
Arrival in Bucaramanga Santander Colombia
Bucaramanga is a very well organized and beautiful city. The area also has a history of German immigrants and you can see from time to time blonde Colombians with blue eyes. Unlike many other areas, the residents of Santander are known for their direct and straightforward communication. The women are therefore considered “brava” throughout the country, which can be translated as wild or angry. Of course this is partly a cliché, but certainly always a good start for a discussion here in Colombia.
The entire Santander Department is considered the outdoor paradise of Colombia and is best known for its adventure sports and possible outdoor activities. In addition, the Canon de Chicamocha is in Santander, which even outshines the dimensions of the Grand Canon in the US.
Upon arrival at the airport in Bucaramanga, only one night is programmed. As a medium-sized city, Bucaramanga offers a variety of accommodation options, from hostels to Airbnb to good hotels. The transport systems are also very well developed and logically arranged. Normally I recommend an airport pick up, but on smaller budgets you can always switch to a regular taxi or even use public buses. If you speak a little Spanish and pay more attention to the budget, than to comfort, that’s no problem at all.
For dinner in Bucarmanga I recommend one of the many steak restaurants in the center. This does not break a hole in the budget and the usual portion size you will make you more than happy.
Trip to Barichara with visit to the Chicamocha Canyon
Again, there are various options. You can either search for the appropriate public bus, book a group tour or organize a private tour. Here I definitely recommend a private tour, even if it costs a bit more. The pure travel time to Barichara is about 3.5 hours. However, with a visit to the Canon de Chicamocha this is considered a full-day tour.
This canyon has a depth of up to 2,000 meters (6,550 feet) and a length of 227 kilometers (141 miles) and is already starting in the department of Boyaca. In it flows the Chicamocha River, which leads more or less water depending on the month. Here you will find a panoramic viewpoint with a gondola lift, in which you can first descend into the canyon and then ascend again on the other side. There are also other offers, such as: Zip lining and of course you can hike for days.
Barichara is a member of the Club of 17 Cultural Heritage towns of Colombia and, in my opinion, the most beautiful village in Colombia. Not only is this village with its colonial style superbly preserved and beautiful, it also has a perfect climate. There is also a great variety of accommodation, from hostels to luxurious boutique hotels. Also a bit outside the village there are some very good and spectacular hotels. Many prominent Colombians have bought property in Barichara in recent years, so the culinary offer is being expanded more and more.
You can either just enjoy the day in Barichara or hike to Guane on the “Camino Real” in about 2-3 hours. Then you can go back to Barichara with the local bus, should this drive.
There are various churches and viewpoints in the village, the interesting cemetery, at least enough to discover that you will not get bored so quickly. Everything is within walking distance and you do not need an organized tour or a guide.
If, however, you feel like doing adventure sports such as river rafting, paragliding, etc. San Gil is just 45 minutes drive from Barichara and is known as the Colombian paradise for all these activities.
Travel to Villa de Leyva
To travel from Barichara to Villa de Leyva takes around 4.5 hours by private transport. But you can organize yourself differently. First you have to go to San Gil, either by bus or by local taxi. From San Gil, take the bus to Tunja, where there are direct buses to Villa de Leyva at the bus terminal. For this variant, you should calculate about 7 hours travel time. But you will definitely experience a scenic drive, no matter which means of transport you choose.
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is arguably one of the most touristic places in Colombia, and the people of Bogota love to spend their time there with their families on extended weekends. It is therefore advisable to check in advance whether you do not plan your stay during a national holiday that always includes Monday or a festival. Then it will be more expensive and very crowded.
The village is also very pretty but bigger than Barichara. The colonial style buildings are well preserved and protected, but the highlight is certainly the central marketplace. It is huge and is cobbled with centuries-old cobblestones and was formerly used by the military and already served as scenery for historical films.
Villa de Leyva is also a perfect village to discover on your own. Walking around, you will find many interesting shops, restaurants and coffees. In the immediate vicinity, there are also various attractions.
- The winery Ain Karim
- El Infiernito or Little Hell (archaeological site from the Muisca period)
- The paleontological museum, where a huge fossil is exhibited
- Lagoon of Iguaque
- Various museums
- Terracotta house
You get every kind of accommodation offered here. There are more luxurious boutique hotels, spa hotels but also a lot of hostels.
Visit of the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira and the Lagoon of Guatavita
On the way to Bogota there are two very interesting sites, which can be ideally combined as a day trip.
This lagoon at about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level has already been used by the Muiscas, the indigenous people of the plain, for their rituals. In the course of the El Dorado, the legend of the gold rush, many adventurers tried to come to the Laguna suspected, sunk gold treasures. This resulted in trying to blow away a whole flank of the lagoon to drain the water. Fortunately, only a small part was blown away and the lagoon was preserved. Even today it is used for rituals of the local indigenous community.
There is an organized tour in Spanish, which is super interesting. However, if you do not understand Spanish, an English guided tour can be organized in advance. Due to the altitude, the climatic conditions are mostly cold and humid. You should dress accordingly, wear solid shoes and take a rain cover.
Not only in the world exist the 7 wonders of the world, but there are also the 7 wonders of Colombia. These were chosen by the people in a ballot and the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is the first of the 7 wonders of Colombia.
The building is incredibly interesting and leads over a kilometer into the mountain. In the salt mine, in which the cathedral is housed at the end, salt is still actively mined. The cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in Colombia and offers guided tours in Spanish and English. In addition, headphones are available at the entrance, which translate the tour in 12 other languages.
Arrival in Bogota
Bogota is the capital of Colombia and is situated at around 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level. The climate is rather cool and mountainous, the weather can change at any time and several times a day. In my opinion, Bogota is also the city that has the biggest tourist offer in the country. There is a wide range of tours, from graffiti tours and food tours to specialties such as architecture or art and culture. Bogota has everything.
You should first inform yourself about the city. For this purpose we have written a complete Bogota travel guide, which summarizes the most important information and gives an excellent overview. So you can then better plan your days in the city in terms of accommodation, activities, etc. in advance. With more than 10 million inhabitants, the city is huge and therefore it is worthwhile to focus on the area so that you do not lose hours in the taxi or bus in the usual traffic jam.
Journey to the Tatacoa Desert
To Tatacoa desert you can either travel from Bogota by bus or fly to Neiva. In general, I recommend flying longer distances, as the average terrestrial travel speed in Colombia is generally very low. In any case, you can reach Neiva in 20 minutes by plane and drive another hour to the Tatacoa desert.
The Tatacoa desert is in reality no desert, but a dry forest. For the unlearned viewer, however, it seems to be a desert and the landscape and high temperature does not make you doubt.
From hostels with hammocks to the boutique glamping hotel, there are all kinds of places to stay. The Tatacoa Desert is known for stargazing and also has an observatory. This destination really exudes a special magic.
Travel to the Coffee Triangle
Although you can get from Neiva by bus via Ibague in the coffee zone, I recommend flying to Bogota and then to Armenia. Then, instead of over 9 hours, you are only about 4 hours on the road. In addition, there is always the risk of traffic jams due to accidents or weather conditions on the road. More information about the coffee zone can also be found in our travel guide for the coffee triangle.
Quindio is just one of the departments of the coffee zone, but the best known. With Salento and the Cocora Valley, it also has well-known tourist destinations far beyond the borders of Colombia. Because many backpackers love Salento and recommend it all over the world, this little village is certainly not the ideal destination for everyone. But there are many nice hotels for every taste in the whole region.
There are various possible activities, such as a visit to a coffee farm or a coffee tasting, hiking and cycling or horse riding. In any case, you should not miss to see the unique wax palms. As a national tree, this is the tallest palm tree in the world and measures up to 80 meters (262 feet) high.
Do not miss to travel with one of the local Willy jeeps. These are utilized as school buses, material and coffee transport in the zone and also serve as means of transport for locals and tourists.
Drive from Quindio to Salamina, Jardin and Medellin
There are several ways to get from the coffee zone to Medellin. Either you fly, take a direct bus or a private transport. But you can also split this trip and visit some of the most exciting villages of the region along the way.
It takes about 4 hours by car from Quindio, although the route is very winding. However, it is worth the drive as Salamina is one of the most beautiful and original villages in the coffee zone. You hardly meet other tourists, which is an absolute plus. It shows, so to speak, the origins of the local coffee culture. In the evening locals meet at the big square in front of the church, it is strolled and discussed and from one of the numerous restaurants around the square one can participate in the village life.
Again, there is nearby, with a drive over San Felix, the wax forest of Samaria, which is even more impressive than that of Salento. For the protection and the preservation of these extraordinary palm trees even sponsorships for small saplings are offered.
Jardin is one of my favorites here in Colombia. The village is not only incredibly beautiful and the climate just perfect, but also the surrounding nature has a lot to offer. You can either roam the village or explore the area with a Tuc Tuc taxi. This is especially interesting when driving up an unpaved natural road. Easy to find is the Cock of the Rock, which can be seen in the garden of an elderly couple.
Again, the village square is a really beautiful and interesting place. With all the tables and chairs of the various restaurants and the pleasant climate, the whole village comes together.
Continue to Medellin
The journey from Jardin to Medellín takes about 4 hours. If you leave a bit early, after lunch and check-in you have the whole afternoon to explore the neighborhood.
Medellin is the city of eternal spring and the climate is always pleasantly warm. The city has also developed in recent years culinary and there are now some very good restaurants.
For such a big city and compared to Bogota, however, the possible activities are limited. Therefore, as a traveler, I would not budget too much time for Medellín unless you want to relax and just be. An overview of all activities and opportunities can be found in our Medellín Travel Guide.
The Pacific Coast is an incredibly exciting destination, especially during the whale-watching season, which runs from around June to November. You can see at this time not only whales passing by, but possibly also turtles.
With a small propeller plane you fly about one hour from Medellin. The very short runway in Nuqui, will give you the impression to land in the forest until shortly before arrival.
The area is considered one of the wettest areas in the world and it rains all year round. Nevertheless, the beauty of the local nature is unsurpassed. For me, the Pacific Coast is one of the most spectacular destinations that Colombia has to offer. However, one has to be prepared for communication with the outside world being limited.
An absolute plus is the local cuisine. Unlike the rest of Colombia, it is cooked on the Pacific coast with more spices and pungency. For me, by far the best cuisine in Colombia can be found here.
In addition to whale and turtle watching, there are a myriad of other tours and animals that can be encountered during local exploration trips. For example, one of the most poisonous frog species in the world can be found on the Pacific coast.
Onward flight to Santa Marta Colombia
For the onward flight to Santa Marta you have to first fly back to Medellin and then change the airport. However, you can continue on the same day to Santa Marta.
Santa Marta is certainly one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Colombia with many excursion possibilities. Not only can you visit the beautiful old town or the last domicile of Simon Bolivar, but you can also walk in the Tayrona Park. In 4 days you can visit the lost city “Ciudad Perdida” or explore the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Also in the neighboring area La Guajira are countless other activities for visitors. A selection of options can be found in our Santa Marta Travel Guide.
The drive from Santa Marta to Cartagena is very pleasant and flat. In my opinion, you do not need private transport, because countless buses and minivans leave Santa Marta towards Cartagena almost every minute. For those on a larger budget, there is also the option of flying to Cartagena by helicopter and connecting it with an over flight of the lost city.
Cartagena is the jewel of the Caribbean and its splendor is second to none. Not for nothing it was declared a World Heritage Site. So Cartagena’s historic center is very impressive, but not too big. One has therefore seen it in a day, if one has not taken too many breaks because of the very warm temperature and high humidity. That is why street life takes place especially in the evening, and a wide variety of street artists are performing. The tables of the restaurants are outside and you eat and drink in the middle of the action. If you still have time, I can definitely recommend a trip to the Rosario Islands. This is twice the fun of a privately chartered boat.
Cartagena is certainly considered the number one luxury destination in Colombia and you will find many boutique hotels of a very high standard. However, I generally recommend travelers not to schedule too many days in Cartagena. There are just too many other exciting destinations to discover in Colombia.
But if you still want to fully enjoy a few days, you should urgently read my Cartagena travel guide.
If the trip described above has inspired your desire to travel, feel free to contact us directly at email@example.com. We are happy to organize your custom made trip.
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