Here is your ultimate itinerary for 3 weeks in Colombia!
It was the day before Christmas Eve last year when I spontaneously decided (though I’m always eager and ready to) that it was time for another adventure. I had just recently moved to London and would start a new job in February. A month to linger around at home? Certainly not!
So I spent a couple of hours on Skyscanner trying to come across a deal (and a destination) I couldn’t refuse. The only criteria I had besides an affordable flight and destination were that it had to be the absolute opposite of a European winter. I needed sun and anything from 25°C or higher. To be honest, booking a flight around Christmas time just a few days before take-off seemed to me like it would probably cost a fortune and I can’t go. Think again!
I came across a couple of cheap flights – one for 350€ to Bangkok. Thailand sounded amazing – however, given the extent of my bucket list, I am always a bit reluctant to travel to the same country twice. Regardless of how much I love the country, the culture and the people. On went my search – until I came across a flight to Bogotá, Colombia. With my fondness for Latin America, Colombia sounded like music to my ears. A return flight (FRA – BOG) for 450€ with Delta Airlines was something I just wasn’t able to resist. Screw everyone’s concerns for me, a blonde, petite girl going to “such a dangerous” country all by herself? I couldn’t wait to go.
Luckily, I have a few friends who had just recently studied in Colombia so they gave me a few tips for must-sees. I don’t really like strict plans/itineraries but having an overview of places worth seeing is always very helpful. Plus, it was Christmas/New Year so a very busy time for traveling and having some hostel reservations couldn’t hurt. I would have loved to spend New Year’s Eve in Cartagena – because that’s apparently the place to be for Colombians during that time. But as I was so late, every affordable hostel was booked out. So I started my trip in Medellín instead.
Note: I’m a female solo traveller and backpacked through Colombia on my own. I’ve never felt in danger and experienced only kindness and generosity from the locals. It’s also super easy to meet fellow travellers. As with any trip: Use your common sense, look after your belongings and listen to advice you get from locals/other travellers and you’ll be fine.
My itinerary for three weeks in Colombia looked something like this:
(Looking for accommodation tips, where to eat and how to get around? Read these posts: Colombia Travel Guide: Budget accommodation, restaurants and bars and How to get around in Colombia)
- This was just a stopover – I had booked a flight to Medellín with Viva Colombia the next morning. It was here that I encountered Colombian hospitality for the first time as a friend in Germany arranged for me to stay at his Colombian friend’s family for the night – organised during my flight to Bogotá a few hours before my arrival. Welcomed with open arms and a very warm smile.
Medellín: 6 nights
- El Poblado is the most recommended neighbourhood in the City of Eternal Spring (yes, perfect weather year round) – it’s probably the safest and it is obviously a wealthier part. You’ll be spoiled with a choice of boutique cafés and restaurants, shops, upbeat hostels/hotels and amazing nightlife.
- Zona Rosa surrounds Parque Lleras in El Poblado has many great nightlife spots – clubs, nice restaurants and hip bars. Entry is either free or inexpensive and you can normally hear from the outside what kind of music they’re playing so just walk around and pick your favourite.
- Parque Berrío is a popular hangout spot for locals. There is a metro station here so it’s a good spot to venture off from and explore the surroundings.
- Botero Plaza & Museo de Antioquia are just below Parque Berrío metro. Sit down and take in the atmosphere.
- A great spot for a little walk and siesta in the shade is Jardín Botánico – time to cool off.
- Highly recommended but closed when I wanted to go: Taking a cable car (metrocable) to Santo Domingo (will give you great views of the city) or all the way to the top to Parque Arvi. You should aim to go before midday.
Cartagena: 3 nights
- Love this beautiful, historic city – so charming and such happy vibes! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Just walk around the old city centre and get lost strolling through small streets. You’ll discover plenty of boutiques, trendy bars and delicious eateries. The official entry point is the Puerta del Reloj (clock gate), the close-by Plaza de la Aduana and Igelisa de San Pedro Claver are bustling with life.
- Eat a freshly cut plate of fruit and cool down in Plaza de Bolivar
- Walk along the old city walls and have a sundowner at the very popular Café del Mar.
- I totally avoided Bocagrande – with its tall, modern buildings it seemed quite charmless.
- Take a day trip to Tierra Bomba to relax on the island’s beautiful beach or volunteer with the Tierra Bomba project: http://tierrabomba.org/
Playa Blanca: 4 nights
- Wow! Playa Blanca left me speechless several times. Maybe a bit overwhelmed at first by the dozens of people trying to sell me something by the main entrance to the beach, I was soon overwhelmed by the beauty of the place.
- There’s not much of an itinerary here except:
- Make friends.
- Read a book.
- Drink a coconut. Or two.
- Have a sunset jam session.
- Eat fresh fish (maybe not if you have a weak stomach).
- Have a beach bonfire.
- Fall asleep to the sound of waves. In a hammock. Or cabin. A few steps from the sea.
- Wake up early for a Yoga session on the beach in absolute serenity.
- A few words of advice:
- DO NOT stay around the main entrance to the beach (if coming by bus) or where the boats drop you off. Walk as far to the right as you can and you will find yourself a breathtaking, quiet spot on the white sandy beach with its turquoise blue water. You can beat the crowds the further down you go and also if you stay overnight; between 5pm and 9am.
- DO NOT bring your phone, there is no WIFI in any, except one or two “hostels” and nobody likes people clued to their phones when they should instead enjoy the beauty of a place and make random new friends.
- DO NOT leave trash and destroy this little paradise.
- DO NOT forget your Imodium pills.
- DO NOT forget to bring enough cash, there are no ATMs or card payments accepted. (You are likely to extend your planned stay so calculate for that and food and drinks/water are more expensive than on the mainland).
- DO NOT expect running water – no showers, no flushing toilets.
- DO NOT bring all your luggage. Store it in a hostel in Cartagena. There is no place to lock away your stuff, the cabanas are open and obviously so are the hammocks.
Minca: 5 nights
- Another place with a huge “Wow” factor…
- Minca is a little village in the Sierra Nevada famous for its coffee. You’ll enjoy the much cooler temperatures though you do need to pack a bit warmer for the chilly nights up in the rainforest. Try sleeping in a hammock, so cool to be woken up by chirping birds and breathing the crisp air. They’ll have plenty of blankets for you.
- If you’re staying at Casa Elemento, you can join their daily activities for little money. I did the monkey river hike. You can also trek to a waterfall and have a little swim. Take a coffee farm tour. Or simply relax in their famous giant hammock and enjoy the breathtaking views.
- Casa Loma also offers daily tours. They have Yoga classes and you can book a massage. And oh, you should so book it! It was out of this world. A Yoga Reiki massage performed by this spiritual, good looking Colombian guy that will leave your whole body tingling and your mind in this state of pure happiness, inner awareness, relaxation. Do it!
Palomino: 5 nights
- The moment I fell in love with Palomino? A Colombian guy playing the guitar around a beach bonfire with a big group of travellers from all over the world and together with locals, all singing Enrique Iglesias’ Bailando. Cheey, I know. But such a cool vibe.
- For me this is what Palomino Beach is all about. This hippie place, travellers making new friends, this down-to-earth, life-loving, peaceful atmosphere.
- There’s always a party going on somewhere or you can easily make your own. Join a Yoga class. Go tubing. Surf.
Parque Tayrona: I wish I had spent a night here but I missed it!
- I ran out of time to do this but would absolutely recommend based on stories and photos of fellow travellers. Spend at least a night here, right on the beach in a hammock. You’re advised to go by horseback rather than walk.
Santa Marta: 2 nights
- Meh. Wouldn’t recommend at all. No nice surrounding beaches, not a very beautiful city. But a good base to go to Minca and/or Tayrona/Palomino.
Bogotá Airport: 1 night
- You can spend a night here if you’ve really run out of money like I had. Once the restaurants are closing down around midnight, you can sleep for example on the McDonald’s benches.
Budget accommodation in Colombia: Where to eat, sleep and drink in Colombia (on a budget)
How to get around Colombia: Transport guide to Colombia