3 weeks in Colombia

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
6
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
7
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
5
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
6
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
70 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Colombia
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,500
Time of year visited
March
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
114th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Luscious green mountains hiding little coffee village gems, treks deep into the jungle to see lost cities, a world-class old colonial town that lets you lose yourself in dreams of pirates and discovery, and a country that has recently / hopefully put a recent history of blood-bloodcurdling violence behind it.  Colombia, cracking country to visit

Due to the spread out nature of many of Colombia’s highlights and the slow travel between each, you really need 2-3 weeks to do the place justice and I’ve listed out below which is a great itinerary for 3 weeks

The must see highlights (with links to their individual travel entries) are Hiking the Lost City Trek, Soaking up the Cartagena Old Town and Walking the Valley de Cocora and soaking up Salento.  Also cool are hanging out in Tayrona National Park and spending a Couple of days in Medellin riding the cable cars are also cool.  Further down the list of classic highlights are Bogota (see Cycle trip around Bogota), which makes sense to visit as you’ll likely fly into there (and its the same distance to the Valley de Cocora as it is from Medellin), and if you have a spare day check out the Guatape Lakes outside of Medellin

highlights

1. Seeing the inspiring "Lost City" - nestled up in the jungle and what must have been practically impossible to find. The terraces and surrounding mountains just add to its mystery

#2 Valley de Cocora – a valley full of the world’s tallest palm trees (up to 60m / 200 feet) that also includes a great 5-6 hour round trip hike for views of the valleys below and a spot with hundreds of hummingbirds hovering around you

#3 Wandering through the historic old town of Cartagena - easy to let your mind wander and think back to the time of discovery and pirates as you soak up the cobbled streets and stunning architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage site

#4 Chilling out by Tayrona National in one of the beach hotels where the park, river and sea meet. A little spot of paradise

#5 Staying in and around the interior coffee town of Salento, surrounded by gorgeous mist-filled rolling valleys with just miles and miles of luscious greens of the jungle all around you

#6 The hike itself up to the Lost City - 4 days in total through some of the most beautiful jungle in Colombia and through some of the still existing hill tribes that makes this a wonderful experience

#7 Taking the cable cars to some of the re-invigorated neighbourhoods of Medellin to see street art and a bursting enthusiasm

#8 The views from the top of the giant rock La Piedra and the lakes of Guatape below

#9 Taking the cable car up to Monserrate for great views across the city of Bogota

The route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1-2 – Bogota.  Stay and eat in La Candelaria district, take the half day cycling tour to get a feel for the city, ride the cable car up to Monserrate for the views and check out the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
  • Day 3 – travel from Bogota to Salento (via Armenia).  Takes around 9 hours but some great views
  • Day 4-6 – in and around Salento.  Spend one day walking the loop around the Valley de Cocora, one day checking out some of the nearby villages (Finlandia and Circasia are worth a visit) and one day soaking up Salento and the beautiful mountain countryside
  • Day 7 – travel from Salento to Medellin.  Also takes around 8 hours, also great views
  • Day 8-9 – Medellin.  Highlight here is riding the cable cars and learning about the different parts of the city, in particular Comuna 13 and up to Parque Arvi.  Stay in the El Pablado area.  If have a spare day, take a day trip to the Guatape Lakes just outside of Medellin
  • Day 10 – travel from Medellin to Cartagena, takes around 12 hours
  • Day 11-12 – Cartagena.  Soak up the Old Town and most likely stay in the Old Town
  • Day 13 – travel from Cartagena to Tayrona National Park
  • Day 13-15 – chill out just outside of Tayrona National Park where the jungle meets lagoon meets sea, and check out the National Park and surrounding area
  • Day 16-19 – the Lost City Trek. Hike through some of the most beautiful jungle in Colombia and through still exiting hill tribes to see the mysterious terraces of Cuidad Perdida
  • Day 20 – chill in Santa Marta / Cartagena before flying out

Travel Tips

  • Each of the individual travel entries in the above links give specific tips on each of those experiences, so instead here I’ll just list down some of the broader tips I have for travelling through Colombia
  • Altitude sickness – its worth being prepared for mild altitude sickness when you arrive in Bogota.  At 2,640m / 8,650 feet its not something to be worried about, but it may throw you off a little on your first day
  • Travelling time – although the distances aren’t huge, travelling by bus takes time because of the windy mountain roads – have a look at Colombia topography, it has some chunky mountain ridges you have to pass through, which makes many people fly between cities.  We decided we’d far rather take the bus to see the scenery on the way
  • Safety – obviously the safety situation has improved dramatically over recent years, and, outside of the big cities, safety didn’t even cross our minds.  But just be cautious when in the big cities of Bogota and Medellin, as you would with any big Latin American city
  • Uber was everywhere – the easiest way to get around
  • Sim cards are relatively easy to have set up – helps to have these especially for things like google maps and google translate
  • Link for the google maps route can be found here – 3 weeks Colombia google maps link
  • Colombia book recommendations:
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the traditional must read literature.  At times it can be a little slow going, but it created its own genre (magic realism . . . obviously) and very much tells the story in a round about way of many of the difficulties faced by Colombia
    • To give a perspective of just what it must have been like for the American civilisations before the Spanish arrived, I highly recommend 1491 by Charles Mann.  It will change your view from what is likely to be that of basic jungle tribes / Indians hunting the buffalo on the plains to what they really were – in many ways equally sophisticated civilisations to those of Eurasia
    • For a broad, often quite opinionated, overview of modern South America, I also recommend Viva South America Oliver Balch
  • Broader Colombia – for how Bogota can fit into a bigger 3 week trip to see the highlights of Colombia, see 3 weeks in Colombia for itinerary and tips

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone