So you’ve got 3 weeks in Colombia…YEAH BUDDY!
Three weeks in Colombia gives you enough time to see most of the main highlights…if you’re ready to hustle.
The trick is being efficient.
And that’s exactly what I’ll show you how to do today.
But first, why the heck should you listen to me and my 3 week Colombia itinerary anyway?
Three years ago I met (and later married) a Colombian, and she’s been showing me all the secret spots around her country ever since.
So, in between my three years traveling in Colombia and her 30 years living here, we have a pretty good idea of what’s worth seeing and what you can skip.
Colombia Itinerary 3 Weeks: A Quick Overview
First I’ll give you an overview of the entire Colombia itinerary. Then we’ll dive into the day-by-day details and insider tips. (This itinerary assumes you have a round trip flight to Bogota…but as you’ll see, it can be easily modified to whichever city you arrive in).
- DAY 1: Bogota – Arrival & Graffiti Tour
- DAY 2: Bogota – Salt Cathedral
- DAY 3: Cali – Salsa
- DAY 4: Cali – Sightseeing & Salsa
- DAY 5: San Cipriano Day Trip
- DAY 6: Salento
- DAY 7: Cocora Valley Hike
- DAY 8: Medellin
- DAY 9: Medellin – Tour Day
- DAY 10: Guatape, Peñol, & Escobar Mansion
- DAY 11: Medellin – Free Day
- DAY 12: Cartagena – Old City & Mud Volcano
- DAY 13: Choose Your Own Caribbean Adventure
- DAY 14: Choose Your Own Caribbean Adventure
- DAY 15: Choose Your Own Caribbean Adventure
- DAY 16: Santa Marta
- DAY 17: Tayrona National Park – Beach & Camping
- DAY 18: Tayrona – Beach Day
- DAY 19: San Gil – Adventure Activities
- DAY 20: San Gil – Adventure Activities
- DAY 21: Bogota – Catch Flight
This plan is designed to see the MAXIMUM amount of Colombia possible in 3 weeks. Another approach would be to travel slower, and enjoy each destination for more days (I’ll give some suggestions for that approach as well).
The cool thing about this Colombia backpacking route is that you’ll get to experience vastly different cultures. The food, people, accent, and lifestyle are all noticeably different among each region. It’s fascinating to see how different things are from city to city.
As you can see from the map below, this Colombia itinerary is a big loop. So if you arrive from a different airport, you can just start your loop from there.
3 Week Colombia Itinerary Map
This Colombia travel itinerary obviously assumes you’ll be flying in and out of the country from the same place.
If Colombia is part of a longer trip and you’re traveling straight through from north to south (or vice versa) by land, I’ve created a modified itinerary you can find at the end of this post.
Click here for a PDF download of this post so you can have all the details at your fingertips, even when you’re not connected.
Alrighty, let’s get into some detailed day-by-day instructions!
3 Weeks in Colombia Day-by-Day Guide
Feel free to follow this 3-week Colombia backpacking itinerary to a T, or modify it based on your interests. I realize everyone has different tastes, so I sprinkled in some alternative activity ideas here and there.
DAY 1: Bogota – Graffiti Tour
To be honest, with so many amazing places to visit in Colombia, Bogota isn’t top on my list. That said, there are a few neat things to do here.
The Graffiti Tour is one of them.
I’ve been on A LOT of walking tours over the past five years traveling. This was one of my favorites.
You’ll learn all about the fascinating street art in Bogota including the interesting backstories of the artists, signature marks of each artist, and what the deeper meaning behind each piece of street art.
A lot of the graffiti represents highly controversial political topics and will give you a sneak peek into Colombia’s rocky history.
Tours run every day at 10am and 2pm and last around 3 hours. If your flight arrives in the morning, you should have time to make the afternoon tour. (If not, you can squeeze it into the morning of your last day).
You can make a reservation online or just show up at Parque de Los Periodistas at 2pm and look for the blue umbrella.
Lastly, while the tour is technically free, I suggest leaving a small donation. They really do a good job, and donations are used to help fund community projects.
Where to stay in Bogota, Colombia?
Since you won’t have much time to mess around with Bogota traffic, it’s best to stay close to the center of action in a neighborhood called La Candelaria. This is where most walking tours start and is one of the most touristic neighborhoods of the city. For budget-conscious solo travelers, Hostal R10 will give you the best bang for your buck. For affordable private rooms, check out Hotel Casa Guadalupe.
DAY 2: Bogota – Salt Cathedral
One of the best Bogota day trips is to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zapaquirá (Catedral de Sal de Zapaquirá).
You probably won’t find anything like this anywhere else on earth.
It’s a salt mine…but it also has a functioning church 180+ meters deep underground. I won’t spoil it by sharing all the interesting details, just know that it’s fascinating.
To get there, head to Portal del Norte and catch a bus for 5000 COP to Zapaquirá, about 2 hours north of Bogota. Admission costs 50,000 COP and includes an audio guide.
To avoid the crowds, try to go as early as possible. (If you missed the graffiti tour yesterday, you might be able to squeeze it in today if you get back from Zapaquirá early enough).
After a long day of activities, you’ll be nice and tired to sleep on the night bus to Cali…
How to get to Cali from Bogota?
From Terminal Salitre the trip from Bogota to Cali takes around 11 hours. Ticket prices vary based on the season, but normally cost ~70,000 COP.
DAY 3: Cali – Salsa
I put Cali at the beginning of the itinerary for a reason.
It’s the Salsa Capital of the World, and the best place to brush up on your salsa skills that you can use on the rest of your trip.
If you’re thinking, “Yeah bud, I don’t dance,” I recommend at least giving it a try—even if it’s just for the cultural experience.
I didn’t think salsa would be my thing either, but it’s addictive. Trust me.
For a short stay in Cali, your best bet is to hit up Manicero Escuela de Baile for some group or private classes, then head out to La Topa Tolondra discoteca to put your new skills to the test. (This place fills up EVERY day of the week).
Most people backpacking Colombia skip over Cali, but if you want to experience Colombian salsa at it’s best, you won’t be disappointed.
Note: Many hostels offer on-site salsa classes, but I recommend going to an actual salsa school where you can make friends with other locals (Manicero is where I met my wife! ❤️).
Best places to stay in Cali, Colombia?
San Antonio is the most popular neighborhood for tourists and is pretty close to both Manicero and La Topa. Miraflores neighborhood is also a good option—a bit less touristy, but closer to Manicero. In San Antonio, check out Hostal Encuentro In Miraflores, my go-to is Casa Miraflores.
DAY 4: Cali – Sightseeing and Salsa
Depending on how hard you salsa-ed last night, you may or may not wanna wake up early to do some sightseeing.
Two of my favorite places around town are Cristo Rey and La Chorrera del Indio. You can find out more specific details about them (along with loads of other fun activity ideas) in my post on awesome things to do in Cali.
In the afternoon, it’s back to salsa class.
If you’ve never danced before, the first day of class can be rough. But if you stick with it another day, your muscle memory will kick in, the steps will feel more natural, and your confidence will grow.
Take that confidence back to the dance floor at either La Topa, Zaperoco, Tin Tin Deo, MalaMaña, or Salsa al Parque (check online to see which place is best on each night of the week).
For those who’d rather watch other people do the dancing, check to see if there is a Delirio Show going on. It’s a spectacular mix of Salsa + Circus and quite entertaining (albeit a bit pricey).
Either way, now you’ve got your Colombian salsa fix and will be prepared if you end up on a dance floor later in your trip (odds are you will).
DAY 5: San Cipriano – Day Trip
San Cipriano is a Afro-Colombian jungle village a bit off the beaten path. Most people backpacking Colombia don’t make it there, but it’s definitely another unique “only in Colombia” experience you won’t want to miss.
And getting there is half the fun.
There are no roads to the village. The only way to get there is on a “motobruja” (AKA a cart attached to a motorcycle that flies down train tracks through the jungle).
Once you get in town, rent yourself a tube, carry it ~40 minutes down the nature path outside of town, then float your way back. (Don’t forget a cold drink!)
To get to the entrance of San Cipriano, head to the Cali bus terminal, find any bus headed to Buenaventura, and tell them you want to go to San Cipriano (~20,000 COP). Once on the bus, tell the driver to drop you off at Zaragoza.
Pay the entrance fee, cross the bridge, and get ready for a wild motobruja ride!
DAY 6: Salento – Explore
And we’re off to Salento.
Salento is a small town located in Colombia’s Coffee Region, one of the most beautiful zones of the country.
The town is charming itself, but the main draw is the Cocora Valley trek. That’s on the agenda for tomorrow.
As for today, once you arrive in Salento in the afternoon, take a stroll around the pueblo, try some coffee, and rest up for tomorrow’s adventure.
How to get to Salento from Cali?
Head to the Cali Terminal and grab a ticket to Salento. This will include a transfer in Armenia. If there aren’t any available, just buy a ticket to Armenia first, then another from Armenia to Salento once you arrive. The trip from Cali to Salento takes about 4 hours (including the transfer).
Where to stay in Salento, Colombia?
There is no shortage of spectacular hostels in Salento. During my first visit, I stayed at an Eco Farm Hostel called La Serrana, and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing hostels I’ve ever been to (I can’t find it on Booking or Hostelworld, so you’ll have to book directly on their website). If that’s too much hassle, I also highly recommend the Viajero Salento Hostel.
DAY 7: Salento – Valle de Cocora Trek
Wake up nice and early and walk to the town square. After stocking up on water and snacks, look for the Jeeps parked in the square (they’re hard to miss). These will take you to the entrance to the Cocora Valley hike.
This is one of my favorite hikes in all of Colombia and can best be described as “otherworldly”.
It’s home to the tallest species of palm trees in the world. As you’re walking through them, you’ll feel you stumbled straight into a Dr. Seuss scene.
WARNING: There’s a split in the path where one direction takes you on a loop back to the starting point, and the other direction continues climbing up the mountain (a multi-day trek). Normally there is a sign. But when I went, the sign had fallen down. We accidently took the wrong path and walked 2 hours in the wrong direction before realizing it. So…be careful!
DAY 8: Medellin – Settle In & Go Out
It’s time to say goodbye to the Coffee Region and continue heading north to Medellin.
Medellin has had a rough past, but is now one of the most booming cities in Colombia. The people of Medellin (AKA Paisas) are known for their entrepreneurship, and the city is one of the most popular digital nomad hubs in the world.
To get to Medellin, take the earliest bus possible out of Salento.
This will give you time to take a quick nap once you arrive and prepare for a night on the town.
There are many nightlife options in Medellin, but the most popular is located in the Poblado neighborhood. (Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to break out those Cali salsa skills and impress some Paisas).
How to get to Medellin from Salento?
The station where buses leave for Medellin is somewhat hidden, so make sure to ask locals for directions. The trip from Salento to Medellin supposedly takes 6 hours (but prepare to be a couple hours late).
Where to stay in Medellin, Colombia?
Medellin has an awesome public transport system, so it’s not super important that you stay in the center of the action. But if the center of action is what you’re looking for, El Poblado is it. If you’re looking for shared dorms, check out Los Patios Hostel. For more privacy, Element Hotel is a great value.
DAY 9: Medellin – Tours
Get ready for a long day of awesome tours.
If you’re new to tropical fruits, the Real City Exotic Fruits tour will blow your mind. You’ll get to visit one of Medellin’s markets and taste 10+ fruits that you probably have never heard of before (who knows, you might find a new favorite). I had no idea so many fruits even existed!
Next up is the Free Walking Tour. This is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Medellin. You’ll learn what really happened during the dark ages of the city (instead of basing your understanding completely on Narcos).
By the time you finish both tours, you’ll be ready for an early night—which is good, because tomorrow’s another big day!
DAY 10: Guatape – Day Trip
Today’s activity is a bit controversial, but will definitely be a highlight of your trip.
Today you’re going to explore the colorful town of Guatape, climb the giant Peñol rock, and if you’re feeling really adventurous?
Play paintball in one of Pablo Escobar’s rundown mansions.
This is one of my favorite activities in Colombia (I’ve done it twice) and is something you’ll never forget.
Just make sure to do your research a couple days in advance. When I went, I had to go to the tour office and pay in person the day before the tour (there was no online payment option). Kind of a hassle, but worth it!
DAY 11: Medellin – Other Activities
There’s TONS of stuff to do in Medellin.
Today is a free day to choose whichever looks most interesting.
If there’s a football match going on, that would be a crazy experience…
Or you could tour Comuna 13 or Comuna 8 to learn the history of what were once some of the most dangerous places in Colombia…
Or there’s also the cable car ride up to Parque Arvi with lots to explore.
You’ve got loads of options…choose wisely!
Depending on prices, you can take the night bus to Cartagena tonight, or take a flight tomorrow morning.
How to get to Cartagena from Medellin?
I’m not one to book ahead (I like to keep things flexible). But if you do, you might be able to find cheap plane tickets that cost the same as the bus…maybe even cheaper. A flight from Medellin takes one hour and the night bus takes 14 hours.
DAY 12: Cartagena – Old City and Totumo Mud Volcano
In my opinion, Cartagena is one of Colombia’s overrated tourist destinations. However, since it’s so popular, it’d be a waste not to quickly stop by as you’re passing through.
First up is the Totumo mud volcano.
Now, this is a “love it or hate it” experience. But no matter how you feel about it, you can’t argue that it’s both unique and unforgettable (which, as you can tell by now, is what I’m all about).
To sum it up, you basically float around in a mud pit (it feels super weird not being able to sink), enjoy mud “massages” by local men, then get an intimate scrub down by some old ladies with water buckets.
You may feel a bit violated after the scrub down, but at least you’ll be sparkly clean to explore the Old City when you get back.
Where to stay in Cartagena, Colombia?
I recommend basing yourself in the Centro neighborhood. For hostel-lovers, you can’t go wrong with Bourbon St Hostal Boutique. If you’re looking for your own room, Hotel El Viajero Centro is a top choice.
DAY 13-15: Pick Your Adventure
While Cartagena itself didn’t impress me much, there are tons of cool things to do near Cartagena. But since we’re on a tight schedule, you’ll have to pick and choose.
Here are my top recommendations:
Option #1.) Spend two nights on Isla Palma. This is one of the most magically mysterious places I’ve been to in Colombia. The island was once owned by a rich family who essentially turned it into an exotic zoo, then abandoned it (leaving the animals with a caretaker), and then hired a Brazilian couple to open an eco-lodge.
When we went, we basically had the whole island to ourselves (along with all the cool animals).
However, it looks like the owners have changed since I went, so make sure to do your research and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. It’s a bit of a hassle to get there, so you’ll spend more time and money on transport.
Option #2.) Stay in Cartagena for 3 days and take island hopping tours each day through the Rosario Islands. This is a great way to see lots of places in little time. Just be careful to read reviews before choosing your tour company (I’ve heard there are some bad eggs).
Option #3.) Stay at the Casa en el Agua hostel. I haven’t made it here myself, but my friends say it’s amazing (see video below to see what I mean)—it’s literally a hostel floating in the middle of the Caribbean sea. The main drawback to this option is it’s even farther away than Isla Palma.
Option #4.) Fly to San Andres islands. If you can find a cheap flight for your dates, this is an awesome side trip. I’ve never seen more beautiful blue waters than in San Andres.
Option #5.) Relax in the jungle mountains of Minca for a couple days. If you prefer mountains and jungle over the beach (or you just want to escape the heat), head up to Casa Elemento in Minca. UPDATE: Casa Elemento is currently CLOSED—check out Casa Relax Minca instead. It’s about 5 hours away from Cartagena, but you’ll be much closer to your next stop.
DAY 16: Santa Marta – Prepare for Camping
The option you chose above will determine how long it takes you to get to Santa Marta.
If you’re at Casa en el Agua, it’s going to be a long travel day down the coast.
If you’re in Minca, you’re super close.
Wherever you’re coming from, the idea is to arrive in Santa Marta, stock up on food and water, and get a good night’s sleep.
Take advantage of this travel day to rest and recharge. Tomorrow’s another big day.
DAY 17: Tayrona National Park (Parque Tayrona)
Today I recommend getting a super early start so you can arrive at the park entrance no later than 8am. That way you can cut down on waiting time and secure the best accommodation.
Tayrona Park is HUGE and you could easily spend several nights here camping and exploring all the different beaches.
That said, with only one night, your best bet is to head to Cabo San Juan. It is the most crowded, but it’s crowded for a reason (plus, if you sleep there, it quiets down after the day-trippers leave).
Do not make the same mistake as me and attempt to do Tayrona with a hangover…NOT pleasant.
You’ll have to do a mini-trek through the hot jungle carrying your things (leave your big bag in your hostel in Santa Marta), and it’s best to do this with a good, alcohol-less night’s rest.
How to get to Tayrona Park from Santa Marta
Grab a public bus from the Santa Marta terminal or behind the central market. The trip from Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park entrance takes a little under an hour.
Where to stay in Tayrona Park, Colombia?
The most popular place to stay is on Cabo San Juan beach. It’s also the most crowded and quickest to fill up. Arricife is another option, although you’ll have a longer walk to get to the nicest beaches.
DAY 18: Tayrona
Enjoy the day in Tayrona, then head back to Santa Marta in the late afternoon.
Pick up the bag you stored at your hostel, then take the night bus to San Gil.
How to get to San Gil from Santa Marta?
Go to the bus terminal and check to see if there are any buses from Santa Marta to San Gil. If not, just take the night bus to Bucaramanga (you’ll have to pass through there anyway), then buy another ticket to San Gil once you arrive in the morning. The total trip including the transfer will take around 13 hours—luckily these buses are quite comfortable!
The next couple days are mainly for adrenaline junkies. If those types of shenanigans aren’t your thing, you could stay on the coast longer to do the four-day Lost City Trek (you might have to give up one of your beach days to make time). I haven’t done it myself, but I hear it’s special (albeit, very strenuous).
DAY 19: San Gil – Adventure Activities
San Gil is the adventure capital of Colombia.
So far during our 3 weeks in Colombia, we’ve had lots of lazy days on the beach. Now it’s time for an adrenaline rush.
And what better rush than standing on a ledge 140 meters over a river and plunging yourself off of it?
San Gil is home to the highest bungee jump in all of South America…no wussing out now, guys!
This experience will only take an hour or two. But trust me, after that adrenaline wears off, you’re gonna want to nap and chill for the rest of the day.
Tip: When you arrive in the San Gil bus terminal, ask around about the bus schedule to Bogota for the following night. There’s not much info online, so it’s best to buy them ahead of time while you’re there.
Where to stay in San Gil, Colombia?
DAY 20: San Gil – Adventure Activities
Alright, time for Adventure Day 2.
Today we’re headed down to the river (the one you jumped over yesterday) to do some white water rafting.
Rafting on Rio Suarez level 5 rapids is not for the faint of heart…but it’s a blast!
Before getting in the raft, your tour company will sit down and give detailed instructions on how to stay safe on the river (pay close attention, please).
This was my first rafting experience, and it’s one I’ll never forget.
That said, if rafting sounds too crazy for you, an alternative plan could be to visit the small pueblo of Barichara for the day.
Just make sure to be home in time for your bus to Bogota.
How to get to Bogota from San Gil?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s wise to get your tickets sorted out as soon as you arrive in San Gil. Many buses go from Bucaramanga to Bogota, and you’ll have to hop on one of these when they pit stop in San Gil. The trip from San Gil to Bogota takes around 9 hours.
DAY 21: Bogota – Graffiti Tour – Departing Flight
If you didn’t have time to do the Graffiti Tour on the day you arrived, now’s your chance!
The morning tour starts at 10am and last around three hours, although you can leave early if needed. If you have a late afternoon flight, you should be able to fit it in. (If not, you could probably cram it in to Day 2 with the Salt Cathedral if you really hustled).
If you somehow managed to complete the above circuit with time to spare, here’s how to top off your trip with an awesome three days in Bogota.
Alrighty folks, there you have it…the ultimate 3 weeks in Colombia itinerary!
If you followed this route, you’ve crammed A LOT of stuff into three short weeks. The good news is, the next time you visit (and you better come back!), you’ll know exactly which region you like best. 🙂
Alternative Colombia 3-Week Itinerary (For Slower Travel)
If the above itinerary sounds too rushed for you, here’s an alternative, more relaxed way to spend 3 weeks in Colombia…
Just stick to the coast.
Instead of bouncing around and trying to see all the different regions, just stick to the Caribbean coast. There is PLENTY to keep you busy here for 3 weeks.
Arrive in Cartagena, and pick a direction: east or west (or both).
Here’s a map showing cool places you could stop along the way.
Modified 3-Week Colombia Itinerary (Passing Thru By Land)
The first time I traveled through Colombia, I entered from the north and traveled straight down by land, exiting to Ecuador.
If this is your plan (or vice versa), here’s the route I’d follow…
(Basically we’re cutting out Bogota and San Gil because there out of the way)
DAY 1-10: Caribbean Coast
There are tons of destinations to choose from around here that are all relatively close together (see details above). If you’re arriving from Panama by boat like I did, make sure to enjoy your time in Capurganá and Sapzurro. It’s way off the beaten path and most travelers never make it here.
DAY 11-14: Medellin & Guatape
Follow the same plan as the main itinerary above.
DAY 15-17: Salento & Coffee Zone Region
In the main itinerary, we had to rush through this area. If you have time, I’d spend a couple extra days here. It’s absolutely stunning, and there’s lots of other beautiful places around besides Salento.
DAY 18-20: Cali & San Cipriano (or Pacific Coast)
Again, most backpackers skip Cali, but I loved it (mostly for the salsa and all the Colombian friends I met in class).
If it’s whale watching season (July-October) and you want to get off-the-beaten path and see a more “wild” side of Colombia, head to Juanchaco and Ladrilleros on the Pacific Coast for a couple days. It’s one of the best spots to see momma whales teaching their babies how to swim.
The Pacific doesn’t have perfect crystal blue waters like the Caribbean, but it has it’s own kind of raw beauty.
If you don’t like salsa or whales, you can skip Cali and add these days to the Caribbean coast or Coffee Zone.
DAY 21: Pasto & Ipiales
Ipiales is the town on the Colombia-Ecuador border. If you’re passing through, you can’t NOT stop for a day to check out Las Laja Sanctuary. This is hands down the most beautiful church castle-y thing I’ve ever seen.
How Much Money for 3 weeks in Colombia?
That brings us to our last question: What does a budget for 3 weeks in Colombia look like?
Well, it depends.
Generally the faster you move, the more you’ll spend on transportation. But since the first Colombia travel itinerary includes lots of night buses, you’ll balance it out by saving money on accommodation.
Keep in mind we’re also jamming in tours and activities almost every single day, so that adds up too. If you added in more rest days and moved a bit slower, you could cut your costs almost in half.
That said, here is an average of what a speedy solo traveler can expect to spend per day depending on their travel style—some days will be higher, others lower:
Colombia Travel Budget for Budget Travelers
Accommodation in shared dorm: 30,000 COP
Food: 30,000 COP
Drinks: 15,000 COP
Transportation (land): 30,000 COP
Tours/Activities: 30,000 COP
TOTAL: 135,000 COP (~$40/day at exchange rate at time of writing)
Colombia Travel Budget for Mid-Range Travelers
Accommodation in basic private room: 60,000 COP
Food: 45,000 COP
Drinks: 20,000 COP
Transportation (land): 30,000 COP
Tours/Activities: 30,000 COP
TOTAL: 185,000 COP (~$55/day at exchange rate at time of writing)
Colombia Travel Budget for Luxury Travelers
Accommodation in fancy hotel room: 220,000 COP
Food: 120,000 COP
Drinks: 50,000 COP
Transportation (air): 80,000 COP
Tours/Activities: 30,000 COP
TOTAL: 500,000 COP (~$150/day at exchange rate at time of writing)
These estimates don’t include travel insurance…don’t forget that either! I pay just $38/month for Safetywing insurance, and it just saved me over $15,000 in motorcycle accident expenses. Seriously, don’t leave home without. It’s like $1.25/day. Buy it now before you forget (you’ll thank me later).
In all, if you’re a budget backpacker like me, expect to spend around $840 for your entire 3 weeks in Colombia (not counting your flight to get here). Not bad for an unforgettable 21-day adventure, eh?
If you have any questions about the destinations on this itinerary (or about Colombia travel in general), leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help.
And if you found this useful, please don’t forget to share! 🤗
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