I had the pleasure of traveling Colombia for 6 weeks, but I know that time is usually not on many travelers' side. I have prepared a Colombia Travel Itinerary that will give you the base to work with according to the time you have.
I am offering you a 2 week itinerary that is planned out based on the most convenient ways to travel around Colombia and save time, as the country is big and distances can be as vast as 16h ride. Also, I have prioritized the must-see and visit places.
If you only have 1 week or 10 days in Colombia then it would be just the case of cutting 1 or 2 destinations off.
Also, if you do have more time, like 1 month or even 6 weeks then I will mention places you can add to your travel plans. At the end of the article, I have a summary of a 4 week itinerary.
Colombia 2 Week Itinerary
90% of the time the best flights from anywhere will be to the capital - Bogota. That is where I recommend starting as you will learn a lot about the internal politics, culture, and history of Colombia.
There is also an option to fly and start from the North part of the country but I will cover that at the end of this itinerary.
First Stop: Bogota
If you are very organized you might be able to do it all in one day, but I would allocate 2 days for Bogota as you need to take into consideration transportation to and from the next destination.
In Bogota, two main things you have to do are: the Free Walking Tour and Free Grafitti Tour. Both are free but tips are very welcome. These two tours will give you amazing information about Bogota and the whole of Colombia. I feel like your trip will be more meaningful once you know all the internal matters. Both tours include the main attractions and locations of the city so by doing them both you will more or less cover everything major to see in Bogota. Then if you have time, also take a tram up to the Monserrate Sanctuary. It is a wonderful place to go to for an hour from where you can see the whole of Bogota. More about Bogota, find in my Bogota Tarvel Guide.
Second Stop: Salento ,
You can't go to Colombia and not try maybe the best coffee in the world! For that, you need to visit the coffee region and the best place to go is Salento!
From Bogota take a bus to Armenia. It will be around 7 hour bus ride so I recommend taking a night bus. Generally, throughout the whole of South America, the night bus system is very good. From Armenia take a bus to Salento. The local bus between Armenia and Salento is just 40 minutes and they go regularly.
Again if you plan this in advance you can do it all in one day but it is just such a beautiful and peaceful place that I am sure you will love to stay there overnight. Also, you might be a bit tired after the long night bus ride. In Salento, two must-do things are: Hike through the Cocora Valley and visit one of the coffee farms where you can live the true coffee experience that includes a degustation of course! More about both activities find in my Salento Travel Guide.
Then from Salento take a bus to Armenia and from Armenia make your way to Medellin.
4 week itinerary note: Here before going to Medellin you can make your way down to Cali. Cali is an amazing salsa capital. You will definitely have a good time there and if you are in no rush I recommend spending a few days there. I haven't included it in the 2 week itinerary just because it is a bit out of the way and requires an extra day just to get there and back, also Cali is one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia. It is not too bad for tourists if you are careful but you definitely need to be more aware than in other cities.
Third Stop: Medellin
In Medellin, I recommend staying in El Poblado as it is the safest area in the city and also offers a good party scene. So I definitely recommend planning to visit Medellin during the weekend. I personally didn't like it that much but 99% of people I met in Colombia said Medellin and El Poblado was one of their favorites. Also, I think Medellin is a must-visit because it holds so much history and events important to Colombia. Definitely, do a free walking tour around the city as you will learn so many interesting things but be careful, the center of the Medellin can be dangerous if you wander around in the late hours. El Poblado offers a variety of clubs and bars starting from crazy hostel parties to elegant cocktail events on the rooftops of the most exclusive hotels.
If you have an extra day, then please do a day trip to Guatape. It is a very popular day trip from Medellin and you will visit the famous Gutape Rock. You can go with an agency but a much cheaper option will be doing it on your own. I spent wonderful 2 days there, more about Guatape read HERE!
Between the above 3 (or 4) places I recommend taking a night bus as they all are fairly close and located in the center of Colombia. Now we will move to the Caribbean coast and the ride can be up to 12 hours. So here I recommend taking a flight from Medellin to Cartagena, especially because internal flights have great deals. But in case your budget is very tight then there are bus options.
Fourth Stop: Cartagena
Cartegena is simply a must-visit! Culture, architecture, history, vibe, you have to visit Cartagena. With a proper Caribbean climate all year round (hot 🔥) I guarantee you will have an amazing time. For this city, I would definitely allocate 2 to 3 days at least because you need to explore and do a free walking tour around the historical center which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Then you also need to do a free walking tour around the Getsemani neighborhood. Both areas offer some amazing local restaurants to try so I believe this place is not the one to rush through. Also, Bocagrande offers some great beaches! Find out more about all the areas in Cartagena.
Talking about beach time, Cartagena will be the best place where to book all the island trips. There are several amazing islands with white sand and crystal-clear water to visit. A lot of agencies offer day boat trips around several islands, so if this is your cup of tea then definitely add an extra day or two for these activities.
4 week itinerary note: Next we will move to Santa Marta which is to the East but if you have time before heading to Santa Marta you can make your way to the West where are more secluded secret beaches and towns. Also you can go all the way to the Pacific coast where are some amazing surfing spots.
Fifth Stop: Santa Marta
From Cartagena, you can take a bus to Santa Marta. It will take you around 6 hours. You will cross this insanely long bridge!
There isn't too much to do or see in Santa Marta but it is a great exit point to all the places I recommend visiting around the area.
First, do a day trip to Tayrona National Park. One of the most beautiful National Parks in Colombia! Hiking and chilling by the beach are the 2 tops things to do there. If you are short on time, a day trip is enough to get the feel of the place but if you have more time you can also camp in the National Park territory. Check out the best beaches in Tayrona Park.
Then an amazing adventure to have is the hike to the Lost City! The only problem is that it takes a minimum of 4 days so if you are short on time there is no way to cut it short as you need to hike for 2 days to get there! Also, you can only do the hike with a local guide and the trip at the end can be quite pricey. If you want to spend some time by nature then a great alternative is Minca. It is a lovely town up in the mountains, just 1-hour drive away from Santa Marta where you can hike and just enjoy the mountain-jungle ambiance. You can do a day trip to Minca or stay there over the night. In Minca usually, you can find different yoga and meditation retreats if that is something you enjoy. Read more about it in my Minca Travel Guide!
4 week itinerary note: For some more chill days you can visit nearby towns like Buritaca and Palomino where you can do river-tubing or surfing.
4 week itinerary note: Another big trip that you can include if you have more time is the La Guajira desert. It will take you atleast 4 days and will be a fun adventure.
Important note: I put Cartagena first and then Santa Marta but it really doesn't matter which one you do first. I believe this is a choice you need to make regarding transportation prices and times that fit you. Because at the end of the day you fly from Medellin to Cartagena or Santa Marta and then just take a bus between them. As one of those will be your endpoint of the trip you also then can pick based on the fact from where you have a better flight to fly home. All the best routes and options you can check via BookAway.
This is the core I believe you can stick with and then amend according to how many days you have in Colombia.
Here I want to add the comment to all travelers from the USA and Canada. You might have better (cheaper) flight options to Cartagena or Santa Marta so you can do the trip the other way around. Fly into Cartagena or Santa Marta, travel the Caribbean coast first, and then take a flight to Medellin or Bogota and do the central part of the country.
So in short your Colombia 2 week itinerary would look like this:
Bogota - around 2 days
Salento - around 2 days
Medellin - 1 day and 1 night (ideally over the weekend)
Cartagena - around 2 days
Island Day (Cartagena) - 1 day
Santa Marta - Tayrona Park - 1 day
Santa Marta - Lost City Trek (4 days) OR Minca (2 days)
4 week itinerary would look like this:
I believe if you have a month then you can still more or less stick to the 2 week itinerary just you have the chance to stay in places longer and really experience them! So this is how I would spend 4 weeks in Colombia:
Bogota - At least 3 days
Salento - 2 days
Medellin - 2 days and 1 night (ideally over the weekend)
Additional: Guatape - 1 day
Additional: Cali - 2 days
Cartagena - At least 3 days
Island Day - 1 day
Additional: Pacific Coast - 3 days
Santa Marta - Tayrona park - 1 day
Santa Marta - Lost City Trek - 4 days
Santa Marta - Minca - 2 days
Additional: Buritaca - 1 day for river-tubing
Additional: Palomino - 2 days for surfing
Additional: La Guajira desert - 4 days