COLOMBIA – full itinerary
My route: Bogota, Salento, Medellin, Taganga, Tayrona National Park, Sierra Nevada, Cartagena.
Before you go: learn some basic Spanish (for instance through Duolingo), watch Narcos and make sure your vaccines are up-to-date
There are three ways to travel around Colombia: by bus or plane. You obviously can take a taxi as well. Sometimes there are joint-taxi rides at which they fill the taxi with people going to the same destination (i.e. the airport) so you can share the costs.
There are various bus companies that drive around Colombia. If you can, try to go with Bolivariano, which is the most comfy one. I’ve been told that you can actually bargain the price for your bus ticket (didn’t work for me though – for which I blame the language barrier).
Flight fares are really cheap in Colombia, especially compared to the rest of South America. Avianca and Viva Colombia fly between all major hubs and save you quite some time and bumpy bus rides. I flew from Medellin to Santa Marta and from Cartagena back to Bogota.
Colombia’s capital! Don’t forget to bring some warm clothes, this city is situated 2.640 metres (8.660 ft) above sea level and surrounded by mountains. I stayed at Algeria’s Hostel, which is centrally located, cosy and safe. Definitely do the Bogota’s Bike Tour, you cycle around the whole city, learn about the history and get the chance to meet fellow travellers.
If you like coffee, nature, hiking and looking for a town with little shops definitely go to Salento. It takes about 7-9 hours from Bogota to travel to Armania by bus. From there take another bus (about 30 min) to Salento. I stayed at the Plantation House which used to be a coffee plantation. A great place to stay and only a few minutes walk from the main square. The Plantation House organizes outdoor activities as well. I recommend to explore the area with their mountain bikes, visit a coffee plantation and definitely do the hike to the Cocora Valley.
It takes about 9 hours to get from Salento to Medellin. This is a really cool city with a great vibe. It’s called the city of eternal spring, because of the very pleasant weather. If you’re here definitely do the free walking tour around the city. Learn about the history (very interesting: Pablo Escobar lived here). Also, go to the Cable Car, this is part of the Metro lines made for people that lived in the poor neighborhoods (they had to walk up the hill every day).
I stayed in the Bambu Glamping City House, which was an awesome hostel (clean, nice beds, good location) but when I stayed there no one was in for a chat, so I moved to Kiwi House (Medellin’s party hostel) the next day. This area is also great to go out or have some drinks.
From Medellin (Terminal Norte – next to Caribe Metro Station) you can take the bus to Guatape, which takes about 2 hours. Do this as a day trip! It’s super beautiful! You can climb La Piedra Rock and enjoy the view over these stunning lakes. After this take a tuktuk to the colourful village and take the bus back from there. Make sure you buy your bus ticket back as soon as you get there as the rides sometimes fill up quickly.
Don’t go there for the Caribbean beaches as the beaches suck, although they do have awesome beach parties. Definitely go out at El Mirador and stay at La Casa de Felipe (great atmosphere and plenty of hammocks with great views over the area). Only go to Taganga is you wanna dive or do the trek to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City Trail), which I recommend even though I didn’t do it myself – and regret.
Tayrona National Park
A must visit! Go early to make sure you get a spot at the campsite. Also bring your student card if you have one (to save on the way expensive entrance fee). There is a bus which brings you from the entrance into the park. Some people don’t know this and walk which is a little bit silly because you can walk plenty of km along the coast. The campsite at the end of the park is the nicest one but if it’s full go to the ones before and stay in one of the hammocks there (about 3 euros a night). Bring enough cash though – for beers.
The beautiful mountain range, where you can do great hikes or chill out in the nature. I stayed at Finca Capre Diem, a wonderful place with even a swimming pool. If you need some rest: go here. For a really cheap rate the owner makes you delicious meals. They give free tango lessons and organize some great activities and hikes.
My favourite place in Colombia. Especially Plaza de la Trinidad. Go there, buy a hamburger and a beer and enjoy the live music and just everything that’s going on at this little square. I stayed here for 5 days, simply because I liked it so much. The climate is great (maybe a little bit too hot tho). I stayed at Mamallena which is across the even bigger party hostel Media Luna, To be honest, I wouldn’t stay there. The music was so loud that I couldn’t really sleep. I would stay in the old town at the Chill House Backpackers Hostel. However, do go to the parties organized by Media Luna!
The beach at Cartagena itself is not really pretty but you can take a bus or taxi to Playa Blanco, which is beautiful but touristy. Do not take the boat, its a bumpy ride. If you really want a cool experience stay at Casa en el Agua!
Recommendations for other places I didn’t visit and regret:
Santa Marta: stay at the Dreamer Hostel, affordable hostel with an awesome pool. Everyone talked about it (book well in advance).
Minca: in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, stay at Oscar’s place. Enjoy the amazing view with a book, go hiking and really, just go.
San Gil: Really cool outdoor place. If you like extreme-sports such as wild water rafting then do not skip this place.
Colombia is becoming more popular among backpackers which means that some things change quickly. I did this trip in Aug 2015. Let me know if you agree with my tips or experienced it another way!