Everybody knows two things about Colombia: Shakira is Colombian and things got really messy in the 80s and the 90s. What many fail to see is just how much Colombia moved on from the image of violence and narco cartels. While the scars of history are still visible on her skin, they make her all the more appealing. Located on top of the South American continent it is the only country on the continent with a coast on both the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean. The country has dramatically different landscapes – deserts, oceans, mountains, volcanoes, and the jungle, but the magic of Colombia lies in its people. Charismatic, charming, loud, vibrant personalities all over the country await to befriend you and show you why Colombia will remain in your heart for the rest of your life.
GUEST POST BY ROMI R.
What’s The Best Time to Visit Colombia?
Colombia has two seasons, dry and rainy. However, the climate varies by region. If you’re spending 10 days in Colombia, you will spend most of your time in the north. The best time to travel to Colombia is during the dry season from December to March.
December is a fantastic time to be in Colombia. You can witness “Día de las velitas”, the official start of the Christmas season when Colombians all over the country light the little candles in and around their homes, sidewalks, streets, parks, and squares. December is also when the magical Festival of Lights in Medellin occurs. You can be a part of thousands gathering around the Medellin river viewing the impressive shows and installations.
However, if you’re looking to avoid crowds and save money, the best time to travel to Colombia during the rainy months of April-May and October-November. Especially on the coast where it typically only rains a few hours. If you’re planning to go to the southern regions, avoid this time of year. June to September is a good time to visit Colombia too, as you will get decent weather, but not the most expensive accommodation. This is also the whale watching season!
A Few Facts About Colombia
Colombia has the tallest palm trees in the world
If the road ever takes you to the Colombian Andes, you’ll find Valle de Cocora. Home to the palm trees that grow up to 60m (200ft).The “wax palms” resemble lace and they grow to such magnificent length thanks to the wet soil of the jungle.
Colombia is the world’s largest producer of emeralds
Boyaca, Cundinamarca and the Andes regions produce 70-90% of the world’s emeralds. Since the 1950s the emerald trade was the major reason for Colombia’s civil conflict, but luckily things have calmed down. Colombian emeralds are the purest in the world because they are the only ones found in sedimentary rock, while all the other ones are found in an igneous rock.
The curious case of Policarpa Salavarrieta
You can order a beer in Bogota by asking for “La Pola”, and Colombians have a shandy type of drink under the name “Cola & Pola”. How did La Pola come to be associated with beer? Policarpa Salavarrieta was a heroine rebel who helped Colombia in the fight for independence from Spain. Sometime later, Bavaria Brewing in Colombia introduced Bavarian beer to Colombians. The Colombians already had their own drink – the chicha, so there wasn’t much interest in this new type of beer. So, they named the beer La Pola, associating it with respect. The name stuck!
Colombia has the world’s most beautiful river
It’s not an exaggeration! Cano Crystals or Rainbow River is the most stunning river in the world. The colorful river is filled with macarenia clavigera plants that change color depending on the light and water conditions. The plants within the river have been seen in green, orange, red, yellow, and even blue. As the plant’s colors change, so does the whole river. You can witness all the colors mixing in the rainbow-like fashion at once, it’s a spectacular sight.
Colombian traditional national sport is the Tejo
Colombians do love their football (soccer) but there is another sport, specific to Colombia, and that is tejo. A team sport that involves launching objects at a target. With beer. And explosives.
Players throw “tejos” (steel discs) to a “bocin”, a ring in the middle, that is surrounded by gunpowder. If you miss, the gunpowder explodes. What’s the beer for? Visit Colombia and find out.
How to Get Around Colombia?
The fourth-largest country of South America covers 1.142 million km², so the fastest way to get around Colombia is to fly. The domestic flights are affordable, sometimes even the same price as the bus tickets. Look for the best deals on Viva Air or Latam. A bus trip from Bogota to Medellin takes around 10 hours, whereas you’ll cover the distance in less than an hour with a plane. Flying is the best option if you’re spending 10 days in Colombia. A flight from Medellin to Bogota costs around 30-50USD.
If you’re backpacking Colombia or simply visiting for a longer time, buses are a great way to really get to know the country and explore the scenery. The safest and most comfortable bus company in Colombia is Expresso Bolivariano. They have extremely comfortable reclining seats that have more space than business class in a plane, which is great for long trips over the Colombian mountains and windy roads. A bus from Medellin to Bogota costs around 20USD.
For smaller distances, the most affordable option is a colectivo. Colectivo is a shared ride in a car, jeep or whatever else you can think of. You pay a small fee, sometimes less than 1€ or 1USD, and you share the car with many others. Collectivo’s are faster than regular buses, but you have to negotiate the price. Collectivo’s are the best way to meet the locals!
Accommodation in Colombia
Figuring out where to stay in Colombia is just as important as getting around it. Getting the right accommodation can make or break your trip. Accommodation in Colombia is generally on the affordable side but still book in advance if you plan on going to Colombia during the high season because you’ll have a variety of accommodation, no matter your budget.
Whether you want to sleep on top of a mountain with views of Medellin or in the party hostel of Cartagena, you can find your best accommodation on Booking.com! You can find accommodation in Colombia for as low as 5€ (around 6USD) for a shared dorm up to 200€ (220USD) for a room in a luxury hotel. With a huge selection in each of these destinations, you won’t have trouble finding a place to stay, just filtering the best value. We have tested accommodation in Colombia for you, so if you want our recommendations for the best hotels, read our Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena itineraries.
10-day itinerary Colombia
Whatever you wish to gain from your Colombia trip, it’s advantageous to plan a 10 day Colombia itinerary. Colombia’s diverse cities and wonders of nature make it a challenge to pack up the whole trip in 10 days. Luckily, we have been through the same struggle. Here are our suggestions on where to go in Colombia and top things to do in Colombia in 10 days:
Day 1 – Bogota
Start your trip to Colombia in Bogota, the third-highest capital in South America, at 2640 meters above sea level. When you land, use the security cleared taxies from the yellow line and head to your accommodation. Spend your first day adjusting to the beat of Colombia and the height of Bogota. Explore the street art of La Candelaria. You can book a street art tour or do it yourself. Try the national ajiaco soup and the fermented chicha drink.
Head to Bolivar Plaza, a place with both violent history and the story of triumph. Spend your afternoon in the museums. Check out the Botero Museum of disproportionate art or the Museum of Gold filled with more than 30,000 pieces of gold spreading over three floors. End your night partying in Zona Rosa. Be careful of pickpocketers in Bogota, but don’t overthink, Colombia is not as violent as portrayed.
Day 2 – Bogota
Start your second day with some street food. Try the empanadas, arepas or an assortment of fruit. Head to the Colombian National Museum for an in-depth history lesson. Have lunch near the museum and visit the Planetarium De Bogota. Finally, the best way to see just how massive the city of Bogota is, is to climb up to Monserrate hill. You can’t miss it, it’s the hill overlooking the city. You can hike to the top or take the cable car. We recommend going up there for sunset and having dinner in one of the on-site restaurants. If you want to have dinner in the city, try the famous Andres Carne De Res.
Bogota loves beer, so try one of the craft beers from the Bogota Beer Company or have a late snack at Love Chicharron. Get some sleep, because tomorrow you’ll be heading to the next stop on your Colombia itinerary. Check out the detailed Bogota itinerary and accommodation suggestions at our one day in Bogota itinerary.
Day 3 – Medellin
Fly into Medellin. Take one of the security cleared taxis into the city to your accommodation. Medellin is a fascinating city, and one of the most innovative cities in the world. What were once shady alleys and dark squares are now libraries, galleries, and universities. Take the popular Medellin metro and spend your morning in the free botanical gardens with thousands of flowers and hundreds of birds. Right next to the botanical gardens is an interactive science museum with the largest South American freshwater aquarium, the Parque Explora.
Spend your afternoon at the Botero Plaza, that same artist whose museum you went to visit in Bogota has a whole plaza named after him in Medellin. Try bandeja paisa and go out in the Laureles neighborhood, where you can dance salsa in Son Havana or check out a show in Pub Rock.
Day 4 – Medellin
Head to Botero Plaza again for some people watching and then spend your second-day exploring Comuna 13. Tourists wouldn’t attempt to go into Comuna 13 just a few years back but now you can take one of the many tours. The neighborhood is an homage to a city reinvented. We recommend the graffiti tour, with locals explaining the graffiti history and meaning while showing you around the once infamous neighborhood.
Soak in the views and witness the drastic change of scenery as you climb up to Parque Arvi. Spend a few hours connecting with nature and head back into the city. Spend your second night partying in El Poblado neighborhood. There is something for everyone, salsa, rock, pop, reggaeton, whatever you like!
Day 5 – Medellin
Reserve your last day in Medellin doing one of the best things to do in Colombia, drinking coffee. While Colombians aren’t that much into coffee (not as much as Europeans, for sure), they do make the best coffee in the world in and around Medellin. You can try one of the coffee shops in El Poblado or you can venture out on a day trip to Jerico or Jardin. If you decide to stay in the city, try the local Juan Valdez Cafe and visit the Medellin Modern Art Museum as well as the beautiful El Castillo Museum.
Finish your day with a bottle of Aguardiente or Medellin Ron… ok, maybe just a shot. Get ready for your next day on the Colombia itinerary. For a detailed itinerary and accommodation recommendation of Medellin, read out one day in Medellin itinerary.
Day 6 – Guatape
Bus into Guatape, make sure you leave Medellin early to allow yourself enough time in Guatape. Explore La Manuela, a former Escobar residence. You can also see the luxury lakeside homes of some of Colombia’s rich and famous. Have lunch and head to the world-famous El Peñón de Guatapé. Take a million stairs (exactly 740 steps) to the top of the rock and reward yourself with a beer and a spectacular view.
Head down to the lake and watch the sunset in one of the many bars. Get a good night’s sleep, because the real party begins tomorrow. Check out the detailed Guatape itinerary for the best food and the coolest hotels!
Day 7 – Cartagena
Head back to Medellin airport and fly into Cartagena, the sumptuous Caribbean exotic city overflowing with life and passion. On the first day in Cartagena, visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fortress. Learn why the fortress exists and enjoy the view of Cartagena. Snack on some street food. Navigate through the Old Town and take your photos near Torre del Reloj, the majestic gate and the clock tower. By now you know how much gold Colombia has, compare the Bogota gold museum to the one in Cartagena, the Museo del Oro Zenu. If you like history, pick The Palace of Inquisition. Have dinner at the spectacular Cafe del Mar and party the night away in one of the many salsa clubs, or join a street party!
Day 8 – Cartagena
The best thing to do in Colombia, and especially in Cartagena, is to walk the streets and people watch. Cartagena has a beautiful walled city and there’s so much street food to try you can easily spend hours just enjoying the culture. Visit Iglesia de San Pedro Claver to escape from the heat, and admire the elegance of the interior. Walk around Barrio Getsemani and buy some souvenirs or street art. Is Cartagena safe? Yes. Be alert, but not anxious, as you would in any big city and you are going to be ok.
Spend the afternoon at the Rosario Islands located only 45 minutes away from Cartagena and relax in the stunning Caribbean beaches. Return to the city and party the night away! Want to know where to party and the best places to stay in Cartagena? For a detailed Cartagena itinerary and accommodation ideas, check out our one day in Cartagena post!
Day 9 – Santa Marta
After the touristy Cartagena, the perfect town to visit on your 10-day Colombia itinerary is one of Colombia’s oldest cities, Santa Marta. You can take a bus or colectivo and be in Santa Marta in about three to four hours. Start the Santa Marta trip with a great cup of coffee and breakfast at the colonial district. Walk down the Carrera 3 and take all your social media photos in front of the colonial houses and colorful balconies.
Stop by Basilica de Santa Marta and people watch at Plaza de Bolivar. Walk along Paseo de Bastidas, a seafront boulevard or malecon and enjoy the views. Once the heat wears you down, head to one of the beaches. Have dinner at Carrera 3 and meet more locals at one of the many bars. Try Charlies Bar for happy hour tequila!
Day 10 – Tayrona – Santa Marta
Wake up early and take the bus or a private taxi to Tayrona national park, one of the best places to visit in Colombia. Tayrona national park is an astonishing place with the Caribbean jungle, right next to the beach. The diversity of nature just fuels your soul with enlightenment! Biodiversity, climate, beaches, and wildlife all make Tayrona an unforgettable point on the Colombia itinerary.
Once you’re back in Santa Marta if you have time visit Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a hacienda where Simon Bolivar passed away. Reflect on your trip watching the sunset from the malecon. Probably, with your new Colombian friends!
If you’re looking for recommendations for great accommodation or the best day trips you can take from Santa Marta, we got you covered with our Santa Marta itinerary.
Staying more than just 10 days in Colombia?
Pura Guajira Desert
If Colombia and Colombians seduced you into exploring their country more, take the bus to the small town of Rioacha. You can spend a day here exploring the old town and enjoy the day at the beach, but Rioacha is the starting point for the Pura Guajira Desert. This is an incredible experience where you’ll truly feel at one with nature. A desert combining with the ocean under a million stars at the northernmost point of South America.
There are plenty of tours to take but by far the best agency in the are is the Pura Guajira Travel. Visit Cabo de la Vela, a small village full of Rancherias (local Wayuu native population lodging). Of course, the highlight of the trip is the Punta Gallinas where the desert meets the sea. Do not go to the desert on your own, always go with a tour guide!
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Romi is a llama coach from Split, Croatia. This sounds made up but it’s true. She lived in Toronto, Canada for about ten years, give or take, but she wasn’t working with llamas. She was working in PR, restaurants, daycares, one yoga clothing store. She doesn't know how she got that job as she has never done yoga at that point. She taught English in Colombia and Vietnam. Traveled the world for two years. Then she got into writing. Actually, she was always writing, but then someone paid her to write. Then more people paid because they saw she was making them money. Then it became a thing she does for a living. And here we are now. Specializing in travel, real estate, and digital nomad guides, familiar with SEO, and always ready to learn something new so she can branch out and take over the world.