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Best Deals for a Trip to Colombia

Colombia: Backpackers' Paradise from Bogotá to the Caribbean Coast

The country is a backpacker paradise. There is an incredible amount to see and do, the people are incredibly friendly, and nature is so diverse and beautiful that one can only wonder why this unique country has such an underestimated reputation.

Colombia has so many places worth seeing that you could easily stay in the country for 3 months and experience something new every day. We have put together a route for you that we have tested ourselves and in which you can get a very good impression of the country and its people in three weeks without having to rush from one destination to the next every day.

Colombia: Entry Requirements and Visa Requirements

If you don't stay in the country longer than 90 days, you don't need a visa for your vacation in Colombia. All you need to enter the country is a passport that is still valid for at least six months. You can not cumulatively spend more than 180 days in a calendar year.

Flights to Colombia

Every once in a while can find great deals nationwide to major cities in Colombia like Medellín, Bogotá, or Cartagena from the mid-$200s. From Miami, there are even a lot of nonstop options.

Safety in Colombia

Though Colombia has a bit of a bad reputation. Overall, as long as you use common sense and stay in the recommended tourist areas or travel with a local, you should avoid most issues. At night you should avoid certain corners, especially in Bogotá and Medellín. It is best to ask at your accommodation which corners these are. The cities and main roads are extremely well-guarded, it feels like there is at least one policeman every 1,500 feet. Otherwise, the same applies to Colombia: With a little caution and common sense, you can avoid dangerous situations and can thus avoid unpleasant situations directly. This applies to Bogotá and Medellín as well as to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, or London.

Recommended Regions for Your Vacation in Colombia

Colombia has many facets - it is useful to know which place best suits your idea of ​​the perfect vacation. Here we present the most popular regions.

The Andes in Colombia

The Andes have a lot up their sleeve. There is the El Cocuy National Park in a breathtaking mountain landscape, the archaeological site of San Augustín as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Tatacoa Desert with its wondrous rock formations. The Andes are also home to authentic colonial towns, including Barichara, voted the most beautiful village in Colombia.

Coastal Regions of Colombia

On the Caribbean coast, a road trip along the coastal strip is ideal. The city of Cartagena, also known as the "Pearl of the Caribbean", is particularly worth seeing, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with the highest peaks in the country, and the Tayrona National Park with fine sand, a chain of peaks in the back and the open sea in front. The Pacific coast is a little less busy and offers a great, more untouched nature. Whales can be spotted here in August and September. The same place is a real insider tip for surfers in July and August. In addition, the coastal region of Colombia invites you to a diving vacation of a very special kind.

Example Route Colombia:

Bogotá - Salento - Medellín - Cartagena - Islas del Rosario - Palomino - Tayrona National Park - Bogotá

1. Bogota (3 nights)

After your arrival at Bogotá airport, you will find yourself directly in the traffic chaos of the Colombian capital. Bogotá does not have a metro, but has an extremely networked bus system, where you never have to wait longer than 10 minutes for the next bus. We recommend staying in the historic district of La Candelaria, where most tourists stay. The area is safe and offers the perfect starting point for various excursions in and around Bogotáclose. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb with a view of the city. Landlord Daniel was extremely friendly and easygoing. The night costs only $31 and can accommodate up to 5 people. In Candelaria, you will also find numerous good hostels where you can spend the night in a dorm from around $6.

Pirate Tips for Bogotá:

  • On the local mountain, Monserrate: The best vantage point in Bogotá is right next to the city. At the top is a small church that watches over the town. There are three ways to get up the mountain: by cable car (best view), by cog railway, or on foot. The footpath up the mountain is only open at certain times, namely when it is guarded by the police. Outside of these times, it is absolutely not advisable to walk on foot, as there have been regular attacks on tourists in the past. But it is definitely safe at the top and you will be rewarded with a gigantic view over Bogotá. The cable car and cog railway go without any problems during the day.

  • Go for a walk in the historic district: next to the parliament and the statue of the founder of the state, Simón Bolívar, the colonial houses around Carreras 1-4 are a real eye-catcher. The oldest houses in Bogotá form the origin of the city with a small church in the middle and shine in bright colors and lots of artistic paintings.

  • Excursion to Zipaquirá: The small town is located around 24 miles outside of Bogotá and has a truly unique feature: deep in a salt mine you walk through an underground cathedral. Each individual prayer section is built into the mine with a different design. At the end you finally reach a mighty cross that is beautifully illuminated - just imposing.

2. Salento (3 nights)

From Bogotá goes to the coffee plateaus in the east of the country. The small town of Salento between the big cities of Armenia and Pereira has become more and more the most popular starting point in the middle of the beautiful landscape and forms the heart of Colombia's coffee axis. From here you have countless opportunities to visit the lush green mountain landscape with its coffee plantations and beautiful valleys. From Bogotá, several buses run daily over the La Linea pass road to Armenia and Pereira. The seven-hour drive is one big adventure. After first passing through the suburbs of Bogotá, you go up a narrow street, on whose slopes you go down several hundred feet. The view is awesome, but the ride is not for anyone who is afraid of heights or who quickly gets nauseous on fast bus rides, because the bus drivers often mistake the narrow mountain road for a race track and you have to endure one or two daring overtaking maneuvers permit. However, you will be rewarded with a fantastic view and a real adventure tour. We recommend the buses from "Bolivariana" with air conditioning and WiFi. In general, the bigger the bus, the more comfortable the ride. Alternatively, several planes fly daily from Bogotá to Armenia and Pereira. From here you can take a minibus to Salento in about 45 minutes.

In Salento we recommend the Hostel La Floresta with very good and clean dorms, a nice crew, hammocks in the green garden, and an excellent mountain bike rental. In addition, you can already enjoy the wonderful view over the mountains from the balcony at breakfast.

Pirate Tips for Salento:

  • Coffee farms: Your tour starts directly at the hostel or at the central market square of Salento. You can do the tour by horse, mountain bike, or on foot. On a mountain bike tour, you should check the bikes properly, especially the brakes, because some of the descents are very steep. The route takes you out of Salento past many coffee farms. We recommend a tour of the "Don Elias" plantation, where you will be given an impressive one-hour explanation of how the coffee is harvested and produced. Then it goes through a breathtaking natural landscape past rivers and wonderful vantage points to a waterfall with a lagoon.

  • Valle de Cocora: About 9 miles from Salento, a valley awaits you. The valley is lined with numerous wax palms and hummingbirds that fly around. In the midst of the mountains, the 4-hour hike is a unique experience. Don't forget rubber boots, because the paths are often very muddy.

  • Hanging out in Salento: During your stay, it is definitely worth switching off and enjoying the coziness of Salento. The place is small and can be explored entirely on foot. On the north-eastern border of the town, there is another vantage point with nice little restaurants and bars that invite you to linger. If you still need action, you can take a "zipline" over a small valley for just under $5 and enjoy the view.

3. Medellín (3 nights)

Continue to one of the most exciting cities in South America. It is also worth taking the bus here. It's true that it's quite curvy here too, but the ride across the jungle-like landscape is also unique. The entrance to Medellín alone is beautiful. The city is surrounded by green mountains in a valley and the cityscape with the countless skyscrapers is something very special, both in sunshine and in deep fog. Medellín is very long and a modern metro stretches from north to south, where stations and individual cable cars run across the city - altogether a highly modern and well-functioning infrastructure.

In Medellín we recommend the Patios Boutique Hostel, which is located between the central metro and within walking distance to Parque Lleras, in the historic center of Poblado. From the roof terrace with rooftop bar of the stylish hostel you can enjoy a great view over the city, a cool location especially at sunset.

Pirate Tips for Medellín:

  • Paragliding: Medellín is one of the absolute paragliding hotspots worldwide. For around $50 you can get a 20-minute scenic flight over the city and the mountains with an incredible view. You start the tandem flight on a plateau above the city and land there again thanks to the updrafts. We recommend booking with RubenFly, who offers you an uncomplicated reservation including a pick-up service from your accommodation.

  • Favela Tour: Medellín has developed into a fairly safe metropolis in recent years. You can move around very freely, especially during the day, but you should avoid some of the favelas on the slopes of the city, or only visit them with guided tours. The "Comuna 13 Tour" is particularly cool, across a favela in which numerous street artists have immortalized themselves with monstrous graffiti.

  • Guatapé: About an hour from Medellín is a high rock with an integrated staircase to the top. From here you can see a beautiful lake landscape in the middle of the mountains in front.

  • Parque Arví: The cable car takes you first across the city and then directly over the tree tops of the national park. When you arrive in Arví, you can choose between many different hiking routes through green forests and past crystal-clear forest lakes.

  • Party in Parque Lleras: Right in the historical center you will find the party district of Medellín. Clubs, bars, and restaurants are lined up here and there is a very pretty park in the middle. However, if you want to party, you should come over the weekend. The first parties start on Wednesday, while on Mondays and Tuesdays it's more like "dead pants".

  • Who needs it: The "The One Whose Name Is Not Given Tour": In the past few decades, Medellín has gained notoriety primarily through the drug and cocaine trade, especially through the powerful drug lord Pablo Escobar, who terrorized the whole country with his machinations. Trade continues to flourish almost unchecked, but largely underground and in public life you hardly notice anything about it. However, due to TV series such as "Narcos", the topic "Escobar" is currently very topical again and there are quite a few who would like to do a corresponding tour through Medellín. It should be said: The Colombians and especially the inhabitants of Medellín are happy that there is mostly peace in the country and the sometimes glorifying television series are understandably not well received here. Although it is often said that Escobar was doing many good things, such as promoting social housing. However, this is always with the aim of strengthening his own power and influence. So if you want to do a tour, you should make sure that you book an official tour that gives you a sober perspective with a more historical-enlightening character. Because there are also tours in which the former drug lord is portrayed as a hero, and it is considered relatively certain that these providers are still very close to the milieu today, which makes the whole thing not entirely harmless. In any case, it is questionable that people with such tours enrich themselves via a mass murderer who has brought so much suffering to an incredibly friendly and peaceful population. Especially since Medellín has a thousand times more to offer.

4. Cartagena (2 nights)

Now it's time for the first domestic flight. You can also cover the 391 miles by bus, but it would take you about 15 hours. A flight is more worthwhile for a three-week stay. With Avianca you can fly the route from Medellín to Cartagena in about an hour for just under $50, provided you book a few days in advance.

Cartagena is the most touristic city in Colombia and is considered perfectly safe. The chic city is located directly on the Caribbean coast and the colonial old town with the colorful houses is well worth seeing. Several cruise ships dock in the port every day, so it is advisable to explore especially in the evening hours, as it can be very crowded. In addition, you can expect a small temperature shock immediately after landing. While it was a pleasant 59°F to 68°F in Medellín, it can get over 86°F in Cartagena, with extremely high humidity - just Caribbean. We therefore recommend a hostel with a pool, such as the Hostal Rebuplica, right in the old town.

Pirate Tips for Cartagena:

  • Let yourself drift through the old town: It is often so hot that you should only enjoy Cartagena on a gentle cycle. Just stroll through the narrow streets of the old town and visit one or the other café. You've also come to the right place for souvenirs.

  • Beach: There is a city beach on the west side of the old town, but the "real" Caribbean feeling does not yet come up here. This is more likely to be found when visiting Playa Blanca, which is best reached by bus or boat.

5. Islas del Rosario (3 nights)

It's finally the real Caribbean. Only 45 minutes by ferry are the beautiful Islas del Rosario. Here you can really hang out and let your soul dangle on the beach. The good thing about it: Each resort has its own small stretch of beach that is directly approached by the ferries. Before you leave the pier in Cartagena, you simply say where you want to go and the boat will drive you to the appropriate pier. Departure is every morning at 9:15 am.

We recommend the Galeria Isla Eco-Hostel, which is part of a group of hostels. The hostel on Isla Grande has its own pool with a slide, a restaurant, and a beautiful little stretch of beach surrounded by mangroves.

IMPORTANT: There are no ATMs on the island, so bring enough cash with you. However, credit card payment is possible in the hostel.

Pirate Tips for Isla Grande:

  • Across the island by bike: If you don't want to hang out on the beach all day, you can rent mountain bikes and ride around the island. After two hours we drove off every possible path and passed wild jungle paths, visited a fantastic public beach and paid a visit to the only small island village with its nice residents.

  • Snorkeling Tour: Admittedly, the little reef you cruise through isn't the most spectacular thing the world has to offer, but the excursion, which includes a visit to a sunken plane, is incredibly cheap at $10.

  • At night in the glittering lagoon: You will see a beautiful natural spectacle when you arrive in a large lagoon in the evening after a 15-minute boat tour. There is fluorescent plankton that glows underwater, making your underwater movements visible.

6. Palomino (3 nights)

After three days on the island we go to the next beach location. Palomino is a small town east of Santa Marta. You should take an early boat from the island to Cartagena. From there you can take a direct bus to Palomino . If you leave the island later than 2 p.m., an overnight stay in Santa Marta is unavoidable, since the bus takes about 7 hours and the way from the pier in Cartagena to the bus station also takes at least half an hour.

Palomino is picturesquely situated between a dreamy long white sandy beach and the jungle that stretches far into the country. Here you will only find simple dirt paths and no real roads, which makes the stay there very pleasant. But there are some very good and chilled hostels, including the "Bella Flor", probably the best hostel on our whole trip. Here you can chill in hammocks under thatched roofs, the rooms are immaculate and the hospitality of the owners is hard to beat.

Pirate Tips for Palomino:

  • Tubing on the Río Palomino: For just $5, a motorcyclist will take you a bumpy path into the mountains of Palomino. We were even allowed to drive ourselves. You also get a rubber tire, which you then have to carry about 40 minutes deeper into the jungle. Sounds crazy, it is. At some point you will come to a point where the banks of the Río Palomino are very flat. Here you then put yourself in the rubber tires and travel down the river for about 90 minutes, all in a breathtaking jungle setting that stretches leisurely through the mountains.

  • Beach: The white sandy beach is perfect for a day relaxing on the Atlantic. Watch out for the current!

7. Tayrona National Park (2 nights)

On to the next natural paradise. Only about an hour by bus from Palomino is the entrance to Tayrona National Park. Really wild jungle and fantastically remote beaches await you here. You can book your accommodation at the park entrance. You shouldn't arrive too late as the good accommodations are gone quite early. Accommodation in the park is extremely basic, so you can either sleep in hammocks (bring your own mosquito nets), or in small tents, which are a bit more comfortable. There are washrooms in the park, as well as a small restaurant.

At times, the park can get very touristy. This is especially true of the beach at Cabo San Juan del Guia. We, therefore, recommend the beach of Arrecife, there is much less going on here and all the more space to look at the magnificent surroundings.

It makes sense not to take your complete backpack to the park, but only what you need for the two nights. The hostels in Palomino and Santa Marta all offer a way to store the rest of your clothes for the time in the park. It is even more important that you take enough water with you. And that really means LOTS of water. If you do have a lot of luggage, you can hire a donkey to carry your luggage to your destination. Because the only way to get there is on foot. For this you go through dreamlike landscapes and discover numerous crazy plants and wild animal species. At the end, Tayrona offers you another real adventure that you will not forget for the rest of your life.

8. Return flight to Bogotá

From Tayrona National Park, take a bus to Santa Marta Airport. Here you get several daily connections to Bogotá with Avianca or Latam. The flight time is about an hour. The flights with Latam can also be booked at short notice (about $50), with Avianca you should book at least a week in advance. If your flight home from Bogotá is in the morning, another overnight stay in Bogotá is worthwhile, otherwise, it could get a bit stressful.

Of course, this trip is just a suggestion and should give you inspiration for your trip to Colombia. We were endlessly enthusiastic about this beautiful country with its extremely nice people and can recommend it unconditionally. It's a bit difficult for gourmets because the food is simple and almost always consists of a meat side dish - even at breakfast! If you search a little, you will also find vegetarian meals. In addition, the Colombians are so hospitable that they want to fulfill almost every wish, especially in restaurants.

Of course, with a little more time, other destinations are also extremely interesting, such as the southern route via Popayán and Cali, as well as the small mountain town of Minca near Santa Marta. However, our recommendation is to stay a little longer in one place to get to know it better, instead of traveling every day. Because often you see more when you travel less.

Maybe still interesting:

“In the Caribbean region is also the Ciudad Perdida (lost city), an ancient ruined city that can only be reached by hiking for several days and is therefore not overcrowded with tourists. Taganga is a perfect place to dive (learn). Santa Marta Airport is one of the coolest airports in the world: after checking in, you can go to the beach and eat fresh fish at one of the food stalls.”


More Exciting Destinations for Colombia Fans