Ultimate backpacking guide for Colombia

Colombia is colors, music, culture and good people, it wants to leave behind the stigma that drug trafficking has left in Colombian society. It is also a country of contrasts, if you were planning to go in flip-flops and shorts, get used to the idea that you are going to need more space in your backpack. Bogotá lives in a constant autumn, with a cold climate and rains most of the year. Medellín, on the other hand, receives the nickname of eternal spring. If we move towards the coast we will find the typical humid Caribbean climate. Knowing this, you cannot miss a jacket, raincoat and, of course, the swimsuit.

Everything you need to know for your trip to Colombia:

  1. Best time to visit Colombia
  2. 16-day itinerary backpacking Colombia
    1. Day 1: Bogotá
    2. Days 2 and 3: Cartagena de Índias
    3. Days 4 and 5: Isla Barú
    4. Day 6: Tayrona and Santa Marta
    5. Days 7 and 8: Minca and Santa Marta
    6. Days 9 and 10: Medellín
    7. Day 11: Guatapé and Peñol
    8. Days 12 to 14: Eje cafetero
    9. Days 15 and 16: Bogotá
  3. Daily budget for backpacking Colombia
  4. Where to stay in Colombia
  5. What to do in Colombia if you have more time

Get ready!

Official exchange rate 1EUR = 4,150 COP

Best time of year to visit Colombia

As in all countries near the equator, temperatures tend to be fairly constant throughout the year, so realistically, there is not much difference between going in winter or summer. What can affect a little more is the December-March rain, also known as “Dry season”, while April-June and October-November is the “Wet season”. But what you are most interested in knowing is the weather that is going to be in each region.

  • Bogotá: Temperatures around 13-14ºC with frequent rains. At night it gets quite cool, from my own experience look for a warm accommodation. I was one night in a hostel where at night I was quite cold, not at all pleasant.
  • Medellín (Antioquia): Temperatures around 23-24ºC during the day, with a humid climate especially in the coffee region.
  • Cartagena / Santa Marta (Caribbean): High and constant temperatures, both during the day and at night are around 30ºC with a lot of muggy weather. You will need to be hydrated and constantly buy water. To give you an idea, most hotels in Santa Marta do not have hot water!

16-day itinerary backpacking Colombia

Surely you will be reading other blogs and comparing the days that each one dedicates to each region. If I looked back, I would surely take the two days to Isla Barú and perhaps one day to Medellin to try to make the route to Punta Gallinas, in the Caribbean area. It is an unknown area, but they have spoken to me very well, although it is expensive because you have to go with a driver. Another great discovery for me was Minca, a great absentee in any travel blog that I highly recommend that you dedicate a day to.

I did not do this trip alone, I did it accompanied. But from what I saw both on the street and in the places where I stayed, the country is suitable for “only travelers.” Just swap private rooms for bunk rooms and hotels for hostels. You will spend less and meet many people from all over the world.

Day 1: Bogotá

As you will see, Bogotá appears at the beginning and end of the route, we made a circular trip starting and ending in Bogotá (and / v from the same place is usually the most profitable when buying any flight). Bogotá is usually the city of discord, many people will tell you not to waste time and simply make a stopover, I tell you to dedicate two days to discover it.

La Candelaria is the neighborhood that you are probably going to visit and where you are going to stay, whether you make a long or short visit. La Candelaria is the historic center of the city, through a Free Tour we discover the entire history of the city. We start from Parque Santander and go to Plaza Bolívar through Carrera 7, one of the main commercial streets in the city. We continue to the Botero Museum (free), Botero is one of the best-known painters and sculptors in Colombia, his works stand out for the curves of his paintings.

La Candelaria, Bogotá

The free tour ended in Chorro de Quevedo with a good Chicha (alcoholic drink), you will find them of all flavors! Chorro de Quevedo is a small square in the highest part of La Candelaria where locals gather to do recitals and shows. There you will see the efforts of the neighbors to improve the neighborhood and make it attractive to tourists. Streets full of art, in the form of graffiti and colored houses out of a postcard. I recommend that you get lost aimlessly, that you dedicate yourself to wandering the entire neighborhood and discovering all the pieces of graffiti that surround it. Fear not, it is a safe neighborhood and you can get to know it at your leisure.

Days 2 and 3: Cartagena de Índias

In Bogotá and Medellín you can go everywhere with Uber despite the fact that it is illegal, in the rest of the cities its service is practically non-existent. When landing at the Cartagena de Indias airport you can take off your jacket, the temperature will rise by at least 20ºC compared to Bogotá. You can find flights for € 30 at Wingo.

Cartagena de Indias, is simply magical. All the photos you have seen before have not fooled you. The bad part is the overcrowding it suffers, like many tourist destinations. The walled center of Cartagena is small and enough to house the people who do, so it may give you a feeling that it is very crowded.

Cartagena de Indias

Recommendations: Get lost and discover its streets. Eat at Ceviches and Seviches 30,000 COP (Brutal !!!) and in Espíritu Santo 12,000 COP (typical Colombian food). Do not forget to have a coffee in one of its cafeterias. You can finish off the day at Café del Mar, a bit pricy, but the vibe and sunset are incomparable anywhere else in the city.

Sunset at Café del Mar, Cartagena de Indias

If you have a second day, several options are open to you: take a boat and set sail for an island to spend the day or continue discovering the city. In our case, the next day we went to Isla Barú, so we loaded ourselves with bottles of water and went to explore Getsemaní and the Castillo de San Felipe 25,000 COP.

From the Castillo de San Felipe you will see the spectacular Skyline of Cartagena with the Castillogrande neighborhood on the horizon. You should know that Colombia is divided into different social and economic strata delimited by their neighborhoods, they pay more or less taxes depending on where they live. Castillogrande, in this case, with its skyscrapers is the richest economic stratum in Cartagena.

Days 4 and 5: Isla Barú

The next two days were pure Caribbean. What does puro Caribe mean to me? Eating freshly caught fried fish, drinking beer and spending 24 hours with sand on my feet and salt in my hair.

The location was ideal. We were literally in a cabin 10 meters from the shore. You may like this plan more or less, for me two days are enough. In particular, lying on the beach 24/7 is not my style, but I admit that two days of doing nothing is not bad at all.

What can you do on Isla Barú? Snorkelling with luminescent plankton and daytrip to Rosario islands is what people usually do. Isla Barú I would recommend it for couples, since, if you are looking to party and go out at night … you probably won’t find it here. You will have to stay in Cartagena and do daytrips on a catamaran to Rosario Islands.

At night we would take a bus for about four hours to Santa Marta, with the Marsol company, 5,000 COP per person. It is a door-to-door bus service between Cartagena and Santa Marta, it is a very fast and safe way to move between both cities.

Day 6: Tayrona and Santa Marta

Attention! You may not know it, but the national park closes every year in February to restore and restore its ecosystem. Take this into account in your planning. I also recommend sleeping in Santa Marta, instead of near the park. There is not much to do out there and Santa Marta has a lot of nightlife.

If I’m honest, I thought Tayrona 55,000 COP was closer to Santa Marta, luckily the bus, between the center of Santa Marta and the Park, is an attraction in itself. People will constantly be coming up to sell all kinds of food and sweets, young people to rap and sing, and all kinds of street vendors. The one-hour journey is going to make you very enjoyable and entertaining. You can take the bus next to the Market, if you have doubts the locals will help you find it.

If there is something that I feel bad not having done is not sleeping in a tent in the park. The atmosphere seemed great, but we didn’t really consider it at the time. The same park has a camping area organized by themselves, which you can stay for the night. Thinking about unzipping your tent and being a few meters from the sea in the middle of nature, is a wonder that I would have liked to experience.

However, the night of Santa Marta was something that we did not expect and it surprised us very positively. Near the Parque de los Novios is where the nightlife of the city is. Full of restaurants, bars with music and “rumba” all night long.

Days 7 and 8: Minca and Santa Marta

Minca is the great discovery of the route that we had not planned, for lack of foresight we wanted to dedicate more time than strictly necessary to Santa Marta and we saw that we would have plenty of time. So, we opened the Lonely Planet and we went straight by bus to Minca.

Minca is a charming little town at the top of the Santa Marta mountain. From there, entering the forest, you can reach waterfalls where you can jump into the water and bathe.


Note !: When I jumped from the waterfall and came out of the water I saw that I had a snake in front of me, I didn’t have time to run. Minutes later some boys told me that he had already left and I threw myself into the water again.

In Minca you will also find what for me is the best hamburger I have ever eaten in my life. The restaurant is called Lazy Cat, it is run by an American who came to live more than 20 years ago.

The next day we had the afternoon flight. We dedicate the morning to walking through the central market of Santa Marta, the marina and the historic center. It is worth spending a morning in the city.

Days 9 and 10: Medellín

Do you remember what I told you about Uber? Well, until recently Uber was illegal, although widely used in Colombia. The cost of long journeys can be half the price of a taxi. Nor am I going to deny that it gives me more security to be registered in an app, where someone knows where I am at all times, than to get into a taxi of a stranger.

In 2019 Uber was still illegal and, just as we left the Medellín airport terminal and got into the Uber, a police officer suddenly appeared and asked the driver to stop and get out of the vehicle. We could not hear what he was saying, but we did see that he gave her the papers, immediately afterwards he let us continue with the march. Very surprised, we asked the driver what had happened, he said: I had to bite him (he had to bribe him to let us continue and not requisition the vehicle).

You will approach Medellín, along a road that runs down the side of the mountain and you will probably go to the El Poblado neighborhood, which is where most of the hotels are. The neighborhood is very safe, there is a lot of movement and you can walk down the street at night in total safety.

We dedicate the morning to doing the Free Tour of Comuna 13, I recommend that you do it with kids from the neighborhood. They are trying to improve the lives of the residents of the neighborhood through tourism, dancing, graffiti and changing the lifestyle of most of the neighbors. The guides will tell you in great detail what the neighborhood has experienced, the bullets, the blackhawks flying over the neighborhood in search of guerrillas and as today they still have to give the neighborhood criminal organizations “the vaccine”. . We gave them 15,000 COP per person.

If you have more time to discover Medellín, I recommend that you take the Metrocable flying over the city towards the Arví park, at the top of the mountain. Visit the Pueblito Paisa and take a walk through the center of Medellín. The Medellín Metrocable has been recognized as one of the best and most creative public transport systems in the world, not all cities can say that they have cable cars spread throughout the city to cope with its rugged geography.

Day 11: Guatapé and Peñol

To visit Guatapé and El Peñol I recommend that you use Medellín as a base. You will have several ways to get there, but I will always recommend public transport. For two reasons, it is cheaper and will allow you to live experiences that an organized tour does not and that is how it was … The bus leaves from the North Terminal and there are several companies that operate the route, it will cost you about 30,000 COP round trip.

El Peñol 18,000 COP is a stone, a giant stone of about 220m and is one of the largest in the world. You can climb to its top through its hundreds of steps to admire what is honestly one of the best views of the trip, the Peñol reservoir.

Peñol lake

Then you can go to Guatapé. Instead of taking a tuktuk, as we had plenty of time, we decided to walk from El Peñol. It’s a nice hour-long walk that will help you get hungry by the time you get to Guatapé. The town is taken from a photo, it has a charm that nowhere else has. Each house is of a different color, yellow, red and blue abound everywhere and make it a perfect setting to immortalize your memories. If you like posturing, this is your town!

On the way back, for a change, the police stopped our bus. He asked the men to come down one by one, while they asked us for identification and asked us some questions. To this day, I still don’t understand why we were detained.

Days 12 to 14: Eje cafetero

There is very little information on how to move around the Coffee Axis and how to organize between one place and another, that led us to make planning errors. The Coffee Axis has three entrances: Armenia, Pereira and Manizales. The latter is very far from Salento and the Cocora Valley, so use Armenia or Pereira for your entry into the Coffee Axis.

From here, personally, I would recommend that you stay in Salento (Puerta del Valle del Cocora) or in Filandia 40 minutes from each other. Neither Armenia nor Pereira have any tourist attractions, so you don’t have to spend time on them. If you are looking to stay in a coffee farm, better do it near the first two. Above all, avoid the “La Recuca” coffee farm, it is a kind of coffee theme park, we are guided by the internet reviews, but it was terrible … They live on this and are in many forums and guides, it is a trap!!!

The second day we went to the Cocora Valley, it is a Natural Park that you must arrive with the famous Willys. You can go off the hook in the back of the Willys as the driver takes you through the winding roads and the wind hits you in the face. Once there, a 5-hour round trip trek awaits you to its highest point, the house of the Acaime hummingbirds. The cost of the park is for checkpoints, the longer you make the route, the more you will pay, up to a maximum of 12,000 COP. Of course, remember to take a jacket, since you will reach 2,700m at its highest point. What you can not forget is food and drink, in the park nothing is sold and you will have to take it back and throw it in the city. The entire Valley is very enigmatic and, it is that in no other place, you will see such palms of meters and meters of height surrounded by a permanent fog.

Valle del Cocora

We dedicate the third day to visit Salento and Filandia to finish heading to Bogotá, our final destination. Both towns are of the Guatapé style, full of colors, street markets, small cafes where you can have one of the best coffees in the world and restaurants where you can eat Trout (Salento’s star dish)

Fun fact: Look how small the world is that in Salento I met separately a friend from the University and a former work colleague. Both walking along the main street of Salento.

Days 15 and 16: Bogotá

On our second visit to Bogotá we were lucky enough to enjoy a summer day, and what a day! We would be close to 25ºC, the perfect setting to climb Mount Monserrate. Although a little more cool would not have hurt us, the 1605 steps do not climb alone … When you reach the top, after a strenuous walk, you will see that it is worth it for the Bogota skyline. With its eight million inhabitants and its great extension, you will not see it disappear over the horizon.

You can continue to spend time exploring the city and its handicraft markets, in the pretty Usaquen neighborhood, or return to the city center and go to the Mercado de la Perseverancia, one of the best street food stalls in the city. And why not, take a bike tour with the guys from Bogota Bike Tours, a bike ride through the most unknown Bogotá, its markets, street art and you will end the day playing Tejo. A very simple concept to throw rocks at some triangles with gunpowder to make them explode, I found it to be surprisingly good!

Daily budget for backpacking Colombia

This was a couple’s trip, we were eating in restaurants most of the time, sometimes more touristy than others. The hotels and homestays were mid-range. If you travel alone you can find hostels for around € 5-7 a day and eat streetfood for half this price.

Daily budget for backpacking Colombia

Also add that the country has a geography and an infrastructure network that forces you to take several planes. In our case four and that implies trips to the airports and extra cost in transport. Bogotá to Cartagena there are many frequencies and they are very well priced € 30 / person with Wingo. Santa Marta to Medellín about € 50 / person. Medellín to Pereira is a propeller plane, so very few people go, in our case it cost € 70 / person and the same happens between Pereira and Bogotá € 50 / person. Therefore, you start with that € 250 cost for internal flights and taxis. Withdraw cash for free with N26. If you don’t have an N26 card register and earn 25€ of free credit.

If you travel with a very tight budget, I think that for about € 40 a day you could do everything perfectly. Take advantage of night buses between cities to save nights of accommodation and money on flights.

Where to stay in Colombia

We stayed in mid-range hotels, all of them very clean, nice, and family-friendly.

  • Hostal R10 // Bogotá: Está en plena Candelaria, muy grande y con mucha gente. Aunque estuvimos en habitación privada, había muy buen ambiente y gente joven estilo backpacker.
  • Leyendas del mar // Cartagena: Un hotel pequeñito en el barrio de Getsemaní, a 10minutos de la ciudad amurallada y a 30segundos de la preciosa plaza de la trinidad. Muy limpio y muy buen trato por parte de los dueños.
  • Nena Beach Hotel // Playa Barú: Quizás el mejor hotel en la playa de la zona, eso si deberás asumir que no tiene agua caliente. Por suerte es de los pocos hoteles con generadores de luz, permitirán que tengas luz por la noche. Lo que más me gusto fue que podías escuchar el mar desde tu habitación.
  • Cocoa Hostel // Medellín: Cinco minutos a pie del Parque Lleras y a 10minutos del Metrocable en el centro del Poblado. Booking tuvo un error con la reserva del hotel, pero nos lo solucionaron perfectamente el incidente, dándonos una noche gratuita. Muy limpio y muy buen ambiente.

What to do if you have more days in Colombia

As I said at the beginning there are certain things about the trip that I would change for others or that I would have done if I had had more time, here they go:

  • Lost city: They call it the Machu Picchu of Colombia, it is a 3-4 day trek from near Santa Marta to the ruins of the lost city.
  • Punta Gallinas: Bordering Venezuela, it is a peninsula with a sandy desert that stretches for several kilometers along the coast.
  • Amazonas: How can it be otherwise, the Amazon also has a presence in Colombia so a couple of days in the jungle are a good option.

Now you know a little more about Colombia and you can start to focus your trip. Remember, Colombia is a much safer country than you might believe, but like everywhere you have to use your head. Do not wear jewelry, do not wear extremely expensive clothes and try not to carry valuables in sight (iPhones, cameras …) For everything else the people are charming and you will not have days to discover them.

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