Wednesday, October 16, 2019
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A 14 Day Colombia Itinerary: A Country of Contrasts

Driving ATVs in the mountains around Villa De Leyva

Cartagena, Boquilla, Medellin, Guatape, Nuqui Choco, Valle De Leyva, and Bogota


In August, our family of 5 went to Colombia for two weeks. Our kids were 16, 14 and 12 years old at the time.

I won’t lie. Just before we left, I was nervous. I had researched extensively where we should go and stay, and was comfortable that Colombia was a safe place to visit. However, after everything was booked, it seemed like every news article I read warned of violence or safety issues. Canadian and American travel advisories provided a long list of “do not even think of going there”, and I thought to myself, “what in the world have I done”?

And yet, our trip was magnificent.



Colombia is a country of contrasts. First of all, it is a country of extreme beauty. It is surrounded by the blues of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with beautiful beaches, marine life and jungle nearby. It is filled with lush green mountains barely inhabited by civilization. Contrary to reports of random violence, every person we met was friendly and proud of their country. In Medellin, strangers stopped us on the street and welcomed us to their city. We never felt in danger and walked happily and freely in the places we visited. The food went from dirt cheap and delicious street food to sophisticated international quality cuisine, sometimes at ridiculous low prices.

Most importantly, I felt that our experiences were truly authentic. Foreign tourism is just beginning to flourish in Colombia. In several places, we were one of only a handful of tourists. We stumbled upon amazing inexpensive accommodations hosted by fascinating locals, and untouched beaches and remote villages that were inaccessible except by boat.


day 7 of our Colombia Itinerary
The natural beauty of Colombia


In this blog, I will provide our 14 day Colombia itinerary. In another blog Colombia Holidays: 10 “Must Know” Travel Tips!, I highlight a number of important travel tips that I learnt while in Colombia that will help you fully enjoy your Colombia holidays. In the weeks to follow, I hope to write many more blogs about this wonderful country and our time spent there.


Day 1 of our Colombia Itinerary


We arrived in Cartagena in the afternoon. We were picked up and driven to our hotel, Allure Chocolate Hotel, just outside the Old City. All of our transfers across Colombia were organized by The Colombian Way and their services were excellent each time. The hotel was a modern boutique hotel with a small rooftop pool and bar a couple blocks from the beach. The rooms were large and well appointed. For dinner, we went to La Marea by Rausch, a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The restaurant was on the water, with a view of the walled city.  The meal was extraordinary.


Day 2 of our Colombia Itinerary


We booked a 2 hour private bike tour of Cartagena with Hi Cartagena.  The tour took us all over the old city, including on top of the walls that bordered it. We also biked around Getsemani, an edgy part of Cartagena just outside the old city. In this part of Cartagena, the streets are filled with astonishing graffiti art. The bikes were very basic in quality, but the tour was a great way to quickly get a feel for the main parts of Cartagena.


Day one of our Colombia Itinerary
A quick break on top of the wall of the old city of Cartagena


Day 2 of our Colombia Itinerary
The entrance to the old city of Cartagena.


Day 2 of our Colombia Itinerary
Enjoying the main plaza of Getsemani. We shared our space with some cool sculptures and graffiti art.


Day 2 of our Colombia Itinerary
One example of the amazing graffiti found on many walls in Getsemani.


For lunch, we went to Espiritu Santo in the old city. This restaurant was recommended to us by a local and it was filled with Colombians. Enormous plates of traditional Caribbean food were served at very reasonable prices.  I barely made a dent in my meal.

We had dinner at Cande Restaurant in the old city. This restaurant took traditional Caribbean dishes and added sophistication and flair to them. The food was absolutely delicious. As an added treat, dancers entertained us with traditional latin and indigenous dancing.  It was an amazing night.


Day 3 of our Colombia Itinerary


Today, we spent most of the day in a local village called Boquilla where we spent the day learning how to fish, catch crabs and cook, all with the local fishermen and their families.  We booked this tour through Ecotours Boquilla.   It was a very interesting experience.

Boquilla is very poor. It was a startling contrast to the wealth of the old city and Getsemani in Cartagena, a mere 20 minute drive away. We spent most of the day amongst the mangroves, knee deep in muddy water learning how to throw nets to scoop up fish, set crab traps and collect the live crabs. After, we went back to one of their homes, and in a muddy backyard steps from the river, we watched them cook the fish and boil the crabs on a makeshift campfire. We ate lunch next to the fire on simple plastic tables and chairs. I ate some of the best fish that I have ever eaten.


Day 3 of our Colombia Itinerary
Heading out to the mangroves and to learn how to trap crabs and catch fish.


Day 3 of our Colombia Itinerary
Preparing the bait and the crab traps for our day of fishing.


Day 3 of our Colombia Itinerary
Learning how to set traps to catch crabs


Day 3 of our Colombia Itinerary
Cooking our fish and boiling the crabs for lunch at the fisherman’s house.


Dinner was at 1621, a restaurant in at the Sofitel Hotel in the old city. The food was exquisite. We sat at a table in their inside courtyard surrounded by plants, trees and a fountain. The setting was beautiful and the service was excellent.  The contrast between the simpleness of our lunch and the elegance of our dinner was remarkable.


Day 4 of our Colombia Itinerary


This morning, we flew to Medellin and stayed at NH Collection Medellin Royal Hotel.  This is a nice hotel in the wealthy part of Medellin across from the Santa Fe Shopping Mall.  In the afternoon, we had a private tour of La Communa 13 booked through Toucan Cafe and Tours.

A few years ago, Communa 13 was the most dangerous neighbourhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Today, it has transformed into a dynamic community with a vibrant street art and hip hop culture. This was one of my favourite places in Colombia.  Houses are built one on top of another up the mountain, a maze of concrete and wires. As you approach, it feels like you are about to enter a poor and dangerous slum. But that was far from the case. I saw spectacular graffiti art, seemingly on every wall and it was breathtaking. The streets were clean, brimming with adults going about their day and children playing. I watched street performers and tried delicious street food.  It was a thriving happy neighbourhood.


Day 4 of our Colombia Itinerary
The concrete jungle that is La Communa 13 in Medellin


Day 4 of our Colombia Itinerary
Street art along the road in La Commun 13 in Medellin


Day 4 of our Colombia Itinerary
One example of Graffiti art found on the streets of La Communa 13 in Medellin.


Day 4 of our Colombia Itinerary
Children playing at the playground surrounded by graffiti and art.


Our guide lived in Communa 13. He was also a member of Casa Kolacho, a youth inspired art club. All money earned from the tour went to Casa Kolacho, which provides free dance, art and music classes to the community.  As a tourist, I felt that I was not only witnessing a phenomenal transformation of a once troubled neighbourhood, but that our presence was helping them succeed.  It was a memorable experience.


Days 5 – 8 of our Colombia Itinerary

Nuqui Choco

We flew one hour by twin turbo prop plane from Medellin to Nuqui on the Pacific Ocean. Then, we boarded a 20 person speedboat and for one hour, we crossed the Pacific Ocean to our lodge. During that hour, we barely saw a house or a person on the shore. We were surrounded by jungle and ocean.

We stayed at El Cantil Ecolodge, a very small lodge on the shores of the Pacific, and shared one hut with two rooms.  The accommodation was very basic – there wasn’t any electricity, hot water, windows, screens, or wifi. The food was simple but plentiful. Over our three days there, we spent hours on the ocean watching hump back whales. We hiked in the jungle and dove into hidden waterfalls. We swam in the ocean and chased thousands of crabs on shore.


Day 5 of our Colombia Itinerary
One of our views from Une Cantil Ecolodge.


Day 6 of our Colombia Itinerary
Humpback whale watching in the Pacific Ocean at Nuqui Choco.


A highlight of our stay was a 3 hour return walk along the beach to the tiny village of Thermales where we spent time in the natural thermal springs. On our walk, we were surrounded by pristine jungle and untouched beaches, which were virtually uninhabited.  The village was made up of around twenty huts and maybe a population of 100 people.


Day 6 of our Colombia Itinerary
Walking along deserted beaches to Thermales.


Day 6 of our Colombia Itinerary
Soaking in the natural thermal springs in Thermales


Day 9 of our Colombia Itinerary


In the morning, we flew back to Medellin and NH Collection Medellin Royal.  In the afternoon, we went on a private street food tour offered by Toucan Cafe and Tours.

This was a really cool tour. We explored the city and learnt about its history and the significance of important buildings and sculptures. I saw more incredible graffiti and street art. We rode trains (Transvia) and gondolas across town and ultimately to Communa 8, another neighbourhood transforming itself into a vibrant and safe community with innovative social programs and improved infrastructure. All the while, we nibbled on traditional street food that we stumbled upon along the way.


Day 10 of our Colombia Itinerary


We did a private day tour to Guatape offered through Tours Guatape. Guatape is a municipality and town around 2 hours from Medellin. The whole area is beautiful. We stopped at El Penol, a massive rock conspicuously jutting out of the landscape, and climbed the 784 steps to the top. The views were stunning. We continued onto the town of Guatape and toured its cobblestone streets. The houses and stores were all colourfully painted with carvings along their front walls. They either depicted the history of the building, or its current use or occupant.

Day 9 of our Colombia Itinerary
784 stairs to the top of El Penol. We did it!


Day 9 of our Colombia Itinerary
The top of El Penol and the Municipality of Guatape below us.


Day 9 of the Colombia Itinerary
The town of Guatape and the pretty painted buildings.


This was my least favourite day of our whole trip. I liked the tour and I am glad that we saw El Penol and Guatape. However, for the first time, I felt that we were on a well worn tourist path.


Day 11 and 12 of our Colombia Itinerary

Villa De Leyva

This morning we flew from Medellin to Bogota.  There, we were picked up and driven 3 1/2 hours to Villa De Leyva.

Villa De Leyva is a gorgeous little town nestled between mountains and surrounded by farm land. The buildings were white water washed and the streets were mostly cobblestoned. We stayed at Hotel Casa Terra, a small newly renovated multi-room house with a beautiful garden in the centre of town. This was my favourite hotel on our whole trip.  The hotel was small, luxurious and welcoming.


Day 12 of our Colombia Itinerary
Our suite at Casa Terra in Villa De Leyva.


Day 11 of Colombia Itinerary
The whitewashed church in the main square at Villa De Leyva


We explored the village and had many memorable meals there. We drove ATVs in the countryside and mountains surrounding Villa De Leyva on a private tour. The views were incredible.


Day 11 of our Colombia Itinerary
Enjoying the view from the top of a mountain overlooking Villa De Leyva


Day 13 of our Colombia Itinerary


We drove back to Bogota.  Along the way, we stopped and explored the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.

The Salt Cathedral is both bizarre and amazing. You descend one km below the surface of an active salt mine, stopping at the different Stations of the Cross where enormous crosses have been carved from salt. There, you are welcome to stop and pray. Ultimately, you reach a church far below the surface. You can watch a light show or a movie about the history of Colombia, shop, eat or go to a spa, never leaving the depths of the mine. The whole town is focused on supporting this tourist attraction.


Day 12 of our Colombia itinerary
Descending into the salt mine for our tour.


Day 12 of our Colombia Itinerary
One of the Stations of the Cross in the salt mine.


In Bogota, we stayed at the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia Hotel, a beautiful hotel in the centre of amazing restaurants and shopping. We ate dinner at La Brasserie, a superb french restaurant steps away from our hotel.

Day 14 of our Colombia Itinerary


We spent the day on a private tour of the city offered by Hansa Tours.

I really liked Bogota. We went to the top of Montserrate, a mountain towering over Bogota, to see the views and visit the garden and the church. We spent a lot of time visiting La Candelaria area which has funky streets covered in cool graffiti, local artisans and their wares, and amazing museums. My favourites were the Botero Museum and the Museu Del Oro (the Gold Museum). Later we visited private art galleries looking at current Colombia artists.

Day 13 of our colombia itinerary
The top of Montserrate in Bogota.


Day 14 of our Colombia Itinerary
Our walking tour of Bogota.


Day 13 of our Colombia itinerary
Graffiti in Bogota


Day 13 of our Colombia Itinerary
An exhibit at the Gold Museum in Bogota.




I loved our trip to Colombia.  Over two weeks, we saw many diverse regions of Colombia and experienced city and rural life. We visited remote and virtually untouched beaches, jungles and communities off the Pacific Ocean. I tried delicious food from all over the country, some of it traditional street food, while others at sophisticated and luxurious restaurants. We met incredibly friendly people from all sorts of backgrounds.

Finally, I feel that our Colombia itinerary allowed us to see the many contrasting sides of Colombia. One day, we saw pristine beaches and uninhabited areas of the Pacific, and the next day, we were exploring once dangerous neighbourhoods in Medellin. We explored many examples of amazing graffiti in Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota, and then, visited extraordinary works of art at the Botero Museum, the Gold Museum and private galleries. Some nights, we stayed at very simple hotels and others, we enjoyed luxurious accommodation. Our Colombia itinerary was filled with authentic experiences in a very exciting country that has yet to be discovered by the world.


If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on one of the photos below. If you think that someone else might benefit from this article, please consider sharing it on your social media channels. Thanks!

Colombia is a beautiful untouched country filled with culture, incredible food, beautiful nature and gorgeous beaches. This itinerary takes you to Cartagena, Medellin, Guatape, Nuqui Choco, Bogota, and Villa De Leyva. Where will you go first? #travel #familytravel #travelwtihteens #colombia #itinerary | Caribbean, El Cantil Ecolodge, El Penol, Getsemani, humpback, La Communa, Montserrate, Museu Del Oro, Pacific, Thermales, Zipaquira


Colombia is a beautiful untouched country filled with culture, incredible food, beautiful nature and gorgeous beaches. Where will you go first? #travel #familytravel #travelwtihteens #ATV #Boquilla, #teen #child #kids #Botero #Caribbean #Cartagena, El Cantil Ecolodge, El Penol #fishing #Getsemani #graffiti #Guatape #humpback #whales, La Communa #Medellin #Montserrate, Museu Del Oro, #Nuqui Choco, #Pacific #Bogota, thermal springs, #Thermales, Villa De Leyva, #Zipaquira #southamerica





    • Thanks Jocelyn. Colombia is a wonderful, friendly exciting place to visit so I hope that you get the opportunity to get there soon!

  • This is so awesome! A few years back when I used to hear how dangerous it was, (and it was) I was scared to ever visit. However, my inspiration to travel there has grown so much especially now that it’s getting safer. Your guide and pictures are so perfect! I know that I would truly love all the colorful streets and the vibe in Colombia. Glad you had fun with your family and that you didn’t let fear stop you from going. 🙂

    • Thanks Edith. It is such a great time to go. People are still scared to travel there so it is still largely untouched by tourists. It won’t stay that way for long. Prices are so good too.

  • This has to be one of the most adventurous itineraries I have seen about Colombia. First time I hear about Nuqui. The place looks so beautiful. I have wanted to visit the country for a really long time. At least, I want to visit Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota. So bad we do not have budget flights here from Los Angeles. I am glad you decided to go despite what he media says. Glad you enjoyed to the max! #WeekendWandelust
    Ruth | Tanama Tales recently posted…Vienna in 2, 3 or 4 Days: Highlights and Day TripsMy Profile

    • Hi Ruth, We flew Jet Blue and it was really inexpensive. We flew from Chicago – not our normal hometown but we had to visit family so took advantage of the low fare from there. I think it will be only a short time before more discount airlines fly there, especially from LA. You will be in Colombia soon!

    • Thank you! I think that you could go for a shorter time, but I wouldn’t try to see the same number of cities/areas of Colombia. My rule of thumb is to try and have three nights in each place so that I can have two full days of touring. That doesn’t always work out, or I’m not that keen to spend that much time in a particular place (for example, a flight arrives or depart from a city that I’m only slightly interested in), but if I am keen to explore that city or area, that is my goal.

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