Colombia, a 9 Day Itinerary
In the last several years Colombia has risen to the top of many traveler’s destination wish lists, as it did mine. Being one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, second only to Brazil, and offering art, history, and culture in cities like Bogota, Medellin, and Cartageña, it’s easy to understand why. Pair this interest with close friends that are tied to the coffee industry, and this trip was a no-brainier. Josh, Colleen, Steve, and I spent 9 days in this beautiful country. Below is our 9 day itinerary planned based on personal research.
Itinerary: Days 1-2, Bogota
Getting to Bogota
Most major airlines offer direct flights to and from Bogota via most major cities in the U.S. We flew Avianca round trip from Chicago to Bogota. Tickets run anywhere from $200-500 round trip depending on when you book and who you book with. If you are looking for a budget flight, and you are willing to take minor risks, Spirit Airlines consistently advertises $200 flights round trip into Bogota and Cartageña. Avianca is a Star Alliance Airline, offers in-flight movies, meals, and free booze so it did the trick for us. The Customs process was very simple, quick, and there are no visa requirements for U.S. citizens as of 2019. Once you arrive, Uber is cheap and simple to use. You are looking at $10-15 to get you to the La Candelaria District. We landed around 5:30 AM, and we were at our hostel by 6:15 AM including the time it took to go through customs.
Where to Stay in Bogota
There are several popular areas of Bogota to stay in but two of the most popular are Zona Rosa and La Candelaria. Zona Rosa offers luxury hotels, some of the top restaurants in Bogota, and great night life. La Candelaria is budget friendly and more popular for it’s history and street art. I made the executive decision for our group to stay in La Candelaria, but there are a lot of wonderful options in both of these neighborhoods whether you are looking for hostels, AirBnb, boutique, or luxury hotels.
We stayed with Selina La Candelaria Bogota. It was within walking distance of most major sites, featured a beautiful courtyard, bar, private rooms, and updated decor. One thing to note; the walls were incredibly thin. If you are not a sound sleeper this is probably not the place for you. We could hear distinct conversations from the room next door and music from the bar played late into the night. Privates ran from $40-60/night. There were several dorm options as well.
Note: Selina has a “chain” of hostels across South America so if you stay with them frequently you can get discounts.
What to do in Bogota
With two days to get a taste of Bogota we opted for some of the more popular things to do with a splash of spontaneity. Anyone visiting Bogota should definitely take the time to visit Mount Monserrate. Your options are to take the tram car or hike up. Budget 40-60 minutes one way if you plan to hike it, or about 30-45 minutes each way, including wait time, if you plan to take the tram. We took the tram car, but from my understanding, most of the hike is paved, though steep. Once you arrive, take some time to explore, enjoy the views, and a glass of wine at one of the restaurants.
We also spent an afternoon with Bogota Graffiti Tour, exploring the beautiful street art of Bogota. The guides are knowledgeable, accommodating, and speak fluent English.
The remainder of our time in Bogota included watching the Super Bowl at The Pub, having a phenomenal dinner at Black Bear Bogota (recommended by a friend of Josh’s), and drinking pints at Bogota Beer Company.
Itinerary: Days 3-6,The Coffee Region
Getting to the Coffee Region
We navigated all of Colombia via cheap one way flights. Viva Colombia and Avianca offer daily flights between Bogota, Pereira, Medellin, and Cartageña for $30-80 including a checked bag. Once again we opted Avianca and made our way to the closest city to the popular Coffee Region towns, Pereira. I arranged a driver to meet us at the airport and transfer us to our boutique hotel in between the towns of Salento and Filandia. The drive took about an hour winding through the narrow streets of the area that get jammed up due to only having room for one car but still allowing two way traffic. The private transfer ran us $30 which is expensive for Colombia but totally worth it.
There are overnight bus options from Medellin and Bogota but for the sake of time and comfort we opted for the flight.
Where to Stay in the Coffee Region
The most popular towns in the Coffee Region are Salento and Filandia, Salento being the more touristy of the two. We stayed at a beautiful boutique farm stay in between the two towns called Hotel Reserva Monarca. The hotel offers beautiful views of the valley, on-site hiking, and home-cooked meals fresh from their garden. The hotel staff were incredibly accommodating, and they arranged a driver whenever we wished to go into town. At night enjoy the hot tub with a few drinks and a peaceful thunderstorm or two.
What to do in the Coffee Region
With the way our flights worked out we spent four wonderful days in the coffee region and it was by far our favorite stop.
Salento offers a beautiful town square, plenty of shopping, and restaurants. I recommend taking the staircase at the end of the main block of shops for a panoramic view of the town.
Filandia is a quieter version of Salento with amazing patio bars, more shopping, and greatrestaurants. We spent an afternoon at La Calle taking cover from the rain and cuddling with the many cats wandering around the patio bar. The staff of the restaurant next door served us, because La Calle was closed for the day, but the owner was still happy to have us. As the afternoon went on we found our way inside the bar next door and did some shopping at their gift shop. We wrapped up our day with dinner at Helena Adentro; a tapas style restaurant with signature cocktails. They boast being one of the most popular restaurants in Colombia and across South America.
Hiking the Cocora Valley is a must do when in the Coffee Region. We hired a driver from our hotel to drop us off at the start of the hike. You can also pick up an old fashioned jeep in Salento starting as early as 6:00 AM for a whopping $.50-$1.
When you arrive at the start of the hike you have two options: left or right. The common route is to take the road to the left which leads you straight to the famous wax palms and takes less time. Plan on 2-5 hours for the entire hike depending on your fitness level and factoring in the extra hike to the humming birds if you add that on. The path is very well marked and there are plenty of other people out there so there is no need to worry about getting turned around or lost.
On our last day we signed up for a coffee tour of Finca El Ocaso Salento. The tour was recommended by our hotel, and we found it enjoyable. You start by touring the property, learn how to pick quality coffee beans, and finish with an educational tasting.
Itinerary: Days 7-9, Cartageña
Getting to Cartageña
Similar to our arrival in the coffee region, we arranged a private transfer back to the Pereira airport to make our way to Cartageña. Another cheap one way flight had us at our hotel in Cartageña by 10:00 PM on a Thursday night. Just like Bogota, Uber is available and easy to use in Cartageña.
Where to Stay in Cartageña
Cartageña is the Miami of Colombia which means there are thousands of options for accommodation. We stayed with Casa La Cartujita located in the Old Town. The hotel was modern, quaint, and centrally located offering a pool and patio to enjoy in the evenings and complimentary breakfast in the mornings.
What to do in Cartageña
Unlike the Coffee Region, we found Cartageña to be our least favorite stop. The old town is beautiful, but it is the “Disneyland” of Colombia in my opinion. Plan to see a lot of tourists, stray animals in poor conditions, and street vendors berating you with offers for cocaine. Because of this, we rented a boat 2 of the 3 days we were in Cartageña. We booked through Boats4U. They offer a full day tour with a flexible itinerary to visit the Rosario Islands at your leisure. We stocked up at a local market for the BYOB policy. They provided the ice and “bartender.” A full day of snorkeling, drinks, and a wonderful lunch at Hotel Baru made it an easy decision to book for a second day with the same crew.
Note: Do not stop at Playa Blanca. It is dirty, overridden with tourists scams, and animals in the worst condition you could imagine.
Every evening we found ourselves at the bar at Alma. The hotel and restaurant are top tanked in Cartageña, the drinks are fantastic, and the bartenders are a riot. Hindsight, we definitely would have liked to spend at least one night if not our entire stay at Alma. Our final night of the trip we managed to get a last-minute reservation for dinner but definitely plan ahead if you want to dine here, and you should!