So you’re heading to South America and wondering how to travel around Colombia in 3 weeks?
This post will go through;
- The route that myself and Jonathan took around Colombia.
- I’ll be completely honest about the advantages and disadvantages of each place.
- We’ll talk about how long I would recommend staying in each place.
- I’ll give you some tips for mistakes that I learned along the way for each destination.
Why did we love Colombia so much?
As mentioned above, we loved Colombia so much because there is just so much to see and do!
There are so many reasons why Colombia was so special to us, here are just a few:
- We met the best group of people here.
- The atmosphere is incredible!
- The people are friendly.
- It’s very easy to travel around.
- There are so many backpackers so it feels quite safe.
- We randomly saw sloths!
- This was the last country that we visited on our Latin America trip so we knew that we wanted to make it a good one!
Here’s a little clip of the group that we met in Colombia and who we’re still friends with!
Is Colombia safe?
This question never comes with a straightforward answer and I’ll never be one to give a strong yes or no when it comes to answering questions like this! Bear in mind that Colombia is classified as an upper-middle-income economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, Colombia is one of Latin America’s largest economies. Colombia is rich in natural resources due to its terrain.
Colombia is well traveled by backpackers and let me reassure you that we met so many solo backpackers along the way. The majority of these solo backpackers were actually female so I think that speaks volumes on how safe tourists can feel in Colombia.
In saying that, robbery and theft are massive problems in Colombia too. We had friends who had their phones stolen and heard a lot of stories along the way.
Did I feel safe?
Yes, the majority of the time I did feel safe. However, cat-calling is still such a thing in most Latin American countries. I remember one night in particular, I was in Medellin with Jonathan and three lads that we had met along the way and locals still cat-called me.
Where will I stay in Colombia?
As mentioned above, although Colombia can be seen to be dangerous, there are backpackers absolutely everywhere! Do you know what that means? Where there are a lot of backpackers, there are bound to be cool social hostels. If you’ve never stayed in hostels, not to worry. Social hostels feel safe as most people there are in the same boat as you. I do however know that it can be very daunting. Here are my top 10 tips that you should consider booking a hostel in Colombia or any part of the world!
The route we took & how to travel around Colombia in 3 weeks
I want to start off by emphasizing that the route we took doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and is quite backward Why? We came to Colombia very last minute first of all. Once we got to Casa En El Agua, we made friends with a group of people who already had their route planned out. To be totally honest, we jumped on board with their plans and just went with it!
Cartagena was our first stop on our Colombia trip! We flew from San Salvador to Bogota and then to Cartagena. I’ll explain below why we skipped the capital. Our first impressions of Cartagena? We loved it! This is along one of the beaches and the high-rise buildings made us feel like we were in Miami! The city itself is quite small so it’s relatively easy to navigate your way around.
Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular cities for tourists. It has a lot to offer between colonial buildings, stunning sandy beaches, Colombian street food, and a buzzing nightlife scene!
Where to stay in Cartagena
The main area to stay in Cartagena is called the Getsemani. Here, you’ll find most of the hostels. There is a little square in this area which is lined by street food vendors and street performers and is where all the backpackers head for nightlife.
We stayed at the Casa Del Poza hostel and really enjoyed it. It’s a really cool hostel. It has a Netflix room to chill out and a little pool at the back. If you go to Casa En El Agua (I’ll talk about this next) and come back and stay here you can leave your big check-in bags here free of charge. If you just check out and aren’t staying here after Casa they give you one free day of storage and then charge each day.
What to do in Cartagena
- Take a visit to ‘El Volcán de Lodo El Totumo’ (The mud volcano of Totumo). We booked this through our hostel. Was it worth it? It was very strange I won’t lie, but a new experience all the same!
- Take a stroll around the old walled city.
- Rent a bike and cycle around the Getsanami area and take in all of the scenes.
- Watch the sunset at Cafe del Mar. Just be aware that this place gets extremely busy at sunset so try your best to arrive early!
- Do a free morning walking tour and see the street art and history of Getsanami.
- Spend two nights at Casa en el Agua, which I have a full blog post on!
- There are so many islands some you can do day trips to like Rosario islands others you would spend a few nights on like Isla Palma.
- Enjoy the buzz and atmosphere at Getsemani Square by night.
Where to eat in Cartagena
We absolutely loved the food in Cartagena, here are just some of our top recommendations!
- ‘Tavos’. Looking for some good arepas and street food? This is the place!
- ‘Colombitalia’ for traditional street food arepas. We actually went back here a couple of times, they only take cash so make sure you’ve some with you!
- ‘Cafe Havana’ was a really cool salsa bar that always has live music on if you’re looking for a good vibe!
The hostel on the water aka Casa En El Agua!
If you’ve already been doing your Colombia research, you’ve surely come across this hostel that is literally in the middle of the ocean. I have a full blog post written about this place, all the details can be found here.
Medellin is a busy city in Colombia and is known for its busy nightlife, deep-rooted Colombian history as well as it’s ancient buildings. This city is also known for its iconic sculptures belonging to the famous Colombian artist Botero. The metro is super easy to navigate in Medellin and is safe, just bring your ID to buy a ticket!
Where to stay in Medellin
There are a lot of really cool hostels to choose from in Medellin. Some of them include;
- The Masaya Hostel. What did we love about this hostel? The rooftop pool with a bar right beside it, and the spacious communal areas made it easy to work remotely. The location of this hostel is perfect. It’s close to most of the other hostels, bars, and clubs. It’s also not too far from all the tourist attractions so you’ll never have to travel too far.
- The Viajero hostel. We didn’t actually stay here but we heard very good reviews about it!
- Los Patios hostel. Similarly, we didn’t stay here, but from the people that we met along the way, it’s a good one to choose!
What do in Medellin:
- Go to a local soccer match. (use the DIM Plus app to book your tickets)
- Take a day trip to Guatape and El Penon Rock.
- Go paragliding and see the sites of the city from above.
- Do the Comuna 13 tour. Back in the 80s and 90s, the Comuna 13 area was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. It was run by violent drug trafficking organizations. However today, Comuna 13 has been completely transformed. The streets are now marked with beautiful and creative artwork while street performers entertain crowds.
- Visit the Parque Explore Aquarium and adventure center.
- Take a stroll around the impressive Santafe shopping center if you need a little reminder from home.
Where to eat in Medellin
- Mamasita Medallo for some fancy cocktails and impressive food!
- La Deriva for a trendy bar and a good atmosphere!
3. Santa Marta
Santa Marta has a very mixed review. Most people visit Santa Marta as a stopover and mainly use it as a base to do the Lost City Trek or to see Tyrona Park.
Where to stay in Santa Marta
- The Journey Hostel is the one that I’m in the picture above. It’s famous for its infinity pool with a view over the jungle. It’s not far from Tyrona Park so it’s a popular one to stay at. I recommend booking this hostel in advance as it does book up quite quickly. The hostel isn’t exactly located in the main Santa Marta area you do have to get the bus out to it.
- Viajero Hostel, this one is right near the main hot spots in Santa Marta.
What to do in Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a busy little town, there’s a Main Street with loads of restaurants and pubs but it’s mainly used as a stopover to get to other attractions such as;
- Take a trip out to Tayrona National Park.
- Hike the 4-day Lost City Trek.
- Visit the incredible Guajira Desert.
- Spend a day at the Enchanted Lagoon & Mendiuaca Beach.
- Snorkel at Bahía Concha.
- Visit the stunning Playa Cinto Virgin Beach.
Where to eat in Santa Marta
Santa Marta had a couple of strips that had lots of busy restaurants along them. Here are just a couple of my favorite ones!
- Porthos Steakhouse & Pub for an unreal steak sandwich.
- El Mexican for the most amazing Mexican food.
Minca is a really tiny little village not far from Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park that’s basically like a big jungle area.
How to get to Minca
You can take a shuttle bus from Santa Marta. The buses go from the market, it’s a bit overwhelming there are so many buses going just look out for the little shuttle one that says Minca. The bus takes around 45 minutes one way. There is also the option to take a taxi too!
Where to stay in Minca
- Rio Elemento is a really cool jungle hotel that’s located just 10 minutes away from where the bus stops.
- Casas Viejas by Masaya is so cool and has the most amazing pool. It was even voted the ‘best hostel in Colombia’.
- Sierra Minca Hostel is meant to be but we didn’t get to stay here!
What to do in Minca
- Visit the amazing Cascada de Marinka waterfall. This is one of the main waterfalls in Minca. It is about a 1hr30min uphill hike from Minca town or 10 minutes on a motor taxi. If you don’t feel like hiking it was only €2.40 per person one way on a motor taxi. There’s a company called who wears pink shirts driving people up. There are two waterfalls in the complex and it’s €2.40 for each entry (20000CP).
- Visit the Polo Azul waterfall. These are natural little waterfalls that are about a 30-minute walk from Minca town. There’s no entry fee and most people do these on the same day as Cascada de Marinka.
- There’s a coffee plantation tour called Finca La Victoria that is worth a visit if you’re a coffee lover.
- Go bird watching which you can book through the hostel.
- Take a local yoga class!
- Hike to the most popular sunset spot called Mirador Sunsets Viewpoint.
Where to eat in Minca
- Santisabella for really good pizza, this was so close to our Rio Elemento hostel!
- The Lazy Cat for a nice stir fry.
- Marhaba for traditional Lebanese dishes and amazing empanadas.
- Musetto Bakery is a small little bakery and they do these rolls that are basically chocolate croissants, they were delicious!
- The Obroma for good cocoa and desserts!
Things to do before visiting Minca
- If you’re going back to Santa Marta, leave your big check-in bags in the hostel. Minca is quite hilly and the main way to get around is either motor taxis or small taxis, it also gets very hot so you don’t want to carry around extra weight. Most hostels let you leave your bags for free, and some charge. Our hostel La Guaca Hostel let us leave ours there for free!
- Bring anti-insect repellent. Minca is basically a jungle so you will get bitten. It’s a running joke with backpackers if you see someone bitten alive you know they’ve come from Minca.
- Like the majority of places, there’s only one ATM here and most places charge a fee of 5% to use the card.
Palomino was our last stop on our Latin America trip so we completely chilled out and relaxed. There are some really good restaurants here and most people go river tubing!
How to travel around Colombia in 3 weeks (the route that I’d take next time)
First of all, this route that I’d take the next time that I travel to Colombia would be based on the idea of me flying into Bogotá. Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia.
I definitely wouldn’t stay in Bogotá at all and if I did have to stay due to flight times, I would just stay for one night. I’m aware that I’ve never been and that you have to judge a country for yourself but I’ve just heard too many negative reviews to spend my time here.
1. Villavieja, Huila
How long to stay in Villavieja, Huila: 2 days.
What to do: See the Tatacoa Dessert.
Where I would go next: Head North towards Cali.
How long to stay in Cali, Huila: 2/3 days.
Where I would go next:Continue North towards Salento.
How long to stay in Salento: 2 days.
What to do: See Valle De Cocora.
Where I would go next:North to Medellin (most people fly from place to place in Colombia, not exactly eco-friendly but it tends to be the quickest & cheapest way.)
How long to stay in Medellin: 5 days.
What to do: A full list is mentioned above.
Where I would go next:
From Medellín, I would fly to Cartagena.
How long to stay in Cartagena: 4/5 days.
What to do: Stay at Casa En El Agua, a hostel in the middle of the ocean, then spend the rest of the time exploring Cartagena)
Where I would go next:Head North towards Santa Marta.
6. Santa Marta
How long to stay in Santa Marta: 2 days.
What to do: All that I mentioned above but including The Lost City Trek ( we didn’t get to do it when we visited)
Where I would go next:Fly home from Cartagena or to your next destination.
(If flying into Cartagena, do this route in the opposite direction.)