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Backpacking Colombia itinerary

April 29, 2024
Alfie Laurence


Let’s go to Colombia! Here is your ultimate guide to Colombia backpacking itinerary for you to take away and get to know the beautiful country. We give you things to do, places to eat and drink, places to rest your head and all the wonderful things in between. Colombia is the 2nd most biologically diverse country in the world, it has some of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world such as Medellín and a world famous nightlife culture. Let’s dive in to an itinerary for 3 weeks backpacking in Colombia.

Itinerary highlights:

Cartagena: 3 days

Santa Marta, Tayrona Park & Costeño Beach: 4 days

Minca: 2 days

Coffee Region eg. Salento: 3 days

Cali: 3 days

Bogotá: 3 days

Days 1-3 Cartagena

Cartagena, the Caribbean capital of Colombia. Known for it’s colonial buildings and cobbled streets, Colombia is bursting with colour and vibrancy in its people, food, music and art. There is a reason why it is the most touristic city in Colombia. It is rumoured to be one of the most well kept cities in the Americas, as well as one of the safest. People who pass by Cartagena de Indias enjoy days of walking through its streets, eating at it’s finest Caribbean restaurants and learning about its history. It’s proximity to white sandy beaches and island hopping adventures gives it a tremendous reputation on the gap year circuit.

What to do in Cartagena?

  • Enjoy a sunset at Café del Mar
  • Visit Totumo Mud Volcano
  • Island hopping to Isla Grande, Las Islas de Rosario
  • Visit Aviario National Park on Isla Baru
  • Explore the historical centre and do some boutique shopping

Where to stay in Cartagena?

Selena hostel is a chain you’ll find dotted about Colombia and South America, really nice hostels for only like 8-10 pounds a night depending on the size of dorm you like. Their hostel in Cartagena has a rooftop bar, breakfast, lunch and dinner, cinema room and great wifi as well as air conditioned rooms. MediaLuna Hostel is a huge mansion type townhouse but has had a party rep for many years so you may not get much sleep if you book there but you can always just go there to party. Casa Escallon and El Viajero for backpackers, very central locations. El Viajero is livelier and full of travellers. If you are going with parents / have more of a budget, go to Casa Millat Hotel Boutique.

In Isla Grande, Hotel Isla Del Sol is fantastic and is all inclusive, but expensive. There is no cheap, forced entertainment and there are a mixture of Colombian and international tourists. There are many budget places where you can get a hammock for 15,000-25,000 pesos a night. There is a great hostel in the middle of the water called Casa en el Agua, book in advance through their WhatsApp and it is expensive.

Where to eat and go out in Cartagena?

  • Quiebra Canto
  • Agua de León
  • Restaurante Donjuan
  • El Barón
  • La Taperia
  • Mar y Zielo
  • Restaurante Celele
  • Café Havana

Day 3-7: Santa Marta, Tayrona Park, Costeño Beach

Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia and in South America, can you believe it? It has all-year round temperatures of between 25-30 degrees and if you like the beach, get yourself to Santa Marta and it’s neighbouring spots to chill out and enjoy the Caribbean sun. Santa Marta is a great place to launch yourself into a world of activities. Whether you like hiking, yoga, history, diving, this is where you need to be.

What to do in Santa Marta, Tayrona and Costeño Beach?

  • Go scuba diving in Taganga
  • Camp out in Tayrona Park & visit La Piscina & Cabo San Juan
  • Go tubing down the river from Rio Hostel
  • Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) Trek
  • Explore the hippy town of Palomino
  • Enjoy sunset volleyball on Costeño beach

Where to stay in Santa Marta?

For Santa Marta, there are a number of options. You have Dreamers Hostel or Selina. You also have La Republica, Drop Bear Hostel and La Brisa Loca.

Where to stay in Costeño Beach?

Hostels on Costeño beach are amazing, either Costeño Beach Hostel, La Brisa Tranquilla or Los Hermanos. All guaranteed to be a lot of fun. Bare in mind that the only option to eat and drink there are in the hostels who are therefore able to charge more for the demand. As said above, El Rio is a fantastic place to spend a couple nights.

Day 7-9 Minca

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada, Minca is a hub for chilled out sexy vibes. It is the perfect refuge for enjoying some laid back yoga & a slow way of life. If you are an active person, there are lots of hikes to waterfalls and coffee plantations to try some of the world’s best coffee.

What to do in Minca?

  • Hike to Marinka Waterfall
  • Visit a local Coffee plantation
  • Do some yoga at Casa Loma
  • Enjoy a sunset at Viajero Hostel.

Where to stay in Minca?

A highly recommended place is Casa Loma. It’s a beautiful hostel located near the town centre up quite a few steps. It’s a small hostel with great views, morning yoga and home cooked, group vegan dinners every night. Also El Viajero Minca has a pool overlooking the views. Can’t beat it!

Day 9-13 Medellín

Dubbed the most dangerous city in the world no longer than 25 years ago to being one of the most exciting, hippest cities in the world, there is a lot to say about Medellín. Known as ‘The City of Eternal Spring’ there’s never not a good time to visit the Antioquia capital. You can spend months getting to know this city but it’ll only take you days to fall in love with it’s character. Take your time learning of it’s gruesome history and the new, creative vibe of Comuna 13. Don’t miss out on the food, Bandeja Paisa is the main dish, which you must try! It’s definitely worth visiting the local towns: Santa Elena and Guatapé are stand outs.

  • Comuna 13 Graffiti & Hip Hop Tour
  • Day Trip to Guatapé including hike up Piedra Peñol
  • Watch Internacional Medellin play football
  • Enjoy a night out in El Poblado
  • Free Walking Tour around the city
  • Cycle around local town Santa Elena
  • Try paragliding with Magical Tours

Where to stay in Medellín?

Definitely stay in the Laureles and Poblado districts where everything is popping off. The Black Sheep Hostel is a really fun hostel run by a Kiwi called Kelvin. Unlike many other hostels, it doesn’t offer food or a bar, but this allows travellers to cook in their impressively equipped kitchen. It’s very clean and always has a good atmosphere in the evenings as well as a TV to watch the football on the weekends. Purple Monkey is also very good, but a quieter option, whereas Casa Kiwi is another favourite of most travellers in Medellin and all walking distance from ATMs, supermarkets, restaurants and bars.

Where to eat in Medellín?

  • OCI.mde
  • Restaurante El Cielo
  • Criminal Taqueria
  • Restaurante Cuon
  • Carmen
  • General Cafe Bar
  • Cafe Dragon

Day 13-16 Valle Cocora

Colombia’s Coffee Region has lots of small towns where little has changed in hundreds of years. As the name suggests, it is also home to some of the finest coffee in the world. Spend a few days enjoying Salento, Filandia & Jardins, while hiking around the rolling green hills and picturesque wax palm trees. To get there, Armenia is a good transportation hub to get around.

  • Visit Salento
  • Head up to Alto de la Paz
  • Walk through the Valle Cocora
  • Check out Filandia

Where to stay in Salento?

There are a few hostels nestled in the hills that you are going to LOVE. Viajero Salento Hostel is a favourite for it’s poolside views of the valley. Dorms cost around £20 a night, which is more expensive than some parts of the area. If you are looking for a cheaper option, Yambolombia Hostel is a good shout, dorms starting at £7 a night.

Day 16-18 Cali

What to do in Cali?

  • Free walking tour of the city
  • Salsa evening at La Topa Tolondra Nightclub
  • An overnight trip out to Juanchaco (near Buenaventura)

Where to stay in Cali?

Viajero, as you have probably gauged at this point of the itinerary, have a number of hostels around Colombia and Cali is no different. It’s even got a salsa school for those of you who want to really improve your hip shaking skills. I had 3 private salsa classes and came back with hips that definitely do not lie. La Sucursal is a backpacker’s paradise for salsa. They have group classes for free on their rooftop. Get involved!

Day 18-21 Bogotá

 With bustling colonial plazas sitting beside ultramodern skyscrapers, Colombia’s capital city has a mix of contrasts. Forget the outdated stereotypes of this place as a drug and crime haven. These days, Bogotá is a safe and forward-thinking city that is trending, not only as a spot for travellers but for studying and working abroad programmes.

  • La Catedral de Sal near Zipaquirá
  • Hike up to Montserrate for sunset
  • La Chorrera Waterfall
  • Grafitti Tour in La Candelaria

Where to stay in Bogotá?

As a backpacker, stay in either Botanico Hostel Bogotá, Masaya Hostel, Cranky Croc Hostel or Fatima Hostel. All cost between £8-£15 a night – If you’re in La Candelaria during the night, don’t walk around alone, especially not around El Parque de las Periodistas.

Where to eat in Bogotá?


Café Bar Universal

Get in touch if you would like us to help you plan your itinerary to Colombia. We’d love to help!

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Written by

Alfie Laurence
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