Colombia packs a punch with its heady combination of mountain peaks and lush jungle rich with hiking, high-adrenaline adventure, bustling cities and irresistible beaches. Our itinerary takes outdoor lovers through the cities and into the country’s most stunning and action-packed terrain.
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Begin in Medellín, Colombia’s peppy second city. Dubbed the City of Eternal Spring for its temperate climate, Medellín offers a pleasant introduction to metropolitan Colombia and is home to noteworthy museums and some of Colombia’s best restaurants and nightlife.
Don’t miss Medellín’s iconic metro system, which represents its transition from a cartel-controlled city to one of Colombia’s most dynamic, and includes cable cars that soar into the surrounding hillsides with bird’s-eye views of the labyrinthine neighborhoods below.
Many visitors find themselves staying for days here. When you’re ready to continue, hop on a 5-hour bus journey south to Manizales.
Central to Colombia’s fame as the world’s third-largest exporter of coffee, Colombia’s Eje Cafetero (Coffee Axis) ticks all the boxes – even if you’re not too keen on a cup of Joe – thanks to its abundance of rolling hills, thick with glossy coffee bushes and home to dozens of endemic bird species.
Stay overnight or a few restful days within the lovely grounds of an award-winning coffee finca (farm) just a short drive from Manizales. Expect breathtaking views, steaming cups of coffee and expert-led tours and cuppings.
Enjoy the same lush countryside as you continue due south for 3 hours by bus to Salento.
No, you’re not dreaming: the landscapes of the Cocora Valley look straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Wax palms 60m tall tower over picturesque valleys and vie for the skies with cloud-drenched hillsides, while hiking trails thread beneath this whimsical spectacle.
The valley lies just a 30-minute Willys Jeep ride from charming Salento, whose colonial-era mansions festooned with flowering plants and painted in clashing candy colors provided an influence for the magical world of Disney’s Encanto.
Board a 10-hour overnight bus east to the Colombian capital, Bogotá.
A city of skyscraping apartment blocks, bumper-to-bumper traffic and a 2640m (8660ft) elevation, Bogotá can feel like a difficult place to love. But on two wheels, it’s a different story: every Sunday the streets close to traffic and fill with cyclists and pedestrians. Join them, and pedal to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Chapinero neighborhood’s glut of fine-dining restaurants.
If you have a little extra time, escape into the patchwork tapestries of fields and pretty villages to the east of the city to reach the spell-binding La Chorrera, the country’s highest waterfall.
From there, take a 10-hour overnight bus to penetrate deeper into the mountains north of Bogotá to reach El Cocuy.
Tucked close to the Venezuelan border lies some of Colombia’s most exquisite high-altitude terrain. From El Cocuy, take a guided hike into the isolated Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. This protected area is largely a reserve belonging to the Indigenous U’Wa, but it’s also home to over 30 mountains – many more than 5000m (16,400ft) tall that harbor electric-blue lakes and dazzling glaciers.
Board a bus for the 6-hour journey descending through snow-clad mountains to reach lower-elevation San Gil.
With its backdrop of foaming rivers, sharp mountain peaks and a lower, more accessible elevation, San Gil is the country’s undisputed adventure capital. With everything from kayaking to paragliding, canyoning and mountain biking on the cards, you can spend days tackling this outdoor playground.
When you’ve had your fill of adrenaline, hop on a 13-hour bus to reach Santa Marta, on the northern coast of Colombia.
The swelteringly hot 15th-century city of Santa Marta is a launchpad for the softer adventures that lie along the paradisiacal turquoise waters of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Spend a relaxed day (or five) kicking back on the palm-strewn, jungle-fringed beaches of nearby Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona or tubing lazily through forest pulsating with butterflies and iridescent birds as you travel down the Río Palomino to the ocean.
Return to Santa Marta and take a 90-minute flight back to Medellín.