If you are heading to South America then I hope Colombia is really high up your bucket list. When you end up going you probably noticed how big the country actually is and that it will be impossible to see the whole country in a short amount of time. Overall, there is so much to see and the country is so diverse, from beaches on the Caribbean coast to the rain forest to the tallest palm trees in the world in Cocora Valley.
I had spent about five weeks in Colombia, however, two of them I spent at Spanish school in Medellín. That left me with about three weeks for traveling around. And while I could have easily traveled for another month or two, here is a 3 week Colombia itinerary that is pretty similar to the route that I ended up taking.
Of course if you have more time available than I did, I would always recommend spending more time in this beautiful country. I did had to skip out on a few places that I wish I would have seen but weren’t my priority such as Bogotá, San Gil or Cali.
Table of Contents
- Why Travel to Colombia?
- Day 1-4 (3 nights): Medellín
- Day 4: Bus to Salento
- Day 4-6 (2 nights): Salento
- Day 6: Fly from Parreira to Cartagena
- Day 6-8 (2 nights): Cartagena
- Day 8 -9 (1 night): Santa Marta
- Day 9-12 (3 nights) Lost City Trek
- Day 12-14 (2 nights): Palomino
- Day 14-16 (2 nights): El Rio Hostel
- Day 16 – 17 (1 night): Tayrona National Park
- Day 18-21: Medellín or Bogotá
Why Travel to Colombia?
Why even plan a trip to Colombia in the first place? Colombia is an incredible country! There are a lot of amazing cities to see, it has one if the most diverse wildlife in the world and locals are super friendly and welcoming.
It is also one of the best places to learn Spanish, as Colombian Spanish is one of the clearest and there are a lot of great Spanish Schools in the country.
Day 1-4 (3 nights): Medellín
This is where I started and ended my trip and my personal highlight in Colombia. I absolutely loved Medellín and pretty much everyone I ended up meeting seemed to feel the same way about the city of eternal spring.
Spend Day 1 of your 3-Week Colombia Itinerary in Medellín
The best way to get to know a new city would always be by taking part in a walking tour. I highly recommend “RealCityTours” as the staff is super enthusiastic and overall you will learn a lot about the history and perception of Medellín.
The tour is free but of course tip-based. Also make sure to sign up online as spaces are limited and there is a lot of demand for the tour. There are tours in the morning or in the afternoon and the tour will take approximately three and a half hours. The tour will start in the city centre and take you to, for example, Botero Plaza.
In the afternoon make sure to try out the traditional dish from the Paisa region of Antioquia which is “Bandeja Paisa.” This is a plate including lots of different food items such as three different types of meat, rice, beans, egg, etc.
Day 2 in Medellín
You can not be visiting Medellín without planning a visit to the infamous Comuna 13 during your Colombia itinerary. This area up the hill is known for having undergone a massive transformation throughout the last couple of years.
What once was one of the most dangerous and poorest areas in the city is now a big tourist attraction. What makes this place so spectacular is the use of graffiti as an act of transformation.
While each graffiti tells a story it has also attracted a bunch of tourists for not only the street art but also street artists and local food.
Where I stayed in Medellín: 5 Hostels to stay at in Medellín
Day 3 in Medellín
Lastly, you should also pay a visit to Guatapé if you can. I would recommend planning more than one day to visit this lovely little town about 85 kilometres outside of Medellín. However, you can also see Guatapé as part of a day tour.
What this place is most famous for is the beautiful view from the rock El Peñol as well as all the colourful houses within the city centre.
Day 4: Bus to Salento
Salento is one of the most beautiful places and should be included in any 3- Week Colombia itinerary. Just outside of this small little town, you can find the largest wax palm trees in the world.
While there is more than one method to get from Medellín to Salento, the easiest option would be to take the direct bus from the South Bus terminal. That is said to take about 6 hours which means about 9 hours in total in Colombian time. The bus leaves three times a day so make sure to reserve your seat in advance.
If the direct bus connection is booked out then there is another option. You can also take a bus to Perreira Bus terminal and from their take another bus to Salento. Perreira is about an hour bus ride away from Salento.
Day 4-6 (2 nights): Salento
Day 5 in Salento
The one thing that you can not miss out on when travelling to Salento is visiting Cocora valley. This is probably why most people come to this small little town. Cocora Valley is home to the tallest palm trees in the world and a place like no other for sure. There is a small hike and a longer hike but I would highly recommend the longer one which takes around 5- 6 hours.
You can do the hike by yourself by just going to the main square where you can buy the tickets for the jeep to take you to the starting point. You can also do it as part of a tour, which I did but mostly because I didn’t know that I could do it without a tour.
Day 6 of the Colombia itinerary in Salento
In the morning you can wander around beautiful Salento or go on a coffee tour to do some horse riding. There is also a possibility to combine the two.
Where I stayed: Viajero Hostel but I didn’t like it as the staff was not really welcoming and it didn’t feel social. I wouldn’t stay again.
Day 6: Fly from Parreira to Cartagena
Other than flying, you can probably also take a bus if you want to get from Salento to Cartagena. Or you could explore the area some more. But if you are short on time (like I was) or just can’t wait to get to the beach then the easiest option would be to fly to Cartagena.
Perreira is about an hour away from Salento. From the bus terminal it’s about another 15-minute taxi ride. The taxis line up at the bus terminal so it should be quite safe to take a taxi here.
Day 6-8 (2 nights): Cartagena
About one week in into your 3 week Colombia itinerary it is time to visit Cartagena. Cartagena is the most touristy place in Colombia but there is also a lot to do in Cartagena. A lot of cruise ships will stop there so there will be a lot of people than only come to Cartagena for a trip day.
Other than in Medellín, there are a lot of souvenir stores, a lot of street sellers as well as the prices are a lot higher within the old town. Most tourists stay within the area of the walled city or in Getsemani. I believe this is the new upcoming backpacker area. Due to so many tourists in the city I have always felt pretty safe in Cartagena.
Cartagena is a fun night out but other than that you can visit the nearby islands (e.g. Rosaria Island) or do some day trips to the surrounding areas. There are also a lot of beautiful beaches in Cartagena.
However, I wouldn’t recommend planning any activities that include too much exercise. Once you get to Cartagena you will understand what I am talking about. The temperature is just so humid!
Day 8 -9 (1 night): Santa Marta
In general, there is not much to do in Santa Marta itself, however, it’s the area around it that makes it a popular base for exploring the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Minca is close by, so is Tayrona National Parque as well as Palomino. And also the starting point for hiking to the Lost City.
Surprisingly though, Santa Marta has a great number of awesome hostels for a decent price. I would recommend either Calle 11, which is in the neighbourhood of El Rodadero, or Dreamer’s Hostel in Santa Marta.
Day 9-12 (3 nights) Lost City Trek
The Lost City Trek was one of my highlights from my time in Colombia. It is something that you should definitely include in your 3 week Colombia itinerary. The ancient city is bedded deep into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains which means it is only reachable by foot.
Therefore, if you would like to visit this place you need go on a three or four night hike. That hike needs to be as part of an organised tour. While you are basically hiking all day for the whole duration of the trip it is a really rewarding experience though once you actually reach the end of the hike.
While the hike was doable for someone who never really hiked before (aka like me), I do recommend that you are in good physical shape and condition as the road up can be quite steep at times.
17 Things you should know before Hiking to the Lost City
Day 12-14 (2 nights): Palomino
Palomino is a nice little hippie town with not much to do but rather to relax for a few days. The most popular activity in Palomino is tubing. While on the main street leading up to the beach are mostly hostels, most of them offer nice food items. It is actually really easily for once to find good vegetarian food in Palomino.
Furthermore it is also a good getaway point of you want to explore the most northern parts of Colombia during your three weeks in Colombia.
Day 14-16 (2 nights): El Rio Hostel
El Rio Hostel is about half an hour away from Palomino or 20 minutes from Tayrona National Parque in a town called Buritaca. However, that is not important as you won’t actually see the town.
Mostly, you will just remain at the hostel. If you are taking the bus from Santa Marta to Palomino (or the other way around) just tell the driver that you are getting off at El Rio and he will know. There, you can find a sign by the road from where it is about another 10 minute walk to the hostel itself.
One thing you should know is that it books out quite fast in advance so book your accommodation early enough. There is not much to do at the hostel but it is quite relaxed to chill by the river, have Espeesso martinis by the bar or chill in a hammock.
Accommodation can be in a hammock or a room. You might not believe it but sleeping in the hammock had actually been one of the most comfortable sleeps I have had in a while. The only bad thing about this place is that the music is not good at all.
Day 16 – 17 (1 night): Tayrona National Park
I only stayed in Tayrona for a day and I also got there quite late but I would definitely recommend that you stay for at least a night. Mostly, it takes already about 1.5 hours to reach the first beach from the entrance. With the park closing quite earlier you would have to leave quite early in order to be back outside in time.
There are possibilities to stay in hammocks or tents within the park. However, this needs to be arranged upon arrival.
Day 17-18 (1 night): Cartagena/ islands around Cartagena
At this point in your three week Colombia itinerary, I’d suggest heading back to Cartagena for the night or to one of the islands around.
Day 18: Fly back to Medellín or Bogotá
Unless you have a connection from Cartagena to another country I would recommend flying back to Medellín. Or maybe Bogotá.
Day 18-21: Medellín or Bogotá
Now we are almost at the end of your three week Colombia itinerary. If you have started your trip in Medellín then maybe you want to go to Bogotá now instead. However, mostly people will fly in and out from the same airport and while I haven’t been to Bogotá myself, I have heard that there is not too much to see.
People told me that I could skip it and not feel too bad about it. Also, Medellín is so awesome that I had been looking forward to going back in the end of my trip so would definitely recommend that you to spend your last days here.
Anyway, if you are in Medellín at the right time, definitely check out a football game. It is so much fun and one of my Highlights of the whole trip. If not, you can also go on a bike tour around the city, or visit some museums. Or just enjoy some empanadas and Limonada de Coco before heading back home.
And that was my 3 week Colombia itinerary! The way I traveled was kind of similar and I would have not done anything differently. (Apart from maybe add another 3 months to my trip).
I travelled by myself and had no issues related to safety at all. But of course yous still need to follow some safety precautions. Here are some tips on staying safe in Colombia as a solo female traveller.
Have you been to Colombia or would you like to go? Where did you travel to?
Talk to you soon x
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