Backpacking Colombia: 1 Month Colombia Itinerary

Suggested time in Cartagena: 2-3 days

Santa Marta

Colombia is one of those countries with a picturesque Caribbean coast, blinding stretches of white sandy beaches that have endlessly clear turquoise waters, and very many palm trees. Santa Marta is a popular tourist destination because it is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

This is a hub for eco-tourism because of its spectacular natural surroundings.  Here are the top five things you can get up to in Santa Marta;

Visit the Tayrona National Park

This is undoubtedly one of Santa Marta’s biggest attractions. It encompasses the Sierra Nevada mountain and its biodiversity, and you will also find rainforests, pristine beaches and the archaeological remains of the ancient human settlements.

This is a protected region, and you can camp in the park, trek the region or explore the forests and beaches.

Or, just laze on the hammocks and listen to the waves crash on the rocks. Ahh, bliss.

You can go scuba diving in Taganga

This is a small fishing village, located a few minutes from Santa Marta. It shares a border with Tayrona National park, and its one of the cheapest places in the world for you can go to get a scuba diving certificate.

Trek through the jungle to find the Lost City

The Lost City, or what the locals call Ciudad Perdida is a site with ancient ruins, that dates further back than Machu Picchu. It is located deep in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada which are new Santa Marta, and the only way you can get to the ruins is by taking a4-day trek in the jungle.

It is very adventurous if you are looking for a good thrill. You should note that there are only four operators who run the treks, and it is not possible to go without a guide.

Click here to read about my experience in The Lost City.

Other activities in Santa Marta include:

  • Visiting Playa Blanca for some much-needed sunshine.
  • Partying in El Rodadero
  • Eating some street food while walking in Santa Marta.
  • checkBird watching in El Dorado

Whatever you choose to do in Santa Marta, it sure will be memorable.

Suggested time in Santa Marta: 5-6 days (including Lost City Trek)

San Gil

San Gil is a small city that packs a lot of punch. It is the outdoors capital of Colombia and also the mecca for extreme sporting activities. It is best known for white water rafting, but also has other popular activities such as caving, paragliding, trekking, and rappelling.

There is so much to do in San Gil, that you may end up spending more days there than earlier planned, so, if you are planning a trip to San Gil, go with some extra days in tow. Don’t limit yourself to your strict itinerary.

A few of the activities include:

A Kayaking Course:

This course takes 3-4 days, and you must first be a solid swimmer. It is a class that will teach you the basics of Kayaking such as important maneuvers, swim roll techniques, capsize training, proper paddling techniques and rescue procedures.

At the end of the course, you will be a much more confident Kayaker, and can even surprise your friends and family on the next vacation.

Paragliding and other adventure sports:

Paragliding is a sport where you have a parachute strapped on your back, and then you run off of a high cliff or mountain relying purely on thermals that can send you high into the air. There are very many paragliding opportunities in San Gil such as; Chicamocha Canyon & Curtiti.

I came along many paragliding opportunities in South America but waited until I am in San Gil to do it as it is the cheapest place to do it.

Please note that; if you are to engage in some paragliding activities you will need courage and a very strong stomach, and plenty of time as the whole process can take more than three hours.

Other activities include;

  • White Water Rafting
  • Canyoning
  • Caving
  • Swimming in Natural Pools
  • A Visit to Barichara

Suggested time in San Gil: 2-3 days


Cali is famous for its salsa obsession. The people in this town love nothing more than dancing to the rhythm of the beat, and you will find yourself doing the same things as it is quite intoxicating to watch.

Well, other than salsa, there’s plenty more to see and do in this Colombian town. It will definitely keep you busy for a couple of days. From the natural retreats to the cultural heritage, here are a few of the main attractions in Cali.

  • Zoológico de Cali – this is probably the best zoo in Colombia, and if you are there on a family trip, it is a must-see. There are exotic animals such as huge iguanas, pink Andean flamingos, tigers, and monkeys.
  • Andoke – this is an undiscovered gem just outside of the city, and it is a huge butterfly farm that has over 15 technicolored butterfly species.
  • Iglesia de San Antonio – this is an 18th-century church that has many unique wooden artifacts.
  • checkCristo Rey – This is a giant Jesus statue that you can go see.
  • checkGato de Tejada – This park is a rather unusual attraction in Cali that pays tribute to the Colombian artist known as Hernando Tejada who had created the famous central sculpture of a cat. After he died tragically, many different artists came together and sculpted many cats in his honor.

Suggested time in Cali: 1-2 days (Only stay longer if you like Salsa)

Quebrada Las Gachas:  this is Guadalupe’s Hidden Red River:

Colombia has rapidly become the world’s go-to location for thrill seekers and adventure travelers. It has many different locations to make your trip as adventurous as possible. Now, you will not believe what you shall find in Quebrada Las Gachas.

This is an off-the-beaten-track red river, which is a series of pools along a shallow river. Yes. You probably have never seen anything like it, and it may look a little spooky, but there are some plunge pools within the river.

The river is very shallow as the water flows into the pits, but you can walk on the river bed comfortably. There are algae on the surface, making it slippery and adds a purplish/red layer making it very unique to the human eye.

In fact, this place is known as the Santander’s Cano Cristales, which means the colorful river in Colombia. This place is free to visit and remains red all year round. You will find people in the pools just swimming and enjoying nature.

This is probably the most underrated place in the whole of South America given how easy it is to get there. Read my guide on Las Gachas here.

Suggested time in Guadalupe: 1-2 days

Bonus: Cano Cristales (Right Season Only)

Within the Serrania de la Macarena National Park, you shall find the Cano Cristales River. This river is one of the most unique rivers in the whole world, and this is due to its many colors. The colors are created by algae, different plants, rocks, and sand. The most noticeable color is the bright red, which is caused by a plant known as Macarenia clavigera.

How do you get to Cano Cristales?

The town closest to the National Park is La Macarena, and the easiest way to get there is by flying. You can either fly from Villavicencio or Bogota. Once you arrive in La Macarena, you will need to find a tour guide and book a tour, as tourists are not allowed to access the National Park by themselves.

Points to note:

  • The colors can only be seen from mid-May to early December.
  • The tours take 2-4 days and will take you to other areas of the Park.
  • You will not use any sunscreen or insect repellent as you swim in order to protect the aquatic life.
  • checkEnsure to get your yellow fever vaccine well in advance.
  • checkThere is only one ATM available in La Macarena, so come prepared with some cash, to avoid inconveniences.
  • checkThe tour costs $80-$400 depending on the duration of time you will spend in the park and the number of people in your party.

Cano Cristales is probably my biggest regret in Colombia. I had to give it a miss due to the season and the cost of getting there. If I ever return to Colombia, you’d be damn sure I’d plan my visit around it.

Lastly, if you cross the border from Ecuador, make sure to stop by the town of Ipiales for this beautiful church:

Las Lajas Sanctuary – It is stunning in the day and colourful at night. 

Backpacking Colombia Itinerary Conclusion

This is the route I travelled in Colombia personally and I could readily recommend.

If you followed this itinerary and stay the bare minimum, you’d need at least 20 days in Colombia. The problem is that the hospitality and friendliness of Colombians always make backpackers stay for longer than intended.

3-4 weeks is perfect for Colombia. Ignore the negativity in the media and give this beautiful country a visit.

You will not regret it.

And now, it’s your turn.

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