Colombia is the kind of place you could easily spend months in and barely scratch the surface. From isolated Caribbean beaches to epic trekking peaks, buzzing cities, and coffee haciendas, every region offers something different. But don’t worry — even if you have limited time to travel, you can still plan a great trip to this country. In this post I’ll share the ideal itinerary for one week in Colombia.
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Which region to choose for one week in Colombia?
Colombia is a huge country, and it’s covered in mountains. Travel is either very slow or requires you to take lots of flights. So if you only have one week in Colombia, you’ll be better off sticking to one region so you don’t spend all your time sitting in airports or on buses.
This Colombia itinerary focuses on the Caribbean coast, starting in Cartagena. You’ll experience culture, nature, beaches, food and more — all with limited travel time, making it ideal for a short trip. Even better, you can often snag cheap flights to Cartagena from North America and even further afield (connecting in Panama). A trip to Colombia is the perfect quick and affordable getaway!
Days 1-2: Cartagena
Start your one week in Colombia itinerary in the country’s most beautiful city — Cartagena. This Caribbean gem has colonial architecture, fascinating pirate history, and fun nightlife.
Start your first morning in Cartagena’s Old Town, or Walled City. This area is less about famous sights and more about just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. Get an early start to avoid the crowds and the harsh sunlight.
Abaco Bookshop has good iced coffee and a great photo op of the cathedral. Other good areas for wandering are the streets west of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver and around Plaza Santo Domingo. The Old Town also has a few good museums — the Modern Art Museum and the Gold Museum are both worth a visit.
In the afternoon, check out the incredible Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This fort dominates Cartagena’s skyline and provides good sunset views over the Caribbean. Better yet, you can explore its subterranean tunnels to get a sense for how the city defended itself from pirates.
After dinner, head to Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani to watch the street performers. Then dance the night away at Havana, Cartagena’s favorite bar.
On Day 2, do a quick self-guided walking tour of Getsemani. This crumbling/gentrifying neighborhood just outside of the Old Town — but still inside the Walled City — is famous for its street art. The architecture is every bit as beautiful, and it feels more authentic than the somewhat-sanitized Old City. Calle de San Juan has the largest collection of murals.
Just after lunch, catch your shuttle to Santa Marta — it’ll take about five hours. Have dinner and wander around the pedestrian streets in the evening.
For more details on these attractions, check out my Cartagena city guide.
Where to Eat: La Mulata for great Caribbean food. Restaurante Coroncoro for cheap and cheerful Colombian classics. Pizza Carbon for affordable and tasty pizza.
Where to Drink Coffee: Abaco, Cafe San Alberto, Casa de las Novias
Days 3-6: The Lost City Trek
Next up during your one week in Colombia is one of South America’s greatest outdoor adventures. The Lost City Trek (or Ciudad Perdida) takes you through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains to an abandoned Tayrona city, past Indigenous villages and across waist-deep rivers.
You must do this trek with a guide from one of a handful of authorized agencies — the government and the local Indigenous people do not permit independent trekking. I trekked with Expotur and had a generally positive experience. The treks depart from Santa Marta.
You can do the trek in four, five or six days, but with only 1 week in Colombia, you’ll need to do the four-day version. It’s a tough hike through very hot and humid conditions. But it’s well worth the pain. There’s nothing quite like reaching the Lost City itself and exploring the mysterious ruins with only your trekking group and guide.
At the end of your trek, you can request a transfer directly to your next destination along the coast, so you don’t need to double back to Santa Marta. Your tour company will bring your large luggage so you can trek with only a day pack.
Where to Stay: Dorm-style jungle camps along your trekking route. They all have bunk beds with mosquito nets, clean restrooms, and cold-water showers.
Where to Eat: Food is included with your trek, and it’s surprisingly good. If you’re a meat eater, think fried fish, grilled chicken, pasta dishes, beef and potatoes, etc. The trekking companies can accommodate vegetarians and the veggie food actually looked even better.
Days 6-7: Costeño Beach
After you’ve finished trekking in the jungle for four days, you’ll be ready for some beach time. So finish your one week in Colombia itinerary at Costeño Beach!
This beach community is far from the crowds. The only people you’ll encounter are the guests of the four guesthouses nearby. The sand stretches for kilometers on end and the vibe could not be more laid-back. It’s the perfect way to end your Colombia itinerary. Your tour company for the Lost City Trek can drop you off here at the end of the hike.
Costeño Beach doesn’t have much to do besides finding a beach chair or hammock to read your book in, but that’s part of the appeal. You can take a surf lesson at Costeño Beach Surf Camp if you’re looking for something more active. If you have extra time, you could even do a day trip to Tayrona National Park.
You’ll have to leave early on Day 7 to get all the way back to Cartagena for your flight home. First, hop on a motorcycle to the main road. Then, catch a bus back to Santa Marta (about an hour) and hop off at the Mamatoco roundabout. From here, you can get a Berlinastur shuttle back to Cartagena. The whole trip takes about 7 hours.
Where to Stay: Tayrona Tented Lodge
Where to Eat: The food is included at Tayrona Tented Lodge, but if you want to mix it up, head to Costeño Beach Surf Camp for coffee or happy hour.
1 week Colombia itinerary alternatives
Depending on your specific interests, this itinerary for one week in Colombia may not cover everything you like. So here are a couple alternatives you can check out.
If you want to see the mountains during your Colombia travel but don’t want to spend a full four days trekking, consider visiting Minca instead. This small town is just 45 minutes outside of Santa Marta. You can day-hike to waterfalls, experience Colombian coffee culture, and hang out in a giant hammock.
In short, Minca provides the full Colombia mountains experience without the discomfort of trekking through rain and mud up and down steep slopes. You miss out on the ruins at the end, but you also never have to sacrifice a hot shower. You also get to see a prominent coffee region, one of the few outside the Zona Cafetera far to the south.
I didn’t personally visit Minca so I can’t provide specific recommendations, but Practical Wanderlust has a great guide.
Tayrona National Park
Many backpackers spending 1 week in Colombia have their hearts set on visiting the iconic beaches of Tayrona National Park. If you want to sleep in a hammock by the Caribbean, you can squeeze this into your Colombia itinerary instead of Costeño Beach.
Parque Tayrona is famous for its jungle hiking — you walk two hours to the beach from the entry point. Then, you can rent a hammock or a tent for the night on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Swimming isn’t usually possible due to swift currents.
To replace Costeño Beach with Tayrona National Park, ask your Lost City tour operator to drop you off at the entrance after your tour. Then hike to Cabo San Juan and reserve your hammock/tent. Spend the night on the beach and hike out as early as possible in the morning to catch your bus back to Santa Marta/Cartagena.
For more information on visiting Parque Tayrona, check out this post.
Is one week in Colombia enough?
After you’ve spent one week in Colombia, you’ll surely be hungry for more. The Caribbean coast is just the beginning of what this amazing country has to offer. I started planning my next trip to Colombia while in the airport waiting for my flight home!
But even with just one week, you can have a perfect Colombia vacation. There are very few places in the world where you can experience a world-class city break, jungle trek, ancient ruins, and beautiful beaches in such a short time. And remember, you can always go back!
What’s your favorite country for a short holiday? Leave a comment and let me know!
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