Family Travel: 3 week itinerary in Colombia
It was only 6 weeks before arriving in Colombia that we decided to include it in our itinerary. Needless to say there was little research done. But so many people had said we ‘must visit’ that we found a way to squeeze in a 3 week itinerary in Colombia.
We didn’t know much, aside from the history and news from our younger days! But above all else we knew we could find some of the best coffee in the world here – just our cup of tea.. or coffee! With that in mind, we wanted to include a visit to the Colombian mountains.
We’d also heard that Medellin was an up and coming city with good development areas to visit. It was also seemed a safer city than Bogotá, especially around El Pablado.
We came up with a plan for 19 nights:
- Bogota – 5 nights
- Salento – 5 nights
- Medellin – 4 nights
- Cartagena – 5 nights
Other places suggested to us were, if you have longer or want more amazing places to visit:
- Cali for the salsa dancing.
- Tayrona national park – sleeping in hammocks, beautiful beaches & lots of mosquitoes. Santa Marta is the entrance point, but don’t stay.
- Minca is a lush mountain town, worth a visit if you are in the Tayrona national park area.
- Villa de Leyva is almost set back in time. A great place to get a real colombian feel.
- Baruchara with cobbled streets and colonial buildings.
Our 3 week itinerary in Colombia
Bogota – 5 nights
We were in LA and needed to find a route into Colombia. The cheapest flight was to Bogota, so that’s where we headed first. Bogotá is based at 2640m and I don’t know if it was the altitude but Jasper and I were definitely feeling a little off.
Being at such a high altitude it’s suggested you take your time over the first few days to adjust. This is quite easy considering that the advice is not to wander the streets. In fact, everything we’d read about Colombia was pretty negative! It certainly had me on edge, especially travelling with children.
The advice suggests not going out late at night, stick to tourist areas, don’t divert off into side streets. I was gutted as we love nothing more than exploring the streets.
In fact after a day we decided things didn’t seem too bad. If anything we noticed an extremely high police presence. So where we saw lots of people, we decided it was ok to wander around a little.
While in Bogota we visited:
- Monserrate via the cable car,
- the gold museum,
- botanical gardens
- plaza de Lourdes
- Bolivar square
- And a day to adjust!!!
Salento – 5 nights
We took a local bus to Salento through the Colombian mountains. The scenery was stunning and the ride quite comfortable. Only the last section was windy and due to road works meant we were in a traffic jam and slow pace for much of it.
We arrived in a thunderstorm late at night, soaking wet with most places closed. It looked grim. We even found out that I’d booked for tomorrow night, but thankfully they had availability for us!!
The next morning, after a good sleep, we went for an explore. And we were pleased with what we found. Salento is a beautiful little town with forests all around and a town painted with bright colours. It felt a little touristy but had a natural charm about it with lots of locals sitting around the town. I really liked it!
5 nights was probably longer than you needed, but we loved the chilled out vibe that we stayed an extra night and took some Spanish lessons! It’s a perfect place to visit with family!
Salento is also known as the starting point for the tall wax palms. There’s an amazing, but sometimes challenging, 5-6 hour walk through the corcora valley!
And we loved the coffee plantations!!
Things we got up to in Salento:
- Coffee plantation tour
- Wandering around the village
- Salento viewpoint
- Corcora valley walk
- Visit to Filandia town
- Spanish lessons (2 X 1hr) – language Home Salento
- Tejo game
Medellin – 4 nights
Another city, but less police presence and a more relaxed atmosphere. The area we stayed in was El Pablado. It’s where most visitors stay as its deemed one of the safer areas. This area is known for its development after years of fighting.
Specifically, the area of Comuna 13 is an area that most tourists visit to see and hear how life was then and is now.
Medellin has a great transport system and easy to use subway, so getting around was a breeze.
Things we got up to in Medellin were:
- Comuna 13 tour with zippy tours
- Parque Arvi
- Cable car ride
- Medellin botanical gardens
- Laureles area
- Plaza Botero – Medellín, Antioquia
- Lleras park
It was also recommended that we visit memory house museum. But we unfortunately ran out of time!
Cartagena – 5 nights
We were fast running out of time, but we were keen to enjoy some beach time in Cartagena and visit the old walled city. It reminded me of Dubrovnik before the invasion of Game of Thrones.
Therefore, we took a short flight from Medellin to Cartagena, albeit during a thunderstorm! It was a bit bumpy in places but not too bad. I suppose with thunderstorms forecast everyday it was inevitable.
But we arrived unscathed and headed to our hostel. Unfortunately budget forced us further out of the city and wasn’t the best choice for us. I’ll fill you in more when I write my Cartagena blog.
Once you got into the walled city it felt very safe and was so easy to walk around.
We had planned to visit beaches here but that didn’t turn out well. The city beaches weren’t great. I think we’ve been spoiled in Indonesia. The better beaches are further out via bus or boat, however, it was going to cost some $50 (family of 4) to get there!
We read the reviews and determined that the beaches didn’t sound that amazing and so decided to skip them. Instead we spent lots of time exploring the old town (whilst jumping into the malls to cool down!!). It was so hot and humid here!!
While in Cartagena we went to:
- The city walls
- Watched sunset near cafe del mar
- Walked along the waterfront to bocagrande
- Wandered through the old town
- Getsemani area (lots of colour and Street art!)
- Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas and enjoyed the cool underground tunnels.
We probably spent a day or two too long here, but it gave us a chance to catch up ready for our next adventure to Panama!
Safety in Colombia
This is probably one of the first things you’ll read about when it comes to travel in Colombia. Lots of reviews about muggings, pickpockets and some more aggressive attacks. It did have me a little worried. However, the worst stories were centred in the cities.
I suppose knowing the countries history it added fuel to the fire. But the Bogotá city, especially, did feel edgy.
This is the advice we read:
- Don’t wave your wealth around. Take off any expensive jewellery, especially watches.
- Don’t get your phone out, if you can avoid it. If you need to check directions go into a shop or bank (where there’s security) and check there.
- Try not to look lost if you can.
- Don’t put anything in your pockets. Instead carry things in a backpack or in a crossover bag.
- Put your backpack on your front to avoid pickpockets.
- Don’t leave your items unattended.
- Don’t walk around the streets late at night.
- Always call a taxi in advance. We used cabify or Uber apps and both worked well. Ubers are supposed to be illegal but they are used often and we never had any issues.
We took these recommendations seriously. But this is also the advice that you will get when visiting any city in the world! Colombia unfortunately still has a bit of a bad rep.
So… is it safe? Well, there’s a very high police presence in Bogotá so there must be a reason for that. It’s a developing country and not all issues are resolved so there’s a tendancy for issues to escalate quickly. We never had any trouble while in Colombia, in fact Salento and Medellín felt very safe! But you need to be mindful and aware of your surroundings.
Getting connected in Colombia
After some research we decided that we wouldn’t purchase a local SIM card, instead we would make use of our 3 data SIMS add rely on WiFi wherever possible.
However, we did read that the best SIM in Colombia was Claro. I believe Claro is the market leader in Colombia and also has the best coverage. Most of these can be purchased in a supermarket or an official store.
I felt it was important to have connection here in order to access information and order Ubers.
Getting around Colombia
If you are short on time then the best way to travel is by air. But it’s not cheap and due to the region you can sometimes experience delays or cancellations.
We travelled by bus through the Colombian mountains and found it to be a convenient, but slow route. It was certainly cheaper than flights.
We booked our bus from Bogotá to Armenia online costing $13 pp through Busbud. Then jumped on one of the frequent shuttles up to Salento, there’s no need to stop in Armenia. It was very straightforward and cost COP6,500pp for the shuttle.
For travel from Salento to Medellin there is a direct bus (which stops briefly in Pereira) and needs to be booked the day before from the bus station in town. Cost was COP 47,000 pp ($15)
Most of the time you don’t need to pre book but to ensure we had seats we pre booked the day before.
For getting around the cities we found Uber to be easy. Although we’ve read it’s illegal here, we’ve also read that taxis can be trouble. So we used Uber where possible. Sometimes you’ll find they will cancel your booking if other taxi drivers are around – the taxi drivers aren’t happy with Uber. But there was another app called cabify which we used a couple of times, but didn’t seem to have as many pick ups.
In Salento they had jeeps everywhere and actually they didn’t rip foreigners off. The price to Corcora Valley was 4,000 o/w for everyone. You pick them up in the square and there’s a pricelist – so easy! And riding at the back was great fun!
Do it! Do it! Do it! Colombia was amazing – such lovely people and colourful places ❤️.
Be aware of your surroundings, heed local advice and make sensible choices and you’ll have a great time!
Hopefully things will continue to improve in the country and more people will visit Colombia. Such amazing colour, beautiful mountains and lovely people.