Backpacker Itinerary: Colombia and its Neighbors

Take in Colombia's highlights before heading on to Venezuela or Ecuador
Backpacker Itinerary: Colombia and its Neighbors

This suggested itinerary is best suited to backpackers or those visiting Colombia as part of a larger trip to Latin America. The route includes integrating entrance and exit points to and/from neighboring countries and can be run forward or in reverse, according to your individual travel plans.


Arrive into Colombia’s north coast by the five-day yacht trip from Colon in Panama to Cartagena, spending a couple of days exploring Panama’s San Blas islands en route. On arrival to Cartagena spend a day exploring the old colonial center and enjoying some of the upmarket dining and drinking establishments available. The following day take the short boat trip from the city to Playa Blanca. Make the most of this low-key, but attractive beach resort, by staying for a couple of days in one of the beach hammocks or wooden cabins available for hire.

Onward Journey to Venezuela

Next head across to Santa Marta and take a night time stroll around the old colonial squares and to enjoy the lively backpacker party scene. Next take the bus from the town center off to Tayrona National Park. On arrival, take the 2-hour hike through the jungle environment of the park to reach the furthest beach. Use this as a base over the next few days to explore the various different beaches, bays and jungle stretches within the park.

After you've finished at the park, continue your journey eastwards, taking the bus another hour or two on to Palomino, the first stop in La Guajira province. Relax on the deserted beaches here, do a bit of surfing and spend a day tubing through the nearby river. When you feel ready, then carry on the same main road to the Venezuelan border north of Maracaibo, and continue your journey from there.

Onward Journey to Ecuador

Even if you are travelling on to Ecuador, it is well worth following some of the itinerary listed above for the Venezuela route. After spending the desired amount of time exploring the Caribbean coast head back to Santa Marta or Cartagena, the cities with the best onward transport options. From here it’s a long bus journey or short flight down to Medellin in the heart of the country. Arrive at the weekend and enjoy the party atmosphere of Poblado, before taking the metro in Plaza Botero the following day. Take in a free walking tour of the major sights to gain an insight into the city’s problematic past, and recent transformation.

Next take a bus down to Pereira in the country’s coffee region. Stay in the charming town of Salento, enjoy the fresher climate, rolling hills and delicious coffee. From Salento, head on down to the city of Cali to experience the country’s world famous salsa music, dancing and unrivaled Latin nightlife. A recommended day trip is to the River Pance in the south of the city. A marked runs alongside the river, which is a great spot for a refreshing dip.

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After the hedonism of Cali, you’ll be ready for some relaxation in the sleepy colonial town of Popayan. From here, you can organize treks and tours into the nearby Purace national park to visit its numerous lakes, thermal springs, and the active Purace volcano, which gives the park its name. From Popayan, you can easily catch the frequent buses taking you down into Ecuador, from where you can continue your journey.


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