Colombia Off the Beaten Track

A jam-packed family trip combining the ‘must-sees’ with some hidden gems.  This 18-day (mostly) overland trip offers the adventurous family a truly special and memorable holiday in Colombia. From the bustling cosmopolitan capital Bogota, you will head to the remote mountain villages around San Juanito to experience rural Colombian village life.

Travelling through the spectacular paramo of Chingaza National Park, you will visit the well-known colonial town of Villa de Leyva before enjoying a more peaceful time in picturesque Barichara. Adrenalin activities abound in the San Gil and Chicamocha area as well as a stay on a working coffee plantation. A challenging 4-day hike to the enigmatic Lost City, deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is rewarded by some Caribbean R&R in Tayrona National Park. And ends in Latin America’s jewel in the crown, the exquisite city of Cartagena.


  Walking/biking tour of Bogota
  Chorrera Waterfall cloud forest
  San Juanito rural village life
  San Gil white water rafting
  Medellin street food
  Hike the Lost City Trail
  Tayrona National Park beaches
  Beautiful Cartagena

18 days from £3,250 pp


Plus international flights from £1,200


As a guide, a two-week holiday in Colombia for a family of four usually costs from £9,000 to £14,000 plus flights, depending on the type of accommodation.

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Colombia Off the Beaten Track day-by-day itinerary

Day 1 Bogota

Bienvenida a Colombia! Bogota is the main gateway to this fabulous country with many international flight connections – often arriving in the early hours. We will arrange for an early check-in at your hotel so that you can catch up on some sleep before heading out to explore.

Colombia’s capital is a lively city. At the centre is the magnificent Plaza de Bolivar; radiating out from here are numerous lovely cobbled streets that are full of slightly crumbling colonial houses, hidden churches, and brightly coloured piazzas.

After a leisurely start, you will head off on a walking tour of the city. This includes all the main highlights (such as the beautiful La Candelaria historical district with its impressive churches and Gold Museum, home to 55,000 golden artifacts) but also some less well-known areas where you will see the ‘real’ Bogota. If preferred you can choose to go on a bike tour instead but please be aware of the altitude (Bogota sits at 2,640m)! If you happen to be here on a Sunday then you can experience the ‘ciclovia’, where hundreds of miles of roads are shut off from traffic and locals ride their bikes or rollerblade through the normally busy streets.

If energy levels allow, you will end the day with a cable car ride to the summit of Monserrate Hill, a mountain that dominates the city and which attracts pilgrims to the small church at the top. There are wonderful views over the city from here – at 3,150m, it quite literally takes you to dizzying heights!

In the evenings, traffic is prohibited in Bolivar Square so we suggest heading there to enjoy the live music and tasty street food. How about trying some empanadas (pastries stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings), arepas (filled cornmeal flatbreads), and finishing up with the famous Colombian coconut candies – bunuelos cocada.

Day 2-3 Chorrera Waterfall
La Chorrera and El Chiflon Waterfalls – San Juanito village exploration

After an early breakfast, you will drive to La Chorrera and Chiflon waterfalls (1hr). Hike through the cloud forest to reach El Chiflon from where you will be able to view La Chorrera (the highest in Colombia) from a distance. This is a wonderful introduction to the amazing variety of wildlife, scenery, and flora found in Colombia.

Continue along rough rural roads to the tiny village of San Juanito (5hrs). You will pass by tiny settlements where you can witness traditional village life before ascending to the natural wonderland that is the Chingaza Paramo at 3,500m. Descend through the cloud forest to San Juanito, which is located at 1,900m where you will stay in a simple family house. You will then spend a day experiencing a truly rural area that very few visitors are lucky enough to travel through. Enjoy different hiking activities in and around San Juanito including the huge cave called “La Gruta” and scenic waterfalls. Also, tackle some challenging ascents in order to get a great view over the Guatiquia Canyon.

Day 4 Chingaza National Park
Time to discover a little more of Colombia’s diverse flora and fauna. Packed full of a wealth of natural delights, Chingaza National Park is one of the most impressive in Colombia. Here, streams race down from glaciers and there are superb views of the paramo landscape throughout (an ecosystem that is only found in a few countries in the world). The park offers a network of hiking trails depending on your ability, how active you are feeling – or how adaptable the children are to donning hiking boots.

The trails will bring you into close contact with a number of exotic plants such as the spiky Frailejon. It is also teeming with birds (up to 180 species) including the majestic Andean condor and a handful of native mammals like the spectacled Andean bear, tapir, opossums, and small felines such as pumas.  The park contains about 40 lakes, the largest of which is Lake Chingaza, located at 3,250m. These lakes were sacred to the ancient Muisca people who held rituals that involved throwing gold into their waters. This in turn gave birth to the legend of El Dorado.

Day 5 Villa De Leyva
Drive to Villa de Leyva (3.5 hrs). There is the option to stop at the famous salt cathedral of Zipaquira en route. Villa de Leyva is known as one of the most picturesque towns of Colombia; it is famous for its colonial architecture and cobbled streets. Take a walking tour around the picturesque cobbled streets and visit El Fosil Museum, a must for all budding paleontologists. Other activities on offer (time permitting) are horse-riding, quad-biking, ecological walks in the Paso del Angel Park, or rappelling down through the beautiful subterranean world of Cueva de la Fabrica.

Day 6-7  Barichara And San Gil Rafting
Continue to Barichara (3.5hrs), a small town known for its traditional architecture Tapia Pisada, often called one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia. It is much less visited than Villa de Leyva and offers the ideal backdrop for some stunning photos of its remarkable architecture. You should also not miss a visit to the ‘fique’ paper workshop.

The next day’s adventure will take you to the Fonce River near San Gil for some exhilarating family white-water rafting. The rafting, depending on the river water level, can have rapids from Levels 1 to 3 and is suitable for most ages 8yrs+. Higher-level rapids are possible on the nearby Suarez River.

After lunch, you can wander around the San Gil cave and river system and visit the Parque Gallineral, famous for its mossy trees. Optional activities include an exciting caving trip into Cow Cave. This cave is a real adventure experience and requires you to squeeze through narrow crevices and down winding passageways as well as swim underwater through a hole in a cave wall with just a rope to follow. Bring some clothes that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty!

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Day 8 Chicamocha Canyon Trekking
Enjoy a scenic 16km hike today in the dramatic canyon of Chicamocha. Follow a beautiful stone trail that will take you deep down into the canyon to the small village of Jordan which lies on the banks of the Chicamocha river. Hike uphill to Mesa de los Santos (1.290 metres), situated on the other side of the canyon, enabling you to appreciate the beauty of the Chicamocha Canyon from a different angle. Transfer to your traditional hacienda for well-deserved rest.

Day 9 Coffee And Cable Cars
Salento and the coffee region do not have a monopoly on Colombian coffee! This region also offers the chance to experience an authentic coffee tour. From your finca (working farm), you will learn the magic of this product by being immersed in the real life of a coffee plantation. Even though coffee can be an acquired taste for children, we find they are fascinated by learning about the ‘crop to cup’ methods. Accompanied by a family member, you walk through the coffee bushes and then experience the whole process: picking, peeling, washing, and drying. Have lunch on the coffee farm before finishing up with the chance to sample some of the produce.

In the afternoon you will pop to the viewpoint of Chicamocha Canyon where you can take a cable car to the other side. A more relaxing way of experiencing the canyon as opposed to yesterday’s hike!  There is the option to visit the theme park Chicamocha, an unusual but surprisingly ‘authentic’ theme park offering various adrenaline activities before returning to your hacienda.

Day 10 Santa Marta
Fly to Santa Marta in the Caribbean. The airport is right on the coast and as you descend over the mountains of the coastal rainforest it feels as if you are landing in the sea itself!  The humidity hits you as you disembark from the plane.

Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia and one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. From here you can enjoy endless stunning beaches, rainforests, and excursions into the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.

In the afternoon, take a short walking tour around the historical centre of Santa Marta. The nightlife is particularly lively here but remember to get an early night in preparation for your trek the next day….

Days 11-13 Lost City Trail
The Lost City Trail is recognised as one of the best treks you can find in South America – think the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu without the crowds. The trail – locally known as the Ciudad Perdida Trek – is an adventurous and very challenging 4-day hike, climbing 660m deep into the spectacular Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains to an enigmatic ancient city of the indigenous Tayrona people,  an extremely important archaeological site built in the 9th century.

The trek itself passes through a UNESCO biosphere, an area of thick tropical rainforest, tumbling rivers, and majestic mountain views. Along the way, you will discover dense jungle, remote villages, lush vegetation, archaeological ruins, and abundant wildlife as well as simply stunning views of an untouched landscape. And constant high humidity.

Accommodation at night is extremely simple, hammocks or dorm beds with mosquito nets bedding provided), in open-air campsites with very basic facilities along the way. Due to the challenging nature of the trek (carrying your own gear, humidity, chances of heavy rain at times, severe mud, steep slippery slopes, and river crossings), we do not recommend this to younger children.

Day 14 Tayrona National Park
Hike back out of the mountains and transfer to your tropical lodge on the outskirts of Tayrona National Park (1hr). A welcome shower and air-conditioning await….

Tayrona National Park is where the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta plunge into the sea like the fingers of a gigantic hand, forming beautiful bays and coves. Sandy white beaches surrounded by mangrove swamps, bushes, and forests and bathed in the crystal-clear water of the Caribbean Sea, are all part of the park’s many attractions. It is also a protected marine reserve and Colombia’s best-known conservation area.

Day 15 Tayrona National Park
A full day at leisure to head into this renowned national park. You can hike to La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan de Guia which are both great spots where you can snorkel the unique and protected coral of the Caribbean coast, as well as enjoy some stunning views on walks (if your legs are up to it after your hike…). If you just want to chill out then Arrecifes is an idyllic sandy beach for sunbathing – strong currents here make swimming dangerous, the perfect excuse to do absolutely nothing.

Alternatively, you could take a tubing trip down the Don Diego River or go on a boat ride around the mangroves. Or you may just not want to move from the pool.

Days 16-17 Cartagena
This morning you will transfer to Cartagena with a stop at Totumo Volcano en route. This is the smallest ‘volcano’ in the world that you can climb and on top take a real mud bath. Immerse yourself in the volcanic mud and feel the health benefits for your skin from the millions of minerals. Some people say you will look 10 years younger – so this is only for older children!

Cartagena is known as the jewel of the Caribbean and definitely a highlight of any trip to Latin America. The main centre is encircled by huge stone walls more than 13km in length and contains a wonderful maze of ancient alleyways, colonial churches, colourful piazzas, and brightly painted houses. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very family-friendly place to explore.

Take a walking tour through the streets and squares of this colonial city. Kids will love weaving their way through the underground passages of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress located on the Hill of San Lázaro. You will also get to know the Palace of the Inquisition and the Sanctuary of San Pedro Claver, who devoted his life to caring for the Africans who were brought as slaves to the Spanish colonies.

Optional activities include a cookery class, rum, and chocolate tasting, or, for the Strictly Come Dancing fans out there, a salsa tour. You can also take a canoe trip through the mangroves or visit San Basilio de Palenque, the first freed slave settlement in the Americas, where you can learn more about Cartagena’s iconic ‘Palenqueras’ (Afro-Colombian women who wear brightly coloured dresses and who make balancing heavy bowls of tropical fruit on their heads look easy).

In the evening you can enjoy strolling through the charming, romantic alleys. Watch the sunset from Café del Mar, have a bite to eat in the famous La Cevicheria, one of the best ceviche and fish restaurants in the city, and (for older families) absorb the nightlife of Getsemani from Café Havana. The perfect way to end your family holiday in Colombia.

Day 18 Cartagena
Flight time permitting, head to Las Bovedas to pick up some last-minute souvenirs before transferring to the airport for your flight home.

Beach Extension

If time allows, we highly recommend adding a beach extension to your Colombia – Off the beaten track itinerary. There are a variety of options:

Baru is just 45 minutes by boat from Cartagena or a 2hr road transfer (Baru is at the tip of a peninsula – but it is still called an island!). It can get busy with day trippers so this is something to be aware of.  BUT it also offers crystal-clear waters lapping perfectly white sandy beaches. Water babes can take a snorkelling trip to the nearby Rosario Islands. Children will enjoy a trip to the Bird Sanctuary to see the flamingos, macaws, and condors. Or simply chill out to the Caribbean vibe, feast on some delicious fresh fish served with Arroz con coco (coconut rice), and relax into that Colombian feeling of ‘tranquilidad’.

Mucura Island is a slightly longer transfer at 2.5 hours (and it can get bumpy at Xmas and Easter – be warned!) and is the perfect place to kick back and disconnect from the world. If you want to keep active then your top-notch beach hotel here also offers nautical sports (SUP, scuba diving, sea-kayaking, catamaran sailing, among others), as well as bike rental, tennis courts, and massages by the sea. If that isn’t enough, go night snorkelling amongst the bioluminescent plankton – a truly surreal and unforgettable tropical experience.

However, if you are looking to continue the off-the-beaten-track theme then we recommend San Andres/Providencia Islands. Bizarrely closer to the Nicaraguan coast, these incredible islands are a short flight from Cartagena yet a million miles from its vibrant and bustling streets.

Here you will find a different, Afro-Caribbean culture, where the main language is Creole-English. Both are popular for their idyllic white sand beaches and outstanding underwater experiences. Scuba-dive the marine-rich underwater world of Providencia, the third largest coral reef in the world and known for its sea of seven colours. Cycle around San Andres (or make the most of the Duty-Free shops) and take a boat trip to iguana-rich Johnny Cay. The perfect spot to chill out to the Caribbean vibe at the end of your family holiday to Colombia.

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