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Colombia: Ultimate Backpacking Gap Year Itinerary

Written by Alice McLeod on 11 / 01 / 2024

Gap Year Advice

Colombia is an amazing and vibrant country which has shed its bad boy reputation of old. You can go from chilled surf beaches to bustling cities in no time at all, but you should also keep in mind that Colombia isn't what we'd describe as a 'soft-landing'. It can be a hard country to navigate alone, which is why we find so many gappers start with a Colombia team programme to ease them into this country. By joining a team programme you can still see all of the highlights but also step off the backpacker route to see a more authentic side to Colombia that many backpackers don't get to see. But here's our Colombia ultimate gap year backpacker itinerary:

Fly into Bogotá

Nestled in the Andes, this sprawling city is a vibrant tapestry of history, culture, and contemporary energy. Begin your exploration in La Candelaria, the historic heart of Bogotá, where cobblestone streets lead you past colonial-era buildings adorned with colorful street art. La Candelaria often hosts cultural festivals, dance performances, and live music. Dive into the city's rich past at the Gold Museum, home to an astonishing collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts.

Spend your morning exploring local markets like Paloquemao. Engage with vendors, taste exotic fruits, and experience the lively atmosphere. Ascend the iconic Monserrate for a panoramic view of the city, and breathe in the crisp Andean air. Don't miss the Botero Museum, where the voluptuous art of Fernando Botero takes center stage. Immerse yourself in the buzzing atmosphere of Plaza Bolívar, surrounded by government buildings and the stunning Primatial Cathedral.

For a taste of local life, wander through Usaquén, a charming district with artisan markets and al fresco dining. Explore the innovative street food scene, indulging in arepas and empanadas, and wash it down with a cup of Colombian coffee. As the sun sets, experience the city's lively nightlife in Zona Rosa or Parque 93.

Medellín

Nestled in a lush valley surrounded by verdant mountains, Medellín has transformed itself from a turbulent past into a beacon of innovation and resilience. Begin your Medellín adventure in the bustling neighborhood of El Poblado, known for its trendy cafes, lively nightlife, and Parque Lleras , a hub of social activity.

Take a stroll through the Botero Plaza , surrounded by the iconic sculptures of Fernando Botero, before exploring the fascinating Comuna 13, a neighborhood that's become a symbol of the city's rebirth with its vibrant street art and community spirit. For panoramic views of the city, hop on the Metrocable and ascend to Santo Domingo . Explore the botanical garden at the Jardín Botánico or take a day trip to the nearby town of Guatapé, famous for its vibrant streets and the towering rock of El Peñol.

Immerse yourself in the local culture by sampling traditional Colombian dishes in the bustling markets or trying local specialties like bandeja paisa. As the sun sets, savor the city lights from the Mirador Las Palmas, and embrace the warmth and hospitality of the Paisa people.

San Gil and Barichara

Nestled in the heart of Santander, this dynamic duo offers a perfect blend of outdoor excitement and colonial charm. Begin your journey in San Gil, known as the adventure capital of Colombia. Thrill-seekers, gear up for a dose of adrenaline with activities like whitewater rafting on the Suarez River, paragliding over lush landscapes, and caving in the mystical Cueva de la Vaca. For a slower pace, explore the vibrant Mercado Central, where local flavors and crafts come to life. As the sun sets, immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Parque La Libertad, where locals gather to unwind and socialize.

Next up, make your way to Barichara, a beautifully preserved colonial town just a short drive away. Step back in time as you wander through cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed buildings and adorned with blooming bougainvillea. Don't miss the tranquil Parque Nacional, a shaded square offering breathtaking views of the Suarez Canyon. Take a

leisurely hike to the nearby Camino Real, an ancient stone path that connects Barichara to the even smaller town of Guane. Savour local delicacies like hormigas culonas (big-bottomed ants) chocolate, and indulge in the tranquility of this laid-back town. This is where our Colombia programme is based, so check that out if you're considering a trip to Barichara.

Want to experience Colombia without the stress?

Check out our Colombia team gap year programme to experience this vibrant country without any of the stress of having to plan your own logistics. We'll show you the highlights of Colombia, all with a group of fellow gappers, as well as taking you off the beaten track to see some hidden gems

Take me to Colombia

Bus to Cartagena

This enchanting coastal city in Colombia is a vibrant blend of colorful architecture, rich history, and Caribbean flair. Begin your adventure in the heart of the walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where pastel-hued buildings, flower-draped balconies, and charming cobblestone streets create an irresistible charm. Explore the iconic Plaza Bolívar, where horse-drawn carriages meander around the statue of Simon Bolívar, and visit the awe-inspiring San Pedro Claver Church.

Step back in time with a stroll along the city walls, offering panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea. Dive into history at the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas , an imposing fortress that has guarded the city for centuries. For a taste of local life, wander through the bustling Bazurto Market, where the sights, sounds, and aromas provide a sensory feast.

As the sun sets, experience the magic of Cartagena's nightlife in the lively Getsemaní neighborhood. Sample the vibrant street food, listen to live music, and dance to the beats of traditional Colombian rhythms. For a touch of relaxation, head to the nearby Rosario Islands, where pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters await - perfect for scuba diving.

Expect hustlers and tourists in equal measure, which is all part of Cartagena's charm. Needless to say, if you're offered "free" cocaine then don't take it as you're very likely to then be forced to pay a huge amount of money to the five guys now threatening to beat you up... Be wary of popular scams, and don't trust anyone who seems too friendly.

Santa Marta

Embark on a journey to the coastal gem of Santa Marta and the breathtaking Tayrona National Park. Nestled along the Caribbean Sea, Santa Marta offers a perfect blend of tropical charm, colonial history, and coastal relaxation. Begin your exploration in the historic center, where Spanish colonial architecture and vibrant street life beckon. Dive into the city's rich history at the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino , the final resting place of Simón Bolívar.

Now, gear up for a nature-filled adventure as you venture to Tayrona National Park, a coastal paradise where lush jungles meet pristine beaches. Hike through dense forests to discover hidden gems like the Pueblito Chairama archaeological site, providing a glimpse into the ancient Tayrona civilization. As you emerge from the jungle, the turquoise waters and golden sands of beaches like Cabo San Juan and Playa Cristal will leave you in awe.

For a true connection with nature, consider camping within the park, falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the Caribbean Sea. Don't miss the opportunity to snorkel among vibrant coral reefs and witness the diverse marine life that calls this region home.

Back in Santa Marta, rejuvenate by indulging in fresh seafood at the bustling Mercado de Pesca, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere of Parque de los Novios in the evening. As the sun sets over the Caribbean, you'll find that Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park offer an unrivaled combination of cultural richness and natural beauty on Colombia's northern coast.

From Colombia you can continue your South American adventures, or alternatively head up to Central America for a contrasting experience.

FAQs

Is Colombia safe for backpackers? Everyone will have a different assessments of risk, but saying that, safety fears shouldn't put you off visiting this fantastic country. If you'd like to feel more confident about safety then consider joining a gap team programme, something like our 4-week Colombia programme. You'll have a leader with you throughout who lives in Colombia themselves and who will guide you through the different phases. If you're going solo then we always recommend following and keeping updated with FCDO travel advice.

When is the best time to visit Colombia? The dry season runs December - March, with the rainy season going from April - November. The weather is best in the dry season but the country is also at its busiest (and we recommend booking your accommodation in advance if you're travelling during the high season).

How long do I need to backpack in Colombia? You need 3-4 weeks to properly see everything, and you certainly don't want to be rushing your way around. We always recommend taking your time to really try and immerse yourself in a country and its culture.

How much money do I need for Colombia? Budget around £1000 per month. Colombia isn't as cheap as some of its neighbours, so be savvy about your budgeting.

Do I need a visa to enter Colombia? If you're coming on a UK passport then you'll be given a free 90 day visa on arrival.

Related Articles

Where to go in Central and South America

Ultimate Central America Backpacker Itinerary

Ultimate South America Itinerary

Want to experience Colombia without the stress?

Check out our Colombia team gap year programme to experience this vibrant country without any of the stress of having to plan your own logistics. We'll show you the highlights of Colombia, all with a group of fellow gappers, as well as taking you off the beaten track to see some hidden gems

Take me to Colombia

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