Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd

Local’s Guide to the Craft Beer Festivals in Helsinki, Finland

We had an amazing weekend soaking in the sun and the brews of Craft Beer Helsinki Festival. Small Finnish breweries together with some fierce competitors from the rest of the Europe took over Helsinki’s central landmark, Railway Square, offering a myriad of creative craft brews to sample. The best news: there still two other beer festivals coming up in Helsinki, in the same unique setting!

Craft Beer Helsinki Festival (the end of June/beginning of July)

Picture a long, sunny summer night (the sun sets in Helsinki in July around 11 PM) and a central square filled to the utmost with microbrew connoisseurs checking off their exhaustive tasting lists, combined with other loosely beer loving crowd, families, sun-seekers, odd dog walkers and tourists coming after the bubbling atmosphere. In its core, Craft Beer Helsinki is a fun, summery get-together, where everyone is welcomed. Most people seemed to pop in to sample the rare brews, not to get drunk. I loved the festival so much that I visited two days in a row (making it my first two-day beer fest)!

In 2017, there were more than 20 breweries and up to 200 brews (if I remember right, the list was exhaustive). Our favorites were found at the stand of the Swedish Omnipollo. Their Noa Pecan Mud Cake Stout (scoring 100 at RateBeer.com) is simply divine and I couldn’t find any fault from Zodiak IPA (scoring 95 at RateBeer.com). We also loved the newcomers from Finnish-Estonian Sori Brewing and our new Finnish indie fav Fat Lizard Brewing. Truthfully, we concentrated more on foreign brews, as the other summer beer festivals feature solely Finnish beers. This year, the entrance was free, but you had to buy a beer glass (4 to 5 €) to sample the brews.

Whereas Craft Beer Helsinki Festival is a charming newcomer, the other craft beer happenings of Railway Square offer similar vibes. You can even spot many of the Finnish microbreweries in all of them!

Helsinki Railway Square filled with craft beer thirsty crowd
The stand of Finnish craft brewery Pyynikin Panimo at Craft Beer Helsinki festival
The sours and slushes of Finnish CoolHead Brew were popular at Craft Beer Helsinki fest

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot “Great Beers – Small Breweries” (July)

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival serves microbrew-thirsty citizens already during the next weekend (from 26th to 29th of July). It’s the biggest microbrewery festival in Finland and showcases solely Finnish brewing talents and ingredients. Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot festival is held also in five other cities during summer, check out the dates and details from here (in English) » This summer, there are still beer fests coming up in Turku and Oulu. The entrance is free until 6 PM.

Syysstober Beer Festival (August)

One of our long-standing favorites is the mouthwatering combo of “Delicacies of Finland” and “Syysstober Beer Festival”. Again, a variety of Finnish breweries gather to the very same Railway Square at the beginning of August, but this time spiced up with prime food stalls and free samplings. The last summer festival has the strongest focus on food, serving an array of local delicacies from the different provinces – plenty of organic treats, of course! Beers are all Finn and mostly from microbreweries.

We love to walk through the food tastings and order something small to eat on the side of those noble brews. Usually, we also find nice sauces, pickles, jams, organic honey and such to take back home. This year, Syysstober will quench your thirst from 3rd to 5th of August, check out the details from here (in English) »
The entrance is free.

Craft Beer, Microbrew, or Just Another Great Beer?

Some puritans might argue that Craft Beer Helsinki is the only craft beer festival, while Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is the only microbrewery festival in Helsinki. In a way, that can be true, if you agree that not all micro-brewed beers are craft beer, but we’re entering a war-zone here.

Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot (Great Beers – Small Breweries) is organized by The Finnish Microbreweries’ Association, so the beers are strictly Finnish microbrews. According to the Finnish definition, a microbrewery can produce only a limited amount of 15 million litres of beer per year.

Craft beer, on the other hand, might be trickier to define. Some claim that craft brewery follows craft brewing standards, for example, the brew must contain at least half of traditional malt instead of oats or wheat. Personally, I Iabel my beer “craft” when it has been brewed with great craftsmanship, using high-quality ingredients and sometimes creative recipes (and I love oatmeal stouts). I know, what a punk. Leaving that discussion aside, you can find both high-quality Finnish craft beer and creative microbrews at all events listed above.

Fat Lizard Brewing's Raspy Mary is among my favorite Finnish IPAs
The beer list of Fat Lizard Brewing
Finnish National Theathre guards the railway Square – and the summer beer festivals of Helsinki

Why to Visit Summer Beer Festivals in Helsinki?

Passionate craft beer scene is – finally – booming in Finland. While there are many excellent brewpubs, the beer festivals still remain the best opportunity to sample through hundreds of brews and chat with the brewers.

If you’re not into beer, you can still enjoy the festive atmosphere and sample the street food, which is plentiful at all beer fests. In Craft Beer Helsinki, head to the awesome Craft Cider Stand – cider is usually served also at the other festivals. Even better, collect your bravery and give a try to the Finnish fruit beers and sours. Some of my favorite Finnish sours and gruit ales come from Hopping Brewsters, Humalove, and Hiisi.

As a Finn, I dare to state that these festivals offer tourists a rare chance to chat with a Finn. We Finns are a peculiar tribe, slightly reserved and often introverted. We tend to avoid small talk and stay silent. For example, in public transport, we avoid sitting by a stranger and while waiting a bus or at the elevator, we consider it weird to talk to fellow passengers. After a long and dark winter, the light-filled summer makes us more playful, and after a drink we might open for a casual small talk. I might be exaggerating a bit, come and judge yourself. But I can almost guarantee that at the beer festivals it’s possible to find new Finnish friends.

The Beer Festivals of Helsinki Outside Summer

Two other yearly beer festivals make you smile outside the Finnish summertime. Both of them are held indoors in Kaapelitehdas, an old cable factory turned into the largest cultural centre in Finland. The oldest beer festival in Finland, called plainly Helsinki Beer Festival, takes place in April, and OlutExpo (“BeerExpo”) in October.

Is that the ultimate grilling experience? It looks cool!
Yet another street food stall at Craft Beer Helsinki

Bizarre Facts: Finland & Beer

The national epic of Finland, the Kalevala, describes the creation of the beer in 400 lines, whereas the creation of the world and man is summarized in 200 lines. The Finnish God of beer was called Pekko.

Finnish sahti is among the oldest surviving beer styles in the world. Homebrew-like sahti is brewed with barley malt and rye, but without hops, using junipers in the fermentation process.

Only beer weaker than 4.7 % can be sold in regular retail stores. Stronger alcohol products are only available in government-owned Alko stores, restaurants and bars.

Finnish alcohol legislation is strict and weird. For example, you have to be careful to use women, athletes, Santa Claus, or animal mascots in beer labels. Finnish government agency Valvira even asked Facebook to remove Like button, so that people wouldn’t be able to like alcohol related posts.

Ever heard about beer floating? Yes, it’s an annual festival in Finland, where thousands of participants float down a river in make-shift rafts and inflatable dinghies while getting drunk.

Beer consumption is 85 litres per capita (scoring as 12th highest in the world)

If you’ve visited the beer festivals in Helsinki, which is your favorite and why?

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Small craft breweries take over Railway Square of Helsinki, Finland. Sample creative brews and binge on street food!

The main gate to the walled old city of Cartagena, Colombia

The Best Coffee Shops in Cartagena, Colombia – Specialty Coffee Geek Approved

Whether you’re searching for the best cafe in Cartagena in terms of high-quality coffee beans or hip coffee shop vibes, read on to find your caffeine fix. The cafe scene in Colombia is developing fast: today you can drink the best coffee in the world in the country that produces it!

Inside the charming, walled city of Cartagena de Indias lies one of the best cafes in Colombia. While you’re roaming the colorful streets and ticking off the best things to do in Cartagena, make sure to take a well-needed break to sip some serious espresso or cold-brew.

I’m an irritatingly picky coffee drinker who approves only prime, high-grown specialty coffee beans and prefers to skip the average coffee. So, my praise does not come lightly. Right after Bogota, Cartagena is among the best places for both to taste and to buy Colombian coffee.

We’ve visited several coffee producing countries, such as Tanzania, Rwanda, and Nicaragua – and I’ve got used to getting just one good cup of coffee (or none) during those trips. Luckily, Colombia turned the tables. I’ve already listed our favorite cafés in Bogota, so now is time to look at the quirky coffee houses of Cartagena!

Best Coffee Shops in Cartagena, Colombia:

Café San Alberto

Calle Santos de Piedra #3-86, Cartagena de Indias (diagonal to the cathedral)

If you take your coffee extremely seriously, there might be only one place that will cater to your specialty coffee needs in Cartagena: Café San Alberto inside the old town. But one perfect little cafe is more than enough! While in Cartagena, we ended up getting our caffeine fix in San Alberto every day. Their take on the art and science of coffee is humbling.

The coffee of San Alberto claims to be the most award-winning coffee in Colombia. They call it super-premium: the single origin beans are produced under their 5-step selection process, in the spirit of French wine-making. The coffee beans come from their own Hacienda de San Alberto, located in Buenavista region. The coffee beans meet my strict coffee geek criteria: they’re grown high enough (1500–1800 meters above sea level) and wet-processed.

But how does the coffee taste like? Think of dark chocolate and caramel, juicy and balanced acidity. The coffee you can taste in San Alberto Café offers a perfect introduction to Colombian coffee.

I loved every cup I had in San Alberto: from espresso to cold brew and siphon – and Piritta loved their mochaccinos. Oh yes, they provide all the brewing methods you could think of. Don’t worry, if you’re not a coffee geek, the knowledgeable baristas are happy to explain the different brewing methods if you’d like to taste something else than a cappuccino. San Alberto offers coffee tasting sessions, as well!

The interior is lovely, as well, pouring the story of the coffee with images and fact sheets. The upper floor feels more private than buzzing (and hot!) street level, and the strong wifi might lure you to stay longer than planned.

My only regret was that Cartagena was the first stop during our 4-week tour in Colombia, so it made no sense to drag the coffee bags for one month – and the beans wouldn’t have been at their best when we finally returned home. Maybe next time I’ll travel with my beloved AeroPress and Hario Skerton Coffee Mill – I’ve been thinking about it for years since they take such a little room in luggage! San Alberto is, without a doubt, the best place the buy coffee in Cartagena.

Café San Alberto has catered the coffee aficionados of Cartagena since 2015. You’ll get your fix cheaper elsewhere, but it’s hard to match their standards. They’re even the exclusive distributor of Hario and Chemex in Colombia. Praise the beans!

Café Época Espresso Bar

Calle de Arzopispado, Carrera 5 #34-52, Cartagena

Not far from Plaza de Bolivar, Época Café quenches your thirst of espresso in the historical center. Época’s own coffee is roasted on the spot, and they sell a variety of beans from bourbon to honey caturra, and gesha. Epoca is all about specialty coffee: I’d say it competes with Café San Alberto about the title of the best specialty coffee shop inside the walled city!

Café Época’s signature drink is Carajillo Ahumado (espresso with Aguardiente, sugar cane and cassia) – go for it in the evening, but don’t forget to taste their take on the simple espresso, as well.

Roaming the streets of Cartagena in search of the best cafés – can't blame the views!
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans
Café San Alberto inside the old town of Cartagena caters your specialty coffee needs with their super premium, wet-processed beans

The Best Coffee House in Getsemani, Cartagena:

Café del Mural

Carrera 9a (Calle San Juan) #25-60, Cartagena

Inside the trendy Getsemani neighborhood (outside walled city) hides another highly praised coffee shop, which takes their beans seriously. I highly recommend tasting their take on the specialty coffee of Colombia, though many tourists seem to prefer San Alberto. In my eyes, Café de Mural appears to have more experimental and underground coffee lab feel. To my regret, they open at 3 PM after which I limit my caffeine intake. Check out their Facebook Page for further info and events.

Bizarre facts: Café del Mural uses old machines (like a popcorn maker) to roast coffee and nitro cold brew is frothed at the table!

Another Quirky Café in Getsemani:

Café de las Novias

Calle 25 #8B-126, Cartagena

Hidden on the quiet street in Getsemani, Café de Novias is a pleasant spot for a cake. Compared to Café San Alberto or Café del Mural, their coffee is just average, but the cakes and bizarre wedding themed interior make it up. Go for the cakes and wedding planning if you are in the need! Yes, it’s a wedding planning shop turned into a bakery slash coffee house (novia translates into bride). I might just give Cafe de Las Novias the title “Weirdest Cafe in Cartagena”, but only in the positive sense of it.

Find the Best Hotels in Cartagena, Colombia
Check out the best hotel deals in Cartagena from here
We stayed in Allure Chocolat by Charisma: it’s an affordable boutique hotel in Getsemani, within a short distance to the Old City of Cartagena. Check their best rates here.

More Lovely, Local Coffee Shops in the Walled City of Old Cartagena:

Ábaco Café y Libros (Bookstore Café)

Calle de La Iglesia #3-86, Cartagena (on the corner of Calle de La Mantilla)

Visit this charming bookstore café for the love of books and coffee cocktails: cold brew or espresso-based drinks. Ábaco Café has a lovely, nostalgic atmosphere – who wouldn’t love coffee and books?

Boundless Mezcal Café

Plaza de los Coches, Calle 34, #7-33, Cartagena

One more exciting venue to the bucket list, if you love mezcal and coffee. Weird combination to me, but why not!

World-Famous Colombian Coffee-House Chain (Both Inside and Outside the Old Cartagena):

Juan Valdez Café

There are several branches on Juan Valdéz Café in Cartagena, like also in other big cities of Colombia. If Juan Valdez Café is on your route, feel free to get your fix. Long story short, Juan Valdéz isn’t my favorite coffee shop, and you can read more my opinions about them in our article on the best cafés of Bogotá.

Café San Alberto in the old town of Cartagena provides all the brewing methods needed to showcase their specialty coffee beans

Where to Buy Coffee Beans in Cartagena?

My answer is clear: visit both Café San Alberto or Café Epoca (in the old town of Cartagena) and Café del Mural (in Getsemani). If you’re staying long enough or have room in your luggage, taste the coffee from them all!

Bigger supermarkets sell coffee, but unfortunately, usually the best beans you can find in markets are from the Colombian coffee giant Juan Valdez Café. Like usually in supermarkets, it’s been a while since the beans were roasted (and ground), so for the best coffee experience, please pick your coffee (beans or ground) from a cafe.

Where to Go From Cartagena?
Have you seen already our Ultimate Colombia itinerary? Check it out to plan 1-4 weeks route in Colombia! Find cheap internal flight in Colombia with these hacks.Check also these places and articles for inspiration:
Day Trip to Tayrona National Park (Doable from Cartagena!)
Exploring Medellin: Visiting Comuna 13 & Paragliding Upon Medellin
San Agustin: Horse-Back Riding in the Archaeological Park 
31 Exciting Things to do in Leticia, Colombian Amazon

Independent Coffee Tour in Cartagena

As you might have already noticed, the best coffee shops in Cartagena are clustered around the walled city and neighboring Getsemani. So why not to take an independent coffee tour around Cartagena? Pick your favorites from the list and hit locations into Google Maps, take an afternoon or morning off the usual sightseeing! While touring the coffee shops of Cartagena, have your camera at hand, because you will be stumbling upon the carts of fruit vendors, picturesque squares, and other urban scenes. To make it perfect, book a tasting session in either San Alberto Café and/or Café del Mural!

This article was originally written in 2017 but has been thoroughly updated in June 2019. Please let us know if you’d like to suggest more coffee shops on our list.

If you’re a fan of Colombian coffee like us, you’ll be spoiled in Cartagena. If you’ve sampled great coffee in any other place inside or outside the walled city, please share with us your favorite cafe in Cartagena!

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Taste the best coffee beans in Colombia inside the walled old city of Cartagena. Browse the best cafes for a specialty coffee geek!

An orangutan thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, near Kuchin, Malaysian Borneo

2-Week Borneo Itinerary: Best Route for Orangutans, Beaches, Jungles, and Colonial Cities

Explore the best of Borneo on the ultimate 2-week itinerary around Malaysian Borneo – or squeeze the highlights into an adventurous one-week route. Spot orangutans and pygmy elephants on river cruises and rainforest hikes, visit the best national parks in Borneo and world-famous wildlife sanctuaries, indulge in Bornean cultures and cuisines, snorkel with turtles or unwind on paradise islands, and explore the charming colonial cities of Borneo!

The Ultimate Borneo Itinerary Packs in All Highlights!

Our adventurous one-week and two-week Borneo itineraries include all the highlights: the best wildlife experiences in Borneo, most famous colonial cities, stunning beaches and remote island getaways, cultural tours, and culinary treats.

Along the way, you can choose between world-class day hikes, snorkeling or scuba diving, and wildlife watching – or just opt to sit back and enjoy the beautiful Bornean nature. Our ultimate two-week Borneo itinerary maximizes the chances to find funny-looking proboscis monkeys, orangutans and rare Borneo pygmy elephants in the wild – astonishingly, we saw the latter three times!

The pace is laid-back, so following this 2-week itinerary will set you to relaxed vacation mode. But at the same time, you’ll pack in a lot in terms of truly experiencing all the different flavors of Borneo. If you have less time to spare, pick the best out of our route and craft an adventurous one-week Borneo itinerary.

These Itineraries Cater to Luxury and Budget Travelers

The routes on our Borneo travel blog can be tailored to all budgets and timeframes. If you’re short on time but wish to see as much as you can, you need to invest in internal flights. If you have more time and wish to save money, choose land transports and budget lodges, which are available in all destinations (excluding Lankayan Island that can be switched to island hopping in Kota Kinabalu). If you’re looking luxury vacation on Borneo, our 2-week itinerary is a perfect choice for you!

A quick tip: For one week in Borneo, make the tough call to skip one of these destinations: Danum Valley, Kinabatangan River, or Kuching and Bako National Park. Our Sabah article has also amazing one-week itineraries through Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Without further ado, let’s take off to the treasures of Borneo!

The Ultimate 2-Week Borneo Itinerary

  • Sepilok (2 nights/3days): World-Famous Wildlife Sanctuaries & Jungle Vibes
  • Sandakan (1 night/2 days): Small Bornean Colonial Town With Exciting Day Trips
  • Lankayan Island (2 nights/3 days): Secluded Paradise Island with the Best Snorkeling in Borneo & World-Class Diving
  • Kinabatangan River (2 nights/3 days): Spot Bornean Wildlife on River Cruises
  • Danum Valley (3 nights/4 days): The Last Primary Rainforest in Borneo with Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, and Astonishing Birding
  • Kuching (3 nights/4 days): Culinary and Cultural Treats of Borneo in Colonial Setting & Bako National Park
  • Kota Kinabalu (1-2 nights/2-3 days): Colonial City With Island Trips

A Bornean Sun Bear climbing to a tree in the rain in BSBCC, Sabah, Malaysia.

All photographs by Piritta

Sepilok: Introduction to Borneo with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Giant Flying Squirrels (2 Nights/3 Days)

Sepilok is a perfect spot to launch your journey into the heart of Borneo. Staying the first night in Sepilok allows you to avoid starting and ending your trip in Kota Kinabalu: a perfect option for those who’d like to see as much as they can on a short vacation in Borneo. When time is short, every night counts!

Why Sepilok is a Perfect Starting Point to Your Borneo Itinerary?

Internal flight from Kota Kinabalu (where your international flight lands) to a nearby coastal city of Sandakan takes just 45 minutes, and from there it’s less than 30 minutes’ taxi drive to Sepilok. Easy and smooth start for your Borneo trip!

In Sepilok, you’ll get a perfect foretaste of Borneo – the orangutans, sun bears, and rainforest – in just one day! Get inspired and read our separate article: 11 Exciting Things To Do In Sepilok.

Choose a resort that is tucked away from it all and a room facing the rainforest and sleep away your jetlag. Wake up to the sounds of exotic birds and enjoy breakfast outdoors while spotting monkeys in the trees. Then head to the world-famous orangutan sanctuary to witness semi-wild red-furred cousins swinging to the feeding platforms for their lunch. Still not completely charged up? What about visiting orangutan nursery and watching babies wrestling and chasing each other?

Still, the highlight for us was visiting Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where you can watch the pint-sized bears climbing up the trees and minding their own businesses.

We also loved the nature walks in the rainforest, on the elevated platforms just behind our hotel. The additional perks included watching giant red flying squirrels glide upon us during the evenings.

How to Get to Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo

There are multiple daily flights between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. One-way prices start at 13$ (AirAsia), so there’s absolutely no reason to take the road. That’s also a total bargain for the one most scenic aerial views: you’ll be flying past Mt. Kinabatangan and weather-permitting the peak is fully visible. Be sure to book left side seat from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan!

Taxi drive from Sepilok to Sandakan takes less than 30 minutes. It’s worthwhile to check if your hotel offers return transfers – ours did. I wouldn’t bother thinking about the bus. Local buses leave hourly from ‘Batu 14’, by the highway (Sepilok doesn’t have a center, so you’d need a taxi to Batu 14).

Sandakan: Soak in the Small City Charm (1 Night/2 Days)

Spend a day in the authentic Bornean small-town vibes mingling with locals. Zigzag between the hawker and fruit stalls of Sandakan Central Market and stock on everything you’d possibly need from the nearby Harbour Mall, which alone would be a justifiable reason to spend a night in Sandakan before heading off the grid.

We enjoyed a great lunch at a quaint café, lovely rooftop drinks, and authentic Malay dinner at the waterfront with locals. Sandakan offered us a welcome city break before spending a week in the remote corners of Borneo!

Note: If you’re crafting one-week Borneo itinerary, you might need to skip Sandakan to maximize time in Kinabatangan River and other destinations. We loved our short stay in Sandakan, but I’d trade it with one night in Kinabatangan River, Sepilok, or Lankayan Island if I needed to.

How to Get to Sandakan, Malaysian Borneo

When traveling from Sepilok to Sandakan, use either a taxi or bus – or ask the transfer from your hotel, as specified above (check out the previous section, “How to Get to Sepilok”).

Orangutan at the feeding platform of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian Borneo

Lankayan Island: Paradise Island with World-Class Diving and Snorkeling (2 nights)

Welcome to paradise! Lankayan Island is straight out of the tropical daydream: a tiny jewel-shaped, coral-ringed island far off the coast and crowds, in the turquoise Sulu Sea. Imagine chalk-white sand beaches and a magical underwater world, which bewitches divers and snorkelers alike. Then add an exquisite luxury resort, with just 26 seafront chalets, all facing the endless, turquoise ocean. This uninhabited island offers ultimate seclusion – a perfect spot for romantic getaways. Just look at the pictures, the words are not enough.

The best thing is that you don’t need to be a diver to see rare creatures, like jawfish, explore colorful coral reefs, and swim with turtles or sharks. You can do it all in the shallow waters of the Lankayan jetty, even if you’ve never snorkeled before. We searched long and hard for the best place to snorkel in Borneo – and found it from Lankayan. Check out our separate article about the magical underwater world of Lankayan!

Getting to Lankayan
Private boat transfer (included in the rates of Lankayan Island Dive Resort) leaves Sandakan at 10 AM and leaves Lankayan at 7 AM, so plan the rest of your Bornean itinerary accordingly. If you’re flying in Sandakan, note that your flight has to land before 9 AM.

Tiny Lankayan Island is an unspoilt paradise far off the coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
The main building of Lankayan Island Dive Resort in its evening gown

Sungai Kinabatangan River: Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys in the Wild (2 nights)

Kinabatangan River is the best bet to see wild orangutans in Borneo. Orangutan sightings could almost be guaranteed if you stay two nights in Kinabatangan area (our guides said that the likelihood is 70%). Proboscis monkeys are omnipresent and nearly impossible to miss: watching their plump bellies and funny noses will guarantee smiles at every encounter.

What we couldn’t believe was spotting a herd of endangered Borneo pygmy elephants during Kinabatangan cruise. There are only 1500 of these baby-faced forest elephants left in the world, as their population has dropped by 50% during the last three generations.

It’s incredibly hard to pick the highlight of our Kinabatangan adventure: every moment spent watching wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys felt sacred, and we were up in the clouds while trying to spot the massive gray ears and trunks of those pygmy elephants through reeds. All river cruises felt serene, although during one morning we didn’t spot any orangutans at all, but ended up enjoying jungle breakfast with cheeky macaques and wild pigs.

Kinabatangan River attracts loads of tourists, so pick your lodge wisely. I’d recommend spending at least one night upriver, far from the cluster of lodges in Sukau village, where riverboat traffic disrupts the jungle fantasies. We loved the privacy of the Abai area combined with one night in Sukau, where wildlife spotting was excellent. Get more inspiration for your trip from our separate article on Kinabatangan River!

One word of warning for Kinabatangan River: there is a devastating reason for the massive numbers of orangutans and other wildlife. The palm oil industry has left only a narrow corridor of the jungle for animals to move around. As splendid as it feels to visit Kinabatangan, it isn’t a real, untouched wilderness – and that’s the perfect reason to venture deeper and add our next destination into your Borneo itinerary!

Getting to Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo

Either book a Kinabatangan tour beforehand, negotiate a tour with the tour operators in Sandakan, or book an all-inclusive 2-night stay in Kinabatangan area lodges. Nowadays, many of the lodges offer all-inclusive prices at booking.com (including all activities and transfers), so prebooking a Kinabatangan River tour isn’t necessary anymore.

Check the best deals for Sukau area lodges here

Want To See Wild Orangutans in Borneo?

Check out the best places in Borneo to see orangutans in the wild in our separate article! We also give tips on how to behave near orangutans and which are the best places to photograph them.

Proboscis Monkeys by Kinabatangan River, Malaysian Borneo

Danum Valley: The Luxurious Bornean Rainforest Vacation (3 Nights/4 Days)

If I’d have to pick only one destination in Malaysian Borneo, it would be Danum Valley. It’s the last stronghold of primary rainforest in Borneo, where you can hike along marked trails gazing to the immense, untouched jungle where no man has set foot.

Remote Primary Rainforest With Authentic Wildlife Encounters

Danum Valley is a naturalist’s paradise: before these 438 square kilometers of lowland dipterocarp forest was declared a conservation area, there were no human settlements, meaning no hunting or other interference with wildlife. More than 340 species of birds and 124 species of mammals call this their home – count in orangutans and Borneo pygmy elephants, both of which we were lucky to see more than once.

The Best Rainforest Lodge in Borneo

There’s only one lodge inside the Danum Valley Conservation Area, boasting ultimate seclusion and luxury. The award-winning Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers a gateway to the real jungle of Borneo on its private hiking trails inside the conservation area, along with the iconic, 300 meters long treetop canopy walkway, open exclusively to the guests.

All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge cover exciting activities – choose between nature walks with a naturalist guide, fun river tubing, versatile day hikes, birding, and night drives. Check our separate article on Danum Valley and get inspired!

If you can afford the rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge (nearing US$1000 per person per night), don’t hesitate to book it. But worry no more if you’re looking for more affordable options: check out the accommodation options at the nearby Danum Valley Field Center.

Experiencing the wilderness of Danum Valley is among the highlights of Borneo: please try to include it in your Borneo itinerary!

Getting to Danum Valley from Kinabatangan River (or Lahad Datu)

All-inclusive rates of Borneo Rainforest Lodge include 2-hour transfer from the nearest town of Lahad Datu. MasWings has several daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu.

If you’re coming from Kinabatangan, ground transport is the quickest option (appr. 1-1,5 hours from Sukau to Lahad Datu). Either your lodge in Kinabatangan River or Borneo Nature Lodge can organize the transfer.

Danum Valley's Canopy Walkway is a dream come true for nature photographers

Kuching: Bustling Colonial City with Exciting Day Trips (3 Nights/4 Days)

After exploring the Sabah area for more than a week now, venture into another side of Malaysian Borneo: Sarawak. Kuching offers a convenient – and exciting – shortcut to the vast Sarawak.

The city of Kuching needs to be felt: roam the riverfront and the colorful streets of Old China Town with locals, pop in the acclaimed fusion restaurants and local eateries and eat your way through the highland and tribal cuisines. Check out a separate foodie guide for the best restaurants in Kuching!

The day trips are the draw of Kuching: you can visit even the far-flung corners of Sarawak on a day trip from Kuching. The hardest part is to choose between the several options and still leave enough time to feel the beat of Kuching.

We visited Bako National Park and Semenggoh Nature Reserve – both spellbinding in their own way. For us, the encounters with semi-wild orangutans in Semenggoh Wildlife Center felt more personal and special than in Sepilok, as the orangutan sanctuary is both smaller and less visited.

Bako National Park offers unbelievable versatile trails for short and long day hikes. The sceneries are otherworldly: think of untamed jungle beaches where bearded pigs grub sand and thick forest where proboscis monkeys play upon you. The vegetation is an incredibly versatile with seven different eco-systems – from mangrove to majestic cliffs and weird rock formations, swamp to mixed dipterocarp forest and keranga (a heath forest with acidic, sandy soil). The jungle beaches in Bako National Park among the best beaches in Borneo.

Getting to Kuching from Danum Valley (or Kota Kinabalu)

Cheap internal flights carry you conveniently almost from the furthest fringe of Sabah to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Driving from the coast of Sabah to Kuching would be insane (more than 1500 kilometers), as the flights take just a couple of hours.

We flew with Mas Wings from Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu: they have four daily flights with promo prices around 25$. To Kota Kinabalu–Kuching leg AirAsia proved to be a cheaper option.

Kota Kinabalu: Farewell to the Colonial Cities and Beaches of Borneo (1 Night/2 Days)

Kota Kinabalu entertained us only for one evening, but feel free to expand your stay. We enjoyed our sunset walk along the waterfront with locals, popping in the bustling – and endless – street food market. Somehow one night still felt enough for us: after the jewels of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu felt rather chaotic and dirty.

Some find Kota Kinabalu a pleasant base for day-trips in the nearby islands, but after Lankayan – or Semporna islands – you won’t find paradise here. The others end or start their holiday at the nearby beach resorts but our research drove us to ponder between Semporna Islands and Sandakan Islands (Lankayan).

The Kudat area on the tip of Sabah (accessible via Kota Kinabalu by road) sounds perfect for a budget beach stay if the all-inclusive prices of Lankayan turn you off.

An orangutan thinking in Semenggoh Orangutan Center, near Kuchin, Malaysian Borneo
Kuching Waterfront lines the south bank of Sarawak river, offering scenic views towards Fort Margherita and the Astana

Tweaks for 1-Week or 10-Day Borneo Itinerary

If you have one week or 10 days to spend in Borneo, narrow down our list of destinations according to your preferences. Personally, I’d drop visiting Kuching (Sarawak) for logistics. Thus, you could choose the best itinerary to match your likings from our Sabah itinerary article.

If you’d still like to visit Kuching, I’d skip one to two destinations of these three: Danum Valley, Lankayan Island, or Kinabatangan River. You can also save one night by skipping Sandakan.

Add-On Destinations for 3-Week Itinerary in Malaysian Borneo: Mt Kinabalu, Maliau Basin and More of Sarawak

Firstly, check out the pace of our 2-week Borneo itinerary. If you long for a more tranquil beat and have more time to spend, I’d suggest adding more days on Lankayan Island (especially if you’re a diver or an avid snorkeler) and Danum Valley (especially if you’re into hiking and wildlife). We were exceptionally pleased with this 2-week Borneo itinerary, so personally, I wouldn’t remove or add anything – other than more time to explore more destinations.

If you have 3 weeks and enough energy to spare, add extra loops for climbing Mt Kinabalu (we will return for that!), visiting Maliau Basin National Park in Sabah, or doing more day-trips from Kuching to the rest of Sarawak (Gunung Mulu caves, river cruises, Kelabit Highlands, and the longhouses of the headhunter tribe).

If you’re planning a 4-week itinerary in Borneo, consider venturing into the vast Indonesian side of Borneo called Kalimantan: there’s a lot more the explore!

It’s also easy to add Brunei to your Borneo itinerary – and tick off yet another country. For visiting Brunei from the Malaysian side of Borneo, you will need just a couple of days.

Where to Stay in Borneo

If this 2-week Borneo itinerary gets you going, be sure to check our favorite lodges around the Malaysian Borneo to get out the most of your stay! We handpicked several luxurious and affordable lodges, which will give you a real taste of Borneo with all the modern comforts, sumptuous dinners, and authentic wildlife encounters.

Check out our list of the best lodges in Malaysian Borneo!

When To Visit Borneo: High and Low Seasons

The high season in Borneo runs from March/May to September/October, meaning higher prices and more tourists. It’s not necessarily the best time to visit Borneo. To be honest, the high season is still the best time in Borneo to see orangutans and other wildlife in the wild, as it rains less.

We see Malaysian Borneo as an all-year-round destination, as we have learned that it will always rain in the rainforest. The weather patterns vary from area to another. Sabah is generally a better all-year-round destination than Sarawak, as it receives less rain.

The dry season in Sabah is from February to August. It rains a lot in Kuching and the inland of Sawarak (these areas receive the highest rainfall in the whole Malaysia), where the driest months are June and July.

Diving high season in Borneo runs from April to December. The best visibility for diving and snorkeling is during the summer months, from July to August. Whale shark season in Borneo is March–May. The best time to see turtles on Lankayan is June-September.

Please don’t let the rain stop your plans to visit Sarawak – or Sabah – during the wetter months. Borneo is a stunning destination – and it’s supposed to rain in the rainforest.

We visited both states, Sabah and Sarawak, during low season and saw little to none rain. We had amazing wildlife encounters in Sabah (orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, rare birds, and many other exciting species in the wild). Snorkeling in Lankayan Island was splendid, although it was low season for snorkeling and diving, as well.

We only advise to plan your itinerary in Borneo very carefully if you’re visiting during December or January, which are labeled as the worst months to visit Borneo. Consider changing your destinations in Sarawak to Sabah area to avoid the wetter areas.

Travel Safety in Borneo: Is It Safe to Travel to Borneo in 2019?

Traveling to Malaysian Borneo is considered generally safe in 2019, although some areas at the eastern coast of Sabah are still listed as possibly dangerous.

Currently, the UK government advises against all but essential travel off the coast of Sabah, including the islands of Lankayan, Sipadan, Pom Pom, Kapalai, and Mataking. The UK travel advice is based on old kidnappings in the area and the proximity of the Sulu Archipelago (Philippines).

The US Department of State lists Borneo as “Level 1: Exercise Normal Caution” area. Still, Eastern Sabah is labeled as “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” area.

We felt completely safe on Lankayan, as there’s also a military post. We’d visit any of the islands without a doubt, but as always, be vigilant and ask about the current security situation from the tour companies and lodges before booking.

Bako National Park near Kuching has some of the best beaches in Borneo

Visiting Borneo FAQ

Check our answers to the most frequently asked questions about planning a trip to Borneo. Please let us know if you have any other questions on visiting Borneo – we’re happy to help!

Do I Need a Visa to Borneo?

Most tourists don’t need to apply for a visa beforehand to visit Indonesian or Malaysian Borneo. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, Australia, and many other countries are permitted to stay in Borneo for 1-3 months.

Do I Need Yellow Fever Vaccination for Borneo?

There’s no risk of yellow fever in Borneo. However, if you’re coming from a country with yellow fever risk, you need to show your yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter Malaysia.

If you’re coming from the US or EU, you don’t need yellow fever vaccination or certificate, unless you have more than 12 hours stopover in high risk area.

Which Vaccinations Do I Need for Borneo?

If you already have the usual travel vaccinations, MMR and diphtheria-tetanus-polio, you don’t need other injections to enter Borneo. We also have hepatitis A and B, which are recommended to all frequent travelers.

Is There Malaria in Borneo and Do I Need to Take Malaria Tablets?

Malaysian Borneo has low-risk malaria areas. Please talk with your doctor to find out your individual needs for malaria tablets. If you’re staying several days in the forested inland of Sabah and Sarawak, it might be wise to take preventative malaria medication. Indonesian Borneo is also low-risk malaria area.

We didn’t take antimalarials during this 2-week itinerary, but it was our own choice and against our doctor’s recommendation.

What Should I Pack for Borneo?

Your optimal Borneo packing list depends on where you’re planning to go and what you’re planning to do in Borneo, when you’re traveling, and where you are staying.

Generally, we’d advise to pack light and breathable clothes, a torch (if you’re staying off the grid), rain gear (it rains in the rainforest), swimming gear (and a snorkel if you have one), sandals and hiking boots or sneakers (depending on your planned activities), insect repellent and leech socks (also available in Borneo), and camera gear.

Our safari packing list is a good starting point also for adventurous vacations in Borneo.

What I Should Wear in Borneo?

Casual clothes are fine allover Borneo. Most people come either to the beaches or the rainforest, and dress accordingly. Weather is hot and humid, so light and breathable clothes are your best bet. For hiking, we recommend convertible pants and quick-dry t-shirts and tops. For city breaks, ladies might want to pack a casual dress or skirt and gents a pair of casual trousers if you’re eating out in fancier restaurants.

Generally, there is no dress code in Malaysian Borneo. As Brunei and Indonesian Borneo represent more strict Muslim culture, it’s polite to dress accordingly. Women should cover their knees and shoulders.

Excited and ready to book your trip to Borneo? Would you follow our steps tracking the beat of Borneo on this 2-week itinerary – or tweak a one-week or even one-month itinerary of your own? If you’ve visited Malaysian Borneo, what were the highlights for you and would you change something in our itinerary?

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The best of Borneo squeezed into a 2-4 weeks itinerary. Orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, rainforests and paradise beaches: pick your Bornean adventures! #Borneo #Malaysia #itinerary

English Tea House is a surprising find in Malaysian Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts a croquet lawn and spectacular views towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Sight of the Week: English Tea House, Sandakan (Borneo)

Authentic English Tea House with a croquet lawn is a surprising find in Borneo. Tucked away upon a hill overlooking Sandakan Bay, English Tea House boasts spectacular view towards the Sulu Sea and islets guarding the coastal town.

Haven for History Buffs and English Tea Lovers

The colonial-style villa casts long, history filled shadows also upon the well-manicured garden and shady terrace. American writer Agnes Keith used to live in the adjacent British colonial house, which serve now as a museum presenting author’s life. Her book “Land Below The Wind” has nicknamed Sabah area according the title. The book was written in 1939 in this very house, now aptly named Agnes Keith House.

English Tea House serves local Sabah Tea, which took me by surprise me exceeding my usual expectations towards local tea. Grown without pesticides at the mouth Mt Kinabalu and manufactured without added colorings, Sabah Tea is chemical-free and naturally flavorful. Flavored versions English Breakfast Tea and Earl Grey are developed together with English Tea House. Authentic afternoon tea sets served at the terrace of English Tea House crown the deal.

We loved to walk around the croquet lawn photobombing chickens, stopping by at the lovely gazebos to pet the friendly dogs. Food and service lived up to the expectations, as well. Visit English Tea House for the colonial atmosphere and the best view in Sandakan and stay for a lunch or afternoon tea!

Are you already planning a trip to Borneo? Check our 2-week itinerary to get excited!

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English Tea House is a surprising find in Borneo. Authentic tea sets, fish'n'chips, and a croquet lawn are crowned with an incredible view towards the Sulu Sea and the coastal town of Sandakan.

Enjoying the warm winter terrace of T-Anker, Prague

Best Craft Beer Pubs in Prague for Tasting Czech Microbrews

When we visited Prague in January, craft beer tasting was at the top of our bucket list. Beer is so essential part of Czech culture that I recommend microbrewery tour for anyone spending a weekend in Prague. Before it was all about mass-produced brands, like locally brewed Pilsner Urquell, but nowadays Prague has become a mecca for microbreweries and craft beer pubs, which stand proudly against international comparison. Visit our favorite microbrew venues and get lost in their exhaustive craft beer menus!

U Kunstatu

We popped in U Kunstatu right after arriving in Prague, which proved out to be an excellent choice. The atmosphere and the craft beer selection were the best we found on our weekend getaway in Prague.

Beer sampler with 6 glasses (350CZK, appr. 13€) means 2 pints of liquid, but don’t worry, you can share it just like we did. The ubiquitous list covers 100 beers. If feeling overwhelmed, leave your faith into the loving hands of the savant bartenders. We enjoyed the tough call and careful negotiation about the chosen ones, ending up with 2 porters, 2 IPAs, one ale, and one stout. The clear winners were the flavored porters from Kocour Brewery. Both cherry and strawberry porters amazed us with crisp berry tones: just like you’ve sliced fresh berries among your beer. I also liked a lot Sherpa IPA from Czech Permon Brewery.

If you need to limit your beer exploration in Prague into one craft beer pub, let it be U Kunstatu. Their unique selection, homey vibe, and candle-lit tables fit even for a romantic night out and give a perfect introduction to the Czech microbrewery scene.

You are also free to explore the well-preserved Romanesque palace at the cellar level of the pub. The former palace of King George of Podebrady is a UNESCO protected monument dating back to the 1200th century, and you probably have the site all to yourself. What un unforgettable add-on to the beer tasting in Prague style!

Address & Opening Hours of U Kunstatu
Retezova 3, Prague 1
Open: Daily 2PM­–11PM, guided beer tasting sessions at 6 PM
www.ukunstatu.cz

Nota Bene

Nota Bene requires a short hike off the tourist trail, behind Wenceslas Square. The “craft beer point” located at the cellar serves 12 draft beers, while the restaurant at the next door had four beers on tap during our exploration. Good news is that all of them are from a local microbrewery called Unetické pivo, located just behind the borders of Prague. We sampled a truly excellent Zitná IPA and velvety Black IPA, both highly recommended.

Since you’ve made it this far, indulge in the treats of the kitchen, as well. We had fantastic fillet mignons, mine accompanied with three different mushrooms and delicious sauce with cauliflower puree; Piritta requested ginger sauce with mashed potatoes. We usually share the dessert, but Nota Bene’s espresso cheesecake was so yummy that we had to order a second one. Go for a craft beer and stay for a meal!

Address & Opening Hours of Nota Bene
Mikovcova 4, Praha 2
Open: Mon-Fri 11AM-11PM, Sat 12PM-11PM, Sun closed
www.notabene-restaurant.cz

T-Anker

T-Anker is a hidden gem lurking on the shady side street in the heart of Prague. From Náměstí Republiky square, step on a bystreet called Králodvorská and take a gritty elevator to the fifth floor. You’ll be rewarded with a solid craft beer selection, both from Czech microbreweries and abroad – 9 on tap and 60 in bottles!

As an added bonus, you’ll get unrivaled panorama upon the roofs of Malastrana. Even in the middle of winter, the rooftop terrace is pleasantly heated. You can even see the omnipresent twin towers of Tyn church while sampling, for example, some fine IPA from Malešov, Holá Rit’, or Permon. I’d select T-Anker for aperitifs or night cap in a good company.

Address & Opening Hours of T-Anker
5th floor of OD Kotva (department store), Náměstí Republiky, Praha 1
Open: Daily 11AM-10PM
www.t-anker.cz/en

Pivovarsky Dum

Founded already in 1998, Pivovarsky Dum (“the brewer’s house) is a modern classic in Prague craft beer scene. When I visited Prague the first time in 2008, Pivovarsky Dum was one of a kind, as there weren’t many other microbreweries. I loved the unique experience of tasting local brews back then. Nowadays, I’d venture into Pivovarsky Dum after their specialty beers – such as banana beer, nettle beer, or beer champagne – if those kinds of experiments rock your boat.

Address & Opening Hours of Pivovarsky Dum
Křižíkova 17°, Praha 8 – Karlín
Open: Daily 11AM-11.30PM
www.pivovarskydum.com

Still thirsty for more? If you’re into everything bizarre like us, try the herbal beers of Pivovar U Dobřenských. I love medicinal herbs, but it’s pretty rare to find them in beer. The specialty of this microbrewery is an ale brewed with tribulus terrestris, herb which known to boost testosterone levels. A little bit more mainstream version on tap is a stout with sage, and the third beer is always seasonal.

With already three locations, Beer Museum will pop around the corner sooner or later while strolling around the streets of Prague. We didn’t take the chance, as they charge an entrance fee and the place looked extremely touristic. Feel free to visit also the traditional watering holes, such as U Fleku or U Zlateho Tygra. We don’t like them that much (both overly touristic and often crammed with drunks), but what the heck, it’s worth a try while you’re in Prague.

Have you visited the microbreweries or craft beer pubs in Prague – or would you like to include “a microbrew crawl” on your bucket list?

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Prague is a mecca for microbreweries and craft beer pubs. Visit our favorite pubs and get lost in the exhaustive microbrew menus!

Paragliding in Medellin was one of the highlights of our Colombian adventures

Paragliding Upon the Hills of Medellin, Colombia

Paragliding in Medellin is among the best adventures you can experience in Colombia. Choose your paragliding company wisely to avoid risks and enjoy the sublime flight. Read on to find the best paragliding spot in Medellin and take off from the green hills, spin in the air and enjoy the sceneries over the red-bricked cityscape of Medellin!

Our Paragliding Experience: Eclectic Mix of Fear and Joy

While putting on a paragliding harness, I’m staring down at the meandering skyline of Medellin, shivering from the second thoughts. A couple of brave-hearts are already gliding through the sky, some spinning recklessly, the others gaining altitude firmly. I’m envious of their infinite panorama over the green hills that guard the valley of Medellín and the tapestry of the red-bricked roofs below their feet. The urge to see the world like a bird convinces me to push my boundaries: I’ve come this far to paraglide upon Medellin, so let’s do it!

Struggling Against the Fear of Free-Flying

My paragliding instructor wakes me up, telling that the weather is just perfect today, as the wind is “only” 22 meters per second. I ask, nervously, if we’ll use an engine. The answer is negative; we are just free-flying. I’m thinking how much skill it would take to glide more than a thousand meters upwards and not to fall down when a sudden blast takes on the light-weight paragliding wing. There will be turbulence, I’ve heard, and I can clearly see how the airborne paragliders struggle. What if a nasty blast whisks us too high, or our paragliding wing collapses?

We’ve been paragliding before, but it was more than six years ago in Romania, and I was as terrified back then, as well. But somehow it felt more safe, as we were backed up by a motor, and just descending from the mountains of Brasov – not free-flying upon an enormous valley, and a city, like the paragliders of Medellin. Maybe my fear of heights has grown bigger, or the 1,5-hour bus trip to the hills, followed by a short, but grueling climb upon the peak, just took its mental toll. My head is buzzing, but in the shadows lurks still the old excitement – I’m pretty sure I’ll love the paragliding experience nevertheless – at least when it’s over!

Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia
Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia

Taking Off With the Parachute

I watch how Piritta takes off, seemingly excited. For the next 20 minutes, I won’t let her parachute out of my sight. Just before the landing time, I lost the blue and white paraglider wing behind the trees. Immediately, threat scenarios fill my mind. Suddenly, Piritta and her paragliding instructor tumble back on the hilltop, laughing out loud. My relief is mixed with a flash of horror, as my instructor says that it’s our time to take off.

We walk to the parachute, and the team runs to us, quickly attaching our harnesses into the aircraft. Strong wind beats us down several times before we even try to run off. While trying to run, I fall bringing down the promisingly kiting parachute. The team calms me down just to make me realize how nervous I am. I decide to keep my legs and finish the take-off. Next time, a hearty breeze helps us to lift in the air smoothly. We’re getting altitude quickly, swinging from side to side. Still pressing the metallic sidebars of our paragliding wing, I’m all smile. Taking off is always the hardest part; now it’s time to enjoy the ride over the valley of Medellin.

Piritta's team making preparations just before running to taking off to paraglide upon Medellin
Piritta is just taking off with her paragliding instructor from the hills of Medellin, Colombia

Paragliding Over Waterfalls, Farms, and the City of Medellin

We are floating on the breeze like a bird. I rest my eyes on the vast urban texture of Medellin that wiggles over a hilly surface, evading from the green peaks. From the air, it’s easy to believe that Medellin is the second biggest metropolis in Colombia. The neighborhoods of Medellin have such a pleasant small town feel that the city feels smaller when you walk the streets.

Excelling my limits feels amazing, again. Last time I challenged my fear of heights by jumping a bungee from Victoria Falls Bridge in Zambia. I wasn’t sure if I ever enjoyed the bungee, but this time I’m ecstatic. For a moment, we glide together with an eagle. I’m bursting with feelings of unlimited freedom and joy.

The hillside is peppered with small farms, and at lower altitudes, I can even recognize cows and goats wandering lazily around the pasture. We make a small detour to see nearby waterfalls and hills. Just when I feel in harmony with the surroundings, my pilot asks if I’d like to have some adrenaline. With a sudden flash of confidence, I nod cheerfully, though I know from experience what’s in store for me.

Paragliding Tricks: Spinning, Losing Altitude, and Getting High Again

During the next five minutes, I got a taste of “paragliding acro” like the pros call it. Paragliding aerobatics is freestyle paragliding, performing all kinds of tricks in the air. Nowadays the daredevils compete in yearly World Paragliding Aerobatics Championships. We’re spinning in the air, losing altitude quickly, then almost touching down before getting high again – just to do some more spinning. I laugh recklessly, awe-struck. I’m having a blast, but not without my old companion, the fear of crashing down.

That's me paragliding over the skies of Medellin, Colombia!

Is it Safe to Go Paragliding in Medellin, Colombia?

I’m not the right person to ask, but due to my fears, I’ve studied some statistics about paragliding safety. When you’re taking a tandem flight, an experienced pilot with proper paragliding equipment serves as your safety net. So choose your paragliding operator carefully. Almost all accidents are caused by the mistakes of the paragliding pilot or poor weather.

Agreeing to “the adrenaline ride” has its risks. Luckily, a professional pilot won’t do any “acro tricks” unless you ask for them. Spinning – or spirals – might cause the pilot to black out. Vertical wingovers might collapse the paragliding wing. Paragliding too low is risky because of the wires, though I didn’t see them on Medellin’s paragliding location. There’s also a nasty “downwind demon”, a risk of colliding with something due to the illusion that haunts pilots only when flying too low. In Medellin, the landing area seemed huge, making it a secure spot to paraglide even for several paragliders at a time. Still, it might be fatal if you crash into another paraglider in the air, but an experienced pilot knows the risks.

According to statistics, paragliding is as almost safe as driving. Paragliding is safer than for example motorcycling. Skydiving is about four times more dangerous than paragliding. More than 90 % of paragliding accidents happen within the first ten flights of the pilot. All tandem pilots are naturally experienced. I find these numbers extremely calming.

The Best Times to Go Paragliding in Medellin

Still, there are some risks, which you can avoid though you’re not the pilot. Weather-wise, the best times to go paragliding are the first and three last hours of daylight. That’s also the timeframe RubenFly, our paragliding operator in Medellin, suggested, though we picked another timing. We were still lucky to get clear skies. Afternoons might bring clouds and even thunderstorms.

If you’d prefer paragliding down to Medellin, book your paragliding activity for the morning hours (before 10.30AM). Usually, it’s not possible to land down in the valley during the midday, as hot weather from the city sends heat up. Then, you’ll end up landing in San Felix like us.

The paragliding spot in San Felix gets crowded with local aficionados during the weekends, so if possible schedule your paragliding adventure for any other weekday. It’s always safer to take off and land when there are less people around.

How to Choose Paragliding Company in Medellin

Whereas many tour companies in Medellin sell paragliding tours, we would strongly recommend booking straight through a true paragliding operator (search for “paragliding medellin”, “paragliding companies medellin”, or in Spanish “parapente medellin” from Google). That way you know the company you’re dealing with and can also double-check their reputation. Check that the operator is licensed and certified. We were paragliding with Ruben Fly, a pioneering paragliding company in Medellin. They hold a record of more than 8000 successful flights without accidents.

Paragliding in Colombia

Overall, Colombia is a perfect paragliding destination with several top-notch sites. You can enjoy morning thermals and afternoon soaring with safe landings. The most popular paragliding sites of Colombia are in Medellin (Antioquia) and Santander: Bucaramanga, San Gil, and Parque National del Chicamocha between the latter two cities. Santander is known for more challenging weather conditions than Medellin.

Generally, tandem flights are handled professionally and safely everywhere and most operators also offer courses. In Colombia, paragliding is possible nearly every day around the year!

How to Get to San Felix, Medellin’s Best Paragliding Location

Most paragliding companies in Medellin operate in the small town called San Felix. Usually, the company offers transfers if you’d like to book them separately. Private transfer (or taxi) cuts the distance between San Felix and Medellin’s city center in 30-40 minutes.

With public transport, it took for us a little bit more than one hour to reach San Felix. We traveled by metro to San Javier (line B) and took a cable car to Aurora (yellow line). Then, we took a local bus to San Felix according to Ruben Fly’s instructions (ask the specifics from your paragliding partner). It felt very easy to find the spot. As the bus crawls all the way up to the hills, the views get more amazing with every kilometer. Thus, for us, the bus ride felt pleasant enough.

Exciting Day Trip to Combine With Your Paragliding Adventure

If you decide to take the metro/cable/bus combination and travel through San Javier, please consider visiting the outdoor escalators of Comuna 13 either before or after your paragliding experience. It’s an inspiring neighborhood with a troubled past, once dubbed as the murder capital of Medellin. Visiting Comuna 13 independently to explore the world-famous outdoor escalators and blooming street art scene is considered safe. Check out our separate article for more information!

What to Pack for Paragliding in Medellin?

The altitude of San Felix is 2378 meters/7805 ft: you’re already 1000 meters higher than the city of Medellin! Thus, the climate in San Felix is slightly cooler and it only gets colder up in the air.  You might want to pack a sweater or light jacket. Forget flipflops and take sneakers or some other good shoes instead. Otherwise, your paragliding company will offer all the equipment you need.

Book Medellin Paragliding With RubenFly

If you’d like to go paragliding with RubenFly, as we did, you can either send email to paraglidingmedellin@gmail.com or text/WhatsApp to +57 310 517 7940 (Ruben Montoya, the owner of RubenFly). We are not affiliated with them, but can wholeheartedly recommend their professional service. We felt safe at all times.

How to Get to Medellin

You can reach Medellin from other parts of Colombia by driving or taking a bus or internal flight. We recommend flying if you’re short on time, as the mountainous roads leading to Medellin for example from Cartagena and the Caribbean coast are unpredictable. Even locals prefer domestic flights instead of tiring drives. Check how to book cheap flights within Colombia with these simple flight hacks! If you’re still planning your adventures, you might want to check our Colombian one-month itinerary, as well.

I recommend trying paragliding at least once – even if you have a mild fear of heights. The essence of paragliding is just floating calmly in the air and enjoying the scenery: it’s more like airborne sightseeing than wild adrenaline activity. Paragliding in Medellin is a perfect introduction to the sport of paragliding since it feels safe and adventurous at the same time and the stunning birds-eye view will leave you wanting more!

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Go paragliding in Medellin, Colombia! Spin in the air like a bird and enjoy the sublime sceneries over Medellin.

Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino

10 Reasons to Visit Colombia in 2019: Best Adrenaline and Cultural Adventures, Beaches, and Cities

Colombia is a perfect holiday destination and with stabilizing security situation, it’s rising to the radar fast. The Caribbean beaches, archeological sites, mountain treks and other adventurous activities are some of the best in South America, and the Colombian Amazon remains relatively unspoiled, unlike Peruvian and Brasilian sides. Check out why you should book your next adventure to the country of magical realism!

While Colombia has become tourist-friendly, its natural beauty remains unsullied. Beaches, mountains, and jungles, together with many small colonial towns, throw you into wild adventures veering off the beaten path. We loved the authentic feel of Colombia throughout our 4-week tour, even though we visited many famous attractions. Read on to see why Colombia stole our hearts to pick your favorites and take off to the pristine adventures before the masses arrive!

1. Untamed Paradise Beaches

Tourism hasn’t spoiled Colombia’s best beaches. There are still endless, untamed jungle beaches on both Caribbean and Pacific sides. Small stretches beside the major cities like Cartagena and Santa Marta have their share of sun seekers, but just outside the biggest tourist draws spread the real gems. We loved our visit to a spectacular jungle beach between Tayrona National Park and Palomino.

Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park
Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

2. Snowcapped Mountains and High-Altitude Páramos

The unique high-altitude plains of Colombia, called páramo, once again scream out the concept of magical realism. Multi-day treks can take you to eerie high-altitude lakes and the snow-capped Andes. The largest páramo ecosystem of the world, Páramo de Sumapaz, can even be visited on a day tour from Bogotá, but it’s still a challenging, high-altitude hike.

Good news is that you’ll only need to take a public bus from Popayán to San Agustín to get a glimpse of the surrealistic páramo landscapes. On a one month tour in Colombia, you’d probably like to visit San Agustín anyway, so the páramo will be conveniently on your route!

3. Cultural Adventures

Colombia’s rich history still vibrates in the air in the cobbled streets of lovingly restored colonial cities, between the man-sized statues of San Agustín, and in the vegetation covered ruins of ancient civilizations found deep in the jungles.

Colombians love their heritage. Bogotá has a museum for everybody, as the treasures are scaling from gold to remarkable South American art, the famed sword of Simon Bolívar (featured in Narcos, as well), ex-police headquarters, Pablo Escobar’s Harley Davidson and pistol, military uniforms, old prison cells, and Pre-Colombian mummies.

Throughout Colombia, you’ll bump into indigenous tribes, from more than 70 tribes living in the Colombian Amazon to the biggest tribe called Wayúu that populates the La Guajira peninsula on the Caribbean coast. In Tayrona National Park you’ll meet the Kogi, descendants of Tairona people and in the Colombian Andes live other groups, such as the Guambiano that can be encountered in Popayán. Indigenous tribes form 3,5 % of Colombia’s total population making it the second most ethnically diverse country in America (right after Brazil).

For me, the spirit of Colombian literary superstar Gabriel García Márquez was omnipresent in the form of “magical realism”. The myths, spirits, legends, and unbelievable stories linger below the visible surface of this multifaceted country. Colombians worship their “Gabo”: tours are run in his name and you can trample on his footsteps in Cartagena, Bogotá, Barranquilla, Mombox, and his hometown Aracataca.

After the Netflix hit series Narcos, Medellín is facing a real tourism boom in the name of Pablo Escobar, on which we’ll shed light later on. Talking about culture, carnivals, salsa, football, and Roman Catholic influence shouldn’t be forgotten, either. Some might also add Shakira to this weird mix.

View towards Medellín from the luxurious
View towards Medellín from the luxurious "prison" called La Catedral, which Pablo Escobar built for himself

4. Adrenaline Adventures

Airborne activities like parasailing and skydiving are offered in many cities, even outside “the adventure capital” San Gil. We tried our wings upon the green hills and red roofs of Medellín and will share the thrill in another post.

Snorkeling and diving are divine on the shores, particularly on the Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andres. Even the reefs of the most popular tourist destinations, Tayrona National Park and Rosario Islands, are worth plunging.

Horseback riding in Colombia is as good as it gets without fancy ranches and thoroughbreds. We were surprised how good the local horses looked throughout the country and galloped through the national parks of Tayrona and San Agustín respectively. Then there are unrivaled mountain treks, surfing, white-water rafting, rock climbing, and whale watching, making it hard to choose what to skip!

Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia
Paragliding upon the hills of Medellín, Colombia

5. Top-notch Archaeological Sites with an Adventurous Twist

Colombia is not yet famous for its archaeological sites, but it definitely should be. You’ve probably heard about the most hyped destination called the Lost City, Ciudad Perdida, which can only be reached through a popular multi-day trek. The more modest ruins of the same Tairona civilization can be visited in nearby Tayrona National Park.

At the other side of the country, amidst emerald green hills and at the foot of the snowcapped Andes, lurk two less hyped but more important archaeological sites. Scattered around stunning countryside and jungle, the ruins of San Agustín make up the world’s biggest necropolis. The stunning stone statues, graves, and ceremonial sites can be reached by a leisure half day hike inside the archaeological park, another half day of horseback riding, and a half day loop with a jeep. Visiting the ruins on horseback feels adventurous and showcases the sleepy countryside at the same time.

Tierradentro is the third destination for archaeological buffs with similar man-sized statues as in San Agustín and important underground tombs and burial chambers. Both San Agustín and Tierradentro are Unesco World Heritage Sites.

One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia.
One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia

6. Unparalleled Colonial Cities, Towns, and Villages

While Cartagena is the most stunning colonial city we’ve ever visited, and we’re not alone with our affection, the story doesn’t stop there. Locals prefer smaller – and to their experience more authentic – Santa Marta over Cartagena. Even La Candelaria, the colonial barrio of Bogotá, will enchant you with blissfully preserved and charmingly crumbled colonial buildings, now housing world-class museums and restaurants. Photogenic colonial towns and tiny villages are sprinkled all around the country, all you need to do is to pick your favorite from the beauties such as but not limited to Villa de Leyva, Mompox, Jardin, Popayán, and Barichara!

The cathedral of Popayán, Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

7. Lovely Boutique Hotels

You don’t need to rough it to enjoy the splendors of Colombia. Hotel scene is developing rapidly with the new tourism boom, but in my opinion, only Bogotá and Cartagena have a full spectrum of luxury hotels and boutique hotels. Even in Medellín, it was a tough call to find an affordable, high-quality boutique hotel. Luckily many small towns receiving a steady number of tourists, like San Agustín, have a couple of attractive, though not luxurious, boutique hotels. Check out our list of affordable boutique hotels in Colombia!

8. Varied Culinary Experiences

One of the biggest surprises for me was the level of cooking and the sheer amount of brilliant culinary experiences we encountered in Colombia. Regional cuisines are strong, but some stables, like patacones (fried plantains), arroz coco (coconut rice), and arepas (fried corn cakes) are found everywhere. Fruits and vegetables are, naturally, delicious. Meat and fish tend to be perfectly cooked. In bigger cities like Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and Santa Marta we ate our way through fabulous international restaurants. From local treats, we loved the aji picante in Medellín, spicier foods like curries on the Caribbean coast, and Amazonian fish dishes.

The Colombian food was the best we’ve had on the continent. Also, as coffee geeks, we haven’t tasted better local coffee in any country, though we’ve visited several renown coffee producers like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nicaragua. If you’d like to get caffeinated and find the best cafés in Bogotá, click here.

The mass-produced local beer brands – Club Colombia, Àguila, and Poker – rose to near the top of our list the best local beers. Club Colombia Dorada (golden) and Roja (red) were our undisputed favorites. Although Colombian microbreweries didn’t win our hearts, I believe that scene is developing fast, as well.

9. Cheap Internal Flights

If you yearn to see the many faces of Colombia, you’ll need to visit several districts. But Colombia is bigger than you’d imagine: distances are long. Mountains and unpaved roads make drives both exhausting and unpredictable. Luckily, with a bit of travel hacking, you can fly around rather affordably. For example, we preferred 30 $ flight from Bogotá to Cartagena (1,5 hours) over a bus trip of the same cost (27 $) that would have lasted more than 18 hours. Still, many foreign tourists use long distance buses, since they cannot book cheap flights. Learn our flight hacks and book cheap internal flights to crown your trip in Colombia!

The legendary Cafe Havana, Cartagena

10. Relaxed Ambiance & Friendly Colombians

After a long list, there’s still something “more” about Colombia that remains obscure and hard to describe. I’ll label it into relaxed atmosphere and friendliness of Colombians, though that’s not the whole story here, either. I could label it into “magic of Colombia” or “the magical realism”, as well.

The ambiance is very welcoming everywhere, from the tiny jungle and mountain villages to the barrios of the big cities. If you need any help and try to express yourself in broken Spanish, there’s always somebody who’ll take care of your problem.

Part of the spell is the natural beauty of the countryside and mountains, for sure. The other half could be the myths and legends rooted in the culture: the stories about spirits and ancestors that Colombians have been telling their kids for centuries. People appear happy – and that makes me smile, as well.

After my lengthy confession, why would you love to visit Colombia? If you’ve already lost your heart to this magical country, why you’d recommend it to other travelers? Please share the love in the comments below. After all the political struggles, Colombia deserves more visitors and positive reputation – it’s an amazing destination for adventurers, families, beach bums, mountaineers, history buffs, coffee geeks, and even foodies!

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Colombia is rising to the radar fast: the Caribbean beaches, mountain treks, and Amazon adventures are some of the best in South America.

Libertario Café: the best specialty coffee shop in Bogotá

Find the Best Coffee in Bogota: Specialty Coffee Shops, Cafes and Coffee Beans [2019]

Visit the coolest coffee shops in Bogota to shop the best specialty coffee beans in Colombia – or just linger over perfect espresso, pour over, cold brew, latte, or the mocha of your choice. Brewing methods are unlimited, baristas creative, and coffee beans among the best in the world. Even if you’re not in Colombia in the hunt of coffee, stop by at one of these cafes to sniff out the cool hipster vibes of Bogota.

The Third-Wave Coffee Shop Revolution in Bogota

There’s something exciting brewing in Bogota’s coffee shop scene. Tens of hip third-wave coffee shops have been popping up during the last couple of years – and they serve some of the best coffee beans in the world.

Just five years back, it was still hard to find a solid cup of specialty coffee in Bogota, or anywhere in Colombia. Although Colombia has ranked among the three biggest coffee producing countries in the world for decades, Colombia’s best coffee beans used to be imported to roasteries around the world.

The same story has become a little too familiar to us after touring several coffee nations in the hunt of the best beans, like Nicaragua, Kenya, Tanzania, and some of the upcoming stars such as Uganda and Rwanda. But let’s go back to the bustling streets of Bogota for some serious specialty coffee tasting!

Start Your Coffee Shop Tour From the Cafes of Chapinero

First, work your way into trendy Chapinero neighborhood (we preferred taxis in Bogota), which is the unofficial hipster coffee shop mecca in Bogota.

We even chose Chapinero as our home base in Bogota and picked our hotel in the middle of the coffee house triangle, which I drafted on Google Maps (I know, my caffeine addiction sounds bad)! All the first four coffee houses were less than a 10-minute walk from our hotel (and from each other), meaning that you can visit all of them conveniently during one morning or afternoon. Just watch out for that caffeine high!

Libertario Coffee: The Best Specialty Coffee Shop in Bogota (Or At Least in Chapinero)

Calle 71 #534, Chapinero

Libertario Coffee won our hearts even before we landed at Bogota. They have an ultramodern and experimental coffee farm called La Palma y El Tucan in Cundinamarca area, just 1,5 hours by car from Bogotá. The passion for specialty coffee vibrates in the air: they call their extremely knowledgeable baristas “barirockstars” and host visiting (famed) baristas from all over the world.

Sampling the rarities of Libertario Coffee (including Geisha and SL28) was one of the highlights of our trip. Libertario Coffee is small, fancy, and yet relaxed coffee shop catering business clientele of Chapinero. We left the cafe with broad smiles on our faces and boxes of praised Geisha beans in our bags.

Tip from specialty coffee geek: Libertario’s coffee farm in Cundinamarca welcomes non-trade coffee pilgrims!

Café Cultor: Hip Container Cafe for Third-Wave Coffee Enthusiasts
Calle 69 #6-20, Chapinero

Hipster cafe built in a container with a sunny rooftop terrace and unbeatable coffee beans – what else you could wish! Cafe Cultor is located next to Impact Hub, in the very heart of the entertaining district called Zona G. To make it perfect for coffee tourists, Café Cultor is just a 5-minute walk from both Amor Perfecto and Libertario Coffee.

The roots of Café Cultor reflect the past coffee scene of Colombia: Café Cultor started as an export company but decided to open a local coffee shop in Bogota after realizing that majority of their beans were flowing out of the country. Thus, they aim to educate coffee addict on Colombian coffee with infographics and workshops, and (free!) tastings. Coffee is roasted in their own lab.

The original container cafe has now three sister coffee shops around Bogota: Café Cultor Librería (Calle 71 #10-47), Biblioteca (Calle 11 #4-14), and Casa (Calle 70A #9-44).

Café Devoción: Pharmacy Coffee Shop & Boutique Roastery

Carrera 7 #72-41, Chapinero (inside Hilton Hotel)

Don’t let the location or late 1800’s pharmacy look fool you, inside Hilton Hotel lurks a true gem of Colombian boutique coffee roaster. Actually, they are more than boutique, also serving ”exotic” and ”grand cru” scale coffee beans (rated by Specialty Coffee Association of America).

The bizarre fact of the day: 90% of their coffee beans comes from ”the red zones” of Colombia a.k.a guerrilla-infested areas. By supporting Café Devoción, you’ll support farmers in those troubled, hard-to-reach corners of the country. Go there especially for exotic coffee bean souvenirs and cold slow brewed coffee. Café Devoción has a separate roastery in Bogotá.

And that’s not all! Café Devoción has a high-end sister café in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. Prime Colombian coffee beans are shipped to New York within 10 days of harvesting. I’d call that true devotion (devoción)!

Ps. Café Devoción has a webshop shipping the freshest possible Colombian coffee within the US.

Amor Perfecto: Colombian Specialty Coffee Trailblazer

Carrera. 4 #66-46, Chapinero

Amor Perfecto is the first specialty coffee roaster in Colombia, established already in 1997. Their single-origin coffee is available in 600 locations around the country, from supermarkets to other cafes. While we didn’t have time to visit their café, we had the chance to taste their beans.

Bourbon Coffee Roasters: Perfect Single-Origin Take-Away

Calle 70A #13-83, Chapinero

A 15-minute hike from cafes listed above, Bourbon Coffee Roasters hides near the TransMilenio station of Chapinero. So if you use buses, it’s probably on your way. Single origin Colombian coffee beans are roasted on the spot.

Varietale: The Newest Chapinero Coffee Shop

Calle 41 #8-43, Chapinero

The newest addition to the third-wave coffee shops of Chapinero, Varietale is already a local favorite. Locally roasted single origin done with your fvorite brewing method.

The Best Third-Wave Coffee Shops Outside Chapinero:

Azahar Coffee Company: The Best Cafe in Parque 93

Calle 93B #13-91

Azahar Cafe is your trusted supplier of specialty coffee in upscale Parque 93 neighborhood. Plenty of brewing methods available together with single origin Colombian coffee and blends.

The original Parque 93 Azahar Cafe has now two sisters around Bogota: one in Candelaria (Carrera 3 No. 12B-60) and the other in San Felipe (Calle 74 No 22-91).

Cafe Origami: The Best Cafe in La Macarena

Cra. 4a #26C-04

Trust Cafe Origami in your caffeine needs in trendy La Macarena neighborhood. As the name suggests, origamis are the theme here.

Contraste Coffee Lab: The Best Coffee Shop in Candelaria

Hotel Continental: Av. Jimenez #4-26 

Contraste Coffee Lab is your best bet in the historic old town of Bogota called Candelaria. It’s centrally located nearby Museo d’Oro. The owner roasts coffee on spot. Brewing and tasting classes are available.

Juan Valdez Café, El Dorado International Airport

Arrive at Colombia in style: pop in Juan Valdéz Café right at the airport! It will be the best cup you can find at the El Dorado International Airport for sure. Geek it up and order chocolate-flavored beans from Sierra Nevada mountains, brewed imposingly at your table with Siphon. In my opinion, that’s the best cup you can get from Juan Valdez, assuming that the barista is skilled.

While not our favorite, Juan Valdez Café is a Colombian coffee icon. The multinational coffee chain has cafés all around the country, quenching your thirst of coffee conveniently almost anywhere you roam. You might have heard of the brand, as they even have own café shops for example in the US, Spain, Mexico, and several other countries, mainly in South and Central America.

One word of warning, though. I’d call Juan Valdez a mainstream version of specialty coffee shop, with chain-like atmosphere and average coffee beans but a variety of brewing methods (though the selection of both beans and brewing methods varies between the cafes). The quality between baristas and thus our cups varied tremendously during our one-month tour in Colombia (both within one cafe and between branches). Still, Juan Valdez is always a decent choice for a quick espresso fix, if there aren’t independent specialty coffee shops around.

Juan Valdez claims to be the only internationally recognized coffee brand that belongs to coffee growers. It was established in 2002 by a non-profit, National Federation of Coffee Growers. A fictional character named Juan Valdez illustrates their cups and merchandises with his mule – fun souvenir options for coffee lovers among your friends or family.

Join the discussion! We had a limited time to roam the specialty coffee scene in Bogota, so what are your favorite cafes and why?

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The hipster cafes of Bogotá serve some of the best coffee in the world. Stop by at one of the cafe gems to sniff out the cool vibes of Bogotá!

Check our trekking and riding guide to Tayrona National Park and find the best beaches!

Visiting Tayrona National Park In One Day: Riding and Trekking Guide

The beaches of Tayrona shake you with drastic beauty, but visiting Tayrona National Park in one day trip can make you gasp out of frustration, as well. Go there for laidback beach hopping at one of the prettiest shorelines of Colombia, pre-Colombian ruins, and scenic trekking and horseback riding routes. Grab a map, mend the rules, rent a horse, and play a game of beach hopping with us!

Welcome to the Paradise of Ancient Tayrona People

Tayrona National Park appears as an ancient paradise that has been cloistered from the modern civilization. The curtain of lush coconut palms reveals the raging, azure Caribbean, which is tamed into lulling waves in some sheltered bays. Monumental boulders rhythm the coastline, casting shade for jazzy corals and playful fish. The spell of Tayrona National Park is deepened by stories of an ancient indigenous tribe, Tairona. Tayrona Indians inhabited this thick jungle in addition to their more famous terraced city, Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.

The ancient Tayrona people set sail from Cabo San Juan del Guia, after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills
The ancient Tayrona people set sail from Cabo San Juan del Guia, after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills of Tayrona National Park

How to Plan Your Visit to Tayrona National Park and Avoid the Pitfalls

The first step of planning: decide how long to spend in Tayrona Nationa. If you’re just daytripping like us, look at the map of Tayrona Park and read further to decide which beaches and other spots to pick. If you feel the urge to visit Pueblito, make it your top priority and arrive at the gates of Tayrona when they open at 8AM. If you’d just like to spend a relaxed day trekking or horseback riding from a stunning beach to next, we’ve written this guide especially for you!

When leaving our hotel, we get an intriguing map of Tayrona National Park, which resembles old board games. Excited, I decide to call our day “the beach hopping Monopoly” since we decided to use horses to travel from one beach to another, crossing several properties, and aiming to visit the pre-Hispanic town of Pueblito. Later it turned out that Tayrona National Park offered a classic board game experience: we had to take our chances, speeding up but still failing to accomplish everything we had planned. Learn from our mistakes and plan carefully to maximize your chances to explore Tayrona.

Warning: Visiting Tayrona National Park in one day showcases the cons of Colombia

The queues can be intolerable, especially on weekends, and the backpacker vibe is loudly manifested at the most stunning beaches, such as Cabo San Juan del Guia. But if you know what to expect and plan accordingly, your visit to Tayrona National Park will still feel magical!

Wouldn't you love to find the secluded coves in Tayrona National Park?

How to Play Wisely at the Tayrona National Park Entrance

So let’s get into the beach hopping game and check out the rules to get out the most out of your visit to Tayrona National Park. In case you’re not interested in the rules at this point, jump over to the next chapter and start the game by renting a horse! Or if horses are not your thing, jump straight to our trekking guide section.

At the starting line, we’ll need to mend the official rules to get in the game more rapidly. Walk towards the entrance looking determined. Probably, you cannot avoid the first checkpoint, where your bag will be inspected. It’s not allowed to bring glass bottles or alcohol inside the park, dare you! Also, plastic bags are forbidden, so make sure you don’t carry any.

Put your firm face on and walk on, trying to sneak past the next park officers, who urge you to watch a lengthy film about the park. Once again, it’s hard to avoid the nuisance. Take a back seat and try to evaporate as soon as you can to find the best beaches before the masses arrive. We used an arriving group as our cover. Time is money if you have only one day in Tayrona National Park!

Now, proceed towards the ticket queue and hope for the best. We had to wait in line for one hour. Please try to avoid the rush by arriving in the entrance of Tayrona National Park as early as you can and visiting on the weekdays (make sure it’s not a national holiday, either). We arrived at 9.30 AM, whereas the gates open at 8 AM, and cursed vigorously sleeping in. However, we heard later that people, who arrived well before opening and watched the information film in the first group of the day, still had to wait 1,5 hours because the personnel came late and some people didn’t have their ID’s. Welcome to Colombia.

There are obvious management issues, but you can try to smooth things by holding your passport and entrance fee (43000 COP, about 15$) at hand. Please don’t ask any questions at the Tayrona ticket booth; there are plenty of guides and park officers hanging around the entrance, who can give more information about the park, routes, and sights – also in English.

Finally, with the national park tickets in your hand, proceed forward towards the vans, which carry visitors the 4 km leg to Cañaveral against the 3000 COP fee. Save your strength and skip an uninspiring, 1-hour walk by the paved road towards the shoreline of Tayrona. Cañaveral marks the first beach on your route, but if you have just one day in the park, hit the trail here and save swimming for better coves.

Rent Horses and Gallop to the Jungles of Tayrona

If you’re visiting Tayrona National Park in one day, I’d suggest covering some of the distance with horses. The same goes if you are planning to camp in Tayrona Park since you’ll have a lot to carry and need to hurry to get the best spot. I always play Monopoly with a horse token, so my opinion might be biased, but as you cannot take a car or plane inside the park, a horse is way better than just a wheelbarrow, though locals use them for transporting goods, as well.

Tip: the most beautiful beach in Tayrona, called Cabo San Juan del Guia, has only two double rooms which can’t be booked in advance. It’s well worth hurrying to get a private room!

Cañaveral is the best spot inside Tayrona National Park to rent horses. The stables are on the left from where the van drops you. You’ll also drive past a tiny square just before Cañaveral; we opted walking back a couple of hundred meters to pick our horses from there. The price is 40000 COP (about 14$) all the way to Cabo San Juan del Guia (one-way, per person). Just note that horses have a partly different route than hikers. Whereas the Tayrona’s hiking path hugs beach most of the time, horses go a bit deeper inland. I loved both sceneries, so I would recommend walking back to get the whole deal!

Is it Safe to Ride in Tayrona National Park?

You don’t have to be an experienced rider because the horses of Tayrona are reliable and know how to move on the challenging terrain. They won’t gallop unless you’ll encourage them to speed up. Still, you need to be prepared to ride up and down very steep hills, through narrow gorges between stones, and wooden bridges.

Everyone says that the horses know the route from Cañaveral to Cabo San Juan del Guia by heart, but we ended up taking the wrong turn more than once. But then again, we galloped and trotted so much that the horses probably didn’t feel to be on a traditional shift. If you ride calmly, the owner will walk with you showing the right route all the time.

To our experience, the horses won’t spook out if they see lizards or birds, so probably that’s the case with bigger wildlife, as well. To be honest, you have to be incredibly lucky to spot more than howler monkeys during your visit in Tayrona National Park. Of course, the chances are better if you stay overnight in Tayrona and take a night trek. Tayrona National Park is the last place on earth to see cotton-top tamarins, and in the shades of the jungle lurk also elusive jaguars and tiger cats (oncillas).

“Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders of Tayrona that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures.”

Trekking Guide: Find the Best Beaches in Tayrona National Park (With or Without Horses)

Leisure, one-hour jungle trek, or a slightly less with a horse, escorts you to Arricifes, which rates amongst the most gorgeous beaches inside Tayrona National Park. The rip current makes even swimming risky; more than 250 people have drowned here since locals started to count the deaths ten years back. The current pattern is difficult to read even for experienced swimmers and surfers.

If you are on horseback, the route won’t take you to the seafront. It pays to walk back since then you can hug the beach for almost the whole hike between Arricifes and your final destination, Cabo San Juan de Guia. Part of the walk is on the sand. The walking route from Cañaveral to Arricifes is also more picturesque, though slightly longer than the route for horses.

Arricifes has the best restaurants in the park. If you still haven’t tried limonada de coco, do it here! The first camping area is called Yuluka and the second El Paraiso; both have restaurants. The other end of the beach is called Bukaru.

From Arricifes, it’s a spellbinding 15-minute walk to La Piscina. The hiking path lingers by the beach and crosses a lush palm grove before reaching the calmest beach, La Piscina, which is Spanish for the pool.

La Piscina was my favorite beach in Tayrona National Park; it nourished my body and soul between the riding and hiking legs. Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures. Just looking around feels like meditating.

The lagoon of La Piscina is the best place in Tayrona National Park for snorkeling and swimming. Although we didn’t have much time to snorkel, we fully enjoyed floating beside the majestic boulders. The ocean is unbelievably clear, and sand is not as crowded as in Cabo San Juan del Guia, which is your last destination on this horseback riding and walking route. Trekking from La Piscina to Cabo takes only 15 minutes.

Cabo San Juan del Guia is the most beautiful beach in Tayrona National Park, but unfortunately somehow spoiled with a large camping ground, a huge restaurant, and a plethora of sun worshippers. Without the crowds, Cabo San Juan del Guia would be the ultimate paradise beach. Now you just have to see through the backpacker vibe and try to time-travel into the ancient times. Grab a beer from the stall beside the restaurant and sit on the sand, allowing the gentle breeze lull you into paradise mode.

Massive boulders guard the powdery sand, letting in the Caribbean Sea in the shades of turquoise and azul. El Cabo must have been the spot, where the ancient Tayrona people set sail after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills. They probably used to swim here to clean up the dust of hunting. I wonder if this spectacular beach has had even deeper meaning for the Tairona, maybe as a ritual place. Little is known about the habits of Chibcha Indians, who inhabited the area of Tayrona National Park more than 2000 years ago. There’s even evidence of human population dating back to 4000 BCE.

Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park
Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

Trek to Pueblito Ruins From Cabo San Juan del Guia

If you’re spending the night in Tayrona National Park, please hike up to the ruins of Pueblito! The path leading to the mountains of Tayrona starts behind the camping area of Cabo San Juan del Guia. It’s a challenging two-hour trek upwards and one hour to descend, but you’ll be rewarded with small-scale pre-Hispanic ruins of the Tayrona village. Most of the town is buried beneath the vegetation, but there are some terraces, similar to those of Ciudad Perdida. On the way, you have good chances to spot wildlife, since a few people visit the site.

Unfortunately, we had to skip visiting Pueblito due to arriving too late to the trailhead. You should start the Pueblito hike before 2 PM to make it back during the daylight. We lost too much time at the entrance and took a couple of wrong turns with the horses. Although we tried to catch time at first, at halfway we made the decision of just enjoying the ride. If you have only one day in Tayrona National Park and plan to visit Pueblito, be sure to arrive before 8 AM.

Where to Stay in Tayrona National Park (Including Nearby Beaches)

The beaches in Tayrona National Park are arguably picture-perfect, but consequently, they are also full. Accommodation options in the national park are rather limited outside budget alternatives, camping, and very ripped down cottages. A couple of lovely lodges come with a hefty price tag, and you can’t still escape the crowds.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced boutique hotel at a deserted beach, you’ll have a couple of options outside Tayrona National Park, nearby the villages of Palomino, Buritaca, and Guachaca. After a thorough search, we found our match from La Mar de Bien, as we were looking for a small-scale boutique hotel with affordable prices, great meals, and a stunning beach. La Mar de Bien is the only hotel in the area with a pool – and it comes with massaging hydrothermals and hydrojets if you wish. It’s a green oasis of lush coconut palms and fruit trees just beside one of the most dramatic beaches we’ve seen. The best part is that you’ll have kilometers of sand just for yourself! During our endless beach walks, we encountered only a couple of other people. La Mar de Bien has only five rooms and one cottage, so book well in advance to ensure your ticket to paradise.

Other Tips for Visiting Colombia
The ultimate flight hacks in Colombia: Book Internal Flights for Domestic Prices
One-Month Itinerary: From beaches to mountains, colonial cities, the Amazon, and a mystic desert
Where to stay in Colombia? Check the best affordable hotels here!
Should you visit Medellín? Check our articles about paragliding and visiting Comuna 13
You need to visit San Agustín – Check our adventure of hunting 5000-year old statues
Where to find cool specialty coffee shops? Check our coffee guides for Cartagena and Bogotá
Still, need more reasons to visit Colombia? Check inspiration from this article!

What Would I Change in Our Visit to Tayrona National Park?

Visiting Tayrona was fun for sure, but our day would have been even better with more careful planning. The biggest downfall was that we ran out of time. If we’d visit Tayrona National Park again, I’d arrive well before the gate opens at 8 AM and hope for better luck at the ticket booth.

Ultimately, I’d skip the rather hectic one-day trip and spend the night inside Tayrona National Park to guarantee enough time for snorkeling, visiting the ruins of Pueblito, witnessing one of these spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and having enough beach time. I would still stay at least a couple of nights just outside the park’s limits, at one of the gorgeous beaches near Palomino. All this would just require more time than we had on our Colombian tour.

Our visit to Tayrona National Park was definitely long and a bit tiring but blessed with otherworldly sceneries and great horseback riding paths. Everything didn’t turn out like planned, but in the end, we still grinned like winners. The spell of Tayrona National Park was too much to resist, despite the crowds and unfortunate chances.

La Mar de Bien hosted our stay nearby Tayrona National Park, but all opinions remain our own. We were visiting Tayrona National Park independently and at our own cost.

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Rent a horse and gallop through the jungle from beach to another in the drastic Tayrona National Park, Colombia.

The Best Boutique Hotels in Colombia, from the beaches to the Amazon

The Best Hotels in Colombia: Affordable Luxury Hotels, Boutique Hotels, and Beach Villas

Smelling out an affordable luxury hotel in the big cities of Colombia proved out to be as hard as finding a boutique hotel from the remote locations, such as the Amazon. Check out our top picks, from affordable luxury and boutique hotels to the beach villas and classy B&B’s! 

This article has been thoroughly updated in June 2019 with a renewed list of the best hotels in Colombia. We decided to include only small-scale boutique hotels and luxury hotels, which reflect the Colombian heritage and offer a unique setting for your stay. The best news: all these hotels are affordable, as well!

The article contains affiliate links: if you decide to book your hotel through the links, we will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Think of it as buying a coffee for us on someone else. Thanks for your support!

The Best Beach Villa in Colombia:

La Mar de Bien Illustrious Guest House, Palomino (near Tayrona National Park)

Things get complicated when you’d like to stay in a gorgeous boutique hotel at a secluded beach in Colombia – and at an affordable price. We searched long and hard the best beach villa or the best beachside boutique hotel in Colombia. Finally, La Mar de Bien near Tayrona National Park, at a perfect paradise beach, ticked all the boxes.

A retired architect has created his dream beachside villa and turned it into a six-room boutique hotel. There’s even one cabaña (cottage) if you yearn for complete solitude, but all the rooms have well-needed privacy and most come with own porch. We fell in love with the penthouse room, where we could admire the crown of coconut palms and blue sky (or stars!) straight from our bed and hammock.

Sustainable and Secluded Beach Hotel

The mansion has been built using recycled materials from the owners’ previous house and nearby resources, like oaks from Magdalena region and stones thrown by the sea. Delicious Caribbean fusion meals are served in a lovely outdoor restaurant that is atmospherically lit during evenings. There’s also a new swimming pool, the only one in the area, equipped with massaging hydrothermals and hydrojets.

The beach is pleasantly untamed and feels deserted. During our stay, we encountered only one couple at the sand. The captivating Caribbean sunsets sprinkle magic into mellow evenings, while days spend inside the green oasis of coconut palms and fruit trees soothe your every cell. The magical Tayrona National Park is a just short drive (or taxi trip) away.

La Mar de Bien combines jungle and exclusion with all the modern comforts you could wish. The sounds of nature surround you; waves crashing on the shore, palms dancing in the breeze; a plethora of exotic birds, crickets, and frogs waking you up and lulling you to sleep. If you are planning to stay in only one beach hotel in Colombia, let it be La Mar de Bien! The name implies the vibe in old Spanish: heaps of goodness.

Check here the best rates for La Mar de Bien

Best Affordable Boutique Hotel in Cartagena:

Allure Chocolat Hotel By Karisma, Getsemani

We recommend staying in the Getsemani area in Cartagena. Getsemani has the best restaurants and the best price-quality ratio for luxury hotels. It’s much calmer than the Old City and less touristy. Still, the walled old town of Cartagena is just a couple of minutes away by foot.

We loved our stay in Allure Chocolat Boutique Hotel in the heart of Getsemani. Allure Chocolat also had the best prices for a short 4-star boutique hotel stay in Cartagena at the time of our research.

Check here the best rates for Allure Chocolat Hotel By Karisma

Best Affordable Luxury Hotel in Cartagena:

Tcherassi Hotel + Spa

Tcherassi Hotel + Spa is a legend in Cartagena. If you’re looking for a romantic setting and won’t mind investing a bit more than for Allure Chocolat, Tcherassi is your best bet for a luxurious stay in Cartagena.

Tcherassi Hotel + Spa has just around 40 rooms in a stunning 250-year-old colonial mansion. It’s the first hotel by Silvia Tcherassi, the famous Colombian fashion designer. Every detail screams elegance and heritage, yet their pricing is amazingly affordable. Check the best deals from here!

Cartagena's cathedral illustrate the most famous street views of Old Cartagena, Colombia

Best Beach Hotel in Cartagena:

Blue Apple Beach House

If you’d like to escape the bustle of Cartagena, take a boat to the nearby Tierrabomba Island and stay a couple of nights chilling by the beach at Blue Apple Beach House. It’s the best beach hotel in Tierrabomba and pleasantly luxurious for the price tag (please note that the hotels in Cartagena tend to be much more expensive than in the rest of Colombia).

Check the availability and best rates for Blue Apple Beach House

Tips for your visit to Cartagena
The ultimate guide to Cartagena: 41 Cool Things To Do in Cartagena
Best coffee shops & cafes in Cartagena

Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino

Best Affordable Luxury Hotel in Medellin:

Hotel Sites 45, Poblado

Live like a local in the hip Poblado neighborhood with the easiness of a hotel stay. Rooms in Hotel Sites 45 are more like luxurious apartments: even standard rooms have perks like small kitchenettes and private balconies with views over the red-bricked roofs of Medellín.

The best panorama opens from the rooftop terrace, which has a thermal pool, Turkish steam bath, and gym – all at your free disposal. There are even BBQ and self-service laundry facilities!

Personnel were so welcoming and engaging that we used to get stuck to the reception for half an hour to chitchat and change restaurant tips. We preferred Hotel Sites 45 over a more hyped, pricier and bigger luxury hotel, where we spent one night. The huge, spotless and contemporarily designed rooms, varied breakfast buffet, the level of service, and roof terrace facilities created a perfect boutique hotel feel at a bargain price.

Check out the best deals for Hotel Sites 45 here

Night view from the roof terrace of Sites 45, Medellín

Best Affordable Luxury Hotel in San Agustin, Colombia:

Terrazas de San Agustin

Arriving at the modest town of San Agustín, it’s hard to believe there’s a classy boutique hotel, or affordable luxury hotel if you will, hiding at the hilly side street, just a couple of hundred meters from the center.

From the outside, Terrazas de San Agustin looks like it’s straight from the architecture catalog. Rooms are clean, sheets crisp, service top-notch (though mainly in Spanish). Some of the rooms have private balconies, but the shared balconies at the top boast the best view of the town.

As the night crawls in, you might be tempted to skip all outing plans. Even we Finns approved the herbal sauna (free of charge), which soothed our sore muscles after hiking and riding in San Agustín National Park. Cool down in a jacuzzi at the terraced bar area or in the solitude of the upper balcony, watching the night sky and the lights of San Agustin.

Regardless of its off-the-beaten-path location and small size, Terrazas de San Agustin is constantly ranked among the best hotels of Colombia in travel publications. As it’s both affordable and luxurious (and clearly the best choice in San Agustin), book your room early.

Check the best deals for Terrazas de San Agustin here.

Best Affordable Luxury Hotel in the Coffee Region of Colombia:

Hotel Boutique Sazagua

If you’re looking for the best places to stay in Colombia’s coffee region, start from the charming hacienda-style luxury hotel called Hotel Boutique Sazagua. Conveniently located between the city of Pereira and its airport, Sazagua is a perfect first night spot for adventures around Colombia’s coffee triangle.

Hotel Boutique Sazagua has only ten rooms and five villas scattered around the lush garden, creating an intimate and upscale coffee ranch feel. You can book coffee tasting session, gastronomy tours, or horseback riding through the rolling hills at the spot.

Check the best rates of Hotel Boutique Sazagua here 

Best Affordable Boutique Hotel in the Colombian Amazon:

Hotel Amazon B&B, Leticia

Everyone visiting Amazon from the Colombian side must fly in the chaotic town of Leticia. Most accommodation options are just decent, but lovely Amazon B&B lures you almost to love your visit in Leticia. The cordial service takes you by surprise already at the airport, where they’ll wait to pick you up (without advertising it in advance, a gentle tip for every boutique hotel).

As ugly and gray as Leticia might be, Amazon B&B is the total opposite. Listening to the chirping inside the lush garden makes you forget that you’re still in town. Beautiful rooms are equipped with hot water, fridges, and enough fans (no need for air-con). Bungalows offer more privacy than the rooms and have own porches with hammocks.

Amazon B&B can arrange a variety of jungle trips, from night safaris to short and long day tours into the nearby Natural Reserves. Many visitors fall in love with the genuine boutique hotel charm of Amazon B&B and opt to stay there making just day excursions into the Amazon. We loved the tranquil atmosphere, ecological attitude, and the relaxed bar area in the middle of the lush garden.

Check the best deals for Amazon B&B here

Best Boutique Hotel & Beach Hotel in the Caribbean Islands of Colombia:

Deep Blue Hotel, Providencia

If you’re heading the Caribbean islands of Colombia, be an early bird and book your room at the award-winning Deep Blue in Providencia. Deep Blue fulfills your tropical daydreams with panoramic ocean views and tranquil days by the infinity pool or relaxed kayak trips to the nearby lagoon. Providencia’s barrier reef is the third longest in the world, making it a prime destination for divers and snorkelers.

Deep Blue is a small-scale boutique hotel on a small island; it has just 12 rooms by the ocean. Recent mentions in Conde Nast, Travel + Leisure, and other renown publications have made it popular: book your stay early to avoid disappointment. Check the best deals from here!

Amazonas B&B offers a tranquil retreat from the chaotic Leticia

Best Affordable Luxury Hotel in Bogota, Colombia:

Hotel GHL Style Mika Suites, Chapinero

GHL Mika Suites is a very practical boutique hotel in Bogotá. It’s just a couple of hundred meters from Bogota’s best cafes, which was the main reason for our stay. The easy-going and leafy neighborhood is considered as the gastronomic zone of Bogota. As it’s a taxi-drive from the main tourist draws, room prices are extremely affordable. But you can walk safely (rare in Bogota) to several praised restaurants!

Rooms are trendy, beds are great (that’s a huge compliment from us, as we both have back problems), and showers the best we had in Colombia. Proximity to the bohemian Chapinero neighborhood and the entertainment district Zona G make GHL Style Mika Suites a perfect location for all hedonists. We just love this kind of small and affordable boutique hotels that are popping up in all big cities!

Check out the best deals for GHL Mika Suites here

Have you been to Colombia? Please share in the comments your favorite luxury hotels and boutique hotels around Colombia!

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Find the best luxury hotels in Colombia: from Cartagena to the beaches and the coffee region, Medellin and the Amazon! #Colombia #hotels #luxurytravel

Four week itinerary around Colombia from Cartagena to Medellín and Amazonas

Ultimate Colombia Itinerary: 1-4 Weeks in Colombia with the Best Beaches, Amazon Adventures and Colonial Cities

This ultimate Colombia itinerary shows you the best beaches, cities and activities all around Colombia! Save money with our tips and find the best places to stay from Cartagena to Bogota and Medellin, from San Agustin to Amazon and the coffee region. Our one-month Colombia itinerary is easily divided into 1-week, 10-day or 2-week routes. We also drop tips on how to expand it into 5-week or 2 months exploration through Colombia’s highlights and hidden gems.

This itinerary has been thoroughly updated in September 2019

Are you ready to reveal the magic of Colombia? Choose the best destinations for your Colombian trip from paradise beaches, mountains, colonial cities, and the jungles of Amazon! Learn where to stay and what to see in Colombia, how to book cheap internal flights and choose the quickest buses and shuttles – we have everything covered.

How Many Days in Colombia I Need?

That’s a tricky question we hear a lot! Colombia is enormous and versatile; experiencing its various faces and seeing the best sights takes weeks – not days. I mean, where else you can experience so much on the same holiday, inside just one country? The Caribbean beaches, archeological sites, mountain treks, and other adventurous activities are some of the best in South America, and the Colombian Amazon remains relatively unspoiled, unlike the Peruvian and Brazilian sides.

However, not everybody needs, wants or can have one month vacation in Colombia – and that’s allright. Tip from a fellow traveler: spend as many days as you can and plan your itinerary wisely to see the best of Colombia.

I would recommend 2-4 week itinerary in Colombia. But if you have less time and are planning to spend for example one week or 10 days in Colombia, you can still craft an amazing Colombia itinerary including the most famous places to see in Colombia.

We squeezed the best places to visit in Colombia into the ultimate one-month Colombia itinerary, which is conveniently divided into four 1-week itineraries – or two different kinds of 2-week itineraries. Good news: If you’re planning 1-2-week trip in Colombia, just pick your favorite areas – the logistics and other practical stuff are already planned for you. Read our Colombia travel blog to catch further tips for planning either one-week or two-week itinerary in Colombia!

No matter how much time you have and where you decide to go, the magic of Colombia will steal your heart. Take off to Colombia with us!

The Ultimate Colombia Itinerary (For One Month or 1-3 Weeks in Colombia)

  • One Week in Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast: Cartagena de Indias, Santa Marta, Minca, Tayrona National Park

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Lost City Trek or La Guajira or the Caribbean Islands
  • One Week in Medellin and The Colombian Andes: Paragliding, Cultural Tours, and Guatape

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: the Coffee Triangle, Salento, and Valle de Cocora
  • One Week in San Agustin, Neiva, Desierto Tatacoa, and Popayan: Archeological Mysteries and Natural Wonders of Colombia

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Tierradentro and Cali
  • One Week in Bogota and the Amazon: Leticia, Puerto Narino and Amazon Tours

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Amazon tours in Brazil or Peru

The Ultimate 1-Week Colombia Itinerary

  • Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena in One Week

This ultimate Colombia itinerary shows you the best beaches, cities and activities all around Colombia! Save money with our tips and find the best places to stay from Cartagena to Bogota and Medellin, from San Agustin to Amazon and the coffee region. Our one-month Colombia itinerary is easily divided into 1-week, 10-day or 2-week routes. We also drop tips on how to expand it into 5-week or 2 months exploration through Colombia’s highlights and hidden gems.

This itinerary has been thoroughly updated in September 2019

Are you ready to reveal the magic of Colombia? Choose the best destinations for your Colombian trip from paradise beaches, mountains, colonial cities, and the jungles of Amazon! Learn where to stay and what to see in Colombia, how to book cheap internal flights and choose the quickest buses and shuttles – we have everything covered.

How Much Time You Need in Colombia?

Colombia is enormous and versatile; experiencing its various faces and seeing the best sights takes weeks. I mean, where else you can experience so much on the same holiday, inside just one country? The Caribbean beaches, archeological sites, mountain treks, and other adventurous activities are some of the best in South America, and the Colombian Amazon remains relatively unspoiled, unlike the Peruvian and Brazilian sides.

I would recommend spending at least 2-4 weeks in Colombia. But if you have less time, for example one week, you can still craft an amazing Colombia itinerary including the most famous places to see in Colombia.

We squeezed the best places to visit in Colombia into the ultimate one month Colombia itinerary, which is conveniently divided into four 1-week itineraries – or two different kinds of 2-week itineraries. Good news: If you’re planning 1-2-week trip in Colombia, just pick your favorite areas, and the logistics and other practical stuff are already planned for you. Read on to catch further tips for planning either one-week or two-week itinerary in Colombia!

No matter how much time you have and where you decide to go, the magic of Colombia will steal your heart. Take off with us!

The Ultimate Colombia Itinerary (For One Month or 1-3 Weeks in Colombia)

  • One Week in Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast: Cartagena de Indias, Santa Marta, Minca, Tayrona National Park

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Lost City Trek or La Guajira or the Caribbean Islands
  • One Week in Medellin and The Colombian Andes: Paragliding, Cultural Tours, and Guatape

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: the Coffee Triangle, Salento, and Valle de Cocora
  • One Week in San Agustin, Neiva, Desierto Tatacoa, and Popayan: Archeological Mysteries and Natural Wonders of Colombia

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Tierradentro and Cali
  • One Week in Bogota and the Amazon: Leticia, Puerto Narino and Amazon Tours

    • Recommended itinerary extensions: Amazon tours in Brazil or Peru

The Ultimate 1-Week Colombia Itinerary

  • Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena in One Week

Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino
Dreamy sunsets at the beach of La Mar de Bien, near Palomino

Tips for Your Own Colombia Itinerary

At first, we decided to create the ultimate one-month Colombia itinerary, which grew popular among backpackers and luxury-minded travelers alike. Then, we started to get inquiries for the best 2-week or one-week itinerary in Colombia, so we kept on drafting new itineraries which all have now been field-tested by our readers.

Our ultimate one-month route is easily divided into 1-week, 10-day or 2-week itineraries and we drop tips on how to expand it into 5-week or 2 months exploration through Colombia’s hidden gems.

Tips for Personalized One-Month Colombia Itinerary

If you’re planning a 4-week itinerary, read the whole article and pick the destinations that tick your fancy. Although our 4-week itinerary is popular, it still gets best with little tweaks that make it your own.

For example, if you love hiking, add Lost City Trek. If you love beaches, add more time on the Caribbean coast, possibly a couple of days inside Tayrona National Park and a snorkeling trip to Rosario Islands, and consider visiting the Caribbean Islands of Providencia and San Andres.

If you want to experience everything that you can within one month in Colombia, go with our original 4-week itinerary.

Tips for Planning 1-Week Colombia Itinerary

One week in Colombia forces you to choose carefully where to go and what to see. You cannot see everything, but it can still be the best trip ever!

When planning your route, check out all the chunks on our 4-week itinerary and choose one one-week loop that resonates with you. I’d recommend the Caribbean Coast, Medellin, or the Amazon, depending on your preferences. Then, add a night in Bogota (unless you choose Cartagena and find straight flights there, then you can skip Bogota totally).

If you find more than one area in our 4-week loop that enchants you, pick two areas and check if you can find cheap flights to minimize travel time. For example, it’s relatively easy to cover Cartagena, Tayrona National Park, and Medellin in one-week (but you’ll need flights to make it happen). We’ll give a more concrete example itinerary at the end of this article.

Tips for Planning 2-Week Itinerary in Colombia

The easiest way to create an awesome 2-week itinerary in Colombia is to pick two one-week chunks from our ultimate route. Then all the logistics are easy to handle, and you will have enough time to explore the destinations that you have picked.

With two weeks in Colombia, you can also be creative and modify the itinerary into your likings. If you’re into beaches, tick off the first part of our 4-week itinerary: Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast. Keep it as your base, where to add more destinations according to your schedule. Check out if you can find cheap flights to Providencia to explore the Caribbean Islands, or extend your Caribbean Coast itinerary to cover Riohacha and La Guajira Peninsula.

The easiest way to craft an amazing 3-week itinerary in Colombia is to pick three loops from our 4-week plan.

Climb to Cartagena's San Felipe Castle for views to the Getsemani, Old City, and Bocagrande

1 WEEK IN CARTAGENA AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST

Cartagena (3-5 days): Old Colonial City with Spanish Castles and Beach Hideaways

Start your 4-week tour around Colombia from the cobbled streets of Cartagena de Indias. Visit Spanish castles, feast on culinary delights, and just wander around the old walled city spellbound.

Cartagena has probably the most picturesque old town we’ve ever visited. The pastel-colored colonial houses cast well-needed shadows into hot afternoons, and bougainvilleas hang from the pillared balconies like clouds from the paradise. The turquoise Caribbean lures you to take a boat to dreamy beaches and small islands, the nearest called Tierrabomba being just 20 minutes’ ride from the shore.

What to Do in Cartagena in 3-5 Days
Check out this epic list of our favorite activities and sights in Cartagena:
41 Cool Things To Do in Cartagena, Colombia

Less than four days won’t be enough to experience Cartagena at a relaxed pace. Plan to unwind and indulge in the Colombian culture. Roaming around unintentionally unwraps the secrets of this old colonial city. Local and international restaurants cater to your every craving, and a couple of small specialty coffee houses give a perfect introduction to the coffee heritage of Colombia. Check out an article about the best cafés in Cartagena and get charged up! Colombian coffee beans are among the best in the world.

How to get to Cartagena from Bogota

There are several cheap, daily flights from Bogota, so don’t bother with the exhausting bus trips or drives. We paid around 30$ per person for the one-way ticket, and even cheaper fares are available. Save time on transits to squeeze more destinations into your Colombian itinerary!

Tayrona National Park and Beaches Near Palomino (2-3 Days): Untamed Colombian Beaches, Ancient Ruins, and Mellow Vibes

Get sun-toasted at the immaculate Caribbean beaches, dip in the turquoise waters, and admire majestic boulders that have witnessed the rites of ancient civilizations. Tayrona National Park is made for an adventurous day of beach hopping, snorkeling, and hiking or horseback riding. In the backdrop of Sierra Nevada mountains lurks the pre-Hispanic ruins of Pueblito, the town of Tairona people, which sees surprisingly few tourists. The charm of Tayrona National Park can be experienced in one long and adventurous day, but it will entice you to linger for more leisure beach time.

Tayrona National Park is the most visited park in Colombia for a reason and shouldn’t be skipped. To craft your visit truly unforgettable and avoid the negative sides of tourism, check out our guide on visiting Tayrona National Park: “Beach Hopping by Horseback in Tayrona National Park. We opted to stay outside the national park to avoid the masses and found our untamed paradise beach near the town of Palomino.

How to Get to Tayrona National Park and Palomino from Cartagena

We took a door-to-door minivan from Cartagena to our hotel La Mar de Bien near Palomino (4,5-7 hours, depending on the driver and company). It was cheaper, easier, and quicker than flying with ground transports at both ends (taxi to the airport, flight, taxi to either bus terminal and bus trip or one-hour taxi drive straight to Palomino from the airport).

Santa Marta and Minca (2-3 Days): Authentic Colonial City and Misty Mountain Town

Locals prefer Santa Marta over Cartagena for its authentic colonial city feel. Many tourists visit Santa Marta only for the nearby attractions since it makes a great base for exploring Tayrona National Park and the nearby mountain village of Minca.

We’d recommend stealing a couple of days from your 4-week itinerary for the colonial center of Santa Marta. Choose one excursion (ours was Minca) and afterward just enjoy the treats of “a small city break”: stroll around the streets of Santa Marta with locals, enjoy great dinners, and discover the hidden charm of this Colombian colonial city.

“The authenticity” means that Santa Marta is not polished for tourists like Cartagena, and the experience will be more “raw”. There are just a couple of picturesque streets, a small park, and a short “beach boulevard”, where locals hang around street food stalls. Outside the colonial center, there’s not much to see.

Nearby Taganga offers a backpacker-style beach getaway with bars and party vibe, but we’d recommend venturing into the beaches near Palomino for a secluded and boutique-style beach holiday.

Visit Minca for a Short Mountain Vacation in Colombian Style

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range can be visited on a day trip from Santa Marta. If you yearn to hike, bike or ride on the mountain trails, it might be a better idea to take a tour from Santa Marta or overnight in Minca to arrange it independently.

There’s a trailhead in the town (ask from locals) for a short independent mountain hike. Also, an organic coffee plantation or some of the nearby waterfalls can be visited on an independent day trip. If you’re enticed to visit Minca but short on time, consider changing your Colombia itinerary so that you’d stay in Minca instead of Santa Marta.

How to Get to Santa Marta and Minca

Door-to-door minivans are an affordable and relatively comfortable way to travel short distances in Colombia. The travel time is only 1-1,5 hours from Palomino or Tayrona National Park to Santa Marta. Tip: choose minivans over the slow and uncomfortable Colombian buses whenever you can!

There’s no direct bus between the center of Santa Marta and Minca. We negotiated a deal with a local taxi driver in Santa Marta to visit Minca for a couple of hours. You can also take a shared taxi/minibus from the Santa Marta market. Shared taxis are reasonably priced: around 8000COP per person. The drive takes only 30 minutes.

Itinerary Expansion: the Lost City Trek or La Guajira Peninsula

If you have more than one month in Colombia or would like to skip something on our itinerary, consider adding the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) or La Guajira peninsula to your itinerary. For Lost City trek you’d need at least 4 days, but preferably an extra week for some relaxation afterwards. From Santa Marta area you can do just an overnight trip to La Guajira desert and the picturesque fishing village called Cabo de la Vela.

1 WEEK IN THE COLOMBIAN ANDES: PAISA AND COFFEE REGION

3-5-Day Medellin Itinerary: Explore the Roots of the “Paisas” and Pablo Escobar, Indulge in Adrenaline Activities or Amazing Restaurants

Without visiting Medellin and the paisa district, you cannot say you’ve seen Colombia. After the Netflix hit series “Narcos”, many tourists visit Medellin in search of the infamous Pablo Escobar sights. However, Medellin is so much bigger than its narco reputation. From the former murder capital of the world has risen unbelievably success stories, which are imitated in other troubled cities all around the world. Of course, things are not that black and white. Explore Medellin on your own to draw your own conclusions.

Medellin took me by surprise and jumped high to my list of favorite cities. Nicknamed as “the city of Eternal Spring” and with hilly streets, Medellin reminds a lot of San Francisco. Every Colombia itinerary should include Medellin, no matter how many days or weeks you have in Colombia!

Some of the main draws of Medellin: fantastic restaurant and coffee shop scene, a plethora of tours and activities from trampling the “Pablo Escobar trail” to paragliding and other extreme sports, the unexpected green oases around the center, outdoor escalators that have turned a former slum into a creative and safe neighborhood, the famous cable car, vibrant street art culture rivaling with the small art galleries and outdoor statues of Fernando Botero, and so complex and magnetic urban culture that I have to leave it for another article.

Visit Guatape for a Short Countryside Break

Just for the craziness of it, we were supposed to take part in the paintball war at the ruins of Pablo Escobar’s former hacienda in Guatape. Unfortunately, the activity was canceled just before our tour, and the decision appears permanent.

The quaint town of Guatape makes still a lovely countryside break if your Colombian itinerary allows a couple of extra days. The town is located on the bank of an artificial lake that used to be among the favorite holiday destinations of drug lords at the time of Escobar.

If your Colombia itinerary allows, I’d recommend expanding your stay in Medellin-Guatape area into one week.

Our consolation prize was a thrilling experience of paragliding upon the red roofs of Medellin, click here to check out the pictures! We also loved exploring the street-art painted Comuna 13, formerly a notorious gang area, which has been uplifted to the new heights with the famous outdoor escalators.

How to get to Medellin from Santa Marta (or Bogota)

Avianca has one straight daily flight from Santa Marta to Medellin (1 hour 15 minutes), so grab it! We paid around 60$ per person. Other Colombian carriers offer the leg with a layover in Bogota. The bus trip from Bogota to Medellin is nightmarish and even locals avoid it – you’ve been warned. Even road trips through the mountains might turn out to be not so fun or safe (further details at the end of this article). The bus trip from Medellin to Guatape takes two hours, and the famous La Piedra (stone monolith) can be visited on the route.

Popayan (2 Days): White-washed Colombian Colonial Town

The white-washed Popayan inevitably collides with your itinerary, if you’re planning to visit the archaeological treasures of San Agustin or Tierradentro. Yet another Colombian colonial town, you might think. Somehow Popayan is still different. It feels even more authentic than Santa Marta, and you won’t see many other tourists.

To be honest, Popayan was our least favorite place in Colombia. Still, we were glad to experience its unique atmosphere. It’s said to be the most religious city in Colombia, so if you’re into churches and monasteries, you’ll appreciate it more than we did. Nearby mountain village Silvia hosts a colorful market every Tuesday, and other villages and thermal springs can be explored on a horseback riding or mountain bike trip.

How to Get to Popayan from Medellin (or Bogota or Anywhere in Colombia)

Once again: getting to Popayan is easiest with domestic flights. Bus travel or self-drive is doable but would require changing the itinerary since it would take days to drive from Medellin to Popayan. We reserved our flights pretty late and ended up paying around 100$ per person.

Itinerary Expansion: 1 Week in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle & Cali

If you’re considering road travel from Medellin to Popayan, expand the itinerary and stay 2-3 days in the “the coffee triangle” (the town of Salento or bigger cities of Manizales, Armenia, and Pereira) and Cali respectively. I’d add a one-week loop in the case of road travel. If you have time and don’t hate long drives or bus trips, I’d even recommend expanding our one-month itinerary into 5 weeks!

5-7 DAYS IN SAN AGUSTIN AND THE SOUTHWEST COLOMBIA

San Agustin (3 Days): Horseback Riding and Hiking Among Ancient Statues

San Agustin is considered as the most important archaeological site in South America, surprisingly winning the title from the hyped Machu Picchu. While we loved them both, I’d probably pick the less visited San Agustin as my personal favorite. The cryptic stone statues, graves, and ceremonial sites are scattered around stunning river valleys, jungle, and rolling hills.

Horseback riding between the archaeological sites of San Agustín makes an exciting day trip. Hiking inside the archaeological park of San Agustin deserves another day. The small town charm keeps you entertained for a couple of days, and the waking tourism boom has brought a couple of good hotels and restaurants. If you have more than two weeks in Colombia, please include San Agustin in your itinerary!

How to Get to San Agustin from Popayan

In our itinerary’s southwestern loop, road travel is your only choice. Luckily, it’s worth the effort this time! The road winds up to the scenic high-altitude páramo almost straight after Popayan, and it’s dubbed as the most beautiful bus route inside Colombia. Local bus crawls the distance between Popayan and San Agustin in 4–7 hours; minivans can speed it up even to 3 hours. The road is getting paved slowly, cutting travel times each year.

Desierto de la Tatacoa and Neiva (2 Days): Surreal Mini Desert

Tatacoa Desert is among the Colombian destinations that scream magical realism. It’s hard to believe that such a mini-desert with canyons reminding of Arizona even exists in the middle of green hills and mild tropical climate of Colombia. Near the visitors’ center and observatory lies “the red desert” with a labyrinth of narrow pathways. To keep things even more interesting, a short moto ride takes you to the “gray desert”, which has its own oasis, a natural pool.

How to Get to Neiva and Tatacoa Desert from San Agustin

This is the second – and last – leg in our 4-week itinerary requiring road travel. Minivans can cut the distance between San Agustin and Neiva into 4 hours (reserve longer, if you go through Pitalito).

Tatacoa Desert can be visited on a day trip from Neiva (take a taxi to the desert or a minivan to the village of Villavieja, from where you can hire a moto taxi). With its observatory, Tatacoa Desert is a perfect spot for stargazing, so feel free to stay there, if you’re not afraid of basic accommodation. We opted to stay in Neiva for comfort and great food – one of the best dinners we had during our one month tour in Colombia.

I’d strongly recommend including Tatacoa Desert into your Colombian itinerary, though it’ll mean an extra loop. We flew from Neiva to the Amazon to minimize transit time. Bus from Neiva to Bogota takes around 6 hours; Avianca has several direct flights daily.

The surreal view to the
The surreal view to the "red desert" of Tatacoa desert

1 WEEK IN THE COLOMBIAN AMAZON & BOGOTA

Amazonas (4–6 Days): Explore the Colombian Amazon – or Visit Brazil and Peru!

Visiting Amazon is an essential part of experiencing the multiple faces of Colombia – and shouldn’t be left out of the one-month itinerary. Amazonas, as Colombians call their stretch of the river basin, covers a third of Colombia.

Visiting Amazon on the Colombian side will feel more authentic than embarking on the jungle adventures from the Brasilian or Peruvian side. The Colombian border town of Leticia rivals those of its neighbors, and if you pick a good hotel, it could even feel a pleasant small town for a couple of days. Get inspiration for your stay from our list of “Best Things to Do in Leticia”.

Still, Leticia is just a starting point for your Amazon adventures. Venture deeper with public or private boats and take hikes in the rainforest, visit indigenous tribes, spot pink and gray river dolphins, and go fishing if you please. We stayed two nights in Leticia and two nights in the small eco-village of Puerto Narino, 75 kilometers upstream from Leticia.

Puerto Narino is an excellent base for independent Amazon adventures. There are a couple of decent lodges, and plenty of villagers are eager to take you on affordable, yet private Amazon excursions with their wooden fishing boats. Ready-made Amazon tour packages come with hefty price tags. Search online before you book to make sure that the guides and lodges will meet your expectations.

Getting to Leticia from Bogota (or anywhere in Colombia): Tips to Save Money

If you’re visiting Colombian Amazon, the flights are obligatory. There are no roads to Leticia from the Colombian side. We paid 80–100$ one way, per person. Rather high price is the main reason why many tourists drop Amazon from their itinerary.

Here’s the trick: we encourage you to fly from any destination inside Colombia to Leticia. You’ll have a layover in Bogota, but according to our investigations, the multi-destination flight will be only a slightly more expensive than a single leg from Bogota to Leticia. We paid around 100$ for the Neiva-Leticia leg and 80$ for the Leticia-Bogota leg. Book early for the best deals; we reserved all our internal flights pretty late.

From Leticia, we took a public riverboat to Puerto Narino (75 kilometers, 1,5-2,5 hours) in the Colombian Amazon. Book tickets at the port the day before. Please, add at least one full-day Amazon tour into your Colombia itinerary!

Bogota, the Cool Capital of Colombia (2 Days or More)

Whereas many capitals in southern or central America feel rather ugly, Bogota is a cool and even beautiful colonial city. If you’re into museums, reserve more than two days: in Bogota, you’ll be spoiled.

I love the hilly layout and tourist-filled old town La Candelaria, but it’s the strike of “urban cool”, similar to that of Medellin, which charms me even more. Sample some of the best coffee in the world in hipster coffee shops in up-and-coming Chapinero area, follow the beats to the clubs of nearby Zona Rosa, and climb to green Cerro de Monserrate to escape it all.

Due to the international airport, your itinerary in Colombia probably starts and ends in Bogota. We had only 2 nights to spare in the capital, which allowed us to see only a scratch. If your itinerary allows, stay longer for a more thorough urban exploration – oh yes, the street art scene is booming. In the meantime, raise your spirits by sampling our guide to the best cafés in Bogota!

Ultimate 1-Week Colombia Itinerary

Our top recommendation for the ultimate one-week Colombia itinerary is to combine Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellin areas. Then, you would experience the best beaches and colonial cities in Colombia, see some of the most iconic sights, feel the beat of hip Medellin and visit the famous cable car and outdoor escalators, and indulge in the best coffee, food, and drinks.

Beware: This is “all you can see in one week” type of itinerary. If you’d prefer more peace and quiet, just pick one chunk from our 4-week route and make it your own with little tweaks.

Day 1: Bogota

Spend one night in Bogota either in the beginning or end of your trip, depending on your flight schedule. So, either choose connecting flight from Bogota to Cartagena right after your international flight or return to Bogota from Medellin by air in the morning of your return flight. Check out Bogota section above for things to do in Bogota in one day.

Days 2-5: Cartagena

Check out Cartagena section from above and this article for the best things to do in Cartagana. Plan on taking one day trip, for example, snorkeling in Rosario Islands, visiting a mud volcano, or the mountain village of Minca.

If you want to squeeze in even more, visit Tayrona National Park: but beware, it’s a long day trip. If you’re willing to drop off Medellin, you can opt to stay inside Tayrona National Park one night and one night in Santa Marta.

Days 5-7 Medellin

Two nights in Medellin can pack in a lot! Visit Pablo Escobar sights – or even take Escobar-themed tour, spend an afternoon in Comuna 13, and go paragliding if you dare! Medellin is among our favorite cities, you will love it!

Take a short internal flight from Medellin to Bogota before flying back home.

Where to Stay in Colombia: Our Picks for Affordable Boutique Hotels

We did a massive legwork to dig out the best boutique hotels in Colombia. Our picks include affordable design hotels in the big cities of Colombia, genuine boutique hotels in San Agustín and the Amazon (yes, you can do those Amazon adventures comfortably!), and a secluded beachside villa near Tayrona National Park. Check out our list of the affordable boutique hotels in Colombia to spice up your Colombian itinerary!

If boutique hotels are not your thing, we have even better news for you! Traveling on a tight budget and staying in hostels is so much easier than trying to find luxury hotels in Colombia. So, just enjoy the easy ride while backpacking in Colombia.

Browse here the best hotel deals in Colombia!

La Mar de Bien Boutique Hotel lies between the mountains and the beach of Riohacha

Find Cheap Domestic Flights in Colombia

During our one-month tour in Colombia, we preferred flying instead of exhausting drives or uncomfortable bus trips. Distances are long, the Andes and other mountain ranges pierce the country, and many roads remain unpaved.

We needed five flights to complete this 4-week itinerary on a relatively tight schedule and were extremely happy with the Colombian domestic carrier Avianca. However, the default flight prices for foreign visitors are rather high. Check out our flight hacks and book the domestic flights in Colombia at cheap, local fares!

The Ultimate Itinerary Expansions: From 5 Weeks to 2 Months in Colombia

Unless you are blessed with unlimited time, you’d need to decide which destinations to skip, since all the enchanting sights of Colombia would keep you busy for months. Hence, this 4-week itinerary highlights our interests and is overshadowed by the fact that we needed to prioritize.

Itinerary Expansions at the Colombian Caribbean Coast

The biggest miss for us is the Lost City trek. We would have needed a week more – or at bare minimum four days – to complete it. So feel free to tweak our itinerary into a 5-week tour with Ciudad Perdida trek. For us, the Lost City is a perfect reason to return to Colombia!

Personally, I would have wanted to visit the sand dune beaches of the remote La Guajira peninsula, which can be reached by a long jeep journey from Santa Marta.

I love islands, so it was extremely painful to drop out the Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andres. High flight prices (even with the flight hacks) helped me with reasoning. The untamed beaches near Palomino and inside Tayrona National Park did the job this time. I’d suggest adding an extra week in your itinerary for either the Caribbean Islands or El Cocoy, which comes next on our list.

Extra Loops for Mountain Trekking and Rock Climbing

I was eager to also include a longer trekking trip to the Colombian mountains, preferably in the national park of El Cocuy, where the snow-capped peaks reach out to staggering 5 kilometers. Luckily, we saw drastic high-altitude páramo landscapes on our journey from Popayán to San Agustin.

As a fresh bouldering enthusiast, I yearned to test my skills on the massive rock wall of Suesca, so I tried my best to lure Piritta into this small town with ghost stories, but without success. Suesca can be reached on a day trip from Bogotá, but I would have combined it with the colonial gem of Villa de Leyva.

More Colonial Cities and Towns

Cartagena, Santa Marta, Bogota, and Popayan showcased us the colonial roots of Colombia during our one month tour. If you feel the need to fine-tune your “time travel vibes”, just add one of the smaller colonial towns, such as Mompox, Jardin, Villa de Leyva, or Barichara, into your Colombian itinerary.

Amazon Tour Add-Ons

Piritta’s major tweak in this itinerary would be to add more time in the Amazon. Visiting the reserves on the Peruvian and Brasilian side remain in our dreams. But we know that we will return to the Amazon; so those adventures will wait for us.

Extra Week in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

Then there’s of course ”the coffee triangle”, which was on our itinerary until the nick of time. We decided to trade the picturesque coffee town of Salento, hot springs near Pereira, and horseback riding amidst the towering wax palms of Valle Cocora into the adventurous triangle of Popayan, San Agustin, and Neiva.

However, we were happy about the choice since San Agustin was one of the highlights of our 4-week Colombian tour! As coffee geeks, we got the best fix ever in the specialty coffee shops of Bogota and managed to find great brews also in Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Medellin. If you have more than one month in Colombia, the coffee triangle is a perfect one-week add-on to any itinerary.

Special Detour For Lover of Colombian Coffee

We’ve visited several coffee farms during the last years and were just looking for the best quality beans from small producers, which are usually hard to find outside specialty coffee shops. Smaller farms tend to export their gold, and even bigger farms might not sell their best beans on the spot.

I still have one recommendation, if you’re a coffee enthusiast. Go off the beaten track and visit the rising star of Colombia’s specialty coffee trade, La Palma & El Tucan. They’ve recently opened “an experimental boutique hotel”, which allows ordinary coffee tourists get a unique glimpse into a modern coffee farm. Their beans are to die for, and you can find them also in Bogota. The farms inside the Colombian coffee triangle tend to be old-fashioned and extremely touristy to my likings.

As you can see, our one-month itinerary in Colombia was full of compromises, because the country is so tremendous. If you can, spend more than one month and explore deeper than we did to avoid tough calls. Still, even a 4-week tour in Colombia will steal your heart!

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Discover the magic of Colombia in 4 weeks! Explore paradise beaches and the roots of ancient civilizations, peek in the high-altitudes and mysterious mini-desert, and sail down the Amazon!

One Month in Colombia: Should You Fly, Drive, or Take Buses?

Congrats for hanging along this long: you already know our answer! Since we hear this question a lot, I decided to give a bit longer explanation.

Internal flights safe both time and money, but most importantly, they save your nerves. Road travel is slow in many regions, mountain roads might be dangerous, and locals drive like crazy. Road accidents are the leading cause of death for young people in Colombia. The door to door vans offer quicker – and generally more comfortable – transits than buses, but many drivers are risking safety with their speed.

Is Car Rental Cheaper than Flying?

Internal flights are generally cheaper than renting a car for a couple or max. three-person group. If your party is larger than four, renting a car might get cheaper than flying around. Still, I’d calculate all expenses carefully, as road tolls are rather expensive.

If we’d travel through Colombia for another full month, I’d still fly around like we did on our first tour. Additionally, I would rent a car for some areas for easier access to off-the-beaten-path destinations, like La Guajira, Jardin, and San Agustin/Tierradentro. I would definitely avoid using buses for distances that take longer than one hour and use private transfers instead. Like in many other countries in South and Central America, bus travel in Colombia is unpredictable and tiring.

Then again, these choices affect your budget. If you’re backpacking in Colombia and used to travel by buses in South and Central America, you will be totally fine with the local buses. If you’re a flashpacker, as I could describe ourselves, consider investing 200-700$ (per person, depending on your destinations) in domestic flights, door to door vans, and also possibly private transfers/car rentals. For families, I’d suggest flying if your budget allows: it’s considerably safer and stress-free.

The blurry lights of Medellín

Colombia Facts

  • Official name: Republic of Colombia, República de Colombia
  • Official languages: Spanish and 68 ethnic languages and dialects; also English in the Caribbean islands
  • President: Juan Manuel Santos (2017)
  • Population: More than 49 000 000 (2017)
  • Currency: Peso (COP)
  • Geography: 6 natural regions: the Andes, the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, the Amazon rainforest, the plains (Llanos), and the islands (Pacific & Caribbean)
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Colombian Visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days for citizens of the Americas, most of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa
  • Time zone: COT (5 hours behind GMT)
  • Mobile phone network coverage: Great 3G all over the country (excluding the remote corners of the Amazon, of course)

Bizarre Facts About Colombia

  • The name Colombia comes from Christopher Columbus (you guessed!)
  • Colombia ranks first in bird species and is the second most biodiverse country in the world (right after Brazil, which is seven times bigger!)
  • President has declared World Cup match days as a national holiday – Colombians are crazy about the football!
  • In his heyday, Pablo Escobar used to smuggle 15 tons of pure cocaine into the US each day, collecting 420 millions a week!
  • Pablo Escobar offered to pay Colombia’s national debt (10 billion)
  • Colombia is all about renaissance: for example, Medellin was known as “the murder capital of the world”, but now its success story is imitated around the world.
  • The mythical El Dorado and Macondo have their roots in Colombia. The birth town of Gabriel García Márquez even tried to change its name into Macondo!

Is It Safe To Travel To Colombia In 2019?

Since we’ve been asked a lot if it’s safe to travel to Colombia this year, here’s our opinion. Colombia is a perfectly safe destination for Americans, solo female travelers, and families with small kids. We encountered plenty of American travelers during our 4-week tour, in all areas of Colombia.

Of course, before booking a trip to any destination, you should check the current travel warnings. Here you can find the latest, updated travel information from the US Department of State. According to the current travel warning, tens of thousands of US citizens visit Colombia safely each year. There have been no reports of Americans targeted based on their nationality.

It’s safe to visit the majority of the tourist destinations – and all destinations listed in our Colombian 4-week itinerary. Although the security situation in Colombia has improved radically, due to narco-trafficking and guerrilla (and paramilitary group) activity, there are still some “red zones”, which you’d probably like to avoid. Plan your itinerary carefully to also avoid ground transport through the areas with a travel warning. Luckily, internal flights are cheap in Colombia (especially if you use our flight hacks), so you can visit all the tourist areas safe and sound.

If you have any concerns about visiting Colombia or questions about our 4-week itinerary, please just ask in the comments below – we are happy to help!


Elephant orphans adore their the Keepers of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Adopt an Orphaned Elephant From The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Before Christmas, we’ve usually been pondering between ingenious travel gadgets and booking flights, but this time we wanted to make a difference by adopting an orphaned elephant. We have been dreaming about fostering a baby elephant ever since our visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s elephant orphanage in Nairobi. After just a couple of clicks, we’re now proud foster parents of orphaned elephant called Roi.

Why We Decided to Adopt an Elephant

Obviously, we love those gray giants. African elephants are the biggest mammals walking on earth, and seeing them in their natural habitat is always intriguing; it feels almost sacred. Their eyes are so deep, full of wisdom and unconditional love towards their tribe. Elephants remember everything and suffer deeply if their family member dies. The bushes are full of stories of their empathy: for example, the whole herd tends to return to the spot where their member has faced his death, every year on the stroke of the hour. And they cry out loudly.

We lost our hearts to Africa on our very first safari in Tanzania almost two years ago. Since then, we’ve already visited six African countries and spend hundreds of hours on game drives, but just can’t get enough. I could pour countless stories about our elephant encounters: watching them calmly stroll around in herds, flapping their giant ears to keep off the heat, whisking their trunks to eat, bathing joyously in the mud, or even charging our jeep, agitated from our presence. Elephants are highly intelligent. They grieve, joy and fear just like we humans do.

Orphan elephant having a green snack in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Nursery, Kenya

During the past 100 years, African elephant population has been dropped by 97%. More than 30 000 elephants are killed every year, one in every 15 minutes.

Elephants are among our favorite creatures and the ivory trade breaks our heart. More than 30 000 elephants are killed every year, one in every 15 minutes. This rate is leading to the complete distinction faster than we can expect. According to IUCN’s current report, Africa’s elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past decade. In some countries, like Somalia and Sudan, elephants have already faced distinction. During the past 100 years, African elephant population has been dropped by 97%. We, humans, are the worst enemy for elephants, but we are also the only ones who can help.

This fall, we have been moved by two brilliant documents. If you haven’t yet caught the hype around The Ivory Game, you can watch it on Netflix. Executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, the document exposes the complex problems of corruption and poaching caused by the global ivory trade. The Finnish superhero ivory dog called Rokka made a short appearance in The Ivory Game. It was Finnish Team Rokka who found critical evidence against the Tanzania’s most wanted elephant poacher and ivory trafficker called Shetani (meaning ”devil” in Swahili) that led to his arrest. In Finland, a tv series about Team Rokka aired this fall. You can watch the Finnish trailer on their website. Go Team Rokka!

Of course, you can support several organizations, such as PAMS Foundation (Tanzania), International Anti-Poaching Foundation, or Save the Elephants. But if you would like to give a concrete gift of life, you can also adopt an orphaned elephant from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as we did for ourselves and our loved ones.

Hungry elephant following the Keeper and his milk bottle in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya

When an elephant is orphaned, usually its mother and family have been poached to death. The family is everything for elephants, and baby’s survival depends upon its mother’s milk for the first two years.

Adopting an Orphan Elephant From The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has done immense conservation work in Kenya since 1977. They have developed the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and are among the pioneering conservation organizations in East Africa. We felt privileged to visit their elephant orphanage in Nairobi with our trusted safari guide Ombeni African Safaris. Our visit was overly emotional, one of the highlights of our 10-day safari in Kenya. But we’ll write another article about our experience about The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, with tons of cute elephant pictures, so stay tuned!

For now, you can trust us that The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does an amazing job in raising orphaned baby elephants and introducing them back to Tsavo East National Park. They’ve hand-raised over 160 elephants with their special milk formula and husbandry that took decades to master.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Foster Parent Programme is simple. The hardest part is to choose your own adopted elephant among the available orphans since all stories and pictures will quite probably touch your heart. After finding the perfect match, just fill your details online and pay a yearly fostering fee (50$ minimum) with a credit card. You will receive a fostering certificate via email with further information and images of your adopted elephant, including a map indicating the place from where the orphaned elephant was rescued. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will send you monthly news and photos on your adopted elephant so that you can immerse in the life of the trunk of your choice. By logging into The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts website, you can also read the daily diary of your elephant’s Keeper.

You can also adopt a baby elephant as a gift for your loved ones, so they’ll receive a gift certificate and all the other material described above, including the monthly watercolor by Angela Sheldrick. DSWT also has a special Christmas Gift Elephant Fostering Programme as an answer to this holiday season.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphan-elephant rescue program is the most successful in the world. They’ve hand-raised over 150 orphaned baby elephants with their special milk formula and husbandry that took decades to master. 

Green-coated Keeper feeding a baby elephant with the secret milk recipe created by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Story of Roi, Our Adopted Orphan Elephant

Roi’s mother was poached down in the vast plains of Masai Mara. The day before, she had been photographed nursing 10-months old Roi underfoot. Next day, the same visitor found a confused baby beside her dead mother. The mourning baby elephant was already shunned by the rest of the herd. As she was still milk-dependant, she wouldn’t have chances with the group anyway since the mother of the herd wouldn’t have had enough milk for two calves. Without her mother, the baby elephant would have got weaker and weaker every day. Still, separating the baby elephant from the herd turned out to be tricky, because the matriarch was protective towards the orphaned baby elephant, though she pushed her away when Roi tried to suckle her milk.

Eventually, Roi was skillfully separated from the herd, wrapped in blankets and strapped for the flight towards Nairobi and the elephant orphanage of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Despite being without her mother’s milk, Roi proved out to be a strong little elephant, who protested against being left in the fencing while the other elephants took their daily outing in the park. Luckily, Roi accepted the milk bottle almost instantly and was also let out with the others although she wasn’t tamed down. Roi felt at home immediately with the other orphaned elephants and became dependant of the milk bottle, getting used to her Keepers.

Nowadays, two years after her rescue, Roi is genuinely happy and playful little elephant who’s not afraid to command other members of the herd. For example, according to her Keeper’s diary, a couple of days ago Roi got head butted (don’t ask!) and was furious for the intruder. The day before, on their daily outing in the park, Roi charged the Keepers to notify them about an approaching lion pride. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s herd lost that day their beloved ostrich Pea for the lioness, but luckily the rest of the herd is safe. Though we adopted our orphaned elephant just a couple of days ago, reading about her undertakings has already brought us joy and excitement.

Why We Love The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Adoption Program

While also some other organizations, such as WWF, offer elephant adoption programs, we prefer the concreteness of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. For example, WWF’s elephant adoption program is solely symbolic: you donate a fixed amount to the elephant conservation (55-250$) and receive a gift set consisting of toy elephant, gift bag, and an adoption certificate. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust won’t send you material gifts (all money goes for the elephants), and they give you the named elephant whose life you can follow, even daily.

We, humans, are the worst enemy for elephants, but we are also the only ones who can help. Give a gift of life and hope – adopt an orphaned elephant and help to break the vicious cycle of poaching. 

Written by Niina & Photography by Piritta. Ombeni African Safaris hosted our visit in The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and our safari in Kenya, but all opinions remain our own.

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Give a gift of life - adopt an orphaned elephant! We visited The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's orphanage in Kenya and decided to foster a baby elephant.
The little elephant orphans adore their keepers!

Small river town of El Castillo, Nicaragua

Sail the Route of Pirates Through Rio San Juan River, Nicaragua

Navigate upstream the legendary Rio San Juan in the footsteps of pirates, venture into the untouched jungle and visit the ruins of the Spanish fortress of El Castillo. The San Juan River wriggles 192 kilometers from San Juan de Nicaragua at the Atlantic coast to Lake Nicaragua, hugging the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Famed pirates and buccaneers, and later smugglers, used this channel to access “the jewel by the Sweet Sea”, the Spanish trading town of Granada.

Rio San Juan is one of the rare border rivers that belongs solely to one country. The strategic location has made the waters a conflict zone for centuries. Spanish and the pirates battled over the dominance since the 16th century, which was followed by numerous border disputes between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Rio San Juan was supposed to serve as a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but due to the political reasons, the canal was built in Panama instead.

If you would like to experience the old day charm of Rio San Juan and visit the untouched jungle, go there now! Pirates didn’t appreciate detours, but we do, so we added a couple of options to explore the surrounding jungles on top of seeing Rio San Juan from start to finish. Check out our itinerary for getting the best out of Rio San Juan in just 4 to 7 days!

The Starting Point of Rio San Juan: San Juan de Nicaragua and Indio-Maíz Jungle (3–4 nights)

Spend at least 3 days exploring the area around the starting point of Rio San Juan. Start your journey from already remote San Juan de Nicaragua. This small jungle town is the gateway to the outermost jungle in Nicaragua: the vast Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, which is inhabited only by a small tribe of Rama Indians. For us, a trip to Indio Maíz offered a way more authentic jungle experience than the Amazon. We highly recommend 2-day Indio Maíz adventure with a real Indian homestay and a hike to the mysterious jungle pyramids of Canta Gallo!

The town of San Juan de Nicaragua isn’t very attractive, but the sights in the vicinity deserve at least one full day of your time before venturing into the Indio Maíz jungle. Tramble on the weird concrete walkways build upon marshland, visit the historical sights such as the four graveyards of the ancient Greytown, a rusty dredger that was supposed to construct a canal here before that of Panama, and a shipwreck belonging to the dredger, Vanderbilt’s Transit Company. A lbit longer boat trip (half-day to full day) showcases nearby lagoons with an opportunity to spot manatees and the raging shore of the Atlantic, the starting point of Rio San Juan River.

During your days in San Juan de Nicaragua, find a local Rama Indian guide to take you into the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. Prepare to see crocodiles, alligators, a plethora of monkeys, exotic birds, and poisonous frogs. Spend some precious time with the Rama Indians and hike to the sacred Rama Indian jungle pyramids. Check out our tips for organizing a trip to Indio Maíz in a separate article.

Getting to San Juan de Nicaragua and Indio Maíz
Fly to San Juan de Nicaragua. There are no roads, so the only way out is the Rio San Juan river that you’ll be taking from here. If you are up to an Indio Maíz jungle trip, you need to stay at least the first and the last night in town. Try to book an accommodation beforehand: check out our tips from a separate article covering San Juan de Nicaragua.

BOAT TIMETABLE SAN JUAN DE NIGARAGUA-SAN CARLOS 2017

Public boat from San Juan de Nicaragua to San Carlos
Thursday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)
Saturday 5 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Sunday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)

Public boat from San Carlos to San Juan de Nicaragua
Tuesday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Tuesday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)
Thursday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)

Please confirm the boat timetable from your accommodation. We received this schedule from our kind reader in June 2017, but cannot guarantee that it stays up to date. Please inform us about any changes to help fellow travelers.

El Castillo (1 night) or/and Bartola Basecamp (1–3 nights), Rio San Juan

Depending on your schedule and how many nights you’ve already spent in the Indio Maíz jungle, you can either stay one to three nights in the picturesque river town of El Castillo or expand your jungle exploration by venturing down Rio Bartola.

The charming town of El Castillo overlooks the gruesome rapids of Rio San Juan, dubbed as Raudal del Diablo for a reason. In the 17th century, Spaniards built here a fortification in the hopes of protecting Granada from the pirates that struggled to cross the raging rapids. However, the fortress was attacked time and again.

Today, El Castillo is the most popular base for short Indio Maíz jungle trips down Rio Bartola tributary that borders the reserve in the west. El Castillo is a touristy little town with one main street, a bunch of tour operators, and the enchanting fortress ruins. Cobbled-stone alleys, colorful houses, and decent restaurants will keep you satisfied for a day or two. After a real jungle adventure, the small hotels of El Castillo with real beds and toilets feel like a sinful splurge!

If you already miss the jungle, book a trip to the Bartola Basecamp and hop off the San Juan de Nicaragua–San Carlos river boat already before El Castillo, at the Bartola junction. After 1,5 hours of paddling, you’ll be one happy camper (tents come with mattresses) on the other side of Indio Maíz, actually quite near Canta Gallo. We were enticed to visit the place but had only one night left, which would have made the trip too quick and cumbersome. You’ll need at least two nights for Rio Bartola if you must catch a boat to San Carlos the next morning. Many have asked us which one to choose, Indio Maíz or Rio Bartola. We picked Indio Maíz for the remoteness and the Rama Indians.

We also were tempted to load our batteries in Rio Bartola River Lodge, but after passing it on our journey upwards the river, we opted a more civilized habitat in El Castillo. If you’ve already been deep in the Indio Maíz, the surroundings of Rio Bartola River Lodge just don’t feel like a real jungle, as there are roads, real houses, and other people around. It’s not a luxurious place either, where you could chill out in the solitude.

It’s hard, and not recommendable, to resist the spell of El Castillo while approaching the tiny fortress town from the river. Relish in the small town charm for one day – it’s the another side of the pirate story, anyway!

Getting to El Castillo (or Bartola Basecamp)
Catch the earliest possible ferry from San Juan de Nicaragua to San Carlos. Hop off either in El Castillo or at the Bartola junction a little bit before El Castillo, if you’re heading to Bartola Basecamp. The fastest river boat cuts the distance in 4,5 hours. On the way, you’ll stop in the small river town of Boca de Sábalos and have great chances to spot huge crocodiles.

The Thread of “Nicaragua Canal” Project

During the last couple of years, the old plans of dredging a canal through Rio San Juan were revived creating massive ecological concerns. Luckily, according to the current plans, Rio San Juan would remain untouched, and the possible Canal de Nicaragua will be built further to the north, from Punta Gorda River on the Atlantic to Brito River on the Pacific side. We certainly hope that the project will never be accomplished, as it would endanger biodiversity of these precious lands and the fresh water lake of Lago Nicaragua. The disputed canal project is led by a Chinese billionaire whose wealth suddenly crashed in the stock market, so the plans might even be canceled, though Nicaraguan government has already approved the construction of the canal.

San Carlos, the Ending Point of Rio San Juan (1 night/afternoon)

San Carlos is a busy but small port town on the mouth of Lake Nicaragua. It’s not blessed with urban beauty, but well worth exploring at least for an afternoon.

Walk around the buzzing waterfront boulevard (malecón) stopping for a coffee or ice-cream and climb to the small Spanish fort to enjoy the best views to the Lake Nicaragua. Entrance to Fortaleza de San Carlos is free, and Restaurant Mirador in its inner yard is a pleasant place to down a beer or two. There are even cannons!

Getting to San Carlos (or Ometepe Island through San Carlos)
On your final day in El Castillo, catch a ferry to San Carlos (1,5 hours). If you would like to travel forward on the same day, take an early morning ferry from El Castillo to San Carlos. At least walk around in the harbor area before catching a flight to Managua or Ometepe. From San Carlos, you can even take a bus all the way to Managua, though flying is the most pleasant option. We took a night ferry to Ometepe (14PM–0AM), enjoying a perfect sunset over Lake Nicaragua but suffering from the sea sickness due to ripple around the midnight. It’s a huge lake!

The majority of tourists only venture from San Carlos to El Castillo, covering solely one-third of the San Juan River. Of course, that’s better than nothing, but please consider sacrificing a couple of days more to reach the real jungle around San Juan de Nicaragua. Cruising upstream Rio San Juan, together with visiting Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, was the climax of our 4-week Nicaraguan adventure.

Have you sailed down Rio San Juan – or visited El Castillo, San Juan de Nicaragua, or Indio Maíz? Share your experiences from Rio San Juan in the comments below!

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Navigate Rio San Juan in the footsteps of pirates, venture into the untouched Indio Maíz jungle and visit the ruins of El Castillo fortress in Nicaragua.

Parrots arriving at Parque Santander, Leticia, just before sunset

31 Exciting Things to do in Leticia, Colombian Amazon

Are you planning a trip to the Amazon, but still pondering whether to stay in the Colombian border town of Leticia and what to do there? Check out the exciting sights and things to do in the town and the best day tours from Leticia for inspiration! Take jungle hikes and riverboat safaris, visit nature reserves, meet indigenous tribes, taste Amazonian treats, go zip-lining or kayaking, learn jungle skills, and explore the Amazon surrounding Leticia.

Why You Should Visit Leticia – And Stay At Least 2 Nights

Leticia has received its share of the bad rap, but we encourage you to stay in the town to get another perspective on the Amazon. While many people skip Leticia or stay just one night before their pre-booked Amazon tours, explore Leticia on its own and be ready for many pleasant surprises!

But why to stay in Leticia? Leticia is the southernmost point of Colombia and the capital of the Amazonas region, as Colombians call their stretch of the Amazon. It’s the only city, or more modestly put a town, in Colombian Amazon. The other settlements are merely villages. Thus, it’s different, in good and bad.

Leticia is one of the major ports in the Amazon, and Colombia’s biggest – if not only – shipping point. That makes a real buzz. Leticia has several decent restaurants and nightlife venues. Traffic is crazy, but nature is never far away.

You can even make Leticia your home-base while exploring the Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian sides of the Amazon on day tours. You can arrive in Leticia without any plans and arrange your Amazon tours at the spot. More and more tourists opt to stay in the hotels of Leticia and do only day tours – it’s an affordable and comfortable way to explore Amazon. But let’s get started with all the amazing things to do in Leticia!

1. Organize Your Amazon Adventures

Leticia’s location in the Amazon is optimal for arranging day trips or multi-day tours in all three countries: Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. The Amazon adventures that you can take from Leticia are far more authentic than the day-trips of overnight trips from Manaus or Iquitos.

Leticia is well off-the-beaten-path: it’s a small town whisked deep in the jungle, away from from the big cities. That makes Leticia the best place to arrange both Amazon day trips and multi-day tours. As you’re already in the middle of Amazon, you don’t need to waste time on transport!

2. Take a Jungle Hike in the Amazon

Amazon hikes are easy to organize in Leticia. Just pick your favorite location and guide. Some jungle treks require a boat trip to the virgin rainforest, while others start with a short drive to a nearby reserve. For example, Chacara da Coruja Reserve, Reserva Natural Omagua, and Tanimboca Nature Reserve are all just a short taxi trip from Leticia. It’s possible to see caimans, iguanas, snakes such as boas, sloths, armadillos, and a ton of exotic birds like toucans.

Night walks reveal rare nocturnal creatures and should not be missed!

3. Visit Brazil: Tabatinga Border Town

You’re already just a couple of hundred meters from the border, so why not take a walk on the other side? We spent one pleasant afternoon in the Brazilian border town of Tabatinga.

Celebrate the border post of the three countries by hopping from Colombia to Brazil and enjoying a Peruvian lunch at Saõ Jorge. They serve pretty good ceviche and two Peruvian beers, Cuscueña and Pilsen. Before exiting, pop in the garden of “Tres Fronteiras” restaurant and toast with the Brazilian penguin beer. It’s the loveliest restaurant in Tabatinga and competing with Saõ Jorge about the title of the best restaurant in town.

4. Visit Peru: Isla Santa Rosa Border Town

Talking about easy border crossings, why not visit a third country, as well? The Peruvian border town Isla Santa Rosa is just 10-minute boat trip away. It’s a small and shabby fishing village on an island, much less developed than its Brazilian and Colombian counterparts. There’s not much to do, but pose with a Welcome to Peru sign and enjoy a lunch by the riverfront. My favorite dish once again is ceviche made of fresh river fish and paired with Cuscuena or Inca Kola (not sure about the pairing though, but trying that lemonade is a must in Peru).

Leticia, Tabatinga, and Santa Rosa are known as Tres Fronteras (Three Frontiers) area.

5. Visit Puerto Narino Eco-Village in the Amazon

Puerto Narino is a charming eco-village 75 kilometers from Leticia, served by public ferries (2 hours). All Letician tour companies offer day trips to Puerto Narino, but if you’re not short on time, we encourage you to make it your base in the Colombian Amazon. All motorized vehicles are banned, everything is recycled, and every morning the villagers clean together the public spaces. The village has lovely walking paths, brightly painted wooden houses with lovely gardens, restaurants with river views, a couple of pubs, and some quirky sights.

We stayed three happy days in Puerto Narino taking independent jungle walks, admiring sunset in the mirador (wooden tower with a viewing platform at the outskirts of the village), and hiring local guides for boat trips both in the Amazon and its tributaries (including Tarapoto Lake).

6. Tour Tarapoto Lake for Pink and Gray Dolphins and “the Walking Trees”

Tarapoto Lake is best explored on a day trip from nearby Puerto Narino, but can be visited on a long day tour from Leticia, as well. The lake is famous for pink and gray dolphins and “walking trees” (renacos, “arbol que camina). Guides usually stop at several locations for a short jungle walk. We saw walking trees at two separate locations by the lake. Tours typically include also a swimming stop – if you dare to swim with dolphins and piranhas!

The view to the Amazon from Puerto Narino's Mirador just before sunset

7. Get Squirrel Monkey Overdosed at the Monkey Island (Isla de los Micos)

You will see monkeys everywhere on Amazon tours, but if you cannot get enough of them, visit the Monkey Island! Isla de los Micos is an island in the middle of the Amazon, 45-minute boat trip from Leticia. It’s on your way if you’re heading to Puerto Narino and well worth a visit. More than 5000 squirrel monkeys call the nature reserve their home.

8. Take a Zip-Line and Canopy Tour in Reserva Natural Tanimboca

Take a taxi to Tanimboca Nature Reserve, where you can observe the rainforest on an elevated canopy walk. Four observation platforms are connected with a hanging bridge and zip-lines. Also jungle hikes are available. Snakes are the draw here: boas, pit vipers, and colorful coral snakes.

You can stay overnight in one of the “malokas”, tradional Indian treehouses. Night safaris are included in lodging rates.

9. Visit Marasha Nature Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon

Why not to explore the Amazon behind the borders of Peru and Brazil? You can visit Peruvian Marasha Nature Reserve on a day trip from Leticia. Just 45 minutes in a speedboat bring you to the other side of the Amazon. Boating is our favorite Amazon activity for seeing wildlife, but in Marasha you can also opt to go hiking or fishing.

10. Take a Night Safari in the Amazon

Night safari can be a jungle walk or a boat trip: the best night safaris combine them both! Spotting the eyes of alligator or endangered black caiman in the dark can send shivers down your spine, as well as close encounters with tarantulas and scorpion spiders. Black caimans can grow up to 6,5 meters in length. Night safaris in Saraiva Lakes offer a good chance to spot one of those rare creatures.

11. Take a Boat to Rio Yavari and Sacambu Lake (Visiting Peru and Brazil!)

Rio Yavari (Javari/Javary River) forms a natural border between Brazil and Peru. It’s one of Amazon’s tributaries, which remains unspoiled by tourism. Boat trip from Leticia takes around 2-3 hours.

Most people explore Rio Yavari on a multi-day tour, but there are also day tours available. Leave Leticia at dawn to admire sunrise upon Amazon from the boat and enjoy having the river all by yourself, without tour groups around. Rio Yavari day tours usually visit Sacambu lake and make stops for jungle walks or fishing, also stopping in the Brazilian town of Benjamin Constant at the mouth of Javary River. Pink dolphins love to play around Sacambu lake.

Reserva Natural Heliconia is even further away, on a tributary of Rio Yavari on the Brazilian side. Visiting Heliconia requires an overnight tour.

12. Visit Parque Ecologico Mundo Amazonico, The Amazon World Ecological Park

Learn more about the plants and fruits of Amazon in the Amazon World Ecological Park, a family-owned botanical gardens. There are also jungle trails, an aquarium of exotic river monsters, and Amazon Tea House, where you can sample delicious herbal teas (acai, copuazu, araza, aguaje) and learn more about native remedies.

Mundo Amazonico is just 15-minute drive away from Leticia, and you can take a taxi or tuk-tuk to get there. You can book different tours at the spot, or just walk through the marked jungle trails (short and long option available). The cultural tour gives an immersion in using bow and arrow and blow piping.

13. Pop in the Free Amazon Ethnographic Museum

Get introduced to the indigenous cultures of the Amazon in this brilliant, though small museum. Browse an invaluable collection of ceremonial masks, tools, and weapons. The exhibition reveals, for example, the rite of passage of Ticunas and the ritual use of sacred plants of the Yukuna tribe.

14. Hang Around in Tourist Boardwalk (Malecon Touristico) Before Sunset

Tourist Boardwalk is among the best places in Leticia to watch a sunset over the Amazon. Colorful wooden fishing boats against the muddy banks of Amazon make an adorable scene also in the daylight.

Watch how cargo ships come and go: Leticia is among the most critical ports in the Amazon, after all. Take a seat between locals at the beach boulevard, grab a cheap meal from one of the street food stalls or sip a beer, and feed a stray dog to blend in!

15. Explore the Port Area

To feel the chaotic soul of this border town, spend some time walking around the grittier side of Leticia near the port. Casinos, casas de gambiar, and small hole-in-the-wall restaurants with plastic chairs form a blazing blend. Walk around to watch local life and take some street photos if you like.

Sunset Amazon tour and night safari from Puerto Narino, Colombian Amazon

16. Shop at the “Bazaar” and Carrera 8, Leticia’s Main Drag

Did you forget to pack enough lightweight t-shirts, tops, shorts, and skirts for your Amazon adventures? It’s going to be hot and sticky, so make sure that you can wear light clothes. If you don’t like bugs, you might need convertibles or long lightweight pants. You can also find rubber boots, knives, and other jungle essentials at Leticia’s bazaar-like shops near the port and along Carrera 8, the main drag of Leticia. The bazaar is the best spot for affordable souvenir shopping.

17. Soak in the Local Feel of Leticia’s Main Market Hall (Plaza de Mercado/Mercado Municipal)

Pick exotic fruits from the local market and get a sensory overload of the fresh fish, meat, and overall market frenzy. On Mondays, indigenous tribes come here to sell casabes and other treats. Upstairs is dedicated to cheap food stalls. Mercado Municipal is inside an uninvitingly looking concrete building near the port.

18. Taste the Jungle Fruits & Fruit Juices

Fresh fruits and fruit juices are divine at the Amazon. Try camu camu fruit juice: it’s a true vitamin C bomb! I even carry camu camu extract with me when I travel as a natural source of vitamin C. You don’t want to get sick in the Amazon, so take your vitamin intake seriously!

19. Witness “the Parrot Show” at Sunset in Santander Park

It pays to spend at least one sunset in Parque Santander like a local. Thousands of parakeets blacken the sky when they return to the park to feed and rest for the night. The surreal scene reminds “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock but in a pleasant way. You’ll be safe, but be careful of the droppings. Go there at 5 PM to be ready for the parrot show!

20. Sample Street Food at Santander Park

During the parrot show, Santander Park comes alive with street food vendors. Grab a salty or sweet treat after the parrots have settled and sit on the bench with locals.

21. Climb to the Church Tower for the Best View in Leticia

The most scenic spot in Santander Park is the church tower, but there’s only room for 14 people at a time. The panoramic view expands over the city all the way to the Amazon. A small donation is expected.

22. Take the Region’s Highest Canopy Adventure in Reserva Natural Omagua

Go to Omagua Reserve for the 35-meter high canopy adventure, which consists of zip-lines, hanging bridges, climbing nets, and rappelling. Do I need to say more?

23. Go Kayaking – or Just Visit Yahuarcaca Lakes

Yahuarcaca Lakes is another exciting day trip option from Leticia. You can opt for a kayaking trip or just go with a riverboat. You can also visit nearby indigenous communities during the same trip.

Kayaking in the Amazon gives another perspective on the surrounding wildlife and nature. As you slowly paddle through the flooded jungle, you can expect to spot exotic birds, fish, snakes, and even sloths! If you’re lucky, even the pink and gray dolphins might be on the list. Exotic plants include Victoria Regia, the largest lotus in the world.

24. Go Birding

Take a special birding trip to see exotic birds of the Amazon. Colombia’s Amazon is a birder’s paradise with more than 800 bird species. Ornithologist led birding trips offer chances to encounter endemic and endangered species, such as wattled curassow. Even on a usual jungle trip, it’s common to encounter kingfishers, toucans, parrots, herons, and different owls (during the night).

Even the town of Leticia is a bliss for birders, as you can see orange-headed tanagers together with band-tailed and casqued oropendolas, which all are usually hard to spot.

25. Visit Victoria Regia Nature Reserve (Victoria Amazonica) for Water Lilies

Victoria Regia Nature Reserve (El Jardin de la Victoria Regia) is named after the largest water lily in the world carrying the same name. You can admire the gigantic (diameter up to 3 meters!) leaves of water lilies floating on a lake and walk amidst the botanical garden. It’s a short, 15-30-minute boat ride from Leticia.

26. Take a Tuk-Tuk

This is probably the easiest activity to tick off, as tuk-tuks are the main mode of transport for tourists. They are cheaper than taxis, and as distances are rather short, who would mind taking a tuk-tuk?

27. Eat Casabes

The specialty of Leticia, pizzas called casabe, won our hearts. The dough is made of tapioca or yuca instead of wheat flour. Healthy and tasty, if you ask me!

Originally, casabe is just a flatbread: indigenous tribes are selling this type of casabes in Mercado Municipal on Mondays, and they are also served with village meals. The casabe pizza found in the restaurants around Leticia combines the crispy casabe base with all traditional pizza fillings.

We loved the casabes of Santo Angel so much that we returned there on our last night (which we rarely do). Accidentally we also ate there the other specialty, a fish called pirarucu. It’s absolutely delicious and tastes like chicken, but due to overfishing, it’s not that ethical choice.

28. Eat Mojojoy – If You Can!

This one is only for the bravehearts: mojojoy are fat jungle worms. You can eat them grilled or even stuffed. We didn’t have the stomach.

29. Meet the Tribes – Visit an Indigenous Village

Visit the different indigenous tribes on half-day or full day tours from Leticia. The surrounding jungle is a home to several indigenous Amazon tribes, such as Ticuna, Huitoto, Yagua, Bora, Cocama, Macuna, Tucano, and Nukak.

If you visit Puerto Narino, you have good chances to meet Ticunas, Yaguas, and Cocamas, since 95% of Puerto Narino’s population represent these three tribes. You can visit Ticuna villages also elsewhere, for example in Yahuarcaca Lakes and further upstream from Puerto Narino.

In Mundo Amazonico you can hike to the “maloca” (community house) of Huitoto (Uitoto) tribe to meet their shaman and other tribe members. You can reach Huitoto village also by taxi independently (15 minutes from Leticia).

In Reserva Tanimboca, you can do a 2-hour jungle trek to meet Macuna Indians. On Rio Yavari, you can meet Mayorunas and Yaguas.

30. Learn Jungle Skills – or Take Part in Ayahuasca Ceremony

Many indigenous guides can teach you basic jungle survival skills if you dare to ask. Hipilandia Eco-Hostal has somehow productized jungle crafts workshop, which includes learning how to use a machete, making a natural rope, and climbing in a palm tree, weaving a backpack or shoes from jungle materials, etc.

Many locals can also hook you up with a shaman if you’re interested in ayahuasca ritual. We thought to mention this, as many tourists travel to the Amazon purely to try ayahuasca. However, we don’t recommend using ayahuasca unless you really know what you’re doing, as there are too many risks involved. We didn’t try it and wouldn’t do it ourselves. The internet is full of stories who trips have turned into nightmares after drinking Yage (Ayahuasca), as you can never truly know what’s in the mix and how your body will react. Taking ayahuasca can even lead to death or severe mental illness.

31. Extend Your Amazon Adventures: Take a Boat to Manaus (Brazil) or Iquitos (Peru)

If you feel that there are still too many things to see in the Amazon, take a slow or fast boat to either Manaus (Brazil) or Iquitos (Peru) to extend your trip. Fast boats to Iquitos take 10 hours and to Manaus 30 hours, whereas the epic slow boat to Manaus takes 4 days. If you have time and won’t mind the basic conditions, I’d recommend taking the slow boat for the views.

Boats to Manaus leave from Tabatinga and boats to Iquitos from Isla Santa Rosa. Make sure to get your exit stamp from Colombia before embarking.

Where to Stay in Leticia?

Amazon B&B Hotel is without a doubt the best lodge in Leticia. They have spacious villas and more affordable rooms scattered within a lush garden. We especially loved the breakfasts served in the garden and idling in a hammock at our private veranda.

How to Get to Leticia?

As there are no roads from the Colombian side, you must come in and out Leticia with one of the two daily flights (Avianca/LAN). If you’re coming from Brazil, taking a riverboat from Manaus is one option, and the same goes with Peruvian Iquitos. You can also opt to fly from Manaus to Tabatinga (Brazilian border town).

Have you visited Leticia or Colombian Amazon, if so, what were your favorite things to do?

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Leticia in the Colombian Amazon amazes with exciting Amazon tours and adventurous things to do. Find the best Amazon tours, spot pink dolphins, take jungle hikes and river safaris to reveal the wildlife of the Amazon, taste local jungle foods, go zip-lining or kayaking, and learn jungle skills! #Leticia #Amazon #Colombia #Amazonas #colombianos #southamerica #southamericatravel

Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia and save time to enjoy the sublime sceneries!

How to Book Cheap Domestic Flights in Colombia as a Foreigner

So you’d like to fly within Colombia to save time without breaking the bank? That’s wise! Colombia is enormous, many roads are bumpy and unpaved, and mountainous terrain makes drives unpredictable. Even locals prefer flying over 10-hour bus travel since it’s possible to find cheap domestic flights in Colombia. There’s just one problem: foreign visitors get ”expensive tourist prices” without a bit of flight hacking. But worry not, we’ll share our flight hacks so that you can score the cheapest internal flight tickets!

The article has been thoroughly updated in June 2019. This article may contain affiliate links: if you decide to buy something through the links, we will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Think of it as buying a coffee for us on someone else. Thanks for your support!

The Best Domestic Airlines in Colombia

We compared Colombian flight prices online for weeks before making our choice. Our top four airline choices included Avianca, LAN, Satena, and Viva Colombia. The first thing that we check is safety: these four are labeled as safe choices for air travel. LAN (or nowadays officially LATAM) is the biggest airline in Latin America, originally from Chile; the others are Colombian domestic carriers.

Avianca was the only carrier that flew to all destinations on our 4-week itinerary, but at first, the prices on Avianca’s international site kicked us out. After surfing around forums, we were convinced that it would be safe to book domestic flights at local prices, on the Avianca’s Colombian website. This insight dropped off LAN and Satena, which had higher fares to most destinations.

Viva Colombia is a low-cost carrier with tempting prices. It’s the first credible low-cost airline in Colombia, nowadays partly owned by Ryanair. Like most discount airlines, Viva Colombia charges hefty fees on hold luggage. We were traveling with almost 20 kg backpacks, which would have lifted Viva Colombia’s total prices near or even over those of Avianca. Still, we might have saved a couple of dollars, if we have flown one to two times with Viva Colombia.

Why Avianca Is The Most Hassle-Free Choice For Flights Within Colombia

For ease, we opted to book all our domestic flights in Colombia from Avianca. One reason was that Avianca offers many straight flights, whereas the other airlines had layovers. For instance, on Santa Marta-Medellín leg Avianca has the very only straight flight.

Because Avianca is Colombia’s biggest domestic airline, they have the widest spectrum of internal flights meaning convenient flight times and quick connections in case of layovers (we flew through Bogotá many times). By booking all our flight tickets from Avianca, we saved both time and money.

Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia: Check field-tested flight hacks for foreigners, save money, and head to the beach!
Book cheap domestic flights in Colombia – and head to the beach!

How to Book Avianca’s Cheap Domestic Flights: Simple Flight Hack

This is flight hacking at it’s best: quick and simple. Just change your location when you visit Avianca’s website to unlock your cheap flights in Colombia. If you google ”Avianca” from abroad, you’ll be directed to Avianca’s international website. If you simply choose a different language, español in this case, you’ll still be offered with content aimed at foreigners. We have to be more clever to find the cheap flights!

In the domain field of your browser, just correct the end of the URL into ”/co/en” so that the domain will be https://www.avianca.com/co/en/. This will allow you to book the internal flights in English, but get the Colombian prices! It’s your time to smile.

Otherwise, Avianca’s website is very easy to use. The prices are shown only in Colombian pesos (COP) when you browse the Colombian site. Just use some web-based currency converter to see the prices in your own currency. We prefer XE’s currency converter.

After your flight hacking trick, you can see and choose any of the ticket classes, even the cheapest ”super promo” price (marked in red). On the international site, you cannot even see the best flight offers.

Can You Book Colombian Internal Flights With US Credit Card?

Here’s the last catch: You can book the flights on Avianca’s website with a credit card issued in North America and many European countries, such as UK, Spain, and Germany. At the time of our booking, Avianca didn’t accept Finnish credit cards, but now they do! Fortunately, we were incredibly lucky to have a friend in Bogotá, who booked the flights for us.

Can I Check-In Normally With Locally Priced Promo Tickets?

At the check-in and boarding, you simply need to show your passport. Avianca’s web check-in worked smoothly, supplying handy mobile boarding passes. At the moment, Avianca’s official rules still require printed boarding pass, but mobile versions proved out to be legitimate, as well.

Book In Advance For the Best Flight Deals

You’ll quite likely get the best fares from Avianca if you book your flights well in advance. However, we ended up booking ours just a couple of weeks before our trip and were still happy with the cheap flight prices.

The Mysterious Avianca Airpass

Web forums are still raving about Avianca’s Airpass. It was once a real bargain for tourists aiming to book several flights within Colombia but hasn’t been available for years. None of the other airlines offer any air passes in Colombia at the moment, either. But with our flight hacking tips, you’ll find cheap domestic flights in Colombia on your own!

Paragliding in Medellin, Colombia. Fly like a bird and enjoy the cityscape of Medellin from above!
Use our flight hacks to save money with internal flights to Medellin and spend them on this amazing paragliding experience!

How to Plan Your Trip to Colombia

Now that you know how to book the cheap internal flights, it’s time to plan the rest of the trip around captivating Colombia! Have you already seen our Ultimate 4-Week Itinerary in Colombia article? The itinerary is based on five domestic flights: our legs were Bogota-Cartagena, Cartagena-Medellín, Medellín-Popayan, Neiva-Leticia, and Leticia-Bogota.

Flying around this vast country allowed us to capture the absolute highlights of Colombia in just four weeks. Our route can be easily adjusted into 2-weeks’ or 3-weeks’ itinerary.

Where To Stay in Colombia: Find the Best Hotel Deals

Check out our article about the best affordable boutique hotels in Colombia to find field-tested accommodation around the country.

Browse here the best hotel deals in Colombia!

Have you used Colombian domestic carriers or are you planning to book internal flights? Hundreds of our readers have field-tested these flight hacks to track down the cheapest domestic fares. I hope our article helps also you to find affordable flight tickets within Colombia – happy planning!

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Book domestic flights in Colombia at dirt cheap local prices!

Bike to the Golden Gate – and Presidio pet cemetery near Golden Gate Park!

Bike to the Golden Gate Bridge – For an Abandoned Pet Cemetery!

Cycling to the Golden Gate Bridge is a definite must in San Francisco. It’s a very pleasant ride by the shore, with postcard-perfect views of the alluring bridge and the island of Alcatraz. Combine the bike trip with a cable car ride and make a detour to a peculiar pet cemetery to capture the essence of the fog city in just one day.

Ride the Iconic Cable Car of San Francisco

Start your day from Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround. The queues are usually long, but they can move fast. If so, hop on a cable car, grab a leather strip and enjoy the steep roller-coaster climb through Nob Hill. We were so impatient that ended up walking up a couple of stops, where we were able to hop on the passing tram immediately. If you take the Hyde-bound cable car, you’ll see Golden Gate Bridge popping up between the buildings and the bike trip will be shorter. We took the Powell-Mason line, which conveniently brought us near several bike rental shops. Our bike trip started by pedaling through the chaotic tourist masses of Fisherman’s Wharf.

“Approaching Golden Gate Bridge slowly with a bike becomes intolerably enticing. It’s a rite, where you unwrap the sweeping, urban beauty of this world-renown landmark one kilometer after another.”

Bike Pass Fort Mason and Marina Boulevard

Most bikes come with an attached map showing the route. It’s impossible to get lost if you just hug the shore all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The first kilometers will take you through small Aquatic Park, passing Fort Mason, a former Army post. Feel free to make a short detour to Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory on the way.

Ride all the way to the end of Aquatic Park Pier to snap an iconic photo of the city’s skyline. Alcatraz is glimmering on the horizon most of the time, but the pier gives yet another photo opportunity that you shouldn’t resist.

Next up is Marina Boulevard with some fancy yachts, and you’ll pass Palace of Fine Arts before reaching Golden Gate Park. At this point, Golden Gate Bridge seemingly grows on the horizon as you proceed closer and closer.

“Watch the famous fog crawling in and out, revealing the dramatic art deco skeleton in its blazing redness.”

Make a Detour for Presidio Pet Cemetery

When you reach Crissy Field, a former Army airfield turned into a park, it’s time to make a detour for the pet cemetery. Turn left and ride until you reach Old Mason Street (if you’ve been pedaling at the shore like we did), take a left just before University of San Francisco’s Presidio Building, and one more left to Crissy Field Ave. You’ll stumble upon a tiny pet cemetery just below a highway bridge.

Unfortunately, the pet cemetery is closed now that there’s a highway upon it, but you’ll get some lovely shots behind the fence, nevertheless. Presidio Pet Cemetery is the final resting place for military pets. Hence, the gravestones list owners’ ranks and pets’ positions. Some tombs date back to 1950’s, but a legend tells that guard dogs have been buried here already during the World War II. The roaring traffic and on-going construction work create a gloomy atmosphere that hangs upon the crooked tombstones. Still, this tiny necropolis felt an utterly happy place for us.

“The roaring traffic and on-going construction work create a gloomy atmosphere that hangs upon crooked tombstones. Still, this tiny necropolis feels an utterly happy place.”

Pedal through Golden Gate Park

Return to shore and take a break at Warming Hut Café – you might already need a quick energy boost before climbing the last leg to the Golden Gate Bridge. After photobombing the bustle of Golden Gate and sceneries to the endless Pacific and San Francisco Bay alike, we returned the same way, still spellbound.

“In Summer’s quilt of joy: the towers,
High built, red-gold, with their long span
—The most majestic spun by man—
Whose threads of steel through mists and showers,
Wind, spray, and the momentous roar
Of ocean storms, link shore to shore.”
-Vikram Seth: The Golden Gate

Approaching Golden Gate Bridge slowly with a bike becomes intolerably enticing. It becomes a rite, where you unwrap the sweeping, urban beauty of this world-renown landmark one kilometer after another. Watch the famous fog crawling in and out, revealing the dramatic art deco skeleton in its blazing redness. The fleet ships glide on the blue channel, through the wide, steel mouth. The geometrical monster pierces the blue sky, throwing its constantly changing shadow on the ground.

Once you finally reach the suspension bridge, after an excruciating ascent, it’s time for the final transition. You can cross the Golden Gate Bridge to explore a small seaside town of Sausalito and take a ferry back. Or you can just admire the views from the bridge and pedal back to the fog city like we did. Whatever you choose, I bet that the most famous bridge in the world will leave its mark on you.

On our way back we tramped through Russian Hill before waving down a taxi; a cable car is a slower option if you still have the energy to squeeze in one of them. In my opinion, walking is the best way to blend in and feel the differences between neighborhoods. The only downside is that the day can become extremely long and a bit exhausting. So just skip walking, if you feel weary from the bike trip, and head to the well-deserved dinner.

Have you cycled to the Golden Gate Bridge, if so, which were the highlights of the bike trip for you?


Masindi Hotel in Uganda has hosted Hemingway, Hepburn, Bogart, and other celebrities

Sight of the Week: Historical Masindi Hotel, Uganda

Masindi Hotel in western Uganda has hosted Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart, among other stars. The oldest hotel in Uganda is a perfect place to break your journey from Kampala to Murchison Falls National Park. Have a tasty lunch or just sip coffee while tripping down the memory lane.

The town of Masindi used to be a popular transit point between Congo, Southern Sudan, and Mombasa. The legendary East Africa Railways and Harbours Company built Masindi Hotel already in 1923 to strengthen the village’s role as a gateway to the hinterland of Africa. Beautifully renovated building is among the oldest in Uganda. ”Hemingway Bar” and the inner courtyard have both historical character and infallible colonial charm.

Masindi Hotel is the oldest hotel in Uganda. These same walls have hosted Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart
Masindi Hotel is the oldest hotel in Uganda. These same walls have hosted Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart

Ill-fated Ernest Hemingway recovered from two consecutive plane crashes in the room number 6. Humphrey Bogart had stayed in the very same room during the filming of ”The African Queen” that brought his only Oscar. Bogart’s counterbalance Katherine Hepburn stayed in the room 5. The filming was allegedly as adventurous as the movie itself. Hepburn’s book ”The Making of The African Queen: How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind” reveals that everybody except Bogart and Huston, the director, got sick from the foul water. The men were so marinated that they were unaffected.

Masindi Hotel lies just 20 minutes drive from the gates of Murchison Falls National Park and 3 hours from Kampala or Entebbe, in the town of Masindi.

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Masindi Hotel has hosted Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart among other stars

Sailing on the explosive Lake Kivu from Kibuye to Kamembe

Sailing Through the Explosive Lake Kivu in Rwanda

We had heard dreadful stories about Lake Kivu, a killer lake that could explode any time killing millions. After arriving at the shore of these deadly waters between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were seized by the placid beauty. Still hesitantly, we decided to overcome our fears and sail through the Lake Kivu, all the way from Kibuye to Kamembe.

Time stands still on the banks of Lake Kivu. Women carry varying loads on their head, heading to the lakefront to sell their crop or do laundry while kids are bathing in the deep blue waters. Fishermen row out to catch their draft in bright, wooden boats that return in the dusk. Above this idyllic scene hangs an ominous shadow that can be seen on a bright day in the shape of a cone.

Nearby Nyiragongo and a chain of other volcanoes saturate the waters of Lake Kivu with carbon dioxide. When Nyiragongo erupted in 2002, it cast lava to the lake, both from above and below, cumulating the issue even further. Usually, the gasses lie rather calmly under the water pressure, finally dissolving and saturating the waters. But in the end, the interaction of the lake water and CO2 result in a record-breaking concentration of methane. When disturbed, the gasses can explode and annihilate life around the lake, causing possibly a lake tsunami, as well.

When the gasses at the bottom of Lake Kivu rise to the surface, they create a lethal fog that can suffocate any living thing on its way. The phenomenon is called a limnic eruption. There are two other killer lakes in the world, both in Cameroon. The limnic eruption, also dubbed a lake overturn, has happened there, killing 1,800 people. But Lake Kivu is 2,000 larger than the lakes in Cameroon, and it contains a way more deadly gasses. When the limnic eruption happens in Lake Kivu, the catastrophe will be tremendous. Until now, Lake Kivu has been emitting only occasional deadly farts, committing small-scale murders. But it wasn’t a calming thought to me.

Boarding a Public Boat From Kibuye to Kamembe

We were supposed to drive the meandering road from Kibuye to Kamembe (Cuangugu) and further to Nyungwe Forest in just one day. Already exhausted from the long drive from Kigali to Kibuye on the day before, we acclaimed the lucky chance to substitute the long drive with a public ferry that crosses Lake Kivu only twice a week.

The morning was clear, and the blue waters were glimmering invitingly in the scorching African sun. We could see the silhouettes of green islands through the morning haze from our porch. The smell of adventure was hanging in the air. Behind the picturesque scenery lurked the stories of the murderous lake, making me both excited and a bit nervous.

The ferry had already made its way from Gisenyi to Kibuye that morning, and it was full of passengers and cargo. Our guide Vivine showed her talent by negotiating us the prime spots from a tiny cabin upon the ferry, the only one available. The passenger compartment was suffocatingly hot and filled to the brim. There were no seats on the deck and no place to hide from the scorching sun.

Sailing by Villages, Farmlands, and Gas Extraction Plants

We felt like queens in our small cabin, enjoying the gentle breeze. We were so thankful for the scraggy armchairs that we shared with one Korean guy. Obviously, we were the only tourists on board. The cabin was the perfect viewpoint: through the non-existent door opened the endless lake panorama. The shade of water merged to the horizon, and occasionally, verdant islets rose from the blue, often resulting a quick stop in tiny villages. The locals ran towards the shore to sell and ship their crop or just greet the rare bypassers. We rushed to the deck to capture the scene and wave to kids who were instantly practicing their English with us.

I can’t imagine a better way to indulge in the daily life by the shore of Lake Kivu than navigating through the lake with locals. On the cruise, you’ll get profoundly introduced with the local agriculture. The volcanic land around Lake Kivu is exceptionally fertile, resulting abundant crops of bananas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and coffee to name a few. The specialty coffee trade is flourishing on the both sides of the border bringing well-needed income to local smallholders. Some of my favorite coffee beans come from Rwanda, both from Lake Kivu and other areas, such as Huye Mountains. The taste profile of Rwandan coffee usually includes red fruits like cherry and a whiff of vanilla.

In such a tranquil sceneries, it’s way too easy to forget the fatal powers lingering below. But nearby Kibuye you’ll also pass odd gas extraction platforms, which are turning the deadly methane into a salvating source of energy. The power capacity lying below the surface of Lake Kivu is six times bigger than Rwanda’s current energy production. The extraction, if fortunate, could save Lake Kivu from the disaster.

The journey from Kibuye to Kamembe lingers on the border of Rwanda and DRC, hugging the world’s 10th biggest inland island, Congolese Idjwi. The distance from Gisenyi to Kamembe is 230 kilometers. Our trip from Kibuye, lying approximately in the half way, took seven long hours. The total travel time from north to south, Gisenyi to Kamembe, is usually 9 to 10 hours. The boat runs from Gisenyi through Kibuye to Kamembe on Sundays and Thursdays, leaving from Gisenyi at 7 AM and Kibuye at 10 AM.

How to Visit Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu lies in the great Albertine Rift Valley that we’ve also admired in Tanzania and Uganda. It’s one of the African Great Lakes, a series of East African lakes that makes a home for an unbelievable number of endemic species, including 10 % of world’s fish species. More than half of Lake Kivu lies behind the border of DRC, but it’s a way easier to set the sails on the Rwandan side.

I’d recommend taking the scenic town of Kibuye for your vantage point, as you can first tour the nearby small Lake Kivu islands like we did, and then make the journey all the way from Kibuye to Kamembe (Cuangugu) on these explosive waters. The drive from Gisenyi to Kibuye and further to Cuangugu is also famously photogenic if the public ferry doesn’t fit into your schedule.

Have you been in Rwanda, or would you dare to sail through the explosive Lake Kivu with a public boat?

Disclaimer: We were touring Lake Kivu with Lobelia Tours and Travel Agency, but all opinions remain our own.

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Sail through the bewitching Lake Kivu, a killer lake that could explode any time killing millions. The scenic journey from Gisenyi to Kamembe lingers between the borders of Rwanda and DRC, passing rural villages and uninhabited islets.

Rio Indio Indio Maiz, Nicaragua

How to Organize a Trip to Indio Maíz Jungle, Nicaragua

Venturing deep into the mysterious jungle of Indio Maíz was the highlight of Nicaraguan adventures. We spent a night in a traditional Rama Indian hut and indulged in their habits, hiked to the sacred stone pyramids of Canta Gallo, and fell in love with the pristine wilderness of those inhabited lands. Since we’ve got frequent inquiries on the subject, we decided to share our tips for organizing a trip to Indio Maíz and Canta Gallo.

How to Book a Boat Trip and Guide to Indio Maíz Jungle

You can either organize the Indio Maíz trip beforehand or at the spot. Either way, don’t compromise: approve only Rama Indians as your guide. That way you’ll be fully immersed in their unique Indian culture. If you are interested, they’ll show you the ropes of catching delicious river crabs and cooking them on the open stove or showcase you the healing powers of plants. You’ll be sleeping in a real Rama Indian home instead of a tent which is the deal with other guides. Also, the profits will go to the community.

Guides are obligatory since you are entering Rama territory through several military posts. The other guides can take you there, but only Rama can guide you to the Canta Gallo pyramids. All Rama speak Creole English, so you don’t need Spanish with them.

Due to the lack of online information, we didn’t have the option to book our Indio Maíz visit beforehand. But since we’ve done it, there’s that chance for you! We recommend taking the trip with Salomon, who was our loyal guide. I won’t publish his phone number here, but you can request it by commenting below or emailing us. It’s also possible to negotiate your Indio Maíz trip at the spot: ask from your hospedaje or walk to the Rama area at the outskirts of Greytown and settle a deal with one of the Rama for the next day.

How Many Days You’ll Need for Indio Maíz Jungle Trip?

In one night (two days’) Indio Maíz trip you’ll see a lot: the lifestyle of the Rama, pristine jungle and wildlife, and the sacred Rama site of Canta Gallo. The boat trip to Canta Gallo is long, so it’s not recommendable to pack everything in just one day (you can opt for paying more for a faster boat, which cuts the journey into 4 hours, but in my opinion one-day trip results too shallow experience).

If you are okay with staying several nights in a very basic Indian house, I’d recommend expanding the adventure. Then you could either reach further than Canta Gallo or do the same as we did, but at a more tranquil pace. Usually, two nights’ trip to Indio Maíz consists of one night near Canta Gallo and the other night at the edge of the Rama territory on your way back. You can adjust the deal to your likings with your guide.

If you decide to go with someone else than Salomon, insist on venturing further than the former village of Makenge, nowadays called “the Holy Land”. That’s the biggest Rama settlement in Indio Maíz, where almost all guides take the tourists, so there might be other groups at the same time. It’s a nice to explore the “Holy Land”, but personally, I wouldn’t stay there, if I had only one or two nights in the Indio Maíz. Being a village, it might be too “civilized”, if you’re looking for an adventurous night in the jungle, like us.

The boat trip to Canta Gallo takes approximately 8 hours with a traditional motor boat. We saw the first Rama house after sailing for two hours and the second one 30 minutes later (the house of Esmeralda, which Salomon uses for the last nights’ stay in longer trips). A trip from San Juan de Nicaragua to “the Holy Land” (former Makenge) took about 6 hours. All times vary due to the weather and currents.

How Much to Pay For the Indio Maíz Trip?

Prices for Indio Maíz trips are rather steep, I agree. We paid 200$ for 2 of us (for two nights’ trip). Salomon asked 400$ if I remember right. We bargained the deal at the spot: Salomon was our “random guide” that we found through our hospedaje. He needs to rent a boat, buy gasoline (which is expensive), buy food and water for you, and pay for the Rama homes where you’re staying, etc. Salomon also seemed to support generously the Rama people we met.

After seeing several other guides in San Juan de Nicaragua, I would still go with Salomon. To my knowledge, the prices are the same. Of course, you can try to bargain. But the lower price might mean slower boat, meals consisting mostly of rice and plantains and other tweaks. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the adventure!

BOAT SCHEDULE SAN JUAN DE NIGARAGUA-SAN CARLOS 2017

Public boat from San Juan de Nicaragua to San Carlos
Thursday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)
Saturday 5 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Sunday 5 AM (Express: duration 7 hours & Normal line: duration 12 hours)

Public boat from San Carlos to San Juan de Nicaragua
Tuesday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Tuesday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)
Thursday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6 AM (Duration 12 hours)
Friday 6.30 AM (Express: duration 7 hours)

Please confirm the schedule from your accommodation. We received this information from our kind reader in June 2017, but cannot guarantee that it stays up to date.

Tips for Starting and Ending the Indio Maíz Trip in San Juan de Nicaragua

Either fly to San Juan de Nicaragua (Greytown) or take a river boat from San Carlos. You’ll need one night in San Juan de Nicaragua/Greytown before and after the Indio Maíz trip. Check out how the boat or flight timetable allows that. We needed to stay longer. There are enough sights to keep you entertained for one or even two days (blue lagoon, manatees, four intriguing graveyards), but accommodation options are rather basic.

There aren’t any ATMs (or banks, or posts) in Greytown. And there are just a couple modest shops selling basic snacks and drinks: if you’d fancy something special, take it with you from Managua or San Carlos. The flight is really scenic, but the airport is a boat trip away from the town, so you’d need to organize a boat transfer. We had booked a transfer through our hospedaje, but still ended up waiting there for an hour before we got a lift from the airport personnel (ours never arrived).

From San Juan de Nicaragua we took a river boat down Rio San Juan to the charming little town of El Castillo. The next day we sailed to San Carlos and took a ferry to the island of Ometepe. Check out our 4-week itinerary into the heart of Nicaragua!

Would you dare to take this kind of jungle adventure to Indio Maíz and the pyramids of Canta Gallo?

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Venture deep into Indio Maíz jungle with Rama Indians and hike to the sacred pyramids of Canta Gallo.

View towards Zambezi River from the private pool of Royal Zambezi Lodge

Best Safari Lodges in Zambia – Our Top 4 Picks

Find the best safari lodges in Zambia: From luxurious private island hideaway to the best lodges in acclaimed national parks. We tracked down the best locations for wildlife watching, the most skilled safari guides, unique tented camps with top-notch service and delicious meals, and once-in-a-lifetime safari experiences. Check out our picks for the best safari lodges to smell out the hidden gems of Zambia!

How to Find the Best Safari Lodges in Zambia?

When you’re searching for the best safari lodges in any African country, there are many factors to consider. In some safari destinations, you have to make compromises and emphasize the location and wildlife watching opportunities over the facilities, or praised and highly trained safari guides over the general level of service and atmosphere. Of course, you must define the factors that make your own safari experience the best ever.

Luckily, in Zambia, you can get it all. The safari lodges listed below showcase all these traits. They have the best possible location in the national park for finding good wildlife sightings every day and their guides are among the best in the industry. They are sustainable and reputable; luxurious but unpretentious. Some of them are still not very well known, which make them true hidden gems. Read on to find your favorite lodges in Zambia!

Tips for Finding the Best Lodges in Zambia Outside Our List

  • Check the lodges reviews in TripAdvisor and Booking.com (if available).
  • When comparing lodges, check what the price includes. Do they offer private game drives and guides? If the game drives are in shared vehicles, does everybody have a window seat? How many persons are they taking in one car? Usually morning and evening game drives are included in the price, but do they offer also walking safaris and other activities, free of charge? What is said about the guides and their training? What about the meals and chefs? Does the room have its own plunge pool? Private veranda? How is the swimming pool area? Is there enough privacy: How close is the next tent or villa? Consider which are the most important factors for you and be sure that the lodge meets your expectations.
  • Location is extremely important, so know what you’re getting. Is the lodge inside national park for quick and easy access to wildlife sightings (so that you won’t lose time on transit during early morning game drives)? What is said about the immediate surroundings of the lodge: Is it tranquil or clustered with other lodges? Is the lodge fenced or unfenced allowing wildlife to walk through the property? Do you generally have to drive far to find wildlife? Check Google Maps for the actual location of the lodge to get a better understanding of the surrounding area. Read about the national park and get to know the best areas for wildlife watching (of course, this varies, but usually some areas are better than others due to the vegetation and other conditions).
  • Ask the right questions. If you didn’t find enough information on the lodge’s website and reviews, bring up all the questions that you might have. Changing a couple of emails with the lodge can sometimes also tell about their service level. Please feel free to ask us about the listed lodges.

Finally, here are our top choices for the best safari lodges in Zambia:

1. Royal Zambezi, Lower Zambezi National Park

Welcome to the ultimate safari bliss! If you are planning just one splurge, Royal Zambezi Lodge is your choice. Soak in ”the Royal Experience” from the moment you wake up in your luxurious chalet, witness elephants marching by the shore of Zambezi, enjoy 5-star gourmet meals under starry skies, and fall under the spell of Lower Zambezi National Park during unequaled private safaris.

What Makes Royal Zambezi the Best Safari Lodge in Zambia?

Roayal Zambezi would be my personal choice for Zambia’s best safari lodge. Why am I so fond of this riverside luxury lodge? Royal Zambezi combines untamed nature with the utmost luxury.

Elephants pound along the property making every moment exciting. Special treats include private plunge pools and verandas with panoramic views to the Zambezi River with an abundance of elephants, warthogs, hippos, birds, and other wildlife; outdoor showers and free-standing copper baths; and stylish interior design without any sense of ostentation.

Game Drives and Daily Activities in Royal Zambezi

The highlights of your stay in Royal Zambezi are the varied wildlife-watching activities in Lower Zambezi National Park. The best thing: You can choose daily between game drives, fishing, canoe and river safaris, bush walks, and even mountain hikes. Your private guide knows which animals you’ve already seen making every exploration unique. One of the highlights of our trip was the last night’s surprise beach barbecue: we were transported to the deserted beach and pampered with intimate, candle-lit dinner under the stars. That’s what luxurious safari stays are all about.

Royal Zambezi was hands down our favorite safari lodge in Zambia. If I’d have to visit just one national park, I’d also pick Lower Zambezi. Wildlife watching is fantastic with the healthy lion, leopard, and hyena populations. Still, it feels like a real wilderness with a bunch of small-scale lodges. We encountered just a couple of other cars during 4-hour game drives.

Find here the best deals for your stay in Royal Zambezi

2. Robin Pope’s Luangwa River Camp, South Luangwa National Park

Romantic Luangwa River Camp has just five luxurious chalets facing the Luangwa National Park at the opposite bank of the Luangwa River. Location is excellent for entering the best game viewing areas in the park.

The thatched ”bush suites” come with adorable interior and soothing level of privacy. One of the highlights is the elevated bathroom with lavish, sunken bathtub that is designed for two. You can admire your private slice of Luangwa River straight from the bath, bed or terrace.

We also visited Robin Pope’s another luxurious safari lodge in South Luangwa National Park, the nearby Nkwali Camp, but Luangwa River Camp won us with a higher level of intimacy. For practical reasons, we also preferred their traditional brick cabins over Nkwali’s open architecture. During the day, we kept the large sliding doors in front of the bedroom and bathroom wide-open but closed them in the evenings keeping living areas pleasantly bug-free. Both Robin Pope properties are visually exquisite examples of the rustically luxurious Zambian safari lodges.

3. Islands of Siankaba, Livingstone

Almost every traveler in Zambia visits the epic Victoria Falls, locally known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders. ”The Seventh Wonder of the World” lies on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Since the bordering towns on both sides are just dusty transit points, I’d recommend picking a more remote safari lodge, again by the shore of Zambezi River. In Zambia, the clear winner for us was the unique Islands of Siankaba, located between Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park.

The luxurious safari lodge hides in the middle of Zambezi River, on two private islands. Seven secluded cabins are scattered among the tree canopy and connected with beautiful, hanging walkways. Strolling around the lodge is an adventure in itself! Each suite boasts miraculous views over the Zambezi – straight from the bed or the huge, private terrace. The combination of teak and canvas gives a luxurious feel, still merging the chalets with nature effortlessly.

4. Mayukuyuku Tented Camp, Kafue National Park

Our safari lodge pick from Kafue National Park represents a little bit different ideology. Unlike the top 3 lodges, Mayukuyuku Bush Camp is not a 5-star property. However, the level of service is excellent, as are their guides. The tented camp section is well maintained and homey. The view to Kafue river is hard to beat, and hippos roam through the lodge during the night. Mayukuyuku Bush Camp has only four tented chalets, which makes the camp feel exclusive.

At Mayukuyuku, you can get a taste of the real wilderness and exclusion. Wildlife sightings are excellent just outside the lodge: Mayukuyuku has even designed their own safari trails in cooperation with the Kafue National Park. The trails are virtually empty from other cars, yet it’s easy to find lions and leopards along with the other game. We loved their outdoor showers and atmospheric al fresco dinners. Patrick and Boyd were among the best safari guides we’ve ever had, and we enjoyed their genial company throughout our stay.

Have you visited Zambia? What were your favorite lodges? Would you have any further tips for finding the best safari lodges in Zambia?

*Disclaimer: Zambian Traveller hosted our tour in Zambia and provided the accommodation in the safari lodges mentioned above but all opinions remain our own.

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Smell out the hidden gems of Zambia! Optimize wildlife watching opportunities, find the best guides and delight in lavish camps.