The Secret Heart of Colombia

Colombia – The Secret Heart of Colombia – a 17 day Small Group Tour.

The world is full of preconceptions, and it’s fair to say that Colombia has long suffered from these in spades. Insurgencies by quasi-communist FARC, ELN and other gorillas, violence fuelled by drug money, and corruption are difficult associations to lose. However, in 2016 a peace agreement ended the FARC conflict and after decades saw the group disband. Since a 2017 ceasefire, talks are ongoing with ELN rebels. Colombians are tired of these futile battles.

Most populous of South American states, Colombia melds Spanish, African and indigenous culture in a colourful blend. This tour offers a refreshing reality check to lazy headlines, providing a fascinating two-weeks of adventure among cities, towns and villages that highlight Colombia’s colonial legacy, its living indigenous culture and its incredibly diverse landscapes, from desert to cloud forest, mountains, volcanoes and beaches. In Medellin, once an often-cited reason not to visit, the transformation from gang-ravaged urban no-go area to culturally rich, welcoming and safe city neighbourhood is remarkable.

Colombia: to see once is worth a thousand words.

Colombia is emerging from its reputation as the bad boy of Latin America to show its true colours as one of the most exciting corners of the continent. Put aside what you’ve read about Colombia’s murky past – for those willing to step beyond the stereotypes the country offers a breathtaking array of world class attractions that are sure to leave an imprint on the souls of all who visit.

On this two and half week overland journey of discovery we take a trip back into the past, exploring the magnificent colonial heritage atmospheric towns such as Villa de Leyva and Popayan, and spend time in the famed coffee zone, experiencing rural life set amidst spectacular scenery. For lovers of history and archaeology, marvel at the little-known mysteries of San Agustin. Finally we immerse ourselves in the vibrant melting pot of Medellin.

In addition, there is also the opportunity to extend Colombian odyssey to the tropical and remote Pacific Coast or perhaps head to the azure Caribbean to explore the mazy cobbled streets of colourful and historic Cartagena and stroll on the palm fringed beaches of Tayrona National Park. Join us to explore Colombia and become a convert to the joys of this welcoming and enigmatic nation.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture
  • History
  • Wildlife

Tour Pace


Tour style


Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.


Arrive in Bogota and transfer to the hotel, located in the historic heart of the city. The rest of the day is at leisure to either explore or relax. If you have arrived early you may wish to visit the interesting Gold Museum which is very close to the hotel, housing one of the most important collections of pre-Hispanic metallurgy in the world, offering an insight into this lucrative but controversial activity which has brought wealth, war and fortune-seekers to Colombia’s shores for many centuries. Overnight at Hotel Casa Deco or similar. No meals are included today.

Today we explore the city, first taking a guided walk around the historic centre of La Candelaria, characterised by colonial and baroque-style buildings, cobbled streets and plazas. We visit the Emerald Museum which catalogues the country’s rise to the world’s largest emerald producer (ID required for entry), the 16th century church of San Francisco, which still draws pilgrims as the city’s oldest Christian site. Afterwards we continue to the Paloquemao and the colourful public market, a genuine cornucopia of foods. We wander through the myriad stalls, perhaps sampling an arepa or pan de bono. Later we enjoy spectacular views over the city from one of its mountainous peaks at the Monserrate monastery, a 17th century shrine to ‘The Fallen Lord’. Overnight Hotel Casa Deco, or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: four-hours)

Today we visit the famous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, carved into the tunnels of a salt mine, and experience a surreal journey into the heart of the mountain. Afterwards we continue to the village of Raquira, famous for its handicrafts and pottery. Later we drive to the beautifully preserved traditional town of Villa De Leyva, characterised by its white-washed colonial-style buildings and elegant central square. Overnight Hotel Hospederia La Roca or similar. (BL)

This morning we explore Villa de Leyva, visiting the central plaza with its churches, restaurants and handicraft shops. We walk along atmospheric cobbled streets where colourful bougainvillea spills from the balconies of white-washed buildings. Afterwards we visit the 17th century Santo Ecce Homo Dominican convent whose walls are studded with fossils.  Later we continue to the Museo el Fósil, which houses the seven-metre remains of a crocodile-like Kronosaurus, dating from 100 to 150 million years-ago. The day finishes at Casa de Terra Cotta, claimed by architect Octavio Mendoza to be the largest piece of pottery in the world. We see inside the whimsical rooms fashioned entirely from clay, baked hard by the sun. The afternoon is free to relax or to explore independently. Overnight Hotel Hospederia La Roca or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: five-and-a-half hours)

Leaving Villa de Leyva, we drive back towards Bogota, taking an alternative scenic back-road via Tunja, capital city of the department of Boyacá. We stop at the most important monument in Colombian history, the Boyacá Bridge. Here Simón Bolívar won his most decisive battle against Spanish settlers which directly paved the way for independence from the Spanish Empire and the establishment of ‘Gran Colombia’. Back in Bogotá we visit the foundation of Hogar de Paz and learn about their work supporting young people with family difficulties. Finally, we drive south to Girardot. Overnight Hotel GHL Style Girardot, or similar. (BLD)

(Approximate driving time: three-and-a-half-hours)

After breakfast start the journey to Neiva along the reliable tarmac of Route 45 which gradually gives way to narrower roads alongside which are villages with clusters of houses amidst scattered woodland approaching Villavieja, a little village close to the Tatacoa Desert. In the afternoon we take a trip through the arid scrub where we will pass the labyrinthine profusion of eroded dry gullies in ochres and greys which make for some stunning photographic opportunities. Overnight in Villavieja at Hotel Yararaka or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time today: five hours)

We leave Villavieja in the early morning and drive through a vivid landscape, rising through dramatic mountain-scenery with the Rio Cabrera and then the Rio Ambica as constant companions. As the route winds around the edges of hills and wooded ridges, near the archaeologic hotspot of Colombia –San Agustin. We spend the next two nights imbibing the splendour of the area and its archaeological wonders. In the afternoon we drive to the famous Rio Magdalena Strait. Here, the longest river in Colombia narrows to a raging torrent just two metres wide. Returning to San Agustin, we visit a ‘trapiche’ traditional factory producing unrefined panela sugar from sugar cane. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or explore independently. Overnight at Akawanka Lodge or similar. (BL)

Spend today exploring the village of San Agustin and its Archaeological Park, which comprises three main sites: Las Mesitas, the Fuente de Lavapatas, and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, all of which will astound and bemuse you in equal part. The visit ends with a fascinating visit to the Archaeological Museum which will provide fascinating context to what was seen throughout the day. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the tranquillity of the hotel. Overnight at Akawanka Lodge or similar (BL)

(Approximate driving time: four-and-a-half-hours)

This morning we drive to Popayan stopping at at Alto de Los Idolos where impressive tombs and statues date from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. In all, 16 tombs and 17 sculptures, including the region’s largest funerary statue, at seven metres, were built on an ambitious man-made platform between two hills. Afterwards we continue across the mountainous Puracé National Natural Park, named after the nearby active volcano. As the road winds and climbs we drive through lush vegetation of Andean cloud forest. On its fringes, we pass through a landscape of paramo wetland of incredible biodiversity, home to over 200 orchid species, rare trees such as Colombian pine, Andean oak and wax palm, together with wildlife such as spectacled bear, mountain lion, howler monkey, mountain tapir and the world’s smallest deer, the pudu. Overhead, condors ride thermals high in the skies. We expect to arrive in Popayan around midday. In the afternoon there’s a walking tour of the city. Overnight Hotel La Plazuela or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: seven-hours)

After breakfast we depart Popayan, driving towards Silvia, where Tuesdays see indigenous Guambiano attend the town’s famous market dressed in their traditional royal blue and fuschia costumes. Afterwards we continue towards Salento with another short stop in Buga, for its famous Basilica del Señor de los Milagros. Later in the afternoon we arrive in Salento, located at the heart of the coffee region, and our base for the next three nights. Salento, a picturesque village in the coffee zone, which, owing to its relative isolation, retains much of its traditional buildings and charm: colourful streets and a fascinating Aldea de los Artisanos where village craftsmen astound with the skills of their trade. Overnight at Salento Real, or similar (BL)

This morning we discover the life and culture of those inhabiting the coffee region. We visit the coffee plantations of a coffee finca close by and learn about the complex process that transforms the humble coffee bean into one of Colombia’s most renowned exports as well as enjoying tastings of the farm’s product. This afternoon will be at leisure for you to relax or explore independently. Overnight at Salento Real, or similar. (B)

(Approximate driving time: two-hours)

Today we drive to Valle de Corcora, one of the most beautiful valleys in Colombia. Here, we take a leisurely two-hour walk, observing stands of the impressive Palma de Cera, the wax palm, the national tree of Colombia and one of the world’s tallest palm species. On the way back to Salento we stop in the charming town of Filandia for further colourful examples of colonial architecture that populate the village’s Bolivar square. Overnight at Salento Real, or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time: five-hours) 

This morning we drive to Tamesis, a town in the southwestern region of Antioquia. The route follows well-cultivated rolling hills, following the Rio Cauca and passing through the busy town of Pereira. From La Pintada, the road climbs through forest to Tamesis, at just over 1,600m. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure to relax. Overnight Hospedaje Vegas del Rio or similar. (BL)

In the morning, visit an organic cacao plantation and learn more about the process of chocolate production, the harvesting and processing – from the tree to the cup. The family-run cacao farm produces organic chocolate and the owners passionately observe the traditional sustainable way of cacao farming. Take the opportunity to try your hand at making your own chocolate. This afternoon, enjoy spectacular views over the vastness of the Cauca River Valley and return to explore the idyllic mountain village of Tamesis, known as the Green Coffee Balcony, and renowned for its history, birdlife and waterfalls. Accompanied by a local guide, visit the archaeological sites. Támesis is celebrated as one of the places with the greatest density of indigenous pre-Hispanic petroglyphs (rock art) in Colombia. Your expert guide will help you to observe different types of petroglyphs and to learn some of their significances. As a location which sees few foreign tourists, the locals are particularly welcoming and helpful. At the end of your tour, you return to Tamesis for the night. Overnight at Hospedaje Vegas del Rio, or similar. (BL)

(Approximate driving time today is four-hours)

After breakfast we drive to Jerico and take a walk in the historic town centre. At the village’s museum there’s an extensive display of pre-Columbian culture detailing archaeological finds in the region. Afterwards we visit a carriel workshop producing the typical leather bags used by local people. Later we continue to the Botanical Gardens and the Cristo Rey monument, a 27m statue of Christ erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Colombian civil war of a Thousand Days. From this lofty site there are views over the town and towards surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers. We continue to Medellin, our base for the rest of the tour. Overnight La Campana Boutique Hotel, or similar. (BL)

Today is dedicated to the sights of Medellin, the ‘City of Eternal Spring’. Downtown in the historic centre we visit Parque Berrio, listening to local musicians play traditional Guasca music. We continue through busy streets to the famous Botero Plaza whose sculptures have become a city landmark. Afterwards we board the Metro Cable to Santo Domingo, once a notorious area of gang violence. The cable car has made the inner city more accessible and allows visitors a glimpse into the lives of a marginalised section of the population. While enjoying the spectacular views we learn more about the transformation of Medellin from one of the world’s most dangerous cities to a fascinating melting pot of cultures with possibly the friendliest and warmest people in the world. The rest of the day is free to relax. Overnight La Campana Boutique Hotel, or similar. (BL)

Time at leisure until transfer to the airport on due time for your onward journey. (B)

Please contact us for details of the Pacific Coast extension and to book your place.

Take an internal flight from Medellin to Nuqui and on arrival transfer by way of a simple motor boat for around 45 minutes to your idyllic but rustic eco-hotel accommodation for the next 3 nights. Overnight at Hotel La Kuka (BLD)

Please NoteThis is very much a retreat to nature and you will have limited or no Wi-Fi at all and phone signal is patchy in this remote part of Colombia.  

Spend these days at leisure or take a relaxing walk to the Waterfall of Love or the local village (included with a bilingual guide). Alternatively there are a host of other excursions to suit all interests and energy levels, all bookable from the lodge at extra cost.  These include hiking in the rainforest, visiting the indigenous Chori tribe, canoeing the mangroves or Rio Terco, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or whale watching (seasonal: usually end of June – early November). Overnight at Hotel La Kuka (BLD)

Transfer back to Nuqui by boat; then take the internal flight back to Medellin before the connection to your onward flight. If you wish, you can add extra nights in Medellin on request.

Contact us for details of our post tour extension to Santa Marta/Cartagena and Tayrona National Parkand to book your place.

Transfer to the airport for the internal flight to Santa Marta. On arrival transfer to the hotel and the rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Casa Tayrona Los Naranjos or similar. (B)

This morning depart Santa Marta for Tayrona National Park and take the interesting coastal road eastwards until we reach the eastern entrance of the Park after about a 1 hour drive. From the Cañaveral area where the entrance is located, we start a hike through the tropical forest past idyllic palm fringed beaches until we reach Arrecifes (1h. approx). Here we take a short break to enjoy a refreshing natural juice. We continue our hike for a further 1 more passing by beautiful beaches like Arenillas, La Piscina and Cabo San Juan Beach, where we have time for some swimming and just relaxing to enjoy this stunning place. Late this afternoon return to the hotel. Overnight at Casa Tayrona Los Naranjos or similar (BL)

Please Note – The walking is an easy grade with a height gain of around 150 metres in total but trails can be more challenging especially after rain so good footwear is recommended. Also please be aware that this section of coastline is subject to strong currents and tides. Therefore, swimming is limited to certain beaches and on occasions can close without warning if conditions dictate. Please note the park can be hot and humid and so we recommend that you take adequate water for the walk and also be well protected from the sun, ideally wearing a hat. It is also advisable to be wearing insect repellent for a visit to the park.

(Overall approximate driving time is 4 – 5 hours)

After breakfast journey along the Caribbean coast to Cartagena where colonial chic meets Caribbean flair, old city walls and fortresses bear witness to gold treasures and pirates, and pebbled alleys, green plazas and colourfully painted facades carry us away and right into the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The perfectly restored historic town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is best explored slowly on foot, by horse carriage or by bicycle. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure to start to enjoy the maze of cobbled streets. Later, perhaps enjoy a sundowner on the historic city walls and allow your gaze to wander over the terracotta roofs towards the shimmering expanse of the Caribbean Sea. Overnight at Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

After breakfast, take a half-day guided tour to see the most important monuments in Cartagena. Start at the Convent of La Popa (the highest point of the city) and continue to the Castillo de San Felipe, an immense fort filled with history and mysteries hidden in its stonewalled tunnels. Leaving the castle, visit the monument of Zapatos Viejos, the “Old Shoes”. Certainly the most impressive monument is the gigantic defensive wall that surrounds the old city, and overlooks the sea and its well-preserved colonial architecture. During the rest of the visit you will see the city’s churches, museums, plazas, restaurants, shops and jewellery stores. This combination of treasures makes Cartagena deserving of the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site: You will never forget this wonderful destination. The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the city further or relax at the hotel. Note: During this tour, the visit to La Popa can be replaced by the visit to San Pedro Claver Convent. Overnight at Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Your last full day in Colombia can either be spent at leisure or alternatively you may wish to take a further excursion (not included) perhaps to Isla San Pedro de Majagua for swimming and snorkelling and to enjoy the fine beaches or perhaps take a cooking class in Cartagena preceded by a visit to the local market. There is also the option to visit the small active Totumo Volcano and bathe in its therapeutic mud pools. Overnight Hotel 3 Banderas or similar (B)

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)

Dates & Price.

Tour Notes

This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 3 travellers.

Single Supplement £445.

Return flights from London to Bogota and return from Medellin start at £690. Contact us for a quotation.

Extra night accommodation pre-tour in Bogota costs from £44 per person, per night sharing a twin/double room and £82 per person in a solo occupancy room.

Please note that the prices quoted above are for the category of accommodation and hotel used for this particular tour. Depending on the hotel eventually confirmed there may be some difference in the rate advertised by the hotel, and the prices available through Undiscovered Destinations. It should be noted we will not apply a surcharge should more expensive accommodation be used. At the same time in the event that a lower rate is available for the confirmed hotel we are unable to offer a refund.

Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.

This national park is visited on the Cartagena extension. The park is closed during the month of February so an alternative excursion will be offered if you are taking the extension in the month of February. This does not impact on any sightseeing in Cartagena.

£1145 per person based on a minimum of 2 people travelling.

Join us on this extension to Santa Marta and the magical city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.The city was founded on June 1st 1533 and named after Cartagena in Spain. During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire and it was a centre of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys.

It is a city closely associated with pirates in the Caribbean and in 1984 the colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy plenty of time to thoroughly explore the atmospheric old walled city and perhaps enjoy a sunset drink up on the city walls. Also visit Tayrona National Park, a magical slice of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, with stunning stretches of golden sandy beach backed by coconut palms and thick rainforest.

Behind it all rise the steep hillsides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range. Single supplement on this extension is £385.

£1445 per person based on a minimum of 2 people travelling.

A world away from the hustle and bustle of Medellin, enjoy the magical combination of the Pacific ocean and the pristine jungle coexisting in perfect symbiosis, offering conditions for relaxation as well as opportunities to experience one of the most bio-diverse regions of Latin America. On this extension you may be able to observe whales frolicking in the ocean and listen to birds and monkeys chattering in the jungle.

Dive into the Pacific Ocean, wander through the rainforest or along empty beaches and learn about local sustainability projects. Experience pure nature at its best in Chocó, a place that is still relatively untouched and offers shear peace and tranquillity as well as an abundance of outdoor activities for those seeking adventure. Single supplement on this extension is £155

Mapped itinerary.

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Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

Colombia - The Secret Heart of Colombia Tour Map

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Tour inclusions.

  • Arrival and departure airport transfers
  • Transportation throughout the tour
  • All accommodation
  • Services of English speaking guide/tour leader from Day 2 to Day 16 on the main tour
  • Local guides on Pacific and Cartagena extension
  • Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
  • Internal flights on the Pacific Coast or Cartagena extension

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights to Colombia
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visa if applicable
  • Drinks
  • Tips (Discretionary)

Stunning scenery, architecture and beautiful beaches. A really good mix of coast, town and country. A great tour.

Jodie Benson, UK