Two weeks

The fast northern loop

To Most visitors to Colombia make a beeline for its sparkling Caribbean coast. Start by flying from Bogotá to Santa Marta and the beaches of Tayrona National Park. After a few days unwinding it's a short hop along the coast to Cartagena. Spend a couple of days exploring the city's labyrinthine walled city before relaxing on Playa Blanca or the coral island of the Islas del Rosario (depending on your budget). The colonial town of Mompós is a worthwhile (though travel-heavy) stopover on the way to Medellín. After taking in the Antioquian capital's culture and nightlife, spend a few days sampling the department's beautiful traditional villages, such as Santa Fe de Antioquia or Guatapé, before catching a plane back to Bogotá.

Three weeks

The more leisurely northern loop

An extra week allows for more bus travel and a chance to see Colombia's interior up close. Start by exploring Bogotá and its colonial sector, La Candelaria. A visit to the Gold Museum is a must. It's then a short bus ride to Villa de Leiva, with the magnificent Zipaquirá salt cathedral a convenient stopover. Soak up Villa de Leiva's colonial atmosphere over a couple of days and explore its many surrounding attractions before heading up to San Gil for some rafting, kayaking and hiking. The neighbouring village of Barichara will provide more colonial architecture. From San Gil, make your way up to Santa Marta and follow the same loop as above as far as Medellín and on to Bogotá, stopping off at the Río Claro Nature Reserve en route.

Four weeks or more

The figure of eight

A month or more will give you the opportunity to see a good chunk of the country - though you will have to travel fast. Start by following the northern loop described above and then from Bogotá, take a bus due south stopping off at the Tatacoa desert for a night under the stars. From nearby Neiva it's a hard day's slog (but a worthwhile one) to Tierradentro. Spend a couple of days exploring the extraordinary tombs in the surrounding hills before heading down to San Agustín for a well-earned rest in one of the town's many comfortable country
and for some horse riding in its stunning countryside. From San Agustín it's a spectacular drive to the dazzling white city of Popayán, which has several attractions in its environs such as the market at Silvia. From here, head to the salsa-mad city of Cali, but try and be there for the weekend. Next, venture into the 'coffee zone' for a stay on a coffee
. The village of Salento and the Valle de Cocora are a must if you find yourself in this region, as are the snowy peaks of Los Nevados. From here it's an nine-hour bus journey or a short flight back to Bogotá.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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