For a DIY vacation in Colombia, stick to the well-traveled zones of the Caribbean coast between Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Tayrona National Park; the midcountry between Cali, Medellin, and Bogota, which encompasses the Coffee Triangle and Los Nevados National Park; and the Santander region north of Bogota, with its deep canyons and Class V whitewater on the Suarez River. Guide Hernan Acevedo can customize a journey, visiting coffee plantations and colonial cities through Voyage Colombia. To veer farther off the grid, Acevedo will put together a trip through his new company, Colombian Backroads, which specializes in hiking, mountain biking, and other adventures and pairs you with local, trusted guides.
WHEN TO GO
For the Pacific coast, January through March and August are the sunniest months; whale-watching season is Juiy to October. December through April are the sunniest months on the Caribbean. Bogota and the Coffee Triangle region are best June through September and December through March.
WHERE TO STAY
In Bogota, the B.O.G. Hotel in the exclusive Carrera neighborhood has a rooftop bar and soothing interior (doubles, $209). In Cartagena, the Karmairi Hotel Spa, 15 minutes north of the city, is a Bali-inspired Caribbean oasis (doubles from $232). Roughly 100 miles up the coast, Santa Marta's La Casa del Farol Boutique Hotel has six spacious rooms and a fresh-water pool overlooking the Cathedral of Santa Marta (doubles from $176). Just north of Santa Marta in Tayrona National Park, the Ecohabs Santa Marta's four-person cabanas sit on Canaveral Beach within a 15,000-acre reserve (doubles from $221). Nestled 5,000 feet up in the Cordillera Occidental, Medellin's Hotel Medellin Royal, in the Parque Poblado neighborhood, is modern and safe and has an excellent breakfast next to the outdoor pool (doubles, $142). The Hacienda Bambusa, near Armenia in the Coffee Triangle, is an oasis on the edge of a bamboo forest (doubles, $193). In the Santander region, 215 miles north of Bogota, you'll find the whitewater-rafting, rappelling, caving, and horseback-riding hub of San Gil. Global Descents runs three rivers on one eight-day trip ($2,250 per person). And for total relaxation, head to the Pacific coast and the El Cantil Ecolodge, just south of the village of Nuqui, which offers surfing, whale-watching, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, jungle hikes, bird-watching, and the best food on the Pacific (doubles, $320 for two nights.)