If you have ever considered visiting Colombia with kids but don’t know where to begin, this travel plan is sure to help. This includes a one week itinerary for Colombia that covers Medellin, Salento, and Cartagena. Be sure to refer to this as you make your Colombia vacation plans!
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How to Spend One Week in Colombia with Family
Our family just returned from a week exploring 3 different states in Colombia. A little background about us – we’re a family of 6 with 4 kids ranging from 10 – 16. We visited Medellín, Salento and Cartagena.
I speak (non-native) fluent Spanish, so I’m not a great judge of how easy it might have been to accomplish a lot of this in English. Safe to say, it helps to know some conversational Spanish as on multiple occasions, English-speaking guides were not available.
Practical Advice for Visiting Colombia with Kids
Safety in Colombia
Right before our trip, the State Department elevated the recommendations for visiting Colombia to “Reconsider travel.” We decided to take our trip anyway. I honestly did not feel unsafe – although we were constantly being approached and needed to keep our awareness elevated (more on that later).
We did not travel to the southern parts of the country where a lot of the civil unrest seems to be happening. I can only recommend you use your own judgment if planning a trip to Colombia. Just keep in mind that the situation in Colombia isn’t super stable. Our experience potentially could have changed at any time.
Colombia Air Travel
Air travel is ridiculously inexpensive in Colombia. In the interest of sticking to well-populated areas and to avoid wasting precious travel time road-tripping, we took planes between locations. (Fun tip, I found that booking on Avianca in COP rather than USD saved us some money).
Travel Requirements for Colombia
Fully vaccinated travelers over the age of 18 may travel to Colombia without additional requirements or testing. Make sure you have a physical copy of your vaccination card on hand when you check into the airline. We couldn’t find my husband’s card right away and were told a digital scan was not acceptable.
In Colombia we observed very few people wearing masks in public areas. However, masks are still required in airports and on all flights. Masks are available for purchase from a pharmacist, so I had to ask for them when it came time to replenish ours.
Arriving and driving in Medellin
Our itinerary for Colombia starts in Medellín. We flew from the US and had a stop-over in Mexico City followed by a direct flight into José María Córdova International Airport.
When we landed, we started looking for transportation from the airport to our accommodations. Uber and other taxi apps are available in the country, though not widely used.
Being a family of six, we are very accustomed to using Uber XL. It was not available in Colombia. In fact, most cabs are relatively small and seat no more than 3 people. Since it seemed like we would have to take 2 cars everywhere we went, we quickly decided to try and rent a car.
Car rental in Medellin
Most of the major providers were sold out of larger vehicles, but I was able to locate a car from Rent a car Medellin in El Poblado. After a few chaotic WhatsApp messages, a driver met us at the airport and transported us to the agency’s offices.
We were told that the only available vehicle was an older model. It was in acceptable shape, though we had trouble getting it to start a few times. All in all, the car rental cost us around $200 USD for 3 days.
Driving in Medellín is not for the faint of heart. Most streets are significantly hilly and narrow. They are packed with motorcycles. Many streets are one way or unpaved. Google Maps tried to take us down what appeared to be dirt bike trails on more than one occasion.
Paid parking lots (parqueaderos) were almost always full, so we opted for street parking. There are attendants who you pay for the duration you’d like to park. You can pay before or after parking.
Our parking (including overnight near our accommodations) was typically no more than $10USD per day. While having a car allowed us to visit multiple parts of the city in a relatively short period of time, it was likely more trouble than it was worth.
Where We Stayed in Medellin with Kids
Medellín was a nice introduction to Colombia and its culture. We decided to stay in the community of Laureles. Our accommodations were a converted hostel (Gaia House) with an amazing roof deck overlooking the street.
Our first night in the city, a huge storm rolled in and we all enjoyed sitting on the covered patio, lounging in hammocks listening to the sound of the rain coming down.
Things to do in Medellín with Kids
Our first stop in Medellín was a food tour run by Real City Tours. Our tour guide introduced us to a couple of things that ended up being our favorite snacks in Colombia.
More than just sharing with us the favorite foods of the region, the tour introduced us to the neighborhood, shared the origin of some of Colombia’s favorite dishes and gave us background on the estrato zoning system that shapes Medellín’s neighborhoods.
Due to extensive walking and conversations around socioeconomic variances, this might not be the best option for families with small children.
We spent the remainder of our stay exploring various parts of Medellín. We particularly enjoyed the Medellín metrocable. This gondola system is a form of public transportation that helps locals traverse the hills of the area.
At this point in our trip, we had a car and made the metrocable trip from Popular Station to Santo Domingo Station and then all the way up to Parque Arvi. We didn’t have plans for visiting Parque Avri, so we just stayed onboard and made the journey back.
In hindsight, I wish we’d either planned time to visit Parque Avri or skipped that leg of the metrocable all together. Seeing Medellín from the metrocable and getting to experience the trip with local commuters is definitely worth the round trip fare (~$1USD) .
We also spent an afternoon in Comuna 13, and while Comuna 13 seems to have made it to a lot of “must-see” lists, the experience was not what I was expecting. I found the people of Comuna 13 to be very welcoming.
Again, we had a rental car to explore Medellín. We parked the car close to one of the escalators and were immediately approached by a “guide.” I explained to him we weren’t interested in hiring a local guide because my family didn’t speak Spanish and he left us alone.
My husband went to pay him for the parking, but he wouldn’t let us pay for parking on a public street. Considering how many people are hustling for cash from tourists, this was a refreshing experience.
I personally didn’t care for Comuna 13 for many of the same reasons people likely love it. The streets were crowded with vendor stalls (honestly blocking a lot of the graffiti / artwork that the area is known for).
There is a fury of activity from street performers and partying tourists. I think this is one we might have enjoyed more with a guide who could have taken us through some of the back alleys and given us some more information related to the history and transformation of the area.
This region of Colombia is well-known for inspiring Disney’s Encanto. It was a can’t-miss on my itinerary for Colombia, so we went out of our way to get there, and it did not disappoint.
For one, everything in Salento is super inexpensive. We did a guided horseback ride, hiking tour, plus round-trip transportation from the airport (which is roughly 45 min away) and back to Salento all for around $30USD per person.
Our 3B / 2BA apartment in Salento was COP 270.000 (~$60USD) a night. We saw zip lining out our window, so we decided to check it out. It was a short out and back flight over a ravine that cost us COP 18.000 (~$4USD). My kids LOVED it. It’s very easy to explore Salento by foot. And we felt really safe in this welcoming town.
Salento is packed with local artisans. It is a great place to stroll and shop for souvenirs or try local foods.
We enjoyed a meal at Restaurante MERAKI which featured a menu of multiple different international meals. It was also a great place to enjoy a typical jugo en leche (juice milk) which is a little bit like a milkshake and a big hit with the kids.
Before heading out of town, we grabbed breakfast at Café Jesús Martín where the kids enjoyed Waffles Dulces – waffles served with an array of toppings including nutella and raisins.
We only stayed one night in Salento and could have easily spent more time exploring this region.
TIP: If you are only looking for transportation in the Salento area, do not hesitate to contact Don Hugo Transporte (WhatsApp +57 318 5548463) Based out of Salento, he shared with us that he provides transportation between Salento and multiple destinations around the country.
His van was clean and comfortable and he told us details about the region along the route. He was kind enough to help us arrange return transportation to the airport for our departing flight.
Things to do in Valle de Cocora in Colombia
For our tour of Cocora Valley, we used Cocoratours and received excellent service. Most of our communication was via WhatsApp. Paying proved to be a little challenging as something about their system and our credit cards wasn’t working. We eventually got it resolved, but it seems it only processed once we were physically in Colombia.
We made it to the region by air early in the morning. Cocoratours arranged ground transportation from the airport and checked our bags in their office in Salento.
In the Valle de Cocora, we enjoyed a horseback ride, hiking and photo opportunities all with a private guide that were included as part of our package. We decided to add lunch at a local restaurant before returning to town for the evening.
We ended our trip in Cartagena. We found a home on a lovely little street in Getsemani (Casa Azulita). Based on my research, I was under the impression we were in the party-center of Cartagena, but our experience was that it’s a vibrant, lively neighborhood and super close to all the historic sites.
One of our favorite meals of the trip was at a cafe just one street over from our accommodations (Cafe San Antonio by Casa Jaguar). While we didn’t stay at this hotel, it looked super cute and might be a good option for smaller families.
The highlight of our stay in Cartagena was definitely the history. We spent most of our free time walking and exploring different parts of Getsemani and the Centro Histórico.
We visited Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas and the Palace of the Inquisition Museum. Both were filled with fascinating historical information and beautiful architectural representations of the transformation of that area.
Another fun outing we scheduled was a private boat to the Rosario Islands through Boating Cartagena. While our captains and the charter experience were phenomenal, I was not impressed by the islands.
They felt overcrowded, and we were constantly being approached by vendors selling everything under the sun. This was not a place to sit back and enjoy the beach.
I will admit I could be biased because we’ve twice visited the nearby islands of San Blas in Panama, which are beautiful, nearly deserted and with more accommodating locals.
TIP: If you’re set on booking a charter, please do extra research. We could have set an itinerary, but instead decided to follow the company’s recommendation.
We had a late flight headed back to the United States, so we used points to get a room for the day at the Hilton Cartagena. The pools were nice but the beach was not.
What the Guide Books Don’t Tell You About Colombia – “Hustle Culture”
In both Medellín and Cartagena we were continuously approached by people trying to make money off tourists. My opinion is that they are legitimately trying to make money. I didn’t really get a sense they were trying to scam us.
Most often, they were selling something tangible, and they typically weren’t rude or aggressive – just relentless. Sometimes it was funny, like the man who dropped a candy bar on the windshield of our cab at a red light and the couple of minutes we spent trying to figure out why he didn’t ask for money until he came scrambling back to collect all the candy bars when the light turned green.
Occasionally, it was exhausting. This was definitely the case in Cartagena. We took the approach of simply refusing everything. In Cartagena, there was an interesting escalation from something benign like “What to visit our restaurant?” – “No. Thank you.” – “Ok. How about some marijuana?” (same man sitting on the street corner).
My 16-year-old was offered a beer on more than one occasion. This isn’t surprising since the drinking age in Colombia is 18 and he definitely could pass for 18, but it was his first experience being approached directly.
In one unexpected moment, we’d left the door to our apartment open (this was common practice on the street where we were staying) and a man stood in the threshold asking for help. Thankfully, he didn’t enter the house, but it was a reminder that we needed to keep our attention elevated. When planning a trip to Colombia, you should consider your willingness to deal with this sort of attention because it will happen.
In general, Colombia is a country rich in history and deep in transformation. We found the people to be friendly, ambitious and deeply proud of their country.
About the author: Anne-Marie Tucker is a mom of four from Austin, TX. She loves traveling with her squad, running and being active, and rooting for the Cubbies. She’s a sucker for cheap flights and especially loves traveling to Central America where all those years in Spanish finally pay off. You can find her photos on Instagram.