We were planning our first long(er) six and a half week trip with our toddler and Colombia was high up on the bucket list. So choosing to visit Colombia with a toddler was an easy decision.
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Many people still hold onto a lot of prejudice about Colombia, but you don’t have to worry. Its days of crime and drugs cartels are over and you’ll have this mix of natural beauty, mesmerizing archaeology and charming colonial towns almost completely for yourself. Our daughter, Norah, even got to celebrate her second birthday in this incredible country! Just don’t take too long: Colombia is a rising star!
How we Travel with a Baby or Toddler
We didn’t travel extensively before our Colombian trip, but we did have some experience traveling with a baby. When Norah was 4 months old we took her to Cape Verde for a week where we stayed on the isle of Sal. When she was 21 months, we flew to Malaysia with our toddler for a two-and-a-half week holiday where we toured around using public transport.
Norah has been breastfed exclusively and I was still nursing her during our exploration of the South American country. I never got any weird looks, but as she was two years old I didn’t feed her all the time, so it was often limited to our hotel room. I often nursed her to sleep on the bus, though.
When traveling with a baby or toddler, we like to spend more than a couple of nights (4 or 5 at minimum) in the same place. We find that we don’t do too well on a busy schedule, so we try to limit our sights to one a day and build in enough room for playing in the room and relaxing, playgrounds and all the other travel necessities like shopping, eating etc.
Our Colombia Itinerary with a Toddler
We had six and a half weeks in Colombia, which is a considerable amount, even for such a large country. However, as we like to travel at a slow pace with at least 5 days in each destination, seeing everything would’ve been impossible.
We decided to postpone the Southern part of Colombia to a future trip. We started out in Bogota and would be flying out of Colombia from the capital as well. We ended up making a large circle counterclockwise.
Our Flight with a Toddler
Living in Belgium means we’ve got many close-by airports to choose from. Our plane tickets included a train ride from Brussels to Paris, where we hopped onto a direct flight to Bogota.
We never travel without a backpack with electronic gear and spare clothes for our toddler. We also bring Norah’s little backpack with toddler travel toys, strapped onto the big one, and a tote bag full of food and a baby carrier for travel.
As she was turning two during this trip, we had to buy three seats (even for the outbound flight) for our flight with a toddler, so we all got lots of room. At that age, she wasn’t into TV that much yet, so we ended up playing quite a bit but she soon settled down (on my lap) to sleep. As we had an early afternoon flight, we didn’t end up sleeping much, but we didn’t mind a couple of hours binge watching movies.
Baby Can Travel Tip: When flying with a toddler in their own seat, bring an inflatable airplane cushion (Fly Tot) so your toddler isn’t sleeping on your lap.
After a rather relaxing 10-hour flight we took a cab to our Bogota hotel from the airport. When we were still traveling just the two of us, we used to take public transport to get to our hostel even after a long-haul flight.
However, when traveling with a toddler we just want to get to our room as soon as possible. By the time we arrived, it was already close to 10 PM Colombian time (and more like 3 AM for us). We crashed into bed and hoped we would make it through the night, but, unfortunately, toddler jetlag kicked in around 3:30 AM.
Accommodations in Colombia with a Toddler
As we are traveling on a rather small budget, we don’t have tons to spend on nice accommodation. We occasionally book an apartment through Airbnb, but we usually stay in smaller hotels. It always takes me hours to find the perfect place on Booking, because we have a whole list of requirements for finding the perfect hotel.
On the other hand, we like to be flexible, so for a lot of the hotels in Colombia we just showed up without booking beforehand.
This usually ended in a discount, but blew up in our faces a couple of times as well. We wouldn’t recommend doing this if you are traveling in high season in Colombia. Always keep an eye on the amount of available accommodations. When they start selling out it’s not a great idea to show up without a reservation, especially with a toddler.
Our list of requirements for the best hotel with a toddler are:
- Hygiene: probably the most important factor. We don’t need fancy stuff, but it has to be clean.
- Breakfast: If we can, we try to find a hotel that offers (complimentary) breakfast. It is so much easier to get up and go get breakfast just a few steps away.
- Private bathroom: we will almost always pick a private bathroom to go with our room. Our backpacking days are over, we’re a flashpacking family now.
- Double bed: this is the most difficult requirement. Because we co-sleep with a toddler rather than packing toddler travel bed, we want a queen or king sized bed rather than a regular double. However, the size of the bed isn’t always stated in the description (although that seems to be changing). We also need to be able to push the bed against a wall (as our daughter sleeps on one of the sides), although we can work with night tables and suitcases to build a don’t-fall-out-of-bed-wall.
- Distance: we like to be in walking distance of the main attractions or the charming center.
- Price: obviously a very important factor. We try to keep within our budget when in travel by spending about $30 a night on accommodation.
Getting Around in Colombia with a Toddler
We didn’t want to use any domestic flights, thus, buses were our main means of getting around in Colombia. The bus system in Colombia works rather well.
Smaller towns are served by minivans that leave when they’re full. Longer distances are covered by big buses. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the coche cama ones we got used to 8 years earlier while traveling in South America. We didn’t have to buy our toddler a seat on the bus, but Norah usually sat on our lap (unless there was a free spot).
We took three long distance night buses in Colombia (12 hour trips). As you can imagine, sleeping on the night bus with a toddler wasn’t perfect, but nevertheless doable. And Norah just went to bed (stretched out over the both of us) at her regular hour. We also loved that it would save us a night of staying in a hotel.
We avoided taking 8-hour trips, because those are too long to do during the day, but too short to do overnight (you either have to leave very late or arrive very early).
To get around in the cities or towns, we walked or called a cab (either through the hotel or through Uber). We didn’t travel with a car seat, so in cabs that means she was strapped in on one of our laps.
Read more on Uber with a baby or toddler here.
Tips for traveling to Colombia with a Baby or Toddler
Less is more is our motto while traveling. The only toddler travel essential we pack is a baby or toddler carrier and we don’t tend to take any other toddler or baby travel gear (I know, that’s a bit ironic since our blog is about travel gear for kids).
We’ve never even had a stroller at home, let alone travel with a stroller, so the carrier is our second skin. I love how easy it is to take with you. We usually roll it up and attach it to our daypack, but my wife is often a bit lazy and keeps it on, even when our daughter is walking around.
In most places you won’t have any problems with a stroller in Colombia. But some colonial towns (like Villa de Leyva) have coblestone streets (the entire center!) and well, walking in nature is hardly ever a good plan with a stroller (Valle de Cocora or Tayrona NP).
Buying baby food or diapers in Colombia should not be a problem. We encountered supermarkets with a decent selection in every village or town. As our daughter was breastfed her whole life, I don’t have a clue about travel with a formula fed baby.
When eating out, we hardly ever saw high chairs, so it might be wise to bring a portable high chair if your toddler can’t sit on a grown-up chair yet. Norah has been used to sitting on a regular chair for a long time, so we don’t travel with a high chair. If she can’t reach the table, we put her plate in front of her on her chair.
Playgrounds in Colombia are not overly available, but maybe we didn’t look hard enough. It wasn’t really necessary yet, because our daughter was still too scared to try anything on her own. We did come across a really nice large playground in Villa de Leyva, though!
Places to Visit in Colombia with Kids or Toddlers
We started out in the capital, Bogota. Unfortunately, it’s a city that often has to deal with lots of rain and well, coming from Belgium in late autumn, we didn’t want rain or cold.
We were actually planning to stay in Bogota for three nights, but ended up leaving a day early. We were in dire need of the sun!
For babywearing in the rain or cold, consider packing a baby carrier cover.
However, we had a lovely time in Bogota. Our hostel was about a 10-minute walk to the Plaza Bolivar in the heart of the Candelaria district. It’s a wonderful area with colorful buildings and lots of street vendors. Some of them sell corn to feed the hundreds of pigeons that call the Plaza home. They will eat it from your hand or even come sit on your head. Norah was a little frightened, but loved it anyway.
Other sights we visited included the Museo Botero, which was a huge success. Norah loved seeing the paintings and statues of “little fat people”. We really wanted to go to the Gold Museum, but that wasn’t very suitable for young children as everything was high up. We ended up leaving after an hour, but we both found it very interesting.
Because it was raining, we also spent an afternoon in Monkis Place Chapinero: an indoor playground. The top-area is specifically designed for toddlers.
We were staying at the Botanico Hostel, which had a great location and a fun vibe. It was a real hostel though, so many chilling backpackers and a bit of noise. Breakfast was included in the price and was held on the roof terrace, which was a nice little spot.
Make sure you come in time, because it is buffet style (although you’re not supposed to stuff yourselves) but once it’s finished it won’t be replaced anytime soon. The biggest con of the hostel was the cold. We were really freezing in our room (which was located at the end of the small garden and had 2 bedrooms).
Villa de Leyva
We fell in love with Villa de Leyva, it’s as simple as that. We spent a total of 9 days (5 at the start and we even went back for an additional 4 at the end of our trip) in this little colonial town, which has been voted the most beautiful village of Colombia. The cobblestone streets, the white houses, the big Plaza and the touristy but not tacky souvenir shops were a perfect combination for us. There are many tourists, but almost exclusively Colombians which creates a wonderful atmosphere.
There are quite a few things to do in the area. For starters, there is the Pozo Azul, a natural swimming pool just a short ride outside town. Paleontology is a big thing in the area as well, because a lot of dinosaur remains were found here including the most intact skeleton of the Kronosaurus in the world. Also, some history/anthropology with the astronomical solar calendar of the ancient Muisca.
And don’t miss out on a trip to nearby village Raquira. It’s the handicraft center of the country and the best place to score souvenirs. But it’s also just a lovely colorful town.
We were staying at family hotel La Hormiga and it turned out to be our favorite of the whole trip. The people were lovely, the bed huge, the breakfast yummy (and our daughter got some as well!) and is located in the middle of town.
The only reason to stop in San Gil was because we wanted to hike the Camino Real, an ancient path between the villages of Barichara and Guane. Originally, we wanted to stay in Barichara, but felt that it would be silly to take that extra bus trip back and forth.
The hike is really nice, but make sure to start early enough because it gets really hot! Guane is supposed to have a great paleontologist museum, but we were too tired afterwards to take a look.
San Gil is a bigger city with lots of noise, but there were a few enjoyable things. Parque El Gallineral for starters is a really nice place to enjoy a couple of hours. The large trees and the small paths create a mystical feeling.
The central Plaza is where everyone gathers with a couple of snacks to do some people watching. The indoor market is a nice place as well as is the restaurant Gringo Mike’s (we never ate anywhere else because it was so good!).
Many people head to San Gil because it’s the adventure sports capital, so if you’re into paragliding or rafting, make sure to put it into your itinerary. With our toddler, that wasn’t really an option (as we don’t like to do things solo).
We stayed at La Provincia Casa Hospedaje, a very very cheap hostel with shared bathroom but somehow it was an amazing experience. Do make sure you don’t get a room next to a bathroom, because the walls are thin!
The people are so unbelievably sweet. You can use the giant kitchen, there’s a garden and a nice deck to lounge with a gorgeous view. We spent many nights playing games in the green sofas. They will even let you use the washing machine for free! And it’s only 2 or 3 blocks from the Plaza.
Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park and Palomino
We ended up taking the night bus to the Caribbean Coast. The atmosphere was quite different here (people are pushier and not so much in a nice way). We only stayed one night in the city of Santa Marta, because we didn’t like it all that much (don’t stay at Park Hotel even though it has a swimming pool. Unfriendly, tatty and a ridiculous ‘breakfast’.)
Many people head into Tayrona NP, which sounds amazing but hiking for hours to get to a nice beach without shade didn’t sound like a winning combo for us, especially with a toddler. Afterwards, we found out that we could’ve just booked a nice hotel in the National Park and stayed there.
Instead we moved a couple of hours to the right, to the small village of Palomino. It is basically just one dirt road lined with hippy places and cute hostels. It is still developing, but it already has quite a large amount of tourists.
The main reason to come to Palomino is for the tubing down the river, but we felt like we better not do that with a toddler. It is however a nice beach town, so we spend many hours on the beach. But mainly we enjoyed the two swimming pools or our hotel.
To celebrate Norah’s birthday we splurged on a boutique resort. We stayed at Aite Hotel (mainly because everything was selling out) but it didn’t disappoint. Apparently, a mistake crept into Booking as normally only kids age 8+ are allowed. However, we were told it wasn’t a problem and we could stay.
I won’t tell you too much about the two royal swimming pools we usually had to ourselves, the beachfront access and the yummy food because you probably won’t be staying here when you are traveling with small children, but it was a-ma-zing!
Before you go, read these 8 Sun Safety Tips for Babies to protect your baby from the sun and keep them cool at the beach.
Cartagena is probably the top touristy spot in Colombia, but I wouldn’t skip it! The old city just breaths charm. You won’t know where to look first: is it the many colorful buildings, the nice little shops, the small Plaza’s. All of this surrounded by the sea.
And if you’re sick of history and colonial charm, hop into a cab and within 10 minutes you’re in the new part with a large shopping center and the beach. Now, this last part needs its own explanation. While it is far from a charming piece of sand (if you want that, hop onto one of the day tours to the surrounding islands), it is the perfect place to visit while in Cartagena with a toddler.
There are tons of mini bays with very shallow and calm water. The beach is small and you’ll be saying ‘no, gracias’ to vendors just about every 10 seconds but we loved it and so did Norah!
Don’t miss our post on Toddler Beach Essentials!
Apart from the old city (don’t forget to walk the walls and watch the sunset!), the Castillo San Felipe fortress is well worth a visit. It is a 10-15 minute walk from the Getsemani area (where most hotels are situated) and it gets hot, very hot. It has lovely views though and you will be imitating pirates with your toddler a lot.
We stayed at Hostal 1811 in Getsemani, a short walk from the old city Cartagena. We loved eating at Bohemiano a bit further up the street and across the hotel is a kind of dodgy park, but there are sloths living in the trees. The hotel is nice, with a fun sitting area. Breakfast wasn’t that great, though.
After a short stop into Medellin (don’t forget a ride with the cable car metro system up to Parque Arvi), which we didn’t like too much, we set off to Salento. This turned out to be another one of our favorite villages. Situated in the heart of the coffee region, the landscape is absolutely breathtaking.
The village of Salento is charming but touristy and the two main things to do here are Valle de Cocora and visiting one of the many coffee farms. There are no cabs in this town, so be aware of that before you arrive (we weren’t and had a bit of trouble getting to our hotel that was 10 minutes out of town!). There are however, Willy’s, which are these brightly colored oldtimer jeeps that will bring you to the sights at set times.
The main sight of the Valle de Cocora are the giant palm trees that can grow up to 60 meters! This tallest palm tree in the world is also the national symbol of Colombia and probably the most impressive sight on your trip to Colombia with kids.
You can choose to take the short 20 minute hike and head straight to the valley of the palm trees or you can make it a full day hike, add in a visit to a hummingbird farm and end with the valley.
We opted for the first option as we are not that good in hiking. We spent quite a bit of time playing in the valley and consider this one of the highlights of our trip.
The next day, we visited a coffee farm and were again very impressed by the friendliness of the people. We hiked down the road with the coffee farms and we stopped at the first one, which was recommended to us. Las Acacias did not disappoint! We got a tour from the granddaughter as this is a family business and learned so many things about coffee and its production process.
We stayed at La Serrana Eco Farm and Hostel, which made it to the top 3 of favorite hotels of all times! The main reason for this was the view in combination with the price. The hostel is situated about 30 minutes on foot from town.
There are actually 2 locations: the main building with a camp site and a villa a little closer to Salento. There are three rooms in this villa, we got the 3-person bedroom with a private (exterior) bathroom.
While the room was a little outdated, the living room with windows on three sides made up for everything. In combination with the really nice family with teenagers we were sharing the villa with, it made us fall in love with this place.
We had a fixed dinner spot at Hostel Luciernaga, which has great food and a back deck with amazing views! I also loved the vegetarian options here.
Final Travel Tips for Colombia with a Baby or Toddler
Colombia turned out to be our favorite destination of all time. Traveling with a toddler in Colombia went flawless, despite the sometimes huge distances we traveled.
People are friendly both towards us and especially to kids. However, they don’t bother them as much as people in South East Asia tend to do. We weren’t asked for any pictures, although we did learn to say No le gusta que la toauen (“she doesn’t like to be touched”) rather soon.
We hope this guide will give you some inspiration to travel Colombia with a child and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
This guest post was written by Babs of Travel Gear for Kids.
Babs is addicted to traveling the world with her partner in crime Kath and their happy 4-year-old daughter Norah. She created her blog Travel Gear for Kids to make a location independent lifestyle happening. Follow along on her blog or Instagram @travelgearforkids.