The Most Interesting Routes Between the Cities of Bogota and Medellin – Honda, Norcasia, Sonson
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Medellin and Bogota are the two most visited cities in Colombia. Every traveler exploring Colombia will make this trip between these two major cities at least once. It can either be an hour long flight which takes all day or a grueling 10-12 hour bus ride between one metropolis and the other.

Or one can extend the trip, break it down, take a few days and explore some of the sites between the two cities. There are several routes with multiple destinations. And because it’s Colombia, the journey will never disappoint.

While these alternate routes may not be the fastest or most direct route they are the most visually stunning taking you through a lot of secluded destinations in Colombia’s interior. Taking a few days to visit both cities plus a week or more visiting the rural destinations between the two centers could serve as a complete 2-3 week exploration of Colombia’s interior.

After a few days in either Bogota or Medellin, one can take a few days to explore the interesting villages along the Magdalena River. Travel through the rolling green hills of Colombia’s coffee country. Visit waterfalls, lakes and stunning rural landscapes along the way; hike, bathe, dine and explore. It’s the road less traveled. But if one has a little extra time, it is the most interesting route between the two cities

Coming from Bogota, catch a bus from the main terminal going north but get off at Guaduas or Honda – both are one of the 17 historical villages to visit in Colombia. Guaduas is colonial town in the mountains and a little cooler than Honda which is a 30 minutes trip down to the valley floor and the Magdalena River.

(*Warning: some of these places are so amazing there is a risk you will be staying longer than than expected.)


Guaduas and Honda

Guadas is in the department of Cundinamarca. Even though it’s just 117 km. from Bogota it still takes 5 hours to get there by bus. It’s a tourist and agricultural center with a population of 33,000 people. Being within easy reach of the capital, many people come from the city to this mountain town to relax. The climate is cooler than in Honda but warmer than Bogota.

 Honda is a diamond in the rough.  A quaint, beautiful colonial town everyone dreams of stumbling upon.

The colorful buildings of the historical center spill down a sloped hill overlooking the river and steep cobblestone  streets tug  you downhill to the river.  Honda was once a prosperous site of vast economic power demonstrated by its stunning architecture.

Fishermen show fresh catch at market in Honda

It’s called the city of bridges. The first iron bridge, Puente Navarro, built in 1898 by the San Francisco Bridge Company, is the oldest iron bridge in South America.  

There are plenty of restaurants and boutique hotels in town along with a lot of ice cream parlors offering a break  from the town’s  sticky heat.

The main market is in the center of town.  Get up at dawn and catch the local fishermen selling their catch in the streets in front of the predawn market.

A bit of a disappointment, the river front (malecon)  has been  neglected  over the years. But judging by the  infrastructure along the river, it  had once been a place of importance.  

La Dorada

La Dorada – for a better river front experience, take a collectivo taxi 30 minutes north of Honda to the pueblo of La Dorada. This  busy, little town isn’t much to look at, but the riverfront here is a delight. 

There are clubs and restaurants along the riverfront  where people eat fresh water fish, enjoy cold beers and a constant breeze. 

Further down the river there is a large market where the fishermen dock and sell their catch to the fish mongers and public.

A  docked ferry boat, named the Suma,  will take people up and down the river for 25,000 cop ($6) per person but there has to be at least 10 paying customers before it will leave.  Next to the ferry there small  boats or launchas offering river trips to smaller groups if  the Suma isn’t sailing. 

From the La Dorada go to the bus stations behind the main plaza. The companies Coopertos and Arauca both have buses going to Norcasia which is a climb into Colombia’s Central Cordillera mountains. The trip La Dorada to Norcasia is about an hour bus ride.


Norcasia is a quiet, relaxing town emersed between the rivers of La MielRio Manso and the Amani dam (Embalse Amani). Located in the department of Caldas between Bogota and Medellin, the town has been gaining a name for itself as a river adventure tourist destination with lakes, rivers and 75 waterfalls to explore in the area.

People from Medellin and Bogota have been flooding the town on the weekends and holidays enjoying the river tours offered by various local groups. And even if they have been trying to keep this spot a secret, foreign travelers have started discovering Norcasia, taking the tours and finding out what this stunning rural landscape has to offer.

This is the new future of an exciting, eco-adventure tourism developing in Colombia. Small towns and groups of young, local, enterprising people organizing and leading tours to share the best rivers, waterfalls, canyons, hikes, swimming holes and overlooks previously only known to them.

Amani Travel in Norcasia ( /+573116385231) is one of the agencies in town organizing tours. A junket of 3 days and 2 nights including hotel, meals, transportation and guide 450,000 COP ($100). 2 days and one night is $380 COP ($90).

Thermal Springs of Spirito Santo

From Norcasia there are chiva buses going over a dirt road in the mountains to the towns of Narino and Sonson. The chiva buses pull up in the main square of Norcasia at 6 and 9 a.m. They take the Norcasia-Narino road all the way to Sonson stopping in Florence and Narino. Tell the driver to leave you at Puente Linda. And if you tell the driver you are going to Termales Espiritu Santo he will leave you in front of a house on the edge of town. There you will find a young man, Sebastian, with a tuk tuk who will take you to the resort for 5,000 COP. The trip from Norcasia to the Thermal springs takes a couple hours in a chiva bus.

The Thermal Springs of Espiritu Santo is a down-to-earth hot springs eco-resort 14 km from the town of Narino in Antioquia. Located in the countryside, the spa is only accessible by dirt roads through the green mountains of a rugged Colombian countryside.

There are 7 thermal pools at Santo Spirito which are emptied, cleaned and refilled regularly. The water is heated by liquid magma 6,000 meters below and comes to the surface at a temperature of 50 degrees C. The waters, which contain 60 different minerals, are mixed with cold water from the river and delivered to different pools on the property at different temperatures ranging from 22 to 48 degrees C. (72-118 degree F.) They say there are only two other magma induced thermal springs in the world like this one – in Oregon, USA and another in China.

The thermal baths are recommended for restoring ones health and for esthetic purposes. They say the hot, mineral laden magmatic waters reduce anxiety, diminish stress, eliminate toxins, restores glandular functions, strengthens the nervous system, balances energy, reduces cellulite and calms skin irritations.

Hotel at Termales Espiritu Santo

The hotel rooms are comfortable. The rooms go from 158,000 to 200,000 COP ($37-$48) a day per person. The higher price rooms have better views of the river and pools. Some rooms have private baths, others shared bathrooms. During peak season prices go up to 440,000 COP ($105) per day per person.    

For a more economic option, there are day passes available for access to the pools and premises: 25,000 COP ($6) per person for admission or 50,000 COP ($12) for admission with lunch. One can find cheaper lodging at the small hotels located in the nearby village of Puente LindaTuk tuk transportation to and from the spa to the village is available.

To continue on from the thermal spas take a tuk tuk to Puente Linda then catch a chiva bus to Narino – a 1-2 hour ride.

Narino, Sonson and La Ceja

Narino and Sonson are two mountain towns on the road to Medellin.

Narino is a town in the mountains. With a population of 3,190 residents, the town is located at the cool elevation of 1,656 meters. A cool-climate town, it sits on the eastern end of the department on Antioquia. Narino is an hour chiva bus ride from the spa and the road goes through a spectacular countryside.

Sonson is another hour trek from Narino in the direction of Medellin. It is a pleasant rural village with a rugged quality of a Colombia’s isolated interior with lots of men on horses, horses pulling carts and mule trains making their way through town. It is known as the city of painted balconies and famous for being one of the most important avocado producing areas in Colombia. One can rent a jeep to go to the Paramo of Sanson – high mountain plains just outside of town.

From Sonson it’s another 2 hour bus trip to La Ceja a town just east of Medellin. La Ceja has an attractive plaza and is known as one of the major centers for flower production in Colombia – producing mostly roses.

The road to Sonson to Medellin is full of twists and hair pin turns so it’s better to go with a big bus. One can change buses at the terminal in La Ceja and get another bus to Medellin which is a one hour trip.

Puerto Triunfo, Hacienda Napoles

Now if one took the route above and spent a day or two at all the stops the trip would take a week to 10 days. A shorter, quicker variant on the route Bogota to Medellin exists. Take a bus from Honda or La Dorada to Puerto Triunfo on the Magdalena River. This route offers the option of traveling on all paved roads.

Puerto Triunfo is a resort town with lots of hotels. People stay in Puerto Triunfo to visit Hacienda Napoles – the luxurious, abandoned ranch built and owned by the drug lord Pablo Escobar. Once the headquarters of the famous Medellin cartel, it has been transformed into a popular, family-friendly theme park. The park if huge with 1,600 hectares (3,953 acres).

Escobar was shot and killed in 1993. The government took over the estate and the neglected property is now managed by the municipality of Puerto Triunfo.

Today the resort is a ‘Jurassic park’ – style African theme park includes the ruins of Escobar’s Spanish colonial house, a waterpark, a sculpture house, a wild life sanctuary, aquarium and museum. The theme park includes 5 hotels, gas stations and restaurants.

A full day pass costs 120,000 COP ($29). It’s possible to see all the attractions in the theme park in one day but many families with kids stay for multiple days to take advantage of the water park and other attractions. Hacienda Napoles is a 5 hour bus trip from Medellin,

Other attractions to see between Medellin and Puerto Triunfo are the villages of El Carmen de Viboral, Guatape, El Penol and Rio Claro Natural Reserve.

Ceramic shop in El Carmen de Viboral

El Carmen de Viboral
El Carmen de Viboral is a tiny city of about 50,000 people an hour east of Medellin. It is known for its colorful, floral ceramics. The town is full of pottery shops and workshops making it a perfect day trip to learn about Colombian ceramics and to pick up some bargain souvenirs. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Medellin.

A street in Guatape


Guatape, a gorgeous lakeside town just two hours outside of Medellin. It is Medellin’s most popular day trip. The town is located on the River Nare, which was dammed in 1972 to create a reservoir which supplies Medellin with 30% of its energy and most of its drinking water. 

Guatape is a colorful, colonial town with picturesque houses with balconies all painted in bright racing colors. The decorative wall panels located around town are called zocalos. There are a lot of shops catering to tourists, selling arts and crafts. The main square, Plaza de Simon Bolivar is a block off the lake and one of the most beautiful squares in Colombia. On the malecon, along the lake front, there are a number of restaurants with outdoor tables serving locally raised trout. There are boat rides on the lake and a zip line along the beach. The town is higher in altitude than Medellin and the air is pleasantly cool.

La Piedra del Penol

Across the lake, about a mile walk away, is the Piedra del Penol, a bullet shaped granite rock 200 meters high. Not much to see here but there are 649 stairs to the top, if you’re so inclined. They say there’s a nice view once you get there. The Penol is just outside of town. The bus stops here before heading into Guatape, about a 10 minute ride down the road. After seeing the rock one catches another bus into the center of town. Buses leave from the North Terminal in Medellin to Guatape. The cost if 10,000 COP and it trip takes 2 hours each way. The  town gets busy on the weekends with visitors from Medellin but stays fairly quiet during weekdays.

Guatape is a 2-3 hour bus trip from Medellin.

Rio Claro Natural Reserve

Rio Claro Natural Reserve is one of Colombia’s best eco-lodges: beautiful cabins in the jungle valley, stunning crystalline waters flowing through a marble canyon, amazing wildlife, and some great activities like rafting and caving. 

Hardcore adrenaline junkies may not find too much of interest at Rio Claro: the rafting is great fun, but tame when it comes to white-water rafting. There are zip lines and caves to explore.

The stunning scenery includes tropical forests, steep hills, canyons and clear rivers. 

Rio Claro offers accommodations to suit all tastes and budgets: from El Refugio offering stunning, open-front rooms overlooking the canyon to more basic (and cheaper) rooms (La Mulata, Bluemorpho, and Hotel Rio Claro).

It it located on the road from Medellin to Puerto Triunfo. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the reserve which is a 3 hour bus trip from Medellin.

For more information contact:  (574) 322 96 41 – 311 354 0119

The Route (and other routes) from Medellin to Bogota

To make the trip from Medellin simply reverse the destinations:

*Leaving from the North Terminal of Medellin take a bus to Sonson or Narino. Spend the night. Take a chiva bus from the main square from either town to the Thermal Spa of Santo Spirito or keep on the bus to Norcasia where there are regular buses to La Dorada, Honda, Guaduas and onto Bogota.

*Or from North Terminal in Medellin take a bus to Puerto Triunfo and Hacienda Napoles. Then onto La Honda, Guaduas and Bogota.

Another route would be to take a bus from Bogota to Manizales. That’s a good day trip. And then take a bus from Manizales up through coffee country to visit the villages of Colombia’s coffee regionSalamina, Aguadas, Jerico and Jardin.


Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at:

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