If you are on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and looking for an incredible white sand, blue ocean, palm tree filled beach, there are plenty to choose from. The most famous of Colombia’s Northeastern beaches are all easily reached by less than a day’s drive from the central city of Santa Marta.
From Santa Marta, most backpackers head to Taganga. This small beach town is beach bum paradise with cheap scuba courses, cheap beer, and cheap hostels. But what Taganga also has is a lot of drunk, party-going travelers and a beach of people trying to sell you things. It’s a great party, but be prepared for a bit of a crowd.
The second stop for any beach seeking traveler would be Tayrona National Park. This beautiful park has a number of beaches and some of the most picturesque scenery found anywhere is Colombia. That being said, the park receives a lot of tourists in the high season and the entrance fee is around 35,000 Colombian Pesos. To reach the beaches, you are also going to have to hike a ways and if you forget to bring enough food or water, be prepared for very high prices at the few eco-hostels and hotels in the area.
A less frequently visited option of beach-seeking backpackers would be Playa Palomino. Located less than an hour outside of Tayrona National Park, Palomino, at least for now, has some of the same great scenery of the National Park without the entrance fee or tourist prices.
To get to Palomino, take the bus heading to Tayrona but don’t get off with most of the other backpackers. Instead, stay on the bus another 40-60 minutes and ask to be dropped off in Palomino. This small, small roadside town has no real stores and only two main roads heading down to the beach. You can hire a mototaxi for the short 15 minute drive down to the beach.
When you arrive at the beach, be ready for the shock of completely empty paradise. There are a few small hostels and hotels along the beach (about 5-10 right now) but they all sit a bit off the beach and are hidden by palm trees. It can create the feeling of being on a deserted island.
The beach is being developed though and the nearly empty hostels are starting to fill up a bit more as backpackers hear about it. Even so, the beach is still mainly visited by long term travelers, camping their way through South America. When I first visited in 2010, many of the hostels were actually still in construction stages and it was far easier to rent a hammock for the night that an actual room.
Another great part of Palomino beach is the proximity to the local Kogui indigenous tribe. These native people are easy to spot in their traditional long white robes and long hair. They make beautiful bags and other weavings but in general are not interested in the tourists, keeping to themselves as the walk along the beach collecting seashells which they crush and mix with coca.
As tourism grows in Colombia, I’m sure Palomino will loose some of its “undiscovered” charm. With easier access and no Park entrance fee, the beach is becoming a popular alternative to Tayrona National Park. Unlike the park though, this area is not protected from development so I would suggest a visit soon while it still has a un-croweded, beautifully unpolluted white sand beach.
Couple Travel Tips
- As a couple you benefit by looking out for each others’ belongings. if you are bringing an SLR camera, one can go swimming while the other stays on the beach.
- Take plenty of food and water with you. This is a small, local town, so prices are decent but finding bottled water and packaged food can be difficult.
- Hungry and running out of the snacks you brought? Head down to the beach and look for the local fisherman. They will often sell you fresh, just caught fish and lobster for incredibly cheap prices.
- Be sure to charge your camera before hand. Electricity can be spotty and most of the hostels on the beach don’t even offer it.