Colombia is famous for a lot of things — outstanding coffee, exotic fruits, lively people with even livelier celebrations — and while it might not be famous for its beaches, that may soon be changing. As Colombia becomes more and more popular as a tourist destination, its secrets are getting out.
Perhaps the best of those secrets are its beaches. I spent over a month exploring the country and am thrilled to share with you my top four favorite beaches. These are situated along the coast on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Near the city of Santa Marta on the northern Caribbean coast, Palomino is a picture-perfect beach. With its crystal-clear water and miles of sandy shores, tourists from all over the world flock here for a taste of the good life. Accommodations run from boutique hotels to hostels filled with hammocks. You are sure to find something to fit your budget.
The highlight of my 5 days here was a tubing trip. Arranged through my hostel, I climbed onto the back of a motorbike with a tube secured around me and was driven to a trailhead. After a short hike through a jungle, I came to the Palomino River. With little instruction other than “Let the river take you,” I embarked on my float down the river.
It was a tranquil ride (no white water here) with plenty of sights along the way. There were birds to spot and fruit trees to spy. The tubing adventure lasted about an hour and a half, ending where the river meets the Caribbean Sea. I was then able to walk to my hostel (about 15 minutes) along the beach and return my tube. All the rivers I’d ever tubed before were Colorado mountain rivers, so this unique experience, floating on a river to the sea, was incredible for me.
Other highlights during my time in Palomino included catching the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Have a sundowner at one of the few beach bars, sit back in an adirondack chair, and see if you can catch that green flash as the Sun slowly disappears into the water.
Things just move slower at Palomino. This is the beach to visit when you are ready to take a load off, read a book, sip a cocktail, and fall asleep in the Sun.
2. Parque Tayrona
Officially Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Tayrona, Parque Tayrona is a national park filled with trails through the jungle and along the coast. Just a ways north of Palomino, this is a popular destination for backpackers and adventurers.
With over 20 miles of coastline, any direction you choose to hike will fill you with beautiful scenery of jungly goodness, sandy beaches, giant driftwood, colorful birds, and thick rainforests. Beaches can be found all along the coast in bays, but be careful, not all are safe to swim in. There are some vicious currents, so be sure to pay attention to and heed any signs you see warning of currents and dangers.
Continue hiking and you will eventually come to some bays that are lovely and swimmable. You will be ready to jump in as the hiking is strenuous and the heat is strong. La Piscina (“the pool”) was my favorite. It has tranquil, refreshing waters and some shaded parts to lay out on.
Because most of these swimmable beaches are only reached by hiking, and because they are within the national park, you will need to bring everything with you. There are few places for food or other facilities except where camping and accommodations are located. Be sure to bring snacks, plenty of water, sunscreen, towels, and water shoes.
You could spend days exploring the park and its many beaches and bays. It all depends on what kind of adventure you want to get into. If you only have a day, be sure to ask the guides at the park entrance for the best routes to take for the adventure you are seeking.
This sleepy little hippie town (complete with “happy brownies”) was a destination I was eager to get to. Just 5 kilometers, about 3 miles, from Santa Marta (yes, all these beaches are quite near one another, making it an easy circuit in your Colombian travels), Taganga is a small horseshoe fishing village that has recently become quite popular for its laid-back atmosphere.
I was eager to get to Taganga because I was ready to scuba dive. Taganga is one of the best spots from which to explore underwater in all of Colombia. There are a handful of dive shops right in town making it easy and convenient to book your excursions.
On my first boat ride out to our dive site, I had the incredible experience of watching a pod of dolphins follow our boat. It was truly magical. The sealife below was just as awe-inspiring.
If you’re not a diver, you can also snorkel. Most of the dive shops in town will offer this excursion as well. You will likely be on the same boat heading to the same sites and will snorkel from there.
There are also fishing trips you can take. Many of the fishermen line up along the shores to offer their boats, captains, and experience to take you on a full-day fishing excursion. And where there is fishing, there is plenty of amazing seafood. Check out any of the restaurants along the main drag to dine on some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have.
It is easy to spend a handful of days in Taganga and not know where the time went. It’s a small, lazy beach town where everything you need is at your fingertips. Stay a while and enjoy the vibe.
4. Playa Blanca
This beach surely lives up to its name with stretches of powdery white sand and beautiful clear waters. From either Cartagena or Santa Marta, day and overnight trips can be arranged through your hotel. Boats will take you to Isla Baru, about 40 minutes from Cartagena. From there, you can enjoy a day on the beach away from the mainland.
It gets crowded in the high season (June and July mainly) and there are quite a few vendors that will await your arrival. Bring cash if you want to buy any of the fruits, coconut drinks, or souvenirs on offer.
There is not a lot of shade on this beach, so bring plenty of sunscreen and plan to jump in the water a lot to cool off. Water shoes will also be important as you will have to jump off the boat and wade to the shore upon your arrival. Don’t risk losing a flip flop like two people on my boat did.
If you opt for an overnight or two, there are several resorts at which to stay. Your hotel on the mainland can also help you to book this too. It will be best to book a few days in advance to ensure your spot on the boat and in a resort.
It’s a good thing there are so many beaches to visit in Colombia because its water is a welcome relief from the sometimes unbearable heat in the country. These are just my top four. Whichever beaches you find yourself at, be sure to be prepared with lots of sunscreen, water shoes, cash, and an adventurous spirit.