In this summary we are going to talk about a couple of spots at the Caribbean coast of Colombia. If you have read our other Colombia articles you know that we stayed in total 3 months in this beautiful country, at the Caribbean coast we spent roughly 3 weeks, exploring: Cartagena, Santa Marta, Minca, Tayrona and Palomino.
Cartagena pops up probably on almost every Colombia itinerary. It is one of the oldest and most historic port cities. It was founded in 1533 by the spaniards and it’s port became an important trading hub.
Nowadays the old-historical center is one of the main reasons it is such a popular destination. It is very beautiful, full of colonial architecture and interesting museums. Directly beside the center lies the port, from where you can book several island tours, the most visited islands are Isla Barú and Islas Rosarios. We actually didn’t visit those islands, as we decided to focus more on other parts at the coast and we heard that they can get very crowded. They are definitely beautiful though and probably worth a visit.
Cartagena is not only busy by day, but also very active by night. Expect to find a lot of food trucks, music, bars and in general a pretty vibrant scene.
Due to it’s popularity hostel prices can be a bit higher, especially if you try to stay in the center. There are a lot of modern districts, but we left them out, as we were way more interested in the historical part. We recommend staying in the center. Expect to be charged at least 25€ for a private and min. 10€ for a bed in a dorm.
Santa Marta is probably the warmest city at the coast. In January 2019 we had on average 40 degrees celsius and no wind. The city has a large beach front, which is beautiful, but the whole coastline is beautiful and for us the beach of Santa Marta didn’t make it into our top 10. The city doesn’t offer anything special, there is a large restaurant/bar area in the center, that get’s crowded at night. The food isn’t very good though and it seemed more like a tourist trap. Other than that there isn’t much to see. Therefore the reason to go to Santa Marta isn’t the city itself, but it’s position. Santa Marta is close to Minca, the Tayrona national park and Palomino, which in our opinion are absolute must visit spots.
The collectivo (mini bus) ride from Santa Marta ’till Minca takes probably an hour and costs 2€. Minca is famous for it’s nature and beautiful hikes. One of the highlights is a visit to “Casa Elemento”, which is a hostel that has a giant hammock on top of the hills that offers you an amazing view. The hammock is an ideal sunset spot. At daytime there are several hikes you can do, small waterfalls too see and coffee farms to visit. We really enjoyed it and can only recommend a visit. Minca is perfect for disconnecting, being in touch with nature and keeping yourself fit, due to all the hikes you could do.
Parque de Tayrona:
Is this the most stunning national park in Colombia? Not sure, as we have seen countless national parks in 3 months and Colombia is rich in beautiful nature, but Tayrona definitely deserves all it’s fame.
With a bus from Santa Marta it takes more or less 2 hours to reach the park, the bus costs 2€. The tickets for the park should be brought in advance (only a limited amount of people can enter per day), you can buy them online for a price of 16-18€ (price differs depending on payment method). The highlight of the national park are it’s dreamy beaches and the hike up to the Tayrona town „Pueblito“. „Pueblito“ is a small town inhabited by indigenous, hidden in the middle of the park. It takes 2-3 hours to hike there from the San Juan beach, the hike can be quite challenging as it’s mainly uphill, but the nature you get to see is breathtaking, absolutely beautiful. Shortly after our visit we heard that the hike to „Pueblito“ is going to be limited to organized tours only. Therefore you might not be able to do this anymore (at least not on your own), that’s for sure better for nature and the indigenous (if the number of visitors/hikers truly drops), but you are going to miss out on one of the most beautiful parts of the park.
Even without „Pueblito“ Tayorna is amazing. Many people spend only a day in the park, which in our opinion isn’t enough, 2 days is the better choice.There are not many, but a couple of camps/hostels, where you can either sleep in a hammock, a tent or a private hut. We recommend the hammock experience, it is not only the cheapest, but also the best, as it is way too hot for a tent and the private rooms are out of a normal backpackers budget.
As we already pointed out the beaches are absolutely stunning. If there is anything negative about the park, then it’s the fact that it is overcrowded. Although there is only a limited amount of tourists allowed to access the park a day, the number is still too high. You will have to share Cabo San Juan, probably the most famous out of all the beaches, with thousands of people. To put it in other words, NO social distancing possible and the nature won’t stay this beautiful forever. It is a shame that such a unique park doesn’t get more protection and we can only hope that this will change in the future. What they already do, is closing the park down once a year for a month. This happens normally in February. Another step is, as we already explained, the closing of the hike to „Pueblito“, in order to give the indigenous tribes more privacy, at least that’s the official statement.
If you are looking for the most hippy place in Colombia, Palomino is the place. It is a small town, with only 3 major streets, located directly at the beach. Daytime will be spend mostly at the beach, sun bathing and drinking coconut water. In the evening the beach and town bars open up, there will be probably live music and you’ll have the chance to get to know other backpackers, as Palomino is a spot were sooner or later every Colombia traveler passes some days in order to recharge his/her batteries. There is nightlife, but Palomino is definitely not a party place, at least not when we were there. The vibe of the locals and the mood most backpackers are in, makes it a place where you want to simply chill.
How long you stay is completely up to you and up to how long you want to simply relax. Some stay only a couple of days, other spend weeks in Palomino. The bars and hostels in Palomino are always looking for volunteers and new staff, if anybody is looking for some work, you’ll probably find it here. Although Palomino is very known and liked by travelers, we felt that it was just the right amount of people in the town, not too less and not too many. It definitely wasn’t crowded, which helps to get you into a relaxed beach mood. We stayed there in February, maybe in other months it gets packed, but let’s hope that’s not the case, as it would destroy the vibe of the town.
What about prices? Due to the fact that Palomino get’s tourist all the year, there are a couple of pricier restaurants (more than 5€ for a meal). In our opinion these restaurants aren’t anything amazing (we tried two) and we recommend cooking your own food, which is what we nearly always do. There are a couple of tiny markets where you can buy fruits, vegetables and more.
In terms of accommodation, you find all types of hostels, small ones, bigger ones, fancy and cheap ones. We stayed at „Posada Gallina“ which wasn’t on Hostelworld, but on Booking.com. It is a tiny place with three private rooms, a big outside kitchen and backyard. It is the perfect place for couples or solo travelers that wan’t to disconnect. Price was 18€ per night, which was pretty fair in our opinion.