A complete travel guide featuring 15 fun things to do in Palomino, Colombia. Includes all the information you need to visit this sleepy beachside town on the northern Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
Palomino is a quiet, laid-back seaside village located just a short hop from Santa Marta on Colombia’s northern coast.
From quaint cafes down dusty roads, to rustic jungle huts on the shores of the Caribbean, this town has all the ingredients necessary to form a bustling tourist hub. However, the great thing is that if you visit now, you’ll get to experience an authentic beach town before the boom. Think Bali’s Canguu in the 1980s!
While today, this tiny little village beside Tayrona National Park is becoming more and more popular with travelers and backpackers, its tourism scene is still very much in its infancy.
So, if you’re looking for some travel inspiration, or to find out what the best things to do in Palomino Colombia are, then you’ve come to the right place. After personally spending quite a bit of time here, I’ve compiled this comprehensive travel guide, outlining the best options to get here, what to expect, what to do and see, and some useful travel tips to make the most of your time in this beautiful corner of Colombia.
Where is Palomino Colombia?
Palomino is located within the department of La Guajira on the shores of Colombia’s Caribbean Sea. This small town is wedged between two rivers, namely the Palomino River and the San Salvador River.
The closest main city is Santa Marta, which is approximately 80 kilometers away (50 miles). Visiting Palomino is a popular option for those following Colombia’s backpacker trail after exploring Tayrona National Park and the mountain village of Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Tip: Colombia is an adventure traveler’s playground! If you’re planning to rent motorbikes or go hiking, then make sure you have travel insurance for adventurers. The best option currently is WorldNomads, which cater to young adventure travelers. For longer backpacking trips, check out the nomad insurance by SafetyWing.
How to Get to Palomino in La Guajira
Below I’ll summarize the best ways to get Palomino from popular nearby regions in Colombia.
From Santa Marta
The easiest way to get to Palomino is by taking the public bus from the nearby city of Santa Marta. In fact, if you’re traveling from other regions, it makes sense to simply head here first. There is an airport here called “Simón Bolívar International Airport”, which connects to many other major cities in Colombia.
These green buses leave regularly from the market area (Mercado Público de Santa Marta) and are the same ones departing for Tayrona (which is on the way). The price for this bus is currently 12,000 Colombian Pesos per person and the journey takes roughly two hours.
For those in Minca, the best option is to simply take the colectivo (shared van) from the center of town. This costs 9,000 pesos and the journey takes roughly 45 minutes to reach the Santa Marta market area. You’ll be dropped just a few feet from the bus stop heading to Palomino.
Just like Minca, there are no ATMs in Palomino yet, so it’s best to get some cash out at the nearby ATM (cajero automático) located inside the Olympica supermarket.
For those coming from Cartagena, take a direct bus to Palomino that takes between 6-7 hours. These are more expensive, cross-country coaches that are really quite comfortable (some of the best in South America in my experience).
The best bus company is called Expresso Brasilia, but it’s best to book in advance. I use Busbud in Colombia because it’s the same price as paying at the bus stations and it’s super convenient.
If you’re taking a bus to Santa Marta instead, then simply follow the directions above.
Tip: All of these bus options will drop you on the main highway just outside of the main tourist street of Palomino. From here you can simply walk to your hotel or hostel.
Things to do in Palomino Colombia
Without further ado, let’s dive into this guide to help you plan what to do in Palomino!
1. Go Tubing on the Palomino River
By far, the most popular activity in Palomino is going tubing down the Palomino River. In fact, it seems you’ll find stacks of old inflated tires at every second building in town. And, the phrase “have you gone tubing yet” must be the most uttered phrase in the dusty open bars and cafes.
Okay, what is tubing? – you might ask. If you’ve never been, put simply, it’s an outdoor activity where you float calmly down a jungle river in large, inflated inner tubes.
While this is far from the most adventurous thing to do, it’s still a really fun activity and a great way to cool off and relax.
You can book this anywhere in town, and the set price is 40,000 Colombian pesos per person. The starting point varies but is usually somewhere upstream, where you’ll ride a bike or get transport on the back of a pickup truck or motorbike.
2. See Snow Capped Mountains From the Beach
What really makes this region unique is that you can actually spot snow-covered mountain peaks from the beach!
What you’re seeing is the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is the tallest coastal mountain range in the world. The highest peak, Pico Cristóbal Colón (Gonawindua), reaches a whopping 5,775 meters (18880 feet) above sea level.
This really blew me away the first time I saw it, especially seeing it from the humid shores of the Caribbean!
Tip: The Sierra Nevada range is usually covered in clouds during the day. The best time to see a clear view of the mountains is in the early morning.
Best View of the Sierra Nevada: Cerro Kennedy Hike (from Minca)
3. Stay at Dreamer Hostel
Looking for the best places to stay in town? You’re not alone. In fact, many people visit Palomino simply because it has some of the best hostels in the country!
One of the top picks is staying at Dreamer Hostel, which is an experience in itself.
Here, you’ll discover an excellent vibe attracting like-minded travelers from all over the world.! There’s also an awesome outdoor swimming pool where you can chill out or even play pool volleyball!
There are a few Dreamer Hostels in Colombia, and they’re always rated as some of the best in each travel destination! I would highly recommend.
4. Catch a Famous Palomino Sunrise or Sunset
Palomino is known for its stunning sunrises and sunsets. For some reason, the sky always seems to put on a show here!
Head down to the playa Make sure to catch at least one while you’re in town. We recommend heading to the beach early in the morning or late in the evening to watch the show.
5. Take a Trip to See the Flamingos
If you wander the streets of Palomino, you’ll undoubtedly see tour signs for the “flamenco” attraction.
While there really isn’t much information about this online, heading out on a day trip to the “Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos” is actually one of the funnest experiences from Palomino, Colombia– especially if you’re interested in unique wildlife.
This reserve is located approximately one hour away near the town of Camarones and offers a special opportunity to spot flocks of wild flamingos.
The tour that I took involved a short sail on a traditional boat with a local guide. We sailed out into the reserve and were able to get quite close to a huge flock!
My guide’s name was Jose Rosado, and he is a very skilled sailor and wildlife spotter. Contact him on Whatsapp at +57 313 701 6088 to book your tour.
Read More: Where to See Wild Flamingos in Colombia
6. Palomino Beach (Playa Palomino)
Perhaps the biggest attraction in this seaside village is Palomino Beach or Playa Palomino. This windswept stretch of palm tree-lined sand is beautiful, and a great place to spend your day.
While some sources mention you can’t swim here, you certainly can! However, just like many of the beaches in nearby Tayrona National Park, you can expect strong currents and large waves here. So, you’ll definitely need to be a confident swimmer.
7. Eat Delicious International Food on the Main Road
I bet you wouldn’t expect to find delicious wood-fired pizza or Instanbul-quality shwarma in a tiny Colombian village!
However, due to the largely foreign tourist scene, Palomino offers some excellent international cuisine options that are actually some of the best I’ve had in Colombia. Most of these restaurants are located on the main tourist road leading to the beach of Palomino (Carerra 6a).
Among the best restaurants in Palomino are:
- Barba Beach Arabic
- Prima Luna – the best pizza I’ve had in Colombia!
- Casa Cocotte
Tip: If you haven’t already, make sure to try a Coco de Limondae in Colombia! Prima Luna makes one of the best ones I had after months of backpacking through this amazing South American country.
8. Unwind at One of the Little Beach Bars
The main street in Palomino is full of small bamboo bars leading all the way to the beach. Considering this village is still somewhat of a hidden gem (just), prices here are very affordable.
Most bars run a happy hour for most of the night, and you can pick up 2, or even 3 cocktails for as little as 15,000 COP!
9. Try Kite Surfing
Palomino is a great place to try kite surfing. The town is located in a windy area, making it perfect for the sport! While it’s not among the most popular things to do in Palomino, there is one school that offers lessons.
You’ll find it directly opposite the Barba Beach Arabic restaurant on the main strip leading to the beach!
10. Work Out at the Jungle Gym
Are all those cocktails and wood-fired pizzas getting to you? Looking for a place to work out in Palomino?
Make sure to check out what I call the “Jungle Gym”. This is a bamboo-constructed gym located just on the outskirts of town. While you won’t find luxury treadmills or spin bikes here, it’s got everything you need to get a great workout.
The exact address is: Cl 1c ## 13-20, Palomino, Dibulla, La Guajira.
Entry only costs 8,000 so there’s no excuse not to check out this awesome gym!
11. Eat Fresh Bread from the French Bakery
Pizza, cocktails, now a French patisserie? No, this isn’t a food blog, but maybe this town just hit home a little after a few months of eating mostly Colombian food. I promise, this is the last food item in this Palomino travel guide, but I feel it has to be mentioned!
There is one famous bakery called the “Bikini French Bakery Bar”, which again, is just down Carerra 6a.
However, there is also another “hidden gem” bakery that I think deserves a mention too. While I couldn’t even find the name, it’s on the corner of Carerra 6a and the side street leading to Palomino Hostel (just opposite Barber offo on Google Maps).
These guys make the best cinnamon scrolls in Colombia and do a lot for the local street dog population!
12. Walk to Coco Beach
If you’re visiting in the high season between December and February, then Palomino beach might be a little busy, especially on calm, sunny days.
If you’re looking for a place to relax without any crowds, take the short walk over to Coco Beach (Playa Los Cocos). This is a small stretch of sand on the other side of the mouth of the Palomino River. Yes, you’ll need to walk across the river mouth to get here, so it’s best to do it on a calm day.
13. Learn to Surf
While Palomino beach doesn’t have the best surf break in the Caribbean, you’ll still find a few board rentals and “learn to surf” schools. As you can see from the photos, the conditions were pretty rough during the few weeks I stayed in Palomino.
However, there were some days when although choppy, the conditions allowed for a decent session on the board!
If you want to learn to surf, head down to the beach and you’ll find some local kids offering lessons and rentals.
14. Visit Tayrona National Park
If you haven’t already, visiting Tayrona National Park is one of the must-do highlights in this part of Colombia. Parque Tayrona is one of the most biodiverse natural parks in the country and is home to a wide range of protected wildlife species including jaguars and the critically endangered cotton-top tamarin.
If beaches are more your thing, Tayrona also has some of the best in Colombia. In fact, hoards of tourists flock here precisely for this reason.
Luckily, it’s really easy to visit this park directly from Palomino. You can take the green public transport bus for 8,000 Colombian pesos directly to the Zaino entrance (main entrance to the park).
While it’s possible to visit Tayrona on a day trip from Palomino, I highly recommend spending at least a night here.
Tip: Add in a trip to Tayrona between your Santa Marta and Palomino itinerary. Also, try to avoid public holidays and weekends if you can since is the most popular time to visit.
15. Bonus: THe Lost City Trek
Okay, this isn’t exactly something to do in Palomino. But, the Lost City Trek is probably the most notable activity in Northern Colombia.
The Lost City Trek is a 4 or 5-day hiking journey that leads adventurers deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains. The final goal is Ciudad Perdida, an ancient archeological site that is believed to have been founded in 800 CE (hundreds of years before Machu Picchu).
Along the way, you’ll pass scenic valleys and regions inhabited by indigenous people of the Wiwa.
You need a guide for this hike, and there are only a few tour operators allowed to run the trips. Below I’ve linked to one of the best tours, which you can book directly with GetYourGuide so that you get free cancellation.
Book: Ciudad Perdida Trek (Lost City)
Where to Stay in Palomino
Still planning your trip and looking for the best places to stay on Palomino? Below are my top three picks, which are some of the highest-rated as well.
- Tiki Hut Hostel – This eco-hostel offers awesome rooms built from natural fibers, right on the edge of the Colombian Caribbean. Tiki Hut is one of the top-rated hostels in all of Colombia!
- Dreamer Hostel – If you stayed at Dreamer in Santa Marta, you’ll already know that this awesome hostel chain has some of the best vibes in every destination!
- Palomino Sunrise – Stay in a beautiful eco-hut right near the edge of the beach and adjacent to the Palomino River. This is another of Colombia’s best-rated accommodations!
Best Time to Visit Palomino, Colombia
The best time to visit Palomino is from December to March. This is the dry season, so you’ll have sunny days and little to no rain. However, it’s also the busiest time of year, so be sure to book your accommodation in advance.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, consider visiting during the shoulder season (April-May or October-November). You’ll still enjoy a great time, but there will be fewer crowds.
Palomino Travel Tips
Ready to visit Palomino Colombia? Here are a few more travel tips and important things to know.
- Electricity – blackouts are very frequent here (daily). However, when I first visited in March 2022, there was major electrical system work being conducted to improve the system
- 4G, LTE and cell signal – surprisingly, the wifi at most of the hotels and hostels in Palomino is quite good. I also had consistently stable 4G LTE with Claro
- Bugs and sandflies – just like in Minca, the sandflies here are ruthless. These guys leave really itchy bites for days. Remember your bug spray!
- No ATMs – cash is king in Palomino. There are no ATMs here yet. So, remember to get all your cash out at Santa Marta before you head here. Otherwise, there is a Bancocolombia ATM in nearby Mingueo (20 minutes away).
- Rough seas – if you are not a confident swimmer, don’t swim at the beach here. Seas can get rough and the currents are notoriously strong.
- Chill vibes – this place is still very much a hippy town. Relax, unwind, and settle into the groove.
- Safe – unlike Santa Marta and its notorious beach towns, Palomino is very safe. There is very little crime here.
- Supermarkets & food – there are no large supermarkets in Palomino. However, travelers will find a few tiendas selling basic produce around the town. The largest is on the main road and is called Tienda pompi.
- Buses are frequent – Buses run from Palomino to Santa Marta and by Tayrona National Park every 30 minutes or so.
- Dirt roads – All of the streets in the village are unsealed. As a result, expect a lot of dust. While cars drive down these roads, its best to just walk around town.
Palomino Packing List: Essential Things to Bring
Before you head out, here are some last-minute things you’ll want to make sure you pack when traveling to Palomino!
- Bug repellent – as mentioned, this is crucial, and you’ll pay a premium in town for it. I’ve stopped using deet and now swear by the natural alternative from Sallye Ander
- Bug cream – something to treat the inevitable bites. Again, the Sallye Ander cream helps reduce itching.
- Hat and sunscreen – I’m Aussie so I might be biased, but Blue Lizard makes the best natural sunscreen on earth.
- Grayl water purifier – No, you can’t drink the tap water in Palomino. Except if you have this water purifying bottle. I’ve used it all over the world (including tap water in India), and saved thousands of plastic bottles from landfill in the process.
- Camera or GoPro – this seaside village is beautiful and totally safe to have your camera out! Read my guide to camera gear for travel for suggestions.
- Travel quick-dry towel – a must have travel essential
- Imodium – trust me, you might want to bring some
- Head lamp or flashlight – useful when the power goes out!
More Colombia Travel Guides
I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive travel guide coving all the best things to do in Palomino, Colombia!
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