Palomino, Colombia – Travel Guide

Palomino, Colombia streets

Palomino, Colombia is a backpacker mecca. Palm trees sway in the wind, travellers meander down the river on tubes and every hostel has a thatched palm roof. If you’re craving Southeast Asia hippie trail vibes, you’ll be pleased to hear that this rustic Caribbean beach town carries the same energy. 

Home to a wealth of international restaurants, trendy beach clubs and yoga classes, the amenities are reflected in Palomino’s visitors – every other traveller boasts cascading dreadlocks, baggy harem pants and a bucket hat. A true hippy paradise, Palomino is somewhere you come for a couple of days and struggle to leave. 

If you’re visiting Colombia’s best backpacker beach spot, this guide will help you get the most out of your visit. ¡Vamos à la playa! 


Palomino Map & Resources

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Palomino, Colombia – Travel Guide

Best Time to Visit Palomino 

Most people head to Palomino to soak up the laidback Caribbean lifestyle while catching a few rays. This means that the best time to visit Palomino is between December and March, during the dry season. As this is the time of year with the least rainfall, it is also peak season, meaning accommodation gets booked up further in advance and often comes with a bigger price tag.

Palomino beach
Palomino Beach during dry season.

The shoulder season is also a good time to visit if you are looking for a less intense experience. This comprises the months of April-May and October-November. While rain is more common during the shoulder season, the days are still largely dry and the beach is less crowded. Day trips to nearby attractions such as Tayrona National Park are far more enjoyable during this time of year as you lose the bulk of the crowds. 


Is Palomino Safe?

Palomino is one of the safest places in Colombia but you should still exercise caution when visiting. Be careful when walking around after dark for several reasons:

  1. There are very few street lights, meaning vast swathes of the town are pitch black when the sun goes down. 
  2. Even with the influx of tourism, there is still a lot of deprivation in Palomino. If you’re alone, and especially if you’re intoxicated, you’re an easy target for opportunistic thieves. While crime rates are low in Palomino, avoid making yourself a target. 
  3. The roads are pretty much all dirt tracks. The surface is covered with deep potholes (which can become giant pools after heavy rains). Thanks to the lack of lighting, it’s easy to fall and hurt yourself. Make sure you carry a torch if you’re out after dark. 
  4. There are A LOT of stray dogs, many of which roam in packs. While they don’t generally cause an issue, it’s worth noting that they can pose a risk. 

Cash can be a problem in Palomino. As there are no ATMs in the town, you’ll need to arrive with a wad of cash. We recommend going straight to your accommodation and locking it away somewhere safe. Ensure you only carry the cash you’ll need on a day-to-day basis. Most tours and trips can be arranged in advance and you can pay for them on the day, so you don’t need to carry much with you when wandering between tour offices.

You should also avoid swimming when in Palomino. Like much of the Caribbean coast, the currents are strong and the waves are surprisingly powerful. Paddling is fine but don’t go much deeper – help can be hard to come by if you need it!

The main mode of transport in Palomino is moto-taxis – and no, you won’t be provided with a helmet. This obviously poses a risk but unless you avoid them altogether, there’s not much you can do about it. Hold on tight! 

Finally, with Palomino being a true hippie hangout, there are plenty of drugs on offer. As always, you should avoid these but if you do indulge, ensure you’re in a safe place,surrounded by people you know and trust.


Where to Stay in Palomino

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Backpackers in Palomino
Palomino is a backpacker hub!

As Palomino continues to grow in popularity, more and more businesses crop up catering to backpackers. This means that there is an abundance of high-quality hostels all over town, many of which come with swimming pools, perfect for a cool dip after a sweaty tubing sesh! 

While not as expensive as Cartagena, this section of the Carribean coast comes with higher prices than most other places in Colombia. Therefore, it is always recommended to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak season. 

Good to know!

There is no ATM in Palomino so you should make sure you withdraw enough cash for your trip before you set off. While some places will allow you to pay with card, this often comes with a fee. Stock up on pesos before you leave Santa Marta! In case you get caught short, the nearest ATM is around 20 minutes away in Mingueo. You’ll need to hire a moto taxi to take you there. Alternatively, there is a man on a motorbike with a card machine that can give you cash, however, he’ll take a big cut (around 15%). Ask at your hostel for more details but we only recommend this if you’re really desperate!  


Best Hostels in Palomino

  1. Coco Sankala

One of the best budget-friendly offerings in town, Coco Sankala offers a homely atmosphere in a quiet area of Palomino. There are a handful of basic but perfectly adequate private rooms and a couple of dorms. Its small size means that it is easy to get to know your fellow travellers. Breakfast is included (with the best cheesy arepas you’re likely to find) and a beer costs approx. 4,000COP. Count us in! 

Coco Sankala
The cheap and cheerful Coco Sankala.
  1. The Dreamer

Part of the popular hostel chain, The Dreamer in Palomino sits close to the beach and is a backpacker favourite. Boasting a vibrant social scene complete with a pool for those chill days, there is a bar and restaurant on-site which operates on an electronic bracelet system. This is particularly handy when you consider that there is no ATM in Palomino.

“The Dreamer is THE place to go if you are looking to party in Palomino. A popular spot with free and easy backpackers looking to rave it up – don’t stay here if you’re looking for a relaxing stay (and value your sleep)!”

  1. Tiki Hut Hostel

Offering dorm rooms and privates, the Tiki Hut Hostel is a great choice for a hearty dose of Caribbean charm. While the WiFi reliability leaves a little to be desired, the Latino music is sure to give you holiday vibes! There is a generous pool and the beach is just a short walk away.

  1. Casa del Pavo Real 

One of the more upmarket hostels in town, this flashpacker spot oozes European chic. With a whitewashed exterior and plenty of bright flowers to add a splash of colour, this Swiss-owned hostel feels more like a hotel! Yoga classes run daily on a donation basis and there is also a good-sized swimming pool. They also have their own beach club ‘Playa La Ola’ – don’t miss the coco locos! 

Casa del Pavo Real
Flashpackers flock to Casa del Pavo Real in droves!

14 Things to Do in Palomino

As with any good beachside destination, half of Palomino’s appeal is the slow pace of life it offers. Despite this, there should still be enough activities to fill your days – interspersed with beach lazing, of course!

1. Go Tubing

Tubing is a great budget-friendly activity in Palomino. Available at most hostels and from any of the tour agencies in town, there is a ‘tranquillo’ version and an ‘extremo’ version. The first option is cheaper, costing around 45,000COP (approx. $10USD) and lasting about two hours (including outward transport from town). The relaxed tubing route allows you to take in the views of the jungle around you and spot exotic birds flying overhead.

Backpackers tubing
A couple of the backpacker team enjoying a chilled tubing sesh!

The ‘extremo’ tubing costs slightly more at around 60,000COP (approx. $13USD). There is a slightly longer walk to reach the start point and the route takes you through a few rapids. There is also the option to combine a tubing experience with a visit to an indigenous community. 

Before visiting Palomino, I had heard that tubing was pretty much off-limits in the dry season. However, this isn’t the case. While the river is certainly more shallow during these months, there is still plenty of water to transport your tube along. Just heed the cries of ‘arriba’ from your guide if you don’t want to scrape your bum!

2. Try Paddleboarding or Kayaking

With a couple of rivers near town, there is also the opportunity to take in the views by kayak or paddleboard. Tours cost in the region of between 80,000-150,000COP (approx. $17-33USD), depending on which river you go to. 

3. Take a Day Trip to Tayrona National Park

Located around an hour from Palomino by bus, Tayrona National Park is one of the most visited areas in Colombia. Home to windswept beaches, lush jungle and exciting wildlife, no trip to Colombia’s Caribbean coast is complete without a visit here. 

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta Beaches
Tayrona National Park beaches are some of the best in Colombia!

While it is best to overnight in the park if your itinerary allows, it is still worth visiting on a day trip if you are short on time. Simply hop on any bus headed towards Santa Marta and get off at the Zaino or Calabazo entrances. We recommend arriving as early as possible to get the most out of your time. Weekends get very busy so avoid them if possible. 

4. Chase Some Waterfalls

Palomino and the surrounding areas are home to a variety of waterfalls. While some of these can be visited independently (ask in your hostel for more details), you may find it easier to visit as part of a tour group. There are a few options, including San Salvador, Quebrada Valencia and Coquitos.

5. Visit an Indigenous Village

Four groups of indigenous peoples inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They are the Wiwas, Koguis, Arhuaco and Kankuamo and all of them have been recognised by UNESCO for their sacred wisdom and spiritual practices. 

Indigenous Village on Lost City Trek 2
Learn more about indigenous communities on a visit to a local village.

If you are keen to find out more about these indigenous communities and how they live, it is possible to take a day tour of a local village from Palomino. These usually consist of a short hike to the village, a meeting with the mamo (spiritual leader) and lunch. Tours cost upwards of approx. 120,000COP (around $25USD).

6. Take a Horseriding Tour

Starting at around 85,000COP (approx. $18USD) for a tour, these horseback trips take you to a range of destinations, from windswept beaches to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. No matter where you are, taking in the breathtaking scenery atop a trusty steed is a novel way to experience your new environment!

As with any kind of animal tourism, we always recommend making sure the animals are well taken care of – this is sadly not always a guarantee in Colombia so do your research. 

7. Learn to Surf 

While it is possible to enter the sea in very specific areas along Palomino Beach, the area is known for its forceful currents which can make swimming very dangerous. However, the advantage of the strong winds and constant waves add up to mean that Palomino an incredible destination for surfers.

Surfers in Palomino
Surf lessons taking place in Palomino on an overcast day!

If you’re a newbie, book a couple of lessons with one of the many surf schools that dot the coast. Basic classes begin at approx. 90,000COP (around $20USD) and lasts around an hour and a half. 

8. Stock up on Self Love with a Massage

R&R is the name of the game in Palomino and there are plenty of massage therapists all over town. Offering services from facials to cupping and deep tissue massage, there are plenty of options to choose from.

“After trekking the Lost City, I was really craving a massage. My whole body felt tired and I knew this would be the relaxation I needed. Luckily, there were loads of options in Palomino. Check out the main street or enquire at your hostel to see whether this is an additional service they offer.”

Tim Ashdown, Writer and Gear Expert at South East Asia Backpacker

9. Relax at a Beach Club 

With swimming largely off-limits, you may be asking, “what is the point of going to the beach?” Well, with plenty of hipster beach clubs scattered along the sand, there are loads of places to soak up the sun and grab a few coco locos! 

Beach club palomino
Did someone say “happy hour”?!

Keep an eye out for happy hour deals to save some of your pesos and beware of the cocktails – they are strong!  If you’re looking for a shady spot, we recommend arriving early to secure an undercover sun lounger. However, if you’re a sun worshipper, rock up when you like and lay your towel out on your desired patch of sand! 

10. Explore Punta Gallinas and Cabo de la Vela

The part of Colombia to the east of Palomino is still somewhat of a wild west where tourism is concerned. Get off the beaten track as you explore dry deserts, take in the majesty of sand dunes and sleep in hammocks – a true Colombian adventure! While it is possible to get to Punta Gallinas independently, travellers with limited Spanish will likely struggle with the logistics of getting around. Therefore, a tour is recommended. 

11. Support Street Dogs and Cats

If you’re an animal lover, South America isn’t always the nicest place to be. Unfortunately, sightings of malnourished dogs and injured cats are common in many popular destinations, leaving many of us feeling deflated and sad. 

Doggy shelter walk to river
There are plenty of dogs that need love in Palomino!

There are things that you can do to help though! In Palomino, two organisations are working to help street animals. The first of these, Palomino Animal Soul, offer doggy picnics via their Airbnb experience page, with all the money helping to fund the treatment and rehabilitation of stray cats and dogs.

Secondly, there is Dog Shelter Palomino which offers two daily walking tours with some of the dogs from the centre. The first of these goes up to a mirador and the second to Palomino River. While it is advertised as a walking tour, in reality, this is more of a chance to take a rescue dog for a walk and watch them play. The price is approx. 50,000COP (around $10USD) and the money is funnelled back into the shelter to fund the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of the dogs. 

While you’re in Palomino, don’t miss the opportunity to make a positive impact and support one of these great causes. Your new furry friends are sure to thank you! 

Animal charity signage
Do something good with your time in Palomino and help street animals.

12. Rent a Bicycle or Motorbike

If you’d rather explore under your own steam than on a tour, why not hire a bicycle or motorbike? Bike rental begins at around 25,000COP (approx. $5USD) per hour with motorcycle hire costing from 35,000COP (approx. $8USD). 

13. See Flamingos at Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos

Situated close to the town of Camarones, around an hour from Palomino, there is a natural reserve famous for its bright pink flamingos. Thousands of the birds congregate in the area, using the lagoon as their food source. With so many flamingos and so few tourists, it’s easy to imagine that you’re in a nature documentary! 

Flamingos in Palomino
Don’t miss the opportunity to see hundreds of flamingos in the wild!

While it is possible to hop on a bus for Riohacha and ask them to stop at the Camarones point, it is a big faff to get to the larger of the two lagoons where you’ll see the most flamingos. For this reason, it is highly recommended to embark on a tour from Palomino instead. These cost approx. 180,000COP (around $38USD) when booked in town (there are tours online but these cost nearly double the price) and include return transport, lunch, moto-taxi and kayak ride. 

14. Stretch in a Yoga Class 

As the hippy hideaway of Colombia, yoga classes are available all over town and in practically every hostel. If your hostel is one of the few that doesn’t offer classes, head to one of the many other hostels – nearly all of them open up lessons to non-residents. 

15. Enjoy a Walk Along the Beach to the River

Palomino Beach sits between the mouths of two rivers, Rio Palomino to the west and Rio San Salvador to the east. Stroll along the Caribbean coastline to one of the rivers and enjoy the beautiful setting where river, jungle and sea meet. Swimming in the waters of Rio San Salvador is a perfect way to refresh after the walk. Turn left on Palomino Beach for Rio Palomino (approximately 15 minutes walk) or right for Rio San Salvador (around 45 minutes walk).

Palomino-Colombia-Rio San Salvador
Rio San Salvador is a great place to take a dip!

16. Experience a Cacao Ceremony in the Jungle

Nestled in the jungle-clad hills close to Tayrona National Park, Merkaba Elixir Jungle Lounge is a hidden gem. The tiny café lounge is a hippy haven that serves cacao, juices and delicious vegan cakes. Choose one of the various ingredients, including rose and garam masala, to ‘activate’ the cacao depending on your mood. Enjoy a cup of cacao any day (Wednesday to Sunday) or for an extra special experience, join the cacao ceremony that takes place every Sunday at 11.11 am. 

Sierra Nevada-Colombia-cacao and banana cake
Connect to your spiritual side at a cacao ceremony!

To reach the lounge, take the bus heading to Santa Marta and alight at kilometre 29 (just past the Tayrona Zaino entrance).

Good to know!

While the main street in Palomino is well-lit, the backstreets have no lighting at all. If you’re planning to be out after dark, take a headtorch or use your phone light to make sure you can see where you’re going!

Street art Palomino
Street art in Palomino.

Food and Drink in Palomino

As the tourism scene in Palomino continues to grow, more and more restaurants spring up catering to international travellers. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars across town, these are a few of our favourites:

  • Barba Beach Arabic Food – For a cheap and cheerful dinner, get your fill of shawarma, hummus and, of course, kebab here! This is a great one for soaking up some of the alcohol you’ve imbibed over the course of the day! 
  • Playa La Ola – This beach club offers lip-smackingly good cocktails for reasonable prices. They also do a number of nice seafood dishes but be warned, they are a little on the pricey side. 
Coco Loco at beach club, Palomino
Be warned… the cocktails are strong!
  • Pizzeria La Frontera – Offering a range of pizzas for great prices, La Frontera is unlikely to offer the best pizza you’ve ever eaten but it is pretty darn good by Colombian standards! 
  • La Panadería Francesa – Good bread is surprisingly easy to come by in Palomino but you’ll find the best here. Quiches, croissants and the pan au chocolat also come highly recommended!
  • SUA Restaurant – Catering to both meat-eaters and veggies, the tasty dishes at SUA Restaurant are raved about by guests. It might be a slightly more expensive option but in our opinion, it is well worth the price. Don’t miss the goat burger!
  • El Jardin De Pavo Real – The vegetarian restaurant on-site at Casa del Pavo Real offers up some of the best grub in town. And for all you Brits who are craving proper chips (yes, we mean fries!), you’ll find them here. 
Food at Jardin Real
Delicious veggie food at El Jardin De Pavo Real.
  • Maria Mulata – A great place to grab lunch on the cheap. Their vegetarian menu del dia costs around 15,000COP (approx. $4USD) and includes a starter, main and a drink. Plus there is free tea, coffee and water!
  • Laurel’s Vegan Bistro – The perfect option for vegans on a budget. The menu del dia is around 20,000COP (approx. $5USD), including a starter, main, small dessert and a drink. Delicioso! 
  • Holss – A plant-based eatery serving breakfast, brunch and small plates. Don’t miss the aztecas – corn tortillas with refried beans, tofu and salad. There is also a co-working space behind the cafe, which is peaceful – perfect for those looking for a place with reliable WiFi.
Palomino-Colombia-small plate in Holss cafe
Holss is a great place for digi nomads!

Getting Around Palomino

As a small town, Palomino is generally walkable. However, after rain, the roads can become flooded which makes grabbing a tuk-tuk a better option. For trips slightly further afield like to the river, moto-taxis are available. Make sure to agree on a price before jumping on! 

Moto taxi in Palomino
Moto taxi in Palomino, Colombia.

How to Get to Palomino

Buses depart from Santa Marta for Palomino regularly and the journey takes around two hours. It should cost around 12,000COP per person but bear in mind that some bus drivers on these routes will try and rip off tourists by charging them more than the going rate.

All the Santa Marta buses run through Tayrona National Park so the beach town can easily be visited after spending a few days exploring the park. Any of the buses heading towards Riohacha will go through Palomino. 

“When you are travelling to Palomino, it is best to find out how much the journey costs and then hand the driver the money. Do not wait for them to tell you the price as they may assume you don’t know it and try to rip you off. The Carribean Coast is a hotbed of tourist overcharging and scams – keep your wits about you.”

Sheree Hooker, Editor at South East Asia Backpacker

Where to Go Next: 

Santa Marta: While the city of Santa Marta tends to be a bit like Marmite, it is undeniably a great jumping-off point for epic adventures like Colombia’s Lost City Trek. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike to this sacred ruin while you’re in the country.  

Minca: The mountain escape of Minca sits around a 45-minute journey from Santa Marta. It is a must-visit for bird lovers, waterfall-chasers and sunset-seekers. 

Cartagena: The colonial city of Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular coastal destinations and for good reason! Featuring hip and colourful neighbourhoods, mouthwatering food and incredible islands just a stone’s throw away – why wouldn’t you visit this spot?!


Contributors:

South America Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…

🙏 Lisa Barham | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker 
🙏 Gabriel
| Expotur
🙏 Tim Ashdown | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker
🙏 Staff at Dog Shelter Palomino

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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