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
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.
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 much safer than many of Colombia’s larger towns and cities but you should still exercise caution when visiting. Be careful when walking around after dark for several reasons:
- There are very few street lights, meaning vast swathes of the town are pitch black when the sun goes down.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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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!
Best Hostels in Palomino
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, don’t miss the opportunity to recover from your Lost City Trek and give your body the reward it deserves. There are plenty of options to choose from.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
Good to know!
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.
- 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.
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!
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.
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?!