If you get back on the same little bus that brings you to Tayrona from Santa Marta and continue heading east along the coast about another hour, you will reach Palomino, a funky little beach town still in it’s beginning stages of development for tourism but quickly gaining a name for itself.
While I wouldn’t say that Palomino is exactly “off the beaten track” anymore, it’s pretty chill compared to Tayrona or what this fast-developing place will be like a few years from now. For example, despite it’s established popularity with the backpackers the town still doesn’t even have it’s own ATM, and most places do not accept credit cards either as there is limited WiFi available. So they are directing everyone to the next town on down the road, Mingueo, to get their cash out . Collective transportation cars are going back and forth between Palomino and Mingueo all day long to provide this service.
This part of Colombia in particular, from Santa Marta on down the coast, is truly magical, with bright beautiful Caribbean beaches in front of you and the enormous, snow-capped Sierra Nevada behind. I had this sensation from the moment I stepped out of the airport at Santa Marta, and these were the views in front of and behind me, respectively:
As I mentioned, Palomino is still in it’s developing stages for tourism, a big factor in it’s allure right now. Therefore, all of the hostels are new and pretty nice,new and fancy- some of the best I’ve seen so far in Colombia. You are almost guaranteed your hotel will have a beautiful swimming pool and a restaurant attached.
It’s a good thing most of the hostels have pools, because the beaches of Palomino are pretty rough and you would be wise to follow the advice of the locals NOT to swim in them. In fact that’s been one slight disappointment about this Caribbean coast for me so far: lots of beautiful beaches but few of them are suitable for swimming, the waters are notoriously rough and dangerous for that. But Palomino still won me over without much work. This place is totally untainted by hoards of outsiders and still retains it’s modest, darling personality and all around good vibes. In fact I would say that a lot of Colombia is that way, comparatively speaking to other big name travel destinations, which is part of the reason why I am loving it so much here and also the reason why Colombia is so hot to travel right now.
Ok the sea’s too rough for swimming here. So what do people do in Palomino when they need to cool off? They go to the river!
If you don’t “do” anything else while you’re in Palomino, do go for a float down the river and through the jungle. Since the sea here is not suitable for swimming, the locals are all going to the river to cool off, and now they have come up with this tubing excursion for the tourists, in which you will get picked up by motorbike WITH your tube on you and whizzed off down a semi-sketchy dirt road into the depths of the jungle (it turns out a lot of Colombian adventures begin this way), where in lies the put-in and your tubing adventure begins.
Once you put in, you will be floating for 2 hours through the jungle until you reach the sea (wear plenty of sunscreen). Don’t worry folks, we’re not dealing with rapids here. Just a relaxing slow-paced, meander down the river and a day well spent cooling off on the river.
A lot of traveler’s end up spending more time here than they planned to. If I didn’t have to get back to a big city with Internet so I could work, I would have been one of them. Don’t miss Palomino!