Although Cartagena is the most popular seaside destination in Colombia, those looking for a quieter beach getaway head further north to Costeño Beach & Palomino. These relatively underdeveloped beach towns are home to stretches of rugged coastline, most of it completely untouched. You won’t find any resorts or big name hotels here, just small locally run hostels, and beachfront B&Bs. You also won’t find pestering salespeople trying to sell you foot rubs or shell necklaces. This is where you go to getaway.
How to Get There:
About an hour drive up the coast from Santa Marta, you will reach the very secluded Costeño Beach. You can catch the local bus from Calle 11 & Carrera 11 in Santa Marta for 6,000 COP (under $2 USD), just make sure to let the driver know you are going to Costeño Beach. They will drop you off on the main road where you’ll see signs for Costeño Beach Hostel. From here it’s a 15-20 minute walk to where all of the accommodation is. I actually took a 5 hour bus journey with MarSol from Cartagena that dropped me straight off at the hotel for around 70,000 COP ($23 USD). You can do it for cheaper, but that involves changing buses in Santa Marta, and I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle!
What to Do:
Relax on the beach:
I have been to few beaches that compare to the tranquility of this place. There are little to no people on the beach and all you can hear is the rustling palm leaves and the crashing waves. I visited when it was a bit stormy, so the water wasn’t too clear, the sea was really rough (you need to be very careful when swimming) and there was a lot of driftwood and seaweed washed up on shore – but it gave it this wild untamed feel that was really beautiful.
Take a day trip to Mantenimiento de la Vereda:
Nearby to Costeño is a small, but beautiful waterfall that is great for cliff jumping and swimming. If you head over to Costeño Beach Hostel, the awesome hostel owner may even drive you over! I went with a crew of people from the hostel and had a great time relaxing, swimming and cliff jumping.
There is an entrance fee of 3,000 COP (less than $1 USD), though there is no clearly marked path, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to find this on your own. The road there is more of a dirt path that only a 4×4 or very experienced motorbike driver could navigate.
Get some delicious home cooked meals at Costeño Beach Hostel:
There aren’t too many food options in Costeño because it is so remote, so I would recommend heading over to Costeño Beach Hostel for dinner. For around 15,000 COP (under $5 USD) you’ll get their home-cooked meal of the night. I went twice and enjoyed coconut curry rice one night and veggie lasagna the next. (They have great vegetarian options for my veggie friends.) This hostel is also a great place to meet friends or join in on one of their fun game nights.
Enjoy beachside drinks at Charlie’s Bar:
This place is literally just a little tiki hut situated next to Tayrona Tented Lodge, but I’ll tell you, it gets wild at night! The owners are three French brothers who like to have a good time. Such a good time in fact, that one of them is known for taking off his clothes as the night goes on…It was a fun place to go at night to have a few beers and meet backpackers from all over.
Trek to Ciudad Perdida with Expotur:
We spent two nights in Costeño Beach before taking off on the 4 day trek to the Lost City with Expotur and then came back to Costeño for another few nights to recover. The trek is relatively difficult, hiking over 7 hours per day with a lot of uphill, river crossings, and plenty of adventure, so returning to the tranquility of Costeño Beach after was seriously perfect.
Expotur will pick you up and drop you off right from Costeño, so it’s a perfect place to start your trip from. I would highly recommend the Ciudad Perdida Trek with Expotur for any hikers looking for a serious challenge (and who aren’t afraid of bugs…) For the full low down on my experience hiking to this magical place, check out my recent post—-> The Lost City Trek With Expotur: How to Prepare For This 4 Day Adventure
Where to Stay:
Tayrona Tented Lodge
If you want to fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves and palm tree branches rustling from the sea breeze, then Tayrona Tented Lodge is for you. They are completely eco-friendly, running mostly on solar energy & recycled rain water, and purposefully do not offer wifi to give their guests that extra nudge to unplug and enjoy the beautiful and serene natural setting.
The rooms are like little tented cabanas, each with two beds, a spacious bathroom, dresser, fresh towels and even a safe. I found the rooms to be very comfortable, clean, and perfect for a beach stay. At night you can sit out on your private deck and watch the sunset. There are also plenty of hammocks and sun loungers to laze the day away.
An interesting and bonus feature about Tayrona Tented Lodge is that meals are included in the price. Each guest receives breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each night that they stay at the property. The meals were very basic, but tasty and come with some sort of cordial/juice drink. I found that there wasn’t much variety, but it was nice not to worry about spending extra money on meals.
My experience at Tayrona Tented Lodge was wonderful, and is the perfect place to disconnect from the rest of the world and just enjoy your beautiful surroundings!
How to Get There:
From Costeño, walk to the main road and wait for the local bus going north (so across the street). They come every 15-20 minutes and you basically just have to wave it down in order for it to stop. There really aren’t such things as bus stops in Colombia. For the most part, they just pick up and drop off where people flag them down! The ride is only about 40 minutes, and the driver will announce when you’re approaching Palomino.
What to Do:
Raft down Rio Palomino:
A popular activity to do in Palomino is to go river rafting. Right next to Tiki Hut Hostel, there is a little stand where you can rent a tube and a guide that will take you to the river for 25,000 COP ($8 USD). From here you will jump on the back of your guide’s motorbike for about 15 minutes until you get to the start of the trail. You don’t have to get a guide, but it’s included in the price if you don’t want to go alone.
Our guide was a high school student and we had a great time practicing our Spanish with him! The rafting is about one hour long and has beautiful jungle scenery along the way. If you go early enough in the morning, you may be able to spot some wildlife (we weren’t so lucky)!
Shop the beachfront handicrafts:
Palomino definitely has a hippy-bohemian vibe to it, and you’ll certainly feel that down by the beach where all the vendors are showcasing their crafts. If you’re in the market for hand-beaded bracelets, crystal necklaces, dream catchers, or tie-dye clothing items, this is probably a good place to shop! Most of the vendors showcase their items on blankets laid out on the beach and there’s a 90% chance that they’re donning dreads.
Watch the sunset and sip on piña coladas:
There is a little beach bar on the left of the main entrance to the beach that serves 2 for 18,000 COP ($6 USD) pina coladas. Most bars sell only one for this price, so we were pretty happy to have found this place! There are plenty of tables and chairs to relax in and watch the sunset over the Caribbean Sea.
Eat the yummiest sandwiches and veggie burgers:
I know this seems like a strange thing to put on the what to do list, but it’s not often you find a really good sandwich in Colombia, especially in a secluded place like Palomino. The fact that we found two really good places was just too good to be true. La Lupita offered a special for a delicious ham sandwich (I’m talking freshly baked bread, sprouts, spreads, artisanal ham…not just white bread and jamon like most places) fresh juice of your choosing and a coffee for 9,000 COP ($3 USD). We also had some incredible veggie burgers at Terranova Coffee & Restaurant which also has homemade ice cream and organic goodies for purchase. I’d highly recommend stopping by these two shops (both on the main road to the beach) during your time in Palomino!
Where to Stay:
Tiki Hut Hostel
Tiki Hut Hostel offers basic dorm room style accommodation in bamboo style tiki huts, but offers above average hostel amenities and common areas. I was really impressed by the large refreshing pool and super comfortable sun loungers, as well as multiple hammocks, and day beds scattered around the property, creating the perfect relax-in-paradise atmosphere.
The location is perfect, as it is in close proximity to the beach, restaurants, shops and even the little stand where you can rent a float to tube down the Palomino River. It’s also an easy 10 minute walk down to the main road where you can catch a bus back to Santa Marta or to your next destination.
I also really enjoyed the complimentary breakfast which I thought went above and beyond normal hostel breakfast options. It included eggs made to order, pancakes, fresh fruit, cereal and coffee. We only spent one night at this hostel, but found it to be the perfect budget backpackers hostel, with a great chilled out vibe, and the perfect place to enjoy Palomino.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary stay at both Tayrona Tented Lodge & Tiki Hut Hostel for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I only recommend places I would stay myself!