A backpacking trip up the Caribbean coast in Colombia is not complete without a pit-stop at Palomino. Lots of travelers have mixed feelings about Palomino — is it really Colombia’s secret slice of paradise? Find out in my brief guide to Palomino, Colombia below.
I was certainly feeling a bit of relief to be leaving the scorching desert in the north of La Guajira, and looking forward to chilling in Palomino on the beach. But I barely ended up spending twenty minutes at the beach. Here’s why:
Palomino doesn’t offer up miles of clear sandy beach with pristine Caribbean water as you might expect. Nevertheless, the hipster, laid-back beachy vibes and interesting people definitely make up for it! Palomino is an adorable, coastal town that offers backpackers a cheap place to stay.
There’s plenty of like-minded travelers here to strike up a chat with or to have an improv’ guitar and singing session with.
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So whether you want to chill by the beach with a tall glass of coconut lemonade, or strap up your hiking shoes (or sandals if you’re like me) to explore the Sierra Nevada mountains, Palomino is the place to be. Here’s a quick visitor’s guide to the town of Palomino, Colombia.
Getting to Palomino
If you’re coming from Cabo de la Vela, take the bus from Riohacha to Palomino. The way there is simple and costs only around 20k pesos. You need only to ask the local bus driver. The bus dropped us off right in the center, where the dirt street filled with artisan shops and painted walls lead all the way to the beach. This is where you begin your adventure in Palomino!
Palomino is the last town in the Guajira region before you enter into Magdalena. Santa Marta is only 40 miles or so (70 km) from Palomino. Its unique location on the Caribbean coast highly attracts travelers and backpackers making the trip from Cartagena or Santa Madra up to Cabo or Punta Gallinas.
Once you arrive in Palomino, you’ll be faced with a number of street shops. Locals will most likely approach you with rafting tours or quad bike tours, but a friendly “no, gracias” will do. To walk from the main road to the beach takes about 15-20 minutes on foot.
Where to Stay in Palomino
Palomino’s not very big, but in between the main road and the beach are dozens of local eateries, shops, and hostels (ranging from budget-friendly hammocks to full-on comfy beds with pool access, etc). If you don’t book in advance, you can always just take a stroll down the road to see who has availability. That’s what we did!
The first night I stayed at a higher-end dorm with a pool, but I felt silly spending three times as much money when I was already on a strict budget. So instead I went to the Paloa Hostel where hammocks were only 10,000 pesos. They had a kitten roaming around the garden, so I knew it was a sign! 😉
Traveler’s Tip: If you need to take out money from an ATM, try to do so before arriving in Palomino. Otherwise, you might end up with a similar story like mine below:
My bank in the US blocked my card while in Riohacha, so I wasn’t able to take out money before arriving. I was (wrongly) led to believe there was an ATM available in Palomino, but actually, it was 6km outside of the town and the only way to get there was by private motorcycle. After a super scary-yet-exciting moto ride at 100mph down the Colombian countryside, the ATM in the neighboring town was out of order (no luck!) Oh yeah, then the moto men tried to rip us off because we were foreigners and wanted us to pay double. But in the end, we didn’t have to, and it worked out okay! 🙂
What to Do in Palomino, Colombia
There aren’t so many things to do in Palomino, Colombia. Relax at your hostel in a hammock, hit the beach, eat out, support local vendors, or go hiking… That sort of thing. Palomino is a hippy beach town, after all, so expect a laid-back atmosphere!
Shop at local stores
Definitely relax and take advantage of your time to just stroll around and visit the local shops. There are some very talented artisans who make handcrafted jewelry. Not to mention the indigenous Wayuu collection of mochila bags, which are becoming very popular. Make sure to speak with the local or store owner to ask about the product, where it’s sourced, and who your purchase is going to benefit, etc.
It’s very important to shop responsibly and ethically so that the men and women behind the scenes creating the product are actually benefiting from the sale. It’s the perfect way to practice your Spanish, too. 🙂
Traveler’s Tip: As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid any shop that looks blatantly touristy – as these are stores that will most often have little touristy trinkets, bracelets, jewelry, and bags which are likely mass-produced. Buying locally benefits the locals, but do so wisely! I recommend visiting several shops to browse before buying.
Eat arepas & pizza
A surprising highlight of our trip to Palomino was the pizza. But first, definitely get a couple of the locally-made Colombian arepas to taste Colombian cuisine (if you hadn’t before) and then go grab an Italian pizza at La Frontera Pizzeria. Their pizza is so light and flaky and their lemonades and fresh juices are so darn good. Eating the local Colombian cuisine will definitely save you some dollars, but it won’t hurt to splurge just this once!
Check out the white/black sand beach
The beach at the end of the dirt road isn’t as picturesque as you might hope, but it’s still gorgeous. Unfortunately, the coastline is receding and the current is quite strong, so swimming is not recommended (though people still do). It’s fun to walk along the beach for a while and squish your toes in the white/charcoal-colored sand!
Go tubing down the Palomino river
Tubing down the Palomino River is quite the attraction here. But this one we didn’t get the chance to try, so I can’t tell you if it was worth it or not! I’d say if you’re in Palomino for at least a week then you should try it! Just ask around for tour prices first, so you don’t get scammed.
Hike to a waterfall
There’s also the Quebrada Valencia hike to a small waterfall about 30 minutes drive outside Palomino. It’s quite the popular attraction it seems, but this might make it crowded and rather unpleasant.
So what do you think of a trip to Palomino?
Many people say it’s not worth it but I would definitely say go. It’s a quaint little Colombian village that you’re sure not to forget anytime soon. Plus, the location and laid-back atmosphere make it the perfect pit-stop for weary travelers visiting from Cartagena or Cabo de la Vela.
Which Colombian coastal town or city is your favorite? What’s your best tip?