Our complete guide to Palomino
With a distinctly ramshackle feel, this rugged area of Caribbean coastline may not be for everyone. A noisy highway gives way to muddy paths and a yellow beach, flame torches line the shoreline at night and there's a limited number of restaurants.
Give it a chance, though, and you'll appreciate the miles of sand, the crashing waves and the quiet atmosphere of a place that hasn't been discovered by the masses - yet.
What to do
Nº 1 - Relax on the beach
Okay, so there isn't a whole lot to do in Palomino, but that's kind of the point. Most beach-front accommodation have hammocks and swinging chairs, although there's plenty of space to lay your towel if your hostel is further inland.
Nº 2 - Go swimming or tubing in the Palomino River
Almost all accommodations and travel agencies will offer the chance to go tubing, or just for a paddle in the river. Prices are around 30,000COP per person.
Nº 3 - Explore Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
This vast mountain range is home to four ethnic tribes (Kogia, Wiwa, Kankuamo and Arhuaco) and you can learn about the history and culture of these tribes, as well as the nature of the mountain ranges, on a tour. Check out La Sierrita Eco Tours or get in touch with Jaguar Azul guesthouse for more information.
Where to eat
Nº 1 - La Frontera
If you fancy pizza or pasta, look no further. This small restaurant about a fifteen-minute walk from the beach, or five from the highway, boasts thin-based, flavoursome pizzas at a very reasonable price.
Pizzas are priced around 15,000COP / $5.
Nº 2 - La Sirena
The home of our beachfront cabin also has a tasty vegetarian restaurant. La Sirena's sustainable permaculture project offers delicious breakfasts and lunches containing mainly organic ingredients. The fruit-filled french toast is to die for, the bean burrito and garden crepe are scrumptious too.
Lunch options are around 18,000COP / $6 and you can view the full menu here.
Nº 3 - Sua
Opposite La Frontera, this restaurant has a nice ambience, with candlelit tables and frequent live music. Order the fish in a coconut and mango sauce, but ask for it not to be cooked for so long as they tend to overcook slightly.
Where to stay
We stayed at... La Sirena Eco Hotel ($$$)
With cabins like ours (pictured below) no more than twenty steps to the ocean, and separate bungalows for those who want a little more privacy in the beautiful gardens beyond, this rustic accommodation is perfect for those who are seeking a no-frills, clean and comfortable stay.
Bathrooms are shared and showers are little more than a pipe pumping cold water, but the on-site restaurant (see above) is delicious, the staff are really helpful and friendly (especially when Matt lost his passport...) and there's daily yoga and massages on request.
Beachside rooms start from 153,00 pesos / $50 per night.
We also recommend... Reserva Natural El Matuy ($$)
For a true retreat, stay in one of these thatched roof cabins at the east end of the beach. Without electricity (read: no wifi) you're invited to completely disconnect and relax.
Rooms start from 220,000COP which includes three meals a day and non-alcoholic drinks.
THE BACKPACKER FAVOURITE... Dreamer hostel ($)
Backpackers flock to this Santa Marta hostel's sibling as it has a generous pool, pretty gardens, on-site restaurant and a sociable crowd.
Dorm beds start from 35,000COP / $11.
From Santa Marta, the bus terminal or bus stop on Carrera 11 and Calle 11 has vehicles heading this way and you can expect to pay around 15,000COP $9. Many of these buses also continue on to Riohacha.
To get back to Santa Marta, hail down one of the many buses heading back that way on the highway.
If you're heading to Cartagena, it may be worth paying extra for a door-to-door shuttle service (note that they won't be able to collect you from the beach!). Expect to pay at least 65,000COP / $21 for this service.