Palomino, Colombia, a small beach town on the northern Caribbean coast, has become a popular destination, especially for backpackers. Sporting a laid back vibe, it is practically an obligatory stop on a tour of Colombia’s Caribbean. In this travel guide to Palomino, Colombia, you will learn how to get there, what to do, and where to stay in Palomino along with practical travel tips and a suggested packing list for Palomino, Colombia.
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Why You Should Visit Palomino, Colombia
Located about 90 minutes north of Santa Marta, Palomino is a cool place to hang out for a few days by the beach, meet some fellow travelers, enjoy some chilled out nightlife, and eat some good grub.
Right at the border of the Magdelena and La Guajira provinces, Palomino is also a gateway to explore more of Colombia’s La Guajira Peninsula.
I also spent a night in Palomino with my friend Brian in April 2019. It was the cool vibe and food that drew me back more than anything.
Palomino has in many ways replaced Taganga as a cool stop off point for backpackers, and it reminded me quite a bit of the vibes in Taganga years back, basically a quiet beach town that has been turned into a destination with a proliferation of trendy hostels and restaurants/cafes/bars.
Still, Palomino’s laid-back vibe and cool restaurants and bars make for a nice happy medium between the city and nature and a cool way to spend a couple days.
It is the perfect place to stop, chill out, and enjoy some drinks and good food if you are touring Colombia’s north coast between Santa Marta and La Guajira.
Here, I will give you a run down of my experiences in Palomino.
In this practical travel guide to Palomino, you will learn how to get there, what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Palomino, Colombia along with some useful tips and a suggested packing list to help you plan your own travel to Palomino.
Travel Guide to Palomino, Guajira, Colombia
- Safety in Palomino
- How to Get to Palomino
- What to do in Palomino
- Where to Eat in Palomino
- Nightlife in Palomino
- Where to Stay in Palomino
- Travel Tips for Palomino
- Packing List for Palomino
Is Palomino Safe?
The times I have been to Palomino, I felt plenty safe. It’s fairly well traveled and like much of small town Colombia, all the residents know each other and crime is generally low.
That being said, you should still follow some basic tips for safety in Palomino.
It is a small town where most of the residents are borderline impoverished, and many of the businesses that have come in are not owned by locals. Now their formerly quiet little beach town is overrun with foreigners. I found locals nice, but not overly friendly.
Of course the influx of tourists brings its own set of problems anywhere. Doing things like buying drugs is done at your own risk engaging with people who are, by nature, criminals.
Petty crime can also happen, so besides that, I would be wary of walking around at night, especially off the main road and alone.
There was a murder on the road in late 2019, where a robber was stealing the car of a couple, and the town of Guachaca to the south has experienced paramilitary and drug trafficking incursions. I would discourage traveling from elsewhere to Palomino at night and check local news to ensure there has not been any recent problems.
Maybe that’s sounds alarmist, but always better safe than sorry. In all likelihood you’ll be just fine as long as you stick to these basic tips on safety in Palomino, Colombia.
How to Get to Palomino, La Guajira, Colombia
*Prices are updated as of February 2020 unless otherwise noted.
How to Get to Palomino by Bus
You can reach Palomino by bus from Santa Marta, Tayrona, or Riohacha.
How to Take the Bus from Santa Marta to Palomino:
- From the market in Santa Marta, there are buses that leave every 15 minutes (they are the same buses that go to Tayrona). The cost from Santa Marta to Palomino is 10,000 pesos. *Pro tip: get a window spot on the coast side as you can get some great views of the ocean as you approach Palomino.
How to Get the Bus from Tayrona to Palomino or Costeño Beach to Palomino:
- Catch them on the main road heading north (far side of the road), the cost should be 2,000 pesos to get to Palomino from Tayrona or Costeño Beach.
How to Get the Bus from Riohacha to Palomino:
- Get the bus from Riohacha to Palomino at the terminal in Riohacha. The cost should be approximately 15,000 pesos. You can get tickets online at Redbus.co.
Marsol also offers charter van service to Palomino and can be taken from Cartagena, Barranquilla, or Santa Marta. Cost will depend on where you get the van.
From elsewhere, I’m not sure if there are buses directly to Palomino from other cities in Colombia, so you will most likely have to bus into Santa Marta, then hop the bus from Santa Marta to Palomino.
How to Get to from Cartagena to Palomino
You have a couple options to get from Cartagena to Palomino, Guajira.
Charter Bus to Palomino from Cartagena
Marsol has two daily direct buses to from Cartagena to Palomino. The depart from Cartagena to Palomino at 6 am and 10 am and have a cost of 80,000 pesos. (last price check: February 2020)
They also have buses to Santa Marta. There are direct buses at 8 am, 10 am, noon, and 2 pm, and semi-direct buses (they make a stop in Barranquilla) at 6 am, 4 pm, and 6 pm. The cost is 56,000 pesos. (last price check: February 2020).
Note for both buses to Palomino or Santa Marta, Marsol will pick you up from your hotel or hostel starting approximately an hour before. If you’d prefer to just head to the office in Marbella you can do that as well. For the bus to Santa Marta, you’ll save 8,000 pesos (about the same as a price of a taxi) if you go direct to the office. For the direct bus to Palomino, it’s the same price regardless (I know it doesn’t make sense), so you might as well take advantage of the door to door service, unless you’re pressed for time. If you do go direct to the office, be sure to be there at lest 15 minutes before the departure time.
Once in Santa Marta, follow the above directions to travel from Santa Marta to Palomino.
*Note: if you are planning to visit Tayrona as well, Marsol also has direct buses from Cartagena to Tayrona. See more at my complete guide to Tayrona.
Berlinas does not have a direct bus from Cartagena to Palomino, but you can take them from Cartagena to Santa Marta. Once in Santa Marta, follow the instructions above.
The price is 48,000 pesos (last price check: February 2020) with departures every 40 minutes starting at 4:40 am (or 6:00 am on Sundays and Monday holidays).
I’ve found Berlinas to generally have better service than Marsol, but Marsol does have the added convenience of a direct bus, so if you’re going from Cartagena to Palomino and not stopping elsewhere, it is a pretty solid choice.
If you are planning to travel to Palomino from Cartagena, I highly recommend that you also check out the gorgeous mountain town of Minca and Tayrona National Park before or after Palomino. Santa Marta is also worth checking out for a day or two.
From the Bus Terminal
You can also take a bus from Cartagena to Palomino from the main bus terminal.
It should cost 30-45,000 pesos depending on company. You can check prices and reserve online at Redbus.co, although in my experience they only have a fraction of the actual buses listed there.
Generally, I would recommend using Marsol or Berlinas to get from Cartagena to Palomino. While a bit pricier, their offices are a 5 minute rather than half hour plus taxi ride from the Walled City, not to mention the price of a taxi to the terminal will more than offset the savings on the cheaper bus.
However, if you’re in a group and not pressed for time, you can save a few pesos by taking your bus to Palomino from Cartagena from the terminal.
To return from Palomino to Cartagena, you can use any of the above options as well.
Can You Fly to Palomino?
There’s no airport in Palomino. If you want to arrive to Palomino by air, you will have to fly into Cartagena or Santa Marta.
You can check out flights into both cities on Colombia’s flagship Avianca airline or compare flight prices across airlines at Jetradar. Follow the instructions above to get to Palomino from either city.
What to Do in Palomino
Top Things to Do in Palomino, Colombia
Wondering what to do in Palomino, Colombia? There are a number of fun things to do in Palomino.
Here are some the top activities in Palomino.
Go Tubing on the Palomino River
This is probably the most popular of the things to do in Palomino.
The Palomino River is an offshoot of the Magdalena.
Honestly, I haven’t done it either time I’ve been to Palomino. I know, I know, just what kind of travel blogger am I?
The truth is, the first time I was there, we were worn out and by the time we got moving on our full day, we didn’t want to brave the sun after several days in the desert of La Guajira.
The second time, I was only in Palomino for a day. My friend Brian and I preferred to enjoy the food and drinks in Palomino rather than do the tubing.
That being said, tubing on the Palomino River seems like a great way to spend a few hours , and I am going to have to make a point of doing it next time I visit.
I’ve heard from several friends that it is totally worth it. The river is calm and shallow throughout the float down, and the guides make sure you don’t get hung up anywhere.
Tubing down the river seems like a great way to spend a few hours while getting some great views of the nature and scenery of the lush forest of the Sierra Nevada.
I did ask around, and the price for tubing in Palomino should be around 40,000 pesos a person and includes the tube and a guide to make sure you don’t get lost and guide you along the river.
The trip should take 3 hours: about an hour hike and 2 hours down the river. I’d recommend going early before it gets too hot and sunny.
I’ve read elsewhere that you can solely rent the tube and do the tubing in Palomino independently, but we were told that wasn’t allowed. Rather that is something that had changed or good salesman gamesmanship, I’m not sure.
It is probably worth asking around. By the same token, it’s worth keeping in mind there aren’t many opportunities for people in the town, and 40,000 pesos is the price of 2-4 cocktails at most places in Palomino or Colombia. For 3 hours it seems like a fair price.
Visit the Quebrada Valencia Waterfalls Near Palomino
The Quebrada Valencia are the waterfalls near Palomino.
When I was there, it was reportedly dried up due to lack of rain, so we didn’t go, but pictures online make it seem worth it if the falls are flowing.
You can take a mototaxi from the main road there and hike up to the falls. It is worth asking around before you go to make sure they aren’t dried up. I haven’t made it to the Quebrada Valencia in my two visits, but it seems like a cool way to spend half a day if you can and one of the best things to do in Palomino.
Chill on the Beach
As I said earlier, the beach in Palomino is nice but not spectacular (then again, maybe I’ve been spoiled).
The waves and currents are strong (swimmers beware of riptides) and the beach isn’t as wide as in other nearby places.
Note that there are surf lessons on the beach in Palomino, so check those out if you want to learn to surf.
Given the how popular a destination the town has become, it also can get crowded around the main exit, but a short walk either direction sees the crowds thin out considerably.
That being said, you can’t go to Palomino and not at least check the beach out. It’s about a 10 minute walk from “downtown” Palomino, and if you walk down a ways it is nice once the crowds dissipate.
So, check out the beach, have a piña colada there, and go for a wade. However, in my opinion at least, it’s better to spend more time hanging around town and if you’re up for it, head to the beach for the afterparty.
Enjoy Some Great Food
Where to Eat in Palomino, Colombia
As noted above, grubbing out is my favorite of the things to do in Palomino.
Here’s a rundown of my favorite restaurants in Palomino, Colombia.
Suá – Best Restaurant in Palomino
I’ve had lunch in Suá both times I’ve been in Palomino. It is delicious, has a cool vibe, has good drinks, and is well worth checking out!
The cool outdoor wooden tables, and frequent daytime live music sums up the entire allure of Palomino for me. But what really makes it special is the excellent fare on offer at Suá.
The food, in addition to being super tasty, just has that fresh taste to it. Especially good is the make your own plate option, that allows you to make your own combo from several protein, sauce, and side options in addition to a salad.
While there are beef and chicken on offer in the make your own plate, its pretty hard to resist the shrimp or prawn options. I absolutely loved the coconut, orange, and ginger sauce on prawns, and I can’t complain about the tastes I had of the curry and garlic and butter sauces (there are also a blue cheese sauce and another one I can’t recall).
The first time we were there, I also had a bomb chicken sandwich, and the last time I went, my friend Brian also got the Cazuela de Langostinos of prawns in a delicious tomato sauce.
There are also good drinks on offer, including great limonadas de coco and the delicious craft beer from the Sierra Nevada Brewery, located in nearby Minca.
Turcolandia – Best Pizza in Palomino
This is possibly the best pizza I’ve had in all of Colombia! Seriously, this was one of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Palomino.
Thin, but with a good rolled up end crust and loaded with toppings, the pizza at Turcolandia is awesome!
But even better is watching the owner and cook at work. A bald guy (is he a Turk, an Italian, I don’t even know or care), you can see him shoveling pizzas in and out of the ovens like a madman. He does a fair bit of yelling as well, but there’s something neat about seeing him at work, and the pizza reflects his energy.
The tree stump seats and trunk tables just adds to the great vibe. You can even get some homemade whiskey (it’s ok, not great, but cheap) here. Be sure to try the homemade sauces as well to top off the tastiest pizza in Palomino, Colombia.
Definitely a cool place that I made a point to get back to when I returned the second time (and hopefully will again).
JUntos – Great Burgers and Bar in Palomino
JUntos is one of the coolest bars in Palomino. The first time we visited, they had a Noche Azul (Blue Night). They periodically have them (about once a month) during the year.
There was a DJ visiting from Trinidad and Tobago, and it made for a great place to spend the night having some drinks and dancing.
But even if you can’t enjoy a Noche Azul, JUntos would be a great place to have dinner and drinks.
The burgers were absolutely delicious, and there’s a good happy hour with reasonable beer and cocktail prices.
My second time in Palomino, we just happened to be there the day of the week they were closed, unfortunately. However, I’d highly recommend Juntos as a place to get some tasty burgers and have a few drinks in the evening.
Bonus if you get lucky like we did and are there during a Noche Azul.
Frontera – More Good Pizza in Palomino
The first time my wife and I stopped in at Palomino, we had lunch at Frontera fresh off the trip back from Punta Gallinas just at the beginning of “downtown” Palomino. It was one of the first places we came to and we had quite the appetite.
Ok, my wife loves super thin crust pizza and liked this pizza better than Turcolandía. I like a good, solid crust and liked Turcolandía better (in case you didn’t get that from above).
So our pizza disputes aside, Frontera’s pizza was still very good and it is another great option for where to eat in Palomino. It also has a cool vibe with wine bottle candleholders and a neat courtyard outback.
If you’re looking for a good thin crust pizza, then Frontera is another one of the good options among the best places to eat in Palomino, Colombia.
Other Places to Eat in Palomino
Those are the places I’ve been tried in my two trips to Palomino, but there are a number of other good looking places. There’s a shawarma and falafel place, and several vegetarian friendly places.
There’s a place coming in to town that says they have wings and have a great tag line telling you to impregnate yourself with flavor. There are also places serving up traditional Colombian fare, and standard beach fare like fried fish.
All in all, there are lots of good options for places to eat in Palomino, and enjoying all the good fare on offer is one of the best things to do in Palomino.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Part of the reason Palomino has become popular backpacker and hipster traveler town is the vibrant and hip scene. Therefore enjoying a night on the town is undoubtedly one of the things for what to do in Palomino, Colombia.
While not exactly nightclubbing, many of the bars and restaurants in Palomino have frequent live music and/or DJs.
As I said, we got lucky and the first night we were there, Juntos Bar and Restaurant had their Noche Azul. They do it every few weeks (*check for dates at their facebook page). The place got hopping and both the band and DJ were good.
On my second visit, Suá also had a cool little band in the evening, and there were a couple other places that had live music.
Maria Mulata, seems like a hopping place that also has good food and frequent live music. It is a place I’d like to check out next time I’m in town.
So, you will undoubtedly have the opportunity to get your groove on in Palomino.
One note: since Palomino is still a small town at heart, by law the bars in Palomino have to close down at 11 pm. The beach seems to the place for the afterparty if you want to continue your partying afterwards.
Where to Stay in Palomino, Colombia
There are a number of options for places to stay in Palomino. There are a number of hostels in town as well as hostels, hotels, and lodges along the beach or in the forest outside of town.
I’d recommend staying in town so you have easy access to the restaurants and bars but can still walk to the beach. For those that want the beach, there are also some nice beach front hotels in Palomino.
Top Places to Stay in Palomino
Dreamer Hostel Palomino – Most Popular Palomino Hostel
The Dreamer Hostel Palomino (sister property of the hostel in Santa Marta), has a beautiful property with a pool, bar, and restaurant. There are dorms and private rooms available, and it has the perfect location on the main road in town just off the beach. That makes it the perfect happy medium between town and the beach. It is among the most popular places to stay in Palomino, so you will definitely want to make reservations here before hand.
Primaluna Hostel – Nicest Palomino Hostel
Primaluna also has a terrific pool and cool vibe, making it another one of the best hostels in Palomino. Located on the main road, it is about a 3 minute walk to the beach. There are dorms, family/group rooms, privates, and even a small private bungalow available. There are also a bar and restaurant on site. A great place for solo or group travelers and for couples.
Aite Hotel Beachfront Bungalows – Luxury Palomino Hotel
Aite Hotel is among the best hotels in Palomino. It does offer nice standard rooms, but if you opt to stay here you have to go for one of the bungalows! There are larger bungalows for groups up to 4 or or standards for couples. With two pools and a fabulously rated restaurant on site, you may never want to leave. This would be the perfect place for a romantic get away in Palomino with your special someone. If you do decide to stay on the beach itself, treat yourself to staying here!
Reserva One Love – Best Palomino Lodge to Get Away from it All
Located in the mountains above Palomino, Reserva One Love, in addition to having an awesome name, has a beautiful property with a stunning view. It is all inclusive and offers that special type of natural, escape it all luxury. If you’re looking for a great Palomino hotel outside of town proper, look no further. While on the higher end of prices for hotels in Palomino, Reserva One Love is an absolute excellent place to spend a few days taking in the beauty of the area and disconnecting from the world at large.
Makao – Beachfront Value Hotel in Palomino
If you want to stay at one of the beachfront hotels in Palomino for a friendlier price, then check out Makao. The rooms are gorgeous and there’s a great private beach front sitting area and bar. There is also a restaurant and even surf board and bike rental available for guests. This would be another great place for couples.
Tiki Hut Hostel – Best Value Palomino Hostel
Tiki Hut Hostel is a great value. It too sports a nice pool in addition to the restaurant on site, garden lounge, and game room with a pool table. There are dorms as well as privates, and the prices here, especially for dorms, are among the most budget friendly in town. That makes it one of the best value hostels in Palomino.
Palomino Hostel – Cheapest Hostel in Palomino (allows camping)
I spent a night in Palomino Hostel the first time I visited. We stayed in a group private room. Nothing spectacular here but it was clean, and it was cheap, being close per person to dorms in the nicer hostels. There are also standard privates, dorms, and tents available. It is centrally located in town near lots of restaurants. A great option for visiting Palomino on a budget!
Bikini Hostel – Ok Palomino Hostel, Jerk Owner (where we stayed)
We spent a night at Bikini Hostel back in 2018 when I visited Palomino the first time in a group private, liked it, and I decided to return when I visited again in April 2019. It is a pretty little property, has a nice little pool, and good prices. Two things will most likely lead me to look elsewhere next time. First, the dorm I stayed in the second time was an oven at night and the fan didn’t work. Second the owner was quite rude to us on our second visit when we didn’t immediately chug drinks they had just sold us happily at full price with no warning at closing time. Still, the private and group rooms are decent and the property is pretty, but I would definitely avoid the dorms and not buy drinks near closing time.
Travel Tips for Palomino
- There is no ATM in Palomino. While most hostels and hotels in Palomino should take cards for payment, you should make sure you take plenty of cash. If you do run out, you may be able to visit an ATM in a nearby town, but best just to hit one in Santa Marta at the latest.
- There is also no proper supermarket in Palomino, although you can get basic goods in tiendas in town.
- Keep in mind this is a small town that became a tourist destination. Hence why the bars close at 11. Have fun but try not to make a fool of yourself.
- Crime doesn’t appear to be an issue and Palomino is very safe, but I would still avoid wondering around off the main strip at night.
- Budget: I would budget for 100-150,000 pesos a day in addition to what you pay for accommodation. You could do it cheaper, but that will give you plenty for food and drinks.
- You can get the bags, or mochilas, made by the Kogi indigenous people in Palomino for much cheaper than in Santa Marta or Cartagena.
- Speaking of the Kogi, they consider the entire Sierra Nevada coastal mountain range to be sacred, so don’t litter!
Packing List for Palomino – What Should I Pack for Palomino?
Wondering what to wear in Palomino?
You’ll want to dress comfortably as it is hot and humid. Palomino has a relaxed, beach town vibe so there’s no need to bring anything formal, even for going out. A pair of jeans and possibly a long sleeve shirt or light jacket would be good to have in the off chance it gets chilly in the evening, but you could probably get by without it.
What to Pack for Her
- This casual short dress with pockets is comfortable and laid back for bumming around town or having drinks in the evening.
- Columbia’s Freezer III Dress is great for travel. Besides being comfortable, it also has UPF protection and wicks moisture away to keep you cool and dry.
- This floral print halter top can be worn to the beach or around town as well.
- These Columbia Anytime Capris are light and dry quick, making them perfect for travel in Palomino or anywhere.
- This halter top bikini with floral and leaf prints is sporty and also fits right into Palomino’s vibe.
- These Chaco ZX2s are comfortable and durable all purpose sandals, perfect for the beach or hiking to waterfalls.
- This cute drawstring bag also screams Palomino and would be useful to have to carry your things around town, to the beach, or tubing.
- This floral print sarong would make a great beach cover up and can even be tied up as a dress.
What to Pack for Him
- Columbia’s Thistletown Tees are light, comfortable, and moisture wicking.
- This cotton v-neck is perfect for the laid back Caribbean Palomino.
- For something that’s still comfy and laid back but a bit more formal, check out this long sleeve linen shirt.
- These linen shorts are stylish and perfect for the weather.
- Don’t forget your trunks, these APTRO board shorts with palm trees would be great.
- These Reef flip flops with built in bottle opener are great for relaxing with some beers at the beach or around town.
- This Panama hat is perfect for the beach and can be safely rolled up and packed without being damaged.
Travel Gear to Pack for Palomino
- Dock and Bay’s Microfiber Travel Towels dry quick, are easy to pack, and have a cool retro style. If you’re looking for something more plain, Rainleaf’s Microfibers are the best in the biz.
- I love my Roam collapsable day pack. It is sturdy but packs up nicely to be carried in another, bigger bag (see review here).
- Speaking of bigger bags, the Osprey Farpoint 40 holds a ton but is still small enough to be easily carried, packed on buses, or used as a carryon.
- If you’re backpacking and staying hostels, then a good lock for your bag and locker is important to have. This Masterlock lets you set your own combination so you don’t have to worry about a key and is TSA approved for use on luggage.
- For even more security, consider getting a Pacsafe, nearly impossible to open up, it will keep your cash and valuables secure.
- There are sometimes power outages in Palomino, so if you rely on your phone for pictures or will need other electronic devices, consider packing a Anker Powercore 1000 backup battery and charger.
Accessories to Pack for Palomino
- These RawWood Bamboo Sunglasses are not only snazzy, they also float, making them perfect for tubing in Palomino. I recently got myself a pair and love them (see review here).
- If you do go tubing, you will want to keep your money and phone dry. This 3 piece dry bag set has a phone pouch, a smaller bag, and a larger one.
- Some shops have water bottle refills for cheap and most hostels in Palomino will let you refill a bottle free. Having a good water bottle is therefore not only environmentally friendly, but budget friendly as well. This Nomader collapsable water bottle would be perfect for travel. If you’re looking to drink tap water in Palomino or anywhere, you might also consider investing in a Steripen.
- You’ll definitely want plenty of sunscreen. It can be found at shops in Palomino, but at a premium. In fact, it tends to be expensive in all of Colombia. If you decide to bring some from abroad, I recommend Coppertone Sport, which holds up well through sweat, river, and ocean.
- Finally, mosquitos can get bad, especially in the evening, so you will want some bug spray. If you pick it up in Colombia, I recommend Stay Off Amazonic. You can also find natural repellent for sale in some of the shops in town. If you bring it from abroad, I recommend OFF! Deep Woods (also available in towelettes) or check out OFF! Botanicals for an all natural option. If you want a sunscreen/repellent combo, check out Avon’s Skin so Soft Bug Guard.
Ready to go to Palomino?
In conclusion, Palomino is definitely worth taking a night or two there to chill out during a visit to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It’s especially a good place to relax if you have been roughing it in Tayrona or La Guajira. More power to you if you can enjoy the tubing and see some of the surrounding scenery.
You can enjoy some luxuries like hanging by the pool at the hostel, getting some tasty grub, and going out dancing while still having easy access to the surrounding nature of the river, waterfalls, and mountains.
There you have it, a complete travel guide to Palomino, Colombia. If you do decide to go to Palomino, I hope you find this guide useful in planning your trip.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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