Colombia’s Caribbean coast was one of our favorite areas to explore in South America. Lush green forest tumble down the Sierra Nevada Range before giving way to palms, banana trees, and ultimately white sandy beaches. Thousands of islands bob in the calm turquoise waters, forming an archipelago that protects these remarkable waters. Here you will find some of best beaches in Colombia, no matter what you are looking for.
The people of the north coast are different from other Colombianos. Darker from the relentless sun and their Afro-Caribbean roots. They speak faster too, in a Caribbean style of dialect that has more in common with Cubans than rancheros further inland. These people work, rest, and play hard. They seem to hustle harder than their southern counterparts, but they do not neglect their downtime either, relaxing in hammocks in the heat of the afternoon before heading out to drink and salsa into the wee hours.
We spent three weeks on this beautiful stretch of coast camping on isolated stretches of beach and islands, partying in a hostel in the middle of the sea and relaxing in surf camps overlooking wild beach breaks. Here is our list of the best beaches in Colombia, on the Caribbean coast.
Relax in Rincon del Mar
Rincon del Mar is a quiet fishing village with a burgeoning tourist industry. This Colombian beach attracts wily backpackers looking for somewhere a bit further off the trodden path to unplug and relax. There isn’t too much to do in Rincon, and that’s why we like it. Well, that and whole lobsters plucked fresh from the ocean, grilled and served up with coconut rice, salad, and pantacons for only $10. There are only a handful of restaurants and accommodation options in the tiny town and no bars to speak of.
You can organize some activities and tours, through the hostels, but in our opinion this is the spot to get some reading done on a hammock by the beach, breaking for lunch and walking along the beach in the evening taking in the incredible sunset. A few days in this tranquil and authentic beach and you’ll be ready to rejoin the action at some of Colombia’s busier beaches.
Check out Hostel Beach House for cheap (air-conditioned) accommodation right on the beach, and the restaurant next door for the cheapest lobster you’ll ever see.
Camp and chill on Isla Tintipan, Islas de San Bernado
This tiny island in the San Bernado group is reachable by boat. More developed than some of the others, with a number of restaurants, beach bars, and a hostel, we were a little weary that our plan to throw up tents right on the beach and camp might be foiled. A quick chat with a local restauranteur re-assured us that there wouldn’t be any problems camping here. The locals have a vested interest in growing the tourist appeal of their tiny island and are keen for visitors. They pointed us towards a patch of beach further away from the development where we could stay.
From mid-morning onward, boats arrive on the islands with tourists coming to spend a day on the beautiful island. When the boats leave again in the mid-afternoon, the island is empty. Aside from a couple of inhabitants stopping by to give us pointers on our fire and sit by it for a while, we were alone.
We weren’t asked for payment to stay so we bought fresh seafood from one of the restaurants. Aside from this and the boat trip which cost about $50 USD one way from Rincon del Mar, we thought it was a pretty fair price to have this island practically to ourselves for a couple of nights. It is no wonder why this is one of the best beaches in Colombia in our opinion.
Pro-tip: Tiny sand gnats guard the beach fiercely… don’t forget the repellant.
Casa en el Agua, Islas de San Bernado: Party in the Middle of the Sea
While perhaps not far enough offshore to qualify for international waters status, there is a certain sense of freedom at Casa en el Agua, the house in the sea.
The Casa is easily reached by speedboat from Cartagena, or more easily (and more affordably) by local fishing boat from Rincon. The hostel offers private rooms, bunk beds in dormitories, or hammocks. Although it’s a hostel, its unique real estate allows it to charge a premium. Accordingly, accommodation isn’t exactly cheap here with hammocks starting from $20 USD per night. There is no kitchen at this hostel, so you’re limited to what their hostel restaurant is serving up (seafood or vegetarian). The prices are, by local standards, pretty steep at $10 USD. Another option is to bring along some food that you can eat uncooked.
You can organize a number of activities through the hostel including a visit to nearby Santa Cruz del Islote. Santa Cruz del Islote is a one-hectare island with 1,200 inhabitants making it one of the most densely populated places on earth. You can also take day trips to the nearby beaches and an evening tour to spot bioluminescent plankton. Of course, no one is going to make you feel bad if you opt to forego the tours to float around in the gorgeous waters and relax with a cocktail or two.
While not a self-proclaimed party hostel, the website reads that the ‘vibe is the tribe’. Judging by our stay there’ll usually be at least a couple of revelers in the mix.
Pro-tip: Book Casa en el Agua early as this place is usually booked out months in advance.
Tayrona National Park: Hike Dramatic Coastline
Grab your pack and head off into Colombia’s famous Tayrona. But, be warned, the secret of this park’s beauty is out. Thanks to its growing popularity, thousands of tourists descend on this park by boat and bus daily, filling the most popular beaches. Don’t despair though as there are plenty of beaches to explore. Plus with most people occupying those marked on the map, it’s not hard to find one all to yourself.
A second chaffing point with Tayrona are the many costs associated with visiting. A ticket to to park your car, to stay overnight, to camp at one of the sanctioned campsites (more like some horrible cross between a hostel and refugee camp) and the final tax for mandatory insurance. Do yourself a favor and don’t pay for any camping upfront. Instead, enter the park and decide where you would like to stay once you get in.
Your reward for bearing with these inconveniences will be miles and miles of white-sand beaches, rolling waves, and breathtaking sunsets. Sure to make you forget the tourists battled and tolls paid.
The trail that runs the coastline takes you up and down headlands. It winds through jungle, river, and swamp, every now and then, bursting back on to stunning white, sandy beaches. After the last boats take the day-trippers home, and holidaymakers return to the expensive and trashy campsites, settle on one of the now-abandoned beaches. Open a bottle of wine and watch the sunset over your own private paradise.
Pro-tip: Keep walking past the last campground at Playa del Cabo. Past the headland and through 20 minutes of swamp and overgrown thicket. Here you can find one of best beaches in Colombia.
Pro-tip: Hit Tayrona mid-week to try and avoid some of the weekend crowd.
Palomino Beach: Surf, Float and Hang
If you have been searching for the best beaches in Colombia, you have no doubt come across Palomino Beach, Colombia.
What this sleepy surf town lacks in paved roads, it more than makes up for in charm and natural beauty. Palomino, Colombia is actively pursuing the tourism market to capitalize on its incredibly picturesque stretch of coast. Steep green mountains tower either side of the Rio Palomino which snakes toward the coast. Closer to the beach, thick forests become palm before meeting the thin stretch of sand that borders Palomino’s coastline. Surfers will find a decent wave here. The mouth of the river has created a nice little bank that sends waves peeling off in either direction.
Tubing (floating in an inner tyre tube) down the Palomino river is another popular activity. Get a tube and a lift up the river for $15 USD. After a day of activities, wind down by catching the sunset from the idyllic beach. In the evening, party with the laid back locals. They seem genuinely happy to share their patch of paradise with the backpackers that have made the pilgrimage. Catch up with them on a Saturday at the Nómada Bar in ‘town’.
Roads or no, the town is tapping into its epic natural scenery, laid back lifestyle, and friendly locals. Definitely one of the best beaches in Colombia.
Pro-tip: Check out the Hostel Antosoja for a relaxed atmosphere and cheap park and stay options for overlanders.
Just a stone throw away from Palomino Beach back towards Cartagena is Costeño Beach. Known for its great beach break and surf hostels, it is the perfect place to unwind for a few days, try your hand at the Colombian surf, and sit back with a beer watching the sunset.
There are no restaurants, bars or stores at Costeño Beach except for what each of the surf hostels are offering. Check out our favorite surf hostel in Costeño Beach, Costeño Beach Surf Hostal.
Where to Next?
Looking for more things to do in Colombia? Check out these articles!
What do you think of our list of the best beaches in Colombia? Which ones do you love? Which would you skip? Let us know in the comments below!
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