The Caribbean coast is praised for its striking natural beauty, turquoise ocean and surprising biodiversity. Many people don’t think of Colombia when they think of the Caribbean, but if you are traveling to Colombia, you simply have to see it! But where to head first? Let me give you some inspiration – these are the seven absolute best places to see on the Colombian coast:
7. Cabo de la Vela
If you are up for an adventure, pack a lot of water and head over to the desert village of Cabo de la Vela. You will be rewarded with a beautiful, clear blue of the ocean, a sky full of stars at night and an authentic experience – rent a hammock on the beach, walk up the windy Pylon de Azucar, go for a ride in a boat with the locals and enjoy the simple life. Don´t forget to venture a little further from the lights of the village at night to watch the falling stars!
This friendly village is quickly becoming the center of the ecological tourism. If you are lucky and happen to be here at the right time, you might see the baby turtles or even the bioluminescent plankton which makes up for a truly incredible experience. The locals are friendly and helpful – even more so if you speak a little Spanish! Taste the homemade empanadas, go river tubing on the lazy Palomino river during the dry season, or just enjoy a fresh coconut juice at the beach – Palomino is a must see spot when traveling on the Colombian coast. Shopping tip: you can find a bunch of handmade products from the local region — if you are thirsty for a colorful mochila (handbag) or some unique jewelery, search no more!
The natural park of Tayrona is famous for its beauty – while you can only admire the dangerous ocean at Recife, you can swim carefree in the pristine bay of Cabo de San Juan. The combination of the mountain and the beach in this reserve is simply stunning and will make you want to stay forever. While you are here, don´t miss out on the hike to Pueblito, which is up in the hills – put on some good shoes though as the path is all stones and rocks. Pueblito used to be a lively village but you can still admire the ruins and typical houses even today. When hiking, listen to the sounds of the stones – it is said that the Cogui people invented a clever sound and echo system to hear whenever someone was coming up to their village.
4. Santa Marta
The local airport is not the only reason why many tourists flock to this town; the colonial downtown is lovely and full of party spots at night and the port offers the perfect chance for a romantic walk during sunset. The city beaches are popular among the inhabitants of Santa Marta, although they are not the cleanest. However, Rodadero gets full of partying groups of friends and families on New Year’s Eve (which is, a little bit surprisingly, a family kind of holiday in Colombia), along with typical bands in traditional costumes playing vallenato music as loud as it gets. While in Santa Marta, be sure to try a ceviche with fresh shrimp – however, be careful to choose a reliable spot to ensure it is really fresh as the shrimp are only “cooked” by lemon juice! (But that’s what makes this dish so special!)
The village of Taganga is only twenty minutes by bus from Santa Marta which makes it the perfect spot for people wanting to escape the rush and heat of the city. The hills bite into the ocean and divide the beach in several smaller portions – if you are willing to hike a bit before jumping into the clear water, you can get a relatively private spot instead of the main beach in the village. Hiking the (small) hills will also provide you with an indescribably beautiful view over the sparkling waves of the Caribbean and cute houses perching over the bay. Taganga is also the perfect spot to try out kayaking, diving or simply renting a boat and venturing into the sunset. When spending a day here, I recommend you to get a delicious fish for lunch – the fishermen bring them fresh in the morning and you can choose the one you want to have fried for yourself.
2. Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena is the true pearl of the Caribbean coast. With its rich port, it used to be an important merchant city which explains the thick fortification walls protecting the historical downtown today still. The monumental castle of San Felipe gives an idea of the military strength the city gathered in order to chase away any greedy pirates. Cartagena is famous for its colorful houses and when you walk in its picturesque streets, you see that the nickname fits this city perfectly. The colonial architecture, cobblestones and strikingly purple bougainvillea flowers create a mix of energy, liveliness and nostalgia that are likely to impress even an experienced traveler.
In order to reach this paradise island, take the fast boat from the Cartagena port. Many companies offer a return ticket with lunch included as a day trip, however, if you have enough time, you might want to spend more than that on this wonderful island. The transparent turquoise ocean and the white sand are likely to put a spell on you that will be hard to break. Try some oysters from a vendor walking by at the beach, enjoy the pureness of the salty water and when the crowds head back to Cartagena, let your fantasy take you back to the times of pirates sailing across the Caribbean.
When you travel in Colombia, you will fall in love with the Caribbean coast, no doubt. I hope this list gave you some inspiration for your South American wanderlust – after all, Colombia is quickly becoming the number one destination of all nature loving adventurers!
Have you visited any of these seven must see places? Share your impressions and tips with us in the comments section!
Words by Karin Ardila.