The Ultimate Budget Guide to the Colombian Caribbean
The Ultimate Guide to the Colombian Caribbean
How to visit the Caribbean on a budget
Wisps of water lap over soft, white shores, beautiful people are splayed half naked in the sand and the faint hints of distant music come from thatched coconut cocktail stands. The epitome of luxury, or a hub of the denizens of cruise ships and day trips. Either way, the Caribbean has always appeared unattainable. Expensive, exclusive and fuelled by glamorous resorts, it rarely falls on the radar of the bare-bones budget backpacker.
While we may still be priced out of the island hopping yachts and all-inclusive hotels, there is still a Caribbean haven incredibly accessible for backpackers: Colombia. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is dotted with unspoiled islands, cultural and historical hotspots, and some of the best beaches in South America.
Whether you’re interested in remote islands or lively cities, there will be a place for you on the northern coast. Colombian, Caribbean, and African cultures come into confluence to create the wonderful world of the costeno.
Isla Mucura was the best place I have visited that was never recommended to me. Even the most obscure spots I found myself in in South America had been mentioned to me by someone, somewhere, even in passing. Isla Mucura was born from a random act of google mapping, which brought me to the San Bernardo Islands. Far, far from the typical backpacker trail, you can find yourself totally alone on the perfect white sand beaches, snorkelling solo through shoals of tropical fish just feet from the shore, and exploring the densely tropical little island. The hostel on the island is cheap, and it comes with an array of private beaches, cheap activities and parties that end in the warm waters of the Caribbean sea.
What to do?
Take to the seas
Rent out a kayak, a paddle board or a snorkel, or just head straight out into the waves, to explore the seemingly endless expanse of turquoise sea. The waters are calm, the days are hot and clear, and you’ll have all the freedom you could hope for. From giant, colourful starfish spattered along the sea floor, to the hoards of tiny fish that swim alongside you, to the vast black spires of the most intimidating sea urchins I’ve ever encountered- there is plenty to explore just 5 minutes from the island’s shore. You’ll pass by local fishermen if you’re out on a boat, Caribbeans flinging fishnets far and wide, seemingly immune to the heavy beating sun.
Renting any of these options is cheap, and can be done via the hostel recommended below.
Tour the islands
The San Bernardo archipelago is made up of many different islands, Isla Mucura being one of the more popular. With privately owned islands making up a large number of those in the archipelago, there are only 3 that tourists can visit. Mucura, Isla Tintipan, mentioned below, and Isla Santa Cruz de Isolete.
The island of Santa Cruz is the most densely populated place on earth. The pinch of land is built upon and built upon and built upon again, ever inch trampled underfoot. Picture the favellas of Rio de Janiero- stacks of houses, with narrow alleys in between, colourful and brimming with life. There’s kids running through barefoot, playing football against the walls of houses, over the heads of bemused visitors.
102,000 people live on the island, which is roughly the same size as two football pitches. Founded by fishermen looking for relief from the harsh tropic storm, the island grew into a community. Mingle with the locals, if you can understand their rather distinct accents, jump off the edge of town straight into the Caribbean sea, browse the one shop on the island, and experience one of the most unique little spits of land in the world.
From Isla Mucura it is very easy to take a day trip to the nearby islands to explore this curious spit of land for yourself.
Spontaneous and impassioned football matches are the lifeblood of Latin America. I’ve seen games spring up in the middle of markets, in streets wide enough to fit one player at a time, on mountains, in deserts, even on the back of an Amazonian cargo boat. Get involved with the Latin fanaticism, joining one of the many organised games on the island, or one of the many spontaneous ones that break out. Dribbling around towering palm trees adds a unique twist, too. There are also regular games of beach volleyball if that’s more your speed. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, the hostel run a yoga class every day at sunset. Watching the skies redden and the sun slip behind the sea, surrounded by tropical flowers, makes for a pretty special stretch.
How to get there
It is possible to get a transfer from Cartagena to Isla Mucura, but it is expensive and confusing to organise. The easiest and the cheapest way to get to the island is via the town of Tolu. Take a bus from the main bus station in Cartagena, which takes around 3 hours, to reach Tolu. From here you can grab a tricycle to the shore for a couple of dollars, and chat to any one of the many tour agents selling transfers to the islands along the seafront. These should cost around $10-15 and include a ‘transfer’ from boat to hostel, wherein a guy will indicate to you which of the 2 paths that exist on Isla Mucura you should take.
Where to stay
When you disembark in Isla Mucura, there will be a call of ‘hostel?’, which will led to you being pointed to the only one on the island. After a short journey, accompanied only by tropical birds, you’ll reach a lively, action packed hostel. There’s daily activities, a spa, a bar, a restaurant, and best of all tons of undisturbed land to explore.
A big chunk of the island is solely reserved for guests at the hostel, with giant palm trees, access to coral reefs, hammocks that hung over the calm, clear seas. Accessible to everyone from budget backpackers to honeymooning couples, hammocks are available for just £14 ($18) a night, hung together in an open-sided hut on the hostel grounds, and there are private bungalows available for a more comfortable option. You can wake with the sun slipping under the palm-thatched roof, and go from sleep to the cool morning sea within a few steps.
A collection of action-packed activities are organised out of the hostel itself, or you can visit the on-site spa if you want even more relaxation on this blissful Caribbean island. The bar and restaurant in the hostel are high quality and low cost, hosting some great parties.
They also have a bar, where you can get 2 maracuya gin and tonics for around £2, with lively young volunteers that keep the party buzzing in the evening. They serve 3 meals a day, which cost an extra £10 or so a day, if you’re wanting to eat all 3 meals. They serve the typical menu del dias that you’ll definitely become familiar with if you’re travelling Colombia on a budget. These generally consist of rice, vegetables, a choice of fish, meat or vegetarian, and a juice. At this hostel the vegetarian options were actually super filling, based around lentils or chickpeas, which makes a nice change from the standard portion of pinto beans.
The hostel is called Isla Mucura Hostel..
With all the above included, and all the crowds excluded, it’s one of the best-value places I have stayed.
Isla Tintipan & Casa en el Agua
The flush of jungle that sprouts out of the sea to form Isla Tintipan is a shock to the eyes as you arrive from the sea. The sudden burst of tropical birdlife and deep green leaves reminded me of the three weeks I spent in the Amazon rainforest- where life can appear from anywhere, at anytime. Another spot where you can dive from your hostel straight into the Caribbean sea, the rich mangroves and wildlife available in Isla Tintipan offer an alternative to Mucura’s solely beachy vibe. Another popular spot for travellers in the area is the famous Casa en el Agua, a hostel that exists as its own floating island, known for raucous parties and dives fresh from your hammock to the sea.
What to do
Get in the water
As with her sister island of Isla Mucura, Isla Tintipan is home to beautiful places to snorkel, and with calm, warm waters for swimming. It also offers you the opportunity to snorkel through the islands mangrove inlets, coming across swarms of tiny fish, bright red crabs scuttling up the hanging trees, and all manner of creepy crawlies.
If you prefer the wide open oceans, rent a snorkel from your hostel, and dive straight out into clear blue horizons and swim out in search of treasures. A pit-stop for generations of Caribbean pirates and Colombian narcotraficantes, the seas you’ll swim through have lived plenty of adventures. Though it’s relatively unlikely that you’ll stumble upon the lost fortunes of the Queen Anne’s Revenge or the treasures of San Miguel, you’ll find some critters nearly as shiny. Giant starfish settle between bright coral reefs, shrouded by the thousands of tiny fish swimming around you in a tight formation. Enormous black sea urchins guard their seabed homes with spindly spikes, which I’d strongly recommend you keep a healthy distance from. Once you poke your head back above the surface you’ll find yourself swimming just below gigantic pelicans swan-diving into the sea for a spot of lunch. Within a 10 minute swim from the island shore, you’ll find yourself immersed in technicolour Caribbean waterworlds.
Bask in bioluminescence
Floating out from the night’s quiet shore sees a seamless shift between sea and sky- where the inky black backdrop is scattered with thousands of stars, and the sea is alive with twinkling plankton. These bioluminescent critters cluster around bodies in the water, so even as you’re drifting through the darkest hours, your body is framed by flocking bright lights. As the islands are so far from cities and pollutants, the night sky itself is masterful. Much as in the desert or the jungle, the skies far at sea offer the best views of the planets and the stars beyond.
Tours to the best spots for swimming with phosphorescent plankton can be organised via your hostel.
How to get there
As with the above details for getting to Isla Mucura, boats regularly carry passengers from Tolu to Isla Tintipan. If you’re staying at Casa en el Agua, the owners of the hostel will happily help you to arrange a transfer directly from Cartagena to the hostel.
Where to stay
The most famous feature of the San Bernardo islands is the novelty hostel Casa en el Agua. A hostel floating somewhere between Isla Mucura and Isla Tintipan, Casa en el Agua offers you the opportunity to string up a hammock, grab a cocktail, and then drive straight in amongst the coral from your bar-perch.
They show notoriously raucous parties out in the middle of the sea, a perfect excuse to indulge in a touch of gringo fun. Given that the hostel, bar, and island are all isolated, the parties carry on there all night. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone looking to have a peaceful space of solitude on the Caribbean’s perfect banks, but a night of debauchery rarely goes array.
I actually decided against staying at Casa en el Agua, as spaces fill up quickly and you need to book well in advance, which isn’t really my style. I came here to visit the bar, for the novelty of sipping cocktails in a bar on the edge of the sea, and to meet a few fellow gringos hopping around the islands. Though less secluded than our cosy bar in Isla Mucura, Case en el Agua is, undeniably, a fun spot.
Isla Roots is the best spot for backpackers on Isla Tintipan itself. Another location settled right on the sea, where it takes only seconds to move from your bed to the depths of the Caribbean sea. With a number of options for renting kayaks, paddleboards, or snorkels, you’ll be kept busy in the day time. With a good bar and a relaxed, drinking vibe, there’s no doubt you’ll be busy in the evening too.
The Rosario Islands
Historic resident of ostentatious wealth, of models and movie stars languishing on private islands, of drug traffickers on jet skis, and of Colombia’s rich and famous throwing debaucherous yacht parties in the Caribbean heat.
While many of the islands are still privately owned today, there are many that you can visit and stay on. We elected to stay in Baru, and tour the islands from the shore of Playa Blanca. This turned out to be less than we expected, with the hours of snorkelling and beaching being replaced with time at a semi-submerged bar in the middle of the sea. While I’m all for a beach bar, if we’d known that was the plan we would have brought more money and less expectations.
Browsing private islands
Once you’ve set sail from the shores of Playa Blanca, you’ll be thrown in the midst of the most lavish private islands that the Colombian Caribbean has to offer. Pass luxury villas cosseted by rock faces carving a space out of the sea, and don’t forget to fantasise about which you’ll buy first once that lottery win finally comes through.
Alongside private residencies there are also many islands owned by resorts. For a price, you can stay in a hotel surrounded by beaches exclusive to their guests. While significantly more costly than the hostels in the San Bernardo region mentioned above, these add an essence of excess and extravagance you won’t find swinging in a cheap open-air hammock hostel.
As a part of the tours you can take from Isla Baru, you’ll stop at a snorkelling spot in between some of the private islands. We were let out into the sea for around 20 minutes, and it wasn’t the most impressive snorkelling we’ve ever seen, but still perfectly pleasant. There are some fish, but a minimal amount of coral to see.
Sip a cocktail from a coconut
The main feature on the tour that we took, unbeknownst to us at the get-go, was a stop at a bar. Just off shore from the banks of a tiny island, a collection of thatched roofs pop up from out of the sea, with small tables bobbing along the waves, and bartenders wading around selling a variety of novelty cocktails and ice cold beers. These cocktails are very expensive for Colombia, but it’s hard to resist floating in the Caribbean sea with a coconut shell filled with strong liquor and no other place to be. We ended up haggling a fair amount, exchanging some rarer currencies as novelty bargaining tools, and eventually got an ok price for the drinks. If we had known this place existed, we would’ve brought more cash and indulged fully.
Where to stay
We based ourselves on Isla Baru. I’ve detailed where exactly we stayed down below, in the section on Baru. If you want to stay on one of the other islands in the Rosario archipelago, Isla Grande has the most reasonably priced options, and is easy to get to from the banks of Playa Blanca.
A city of pirates and slaves, adventurers, conquistadors, artists, liberators, and of unparalleled beauty. The crowning gem of the Caribbean coast, bougainvillea bloom in bursts over hanging balconies, where couples sit coffees and watch salsa dancers wind across the cobbled streets. Spanish, Caribbean, African and Latin cultures blend to create the explosion of colour and of life that is the city of Cartagena.
Labyrinthine cobblestone streets lined by colourful houses and hanging flowers lie within the old city walls, while the vibrant walls of Getsemani come from the eclectic street art, instead. Come here for coffee shops, cheap eats, and a young, optimistic buzz. Overshadowing both is the towering skyscrapers of Boca Grande, the elegant elite of Colombian luxury, offering an eyeline over the Caribbean sea.
Come for the culture and the history, stay for the people and the party and the mood. Women in elaborate skirts carry pineapples on their heads, and street vendors sell mountains of fresh coconuts and mangos. Locals sit in the streets drinking and laughing and watching the football, passionate about each occupation. Every pavestone has character.
What to do
I could write many posts about all that there is to do and see in Cartagena, but for a restrained list check out this post.
How to get there
Regular flights, both international and domestic, operate in and out of Cartagena’s airport. The airport is close to both the Old City and Marbella, and it is simple and cheap to take a taxi into town. Buses run from most other parts of Colombia, though these can be long journeys. My 17 hour drive from Medellín to Cartagena was received by an hour long taxi drive from the bus station to our apartment in Marbella. Factor in the large distance between the station and the main tourist centres in Cartagena, particularly if you’re taking a bus onwards.
As Cartagena’s beaches leave much to be desired, residents of the city have long sought sunny seas on Isla Baru. Despite lacking the isolation of a far-flung offshore spot, Baru is considered a part of the Rosario Islands and is separated by bridge from mainland Colombia, and from the city crowds. Far from the beach front, in the lush forested hills of Baru itself, you’ll find moustachioed men playing pool under the amber flicker of dim, low hanging lights. Locals chatter on plastic chairs perched outside of the lines of bodegas, and children run through the heated streets. On the beach, the crowds start to draw. A hotspot amongst Colombian and foreign tourists, the beaches bustle with vendors, cocktail stands, bamboo thatched hostels and crowded eateries. Fisherman swear jokingly at their fellows, jumping between boats, and enormous pelicans sweep overhead.
What to do
Playa Blanca is the reason that people come to Baru. A white sand beach stretching far along the island’s coast, the site is famous amongst Colombians. A fun spot for sipping cocktails on a Saturday, and a good jump off point for trips to the Rosario Islands, the beach doesn’t quite live up to its neighbours in the Caribbean. With clear waters and stainless sand, it has the makings of a paradise spot. These, however, are coupled with great crowds of day trippers coming in from Cartagena. With easy access to the beach from the shores of the city, many tour groups visit during the peak hours, meaning the beach is fairly overrun with tourists. While it can be fun to watch local families on their days out, bobbing toddlers along the waves and blasting reggaeton, it doesn’t quite make for a tranquil experience. If you don’t have long in Cartagena, and are looking for an easy day trip to a nearby beach, then Playa Blanca is a good option. If you have a little more time to explore, then maybe save a trip here for if some locals bring you along to a beach-front fiesta.
Tour the islands
The Rosario Islands are some of the most well-known of the Colombian archipelagos. There are day tours running from the waterfront at Playa Blanca, or they’re easily organised through local hostels. Including snorkelling, island hopping, aspirational private island perusal, and bars totally submerged in the clear Caribbean sea, a day out at the Rosario Islands is a fun option for escaping the city. You can see more details about these islands in the ‘islands’ section of this post.
How to get there
There are many easy options for reaching Isla Baru from Cartagena. There are regular shuttle buses leaving from Mamallena hostel, local buses that will be followed by a quick trip on a mototaxi, speed boats leave from the port in Cartagena, and group tours can be arranged to take you there. We literally just got an Uber, taking us straight to our hostel in in-land Baru. This was cheaper as we were travelling as a group, but for solo travellers may not be ideal. The writers over at Along Dusty Roads have a full, detailed breakdown of the routes you can take to Baru.
Where to stay
While many people only visit Baru for the day, to spend some time at Playa Blanca, I would strongly recommend spending a night at Urantia. Situated away from the beachy tourist hub, we found ourselves alone in a beautiful hostel overlooking the Caribbean sea. With a wonderfully lush garden, its dense green only punctuated by sprouting wildflowers and tropical birds, you can sit overlooking the forestry, with a view of Cartagena’s famous skyline sat over the sea. The host was very kind, offering to drive us to and from the beach every time we wanted to visit. They also provided dinners in the evening, helped us to plan our route to the San Bernardo islands when we could find no information online, drove us to the bus station in Cartagena and fought on our behalf when we weren’t satisfied with our tour experience. The hostel is also spacious, in a beautiful repurposed house, and has a private pool if you want to swim away from the crowds. I also loved having the opportunity to stay on the island, but away from the beach. The beauty of the rest of Baru would have been lost on me should I have only visited Playa Blanca for the day. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Another of the most popular points on the Colombian coast, the historic city of Santa Marta is typically used as a jumping point for visitors looking to see Minca or Tayrona. The city of Santa Marta has something of a harsh reputation; there are no pleasant beaches in the city, crime rates are relatively high, its currently home to a large number of Venezuelan refugees, which is sparking controversy amongst locals hostile to their growing presence. Yet, for those of us with an interest in Latin American history, there is still plenty to see and do in the final refuge of the indomitable liberator Simon Bolivar. There’s also a great party scene to be found here, cheaper than in Cartagena and equally as open and welcoming to travellers. From wallet-friendly pubs, open-air cocktail spots, rooftop bars, to after parties running til the early hours of the morning, Santa Marta is wild at night.
What to do
Santa Marta Cathedral
The city prides itself upon the Santa Marta cathedral, a large colonial-style structure, similar to many constructed by the Spanish during the conquest of South America. Built in 1513, the historic building housed the body of Bolivar for 30 years, before he was posthumously hailed a hero by the Venezuelan people, as his body was returned to his homeland in Caracas. His heart remains at the cathedral in Santa Marta, honouring the city in which he found refuge and comfort during his final days in exile and ill-health.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
If you have spent any time in Latin America, or you plan to, you should know about Simon Bolivar. El libertador, leader of the Latin people in their revolution against the Spanish crown, sits alongside San Martín as one of the most influential people in American history. Freeing Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Panama from Spanish rule, in part alongside his southern counterpart, Bolivar trudged through waist-deep Amazonian waters for days at a time, united mestizos, mulatos, indigenous peoples and slaves, rode endlessly over trialling mountain trails. Despite this vast liberation, Bolivar was largely condemned in his later years. His plans to create one country, rather than separate states, caused controversy. He was seen as desiring of power, as a president unwilling to relinquish his rule, as a hallmark of an earlier time in Latin politics. He was exiled from his beloved Venezuela, finding himself in the care of a friend in Santa Marta, Colombia, in the last days of his life.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a lavish hacienda just outside the city, was to be the liberator’s final home. His plans to move to Europe were quashed by a bout of severe illness, and he died of tuberculosis, in exile and disgrace, in 1830. The home has become a museum, both an example of a 19th century stately home, and a monument to the achievements of Bolivar.
Around a 20 minute boat ride away from Santa Marta, you’ll find Rodadaro beach. Very popular amongst locals and tourists alike, the white sands are considered amongst Colombia’s finest. However, as I say, it’s a popular spot. Visit for a day in the scorching Santa Marta heat, but don’t expect the silence or seclusion you can anticipate from other spots on his list.
How to get there
Buses to Santa Marta run regularly from major Colombian hubs like Cartagena, Barranquilla or Bogotá. We took the bus from Cartagena very early in the morning, and the journey only took around 5 hours. I’ve seen many bloggers reporting that the journey is uncomfortable and difficult, which is only true if you’re unacquainted with Latin American bus travel. If you are, it is an averagely comfortable journey, perhaps even above average. I’ve been discouraged in the past by bloggers and travel writers exaggerating wildly about the horror of overland travel- unless you’re on a luxury holiday, it’s fine. It’s the cheap option.
It is also possible to fly to Simon Bolivar airport, near to Santa Marta. The journey from the city to the airport takes around 30 minutes in a taxi, and the airport offers very reasonably priced domestic services.
Where to stay
We stayed in the famous Drop Bear Hostel, sister to the one that I worked at in Medellin, and formerly one of Pablo Escobar’s holiday mansions. The facilities are excellent, with a pool on-site and a large amount of common space to mingle and meet people. The bar is inexpensive and buzzing in the evenings, a perfect place to start before experiencing Santa Marta’s emerging nightlife scene. Though a little far from the centre of town, taxis are cheap. We regretted not being able to stay here longer, and I’d strongly recommend it.
A stark line of contrast is drawn along the Palomino beach front. The white wisps of Caribbean sand are scored by the blackened line of the tide. Quiet and curious compared to her fellows, Palomino’s seafront continues to increase in local and foreign popularity. Its proximity to Santa Marta, and the more popular beaches in Taganga and Tayrona, make it an easy stopping point for those touring Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. The small town that houses the beach has a laid back vibe, home to many travellers seeking respite from the tourist crowds, and its increasing popularity has brought a new wave of cool restaurants and bars.
What to do
A popular day out in Palomino involves bobbing along in a plastic ring, traversing the Palomino river. Surrounded by lush forests of the Sierra Nevada, the river is shallow and calm, offering an ideal vantage point to lay back and watch the countryside slip by. With an initial hike to the starting point, and a 2 hour trip down the river, the excursion takes around 3 hours overall.
Visit the Quebrada Valencia waterfalls
A quick jaunt on a mototaxi out of Palomino will take you to a secluded set of waterfalls in amongst the forested hills. Though neither large nor particularly spectacular, the falls offer a place to relax in nature away from the beaches and the tourists. The waterfalls do sometimes dry up, so be sure to check with a local whether they’re worth the excursion.
How to get there
Buses run every 15 minutes from the centre of Santa Marta to Palomino. If you’re travelling from another part of Colombia, you’ll need to go to Santa Marta first and then catch one of these local buses.
Rickety buses rumble over rough dirt paths, each side shrouded by the deep green shades of the north Colombian fincas. Old farmers in wide brimmed hats sit by their gates chewing the air, with children scrambling up the trees and down the walls. This sleepy segment of the northern coast is settled in an agrarian stupor, too content to have seen significant change over the years. A sentiment of simple prosperity.
Follow the winding finca paths the whole way to the sea, and find yourself in the small town of Tolu. Made up of a few slim streets in a neglected corner of Colombia, Tolu brims with personality nonetheless. Bicycles drag benches on wheels to accommodate the occasional tourists, lingering, joking, and quarrelling at the corners of the central square. Taking one of these tricycles to the first budget hotel our driver recommended, he took a brief detour to vaguely intercede in a dispute that broke out in the street. Our driver largely observed, contributing faint admonitions, alongside another local man who had paused to intercede midway through taking his parrot out for a walk. The bird cooed from a large cage hanging from the man’s arm, topping off our bizarre welcoming scene.
Once he had lost interest, our driver carried us on down to the beach. While not particularly inspiring in and of itself, the waterfront is lined with tour agents selling boat tickets to the San Bernardo islands. These are interrupted by the bodegas dotted along the road, selling cheap bottles of beer and blaring salsa to the streets. Grabbing plastic stools, settled along the shoreline, we drank ice cold beers below the fading sun.
Tolu isn’t a spot with a wild list of things to do or see. If you’re looking for sightseeing or spectacular scenes, it won’t be for you. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep yourself busy. The markets that line the seafront streets grow livelier by night, shifting from selling handmade trinkets to selling drug paraphernalia and t-shirts with Pablo Escobar’s face brandished across them.
Beyond a pleasant day spent at the beach, entertaining interactions with the local men that join in the roadside day drinking culture, and a brief stroll through a market, Tolu is essentially a town in which to buy a ticket. Yet, while making your way along the Colombian coastline, you should stop in this favourite spot of Colombian tourists. A small town with small town charm, costeno culture is alive and well in the spirit of Tolu.
Buses run from Cartagena and take around 3 hours.
Historically, Taganga has been a holiday spot for Colombians and tourists alike, seeking a nightlife hotspot away from the major coastal cities. Once a quiet fishing village nestled between green hills, the quaint bay that leads the town out into the Caribbean expanse drew an unexpected buzz amongst holiday-goers. Though, it seems in recent years that the spot is slipping back into its prior desolation. While there is still a reasonable number of tourists on the beach-front, the earlier waves of tourists brought with them an increase in petty crime, and the sad staples of prostitutes and drug pedallers. The tourist infrastructure remains, however, and the beach is close enough to Santa Marta to make for a good day out. Bring some friends and some bottles of rum and enjoy the seafront.
How to get there
Regular local buses run from Santa Marta to Taganga and take only 15 minutes. It is also inexpensive to take a taxi, particularly if you can split the costs.
Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia’s greatest highlights. Hike up hillsides shaded by towering palm trees, emerging to views of sweeping sands that carve through the dramatic landscape. With some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Colombia, it is no wonder that Tayrona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
Read my full guide to Tayrona here.
Can you see the Caribbean on a backpacker budget?
While we may still be priced out of the island hopping yachts and all-inclusive hotels, there is still a Caribbean haven incredibly accessible for backpackers in Colombia. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is dotted with unspoiled islands, cultural and historical hotspots, and some of the best beaches in South America. Stay on a hostel with perfect private beaches for under $15 a night, dine on fish fresh from the hook for $2-3, take to the streets for some of the best parties you’ve ever seen, where the beers will set you back $0.50.
For more info on planning your trip to Colombia, check out my other posts on my favourite country.
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