And Then Came Palomino

After my time in Riohacha came to an end, I had two options: go back to Santa Marta, or make a brief stop in Palomino – a sleepy coastal town with a tremendous reputation among backpackers, located somewhere between both cities. Since Palomino already featured on my list of places to visit before I left Colombia I figured it would make much more sense to visit it now rather than having to come back some other time. 

My expectations were limited, mostly because I’d heard both good and bad things about the place. While some people really hype it up, others do the exact opposite. I’d soon find out, though. When it comes to travelling, I’m a “only believe what I see” kind of guy – no conclusions until then! Taking a bus from Riohacha was easy enough and less than an hour (and many spectacular views) later we made a brief stop in Palomino where myself and a couple of other people got off.

The road between Santa Marta and Palomino. A typical Colombian road.

The bus dropped us off right next to Palomino’s main street, if we can call it that. The first impression was good. The thing about Palomino is that it is a very… how can I put it? Bare-bones? Not in a bad way, of course. That’s actually part of the charm. To give you an idea, the main road – that goes all the way down to the beach – isn’t even paved. And yes, it gets very dusty. Thankfully traffic is only sporadic otherwise the air would be unbreathable.  

Beginning of Carrera 6a, Palomino’s main street.

The nicer hostels (near the beach) all seemed to be fully booked so I ended up booking one close to the central area of the town, where all the restaurants are located. That would actually work to my advantage as this way I wouldn’t have to walk too far at night to find food. One thing that surprised me right away was the amount of vegetarian food (and French bakeries) on offer. I obviously had no reason to complain but in a small town like this, whenever there are so many vegetarian options it can only mean one thing: lots of foreigners! Still, no complaints from me.

Delicious food anywhere you go! I’ll miss this vegetable fried rice with patacones.

My hostel, a house owned by a lovely mother and daughter, was very pleasant. It was the cheapest option available (next time remind me not to move around Colombia’s hottest region during peak season!) and it sure was no 5-star hotel but it would more than do the job. The only thing I wasn’t too keen on were the mosquitos. It’s all good sleeping with a fan right next to you but it gets a little tiring after a few days. Also not ideal when you’re trying to get some work done! However, since I was staying only a few nights it didn’t make much difference.

The dusty main street on a quiet Sunday morning.

Palomino is the sort of place you feel rather than see, if that makes sense. Apart from the beach, the only real attraction is tubing down a nearby river. As you start getting closer to the beach people selling these tours are a dime a dozen, which shows how popular they are. While the tour sounds like it would be good fun, I didn’t do it. One thing I liked to see though, was that the vast majority of tourists in town were actually from Colombia. It always makes me happy to see people enjoying their own country and this was no exception.

Cristo Es Amor (Christ Is Love), by far the best convenience store in town!

I could tell you the beach is great, but that would be a lie. And a big one at that. I’ve heard there are great beaches within an hour’s walk but, honestly speaking, I could not be bothered to check them out. I’m not much of a beach person, but you already knew that; I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it. As for the Palomino beach proper, well… it’s not amazing. It’s sadly being consumed by the sea and there isn’t much sand left. Locals will still happily fill it to the brim, though.  

No sand? No problem! The locals don’t seem to care.

Since there are restaurants and hotels near the beach, they’ve built concrete walls to prevent the advance of the water, but I doubt they will last long. The power of nature is hard to tame. A shame, really. According to the story I’ve heard, Palomino used to be this idyllic hippie hotspot where you’d hardly find any “normal” tourists. That has obviously changed, although the vibes remain. There are parties there often (like the huge 3-day electronic music festival happening nearby when I was there) and the hippie crowd still takes over most of the main street selling their handicrafts. 

Concrete barriers trying to avoid the unavoidable. A sad sight.
If you want it, they have it! An original menu at the beach.

Even though I wish I had stayed in one of the nicer hostels (mostly due to the mosquitos and overall comfort), I didn’t dislike my stay. It was filled with good food and good vibes, which is all you really need sometimes. My time in Palomino marked the end of the break that also took me to Riohacha, Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. I was feeling reinvigorated and happy to be back to work in Santa Marta, ready to pick up where I’d left off.