Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters

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If you want to meet backpackers from all over the world, if you like to party or if you’re attracted by the neohippie movement, the village of Palomino is a great option.

But Palomino is also an option for those seeking tranquillity, as outside the rather noisy village there are numerous isolated hotels on the beach or in the jungle to welcome you in a peaceful atmosphere.

However, despite the undeniable beauty of the region and the many activities on offer, the village of Palomino has never managed to charm us. And the problems associated with over-visiting that have arisen over the last few years haven’t helped us change our point of view.

In this post, we’re going to try and tell you about the problems facing the village of Palomino, while at the same time telling you what makes this destination so attractive to foreign tourists.

What to do in Palomino, ColombiaWill the village find a way out of the challenges linked to its success? We’ll try to answer these questions in this post!

Important: there are no ATMs in Palomino

There are no ticket machines in Palomino! So you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to take part in activities on site, as it’s not possible to pay for activities by card either. For restaurants, on the other hand, you can pay by credit card.

General information Palomino

  • Population: 3900
  • People: Palomineros
  • Indigenous peoples: Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas
  • When to go: all year round
  • Temperatures: average 24°C
  • Climate: humid tropical
  • Region: Caribbean
  • Department: La Guajira
  • Town: Dibulla

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Palomino, a precarious balance

Tourism in Palomino

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters

Palomino is a village on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, where a river flows down from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It’s a village that has built up a reputation by word-of-mouth, and has quickly attracted, for who knows what reason, a large number of backpacker/hippie-influenced travellers.

Why Palomino? And why not Guachaca, Buritaca, Paz del Caribe, Don Diego, Dibulla, Punta de los remedios? This kind of phenomenon is always mysterious. Maybe one day a guy settled there, loved the atmosphere, brought his buddies, built a hostal and managed to promote it… In short.

In recent years, there’s no doubt that the iconic image of the view of the Sierra Nevada peaks from Palomino has played a role in the village’s tourism boom. Instagram, as we now know, has a not inconsiderable role to play in tourist numbers.

But then again, what’s wrong with a destination enjoying popular success? On the face of it, it would seem normal for a tourist destination to seek to increase its visitor numbers.

Except that the village of Palomino, like many others in Colombia, was not prepared to receive so many people. In an ideal world, the influx of tourists, and therefore of money, is supposed to improve the living conditions of local populations.

However, the perverse effects need to be controlled.

Deterritorialization

One of the big problems with the growing attraction of Palomino is related to identity and ownership. The “Salento syndrome” has spread to Palomino, and foreign investors have not missed a beat.

The principle is still the same, as Colombia has no tourism development plan for this type of destination. A tourist destination emerges, foreign investors arrive, the sale price of land and houses skyrockets, and it’s hard for the locals not to give in to the siren song and sell to the highest bidder. Can you blame them?

The result: locals who can no longer afford to buy a plot of land or a house, villages that become internationalized with offers tailored to the tastes of foreigners, inhabitants who become “employees” of foreign investors, villages that gradually lose their identity.

And yet, there are many examples of what not to do in Colombia, but apparently no one is in charge to learn the lessons and protect Colombia’s future tourist destinations.

In Palomino, you can now eat all the cuisines of the world, and the number of hotels has also exploded, with a total absence of reflection on urban development and regulation of the type of construction permitted.

Overfrequentation

Traffic and public disorder, problems with waste management, access to water and electricity, uncontrolled development… The problems brought about by the massive arrival of foreign tourists are numerous .

You have to understand that nothing in a poor Caribbean village in Colombia is designed to absorb a large influx of tourists. So, there’s a shortage of everything and we make do with bits and pieces, relying on personal initiatives to solve problems, and in the end, inequalities increase.

In your opinion, between the hotel that has invested millions to welcome its foreign guests and the native family living in a house on the outskirts of the village, which will take priority if resources run short?

Be careful! It would be all too easy to blame all Palomino’s problems on tourists, foreign investors or even the locals..

In reality, if these issues were taken in hand by the local authorities, it could be beneficial for the local population. Imagine Palomino with a health center, access to drinking water for all, a functioning electricity grid, an appropriate police presence, efficient waste and dirty water management..

Some will say, “We prefer roots! Leave Palomino as it is, that’s what makes it so charming!

Well, go and explain to the locals that you want Palomino to remain “rootsy” when the electricity goes off, there’s no water from the tap, the drains are blocked or the waste collection is unmanageable..

In any case, we can see that local and government authorities don’t seem to be too concerned about the issue.

Because the root of the problem is, of course, political.

And when it’s political in Colombia, all the more so in the department of Guajira undermined by corruption and the influence of local mafias, it seems insoluble. Recently, work has been carried out to improve the electricity and water networks, but this is Colombia… and there’s always something that goes wrong..

For tourism to be sustainable in Palomino, it would be necessary to regulate its development (impose a maximum capacity? curb property developers? promote the surrounding villages?) and invest in appropriate infrastructures (health center, police, sanitation networks, access to energy, waste collection, etc.)

A ray of sunshine?

But isn’t there a little ray of sunshine in this sad landscape? Of course there is. We’re in Colombia! And Colombia is the home of System D, like Démerde-toi.

In the village, initiatives don’t wait for the authorities to set up and try to improve things. Whether it’s through daily mutual aid, new arrivals offering a little of their time or resources for the benefit of the community, or above all through projects like the FUNDARAPA Foundation, which is trying to establish a culture of waste recycling in Palomino.

Bits of string.

Palomino will have to choose between two tourism waters: responsible tourism, which will inevitably have to be regulated by the authorities , or uncontrolled tourism, which will have a definite impact on the village.

Proyecto Riviera

As always in Colombia, there are everyday heroes. People who decide one day that they have to roll up their sleeves for the good of the community, and do just that.

The Riviera project is an initiative by various private players, Palomino residents and the Fundarapa foundation (Palomino waste collectors) to promote the recycling of reusable waste.

The project has enabled waste collectors to be trained, awareness days to be held and hotels and restaurants to be integrated into a virtuous chain around waste recycling in Palomino.

The “Riviera” label demonstrates the commitment of local players to participating in the project to improve waste management in Palomino. So if you see this logo in an establishment, restaurant or hotel, it’s potentially someone who is helping to make Palomino a more sustainable village.

Here’s hoping this initiative continues over time!

Open your eyes

As you can see, the situation isn’t easy, and the idea is to open our eyes.

Sometimes, as foreigners, we can have a biased view of the villages in Colombia. We arrive with our education, our habits of seeing clean streets, operational public services, collected garbage cans, efficient sanitation systems..

We project our way of life, not understanding how it’s possible for our vacation spot to be poorly maintained, and blame it on the local population.

Open your eyes, you’re in Colombia!

A country where 50 th of the population lives on informal jobs (street vendors). Where the level of inequality is among the highest in the world. Where wealth remains in the hands of a minority. Where corruption and mafia systems are powerful. Where survival is a daily reality.

Best things to do in Palomino

Swiming between two waters

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters
visit Palomino

Phew! Did you make it this far? Congratulations! 😅 Let’s get back to the basics of travel blogging and let’s talk about the best things to do in Palomino 😉

If the metaphor works for the tourism situation in Palomino, it especially marks the natural identity of the village. Palomino is literally a village between two waters (like Buritaca and others on the coast): when the Palomino River flows into the Caribbean Sea, it’s a sight to behold.

Bathing in the cool water that descends from the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada, then plunging into the waves of the Caribbean Sea and its ideal temperature, is always a unique experience!

From the village, the main street leads to the ocean beach in a 10-minute walk. A beach which, just a few years ago, was much larger. Every year, the sea eats away more and more of the coastline (here too, climate change is having an impact on the landscape), and it’s easy to imagine the state of the hotels that have been set up close to the water.

From the beach, you can walk to the river, which is also accessible via the village. There, a restaurant stretches out as if it’s going to win the game against all odds, and you’re offered the service of a boat to cross the river arm.

It’s not really possible to cross the river other than by swimming. So if you’re bringing your gear, bag, etc., you’ll have to go by boat.

On the other side, on the sandy strip, deckchairs and tents are available for hire, as well as food and drink.

Walking along the beach, you can see that the coastline is receding year by year. The palm trees are now in the water, and we wonder how far the sea will gain ground.

Around Palomino, there are numerous hotels with “private” beaches, or at least direct access to the beach. These can often be accessed by the day without a reservation, if you eat on the spot or pay a small entrance fee.

When we returned to visit Palomino for the second time, we were in the mood for beach and peace and quiet. So we stayed in a hotel on the beach away from the village. And we didn’t regret it!

View of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

What to do in Palomino, Colombia

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters
credit: gabriel osorio

Let’s face it, Palomino has been blessed by the gods of nature. Like an alignment of the planets, on a clear day you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta from the bridge over the river.

But you’ ll have to get up early (and be lucky) to immortalize this iconic image of Palomino: an unreal shot of the river, the forest and Colombia’s two highest peaks: Pico Colon and Pico Bolivar (5575 m).

Let’s face it, sitting on a bridge in the middle of traffic isn’t the most idyllic place to admire this landscape. But waking up at the crack of dawn is well worth it if you’re into photography.

Why do you have to get up at dawn to take this photo?

Because soon after sunrise, the heat causes the humidity in the rainforest to rise, and mist and clouds form , veiling the horizon. So it’s at first light that you’ll get the best view of the Sierra. And it would be a shame to visit Palomino without catching a glimpse of Mother Nature’s beauty.

Indigenous cultural immersion

What to do in Palomino, Colombia

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters

Palomino has always been the ideal starting point for agencies offering tourists an “encounter” with the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

For a long time, this tourism represented a veritable exploitation of the indigenous peoples. Agencies would take tourists into indigenous villages without authorization, bringing them a kilo of rice or coffee in exchange for a few photos with the tourists.

Guides invented themselves as experts in indigenous culture and answered tourists’ questions without any knowledge, relaying false information. In short, the worst.

These practices have contributed (among other things) to the ever-increasing inward-looking attitude of the Sierra people and their fierce determination to protect their ancestral culture.

Today, abuses are still rife, and we strongly advise you to find out more about the way tourism is practiced if you want to experience this kind of thing.

For our part, we only recommend tours that are organized and run by the indigenous communities themselves. The only way to have a minimum of assurance about the type of tourism practised is to ensure that it is conscious, respectful of the territory, and that its limits are set by the communities themselves, to their direct benefit.

Contact for indigenous cultural immersion

A few years ago, our friend Adrian and his indigenous Arhuaca family decided to take their destiny into their own hands by creating a travel agency and offer experiences that respect indigenous comunities and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Surfing in Palomino

Visit Palomino in Colombia

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters

The Caribbean coast around Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s best-known surf spots, with Mendihuaca, Costeño Beach, Guachaca and Palomino among the most popular.

In Palomino, you’ll find surf clubs and the chance to take lessons or rent a board for a few hours.

Wave conditions in Palomino are highly dependent on currents, winds and seasons. In the surrounding coves, there are slightly more protected spots with better surfing conditions. These are mainly disorganized beach breaks that don’t necessarily stretch for hundreds of meters, but are easy for beginners.

Contact Palomino surf school

We recommend contacting Jonatan in Palomino, who offers surf lessons for all levels on Palomino’s best sports. Jonatan also works with children in Palomino, offering surf lessons.

Tubing on the Rio Palomino

Visit Palomino in Colombia

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters

This has long been Palomino’s “flagship” activity: tubing down the river on large inflatable buoys. Even today, many people still enjoy this microadventure.

In small groups, you climb up through the forest on Sierra paths, to a starting point where you throw yourself into the water with the buoys. The rio Palomoino is a very calm river. There are no rapids and no thrills here, just a leisurely descent through the forest.

Sanctuary of los Flamencos

a foretaste of the guajira desert

Visit Palomino travel guide: an experience between two waters
Santuario de Fauna y Flora los Flamencos

If you don’t have time to explore the Guajira Desert and you like to see birds in their natural habitat, we recommend a day trip to the Sanctuario de Fauna y Flora los Flamencos near the village of Camarones, just 1 hour from Palomino.

Camarones lies at the entrance to the desert, giving you a glimpse of this area of the Caribbean inhabited by Wayuu communities.

We did this one-day experience when we were staying in Palomino, and really enjoyed getting up close to hundreds of pink flamingos. Seeing them fly off together is a truly magical sight!

Conclusion

Best things to do in Palomino

In conclusion, you’ll have understood that this post wasn’t really a “crush” on Palomino, but rather a “cry from the heart“!

The idea, of course, is not to advise against going to Palomino, but we think it’s important tobe aware of the local context and to be able to approach your stay with full knowledge of the facts.

We truly hope that this destination will find a balance between financial opportunities, improved living conditions for local populations and responsible tourism.

Palomino has a lot to offer, and there are many initiatives you can support and encourage. Hotels, restaurants, agencies and service providers who are committed to responsible tourism. Use their services!

As tourists, we have a role to play in our behavior. But we can also understand the complexity of the issues at stake in the places where we travel, and take a more conscious look at them.

Where to stay in Palomino

Palomino, the best hotels

Coco Beach Palomino

Eco Lodge

Coco Beach Palomino

Double room : $200.000 to $250.000 COP/Double room : $250.000 to $300.000 COP

We tried out this hotel, a little way from the village, which has its own beach. For those who want the peace and luxury of stepping out of their room to take a dip in the water or sip a cocktail in the shade of the coconut palms, it’s perfect.

Palomino, the best hotels

Hostal Media Luna

Hostal

Hostal Media Luna

Dormitory : $25.000 to $50.000/Double room : $0 to $100.000 COP

A hostal recommended by a reader located on the Sierra Nevada side, on the other side of the road so a little far from the beach, but nothing to worry about. The advantage of its location: peace and quiet! Enjoy the hummingbirds dancing in the garden 😉 By the way, it’s the ideal starting point for exploring Seydukwa.

Palomino, the best hotels

Finca Escondida

Hostal

Finca Escondida

Dormitory : $50.000 to $100.000/Double room : $200.000 to $250.000 COP

A well-known hotel for those who want to wake up with their feet in the sand and their eyes in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea… a relaxing, surfing atmosphere and a meeting place for a drink or a bite to eat!

Palomino, the best hotels

Coco Sankala Hostel

Hostal

Coco Sankala Hostel

Dormitory : $25.000 to $50.000/Double room : $100.000 to $150.000 COP

A hostal in the heart of the village of Palomino, so not far from the beach either, in a bamboo and thatch-roofed atmosphere. Dormitories and double rooms.

Where to eat in Palomino

Palomino has grown to offer a surprisingly wide range of restaurants for such a small village. World cuisine welcome! From healthy Budda bowls to pizzerias, there’s even a French bakery!

How to get to Palomino

By bus from Santa Marta (2h)
From the Mercado Publico in Santa Marta, take a buseta towards “P. Tayrona, Guachaca, Buritaca, Palomino”, which runs all day until 5:30pm.

  • Fare: approx. $15.000 COP

By bus from Riohacha (1h30)
From the Riohacha bus terminal, take the first bus in the direction of Santa Marta, ask for the Palomino stop. There are buses all day until 6:30pm.

  • Fare: approx. $15.000 COP

Cab from Santa Marta (1h45)

  • Fare: $150.000 COP

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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