Palomino came recommended as a down to earth, yoga on the beach, hippy-esque kind of place “that you guys would love”. A tiny village on the Caribbean coast, about 6 hours by bus from Cartagena, where the jungle meets the ocean below the Sierra Nevada. What’s cool is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta sits as an isolated mountain range apart from the neighbouring Andes mountains, making it the world’s highest coastal peak and naturally appealing to us.
What is also unique about the area, besides the UNESCO declared biosphere region, is the cultural diversity of the locals. Most of the population are Mestizo, followed by Afro-Colombians, Andean famers and by traditional indigenous groups. The Kogi and Arhuaco Indians that live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains visit Palomino constantly to get sea snails, exchange their handmade products or to perform their native rituals next to the ocean. You will see the Kogi dressed traditionally getting about the town and hanging down the beach in small groups. They now also guide jungle treks and bird watching expeditions for interested tourists. Sadly though, the Kogi are crying out against a tidal wave of modern development that is fast destroying their native environment.
Travelling to Palomino, the scenic drive made all the right noises as we passed by sugar cane fields, makeshift food stalls, and away from the high rise development of Santa Marta. As we arrived, the vibe instantly felt creative and low key, but by not wanting to plan too much this holiday we made a rookie mistake; finding ourselves on a Colombian long weekend with almost no accommodation options. Staying in a ‘party’ hostel in a dirty dorm room with a suspect pool wasn’t our first choice but that’s how things played out.
Regardless of our digs, Palomino seems like the kind of place where Colombians of all ages always gather to party; drinking heavily on the beach, drinking heavily in the pool, drinking heavily at the river and smoking weed on the beach (not to mention the robust sniffs that could be heard throughout the night in the dorm bathroom). Such an overtly enthusiastic approach to partying, while I am the last to judge, shaped the whole vibe of the place in a dark way. Because people weren’t too friendly (read: wasted) and the town is poorly lit I was left feeling a little on edge compared to other parts of Colombia.
The sketchy vibe was not too dissimilar to the treacherous shore break off the main beach that rendered swimming in the surf completely unappealing. As an Aussie I can appreciate that I’m a tough critic when it comes to beaches but considering very few people were swimming in the surf the locals knew what was up as well. Not being able to swim safely when it’s hot kind of blows, and I’m guessing the number of drownings, let alone drunken deaths is pretty high. It is safe to swim in the river close to the beach though and that’s pretty nice, albeit crowded.
On the plus side, it’s always nice to be beachside and we were treated to some gorgeous sunsets and lazy, quiet time. Staying close to the ocean we headed down after dinner to sit under the stars (super clear in this part of Colombia), feel the force of the coastal winds, listen to the lively music and watch the shady shenanigans on the beach. If you’re looking for a luxury or moderately cushy Caribbean paradise Palomino won’t fit the bill, but for others it might just be the precarious disconnect you’re after. I’ve added a few photos to help you decide for yourself.
Next stop: we’ve shifted to an old favourite, the (grubby in a good way) fishing village of Taganga.