Many Colombians never travel far enough north to visit the department la Guajira–the northern most department in Colombia. For most, it is know as the “wild wild west” of Colombia and, until more recently, was not heavily equipped to receive tourists. Over the past few years, however, la Guajira has begun to receive an influx of tourists, both Colombian and foreign.
La Guajira is split into low Guajira & high Guajira. Palomino is found in low Guajira, on the border with the department Magdalena (where you’ll find Parque Tayrona & Santa Marta). It is very small town at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and right outside the national park of Parque Tayrona. In the past, Palomino has received a bad reputation due to its connection with drug trafficking and production. However, as we learned first hand during out time there, the residents of Palomino have left their connection with drug trafficking in the past & are moving towards a more positive future focused on local tourism. And, don’t worry, Palomino is a very safe place to stay. Locals will do everything they can to make sure you enjoy your stay.
To get to Palomino you will need to take a bus. You can either go the local bus way (4.5-5 hours), or you can go the more direct, less scenic way on a larger bus (3-3.5hours).
If you choose to go the local bus way, you can take a bus to Santa Marta with BerlinasTur. You’ll need to tell the driver you are headed to Palomino & need to catch a bus in “el mercado” in Santa Marta. He’ll know where to let you off. Once you are in the market/”el mercado” area, just start asking around for the buses to Palomino. There are normally several buses waiting to leave, and they will have a small sign in the front window that says “Palomino.” These buses are the buses the locals use. They fill up quickly, and can get very hot. Make sure you have some water on hand for the ride, and be prepared for setbacks–our bus broke down mid-way and we had to wait an hour for another bus to come pick us up. Even so, on these smaller buses you get to see amazing scenery (including enormous banana plantations) & may even get to see some of the local indigenous groups ride the bus with you.
If you decide to take a larger bus to Palomino, you’ll need to catch a bus headed to Riohacha–there are several companies that have service from Barranquilla to Riohacha (CopeTran & Rapido Ochoa are two of them). You can look on the Barranquilla Transport Terminal’s website for more info about bus companies and the routes the service. Once you’ve figured out which company you’d like to travel with, you’ll need to tell the bus driver you are actually going to Palomino–all buses headed to Riohacha will pass through Palomino. Hopefully, the company will not charge you full-price, because you are not going all the way to Riohacha. Even so, ultimately, it’s up to the company to decide.
Any transport you take will leave you on the main road in Palomino–la carretera (the highway). From there, you’ll need to take a mototaxi to your hostel (which will most likely be on the beachfront). Normally, a mototaxi will cost about 3.000 COP per person. Be sure to jot down the cell phone number & name of your mototaxi driver as most of them do deliveries of food, drinks, etc… to the hostels in Palomino. Also, you can coordinate with your mototaxi driver to pick you up and take you back to la carretera when you are ready to leave Palomino.
There are many hostels in Palomino. I highly recommend Finca Escondida. It is a fairly new hostel run by a lovely German lady and an excellent Colombian hostel manager, Johanna. Finca Escondida offers several options: there are areas for camping, you can rent a hammock, you can stay in dorm style room, or you can have a private room with or without a balcony with a hammock. Wherever you stay, make sure you use the mosquito net provided–mosquitos & their bites are no joke in Palomino. It would also be wise to invest in some NoPiquex. There is a soap-like version and a new liquid spray version. It’s the best bug spray I’ve found so far in Colombia. You’ll definitely want some in Palomino.
Once in Palomino, there are many things you can do. You can take a guided hike up into la Sierra Nevada mountains. You can visit Kogui and/or Arhuaco villages. You can tube down the Río San Juan and walk the beautiful beaches of Palomino. Johanna, the hotesl manager at Finca Escondida offers guided tours and hikes (day trips and over night stays in the mountains) as well as tubing advice. Although you can swim in the ocean, be careful as the undertow in the water can be extremely strong. If you are going to swim in the ocean, it is advisable to let someone at your hostel know so they can keep an eye on you should you get into trouble.
Whatever you decide to do in Palomino, you will have a great time. Palomino is not overrun with tourists yet and is still a quiet retreat. The beaches are pristine and deserted–you will likely have them all to yourself. If you practice yoga or meditation, this is the perfect place to escape to.
view of la Sierra Nevada from the beach
When leaving Palomino, you can also do it the local way or take the larger buses.
On our way back from Palomino we didn’t have as much time, so we decided to take a larger bus. We took a bus with the company Rapido Ochoa, but, as I said before, other companies have buses that pass through Palomino, including CopeTran. To catch a larger bus back to Barranquilla, you’ll need to get to the main road in Palomino–la carretera. Once there, just wait for a larger bus to go by. You’ll need to hail the bus (just wave at the driver to stop), and tell him you are headed to Barranquilla. We paid 20.000 COP, but because you are not hopping on the bus at an official stop some drivers may charge you more, especially if your Spanish skills are not up to par. If you have any troubles, though, locals in Palomino will be more than happy to make sure you are able to find a bus back to Barranquilla. When getting close to Barranquilla, tell the driver you want to get off at la treinta–there, you’ll be able to get a taxi to your next destination.
If you decide to take the local buses again, you’ll need to wait for them on the la carretera in Palomino. They will take you back to “el mercado” in Santa Marta. From there, you will need to catch a taxi to the BerlinasTur office in Rodadero, Santa Marta: Carrera 3a No. 8-69. From there, you’ll take a bus back to Barranquilla. You can tell the driver where you are going in Barranquilla and the driver will leave you as close as he can to you end destination.
If you have any questions about Palomino, don’t hestitate to ask! And, be sure to check out my blog post about my own trip there: Puente en Palomino.