The sandy brown beach stretches endlessly east and west for hundreds of miles and is crisscrossed with rivers flowing down from the Sierra Nevada. The morning air’s perfume is cool and fresh with a hint of salt. The sun slowly elongates its heat rays and the birds create nature’s symphony. The snow peaks of the Sierra Nevada, rising 5,775 metres above sea-level are artfully on display, but only for a short period of time before clouds cover their majesty. I sit back and take everything in. No one passes here for hours, so I have the Sierra Nevada and the rolling surf of the Caribbean all to myself. Later, I’ll drink some good Colombian rum and cool off in the river.
This earthly paradise is called Palomino, a tiny coastal village two hours from Santa Marta and just off the coast- al highway making its way to the capital of La Guajira. You can hop on an inter- municipal bus at Santa Marta’s central market – El Mercado – or at Mamatoco, a suburb on the eastern fringes of this resort town and on the way to the Tayrona National Park. The bus costs $8,000 pesos (USD$5.00) for the 70 km ride.
The bus will follow the Troncal Caribe which hugs the coastline and offers views of edgy cliffs giving way to elegant empty beaches, small pueblos with locals selling avocado, pears, bananas and papaya on side streets while the languid arms of the Sierra Nevada cast striking shadows on life below.
You’ll be dropped off on the main road of Palomino where you can buy water, snacks and local food at decent prices. To get to the beach, there are two options: negotiate a moto-taxi or take a 15 minute walk down to get a feel for the village as you wander an unpaved path dotted with tiendas, barefoot kids playing soccer and old men drinking beer while listening to vallenato.
There are several accommodation options located close to the beach. A comfortable option is Finca Escondido, which offers hammocks, camping, dorms and private rooms (prices range from $15,000 to $130,000 pesos). Casa La Rosa Camping offers campsites ($6,000 pesos) and hammock rental ($8,000 pesos). There is an outdoor kitchen, and bottled water is available for free.
At La Sirena Hostel and Campground you can find cheap cabins, campsites and hammocks. This eco-hostel offers Shivalila yoga classes on the beach with a certified teacher. Classes start at 8 am and 5 pm and cost $15,000 pesos. Yoga retreats can also be arranged. If you want something closer to the mountains and the Palomino River, Hostal Jaguar Blue is a great place to stay. The boutique Aite hotel offers airy cabins right on the beach and ideal for that morning dip.
When you get hungry, restaurant options are unfortunately limited. Along the beach you can find an Italian restaurant and at Finca Escondido you will find a slightly expensive yet tasty menu. Food bought at the beach is at tourist prices so it is cheaper to eat along the main road. Try some local cuisine at Los Hermanos.
To experience the splendor of the Palomino River, rent an inner tube and take a cab or moto-taxi to the starting point. The tube and transport will set you back $12,000 pesos. The journey lasts between one and two hours and will give you the chance to see beautiful wildlife and the daily life of the people, all while you gently glide down the river.
For a wilder experience, try sea kayaking or surfing. You can rent kayaks, surfboards, body boards and mountain bikes from Finca Escondido. Nature lovers can enjoy ecological walks into the Sierra Nevada alone or with a guide. If learning about a new culture interests you, sign up for a visit to the indigenous communities close by.
At sunset (don’t forget anti-mosquito lotion) take a slow barefoot stroll along the beach and breathe in the end of your day in paradise. Once the sun goes down, find a spot and just chill out on the beach where you can easily doze off to the sounds of drums and the quiet lapping of the sea. If the night sky is clear, be prepared for your mind to be blown away by a blanket of light that beams down and absorbs any obscurity.
Don’t let the disguise of a poor village fool you, Palomino secretly boasts breathtaking beauty. One day this small community may lose its charm, but for now it is a hidden gem, waiting to be enjoyed by those who appreciate the value of simple and natural living.