Palomino, Colombia: Where the River Meets the Sea
Traveling around South America? Looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination? La Guajira offers outstanding landscapes and unique culture. A Colombian state, or departamento, La Guajira is located on the northeastern side of this South American country. The Caribbean sea is to the north and the Cesar Department is to the south, it borders Venezuela to the east (Venezuela even has its own Guajira territory) and the Magdalena department to the west. Various indigenous tribes inhabit La Guajira: mostly wayuús, but also koguis, ikas, kankuamos and wiwas.
My first trip to Colombia started in Palomino, in the southern part of La Guajira. Palomino is a tourist destination situated next to Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada. A beautiful place where the Palomino River meets the Caribbean Sea, you can find a mixture of cultures here. The austere and reclusive koguis live in the Sierra Nevada while the communal wayuus live in the harsh desert: two totally different indigenous tribes representing the diversity of Colombia. Add to this mix all of the tourists who have fled their homelands to live in this wonderful place, full of music, arts and magic.
Palomino smells like incense and lignum vitae. The sound of live music will guide you to the many restaurants and hostels that line the long and enchanting beach. Walking along the beach, it is easy to picture pirates drifting through the unknown Caribbean to a whole new continent.
There are many activities to choose from in Palomino, like surfing and tubing, ecotourism and paddle surfing. You can find mango and avocado trees all around the town and, if you want to venture into the wild, there are many interesting places for trekking.
Coming to Palomino for the first time, I felt like I was gliding into a place open to all, a nomad destination where every traveler can feel at home. Making music in this venue is a great deal, almost all restaurants will let you play. You can make around 50 to 70 thousand pesos ($20 to $30) per day and also supplement your income by selling handicrafts and artistries.
Hostel and hotel accommodations vary, and there are choices for all the budgets. Prices range between 10 thousand pesos (around $3) for a place to camp or hang your hammock, 15 thousand pesos ($5) for a shared room in a cheap hostel and 25 thousand pesos ($8) for a single room. Other accommodations range from 30 thousand pesos ($10) for a room in a regular hostel to 600 thousand pesos ($200) for a fancy hotel room. And if you need a really cheap travel tip – partying all night at the beach is an option.
When it comes to food, Palomino is a tasty mixture representing the diversity of this exotic beach town. For breakfast you can choose between the many fried pastries filled with chicken, fish, beef or even shrimps (our personal recommendation). Most pastries are made with corn dough (empanadas), though you can also find papas rellenas (fried stuffed potatoes) and patacones (fried stuffed plantains). If you are not into fried goodies, we definitively recommend Venezuelan arepas, a sort of grilled corn tortilla that is filled with eggs, ham, cheese, bacon, avocado, chicken, beef and other tasty treats…it is de-li-cious.
For lunch you will find the typical Caribbean dish, fried fish with coconut rice, fried plantains and a salad – fish soups are also available. There are also international options, like hamburgers, pizzas, tasty vegan options, Arabic food, Asian delicacies, Italian food, Mexican food, Venezuelan and Peruvian food and all the regulars of the Colombian menu. Shrimp cocktails are my personal favorite, a delicious and fresh treat that will satisfy the most delicate of palates. For dinner, fruits maybe? Mangoes, papayas, passion fruits, bananas…are just some of the many fruits available here.
Palomino has a wide-ranging night life, you will find salsa clubs, small beach bars with chill-out music, or hostels/clubs where electronic parties are held. If you like playing pool, there are several places where locals gather to play while having a few beers and listening to local music. As I said before, the beach is an option for those looking for fun without the fuss of the clubs or the loudness of local bars.
So what do you need for this adventure? Swimsuits, towels, sandals, sun lotion, repellent, a cheap flight, sunglasses and, of course, an open mind. Palomino is not the typical beach destination, it also offers cultural experiences and amazing adventures. If you are looking for something different, Palomino is definitively your place.