Which is the best beach on Colombia’s Caribbean coast?

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Which is the best beach on Colombia’s Caribbean coast?

We didn’t have much of a set itinerary in our 4 months in South America but the one thing we did do, was set aside 2 weeks to explore Colombia’s Caribbean coast. After spending many months in mountains, deserts and cities, we wanted to end our holiday on a beautiful beach. Turns out, it is fairly difficult to know which of the many beaches along the coast would be the one we should visit. In the end we visited 5 beaches: 1) Cartagena; 2) Playa blanca; 3) Costeno beach, 4) Tayrona National Park; and 5) Palomino beach and loved them all for different reasons. If any of you find your self in a similar quandary, here is our comparison post to help you choose the best beach for you:

OPTION 1: CARTAGENA MAIN BEACH

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Getting there:
The main beaches in the city of Cartagena are located in front of the high rise buildings in the area of the city known as Bocagrande. This is a long hot walk or a short taxi ride (6000 pesos / £2.50) away from the old city.

Level of Isolation:
Weekdays are better than weekends (especially Sundays) but you don’t come to this beach to be alone. In fact, you come to sit yourself in one of the neatly lined shade cabanas armed with a strong willpower to be able to deal with the never ending line of vendors on the beach. Although, on the plus side, you never have to stand up as beers, fruit salads, coconut sweets, sunglasses, hats, fresh crab and even massages parade passed your cabana.

Swimming:
The sea is not the beautiful clear blue water you associate with the Caribbean and at times you need to dodge plastic bags and other litter but that didn’t stop us spending many hours floating in the water cooling off from the heat of the day.

Accommodation:
There is no accommodation directly on the beach but you can stay in one of the high rise hotels in Bocagrande or, better still, find a spot in the old town or Gethsemani.

Lunch (Fresh fish, coconut rice, salad and fried plantain):
15000 COP (TIP: Ask for a ‘medio’ and you will get half a fish and all the sides for 8000 COP – still enough for one person.) If fish is not your thing, fresh fruit salad is delicious and costs between 5000 COP and 7000 COP.

Activities:
After you have had your fill of the beach, head to Cartagena’s old town and explore the beautiful streets.

Final thoughts?
This is an easy beach to get to – great for those who want a bit of beach action in an otherwise city focussed holiday. But for those hunting for the perfect beach, you will need to explore a bit more.

OPTION 2: PLAYA BLANCA

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Getting there:
There are 3 ways to get there: 1) On an organised tour, 2) By boat 3) Overland. We went overland, which was relatively straightforward. On the way out, 4 of us shared a taxi directly from our hotel. This is the most expensive way to do it but by far the most convenient. This costs between 120 000 COP and 150 000 COP for the taxi. On the way back we went by public transport: – motor taxi from playa blanca to the ferry crossing (10-12000 COP, 20 minutes); ferry crossing in small boat (1-2000 COP, 3 minutes); and a public bus to Cartagena (1700 COP, 45 minutes).

Level of isolation:
Playa blanca is a popular spot for day visitors so between 10am and 4pm the beach gets busier and the number of vendors and persistent massage ladies increases. However, the further down the beach you settle (the further away from where the boats come in) and if you can stay the night then the beach becomes a lot quieter.

Swimming:
Swimming here is something else. The water is so blue and so clear that you convince yourself it must be painted – the beach seems like something off a postcard and not something you are actually sitting on! Simply paradise.

Accomodation:
There are plenty of cabanas, hammocks and camping spots along the beach. The best we found was Los Corales:- if you stand facing the sea, walk to your right until you find it. It has lovely cabanas (with lights!), clean toilets and fresh water showers. Cabanas are 50-60000 COP per night.

Lunch (Fresh fish, coconut rice, salad and fried plantain):
15000 COP. There are numerous restaurants to try. We recommend Chocolates (look for the pink tent). If you’re in the mood for langoustines try Hugo’s (look for the tree with the Christmas decorations). We got 4 huge and delicious langoustines with all the trimmings (enough for 2) for 40000 COP.

Activities:
Hire a snorkel and float around in the crystal clear water looking for fish or, if you feel up to it, pay for a ride on one of the many jet ski’s or banana boats on offer in the sea. The best thing for me was to find a sun lounger and relax under a tree reading a book, with the occasional stop to swim or eat, of course.

Final thoughts?
The sea is unbelievable. I would have liked a few less cabanas and a few less people on the beach but all that became so unimportant when I realised how amazing it was to wake up and be next to that perfect perfect sea.

OPTION 3: COSTENO BEACH

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Getting there:
Take a bus from Santa Marta heading to Tayrona National Park (6000 COP, 60 minutes), stay on the bus for 6-7 minutes after the bus passes the entrance to the Park. They will drop you off at the turn off to Costeno. Walk down the road for 10 minutes. When you reach the first house, turn right walk for another 15 minutes. Costeno Beach Surf Camp is the last place along the road.

Level of Isolation:
If isolation is what you are after then this beach is the place for you. The only people on this beach are those staying at Costeno Surf Camp (maximum 30?) and some local fisherman. You don’t have to walk far to be the only person in sight.

Swimming:
This is not a beach for nervous swimmers. Chris managed some swimming but got a few beatings from the waves. However, if surfing is your thing then this a great place to come.

Accommodation:
Costeno surf camp is lovely and offers hammocks, dorms, beach huts and rooms. The rooms are 80 000 COP and come with lights, bathrooms and a much needed mosquito net. The huts are 50000 COP and come with a mosquito net. Try and phone to book in advance (email is not very reliable) as it gets full quickly.

Lunch (Fresh fish, coconut rice, salad and fried plantain):
15000 COP. Although, if you’ve had enough of fish they do an excellent (and I mean really excellent) steak and savoury rice for 11000 COP. They also make a big communal dinner every night for 10000 COP – which is lucky, because there are no shops anywhere near.

Activities
Costeno surf camp offers surf lessons and hires out surf boards. For those not into surfing, you can walk for miles on beautiful isolated beaches or even have a massage.

Final Thoughts?
The whole set up is wonderful and you can see why many visitors get sucked into the laid back lifestyle and struggle to leave. The beach was beautiful and quiet and I loved sitting on the sand, reading a book and listening to the waves crashing. However, the days were stifling hot and I missed not being able to jump into the water to cool off.

OPTION 4: TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK

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Getting there:
Take a bus from Santa Marta to the main park entrance (6000 COP, 60 minutes). There you will need to hand over your bags for searching (no alcohol, drugs or plastic carrier bags allowed) and pay the entrance fee of 37500 COP. Take a minibus from the entrance to the start of the walking trail (2000 COP, 12 minutes). From here, it is a 2-2.5 hour walk through the reserve to Cabo San Juan (the place we stayed). If you have brought lots of bags with you, you can also hire a horse and forego the walking.

Level of Isolation
The cost of the reserve and the effort involved in getting to the beaches mean that it is not completely overrun by tourists. There are plenty of people around in the different camp sites but you don’t have to walk too far to get a beach to yourself.

Swimming:
This is my paradise. There is no better place. The sea is a deep bright blue, clear, litter free and the perfect temperature. The best swimming beaches have a narrow break point right on the shore and, once you are passed this line of breaking waves you simply float in the playful swells. (Please note that there are plenty of beaches in Tayrona that are not swimming beaches – these have dangerous currents and are clearly marked with severe warnings.)

Accommodation:
As you get to the beaches you will notice several places to stay. We stayed at Cabo San Juan because it as recommended to us for its swimming beaches. We would stay here again. There are plenty of accommodation options: 2 cabanas, tents, campsites and hammocks. We stayed on the hammocks (20000 COP for those in the campsite or 25000 COP for those hanging on the rock by the beach).

Lunch (Fresh fish, coconut rice, salad and fried plantain):
The standard fish and plantain is 15 000 COP. There are quite a few more options for food but they are all about 20% more expensive than you would pay outside the park. It’s not a bad idea to bring some of your own food into the park but remember the limitations: no plastic carrier bags, no alcohol and no fires.

Activities
The beaches are so beautiful that you will not want to move off them but if you feel compelled to do something active then there is a lovely walk to some ruins.

Final Thoughts?
This is the closest I have ever been to the perfect beach. Don’t be put off by the entrance fee, the hike to the beach or the limited food options – just go and stay as long as you can.

OPTION 5: PALOMINO BEACH

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Getting there:
About an hour up the coast (towards Venezuela) from Tayrona is Palomino. Take a bus from Santa Marta (2 hours, 9000 COP) and ask to be let off at Palomino. From there it is a 10 minute walk or a 2 minute moto taxi (2000 COP) down to the beach.

Level of Isolation
This is not the best beach on the coast so it is not as popular a tourist destination. It is a nice balance of not too many people so that it feels crowded but enough people so that you can have a drink and make some friends.

Swimming:
Swimming is dangerous as there are strong currents so its best to pick a place to stay with a pool.

Accommodation:
There are several small places on the beach offering cabanas or hammocks (hammocks are 15 000 COP with a mosquito net). For a bit more luxury (ensuite bathrooms, doors, lights etc) try the Dreamer Hostel (100 000 COP for a double).

Lunch (Fresh fish, coconut rice, salad and fried plantain):
15000 COP for the usual fish lunch. Otherwise take a stroll down the beach where you can find some delicious crepes and shrimps.

Activities
Palomino is next to a river so grab a tube and a bus and go floating down the river for a day. Also, the village of Palomino, although tiny, has some great street food for anyone wanting to try a cooked banana stuffed with salty cheese etc.

Final Thoughts?
After the beauty of the beaches in Tayrona and Playa Blanca I was not blown away by this beach. However, I loved hanging around the pool of the Dreamer hostal, drinking cuba libres and enjoying the sunshine. Also, I relished being able to go to bed without walking through sand to get to my bed.

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6 responses »

  1. great post! we do agree with your evaluation and comments. Tayrona National Natural Park offers some of the most spectacular beaches in Colombia. As far as Cartagena is concerned, there is a beach option but the real attraction is the historic city. Perhaps the only place that we would add to your review is the beaches at Islas del Rosario, an archipelago located about 45m south west of Cartagena. Great place for a beach day trip if you are in Cartagena. happy travels!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment! We would love to have visited the Islas del Rosario. We had planned to go but ended up staying in the city longer than expected (we LOVED Cartagena) so had to choose between them and Playa Blanca and Playa Blanca won. It’s definitely a reason to hurry back to Colombia though so we can add to this post!

  2. Superb blog!! A nice information covering some of the beautiful places with a bunch of information about them. Great places to explore out with family and friends. I wish to visit the national park and all the beaches. We provide information on travel places from Pune, be it beaches, hill stations. Check the link mentioned in the signature for more information.

    Thanks,
    Shivani
    http://punefirst.com/travel/

  3. Great read. Planning a trip but hadn’t heard of Costeno. Did you ever consider Sapzurro or Capurgana? I’m trying to work out if they’re worth it in light of these options…Thanks.

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