Three jewels of Colombia’s Caribbean coast are Palomino, Mendihuaca and Minca.
All 3 are close to the city of Santa Marta, which can be used as the base to visit these three. They can be reached within around 2 hours of each other by public transportation. Although, if you have access to a motorized vehicle it will be less. These three destinations are different and worth checking out independently or all on the same trip.
Here is a run down of what each of these destinations have to offer. In regards to activities,
accommodation, food and more:
Palomino is now a very popular destination in Colombia both for national and international visitors. However, that hasn’t always been the case. Just 15 years ago it started becoming known for its beauty and charm and experienced a boom. Now accommodation options and businesses catering to tourists are plentiful. Its easy to see why. The abundant natural beauty combines lush mountains, beaches and rivers. Something amazing is that just 20 kilometers/12 miles from the beaches are the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada mountains are sacred not only for its beauty. Also for the indigenous communities living here who believe that this is both the heart and belly button of the planet.
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Palomino is 70 km/43 miles away from Santa Marta. It can be reached by public bus that leaves the Santa Marta center market. Buses leave every 20 minutes and take around 90 minutes and cost 10.000 COP. If you are coming from the airport you can take the public bus from airport that goes to the Santa Marta market (Carrera 11 with Calle 12). It only costs 2.000 COP and ask the bus driver or someone to let you know when to get off.
The most popular and perhaps fun activity in Palomino is tubing down the river. Imagine taking a walk in stunning nature and then floating down the river with an inner tube. You go past lush vegetation, mountains and landscapes until reaching the sea! It is a wonderful experience that should not be missed. We went with Tour Aventura Palomino and recommend them for their professional service and great guides.
Sadly the ocean and erosion has been swallowing the beach (some say due to mangrove destruction). However, during low tide it is possible to enjoy some beach time on the main strip. Better options are on the northern southern-side of the Palomino river where there is a sand bank where you can rent umbrellas and get food and drink. For an even better beach experience, you can hop on a bus 10 minutes (2.000 COP) in the direction of Santa Marta (south) to Playa Colombia. There is 5.000 COP fee to spend the day, but there are much better beaches and food and drink options as well.
There are several places around town offering yoga classes. We had our class with Aité Eco Resort
and loved our class with Girish down by the beach.
While the conditions aren’t ideal, it is possible to surf or learn to surf here. There are a few surf schools in town for lessons and board rentals. Just be careful as we heard the rough waves are quite good at breaking surfboards here!
The explosion in the popularity of Palomino with travelers brought with it an explosion in accommodation options. There are now more than 100 options for sleeping in Palomino for all the budgets. You can find very rustic accommodation in hammocks for as little as 15.000 COP, hostels, as well as high end options. Boutique hotels have sprung up by the dozens, but perhaps the best option if you are not on a limited budget is Aité Eco Resort. They are Colombian owned and the most committed to the environment and the community. Among the many social and environmental efforts they make, is the water treatment plant they built to treat water and re-use in their beautiful gardens.
There are now lots of restaurants in Palomino that have a good variety of options. Some of the standouts are:
Casa Cocotte: A social venture that empowers the local community with free language lessons and career counseling.
7 Mares is known as having good options for seafood lovers and vegetarians alike.
La Happycleta has yummy pizzas and a great vibe
Mendihuaca still hasn’t gotten as popular as Palomino, and that’s a good thing! You can say it’s a well-kept secret. There is a beautiful beach strip surrounded by gorgeous nature and there are good waves for surfing. As a bonus it is just 15 minutes away from the main entrance to Parque Tayrona (that can’t be missed) and can be even visited on day trips from Mendihuaca.
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(Cootransoriente) leaves from “El mercado de Santa Marta”, carrera 11 with calle 12 every 20 minutes. Tell the bus driver you are going to Costeño Beach. The bus drops you off at the road and from there you can walk around 7 minutes down to the bend and 13 minutes to the right along the jungle path. You can also take a Moto-taxi from the bus drop-off for $3,000 pesos.
Relax on the beach
There are nice beaches to relax on to soak up the sun, read a book or take a nice walk.
If you walk 20 minutes towards Santa Marta (south) you will reach where the Buritaca river flows into the sea. There are beautiful views and a little lagoon forms where you can swim without the waves.
Mendihuaca has nice surfing conditions and a great surf school called Mendihuaca Surf with lessons for beginners and all levels of surfing. They also rent boards and can be found on the beach a pleasant 20 minute south by the mouth of the river (see above).
Palomino isn’t the only place where you can go tubing. Flow down the Buritaca river on an innertube past the gorgeous nature and soak up the sun in this lovely activity. Several places in the area can arrange this activity for you.
Poza Encantada/Laguna Encantada
If you follow the Buritaca river in the direction of the mountains past the main road you can walk around 1 hour to this beautiful spot where a lagoon and natural pools are formed. The whole walk is beautiful, or you can also hire a moto taxi to take you for around 12.000 COP each way. Take note that sometimes the community charges 5.000 COP to access this area so they can do maintenance and clean up, etc.
There are only a string of guesthouses and hostels in Mendihuaca, as it has only started to grow recently. There is a hostel that opened up that has brought attention to Mendihuaca that is called Costeño Beach, but for a more tranquil experience I recommend the lovely Playa Pikua. It is the only Colombian owned option on this strip and it has lovely cabanas on their beach front property with magical sunrises and sunsets and a really friendly staff.
There are a handful of options for nice meals in the area such as at La Brisa Tranquila, Los Hermanos, Costeño Beach, Bohemia Beach, or Playa Pikua that can arrange nice meals.
Minca is a beautiful town tucked away just 45 minutes above Santa Marta, but it feels light years away for how relaxed it is. The town is just a few streets, but scattered up the mountain along different paths are lovely natural attractions. Lush green mountains with a majestic river, waterfalls, natural pools, cacao and coffee plantations. It is a perfect stop to get away from the heat and enjoy a very relaxed mountain setting.
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While you can get taxis or even moto-taxis, the recommended and budget friendly option is to take a colectivo, a van that costs 8.000 COP and leaves from the Mercado Público (market) in Santa Marta´s city center (Carrera 9 and Calle 12).
Around an hour and a half away from Minca is perhaps the main attraction of Minca. It is a beautiful part of the river where mini waterfalls and natural pools and are a treat. Make sure you get there early as it can get crowded and it starts to lose its charm. We got up at sunrise and were the first one´s there for a while and it made all the difference!
Visit a Coffee farm
There is beautiful nature all around, but it is something special to visit one of the local farms.
La Finca Victoriais a local coffee and chocolate farm which makes a nice hike. It can take about an hour and a half to get there, or you can get a motor taxi as well.
Did you know Colombia has over 300 species of birds? Minca alone has over 160 of those birds in a gorgeous surrounding for birdwatchers! Local tour companies can arrange guides, excursions, etc.
Minca is really chill and it’s a treat to slow down and take it easy for a few days. Find yourself a good book and a hammock and enjoy reading or enjoying a beer or coffee in this beautiful laid back place.
There are now lots of restaurants offering delicious meals. You can take walks to different spots on the main strip and along the trails up the mountain. We really enjoyed a lovely café that has great food and coffee called Duni de la Sierra… try the veggie burger! People also recommended Soul Kitchen at the Casa Loma guesthouse.
There are now lots of accommodation options in and around Minca. Some are around the main streets, but I recommend not staying there. There are lots of quieter options surrounded by beautiful nature. We stayed at
Minca EcoHabs and loved it. It is very much incorporated with the nature all around it and it is such a treat to wake up to the sounds of monkeys and all the birds (including Toucans!)
In conclusion, Palomino, Mendihuaca and Minca are beautiful and not to be missed. They each have their own personality, charm and attractions. From the beaches of Palomino and Mendihuaca, to the cooler temperature mountains of Minca, you will always find beauty around you and fun things to do. When you come to Colombia
and the coast, make sure you make a stop at these great spots. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
-The most beautiful river in the world is in Colombia: See here how to visit
-Visiting the Santander Region in Colombia