10 Great Places to Visit on The Colombian Caribbean Coast | A Life Beautifully Travelled (2023)

Photo Above by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Colombia is quickly becoming an increasingly popular destination. Since a peace agreement ended the country’s internal conflict, an increased security situation has helped encourage more travellers to visit the country. Places that used to be for the uber adventurous or go anywhere backpackers are now being visited by more and more families and travellers who want both a safe place to visit and a more authentic experience than other more well worn travel destinations.

The Colombian Caribbean Coast especially makes for a great place to visit. From the colonial port city of Cartagena, long the country’s premier international destination, travellers can easily explore a range of destinations ranging from beautiful beaches, jungle covered mountains, to a desert that runs into the sea. Read on to learn about some of the best places to visit on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.


1. Cartagena

2. Santa Marta

3. Minca

4. Tayrona National Park

5. Palomino

6. The Lost City Trek

7. Cabo de la Vela

8. Punta Gallinas

9. San Bernardo Islands

10. San Andres Island

Final Thoughts about the Best Places to Visit in Colombian Caribbean

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1. Cartagena

Cartagena, or to be more exact, Cartagena de Indias, is Colombia’s most well known tourist destination. This colonial era port town and seat of military power stands as a testament to the riches of Spain’s colonies in the Americas.

Under the Caribbean sun, you’ll find narrow streets dotted with the colorful mansions of colonial era merchants and royal officials. Be on the lookout for the elaborate door knockers on the majestic wooden doors for a hint at their former residents. Iguanas mark the former houses of royalty, while lions mark the houses of military officers. Today, many of these former residencies house thebest Cartagena boutique hotels.

Walking the streets of Cartagena, you’re likely to feel as if you’ve been drawn back in time. Be sure to look up as well at the elaborate, flower covered balconies. Take some time to walk up and take a stroll along the city wall itself too. Cartagena’s wall is one of the most complete examples left anywhere in the world. You can walk along much of it, taking in views of the Caribbean on one side and the old city on the other.

Be sure to head over to the equally historic Getsemaní district, just outside the wall. This area was once the home of Cartagena’s colonial era free artisan class, many of them former slaves. Today, it is home to many trendy cafes, bars, and restaurants. You’ll likely find a mix of tourists and locals alike enjoying the colorful streets, dotted with elaborate street art that pays homage to the city’s past and eclectic mix of Afro and Latino culture.

While there are decent beaches in Cartagena, you really need to head out of the city to get the best beaches. Out in the Rosario Islands, roughly a 90 minute boat ride away, you’ll find crystal clear waters and lovely beaches. Private boat rentals are surprisingly affordable, especially if traveling in a group, but there are lots of other greatday trips to the Rosario Islandslike the one aboard the Catamaran Bona Vida. You can also do day passes or spend the night at some nice Rosario Islands hotels ranging from luxury places like Hotel Las Islas to more rustic stays at a place like IslaBela.

Visitors to Cartagena should also be sure to visit the Castillo San Felipe in Cartagena. This fort was the largest built on mainland South America by the Spanish. Its massive walls encase an entire hill, and the tunnels that connect sections of the fort are fun to explore. History buffs should also visit the Museo Naval del Caribe, or Naval Museum, which provides a lot of great insight into the history of the city.

Finally, no visit to Cartagena is complete without enjoying some good food. Buena Vida Marisquería, Candé, Alma, La Mulata, and Restaurante El Fuerte del Pastelillo are standouts among the best Cartagena restaurants.

Cartagena is also the perfect gateway into the rest of Colombian Caribbean coast. There are ample international flights in and out of the city, and all the following places listed below can be reached relatively easily overland.

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2. Santa Marta

Santa Marta is Cartagena’s sister colonial city. In fact, it predates Cartagena slightly. The downtown colonial city here is also very charming. Travelers will especially enjoy the restaurants and cafes bars near the Parque de los Novios (Lover’s Park in English).

The waterfront is also very pretty, with the lighthouse off shore lending a beautiful view to the entire area.

However, the main reason to visit Santa Marta is to use it as a jumping off point for other destinations on Colombian Caribbean coast. Santa Marta can be reached from Cartagena by car or bus in roughly 5-6 hours, depending on traffic. The charter bus services of Marsol and Berlinas or private transportation services are the best options for most travelers.

From Santa Marta, there are several other neat areas nearby to explore.

3. Minca

Closest to Santa Marta is the small mountain town of Minca. This town made up of mostly indigenous residents is set in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, coastal mountains that except for their very tallest peaks, are covered in lush jungle.

Minca has become one of Colombia’s premier ecotourist destinations. There is great hiking to several waterfalls. While the Pozo Azul is closer to town and more visited, the longer walk to the Marinka falls is well worth it.

Longer hikes to Los Pinos lookout point or, for the really avid hikers, the two day hike to the top of Cerro Kennedy, offer terrific mountain views. Also, nearby is the La Victoria coffee farm, which uses machinery from the early 20th century and also houses a craft brewery. Several other cacao and coffee farms nearby also offer tours.

The town has a number of neat cafes and restaurants. A stand out is the Lazy Cat. There are many smallMinca hotelsin the town itself and surrounding vicinity with Minca Glamping’s bungalows being a standout.

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4. Tayrona National Park

Perhaps the most famous place to visit on Colombian Caribbean coast after Cartagena, Tayrona is a spectacularly gorgeous natural area. This national park, located on the coastal edge of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range is considered sacred by Colombia’s indigenous peoples. They consider it the cradle of life, and it’s understandable why.

The area has windswept white sand beaches looking out over the Caribbean. The hills and mountains running into the sea are a truly amazing site to see. Even better, the area’s status as a national park means it has not been overdeveloped.

Inside the park, the most famous beach is the one at Cabo San Juan del Guía, where you can rent tents or hammocks, including a limited number of hammocks atop a massive rock overlooking the beaches below.

The hike in is roughly 2 hours each way. There are also nicer accommodations on the northern end of the park known as Los Naranjos. These lodges like Senda Casa Tayrona and Casa Tayrona los Naranjos offer access to the park in more comfortable accommodations.

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5. Palomino

North of Tayrona, nestled between the coast and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, you’ll find one of Colombia’s quickest growing and trendiest destinations.

The small fishing town of Palomino became a popular hangout spot for surfers and backpackers. It has since become a more mainstream destination with some nicePalomino hotelsand ecolodges that are family friendly. The beach here isn’t quite as nice as those in Taryona or the Rosario Islands, but are still pretty.

The town has a lot of good cafes and restaurants. Travelers can also tube down the Palomino River, which offers neat views of the forest before arriving to the beach. The experience is slow and relaxed and the water is never very deep. There are also waterfalls nearby to visit.

Palomino also is the gateway to the La Guajira province. Much of the area from here to the north was never formally conquered by the Spanish and remained strongholds of indigenous culture.

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6. The Lost City Trek

For the truly adventurous, the trek to Colombia’s Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, is a remarkable escape and one of the most unique places to visit in Colombia’s Caribbean.

These mysterious ruins of an ancient settlement can only be reached by a multi-day hike through rugged terrain, so it is only recommended for families with older teenaged children. The trek involves camping and crossing semi-treacherous rivers, so is not apt for all travelers, but the payoff seeing the ancient ruins and leveled off plateaus are well worth it.

7. Cabo de la Vela

For those who are adventurous but not quite up to fording rivers and multi-day hikes, exploring the far north of Colombia in the Guajia Peninsula is a neat way to extend a visit to Colombia’s Caribbean to areas off the beaten path.

The desert terrain of the La Guajira Peninsula is a key reason why the Spanish never succeeded in conquering the Wayuú people that call this area home. It’s possible to reach the small city of Riohacha by flight or bus. From there it’s possible to take 4×4 transportation into the desert. Tour agencies also offer excursions from other destinations on Colombian Caribbean coast.

The only major settlement in the desert is the small town of Cabo de la Vela. Here there is a long and pretty beach that is a popular destination for kite surfers. While the town remains lightly developed, a few newer hotels like Hotel Wayira Beach offer nice accommodations and even a pool.

There are spectacular views, including one of the best sunsets in call of Colombia from the Punta Faro, just a short walk from town. The beach next to the hill known as the Pilón de Azucar is also spectacular.

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8. Punta Gallinas

After reaching Cabo de la Vela, you could opt to take another night and head to the farthest reaches of the Guajira Desert.

Punta Gallinas is the most northern point in all of South America. Tours here usually include transportation from Cabo de la Vela and visit not only the most northern point but also the amazing Taroa Dunes. These rolling sand dunes roll right into the ocean and are have truly amazing scenery, unlike anywhere else in Colombia.

Accommodations here are very basic, with some limited rooms and hammocks, so it is not ht most friendly for families with small children, but for the adventurous family it’s a great inclusion.

For those looking for the ultimate adventure and contrast to the rest of Colombia seeing the otherworldly landscape of the desert of La Guajira at Punta Gallinas is the perfect cap to a trek up Colombian Caribbean coast from Cartagena.

9. San Bernardo Islands

All of these other destinations along Colombia’s Caribbean coast are north of Cartagena. However, there is one nice destination south of Cartagena.

The San Bernardo Islands, which are technically part of the same national park that protects the Rosario Islands closer to Cartagena, are also absolutely gorgeous.

The islands can be reached by boat transportation from Cartagena, the most popular of which is called Tranq It Easy. It can also be reached from the towns of Rincón del Mar and Tolú. Those traveling from Medellín, one of Colombia’s most popular interior destinations, to Cartagena or vice versa can easily stop at Tolú to see the San Bernardo Islands.

The main two islands are Mucura and Tintipan. Each has a number of options for where to stay ranging from rustic hotels and bungalows to hostels.

In addition to enjoying the gorgeous beaches, among the prettiest in Colombia, travellers can also visit the tiny island of Santa Cruz del Islote. This island is one of the most densely populated in the world. You can even swim with nurse sharks here.

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10. San Andres Island

For those looking for a true escape, San Andres Island is the ultimate destination in Colombia’s Caribbean. This tiny island is located in the western Caribbean, closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. It is easy to book a flight here from Cartagena.

The island has gorgeous beaches and a neat creole culture. Nearby palm covered Johnny Cay is a great day trip, and the Hoyo Soplador blowhole is a must see. The best way to explore San Andres is to rent a golf cart as the island can be easily circled in a day. Thebest San Andres hotelsare located on the north end of the island near the best beach of Spratt Bight.

The island of Providencia, a protected area that only permits a certain number of visitors a month can also be reached from San Andrés and is worth including for those who would like a quieter and more natural beach destination.

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Final Thoughts about the Best Places to Visit in Colombian Caribbean

In these 10 destinations in Colombia on the Caribbean coast, you can enjoy history, coral islands, white sand beaches, jungles, waterfalls, mountains running into the ocean, and even a desert. What more could you ask for?





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Adam McConnaughhay lived in Cartagena from 2011 to 2022 and had the opportunity to travel much of Colombia, especially the Caribbean coast. He writes about Cartagena and other destinations in Colombia at CartagenaExplorer.com.

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