“My life is like a stroll on the beach…as near to the edge as I can go.”
– Henry David Thoreau American author and poet (1817 – 1862)
TripAdvisor has it’s Traveler’s Choice Awards of Best Beaches. Condé Nast Traveler has The Prettiest Beaches in the Caribbean. As for me, I have The Best Beaches to Explore on Long Weekends in Colombia… or at least I will have this list before my service ends in December.
Often, teaching 4th and 5th grade takes its toll on me during the week, so when a 5-day weekend pops up, I scramble to pack a bag, catching the next bus (Berlinas, $12000 COP) out of Barranquilla to find adventure along the coast of this gorgeous country. Most recently, I traveled just beyond my beloved Playa el Rodadero to Palomino, a small beach town along the Troncal del Caribe in the department of Guajira, close to the revered Parque Nacional Tayrona but miles before the Wayuu occupancy along the peninsula.
The long weekend began in Playa el Rodadero, where days were once again spent relaxing by the pool of Carroll’s Hostel and basking in the beach sun, sampling mouth-watering cocada and gorging on the deliciousness of arepas asada sold near the Olimpica.
Afternoons were perfect for shopping in the Mercado Artenisals, where unique gifts included gorgeous bolsitas de Mola and a miniature aluminum guacharaca (also called a guiro). Walking along the malecón sipping fresh juice and watching the sun set with the locals gave new meaning to the word “getaway.”
On Saturday night, a short taxi ride to Santa Marta provided mixing with friends on the rooftop deck at Hemingway with watching happy families and well-dressed couples fill the aptly-named Parque de los Novios.
The real adventure began after booking a night at the Tiki Hut hostel and boarding the bus to Palomino, accessed by first taking a bus from el Rodadero to Santa Marta and walking through the somewhat dodgy Mercado Publico (Centro). Armed with directions from Trotamunda’s Transatlantic Journey, this bus-walk-bus transfer was miraculously completed in less than an hour. Taking off with photos of sullen-looking Wayuu advertising tours to La Guajira and legroom only a four year old could enjoy comfortably, the breeze blew in cooler and crisper as the bus climbed along the coast.
Arriving 2 hours later to Palomino, the bus stopped just long enough for passengers to literally jump off with their backpacks as mototaxists swarmed the crowd, eager to transport people to nearby inns and hostels.
Rafael quickly offered a brilliant smile and a wide back seat for my overnight bag, and off we went down the dirt road to Tiki Hut, arriving to find cute houses lined along a grassy yard with large blue pool. Once settled into the loft bed of the Playa Cristal cabin, swimsuit on in mere seconds, it was beach time.
A five-minute walk towards the sound of crashing waves revealed a beautiful long stretch of mostly unoccupied beach, the sun darting between large clouds overhead as Vallenato music blasted from a nearby restaurant.
First attraction: the small cage of baby turtles, where visitors purchase the turtles for a few pesos each and “release” them in the ocean… though many look like they’ve been released more than once.
Lured by the large “beds” made of wood and bamboo outside Finca Escondido, a crowd around one of the tables beckoned beachcombers to join them for sips of Ron Medellin cuba libres and talk of travel… New Yorkers, Austrians, Colombians and Germans welcomed those passing by, including this Californian-gone-Colombian.
During the week, the beach of Palomino is quiet most of the day, with the exception of a few travelers around the pool at the Dreamer Hostel and groups taking jeep rides for an afternoon of tubing on the Palomino River.
“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.”
-Isak Dinesen (Danish author 1885-1962)
At night, the sands are lit with tiki torches and “patrolled” by locals with flashlights which may or may not be acting as security for safety reasons. Unfortunately for me, leaving my shoes beside one of the large beds by Finca Escondido for all of 10 minutes was a mistake, as they were stolen, along with my flashlight, leaving me to return barefoot in the dark to my hostel. I admitted to my carelessness of “dar papaya,” but was grateful for it not being more.
Palomino lacks many comforts, including a large grocery store for travelers who like to cook their own meals, leaving them to purchase pricey meals and snacks from the hostels and restaurants around the area. The sewage system, which not surprisingly is very primitive, leaves the dirt roads smelling swampy in many areas – fortunately, Rafael was an expert in avoiding these on the mototaxi ride back to the main road.
The next morning, after calling Rafael’s cell phone for a pick up, sipping a fresh guyabana juice and waiting for the bus to Santa Marta, left a moment to reflect on Palomino, giving it a ranking of 6 in a scale of 1 to 10 in Best Beaches to Explore on Long Weekends in Colombia, laughing at the thought that somewhere, someone’s mom or girlfriend is enjoying my $25000 COP shoes in style.