Colombia is recognised for its football and coffee beans, for beautiful women, tropical fruit and El Dorado - the legendary city of gold.
We also know Colombia for cocaine and drug lord Pablo Escobar.
However, here I want to talk about Colombia’s opulent beaches on the Caribbean coast. The further away from the large cities of Santa Marta and Cartagena you travel, the more paradisal the beaches become.
Don’t judge a town by its highway. We hopped off the rickety bus and onto a dusty road next to a tire repair shop with no idea which way to turn.
After long walk down a sandy path between rundown houses and bungalows, Palomino beach peeks out from between palm trees and it is pure paradise.
Monkeys play in palm trees and a seemingly boundless white sand beach stretches in all directions. Nicely balanced with a handful of tourists and locals plus a casual vibe meant we would often spot backpackers smoking pot on the beach.
We slept in thatched huts with mosquito nets and cooked dinner in an outdoor kitchenwhile a very pregnant cat lounged at our feet.
Every day we drank icy cold mango shakes and beers for $1.50. Old boats with character were moored on the sand. I was still recovering from blisters after hiking Tayrona national park and I would hobble down the beach dragging my club foot behind me. Palomino is one of the best places in South America to put your feet up – something I certainly did a great deal.
Getting to Tayrona is no walk in the (national) park. It was a hot and sweaty, up and down hill, six kilometre hike. With no signage, we often found ourselves lost when the path forked and had to backtrack a few times. At first sight of a campground we flopped ourselves down and rented a tent for $10 a night and spent the better part of the evening playing cards.
After hiking the full trail the next day, we found hikers were rewarded with better campgrounds and beaches right at the end of the trail – keep an eye out for the monkeys in the trees.
The beaches were rustic, ghost crabs flitted around our toes and horses carted supplies to some of the food shacks along the way – including a fully equipped bakery.
Well the first and most noticeable thing about Taganga is that it’s party central. All night long ghastly Latin American music from the 1980s would blast down the streets. Shady characters sell cocaine for $10 a gram alongside hamburgers – which are amazing (the hamburgers of course). The street food in Taganga is outstanding with many street carts selling watermelons, hot potato arepas, empanadas and massive avocados.
The evenings are magical; its cooler, the sun is setting and people are peeling themselves off the beach and pouring into beachside restaurants for local beer and fresh seafood. The area is pretty derelict; once a quiet fishing village, Taganga can’t keep up with the influx of tourism and roads are loaded with rubbish and rubble.
If I had more time (and money), there would have been a few more beaches I'd have visited, such as Capurgana in the far west and Cabo de la Vela on the east of the coast, both very quiet fishing villages.
P.S. Want to travel to Colombia?
Here’s what it costs to backpack in Colombia