Do you dream of white sandy beaches, cocktails, and palm trees? The Caribbean Coast of Colombia is spread over 8 departments and has incredible experiences and sites to offer.
Do you want to stay in quiet and little-known places? Or do you want to party until the sun rises?
I have been exploring Colombia since 2015, and the Caribbean coast is the region I have visited the most.
Thanks to this post, you’ll be able to decide where to go and what to do in the Caribbean region of Colombia.
Colombian Caribbean Coast: Cities
From big cities to small beach towns, you will find here the best places to stay in the Caribbean region.
👉 This is a list of our favorite Colombian cities.
1# Sapzurro & Capurganá: Peaceful Beach Towns
Interestingly, no roads lead to these 2 beach towns. You can only access the place by boat or flight. In fact, it’s like locals live in their little world. So what about groceries, furniture, and other supplies? They have boats that go for these from other surrounding towns.
The land is covered with blazing white beaches, jungle, and mountains, making it perfect for hiking, snorkeling, and diving.
Sapzurro & Capurganá are tiny too. Believe it or not, within ten minutes, you’ll have covered all the streets.
- How to get there: 1h30 boat ride from Necoclí or a flight from Medellín to Acandí and then a 20-minute boat ride.
- Best hotel in the area: Bahia Lodge.
- Favorite experience: hiking to Aguacate beach and snorkeling there.
2# Rincón del Mar: Friendliest Beach Town
This little-known place is a beach town full of friendly people flocking to the incredible white sand beaches. The fishermen here, though busy at work, are remarkably welcoming. As you get to interact with the locals, you’ll certainly feel like one of them.
I would say Rincón del Mar is Colombia’s best-kept secret.
You can try carimañolas and empanadas for breakfast. It’s a delicious Colombian meal. The sight of fishers returning to the coast with their boats filled with fish is thrilling.
- How to get there: 2h30 bus to San Onofre and then a 30-min car drive
- Best hotel: Dos Aguas
- Favorite experience: Sunset from a fisherman’s boat, then a plankton tour in the mangroves.
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3# Cartagena des Indias: Ideal Romantic Stay
Cartagena de Indias is the most beautiful of all Colombian cities. It’s a romantic colonial city with clean, flat streets with luxury shops just about everywhere. You can stay in beautiful hotels and eat fantastic meals if your budget allows it.
The place attracts thousands of tourists every year. You’ll find them wandering in San Diego, El Centro & Getsemaní, between the numerous sculptures, colorful cobblestone streets, and flourishing balconies.
Most travelers find street vendors exhausting —some will use up to seven languages to persuade you to purchase at least a hat.
It is not in Cartagena that you will find the most beautiful beaches. Fortunately, there are the Rosario Islands at 1 hour by boat.
- Best hotels: Casa Isabel & Casa San Agustin
- Favorite experience: Fishing in the mangroves of La Boquilla.
4# Barranquilla: Not Very Touristy Except For the Carnival
If you’re planning to visit Colombia’s Caribbean Coast this February, don’t miss out on the Carnival de Barranquilla. It takes place during the four days preceding Ash Wednesday. It’s much fun with rhythmic Cumbia & Salsa music and dance in the city’s heart.
Except for the Carnival, Barranquilla is not a major tourist attraction center. The city is mainly an industrial city hosting a major port (Puerto Colombia) and a commerce hub.
5# Santa Marta: Strategic City to Explore the Sierra Nevada
Santa Marta was the first Spanish colony in South America, making it one of the major tourist hubs along the Caribbean Coast.
At Santa Marta, you can enjoy the sunset at the beaches and plan tours to explore the Sierra Nevada mountains. There are numerous resort hotels and bed and breakfasts with spectacular views at the beachfront.
It’s a bustling city, and I’m not particularly fond of the atmosphere.
6# Taganga: Famous For its Dive Centers
Taganga is a small fishing town located approximately five kilometers north of Santa Marta. It’s famous for its dive centers, which attract many backpackers. Besides, life here is cheap with the restaurants offering fresh seafood.
The diving courses at Taganga are pretty affordable. Although nights can get a bit dodgy, and it’s not the cleanest of the cities on the Colombian Caribbean Coast, there’s still some hidden treasure you need to explore here.
- How to get there: 10-min taxi drive.
7# Minca: Peaceful Town in the Sierra Nevada
Minca is a unique city that provides a “cool” escape from the humidity and heat typical to the Colombian Caribbean. This small town is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. It’s famous for its waterfalls, coffee, and beautiful hikes through Sierra Nevada’s tropical jungle.
Minca is the perfect place to re-energize and take a break from the Caribbean heat in its cool ecolodges as you prepare for more demanding travel adventures.
- How to get there: a 40-min taxi drive.
- Best hotels: Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro
- Favorite experience: 2-day hike to Cerro Kennedy.
8# Paso del Mango: Hidden Sierra Nevada Town
Paso del Mango is a traditional village in Sierra Nevada Mountain. Unlike Minca, much about this village is unknown. It’s close to Santa Marta and Minca.
If you’re looking for an ideal place for outdoor activities in the Colombian Caribbean, look no further. At Paso del Mango, you’ll enjoy swimming, and hiking, among other activities.
The rivers and forests around the village, plus its height, make this city’s tropical climate cool at night.
- How to get there: a 20-min bus drive from Santa Marta to la Bonda and then a 15-min moto-taxi.
- Best hotels: Finca Carpe Diem
- Favorite experience: Cacao tour
9# Palomino: Trendy Beach Town
Palomino is the most famous beach town in the Colombian Caribbean. You’ll find white sand on the beaches with artisans selling homemade products.
There are also front beach yoga classes and excellent hostels.
You can sip a cold beer on the beach or relax under the cool shade of a palm tree. Just ensure there’s no heavy coconut directly above you. The risk of death is real.
The city is famous for tubing. With your inner tube, you’ll have up to two hours of tubing from the starting point down the river.
- How to get there: a 2-h bus drive from Santa Marta.
- Best hotels: Casa Chapolin & Eco Resort Aite
- Favorite experience: a 2-day stay in an Arhuaco community (indigenous).
10# Dibulla & Punta de Los Remedios: To Chill Before Heading to the Desert
Dibulla & Punta de Los Remedios are located on the Caribbean Sea Coast, about nine kilometers from the Transversal del Caribe.
Most of the inhabitants are fishermen, although some are farmers. The place is only a chill-out beach town with nothing special but nice beaches. It’s not very touristy.
- How to get there: 2h30 bus from Santa Marta
- Best hotel: Awatawaa Ecolodge
- Favorite experience: Multi-day trip to La Guajira
11# Riohacha: Departure Tours to The Guajira Desert
The city has a sandy beach waterfront. Though not too pleasant, it’s a strategic place to find a tour and explore the surrounding Guajira desert.
- How to get there: 3h bus from Santa Marta
- Best hotel: LagunaSalá
- Favorite experience: Multi-day trip to La Guajira
12# Cabo de la Vela: Kitesurfing town
Cabo de la Vela is a fishing town that stretches along the coast of La Guajira. The place is the perfect description of incredible natural beauty. Here, you’re assured of a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll live to remember.
In Cabo de la Vela, you’re surrounded by beaches and desert landscapes. The Wayuu community protects these places. Try staying in a traditional Wayuu structure and taste some of the freshest, superb golden snapper you’ve ever had.
In this city, you also have the rare opportunity to kitesurf.
- How to get there: a 2-h jeep from Riohacha
- Favorite experience: Kitesurfing
Colombian Caribbean Coast: Islands
Traveling to Colombia is an opportunity to discover beautiful islands. Some are the best in Latin America.
1# Isla Fuerte: Strange Trees and Beautiful Dives
Isla Fuerte is a Secret Colombia Island close to Monteria —even most Colombians don’t know about it. This is not to mean it’s not worth seeing.
Once you get to Isla Fuerte, nothing matters. You’ll enjoy your breakfast in front of the ocean surrounded by amazing palm trees. Noise from waves as the crash on the private beaches is lulling.
Isla Fuerte offers numerous exciting places. These include chilling at the beach, boat trips around the island, and selfies with weird or fantastic trees. If you like surfing, there you go. You can also dive at the famous reef- Bushnell.
The fun doesn’t end there. At dusk, you can book a party boat where you’ll enjoy the sea with a cocktail and music as you watch the sunset — La playita.
If you want to create fantastic memories when you visit the Colombian Caribbean in the future, ensure you visit Isla Fuerte Island.
- How to get there: a 20-min boat ride from Paso Nuevo.
- Best hotel: Isla Fuerte EcoHouse.
- Favorite experience: Diving to the Bushnell reef.
2# San Bernardo Islands: White Sand Beaches & Manglares
The San Bernardo Archipelago is a set of 9 gorgeous coastal coral islands located about 80km away from Cartagena and before Isla Fuerte. The most famous of these beautiful islands include Isla Múcura, Casa en el Agua, Isla Palma, and Isla Tintipán.
You can only reach these islands by boat from Tolu, Cartagena, or Rincon del Mar. Most of the lands are private, and you’ll spend most of your time in your hotel —choose carefully! Alternatively, you can take a speedboat and move around to avoid boredom. This might be expensive, but it’s a great experience that guarantees enjoyment.
Each of the nine islands is different, and you’ll find something beautiful to admire. What they have in common is crystalline blue water all around.
- How to get there: 30-min boat from Rincón del Mar or 2-h boat from Cartagena.
- Best hotel: Hotel Punta Faro
- Favorite experience: Enjoy the public Tintipán beach.
3# Tierra Bomba: Beach Clubs Near Cartagena
Tierra Bomba is the closest island to Cartagena. You only need 15 minutes to reach the island from Bocagrande port when boat riding.
This is the perfect place to relax, away from the busy streets of the walled Cartagena City. Here, it’s all about beaches, fresh seafood lunches, and the sea itself.
Because it’s close to Cartagena, the water here is not turquoise. This is due to its proximity to the city. Nevertheless, the water is clean, and you can treat yourself to a refreshing swim.
During weekends, Tierra Bomba is full of tourists, thus can get crowded.
During the day, have fun in one of the few cool beach clubs on the island. One of the best is Blue Apple.
- How to get there: 15-min boat from Cartagena.
- Best hotel: Blue Apple
- Favorite experience: Mountain bike & beach
4# Rosario Islands: Most Famous Cartagena Day Trip
The beautiful archipelago of the Rosario Islands is only a 1-h ride away from Cartagena. These 30 beautiful islands feature coral reefs, serene beaches, great food, and an outdoor aquarium.
Most of these islands are private, requiring you to rent one for your adventures. Isla Grande and Isla Barú are the largest and most famous ones. They’re crowded during the high season.
If you visit Cartagena in the future and want to experience paradise for some hours, take a day trip to the Rosario Islands. You can also spend a night or two in one of the island resorts on these islands.
- How to get there: a 1-h boat from Cartagena.
- Best hotel: Islabela & Coralina Island
- Favorite experience: Rent a private boat for the day
5# San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina: Little Paradises
San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina are three beautiful Colombian Caribbean Coast islands in front of Nicaragua. Surprisingly, its inhabitants are English speakers because these islands were England’s property.
At San Andres, the time concept doesn’t exist. While here, all you have to do is explore- forget about time. This luxury tourist place features buildings, resorts, and swimming pools everywhere. Amazingly, everything on this island is duty-free. Therefore, don’t leave without shopping here.
Providencia is the most beautiful island. Immediately you step on the dock, the vibe changes to Rastafari. Reggae music is the trend here. It’s not easy to get into this unspoiled island paradise. In fact, there are few tourists here. The crystal-clear blue sea made of five colors is all yours.
To get the best picture of the island, you can go to the top of El Pico. It provides a better view, leaving you to admire the beautiful scenery.
Enjoy Scuba diving in Providencia and Santa Catalina and the many sharks, turtles, and other sea life. These two islands are a small paradise with no cars- only magnificent secluded beaches.
It’s worth mentioning that San Andres, Providencia & Santa Catalina are not the destination islands for your cheap Caribbean Coast of Colombia holidays. Everything here is a bit more expensive.
- How to get there: First in San Andres and then in Providencia
- Favorite experience: Diving in Providencia.
Colombian Caribbean Coast: Best Things to Do
Now that you know the cities and towns of the Caribbean coast of Colombia, it’s time to decide what you want to do!
1# Enjoy Beautiful Beaches
The Caribbean Coast may be short of things, but beaches are not one of them. Most Colombian Caribbean beaches are packed with beautiful palm trees. If you’re a cocktail lover, there’s more than enough.
The best beaches to enjoy yourself include:
- Isla Tintipán (San Bernardo Islands),
- Islabela, Gente de Mar & Sol y Papaya (Rosario Islands),
- Rincón del Mar
- Manzanillo (Providencia)
- Costeño beach.
2# Surf The Waves
If you’re a surfer who wants to experience the ultimate pleasure of surfing on the sea waters of the Colombian Caribbean, there’s no better place to do this than in Isla Fuerte and Costeño beach.
3# Take Kitesurfing Lessons
Kitesurfing is a wind-powered surface water sport where you use a board and kite to propel you as you navigate the waters.
Some of the ultimate kitesurfing destinations in Colombia’s Caribbean Coast include Cabo de la Vela and Riohacha.
4# Explore the Desierto de la Guajira
Desierto de la Guajira is a desert located in Colombia’s extreme north, in the department of La Guajira. It also extends to Venezuela by part. Wayuu people are the inhabitants of this Caribbean desert.
It’s divided into three parts: Alta Guajira, Media Guajira, and Baja Guajira. In a jeep, you’ll be able to discover the famous Park of Macuira, Punta Gallinas, Duna de Taroa.
5# San Blas: an Island For Each Day of the Year
The archipelago de San Blas is near Colombia and has more than 365 islands facing the Caribbean Sea.
You can access these paradisiacal islands from Cartagena using a sailboat. Similarly, you can access the beautiful islands from Capurganá using a speed boat. The Kunas, the natives of San Blas, are welcoming, and you’ll have an excellent time here.
6# Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
The Caribbean Coast of Colombia is full of scuba diving destinations. Some of the best places to enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling include:
- Santa Marta (Tayrona national park).
- Isla Fuerte (Bushnell reef).
- Isla Grande.
- Rincón del Mar.
7# Boat Rental For Fishing or Exploration
Boat rentals are available in the Colombian Caribbean. These include yachts, fishing boats, speed boats, and sailboats. Depending on the activity you want to undertake in the sea, you can rent any.
The boats are available in the morning. Also, you can get one at dusk— for people who want to experience the sunset deep in the sea while having a cold beer and some cool music.
Boat rental is an excellent way to enjoy Rosario islands. The good news is that you can party on Isla Cholón, rent a sailboat for several days, and even explore secluded places.
8# Island-Hopping on the Caribbean Sea
On Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, everything is possible. You can even become a pirate and explore several Colombian Caribbean islands. Island hopping is an ideal way to spend your time here.
For instance, you can move from Isla Fuerte to the San Bernardo islands, all the way to Cartagena. Alternatively, you can explore several days the Rosario Islands.
9# Aviary Nacional: Beautiful Project & Colorful Birds
Cartagena’s National Aviary shows the country’s prowess as one with the widest variety of birdlife worldwide. If you’re a bird enthusiast, you cannot afford to miss out on this aviary located on Isla Barú, approximately an hour outside of Cartagena.
Here, you’ll come across the badass Andean condor—which is Colombia’s national bird. What about challenging the bird for a staring competition? The pretty blue-winged tanager, vibrant green jay, and scarlet macaws are other delightful, colorful birds you want to see. This 17-ha project has over 138 distinct bird species and 1800 birds. Impressive, right?
The park isn’t just about birds but a perfect example of Colombian flora and fauna. It’s an opportunity to learn and conserve many species almost in extinction.
While in the Colombian Caribbean, this is a worthy day trip to make. Remember to carry your camera.
10# Hike in a Tropical Dry Forest
The coastal city of Cartagena is a fun place to adventure with its tropical dry forest areas preserving the biodiversity of Flora and Fauna. This is home to more than 80 bird species and particularly famous trees.
Visit the place and explore the forest on a nice hike as you discover its fantastic ecosystem. From Cartagena, you can go to Montes de Maria and Sanctuary Los Colorados and get to interact with this little-known and mysterious ecosystem even more.
11# City Tour in Cartagena
Of course, each city on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia has its unique characteristics, which you’ll be excited to discover. It’s also good to interact with the friendly inhabitants, shop from their stores in the city center, and taste their meals.
Making guided tours around the Colombian Caribbean is highly recommendable. For instance, you’ll get to learn the exciting history of Cartagena, the first city to become independent.
12# Yummy Cooking Classes
While making these city tours, touring the beaches and islands, it’s the perfect opportunity to learn how to cook Caribbean specialties, including arepas de huevo, coconut rice, and Posta.
The locals are more than willing to teach you their cooking methods. This is not only fun but something to go and boast about when you get back home.
13# Fishing in the Mangroves of La Boquilla
Another excellent way to discover yet another facet of Cartagena is to tour La Boquilla. This part of the city’s inhabitants are fishermen who live at the edge of the mangroves.
A tour of this fishing town is an excellent opportunity to learn the inhabitant’s culture, including their unique music, food, and dance. More importantly, you’ll get to practice crab fishing.
14# San Basilio de Palenque, First America’s Free Town
San Basilio de Palenque is the first ‘free town’ of America for Africans in Colombia. The city founders were people who fled slavery life in colonial times. It was declared a Cultural and Intangible Heritage of Humanity site for the same reason in 1691.
The culture of the people here is quite interesting. From music, dance, food, and generally their way of life, it’s a place you’ll enjoy staying, interacting with people, and learning.
15# Interact With Indigenous Communities
Colombia has plenty of indigenous communities. On the Caribbean coast, in particular, there are several communities you can spend time interacting with.
For a few days, be with the Arhuacos in the Sierra Nevada. Take a couple of days in Guajira, getting to know the Wayuu people. This is a rare opportunity to get another view of the world.
16# Dine-in Upscale Restaurants
The Caribbean Coast of Colombia is not short of food. Indeed, there are plenty of goodies from the waters. The romantic and tasty places offer fresh fish, coconut rice, and cocktails. For instance, in Cartagena, you can treat yourself to delicacies in Santa Clara, Candé, Carmen, and Alma.
17# Tayrona National Park: Beaches & Hikes
Tayrona National Park, about 34 km from Santa Marta, is one of the most famous Colombia national parks. It encompasses both the sea and the land and is an excellent place to stay, at least for a night. The most famous beach is Cabo San Juan.
The entrance from Calabazo is my favorite. Get to enjoy the lush vegetation in the park and walk on the beautiful beaches as you take a cold beer.
18# 4-day Hike To La Ciudad Perdida (Lost City)
La Ciudad Perdida is the archeological site of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, Colombia. It’ll take you four days to hike this area and discover the remains of an ancient civilization.
The site was founded in 800 CE and had a network of tiled roads, 169 terraces carved into the site’s mountainside, and a couple of small circular plazas. To access the entrance, you have to climb up 1,200 stone steps through a thick jungle to access the entrance.
The trek to La Ciudad Perdida is an exciting experience that’ll teach you so much.
Colombia has the widest variety of birds in the world. Therefore, you cannot afford to leave the Colombian Caribbean without watching the over 500 species.
If you’re a birdwatcher, ensure you visit the below two places for the ultimate birdwatching experience:
- La Sierra Nevada- This is the perfect place to watch birds. It has more than 600 bird species. You can also spend time in a famous Ecolodge known as El Dorado.
- Los Flamingos– This is a flamingos’ sanctuary. To best watch this water bird, visit the place between October and November.
20# 2-day hike to Cerro Kennedy
Cerro Kennedy is a fabulous hike you can do on your own. It’s on a mountain in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s foothills, where you pass through a protected cloud forest reserve area aiming to reach the top.
At Cerro Kennedy, you can enjoy a breathtaking sunset view of Santa Marta’s snowy, extensive Sierra Nevada Mountain range.
- TPMT Tip: You can leave from Casas Viejas.
21# Visit Coffee plantations
Minca is an excellent place to enjoy a coffee tour. There, you’ll find the oldest coffee farm in the Sierra Nevada named La Victoria. You’ll get to learn the history of this farm and everything about coffee.
Another option is to head to El Paraiso de Tuki— still in Minca.
22# Tasty Chocolate Tours
Both places to enjoy this experience are in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
- El Paraiso de Tuki (Minca) is run by a lovely Colombian family that offers chocolate and coffee tours.
- Finca Carpe diem (Paso del Mango) is also a great place for chocolate tours. Besides, there are magnificent views, endless rivers and forests, and several swimming pools.
23# Interesting Museo Naval del Caribe
Colombia’s Caribbean Coast doesn’t have many museums to visit. Nonetheless, you cannot afford not to visit El Museo Naval Del Caribe in Cartagena. Here, you’ll learn about the history of Cartagena.
24# Epic Sunset
There are numerous spots to enjoy the sunset in the Colombian Caribbean. Some of the best sites to have an epic sunset view include:
- The beach of Rincón del Mar.
- On a Catamaran in Cartagena.
- On the Movich rooftop in Cartagena.
- El Convento de la Popa in Cartagena.
- The beach of Cabo de la Vela.
25# Unique Palafitico Towns
Visit Cienaga Grande, and you’ll find two weird or rather unique towns, Nueva Venecia and Buenavista. You’ll see something you probably have never seen. Houses in these towns are built in the middle of the swamp.
Inhabitants move around using boats as cars cannot access the houses. This is quite a unique adventure.
26# Navigate through the Mangroves
Mangroves are an exciting ecosystem on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and serve as a refuge for many fish and birds. It’ll be better to use a kayak or canoe to explore these mangrove swamp environments. Some of the islands where you’ll find some include Rosario islands, Rincón del Mar, La Boquilla, and Isla Tintipán.
27# Taironaka: an Exciting Nature Reserve
Taironaka is a nature reserve in the foothills of Sierra Nevada, Santa Marta. The place is not so famous. The landscape here is tropical and lush, and you can spend several hours wandering through the forest or along the beach.
This eco-hotel offers many other activities such as birdwatching, tubing, cultural exchange with indigenous communities, and paddling. Besides, there are nice rooms where you can stay at least for a night.
28# Tubing on Beautiful Rivers
You cannot leave Colombia’s Caribbean Coast without tubing. And the best place for an optimal tubing experience is Palomino. With an inner tube, you’ll have up to 2 hours of tubing from the starting point down the river. It only requires a little effort and fills you with pure happiness as you enjoy majestic tree surroundings.
29# Dancing On Latin America’s rhythms
If you are an avid dancer or simply wish to experience that aspect of Colombian culture, make sure to attend the parties held at Cartagena or Santa Marta. Even though Colombia has its traditional folk dance, Cumbia, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a club to experience it. However, there is no shortage of great salsa clubs in Cartagena, most notably Quiebra Canto, Tertulia, and Cafe Havana.
30# Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton
It is possible to observe this strange phenomenon at nightfall in Colombia, close to specific areas surrounded by mangroves. You will see the plankton light up in reaction to the movements you make in the water. To enjoy it as much as possible, I advise you to go on a new moon day and bring your mask and snorkels!
You can observe the bioluminescent plankton in Isla Barú, Isla Grande & Rincón del mar.
31# Stay in the Most Incredible Hotels
The Caribbean coast is the perfect opportunity to book a few nights in a luxurious hotel in a paradisiacal environment.
Here is a list of hotels that would be perfect for a honeymoon trip:
- Punta faro (Isla Múcura)
- Isla Pelicano (private island)
- Coralina island (Rosario Islands)
- Las Islas (Barú)
- Casa San Agustín (Cartagena)
- Trekker Glamping (Minca)
- Casa Tayrona los Naranjos (Tayrona park)
- Gitana del Mar (Buritaca)
- Hotel One Santuario (Palomino)
Depending on the trip you want to make, some places on Colombia’s Caribbean coast will be more appropriate than others. The west coast of the Caribbean is rarely visited by foreigners, while the east coast of the Caribbean is often crowded with tourists.
For those who love long deserted beaches, I suggest you look at our guide to the Pacific Coast of Colombia.
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)