Mention the “Caribbean” and immediately picture yourself soaking up the sun on a white sandy beach. Add the song of hundreds of birds, pounding drums and melodic flutes, lush tropical forests, and a view to the snowy peaks of the Andes, and that’s basically what you’ll get when traveling around the Colombian Caribbean coast with this itinerary.

While most travel guides would certainly mention staples such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, and the Tayrona Natural Park, we’ve gone off the beaten path to suggest an alternative Colombian coast itinerary, one custom made for the adventure and experience-seeker who won’t mind practicing their Spanish in exchange for a more authentic taste of what this coast is really about.

Buckle up and take the wheel with this road trip itinerary around one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse areas of Colombia.

Interested in more Colombia content? Check out our art lover’s guide or a solo woman’s guide to the country!

Puerto Escondido, Córdoba

Our road trip begins at Puerto Escondido, a small coastal town an hour away from the International Airport of Monteria lined up by calm, blue shores in which you’ll find just the right amount of touristic infrastructure to enjoy your vacations, without being overwhelmed by the hordes of travelers usually visiting Colombia’s most famous spots.

Support a local economy of fishing and agriculture by tasting some of the region’s food staples such as shrimp ceviche, lobster, and arroz de coco (coconut rice), and get to know about the place’s cultural history by enjoying the Bullerengue, a musical tradition originally created by the afro-descendant communities based along the coastline and celebrated with an annual national festival that takes place in town.

Santiago de Tolu, Sucre

You probably won’t find much about this place on mainstream travel guides, but Santiago de Tolu is a territory in the department of Sucre nature lovers could easily spend days exploring.


Visit the Gulf of Morrosquillo to enjoy the best beaches in town, where you can either relax and soak up the view or do some scuba diving; then head to the Cienaga de la Leche natural reservation, a tremendously biodiverse area in which to navigate through mangroves and do some serious bird watching.

When in need of adventure, the Campo Aventura Roca Madre Park offers rappel, canopy, and climbing experiences along the tropical forest, where over 120 species of native flora and fauna have been identified.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba

Take a pit stop along the road for some picture-perfect opportunities at El Salar de Galerazamba, most popularly known as the Pink Sea.

Just an hour’s ride from the city center of Cartagena, this body of water belongs to a sea salt mine operative for centuries and plagued by a special type of microorganism, which makes the water turn pink during the driest months of December, through April.


Put on lots of sunscreen and remember to stay hydrated, but don’t miss out on the most photogenic spot of this itinerary.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

As you drive east through the coast, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta makes an imponent appearance. This, the highest coastal mountain in the world, is so culturally and ecologically diverse it deserves a section of its own on our itinerary.


While most of the area is closed to tourists as an effort to protect Indigenous communities and their territory, there are a few key spots on its baseline ready to welcome travelers. Keep in mind, most of these places belong to La Línea Negra (the Black Line), a set of protected sites considered sacred by the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo Indigenous groups, so take this into account and make sure to remain a respectful, ethically conscious tourist.

Córdoba Hot Springs, Cienaga

Being the only hot springs in the Caribbean Region, you shouldn’t miss these natural pools of water emanating directly from the earth at temperatures between 38ºC and 42ºC. Located thirty minutes away from the coastal city of Santa Marta, the Córdoba Hot Springs are known for having multiple healing properties, so if you’re in need of a relaxing, spa-like experience, gift yourself a mud massage or hydrotherapy session.

Buritaca, Mendihuaca and Guachaca

Stop along the road in the small rural towns of Buritaca, Mendihuaca, and Guachaca. Surrounded by tremendously luscious tropical forests and rivers that mostly flow straight into the sea, each of these villages provides plenty of opportunities to either enjoy the Caribbean sea, or hike through the forest searching for wildlife, waterfalls, and natural pools.

Hostels for all budgets and preferences are available in the area, along with plenty of local tour guides waiting to bring you on a deep exploration of this tremendously eco-diverse territory where coffee and cocoa are grown. Be sure to add a visit to a local organic farm to your itinerary too.


For surfers of all levels, Mendihuaca offers the best waves in the area, along with the bonus of surfing with sea turtles and ending your session with a deep river dive just a few steps away. If you’d rather take a break from saltwater, drive a few minutes east to Guachaca or Buritaca, where you can hike into the forest, do some canyoning, and chill while tubing down the river.

Lost City – Teyuna Archaeological Park

Discovered in the 1970s by a group of looters, the Lost City is a sight to behold deep inside the Sierra Nevada. Built by the Tayronas, a joining of several Indigenous groups, the city is known as Teyuna by local Kogui, Arhuaco, and Wiwa communities — the descendants of the Tayrona people. While its history remains mostly a mystery, it is suspected to have been the region’s political and manufacturing center, and it could’ve housed somewhere between 2,000 to 8,000 people.


After years of conflict with the Spanish settlers, the Tayronas were forced to flee the city, which remained hidden for hundreds of years and is now protected by the Global Heritage Fund.

Local companies offer 4 to 6 days hiking tours to the Lost City, a tremendous opportunity to dive deeper into the Sierra Nevada, the history of the territory, and the tremendous toll colonization has taken over it.

Palomino

Finish your road trip with a bang by visiting Palomino, a small but tremendously lively village enclosed between two rivers, the Caribbean sea, and the Sierra Nevada. Here, Indigenous communities, other locals, and travelers from all over the world converge anywhere musicians decide to start a cumbiamba — a street party everyone can join to dance cumbia, bullerengue, porro, and other traditional musical expressions.

During the day, take a hike up one of the rivers, surf the town’s beach breaks or simply relax in the warm sea waters while overlooking the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. By night, stroll through Palomino’s main road to find restaurants and cafes open to all budgets and tastes, share a bottle of churro — a local artisanal alcoholic beverage — at one of the bars, and dance till sunrise at an open-air party by the sea.


While the Caribbean coast of Colombia was, just as anywhere else in the world, struck by the impacts of Covid-19, the country is now open and eager to receive travelers in an effort to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

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Mavi Parra is a bilingual freelance writer, film photographer and full time nomad. Her work takes a reflective look into issues such as travel, gender, culture and the experience of humanity in a rapidly changing world. Follow her on Instagram @mavi_parra.