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Splendid Caribbean sundowns are the trademark of Colombia's northern panhandle and a favorite for saltwater-minded backpackers. This is the route so many take for fun in the sun and all the way east to the Venezuelan border.

By far, the most popular destination is really the first one, Parque Nacional Tayrona, a verdant and easily walkable forest that takes you to unmolested beachfront that solely caters to walkers, horeseback riders, and no cars. By hiking you first come to a pretty ritzy set of cabanas and restaurant, but you can also just keep walking west on the beach where you will come to Cabo San Juan, which has hammocks, outdoor showers, camping area, lockers, and a rustic but well-run cafeteria. From Cabo San Juan you can further walk up in the surrounding hill to Pueblito, the ruins of a pre-Columbian city that still has a few descendants living there.

A much more committed journey of 3 days hike, but definitely worth it, would be to go to Ciudad Perdida ("the lost city"), an enormous pre-Colombia complex kept a secret by local tribes until 1972 to protect it from treasure hunters, and which many travelers appreciate as even more amazing than Machu Picchu in Peru. To get to Ciudad Perdida, most travelers contract guides in Santa Marta, as it is deep with in the Sierra Nevada forest (100 times larger than Tayrona). However, there are buses that go on the Cienaga-Minca road, which will take you to the closest physical village, Las Casitas, from which you can start a trek to Ciudad Perdida, but you will still need a guide to take with you on the bus and then to the site.

The first beach area you reach directly accessible by bus is Mata de Platano, which is beautifully floral and blessed with tropical breezes. Past that the skies open up and the terrain becomes more dry and hot, but the beach communities are just as inviting, especially Buritaca, which has several modest hotels in the area.

The seaside becomes more stormy continuing east, with dramatic breakers and tall cliffs around Playa Arrecifes. But if you truly want to get away from it all, then make the Nevamar stretch of beaches your plan. This area is exquisite, so laid back you might forget to breathe, a complete tropical fantasy come to life.

The highway then goes inland and upriver to Rio Ancho and Palomino before turning back to the coast for Riohacha. However, before you get to Riohacha, you will pass by a huge estuarial sanctuary for pink flamingos. Simply take note of it, as you can make it a day trip from Riohacha itself.

The town of Riohacha sits at the heart of the Guajira region, a more arid and flat terrain compared to the jungle climate of Tayrona. You still have plenty of wide palm-tree lined beaches and nearby fishing villages, but they just aren't as pretty. This is, however, a concentration point for many Vallenato musicians, a style of festive accordion music you hear all up and down the Caribbean coast, but Riohacha takes loving the music more seriously than all.


Parque Nacional Tayrona
  • On this route:
  • Calabazo |
  • Parque Tayrona |
  • Mata de Platano |
  • Guachaca |
  • Buritaca |
  • Nevamar |
  • Rio Ancho |
  • Palomino |
  • Dibulla |
  • Jerez del Rio |
  • Tigrera |
  • La Isla |
  • Atico |
  • Riohacha!