Colombia hosts more than its fair share of beautiful, tropical beaches, and even better – they are totally affordable!
The Northern Coast is an oven, baking beaches and the backpackers that flock to them to find refuge and relaxation under the palm trees. If you don’t have the time or the budget to go all of the way out into the sea, there are plenty of beautiful beaches on the north coast too. There are beautiful ones to/from Panama such as Capurgana, deserted, surreal dunes in the north called Punta Gallinas, and a national park archipelago called Los Corales near the historical city of Cartagena (which is beautiful and merits a post of its own).
Without a doubt the most beautiful choice for the Colombian Caribbean is this archipelago 700km off the coast, and 200km from Nicaragua. The waters are a beautifully warm, crystalline-turquoise wonder, the beaches are beautiful and lined with palms. The photos do not do it justice – it is a true turqioise paradise.
Hoping over to Provedencia (a nearby island) will get you more privacy, but so will hoping on a local bus (1,800 pesos) and moving away from the commercial centre on San Andres. Try snorkeling at West Point and jump off of their diving board. The snorkeling here is better than in the Aquarium (El Acuario), but their advantage is you get to hold manta rays in the shallows (it’s really quite cool! They are rather heavy too). A short boat trip from San Andres town to the island of Johnny Cay when the tourists aren’t around is a true pleasure. It’s a small island with nice beaches for sunbathing, plus it has humming-birds, iguanas and bright blue lizards running around!
Now, before you say “there’s no way I can afford to go there as a backpacker on this budget” think again! Flights on the airline Viva Colombia start at just 99,000 COP ($32 USD) one way. Accommodation and food are a bit more expensive on the island, but it’s still cheap for European standards. The only expensive part is getting to Colombia.
I suggest doing a diving course here or in Taganga (near Santa Marta) on the mainland first, as the islands host the world’s 3rd largest reef so there is plenty of snorkeling and diving. Colombia is also one of the cheapest places to get certified, at around 700,000 pesos ($217 USD) for a 4 day PADI course.
Tayrona National Park
My personal favourite on the Coast is Tayrona and you won’t miss it. You’ll hear both tourists and Colombians raving about it even before you reach Colombia. You get a pretty sweet set up – hammocks with their mosquito nets for 10,000 COP ($3 USD) a night, fresh fruit juices, small chattering parrots, great beaches and even ancient ruins from the Tayrona civilisation. There’s a bit of trekking in the park as well as the famous Ciudad Perdida trek just nearby. Wildlife includes plenty of birds, fish, caimans, monkeys, and funny capybara-like rodents running around.
In my opinion La piscina is the best beach there; it has snorkeling with some cool fish to see like this one above and sometimes even sea turtles. It’s also far less crowded than El Cabo, and has some shade. Just past El Cabo there are less visited beaches which are lovely, but unfortunately unsafe to swim in due to the strong currents. Stay in Arrecifes for affordable accomodation and food.
San Bernado Islands
These islands are a national park about 2 hours by boat from Cartagena. A day tour is sufficient here, but really, Tayrona and San Andres were a lot better for me. The water here can be more of an emerald green though which is beautiful to see! Furthermore, the tour costs 35,000 COP ($11 USD), departing daily from Tolu.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my post! Have you been here before? What’d you think? Let me know in the comments