Having stayed in the surprisingly large beach town of Santa Marta for 5 nights post-trek, we were finally ready to move on. So over another delicious breakfast of arepas, pancakes and eggs at Casa de Isabella, we began plotting our next moves.
We had read that Palomino, a super tiny backpackery town 1.5 hours north, was known as “Pai by the beach.” This piqued our interest. We never made it to the laid-back town outside of Chiang Mai when we were in Thailand a few years back, but we heard good things about it everywhere we went in SE Asia. So we figured we shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see the Colombian version.
Once we arrived in Palomino, sure enough, we found the gringo stop. Tons of backpackers were strolling down the one main dirt road that leads from the highway to the ocean, lined with hostels advertising beds, yoga and beer.
Without having a reservation, we mozied up to the desk at the Dreamer Hostel. It was like a little garden oasis with big palm trees, manicured lawns and thatch-roofed cabanas with hammocks out front. As evening came in, tiki torches and twinkly lights beautifully lined the pool and garden area at night. Especially as far as hostels go, this one is pretty swanky.
For the afternoon, we took a walk along the sandy beach. Big signs notifying people of the strong current are prominent, but given my dislike for swimming in open water, the crazy waves didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was happy to just walk along and take photos with giant tires that apparently help with erosion.
The next day, we set out for the main reason people visit Palomino – tubing the river!
My last experience tubing was back in Portland last summer. What was supposed to be an easy, fun 3-hour trip turned into an epic 9-hour day including getting real chilly as the sun set, hitchhiking to our cars, and a friend almost drowning. So needless to say, I was a tad hesitant to just head out to float in Colombia of all places.
But floating is clearly a serious operation in this town. From right outside our hostel, there are tons of shops set up for the activity. For only about $8 a person, you get a big tire, motor-taxi ride to the start, and even a guide who helps navigate you along. (While you don’t necessarily need a guide for the tubing, it was definitely worth it!).
And of course, they sell cervezas as well, nicely packaged with some ice.
After getting our gear and beers, we awkwardly set the tubes on our shoulders and hopped on the back of the motorbikes (ok, ok, I take it back, the guide thought a lady like myself wasn’t able to carry a tube and ride a motorbike at the same time, so he carried mine for me).
I had a nice conversation with my driver (in Spanish!), learning about her dream to visit California and how she’s in Palomino to learn English as it is such a touristy area.
We got dropped off about 15-minutes later, at a mountain trail where you need to hike about 20 minutes to the starting point. The trail is used mostly by the indigenous Wiwa tribes that live nearby, a few of whom we passed on our way. I’m sure we looked super crazy in swimsuits and flipflops, carrying giant tires.
Finally we reached the river’s edge and hopped into the somewhat chilly water of Rio Palomino. We cracked our beers, laid back and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and iguanas and monkeys hanging in the trees.
It was an enjoyable, relaxing afternoon, especially as our guide kindly did all the hard work for us, making sure we didn’t go into the trees on the edge of the river and paddling us along when the water got too slow.
He even calmed Brice’s nerves a bit when the weather turned and we experienced the hugest thunder and lightning I’ve ever encountered. A massive, loud crack along with an immediate long streak of bright light indicated that we were not far from the storm at all. Heart racing, we looked at the guide wondering if we should get out and get to shore. “No problema, no problema, esta normal” our guide said, laughing after Brice had nearly jumped out of his tube. Fortunately we were only a few more minutes from the end which came about uneventfully.
And hey, it wouldn’t be a day of floating without some adventure, right?!
Later that evening after reading in hammocks while the thunderstorm passed, we wandered down the muddy dirt road for some dinner and stopped at a place that looked cute. For only $3 each (!!!), we got fresh squeezed mango juice and plates of flavorful coconut rice, beans, marinated vegetables, patacones topped with guacamole and mango, plus some well-cooked steak for Brice. Getting food like this for so cheap I could definitely get used to.
While there isn’t enough to do in Palomino for several days, we stayed only 2 nights. But with its chill vibe, outdoorsy activities and cute restaurants serving up delicious, cheap food, this little town won me over.