The Solo Traveler’s Guide to Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

Tropical rainforest meets the Caribbean sea at Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
Tropical rainforest meets the Caribbean sea at Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona | © Jesse Kraft / Alamy
Carrie Back

Between its charismatic cities, idyllic beaches and unforgettable national parks, Colombia’s Caribbean Coast is a dream come true for solo travelers. Spreading from the Panama border to the desert of La Guajira, near Venezuela, the region is a surefire winner for thrill-seekers, beachgoers and food lovers, here to sample some of the country’s best cuisine.

What’s the vibe?

Bathed in sun and rich in culture, Colombia’s dramatic Caribbean coastline is a solo traveler’s paradise, whether you’re a veteran globetrotter or a newbie. Between its dense, untouched jungles, barren deserts and historic cities, it is one of the most colorful regions of Colombia. You’ll have ample opportunities to meet up with like-minded people – it’s got a buzzing hostel scene and a whole host of outdoor activities.

Colombia’s Caribbean Coast: a trip overview for solo travelers

Make your first stop Cartagena, a sophisticated walled colonial city where time stands still. Next, head off to the Rosario Islands, where you’ll fill your days swimming, fishing and snorkeling. Moving east brings you to Santa Marta, to hike Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a protected area blessed with tropical rainforests and coral reefs. Rest up in the small town of Palomino and take a surf session or two, before exploring the unfrequented and underrated La Guajira department. From Riohacha, take a 4×4 to a desert oasis, and practise sandboarding or kitesurfing on remote sand dunes.

Escape the crowds on the Rosario Islands

Where to stay on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast as a solo traveler

There’s a range of accommodation. For privacy, opt for a private room in a mid-range guesthouse or upgrade to a luxurious eco-resort. If you want to meet other travelers, use hostels. The coast has a thriving and social hostel scene, offering amenities such as co-working spaces, wellness classes and nightly events to help you mingle with other guests. For a truly unique stay, book a bed at the Casa en el Agua. Only accessible by boat, this floating hostel is surrounded by dazzling Caribbean waters.

What to do on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

There’s far more to do than you could cram into a single trip, so you’ll definitely want to visit again or prolong your stay. However long, or brief, your trip, we’ve picked our three top must-trys.

Discover the colonial architecture and cobbled alleyways of Cartagena

Steeped in history, the walled city of Cartagena is just one of the highlights to explore along the coast. Spend the day discovering ancient forts and castles, then ducking into restaurants and museums to escape the heat. It’s easy to spend a few days in this vibrant, colorful city: take a boat to the nearby beaches, discover emerging hip neighborhoods, including Getsemaní, or tour the traditional fishing village of La Boquilla. At night, the city comes alive – the perfect time to discover some of Colombia’s best dining and its electric nightlife, which will keep you up until sunrise.

Get lost in charming Cartagena

Island hop around the white-sand beaches of the Rosario Islands

Comprising 20 or so small coral outcrops, the pristine Rosario Islands are all yours – just a boat hop from Cartagena, which is about 100km (62mi) to the northeast. Consider taking a tour to really get a feel for the islands – most day trips include a stop at Playa Blanca, a clamored-for beach with glaringly white sand. Book with a tour agency or see it independently with a ticket from the offices at the Muelle de la Bodeguita port in Cartagena.

Playa Blanca is an easy stop en route to the Rosario Islands

Hike through the jungle-clad Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is where the tropical rainforest and mountains meet the Caribbean Sea. Backed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this 12,140ha (30,000 acre) park is home to ruins, mangroves, reefs and palm-trimmed beaches, each with their own personality. Some are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, such as Arenillas and La Piscina beaches. There are several hiking routes in the park, with waterfalls and diverse wildlife – bring binoculars.

A guided hike is part of Culture Trip’s specially curated 8-day Colombian Caribbean trip. Led by a Local Insider, it includes a trek through the jungles of the park, with a stop at Cabo San Juan beach for lunch and a swim.

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona boasts a tempting mix of different ecosystems

Getting around Colombia’s Caribbean Coast as a solo traveler

The most comfortable option for solo traveler’s is a private driver, but don’t rule out tourist shuttles. That said, they take the same amount of time as local buses – the most affordable option, these are just as reliable but can get overcrowded.

Stay safe, stay happy

Vendors on the beaches can sometimes be pretty relentless. It’s best to be firm but polite – always ask the price of something upfront, and always decline free food or a free massage to avoid getting tricked into a purchase. Because of the strong currents and riptides, only swim in areas that are designated as safe.

Cultural need-to-knows

Haggling is common, but offer a fair price and don’t overdo it. Around Cartagena, be prepared to give some cash during photo ops – a photo with a Palenquera isn’t free and a small tip is expected. Costeños are friendly, so saying “hello” before jumping right into business goes a long way.

Don’t forget to tip Palenqueras who agree to a photo

Prefer to explore Colombia’s Caribbean Coast with like-minded travellers? Join our eight-day adventure Paradise Found: a Taste of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, led by a Local Insider, which includes canoeing through mangrove forests, discovering the street food of Cartagena and visiting San Basilio de Palenque, the first free African town in the Americas.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

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