Visiting the little beachside village of Palomino on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has become practically de rigueur for backpackers in Colombia these days: travellers flock to Palomino for its excellent hostels, great seafood, fantastic location and beautiful natural scenery. By far the most popular activity in Palomino is tubing down the river from the jungle to the sea.
Tubing involves floating along a river sitting in an inflated inner tube, and the clear rivers flowing down from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains into the sea around Palomino are the perfect places to enjoy a spot of tubing. Organising a tubing trip from Palomino is really easy nowadays; five years ago you really had to ask around to get hold of a tube. The many tour operators set up shop on the main road leading down from the village to the sea and can be found there all day, every day. It costs 25,000 COP (US$8) to hire a tube, and this also includes a guide who will take you up to the river by motorbike and even accompany your group down the river if you so wish.
Once you have your tube, it’s time to get going. First, you take the bike – while awkwardly clutching your large tube – up a dirt road into the foothills behind Palomino. After less than 10 minutes, you’ll disembark and head off on foot on a trail that leads further up into the mountains for another half an hour or so. It is possible to continue much further up into the mountains to a higher part of the river, but this trail is home to several Wiwa indigenous villages and it’s not recommended to hike this section of the trail without a certified guide working alongside these communities; ask in town for tour operators who can take you on this trip. You will eventually reach a small stream running down to the main river, and this is the starting point for tubing.
From this point it’s all self-explanatory. You sit in the tube and float down the river for a few hours – stopping at the little river beaches along the way for a swim and sunbathe if you so choose – until you reach the sea. An important thing to remember is to get off your tube in the small bay before you reach the open sea: the confluence point has many nasty currents, and the waves can be high and dangerous. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the ride! You can even leave the tubes at the restaurants by the bay if you don’t fancy carrying them back along the beach to the village: the vendors head down regularly to collect them.
You don’t need much to go tubing in Palomino, but there are some important things not to forget if you’re going to maximise your enjoyment. First of all, take a bottle of sunscreen: the sun can become intense by the middle of the day, and the reflections from the water – not to mention the heat of the black rubber tube – can lead to some nasty burns if you’re not careful. It’s probably worth taking a cap and a long-sleeved shirt, too, just in case. It’s not a bad idea to wear sandals – or flip-flops at least – for the hike at the start, as it’s not the easiest walk to do barefoot.
Also, make sure to bring some sort of dry-bag for your camera or phone (assuming you want to take some photos or videos along the way): you can avoid getting too wet during the trip, but it’s inevitable that you’ll at least get splashed in the faster sections of the river. Small shops in Palomino sell simple dry-bags for phones.
Tubing in Palomino is a truly beautiful trip, and definitely a must-do if you’re travelling on the Caribbean coast. The clear river, surrounded by jungle and huge trees, flows all the way down to the sparkling blue Caribbean waters and, if you’re lucky, you can even see the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the river. If you get going early in the morning, you are likely to have the river to yourself, and may even see monkeys and toucans from your tube. It’s an absolutely unforgettable trip.