Colombia possesses some of South America’s finest beaches. Accessible, pristine, the type that upon sight shifts travel magazines from the shelves of bookstores, inspires a dozen “The Beach” style imitation novels and makes you yearn for an umbrella in your cocktail during these bleak days of winter.
So, base yourself in the cultural and cosmopolitan Bogota, enjoy the nightlife, gastronomy, theatre and museums and for your weekend, take the family out to the Caribbean coast for a couple of days of vitamin D, seafood and beach-side adventure.
Getting to the Caribbean coast
The very prospect of an 18 hour bus ride out from Bogota over the Andes and down into the lowlands is nothing any parent would wish to consider exposing their young children to, and so we strongly suggest that you fly. In less than two hours you and yours will be in Cartagena or Santa Marta and all thoughts of the continual deluges in the Colombian capital and pushed far behind you.
Santa Marta and Taganga
With its newly restored colonial centre, Santa Marta has closed the door on its dark past and is embracing tourism into the city once again. No more are travellers and families fleeing for all-inclusive resorts on the outskirts but choosing to base themselves in the city itself. In addition to great beaches within the nearby vicinity, Bahia Concha, Playa Grande and of course the built up district of Rodadero there are also historical attractions such as the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the mountain town of Minca and of course Taganga.
Formerly a quaint fishing village some 15 minutes over the hill from Santa Marta, Taganga has come a long way in recent years having experienced a veritable tourism boom. Hostels and hotels abound here making it a mecca for international visitors drawn in by offers of economical accommodation, cheap diving courses and still waters. The beach is not too much to write home about, but, the infrastructure exists here to facilitate day trips to other more desirable places.
Palomino is the last stop along the highway heading east to Venezuela that still represents a tropical paradise before the ecosystem changes and gives way to arid desert. Tumbling verdant jungles, full rivers and long stretches of undeveloped beaches are found just a few hours east from Santa Marta or returning west from the city of Riohacha. Aside from the picture postcard beaches here with their inviting turquoise blue waters, a real attraction lies in the spiritual and mythical atmosphere that is present given the existence of many indigenous people rightly proud of their ancestral homelands.
Tayrona National Park
Ideal for the adventurous family, Tayrona National Park is home to several world class beaches. Getting here requires a journey of under two hours from Santa Marta and the once at the park, a hike or mule ride in of around 30 minutes. Accommodation can be luxury or spartan (hammocks) or you can choose to camp. Pick a base, possibly the breathtakingly scenic Arrecifes beach where swimming is not recommended, and from here you can access the wonderful Piscina and Canaveral beaches. Remember to pack copious amounts of bug repellent!
Enough cannot be written about Cartagena as Colombia’s eternal city of tourism. Her beaches, in the immediate vicinity of the city, are nothing special. Package groups flock to Bocagrande but if you are looking for something more paradisiacal, make a trip out to Playa Blanca (on a weekday with fewer crowds), the Islas del Rosario and to Baru or Isla Fuerte. Long established as tourist haunts, prices will be steeper, but, given the prevalence of flights from the capital to Cartagena, and the attractions that the city herself holds, you’ll not be found wanting. Here are world class restaurants, hotels for every budget and more curious activities for your family including a visit to a mud volcano.