Santa Marta & Palomino

Santa Marta

After reading a lot of positive reviews of The Dreamer Hostel, we pencilled this in as the spot to set up base for a longer period of time and look into volunteer work and cheap Spanish lessons. We were more than impressed with the confined setting within the hostel, and at long last had use of a swimming pool, as well as the on-site Italian restaurant.

On the Friday night, and after much deliberation as to whether we could hack it, we handed over 35000 COP each for the hostel organised Party Bus. This entailed a snail paced drive around Santa Marta, with music blaring and disco lights blazing, and more importantly an array of questionable rum, whisky and vodka. After a brief stint at the local beach, the insistence of the organisers to pour immeasurable amounts of said whisky down everyone’s throat resulted in my Spanish abilities improving significantly enough to attempt to talk to South Americans in the local club we had all ended up in. This improvement constituted slurring the names of Argentinian football teams and players to an Argentinian guy who was limited in what he could retort to a fat Brit repeating Fabricio Coloccini.


The next few days became a holiday for us, the double rooms in The Dreamer were like an apartment, food in the Italian restaurant was top notch, and the pool was perfect for the needs of protecting our (/Aisling’s) whiter than white skin from the unforgiving sun. We had also made our first (but not last) Irish friends of the trip, much to Aisling’s delight.

Having ventured into Santa Marta town briefly on the Sunday night we got our first real glimpse of the area, and although it was nice enough we were left slightly underwhelmed in terms of what we had expected of the coastal Caribbean town. Taking into account the general cost of living as well as the necessity to pay $200 + for the volunteer programme that appealed to us, we opted against Santa Marta as a long term base. Other travellers reliably informed us of the significant drop in cost of living in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia so we decided to change our plans and look into volunteering further south at a later date.

We had been productive in terms of engaging in Spanish lessons, paying the hostel bartender around 15000 COP for an hour for the two of us. As the low fee would indicate the teaching wasn’t of a professional standard but it was certainly helpful in terms of providing an outlet for us to speak Spanish and pick up a few phrases to get by.

Views en-route to Minca

After a few more days of sunbathing obscurity we paid 45000 COP for the hostel trip to Minca, a local coffee village, including entry to a coffee farm. For us this trip was worth it solely as a means to temporarily escape the comfortable bosom of the hostel. The drive up the mountain side was relatively fear-free in comparison to past experiences – perhaps we were getting used to the South American technique of using the accelerator as a brake and the horn as an indicator. The views provided over Santa Marta were especially raunchy. The coffee farm was… a coffee farm, and not massively impressive but was mildly interesting for the small duration of the tour. The rest of the trip involved a small hike to the waterfall, featuring a smaller-still cliff jump, which I bottled due to a recently diagnosed medical condition – being a mincey woofta balls. Aisling bottled it as well for similar reasons as well as having her obligatory DMC, with a Colombian girl wearing denim jeans in the water. The trip was concluded with a visit to a restaurant overlooking the village of Minca itself, providing an interesting insight into the mountainside lifestyle, until we headed back to once again suckle at the comforting teet of the Dreamer Hostel.

Accommodation – The Dreamer Hostel, 24000 COP each for a 10 bed dorm, swiftly upgraded to 42500 COP for a private room with en-suite. Although the location is further out, the hostel is excellent in terms of amenities and it is great for socialising without being a ‘party hostel’. The staff are all extremely friendly and accommodating.

Santa Marta Verdict – Based on our two visits into the town itself and testimonials from other backpackers, Santa Marta is not necessarily somewhere to set up long term and rather is commonly used as a stepping stone to Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City). It is also very close to Taganga, a backpacker dominated fishing village. In terms of relaxing for a while and then heading on elsewhere we would highly recommend The Dreamer Hostel.


After a little over a week in Santa Marta we fancied a change of scenery so we headed east to Palomino and… The Dreamer Hostel. The sister hostel came highly recommended for its beach-side location, and proved to be a fairly straightforward Collectivo trip totalling 16000 COP for the two of us. (We bypassed Tayrona National Park as we weren’t too pushed on the hike, and a falling-snake-into-hammock story compounded our decision – Claudia!).


Although the hostel was a little pricier than its compatriot, this was definitely forgiveable due to the sizeable pool with numerous lounging areas and the 50m stroll to a picturesque beach – complete with New-Agey looking people donning dreadlocks and floral pants, selling a range of handicrafts. The area had a definite South-East Asian Island feel to it, minus the thousands of fluorescent paint clad people drinking from buckets. The relentless waves were reminiscent of those at Coogee Beach on a good day, and are certainly not for the faint hearted. They also made it difficult (not impossible) to do a crafty/mandatory ‘wee-in-the-sea’.

Palomino Beach

The by now familiar on site restaurant provided one of the top 3 pizzas I’ve ever had, and in the top 100 of the 17367 and a ½ pizzas Aisling has ever had…. Due to all the pizza and Aguila consumption, we attempted a small fitness regime of a 20 minute run on the beach. As I powered along feeling like Matt Damon in the The Bourne Supremacy, I realised the incoming curious gazes were because I looked more like Matt Lucas in Little Britain.

Later that day, I was violently woken from a drool inducing poolside nap by a Colombian mother screaming in the direction of her drowning child. As I slowly began to process the situation, with the mother inexplicably opting to wade in through the entrance to the shallow end rather than jumping in where the child was underwater, time stood still for all who bore witness. All except, Aisling Freehill. Lightning quick reactions took over, and before anybody else had a chance to step up to the plate, Aisling had managed to somehow get changed into a red lycra swimsuit and as ‘I’m Always Here’ began to play on the sound system, jumped in to the saviour of the infant.

Aisling Freehill
Aisling Freehill


Thankfully the child was fine after the genuine scare, and the mother expressed her gratitude to our new have-a-go heroine. We celebrated later on with a few drinks on the beach with two Irish girls we had met in Santa Marta, and our new found Colombian friends, Juan and Juan.

Juan, Juan & One
Juan, Juan & Your One

Upon our return to Santa Marta for a quick layover before the bus to Medellin, we encountered the awkwardness of the barman who had taught us Spanish asking if we would mind taking a ‘package’ to Medellin for his father. Alarm bells rang and images of Colombian prisons ran through our minds, so we did the noble thing and said ‘no problem’,  and then proceeded to avoid him for the remainder of the evening.

Accommodation – The Dreamer Hostel, 34000 COP each a night for an 8 bed dorm with en-suite.

Palomino Verdict – A perfect beach holiday haven for a fraction of the price you would be willing to pay. For a relaxing break with good weather, a great beach and excellent food this is a must do. Would be a great place to recuperate at the end of an action packed backpacking trip. Not a party destination as it stands (thankfully) but by no means dull of an evening either. It probably doesn’t feature on the itinerary of every backpacker in Colombia at present, but I would predict it will in years to come.


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