Rafting Down The Rio Palomino

Rafting in Rio Palomino Colombia

We spent a weekend in Palomino with a group of cruiser friends and it was my favorite of our adventurous getaways from Santa Marta. A laid-back beach town with a weekend tradition of rafting down the Rio Palomino, Palomino is a blast!

About Palomino

Palomino is a small town on the north Caribbean coast of Colombia, near the Venezuela border. An agrarian community, it is now seeing tourism due to its beautiful white sand beaches and chill vibe. The town consists of one main paved road, the road from Santa Marta, and dirt road offshoots to the beach, the river, and farmlands.

bird mural Palomino Colombia
Bird mural in Palomino. It’s got a mask!

We walked around the town a bit and it’s rustic and charming, with lots of restaurants, hostels, artisan shops and some cool street art. And, one of the top attractions is tubing down the river. No wonder backpackers are flocking to Palomino.

Getting to Palomino

From Santa Marta, you can drive or take a bus to Palomino. It’s approximately 90 minutes from the city, depending on traffic. Traffic can be pretty bad, especially since the road is one lane each way, and winding, so if you get stuck behind a truck, it may be a while before you can pass.

Map Santa Marta to Palomino
It’s about 90 minutes from Santa Marta to Palomino

Required Gear for Rafting Down the Rio Palomino

If you’re going rafting, you need something to ride! Brian and I brought our float tubes which we’ve mostly used for sundowners behind the boat. We were excited to use them for something more adventurous, but they weren’t the best choice for rafting down the Rio Palomino.

float tube on the Rio Palomino
Me in our floatie on the Rio Palomino

Our friends used kayaks and paddleboards and moved a lot faster through the water. Us? Even with paddles borrowed from friends, we were tethered to each other and went in circles most of the time, and couldn’t steer effectively. Usually we ended up exactly where we didn’t want to go, but had lots of fun doing it!

Going in circles AND the wrong way! This video perfectly depicts our day!

So, you need a raft, paddleboard, kayak, anything that floats. But keep in mind: the lighter the better, because you have to carry it to and from the river. If you don’t live on a boat and don’t have anything of the kind, you can rent from one of the many eager locals with inner tubes and and industrious spirits.

You also want swimwear and a dry bag, and beverages and even snacks for the trip. There are vendors along the way selling mostly beverages, so you won’t go thirsty if you are unprepared.

Kayaks and paddleboards and more at the Rio Palomino
Variety of water vehicles getting into the river

Getting to the River

Rio is river: you knew that already, but just in case. So, how do you get there once you’re in town? Two options: hike, or get on the back of a motorbike. If you’re renting an inner tube from a local, he’s probably going to want to take to you to the river, so jump on the back of his bike and go.

Hiking to the Rio Palomino
The road part of the hike. Everyone is carrying something.

Otherwise, walk along the dusty road which turns into a hiking trail and follows the river. There are a few places to put in the water and our friends knew what they were doing so we followed them to an entrance along the river. We hiked for about 40 minutes up and down some hills but it was mostly easy. One of our friends had a big cut on the sole of his foot and he did it.

The hike to the river was interesting, past hostels and homes, and then in the jungle of beautiful landscapes. We were passed by locals shuttling tourists past us on motorbikes, and we saw other hikers, but mostly it was just us and our friends enjoying the day outdoors.

Rio Palomino entry spot
One of the spots to enter the Rio Palomino

The hike was hot, so it was a relief when it was time to inflate our floaties and get in the water!

Rafting Down the Rio Palomino

Even though, or maybe because, I was going in circles, and moving slowly down the river, I had a blast doing it. We spent hours just slowly floating, with short intervals of fast rapids, and then back to floating down the river.

Rafting in Rio Palomino Colombia
Rafting down the Rio Palomino trying to catch our faster friends

It was a fun, relaxing, beautiful day with great friends and I would do it again. We admired the birds, chatted with locals who were bathing in the river, and had a blast. Some kids tried to jump on our floaties a couple times, which was pretty funny.

bathing in Rio Palomino
Soaking in the water where Rio Palomino meets the sea

The Beach

After 4 or 5 hours, we got to the end of our rafting experience, which was a sandbar and the beach. No one was swimming in the ocean – like Parque Tayrona to the south, the water is pretty rough – everyone was in the river or sitting at a beach bar drinking a beer or mojito.

The ceviche at the beach bar in Palomino

Which we quickly did too! We also had some delicious ceviche before the walk back to our cars along the beach and through the town of Palomino.

beach hike Palomino
Walking back along the beach from the Rio Palomino

Where to Stay in Palomino

Palomino is a backpacker haven with tons of resorts and hostels to choose from.

If you have 4 couples, you can rent an awesome villa in a gorgeous gated community near the beach in Palomino for around $100 per person for the weekend. What a treat!

pool at a villa in Palomino
The pool at our villa in Palomino

Our place had a pool and so did the complex, which was empty except for us when we visited on our lazy Sunday after our workout of the previous day. We made many meals and had a great time at our own private resort courtesy of Airbnb.

pool in Colombia Caribbean resort
Pool at our Airbnb in Palomino

The villa actually fit more than just the 8 of us. Our bedroom alone had a king bed and two singles, which Domino enjoyed! She had a grand old time that weekend, although the propensity of wildlife overwhelmed her so much she slept under the covers hiding the second day.

  • black and white cat on a big king size bed
  • cat on a ledge
  • cat on a bed
Caribbean sea view Palomino
Ocean view in Palomino

Colombia is Wild!

Speaking of wildlife, this weekend in Palomino was a reminder that we are living in a wild world. I remember in Nicaragua being warned to check my shoes for scorpions before putting them on, and that maybe a good rule of thumb here too. Here are just some of the wild creatures seen on this weekend adventure:

A crazy spider in the rental car

We rented a car to get to Palomino and early in the trip our friend Elizabeth noticed a spider crawling on her! As we were pulling into a supermarket parking lot, we immediately evacuated the car, but the spider stayed. It took another friend, GC, pulling apart the seats before he found and killed the giant scary deadly spider. Note: I have no idea if it was deadly but it was scary!

Warning: the second photo is of a smushed dead spider.

Spider on the floor of a car
The spider in our rental car. I couldn’t get close as people were trying to capture it

Warning: the next photo is of a dead spider.

dead spider
Dead spider
The frog on our patio

It looked like a blob or a slug, just a spot on the patio of the villa in Palomino. But when anyone walked near it, that frog jumped so fast it surprised us!

frog
Tiny frog that looked like a blob but moved fast!
Bees in our Bedroom

They weren’t there when we arrived on Friday night, but by the time we woke on Sunday morning, industrious bees had built a hive on the ceiling of our bedroom. Don’t worry, we told the building manager!

wasps nest
Bees (or wasps) formed a hive super fast!

Visit Palomino

Aside from river rafting there’s a lot to do in Palomino. Surf schools and yoga classes are popular. You can dine affordably at any number of restaurants in town and take the bus back to Santa Marta when you please.

It’s nice here in Colombia. We may never leave. Unless the spiders scare us away.

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, scuba diver, cat parent, cyclist, blogger, love the water and exploring new places.

13 thoughts on “Rafting Down The Rio Palomino”

  1. Oh I haven’t heard of this place, but it’s on my list now. Would love to go rafting down the Rio Palomino. I have to say those spiders look terrifying though! Great post and definitely pinning so I have it handy when I am able to visit.

  2. Niiice it sounds like you and your friends had an absolute blast!

    “Usually we ended up exactly where we didn’t want to go, but had lots of fun doing it!” ???????? That sounds like my kind of rafting ability!

    I looove the look of the ceviche at the beach at the end of the adventure too!

  3. Oh my gosh, so fun! I have some good memories floating around the lakes in Minnesota with friends all tied to each other like you are in your photos. So awesome!

  4. Definitely my kind of adventure! we do a couple of float trips every year and we always enjoy ourselves, but we never ended up at the ocean, which is so awesome!

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