Guide to Colombia's North Coast by Motorbike

By Brayden Lund

Information for Motorcycle Rentals

If you feel like taking a relaxing motorcycle rip without one of our guided tours, this guide is perfect for you. The best places to sleep, eat, and explore during your time in our beautiful part of Colombia!

Background Information

Prior to a few years ago, Palomino was the only place east of Santa Marta that was even close to being on the tourist map. However with the massive increase in tourist numbers visiting Colombia’s Caribbean region in recent years, Palomino has blown up, and many other sites of interest on the main road from Santa Marta are starting to be discovered.

 

How to get there from Santa Marta

The route to Palomino from Santa Marta is very straightforward. After a 10-minute drive out of town you can open up the throttle on the well-maintained and wide open highway, passing through the jungle and local villages next to the Caribbean sea.

The road is the only connection between Santa Marta and everything to the east, and is shared by both trucks and buses moving at 90km/h, as well as locals on small motorcycles travelling no more than 30km/h.

Navigating out of town is very straightforward, and once you are on the highway most of the places of interest are clearly marked with roadside signage, so together with the map below should be very easy to navigate.

 

Navigation

Download the app maps.me, or another offline maps program on your phone, and combined with the map above, you will have more than enough information to navigate through and see everything along the coast.

Ask locals too. They will probably regard you with curiosity, especially if you stop in a small town rarely visited by tourists, but they will happily point you in the right direction.


What to See and Do

Paso del Mango

Swimming holes: Numerous small waterfalls and swimming holes are scattered around the Paso del Mango area. Some are more obvious than others, just ask locals to point you in the right direction. Some will charge a small (2-5.000 COP) fee to park your bike and enter.
Cacao Plantation: Ran and owned by a beautiful local family, and located quite deep into the jungle, close to Finca Carpe Diem. Tours are available for around 15.000 per person, and will show you how to make chocolate without the need for machinery. From picking the beans to tasting your own personally made chocolate.
Reserva Biologica Caoba: Located at the back end of Paso del Mango, and has been open since 2007 as a refuge and reserve of many rare types of local flora and fauna. Incredibly interesting to walk around and see the variety of wildlife from the area, and tours are included in the entrance price of 10.000 COP. Owner’s name is Katha. She’s awesome.

Tayrona Park

Bahia Concha: Beautiful, white sand beach inside Tayrona park. Gravel access road just before the toll point/peaje. 10.000 COP entry.
Main Entry: Can take bikes approximately 15 minutes inside for 7.000 COP, or park outside in the parqueadero. 48.000 COP entry, 2 hour hike to Cabo San Juan.
Los Naranjos: Park your bike at The Journey Hostel, approx 2 minutes part the main entry to the park. Ask for directions at the hostel. Entry is free, and takes approximately 1.5 hours to visit the beach and return to The Journey Hostel.
Machete/Quebrada del Sol: Look for the Brown sign saying “Ciudad Perdida”. You will need to pay 2.000 COP per bike to enter, then follow the gravel road for approximately 30-45 minutes to reach an amazing viewpoint of the Sierra Nevada mountains (it will be obvious when you see it). If you continue, you will come to an intersection.

The right trail will take you to Machete, which is the start of the Lost City treks, and as far as you are allowed to ride on the bikes. Head back to the main road the way you came after a quick break.

The left trail will take you on a 4 hour trail ride through some very technical off road terrain. This should only be attempted by EXPERIENCED OFF ROAD RIDERS. Conditions on this route vary from “a little difficult” to “that was crazy”, depending on the time of year. Ask us at the office for up to date information and detailed directions if you are going to attempt the ride- A lot of the time we'll be happy to take a rip around up there with you.

 

Quebrada Valencia

A multi-layered waterfall approximately 25 minutes hike from the main highway. Look for the brown sign saying “Quebrada Valencia”, park your bike at the small shop on the main road for 5.000 COP including the entrance to the waterfall. The second level has a 5 metre cliff jump to the right side if you are feeling adventurous. A must stop on our Coastal tours.

 

Viewpoint

Approximately 5 minutes before Palomino there is a gravel area on the side of the road that many cars and buses will stop at for photos and an amazing view of the coastline way past Palomino.

 

Palomino

Super relaxed surfer/backpacker town located where the Palomino river meets the sea. Approximately 1.5-2 hours ride from Santa Marta. Tubing the Palomino river will cost 20-25.000 COP if you haggle, or 40.000 per person if you don’t. It includes a moto ride to the river, and the tube hire for 3-4 hours. Ask them to stop at a (shop) tienda on the way to pick up beers. You can also check out the beach for surf conditions and board hire.

 

Dibulla

A sleepy fishing village approximately 40 minutes past Palomino which is still mostly void of tourism. There is 1 hostel at the eastern end of the beach (called Mangal hostal) with decent rooms available for those that want some time away from everything. Great seafood lunches are available on the beach as well.

 

Where to stay

The Journey Hostel
Owned and operated by a Canadian-Colombian brother-sister team, and located 3 minutes away from the main entrance to Tayrona park. The accommodations are all located on a hill back from the main highway, and deliver a breathtaking view over Tayrona park and surrounds, all the way to the ocean. [LINK]

 

El Rio Hostel
Voted Hostelworld’s “Best Hostel in Colombia” and “Second Best in Latin America” in 2018. The grounds are stunning, the beds are super comfortable, food delicious and the drink selection very comprehensive. Chock full of different free and paid activities, our favourite of which is the river tubing. A 1-hour float down the Buritaca river in an inflatable tube. Bring drinks for the ride. Also, our third office is located here! [LINK]

 

Dreamer Hostel Palomino

A Colombian-Italian owned boutique hostel located on Palomino beach. Large pool, daily/nightly free and paid activities organised by the hostel, fairly priced, comfortable rooms and air-conditioning as standard. Our favourite to stay at in Palomino. [LINK]


Mangal Hostal

Located at the eastern edge of Dibulla and a 2-minute walk from the beach, it’s the perfect place for travellers wanting a secluded, tranquil stay on the beach away from the normal tourist hustle and bustle. Comfortable rooms at very good prices, and a delicious and hearty Colombian breakfast available for only 8.000 COP. [LINK]

 

What to eat/drink

La Brisa Tranquila: Comprehensive and delicious lunch menu (available 12pm-3pm) at a very reasonable cost. Located on costeño beach, approximately 5 minutes down a dirt track that leads off the main road. The quesadillas are a favourite.

 

Prima Luna Restaurant: Located on the main road in Palomino approximately 2 minutes walk from the beach. Italian-Colombian owned Hostel/Restaurant, and home to the best pizza you will find in northern Colombia. Proper wood-fired, and a large variety of toppings to choose from. Other menu items are delicious as well.

 

El Rio: Gets a second mention here as their food is delicious. The menu changes daily, and usually consists of 4-5 options with a couple of vegetarian meals available. Kitchen open from 12:30-2:30 daily. Make sure you stop by our office here and give us a bite!

 

Safety

Trucks and buses

The Troncal highway is the only access road linking Santa Marta with Palomino, Riohacha and all other towns and villages in Colombia’s north-east. As such, you will be sharing the road with all types of vehicles. From trucks and buses travelling 90km/h, to children and local workers on bicycles cycling between towns. Be careful when overtaking trucks, and NEVER overtake on the inside (right side). Driver’s are often helpful and will wave you through when it is safe to pass, just make sure they can see you!

 

Speed bumps

Speed bumps are located at the entrance and exit to all the small towns along the coast, and vary a lot in size. Keep your eyes up and watch for the yellow paint on the road or signage on the right side of the highway warning you of approaching speed bumps.

Don’t ride after dark

Riding anywhere in Colombia after dark can be a risky excursion, and the windy, unlit coastal highways are no exception. If you have no other option, i.e. if you had a delay and are arriving late at your accommodation, ride with your headlights on high, and at a much slower pace than you normally would.

Park Smart

Always park the bike in a safe and secure area, with the steering lock engaged. Our recommended accommodations all have a secure parking area for you, but if you choose to stay elsewhere, make sure there is a secure place to leave the bike. Very rarely does anything happen to people using the right amount of brains and caution. Don’t leave helmets or bungee cords unattended on the bikes.

 

Where to get help with the bike

Flat tires
Llanterías (tyre repair stores) are scattered frequently along the main highway, so in the rare case of a puncture you will never be far away. Ask locals to point you in the direction of the closest one, and they will normally get you back on the road in less than 20 minutes and under 10.000 COP.

 

Gas

1 tank will get you approximately 250km of riding. If you run out of gas, the bikes have a reserve tank that will get you another 30-40km. The dial is a metal switch on the left side of the bike, underneath the gas tank. Point it down to access the reserve fuel. Try to fill up at the gas station in Palomino if you can, otherwise all the small towns will have gas available in bottles roadside.

 

Chain

If your chain comes off and doesn’t appear to be damaged in any way, place the chain on the rear sprocket (pointy disc on the back wheel), and roll the bike backwards. It should click back into place. Tighten the chain as soon as possible, or ask somebody to tighten it for you if you don’t know how.

 

Clutch cable

If your clutch cable (the wire that keeps tension on the left (clutch) lever for changing gears) snaps, it should cost around 1.000 COP from a hardware store, and 5-10.000 COP for somebody to replace it if you don’t know how to replace it yourself.

IMPORTANT NOTES ON BREAKDOWNS

In the extremely rare case that you damage your bike to the point where you cannot ride it, or in the even rarer case of mechanical failure that results in you being unable to operate the bike, you are still responsible for bringing the bike back safely to us. DO NOT leave it unattended unless instructed by us to do so, or you feel like your safety is in danger. If in the case of mechanical failure that was not the rider’s fault, we will take full responsibility and refund any missed rental days.