In the not too distant past, Colombia was famous for all the wrong reasons.
Now that it’s safe and stable, it has become a popular destination for beach seekers of all kinds.
In Spanish, ‘playa’ means beach, and whether you’re a backpacker on a budget looking for a spring break-like atmosphere, or a jet-setting high-roller in search of exquisite service and privacy, there’s something here for you.
Aside from its amazing coffee and beaches, Colombia is blessed with friendly people, a fascinating history and some of South America’s most breathtaking scenery.
Boasting coastline on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts and full of natural beauty everywhere in between, Colombia is once again on the map for travelers the world over.
So, here are Colombia’s best beaches:
1. Playas de Palomino
For those intent on taking the road less traveled, Playas de Palomino on the Caribbean coast is a wise choice.
First impressions can be deceiving, and this is the case when driving into town.
Nestled out of sight past the town’s modest neighborhoods is one of Colombia’s best-kept beach secrets.
Perfectly contrasted by the Sierra Nevada Mountains just inland, it’s a beach the locals prefer to keep to themselves, for obvious reasons.
Don’t be surprised if it feels like you’ve got the whole place to yourself, because you just might.
2. Playa Blanca
Located on an island (Isla Baru) southwest of Cartagena, Playa Blanca – or white beach – is a favorite of many Colombian families looking for a quick escape from their mainland lives.
Playa Blanca is also becoming a tourist favorite, due to its mesmerizingly blue water and postcard-like white beaches.
Weekends and public holidays are the busiest and there is a tendency for the beach to become downright crowded and noisy.
If that’s a scene you’re inclined to avoid, schedule your trip during the week when most other poor souls are slaving away in their offices.
Don’t forget to bring your earplugs, to block out the annoying sounds of swishing palm trees and breaking waves.
If quaint, colorful houses, gorgeous beaches and breathtaking views of the surrounding jungle-covered mountains are what you’re looking for, then grab your passport and sunblock.
Only accessible by speedboat and the occasional flight, Capurgana is a world of rum-filled coconuts, splendid serenity, and amazing vistas.
Budget-friendly accommodations are available, as are plenty of friendly and industrious locals who’ll go out of their way to make your stay as perfect as it can be.
Offering some of the best snorkeling in the country, it’s not uncommon to see playful dolphins frolicking in the surf, and massive leatherback turtles which come to lay their eggs between February and July.
4. La Miel
Located in the town of Sapzurro, on the Caribbean coast near the Panamanian border, La Miel is a short boat trip away from the aforementioned Capurgana.
Though a bit more remote than its neighbor, La Miel still has a few restaurants ready to serve up hot plates of the local fare.
Fried fish with coconut rice and fried bananas are a few of the favorites for locals and tourists alike.
For those looking to stretch their legs and broaden their horizons, it’s possible to climb the hill behind the town and enter neighboring Panama.
If you’re a backpacker on a budget looking to cut loose and let your dreadlocks down without breaking the bank, then Taganga might be just what the doctor ordered.
Fueled by cheap lodging and a reputation for partying, Taganga is a hot destination for young revelers looking to whoop-it-up in this once quiet fishing village.
Just a stone’s throw from Santa Marta by bus or cab, Taganga offers accommodation for every type of traveler, but this probably isn’t the place for you if you’re looking for peace and quiet in a family setting.
6. Playas de Providencia
Playa de Providencia, or ‘beach of providence,’ is one of three main islands in the San Andres Archipelago.
Nearer to neighboring Nicaragua than to Colombia, the islands are a huge attraction for Colombians living on the mainland looking for a little rest and relaxation.
Picturesque white beaches lined with palm trees and colorful fishing boats will make you feel like you’ve been magically transported into a travel brochure.
The clear water makes it a great place to snorkel and dive while checking out some of the colorful indigenous marine life.
7. Las Islas de San Bernardo
When not chockfull of vacationing Colombians, the islands that make up this archipelago can be delightfully laid back.
When the sun is shining, the reflection off the white, sandy beaches can literally take your sight away, as well as your breath.
If snorkeling and native marine fauna are your cup of tea, take a boat tour to the fishing village of Santa Cruz del Islote, then cruise to Isla Mucura and Isla Palma, where you’ll get a glimpse of how the locals live, eat lunch, relax and spend some time sightseeing under water.
8. El Valle
Located west of Medellin on Colombia’s Pacific coast, El Valle is famous for the marine turtles that lay their eggs on its beaches, and the whales that show up every year from June to October.
Flanked by two dark, sandy beaches and backed by dense jungle, El Valle is a place of wonderful contrasts.
Fishing and snorkeling are big attractions, but for those interested in macabre folklore, try visiting the town’s graveyard which the locals swear is haunted.
Perhaps it’s just a marketing ploy, but you never know.
In addition, you can travel upriver to meet the indigenous Embera people.
The nightlife is pretty nonexistent during the week, but the town comes to life on the weekends.
On the stunning Pacific coast, Nuqui is surrounded by one of Colombia’s most impassable jungles, making it a truly tropical hideaway.
From June to October, you’ll be able to see humpback wheels gather here to breed.
The town has a strong African influence and is noted for its dramatic and diverse array of plants and wildlife.
For those looking for some natural therapy, nearby thermal springs are great for a rejuvenating soak and a mud facial to cleanse those dirty pores.
There’s also the picturesque Waterfall of Love – only a short hike inland.
Take a native guide with you to avoid getting lost in the jungle.
10. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona
For those non-Spanish speakers, the name means, The National Nature Park of Tayrona.
Considered by many to be one of the most breathtaking places in a country brimming with them, Tayrona is noted for its pristine landscapes, huge palm trees, and rocky cliffs.
From the beach, you’ll see large, dramatic rocks jutting from the sea, with a backdrop of small, overgrown islands set against a hopelessly blue sky stretching all the way to the horizon.
Ecotourism is a big draw here for those who seek to mesh with the natural world.
11. Cabo de la Vela
Located at the north end of its Caribbean coast, Cabo de la Vela is unlike any other beach you’ll find in Colombia.
Instead of the lush jungles and swaying palms that are mainstays of Columbia’s other beaches, surrounding la Vela, you’ll find stark deserts with little or no vegetation.
The dunes at Punta Gallinas are a sight you won’t want to miss, but other than that, there’s little else to do, except read a book, enjoy the scenery and eat local lobster that costs less than a hot dog and bag of chips back home.
More than just a little off the beaten path, you’ll be greatly rewarded if you put in the effort to get to this out of the way gem.
Located on the Caribbean coast, Trigana is a place often overlooked by tourists.
It’s a place of contrasts, where, with a little luck, you’ll be enchanted by the variations in water and sand color.
There are stunning botanical gardens, national parks, and hot springs nearby too, and for the more adventurous, you can visit some beautiful waterfalls or kayak through the mangroves.
Just south of Santa Marta and Playa Blanca on the Pacific coast, Rodadero is one of the most popular beaches in Colombia.
More touristy and lively than many others, it offers a little something for everyone.
The locals and vendors are not as laid back here as they are at the less accessible beaches, and for some relaxation-seekers it can be a big turn-off.
On the flip side, there are more cultural activities close by.
At night, local drummers perform, providing a nice backdrop for a delicious seafood meal that you’ll find surprisingly inexpensive.
14. Isla Mucura
A few hours from Cartagena, Isla Mucura is another small island in the San Bernardo Archipelago.
Smaller than the other islands in the group, Isla Mucura has just a few hotels so overcrowding won’t be an issue.
The Punto Faro resort offers bicycle, snorkeling and even windsurfing tours, so no matter how you’d like to spend your time here, you’ll find something that interests you.
If you just want to be a beach potato, you’ll love the sun, views, and crystal clear water.
15. Boca Grande
Just north of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, Boca Grande, or ‘big mouth,’ isn’t the most picturesque or serene beach you’ll find in Colombia, but its proximity to Cartagena is a plus for those looking to partake in some of the cultural activities the city has to offer.
A major seaport founded by the Spanish in 1533, the city boasts a rich history and has some wonderful architecture, forts, and museums.
Like Rodadero, the vendors can be pushy and annoying, so perhaps a morning swim followed by some afternoon sightseeing will mix things up a bit.