North Colombia: Exploring the Caribbean Coast


Cabo de la Vela, La Guajira, beach in Northern Colombia

Colombia is fast becoming one of the most popular countries in South America. Its history and reputation of violence and drugs related crime is subsiding, and it has plenty of sights and attractions to appeal to visitors. From vast cities to historical sites, national parks, beaches, islands and rainforest, Colombia has it all.

The Caribbean coast is a good place to begin exploring Colombia. Head to the historic walled city of Cartagena, where there are 13km of 16th century walls enclosing the colourful, colonial old town here.

Spend a day strolling through the maze of alleyways and view the brightly coloured buildings and churches that adorn the streets. There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants to dip into for a refreshing drink if the heat and humidity becomes too much.  Haggle your way to the best bargains with one of the many street vendors, if you are on the lookout for cheap souvenirs.

Outside of the old town, head to one of Cartagena’s many beaches. Bocagrande is the longest and the most accessible beach in the city. Whilst the extensive stretch of sands and clear waters may seem appealing, it is well known for attracting a lot of attention from street vendors hustling their goods at any given opportunity.

Bocagrande beach in Cartegena, Colombia, South America

If peace and quiet is what you want, you need to take the time to travel further afield. Take a day trip to the pristine beaches of the Rosario islands. With white sands and crystal clear sea, they are the perfect place to unwind and relax. Day trips can be booked from many places in the city, but if there are more than 4 people in your group, it might work out better value to rent your own boat for the day.

Continue a little further along the coast and you will reach the city of Santa Marta. Whilst the city itself is not particularly enthralling, it is a great place to use as a base to visit the many natural sights of the region.  The city is a gateway to Tayrona National Park.

The park itself has plenty of hiking trails that lead through stunning lush rainforest to untouched and isolated beaches. The surf here is good, however it is only suitable for experienced surfers due to the extreme rip tide! There is plenty of wildlife to check out in the park, including monkeys, iguanas, lizards, eagles, condors and plenty of marine life. Jaguar are known to live here however they are very elusive, so spotting one might be quite a challenge!

Finally, in fact closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, lies the idyllic island of San Andres. This tiny island located in the Caribbean sea is the perfect mix of Caribbean Creole and Latino cultures.  Take the 2 hour flight there from the Colombian capital Bogota.

Although, small at just 26 square kilometres there is plenty to see and do here.  Head to Johnny Cay regional park, a small and perfectly formed island just a mile off the coast of the mainland.  Day trips here are cheap and you can spend the day snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, sunbathing on the pristine white sands, whilst keeping an eye out for the colony of iguanas that inhabit this tiny island.  Pay a visit to El Hoyo Suplidor geyser.  Although only active when conditions allow, it is worth taking a look, because at times it can put on quite a show and creates great photo opportunities.  San Andres is also a great place to scuba dive.

The island has a number of affiliated dive shops where you can complete PADI courses to gain your scuba qualifications. There is plenty of marine life to see here, including sting rays, turtles, sharks, barracuda and at the right time of year there is even the possibility of seeing whale sharks in the warm waters here.

Health in Colombia

Visitors to the Caribbean coastal zones of Colombia should all consider having the Yellow Fever vaccine. The disease itself is spread via the bite of an infected mosquito and can be very deadly. Vaccination should be taken at least 10 days before travel and is very effective.  The vaccination itself is live and can cause side effects so may not be suitable for everyone.  Come into our clinics and discuss this directly with us, as each individual is different

All visitors should also ensure their Hepatitis A and Tetanus vaccines are also up to date. It is best to get these at least 2 weeks before travel to ensure full effectiveness. Any visitors travelling to Colombia for long periods, heading off the beaten track or working over there might need extra vaccinations. These include Typhoid and courses of Rabies and Hepatitis B. Courses can take a month to complete so it is vital to plan early to ensure you are well covered.

There is a malaria risk in many parts of Columbia and prescription antimalarial tablets may be required. It is best to visit us to discuss your trip and work out which tablets may be most suitable for you.

It is essential that all travellers use a good DEET-based mosquito repellent all day and night.  Mosquitoes in Colombia can carry diseases such as Dengue Fever, that there are no vaccines for. Preventing getting bitten is the only way to ensure you are safe. It is also advisable to hang a mosquito net over your bed at night and wear long, loose clothing, particularly when out at dawn and dusk.

Book an appointment with one of our travel health experts, where they’ll discuss your individual needs , provide recommendations and administer vaccines if required.

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