You’re going to arrive in Santa Marta and leave the airport to one of the aggressive taxi drivers. Santa Marta is a busy city stuck a few years back. I was bothered by catcalling, but not so much as to not make my way along the Colombian Coast. From Santa Marta’s center (El Mercado), you’re going to catch a bus. This bus could take you all the way to Palomino, but you’ll be getting off about 45 minutes before that, to a magical place they call Costeño Beach. It’s a private beach, and you’ll need a reservation even to just enter the area. Or you’ll need to know someone, however, as a traveler, it’s unlikely you’ll know a local Costeño to let you into the private beach. The dorms that you can reserve go as low as $11 a night, or as high as $175 a night. You have a mixture of party hostels, luxury hotels, and an in-between option. My favorite place to stay was the in-between options, which are near the parties, but still isolated enough to either get work done or to just chill out by the beach.
Even though you have options, you don’t have many. And if you don’t make reservations weeks in advance, you’ll have less. If all of the hostels outlined do not have availability, check out the local accommodations on the Mendihuaca River (there are some listings on Airbnb or booking.com and some other options, where you just show up and ask for availability), where you’ll still be able to walk to Costeño on the sandy beach along with beautiful palm trees. Two other good alternate hostels are the Rio Hostel and the Journey Hostel.
I only went to Rio at night, due to the environment of my work and Rio’s “no-Internet” policy. I did enjoy the peaceful nature surrounding the Journey hostel, however. It makes for some good photos, a peaceful morning swim above the mountains, and it comes with a free breakfast. Be forewarned that all of these hostels do not allow you to bring your own food or alcohol, so it does make for a quite pricier backpacking trip. There are ways to price-hack these money-haggling-hype-resorts, however. Because trust me, they’re worth the hype.
The main accommodations at Costeño are Costeño Beach Hostel, Los Hermanos Hostel, La Brisa Tranquila, Cayena Hotels, “The Yellow Cabanas” as we called them, Bohemia Beach Hostel, and then a more luxury hotel that sits a few meters further down from Bohemia Beach Hostel, Blue Mango Beach Hotel.
Cayena Hotel and the Blue Mango Beach Hotel are luxury hotels with luxury experiences. You will probably be chained to your expensive hotel because the other hostels are particular about who uses their facilities, but you can always join the party at night.
The party will be at Costeño Beach Hostel or Los Hermanos Hostel. There is a slight chance it might even make its way to Bohemia Beach Hostel, but Bohemia is so far walking from Costeño (about 25 minutes), that it’s very likely to lose a big portion of your party gang just on the walk over. I think Bohemia was my favorite hostel, but I ended up walking so far every day, I doubt that I would want to go back, especially if it’s just for a vacation.
Where would I recommend, then? Los Hermanos, Costeño Beach Hostel, and Bohemia Beach Hostel all have nice, indoor, light fixtures, fans included, and big lockers provided in their inexpensive dorm rooms. However, they sell out quickly. They are also comparable in price to the basic private rooms you can get (about $10 USD difference a night) at La Brisa Tranquila, or if you’re lucky, at Costeño. You can also stay in the $11-15 USD most basic dorms at Costeño Beach (these dorm rooms are of 30+ beds and completely exposed to the outdoors, but you have all of the luxuries of these elaborate escapes. My favorite accommodation, however, was at La Brisa Tranquila in their most basic private room. Queen bed, enough room to put my stuff on a few small shelves, and big spacious (shared) bathrooms. About $20 USD a night. I was happy with that for the short time I planned on being there, but I ended up switching to dorms after staying for a few weeks.
What happens if you want to stay for a few weeks or more? Get an accommodation, through Airbnb or booking.com, for that amount of time at a much better price. This accommodation will likely be between the Mendihuaca River and the small town of Buritaca. You could also climb the mountain, towards Journey Hostel, and still be within a relatively short distance from the beach. But how will you get from your accommodation to the beach? Ask your host, or anyone for that matter, for a reliable moto-taxi driver. Pack a day bag, get dressed, and message or call your moto-taxi driver. You could wake up and be at the beach within 40 minutes, or even less. If you stay on the shoreline of the Mendihuaca River, you’ll wake up right on the beach.
Other alternatives are long-term stays in Santa Marta/Taganga or Palomino, and you can just make your way to Costeño whenever you get the chance to. If you stay in Santa Marta, you’ll take an almost 2-hour bus to Costeño Beach (the driver will announce it if you let him know you’re headed that way before you get on), where you can either walk 30 minutes to the beach or take a moto-taxi, that takes less than 5 minutes. The moto-taxi is usually right around or under $5 USD, and it gets you and your luggage to the beach quickly. You’re also ensured to not get lost, because these moto-taxis are specific to Costeño Beach, and know their way around the area.
From there, I could make another entire blog about what to do! Quebrada Valencia, the Mendihuaca River, Tayrona Park, the Lost City Trek, trips to Minca, Palomino, Santa Marta, Taganga, Cabo de la Vela… party, beach days, party again. Just have fun. That’s what Costeño Beach is all about.