Colombia’s Southern Caribbean Beaches: Arboletes to Tolu

Colombia’s southern Caribbean coast, south of Cartagena, is rarely visited by foreigners. Small, uncomplicated, budding resort towns with names like  Arboletes, Monitos, Puerto Escondido, San Antero, Covenas, Isla Fuerte, San Bernardo and Tolu are beautiful seaside villages and will eventually become touristic jewels. But for now, travelers seem to prefer the beaches on Colombia’s north Caribbean coast – Parque Tayrona, Palomino – places that have become a bit too popular and are already suffering from over-tourism.

Colombia’s southern Caribbean offers everything a beach bum needs: tropical sun, sandy beaches, inexpensive lodgings, restaurants serving sea food, safe environments and easy transportation. One could spend weeks slowly visiting them all and still not want to leave.

Monitos

It’s a small, remote fishing village in the department of Cordoba. To get there catch a bus in Monteria (a 2.5 hour trip) or Lorica (1 hour trip). The bus leaves you at the central plaza in town a block up from the beach. Just down the street there’s a long wooden dock going out several hundred yards into the sea. It sways and vibrates beneath the pounding surf. While there’s not a lot in town to do, it offers everything you need. Most of all vast expanse of beaches and inexpensive lodgings.

There are a couple of seedy hotels right in town. But skip these. Instead, go to the seaside restaurant on the beach called “Asi es Colombia” and ask for Sra. Cecelia Durango. She owns the restaurant and knows of various cabins right on the beach owned by the locals who rent them out by the night, week or month. If there is not a Colombian holiday going on there are plenty of inexpensive options to choose from.

The Sra. Celelia arranged for me to meet one of the village shop owners after lunch to show me some apartments. There are nice beach houses usually divided into several rooms. I paid $8 (30,000 COP) a night for a room. Each room faces the ocean, has its own bathroom and terrace with hammock. Some have common kitchens. At night the cool sea breeze comes in the open doors from the ocean and the sound of crashing waves is the only sound to be heard.

There’s a supermarket on Monito’s main square along with a wi-fi access store, shops and plenty of restaurants offering fresh seafood, lunches and dinners, for $5 a plate. At night there are a couple dozen street food vendors stationed around the plaza selling fried plantains, chicken, sausages and meat on a stick.

You can come into town in the evening, relax by the beach at night, have a few beers and walk back down the beach at night to your cabin. Monitos is safe, they assured me. Here you can leave your doors open at night and walk the beach without worry. Everyone walks or drives their motor bikes back and forth on the beach, to and from town, at all hours of the night. A nice change after the wary explorations of Cartagena’s beaches.

Isla Fuerte

Just north of Monitos is Isla Fuerte a small coral island, formed from coral detritus, located 11 km from the mainland. To get there, one can take a bus back towards Lorica and get off at the village of Paso Nuevo. Down at the harbor motor boats leave every hour to the island – a 45 minute trip is $5 round trip (15,000 COP). Morning transits see calm seas but bigger swells ensue in the afternoon. The last boats returning from the island to the mainland depart at 3 p.m.

This small island, 1.5 miles in length, is a relatively unknown gem. At the port town of Puerto Limon there are a number of restaurants and bars trying to get you to make reservations for lunch as soon as you get out of the boat. But feel free to explore the island. There are over a dozen hotels, cabins and hostels along the island’s southern shoreline with an abundance of thatched hut restaurants right on the beaches serving fresh fish, grilled lobster, cerveza offering chairs, tables, hammocks and shade.

Isla Fuerte has a population of 2,000 people and forms an island chain along with the more visited islands of the San Bernardo Archipelago and Rosario Islands. But because Isla Fuerte is the farthest island to the south and accessed from a less visited area of Colombia, it sees much less tourism. And that’s it’s charm.

You can hike all around the island in just 6 hours. The topography is composed of tropical dry forest and mangroves. The island has 80 species of birds and numerous sloths. The beaches are a Caribbean delight. At Playa San Diego, one of the coves onthe island, the beach has white sand and crystal blue waters.

The reefs surrounding the island are great for diving. Experts consider Isla Fuerte to be one of the best dive sites in the Carribean. A reef three times the size of the island is located just 10 miles off shore. There are diving centers on the island, like the Isla Fuerte Ecolodge and Diving Center, that will supply you with the necessary infrastructure.

Arboletes

Bathing in the mud volcanoes in Arboletes adjacent the Caribbean sea

Arboletes is a small, seaside village of 22,000 people on Colombia’s southern Caribbean coast. It lies north of Turbo.

The village is a Colombian tourist destination for its beaches but more so for the mud volcano just outside of town called Volcan de Lodo Arboletes. It’s an ecological park where tourists can float in a crater of warm mud 50 meters in diameter. 

Arboletes is also known for it’s sandy beaches around the town and it’s wide selection of tourist accomodations. Located in the province of Antioquia the village was founded in 1920. Arboletes means ‘land of trees.

Covenas

Covenas is a resort town on the Gulf of Morrosquillo. It is located in the department of Sucre and was established in the 1570 as a port for slave traders. When slave trading became illegal, Covenas became a meat trading port. And in 1971, with the discovery of oil in the area, it became an oil port and terminal for an pipeline from the oil fields of Venezuela.

Covenas has been a Colombian tourist town since the 1960s. The town’s sandy beaches and infrastructure offers ample services and amenities for mainly Colombian tourists. Here there are plenty of hotels, high rise apartment buildings, bars, clubs and restaurants.

a bicycle taxi on the streets of Tolu

Tolu

Is a sleepy little tourist town 3 hours south of Cartagena on the Caribbean Gulf of Morrosquillo. Also catering to Colombian tourist, on the weekends Tolu is a bustling  boom-boom town with music blaring from every bar, restaurant and bicycle taxi ambling along the malecon boardwalk – jut the way the Colombian tourists like it. Everyone travels in bicycle rickshaws or what they call bicitaxis, outfitted with boom boxes and accommodating anywhere from 3-10 people. It’s a nice place to unwind in a town with everything  you need.

To see the full article visit: Travel to the beaches of Tolu’

Other Coastal Towns include:

Beaches of San Antero

San Antero – a seaside fishing village just south of Tolu with nearby mangroves.

Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido – just north of Arboletes – a fishing village in a hidden cove with a long, wooden dock stretching several hundred yards out to sea.

Rincon del Mar

Rincon del Mar – Rincon Del Mar is a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast a short 25 minute taxi or moto from San Onofre. It has clear waters, white sand, great food and sees few tourists.  From here one can hire a boat to take you to the San Bernardo islands, Islas Mucura, Islote de Santa Cruz – the most densely populated island in the world, and Isla Titipan.

Carpugana and Zapzurro – the beaches on the Darien Pass

For more information on Colombia’s most southern Caribbean beaches near the Darien Pass – see the following article:

Capurgana and Zapzurro: Carribean villages and the Darien Pass

Arboletes: Mud Volcano on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

The Best Caribbean Beaches in Colombia are near Santa Marta

Santa Marta and the Beaches

Playa Soledad Capurgana

For more on the beaches of Colombia see the following articles:

Author: Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at: jonmcinnesjon@gmail.com

One thought on “Colombia’s Southern Caribbean Beaches: Arboletes to Tolu”

  1. Hermosas playas de mi lindo país, playas que muchos de nosotros no conocemos, ellas hacen parte de las maravillas que se encuentran en nuestra hermosa Colombia. Gracias Jon por compartir tan lindas fotografías y artículos con tan interesante información.

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