Whether you’re drawn to Colombia by the rich culture, the high-altitude hiking, the wildlife-rich rainforests or the energetic cities, you’ll want to linger to enjoy the country’s glorious beaches.

As the only country in South America with coasts on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Colombia has more than its fair share of untouched sands waiting for your beach towel. With healthy, fish-filled coral reefs, dramatic sand dunes and swaying palms, Colombia's jungle-hemmed beaches are guaranteed to make your soul sing.

Water temperatures are close to spa tub warm, making the experience of swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing and kitesurfing even more enjoyable. Along the Pacific shoreline, rare leatherback and hawksbill turtles often put in an appearance, while the Caribbean coast is characterized by remarkably healthy coral reefs, where schools of Skittles-bright reef fish and rare species of shark wait for divers and snorkelers. 

Whether you're a surfer, a diver or just aching to unwind on the sand, here's our guide to Colombia's best beaches.

Playa Blanca, Isla de Barú

Best beach for backpackers

Cartagena’s best beaches lie beyond the city walls on the island of Barú, which is home to 3km (1.9 miles) of sun-bleached white sand lapped by mirror-calm waters. Day tours from the city bring tourists to the islands in droves, and most make a beeline for Playa Blanca. To make the most of the calm, crystalline waters and gorgeous sands, rent a four-poster beach bed from one of the beach clubs dotted along the oceanfront.

You can doze the day away on your beachside berth as vendors pass by selling snacks, drinks and even massages. Be sure to sample the almost obligatory – and heady – coco loco cocktail (rum, vodka, tequila and coconut cream). If you’re feeling energetic, you can jet ski or paraglide out on the water – make arrangements at the beach clubs. 

Tours tend to arrive around noon and stay on the island until 4pm, at which time this paradisiacal palm-fringed beach clears almost completely of life. Stay overnight in a hammock or a rustic thatched cabin and as night falls, you can go paddleboarding to view bioluminescent plankton, a genuinely magical experience. 

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Bocagrande, Cartagena

Best city beach in Cartagena

If convenience is top of your list, you’ll want to head directly to Cartagena’s Bocagrande, the city’s answer to Miami Beach. The gray-sand beaches on the northern shores of this urban peninsula are indisputably the place to be seen on sunny days in the city. When the weather is dry, the Colombian middle classes gather en masse for a lively day of sunbathing and reveling.

With plenty of bars along the seafront and a steady stream of wandering vendors, you’ll never be far away from chilled drinks and tasty snacks. For a more relaxed day away from the crowds, pay a few dollars to use the umbrellas and sunbeds in front of one of the peninsula’s chain hotels.

Colorful shack on a beach surrounded by palm trees in San Andres y Providencia, Colombia
The islands of San Andrés and Providencia are the Colombian take on the Caribbean island experience © DC_Colombia / Getty Images

Playa San Luis, San Andrés

Best beach for escaping the crowds

A popular destination for locals escaping the cold Andean weather of the highlands, the seahorse-shaped island of San Andrés is the place to sample the Colombian take on the Caribbean. However, many of the island’s beaches have fallen victim to the popularity of their sensational white sands, and it can be a challenge to escape other visitors. Our tip is to head directly to Playa San Luis on the east coast.

Located 9km (5.6 miles) south of Centro, the main town on San Andrés, this beach is best accessed with your own wheels – just rent a golf cart or scooter for the day. It’s more than worth the effort: the water is balmy year-round and the underwater visibility is spectacular. Pick up a snorkel and some flippers from one of the local dive shops to glide past schools of tropical fish flitting above the sugar-white seafloor.

Back on land, a clutch of bars and restaurants set back from the beach will keep you sated with heaped platters of octopus and shrimp and ice-cold fruity cocktails. To reach San Andrés, take a flight from Bogotá, Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena or Medellín.

Southwest Bay, Providencia 

Best beach for scuba diving

Just 90km (56 miles) north of San Andrés, Providencia is smaller and arguably more spectacular. The longest beach on this emerald-green speck of an island is also the most dazzling. The gentle waters that lap the sands conceal the third-largest coral reef in the world, spanning 30km (18.6 miles). The reef creates a dazzling display on the ocean surface – a patchwork of blues and greens that has given this stretch of water the nickname “the sea of seven colors.”

Part of the Seaflower Unesco Biosphere Reserve, Southwest Bay plays host to a richness of marine life that makes Finding Nemo look positively pedestrian. And the water is a blissful 25°C (77°F), so you can spend hours snorkeling and scuba diving beneath the waves in search of turtles, reef sharks and southern stingrays, plus fish in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Southwest Bay is the ideal place to experience laid-back island life on Providencia. Swing by on Saturday to watch the lively bareback horse races – and the ritual cooling off of the horses in the sea after the contest.

Playa La Caleta, Capurganá 

Best beach for snorkeling

At the very tip of Colombia, near the densely-forested no-man’s land of the Darién Gap – where Colombia and Panama merge – you'll find some of Colombia’s most dazzling beaches. Set within a horseshoe bay along the Caribbean coast, the village of Capurganá is a place that feels completely disconnected from the modern world. So dense is the surrounding jungle that boat and charter flights are the only ways in, and you can spend days here recharging your batteries in blissful peace and quiet.

If you’re feeling mellow, stake out a spot on the golden sands of Capurganá’s main beach, Playa La Caleta, and soak up some rays. But the real attraction of this bay lies under the crystalline waters, which are sediment-free and ideal for snorkeling. The pristine reef here  – considered one of the richest and most unspoiled in the Caribbean – teems with tropical fish, and IUCN red-listed leatherback and critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles bob and drift in the currents. Visit between March and June to observe the magical cycle of life, as young turtles hatch on the beaches nearby.

The Taroa sand dunes spill down to the sea near Punta Gallinas, at the northern tip of South America
The Taroa sand dunes spill down to the sea near Punta Gallinas, at the northern tip of South America © sunsinger / Shutterstock

Playa Taroa, La Guajira

Best beach for remote, pristine wilderness

If you’re seeking a remote escape, far from the beaten path, Playa Taroa is your place. This ethereal, sand-dusted beach at the very northern edge of Colombia (and the northern edge of South America) is a playground of soft, orange-hued sand dunes that slip suddenly down into the almost supernaturally aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. It’s an otherworldly spot for a refreshing dip to wash off the dust of the bumpy roads that cross the arid La Guajira peninsula.

Getting here comes at a cost. From Riohacha, which already feels rather remote, it’s a seven-hour drive through seemingly endless dry plains to reach this even more distant outpost. You’ll need to pack plenty of water and food because there are few places to stock up on provisions along the way. But the rewards outweigh the effort: you’ll find few other beachgoers and total peace on this enchanted slip of sand.

Playa del Pilón, La Guajira

Best beach for dazzling ocean views

Arriving into Cabo de la Vela, a remote, dusty town along the shores of the dry La Guajira peninsula, you might wonder what all the fuss is about, but take a mototaxi to Pilón de Azucar and all will become apparent. From the top of this small hill – a sacred spot for the indigenous Wayuu people who live in this isolated region – you’ll be greeted by astounding views across the desert and down to the ocean below, where jagged cliffs and ochre sands crumble into turquoise waters.

The hike to the viewpoint takes 15 minutes and at the bottom of the hillside lies Playa del Pilón, a half-crescent of honey-colored sands that is perfect for swimming, thanks to calm breakers and deliciously warm waters. If you’ve still got some energy to spare, refreshing sea breezes make Cabo de la Vela an ideal spot for kitesurfing, which you can arrange with local schools.

Playa Terco, Nuquí 

Best beach for surfing

Accessible only by boat, Playa Terco is one of the best beaches along Colombia’s Pacific coast, and it sees some of the best surf in Colombia. Swells can reach up to 2m (8ft), and there are waves that are suitable for anyone from beginners to grizzled pros. The surf is reliable most of the year, although November typically brings the best conditions.

The nearest town, Nuquí, is remote, to say the least. Enclosed by dense rainforest, this section of Colombia’s Chocó department cannot be reached by land. Instead, you'll need to fly from Medellín to tiny Reyes Murillo Airport, where you can arrange transport directly to the beach. If you’re here between July and October, you might spot humpback whales, which gather to breed and raise their young in the warm waters offshore.

Beach view in Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona offers up mile after mile of sandy beaches © javarman3 / iStockphoto / Getty Images

La Piscina, Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Best beach for swimming in paradise

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is a magnet for adventurous tourists who are keen to get the best from the unspoiled coastline and dramatic jungle scenery. Fronted by 8km (5 miles) of beautiful beaches, Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is a favorite destination for backpackers looking to kick back and relax in pristine nature.

With deep, calm and clear waters, La Piscina is the finest beach here, named for a barrier of rock offshore that creates a natural swimming pool. While ocean currents create dangerous conditions for swimming at most beaches in the park, La Piscina is a swimming nirvana, with gently lapping waves that will soothe your body and mind with every stroke.

Playa Cristal, Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

Best beach for a scenic backdrop

If you’re already in Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, there’s no excuse for not visiting another of its most enthralling beaches. Playa Cristal takes its name from the glassy waters that swirl around its narrow strip of white sand. Adding to the tropical mood, a handful of beach shacks serve fresh fish and cold beers.

The beach lies in the more inaccessible western section of the national park, so to get here you’ll need to take a 40-minute boat from El Cabo San Juan del Guía (where most visitors stay when they visit the national park). While the aquamarine waters are dazzling, what really makes Playa Cristal stand out is the backdrop, with the Sierra Nevada mountain range looming dramatically behind the shoreline.

Isla Múcura, Islas de San Bernardo 

Best beach for an overnight stay

With its liberal scattering of palm trees, glorious teal waters and luxurious and lovely accommodations, Isla Múcura is the crown jewel of the Islas de San Bernardo, an achingly beautiful sprinkling of islands, spread across the Caribbean Sea some 50km south of Cartagena.

Part of the Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo, Isla Mύcura is famed for its outstanding snorkeling and its clutch of gorgeous hotels, which boast comfortable suites facing empty beaches and to-die-for ocean views. It’s like staying on your own desert island, but with all the home comforts, fish dinners and magnificent sunsets you could imagine.

Playa La Barra, Parque Nacional Natural Uramba Bahía Málaga

Best beach for sunsets

Shouldered by pristine rainforest and palms, the silty gray sands at Playa La Barra are gloriously devoid of human visitors. Nature dominates here: crabs scuttle across the sand and pelicans take flight to divebomb the water. Between June and November, you might also spot the tell-tale splash of humpback whales frolicking out to sea.

Facing west from Colombia’s Pacific coast, this beach has a prime position at sundown. Pair the glorious sunsets with a chilled beer or a shot of viche, the fiery sugar liquor that’s traditional within these parts, and you have the makings of South American perfection. Get here by boat from Buenaventura.

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