A couple of miles out of Palomino in northern Colombia, boutique hotel One Santuario Natural is a romantic riverside retreat where Kogi shamans occasionally stay for supper. This labour of love is a hotel with a whole lot of heart: the owner takes his role as a custodian of the land seriously, protecting the indigenous Kogi community and its traditions as he welcomes travellers to this increasingly accessible part of the country. Each of the thatched circular palapa huts has a hot tub, hammocks and local handicrafts like embroidered pillows. The Palomino River winds all the way down to the Caribbean Sea, with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range in the background. If you don’t know what tubing is, you’re about to find out (luckily, here it involves ice-cold beers).
Get this when you book through us:
A hike, followed by a tubing excursion on the Palomino River with a local guide down to the Caribbean Sea
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £166.16 (COP825,000).
Rates include breakfast.
Yoga classes can be arranged on request for an additional cost.
At the hotel
Riverside beach, library, free WiFi. In rooms: air-conditioning, minibar, tea and coffee kit, and beach bags.
Our favourite rooms
Each thatched, Bilbo Baggins-approved bolthole has a similar design, with ceiling fans, a circular shape, and a mosaic-lined hot tub, shower, and some hammocks and sunloungers outside. The main difference is whether you want one king-size bed or two queens. For the most privacy, book the room at the furthest end of the plot.
There’s no pool but each palapa has its own hot tub that can be filled on request. Staff will also gladly set up sunloungers on the banks of the Palomino River, where you can spot the howler monkeys swinging between the trees and follow the steps down to the water for a dip.
Wellness is at the core of One Santuario Natural, and as such, their offerings are extensive. Couples can align their chakras and balance their vibrations with sessions of bioenergetic chiropratic therapy, sound healing and Yin Yang herbal river baths, while individual treatments range from acupuncture and cupping to geothermal therapy with hot volcanic stones. There are a number of traditional rituals and rites performed on site, too; take your pick of mud baths, cacao ceremonies, or a detoxifying immersion experience in The Steam House.
You’ll need tubing-appropriate swimwear, and a whole series of magical-realism literature to work your way through.
The jungle-surrounded, riverbank setting means that the hotel is not easily accessible for wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome, but there’s not a lot for Little Smiths to do. Extra beds (300,000 pesos a night) can be added, and rooms with two queen-size beds are available. The chef can cater to children in the restaurant.
Almost all of the fruit and vegetables used in the kitchen are grown onsite, the hotel has solar-powered water heaters, and use upcycled local materials in the design. Lots of the staff are Colombian and Reserva contributes to education-funding schemes in the area.
There are private tables available (in twos and fours), but you’ll be missing out on the fun at the communal one (in fact, you’ll probably want to hang out with the staff who seem to be having the best time in the kitchen).
Bust out your boldest patterns and prints to have a Hawaiian-shirt-off with the colourfully clothed chef, Cható.
Chef Cható and his team cooks up a different set menu each day, taking into account any dietary requirements and preferences. Breakfast follows this pattern, with a full English on the agenda once a week, and other options, such as pancakes with roasted mango, pomelo, mint, local honey and toasted quinoa for the other days, including, of course, as much Colombian coffee as your heart rate can manage. The open-plan kitchen lets you watch the team at work as they cook produce from nearby suppliers (when it’s not straight from the grounds) on the fire. Lunch and dinner might be strawberry gazpacho, followed by a whole roasted fish with tomatoes and potatoes (and some punchy house-made habanero and mango salsa), and banana bread and coconut cream; all served on pretty black ceramic plates from Ráquira.
There’s a bar in the longhouse, which serves an especially good take on the classic Colombian limonada de coco (a sort of coconut limeade) and cocktails made using fresh fruit juice, to a banging-beats soundtrack (which manages to successfully avoid panpipes).
Breakfast hours are 8am to 10am; lunch is 1pm to 4pm; and dinner is served between 7pm and 9.30pm. Drinks are available until 11pm.
Anything on the daily set menu can be served in your room.
On Colombia’s northerly Caribbean coast, One Santuario Natural is a small string of thatched huts on the southern banks of the Palomino River, between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and the sparkly sea.
The nearest airport is Colombia’s Simón Bolívar International Airport along the coast in Santa Marta. The drive should take an hour and a half. Hotel transfers cost 220,000 pesos each way (you can drop those eyebrows; it’s around £50).
Palomino is the nearest town, a 10-minute drive away. It is considered one of the safest spots in Colombia, but it’s still probably not that wise to drive after dark; plus the highways here are often hogged by huge trucks, so keep that in mind if you’re hiring a car. There’s free parking when you arrive.
Worth getting out of bed for
This coastal Caribbean paradise has some of the best beaches in Colombia, with lively bars along the shore and seafood shacks serving up simple-but-superb, just-caught fish. You’ll even be able to see snow-capped peaks from the sand, thanks to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains (with all of their hiking-to-waterfalls promise) looming in the distance.
If you like your activities inflatable-based, you’ve come to the right place: Palomino is a premier spot for tubing and you can coast along the river towards the sea, with a floating bar accompanying you if that’s how you roll (/drift). You’ll also be able to coast along on a paddle-board if your core’s up to it. It’s not always possible, but the hotel may also be able to help guests meet some local Kogi people – and even a Mamo (shaman) if you’re lucky. Experienced surfers can ride the riptide on Palomino Beach.
Forget Machu Picchu: Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is thought to be 650 years older than Peru’s famous Inca site. It’s deep in the Sierra Nevada, and not quite doable in a day trip – unless you fly over in a helicopter with Galavanta Helitours. The Riohacha region on the Venezualan border does have day-trip potential, especially good news if you’re a flamingo fan: there’s a colony of the pretty pink birds in the Los Flamencos Sanctuary near Camarones in La Guajira, on the coastal road between Santa Marta and Riohacha. For twitchers, there’s plenty of bird-watching opportunities within the rainforest as well, especially helpful if your preferred avians are parrots and toucans.
The Tayrona National Natural Park is about an hour’s drive away from the hotel. Here, hikes through golden, palm-lined beaches, dense rainforest, mangroves and more of that towering coastal mountain range await.
Stick to One Santuario Natural as Palomino’s restaurants can be overloaded with backpackers; leave it to chef Cható and co instead.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this riverside hotel in Colombia and unpacked their curuba fruit and coffee beans, a full account of their coastal Caribbean break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside One Santuario Natural just outside Palomino in La Guajira…
One Santuario Natural might have you swaying with your arms in the air before you’ve even set foot on it, and those affection-filled, heart-eyed emotions will just keep coming. This hotel is the eco-friendly, labour-of-love dream of native Colombian Allan Kassim, who has set up his series of seven palapas (thatched huts) in the midst of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and on the banks of the Palomino River – on a palm- and papyrus-lined plot next to land still belonging to the Kogi indigenous community. There’s an open-sided longhouse at the heart, where you can snooze in a hammock, order a zingy limonada de coco to regulate temperatures in the jungle heat or read a book by the fire. Once you meet owner Kassim’s dogs, you’ll start to see a bit of a theme: one is named Jimmy Spliff, the other (officially) Robert Nesta Marley. It’s truly a place for getting together and feeling alright.