Many people still associate Colombia primarily with gangs and drugs rather than with what really characterises the country.
Colombia’s bad reputation comes from a decade long civil war, followed by years in which the Farc led armed insurgencies throughout the country and powerful drug trafficking cartels were fighting each other.
But things are changing. Over the past years, efforts have been made to increase stability in the country. In December 2016, the Colombian government singed a historic peace agreement with the Farc and the organised drug cartels of the past have been disbanded. While there are still problems with drugs and lasting inequalities among Colombia’s population, things are different today.
Tourism in Colombia is growing at a steady rate. It’s become safe to travel around and an increasing number of people are realising that the country’s prevailing negative image is in fact unjustified.
More than that, Colombia is an up-and-coming kitesurfing destination and has great potential to become one of the most popular kitsurfing spots in the world.
I travelled to Colombia in January 2017 to see for myself what this place is all about and of course to kitesurf in the warm waters of its Caribbean coastline.
There are several kitesurfing spots along Colombia’s northern coastline, mainly located between Cartagena and Cabo de la Vela in the northeast, not to forget the beautiful San Andres Island, famous for its crystal clear water.
My review however focuses on Salinas del Rey (also called Olas Inn) in Santa Veronica, which lies about equidistant between Cartagena and Barranquilla and is, to date, Colombia’s best wave kitesurf spot.
Kitesurfing in Salinas del Rey, Colombia
Salinas del Rey might well be Colombia’s best wave kite spot. Depending on the swell, the waves reach between one to two meters in height and roll all the way into the bay of Salinas del Rey. The waves (right handers) are glassy and smooth and since there is no reef, the spot is completely safe and suited for wave beginners and experts alike.
Not to forget the great and super consistent wind conditions: Between December and May, the trade winds blow onto Colombia’s northern coastline, with the spots in Santa Veronica receiving anything between 15 and 30 knots, 90 percent of the time.
The predominantly NE wind, also called “el ventilador” (the fan) by the local kitesurf community, truly lives up to its name: It turns on in the morning and literally blows throughout the entire day without stopping. I spent two weeks in Santa Veronica and was out in the water every single day on either my 5- or 7-meter kite, with a 5.6 surfboard.
As the wind blows side-on into the bay, the spot is completely safe and even if you get washed, you’ll always end up somewhere downwind on the beach. And since there is no shorebreak at this spot, Salinas del Rey is even suited for complete kitesurfing beginners.
Experience kitesurfing in Colombia
Kitesurfing in Colombia is not commercialised yet and in most of the country’s amazing spots you won’t find the usual set-up of kite school next to kite school. That is however part of its charm. Not to mention the uncrowded beaches and empty waters – something incredible given the conditions are so good. I remember kiting on 1st January in Salinas del Rey - the day after most people indulge in heavy partying - and was literally the only kiter on the water, during the entire day, and had all the waves to play in for myself.
Other kitesurfing spots in Santa Veronica
There are a couple of other spots not far from Santa Veronica where you can kite. One is called Puerto Velero, a completely flat lagoon, ideal for those who like freestyle tricks or want to take lessons in flat water (there are plenty of well-organised kite schools here).
The wind in the lagoon of Puerto Velero is however quite gusty, and for wave kiters not much fun anyway. But if you like waves, around the corner of the lagoon, there is a long and empty open ocean sand beach with nice waves that break along with the wind direction.
You can also kite directly at Santa Veronica village beach, however the launch area is minimal and it often gets very busy with swimmers and other beach users. Some kiters do a downwinder from there to Salinas del Rey.
Things to do during your kitesurfing trip in Colombia
If you’re travelling to Colombia for the first time, I highly advise to embed your kitesurfing holiday into a longer trip to explore the country. Colombia has an incredibly diverse landscape, ranging from its pristine Caribbean coast, green hilltops and tropical grasslands to snowcapped peaks and is a true paradise for outdoor adventurers.
Add to that a myriad of archaeological and cultural sites, the bustling city of Bogota and the Colonial charm of Cartagena’s old town, there is so much to see that it would take a lot more than one holiday to discover all Colombia has to offer. Depending where your interests lie, pick a few places or areas that offer what you’re looking for and start planning your trip. Adventure guaranteed!
Useful information for kitesurfers in Colombia
Getting to Santa Veronica
Fly to either Cartagena or Barranquilla from where you can then take a bus to Santa Veronica. Alternatively, the two kite hostels in Santa Veronica (more info below under accommodation) offer a pick-up service for their guests, which I recommend, especially if you’re travelling with gear.
There are plenty of direct flights to both cities from the US and Canada; if arriving from elsewhere, you’ll most likely have a stopover in Bogota.
Climate & kite season in Colombia
Northern Colombia has a warm and tropical climate, meaning year round summerlike temperatures (around 28°C). With 26°C, the water is also warm, no wetsuits needed. The best time to travel to Colombia for kitesurfing is between December and May, with the best waves usually occurring in February and March. Rainy season is from May to November.
Money and prices in Colombia
Colombia’s currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). One USD are around 2,900 Colombian Pesos and one Euro equal about 3,400 COP. While you can expect to pay European prices for kitesurfing lessons and accommodation, everything else in Colombia is cheap, including food and drinks. The next town is San Juan de Acosta, where you can find bigger supermarkets, a pharmacy, ATM, and a phone shop to get a local SIM-card.
Accommodation for kitesurfers in Santa Veronica
At the moment there are two accommodation options in Santa Veronica that cater specifically to kitesurfers. One of them is the Santa Veronica Kite Club (Olas Inn), which lies amidst the village of Santa Veronica. It is run by two Frenchmen and offers six large double or triple rooms (some with AC), a pool and a delicious onsite restaurant where breakfast and dinner is served. The Club also has a direct presence on the spot of Salinas with a shaded relaxing area.
The other option is Casa Agua Vela, a beachside hostel that caters to both kitesurfers and windsurfers and is run by a French-Colombian couple. They also have a pool and a terrace with a beautiful view over the bay of Santa Veronica.
Things to do in Santa Veronica
Santa Veronica is a small fishing village so don’t expect to find any nightlife there. There are however a few local restaurants, in some of which you can eat fresh seafood and have a post-kite beer.
If you want to go and explore the area around, you’ll definitely need a car and most likely will have to drive quite a few kilometres. So once in Santa Veronica, focus on kiting and leave the exploring for the other part of your visit to Colombia.
Kitesurfing in Santa Veronica – the verdict
Salinas del Rey is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a warm, consistently windy wave spot during European winter. I had a great time there as I pretty much did nothing but kite for two weeks, however bear in mind that there’s not much else to do in the immediate vicinity of Santa Veronica. If you’re looking for party action then Santa Veronica is not for you. But if you want guaranteed wind every day and focus on nothing but kiting for a week or two, Santa Veronica is the place to go.