My friend Gul and I landed in the hot and humid Caribbean paradise Cartegena following a 80-minute flight from Bogota with Copa Airlines that cost us $120 USD each one-way.
From the airport we easily caught a cab for COP $10,000 ($5) that took us to our hotel San Roque Cartagena with a 10 minute easy ride.
We stayed outside the walls that surrounded the old colonial town and the walk to the heart of everything was just 10 minutes.
I found Cartagena so magical from the moment I stepped my foot in. As soon as you cross to the other side of the walls, you feel like you are in a movie scene..as if Antonio Banderas will turn around the corner on his horse and pull you off your feet. The stone houses painted in vibrant colors with flowers spilling down their balconies and their huge doors opening to mysterious courtyards made us forget about the nasty humid weather and the mosquitos who were waiting to eat us alive as soon as we took a break from walking.
You can easily get lost in the narrow streets and it can take you hours to find your hotel but for me that was the most fun part 🙂 On each street you make a turn to, you find yourself in front of some unexpected beautiful house, restaurant, spa, boutique or library.
The ocean in Cartagena was way too wavy and the beaches too touristy hence we took a boat tour to Playa Blanca (La Isla Rosario boat) in the morning. Even though we were told that we had just missed the 9 am (last) boat, we were able to get on a 10 am boat magically offered by a guy we bumped into on the street. The islands were very beautiful with white sand beaches and small houses on some of them as the pictures below will speak for themselves.
Some people didn’t get on the boat on the way back to stay in the beach bungalows that don’t have electricity at nights, which seemed like an awesome idea. Sadly we had to go back to Cartagena to our hot hostel room leaving this beautiful aquamarine ocean behind
Tip: If you take this boat trip, you can stay on the beach in Baru (first stop) instead of continuing to the aquarium as there’s nothing to see there unless you have a young kid with you. You can get on the same boat from Baru on its way back to Cartagena .
On another day, we decided to discover Playa Linda, which didn’t seem linda at all, with a small boat we got on. We spent the whole day cleaning the beach from plastic bags and bottles and ended the day with a bad sun burnt! But it was worth doing something good, even though probably the same amount garbage would wash ashore through Cartagena the next day again.
After 4 days in Cartagena, we decided to continue to Santa Marta with a door-to-door shuttle. It was a 4.5 hr ride that cost $40, which was worth it. The other option was to deal with several cabs and buses and spend the whole day on the road.
Santa Marta is like a big slum with heavy traffic, noise, pollution, and city chaos. We stayed 2 nights in Casa Aluna whose owners were two Irish brothers who were extremely helpful in answering all of my various questions including Spanish vocabulary. Since I didn’t find anything interesting to do in Santa Marta, I packed and moved to Taganga with a 15 mins minibus ride the next morning upon the departure of my travel companion.
Apparently, Taganga was a small fishing town near the large port of Santa Marta before travelers discovered it a few years ago. The once quiet village of a few thousand Colombians now is turned into a hub for the tourist party crowd. You see a lot of hippy Colombian street artists selling handmade crafts and accessories, and young musicians sleeping on the warm streets of the town. You smell marijuana all the time on the beach and the police are searching young ppl’s bags and clothes constantly. I am not sure how this all worked out as the smoking and searching continued all week long.
After changing a couple of hostels that were in the busy/loud beach front area, I moved to La Casa de Felipe all the way in the back of the town and spent a few relaxing days on the hammocks placed in the garden or on the balconies before heading to my next destination: Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)!
Tip: Do not miss to watch the sunset on the 2nd floor of Babaganush overlooking the ocean.
La Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) hike
One of the most popular things to do in this area is the hike to La Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). After contemplating a couple of hours and ignoring the fact that I didn’t have proper hiking shoes or a back pack, I signed up for a 5 day hiking trip with Magic Tour who arranged to pick a few us up from Casa Felipe the next morning. Even though I was traveling alone at this point, I made friends pretty quickly with the other 18 mostly European backpackers who were going to be my companions for the following 5 days.
The trip took 5 days back and forth (you can also chose 4 or 6 nights but no one wanted to stay 6 nights so I had to agree to do 5) . During the trip, which was pretty rough at times, we saw amazing scenery, crossed/swam in rivers, slept in hammocks, ate pretty decent camping food, consumed canned cervezas, were accompanied by guardian dogs, mules, Kogi kids, and chewed on coca leaves until we finally arrived to the magnificent Ciudad Perdidad.
For me one of the most amazing things was to be able to interact with Kogis (means Jaguar), a tribe who live in the highlands of Colombia.
From the internet: There is a genocidal atrocity underway in Colombia that threatens this highly sophisticated precolombian tribe. During the Spanish invasion, they were threatened by dogs and soldiers alike, they remained in isolation. Regardless, many priests were hanged, women were stolen and raped, and children where forced to accept Spanish education. Later, missionaries came and also began to influence their way of life, building chapels and churches amidst their villages to train and convert the locals. In the years since, the Kogi have remained in their home in the mountains, which allows them to escape the worst effects of colonization and aids them in preserving their traditional way of life.
After the 5 day hike, I traveled along beautiful Parque Tayrona, which had quite a number of awesome beaches. The best-known ones are Bahía Concha, a lovely spot for swimming; Neguanje, and Cañaveral. The latter two have camping grounds and beautiful beaches in the midst of luscious vegetation.
You may find some spectacular Fincas to rent for days, but the greatest fact is that from there, you reach some of the most beautiful beaches of Santa Marta, and take a bath in their crystal waters. The best ones can be reached by boat or by an adventurous ecological hike. For some of these beaches, you will need a whole day to enjoy them as they deserve, and it is not possible to visit them all in one day.
The reason of my trip to Colombia was to join an Ayahuasca Retreat on a private beach property in Parque Tayrona for 8 days and I will tell about it in another post in detail because it deserves special attention! But it was one of the best experiences I have ever had and the pictures below reflect that magical time even a little bit.
From the ayahuasca retreat in Parque Tayrona, I continued to Palomino with a minibus I caught from the main street. Palomina covers a very small area on the coast but it has a beautiful vibe. I stayed at Dreamers hostel that had a nice pool, which became useful since the giant waves were not very welcoming during my visit. You can reach Palomino with a minibus that you can take from mercado (carrera 11& calle 11) COP $8000 and it’s 1.5 hrs from Santa Marta.
If you happen to be there, you should absolutely try tubing in Palomino! After renting the tubes and being transported to the mountain by young motorbikers, the walking an hour through the jungle starts.
Then you get to the relaxing, floating part of the adventure.You jump in the river with an inflated inner tube and float downstream. Along the way, I was amazed by the beautiful scenery of steep, green mountains, birds, butterflies, and the sky that totally made me realize, remember, and be grateful for what the universe has got to offer us. While my new friends and I were curious about how long we had been in the water, or whether we should have exited somewhere, we understood we came to the end when we the river met the sea and the tubes eventually stopped going. I can’t think of a better way to spend a relaxing yet active day in the water!
I had an amazing time and met beautiful people along the way. I believe I will go back to Santa Marta again (and again) in this lifetime 🙂
Salento was recommended to me by some good hearted backpackers when I couldn’t stop talking about my need to drink real, freshly made Colombian coffee. So they told me to go to the coffee region Cafeteria and that’s how the journey to beautiful Salento from Santa Marta started. Since I was in a hurry to get there for my next morning coffee, taking a plane was inevitable.
I stayed at Hostal La Serrana for COP $20,000/night, which is a family run communal style hostel where everybody is cooking and eating together. We did a movie night and I was happy to see they had Darjeeling Limited in their archive. I have met a few ppl who went there for a few days but who had been there a few months already. The place was in the middle of a green valley a bit outside of the center (20-30 min walk) but situated conveniently on the way to the coffee farms! There were beautiful flowers, plants, and horses everywhere I looked. It was a true heaven.
I also came across a group of people who joined Ayahuasca ceremonies on the weekends. Once you sign up, they pick you up on Friday night and bring you back the next day after an all night long ceremony in Armania. I was devastated when I heard that I wasn’t accepted to join since I was in that “special time of the month” and that is not allowed around the shaman or medicine :(((((((
Finca tour: I took the less commercial, smaller, family run Coffee tour with Don Elias and it cost COP $5,000 for 1-1.5 hr. They offered us freshly made coffee from their land as an adios gift.
Next day, I went to Valle de Corcora by taking a jeep taxi in the town center for COP $3,000 at 8:30 am (every hour on w/e). I recommend you to go earlier in the morning since the fog that sets in in the afternoon (3-4ish) blocks the view. And the scenic view is a pity to miss.