Our trip from Quito to Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast started with an extremely early (3.30am!) wakeup call to head to the airport for our first flight to Panama City where we had a 5 hour stop before finishing the journey to Cartagena. We were both really excited to get to the warmth, and really have some time to relax, and the journey was definitely worth it. Although Cartagena itself doesn’t have any particularly nice beaches, it is a beautiful colonial city and we were both extremely happy as we drove into town from the airport with the warm sea breeze relaxing us immediately.
Unfortunately, not long after settling into our hostel in Getsemani – the backpacker district and zona roja or red light district – some tropical rain started 🙁 . Coincidentally, an Israeli couple that we met in the jungle was there, so we chatted to them while we waited for the rain to ease, before going for our first walk of the old city. As we walked around withing the walls of the city, we saw that it really lived up to its reputation. Although it is a working city, the architecture is beautiful as you meander through the cobbled lanes and see the impressive churches and cathedrals and charming squares. We also saw the Cartagena Sofitel which is a beautiful hotel in a restored building, and thought that perhaps a short stint working in Melbourne would have been worth it to earn some points to stay there.
Ed and Nat who we met in the Galapagos had suggested a restaurant by the Sofitel called ‘La Cevicheria’ so we decided to give that a go our first night. It was delicious! Jacs had a beautiful looking Peruvian style fish ceviche, and I had a traditional mixed ceviche, both of which were washed down nicely in the humidity by a nice cold Aguila beer! 🙂
The following morning Jacs had a short interview (her third one) in an internet cafe, after which we thought we’d walk to Bocagrande, a new built up area near by with a beach. Bocagrande wasn’t particularly exciting, so after a coffee at Isabella Jean’s (yes, that is what it is called here instead of Gloria Jean’s) to dodge some rain, we walked back to the old town and wandered around some more, before a rest followed by a massive dinner of ceviche followed by grilled chicken and pork which was delicious … although not quite as good as La Cevicheria.
The following morning I was feeling a little low on energy – not sure if all the travelling and early mornings and the heat were catching up, or whether I had a bug from the food. Jacs had yet another interview (1.5 hours this time, but the final one. Fingers crossed!) after which we hopped on a bus to Taganga, a little fishing village up the coast, where we planned on really relaxing for a few days. After almost 5 hours we arrived in Santa Marta, and frustratingly, knowing that e were 10 minutes from Taganga, then spent an hour and a half dropping people off around Santa Marta before finally getting to our destination after dark … and to make it worse it was drizzling 🙁 . Given the time, we checked into a nice but expensive hostel on the main drag, and had an early night since I was not feeling anywhere near 100%.
After a good night’s rest, I was feeling a little better, but still sensitive, so was happy to be in a place where we could really relax. The weather was overcast, but we decided to make the most of it. After choosing a new hostel, we checked out a few local dive shops and booked in some dives for the following day. Taganga is known for being one of the cheapest places to dive, and it sure was! It was $60-75 for 2 dives with gear and food included! From there we headed to Playa Grande, a beach abut 15 minutes walk away to relax in the sun for a little while, until unfortunately it started to drizzle again 🙁 This wasn’t what we had envisaged. Given the weather, we walked back to town and relaxed in our room before heading out to an early dinner. I was feeling a bit better, but unfortunately Jacs was now feeling a little sick! Nevertheless we tried some Lulo daiquiris (Lulos are a local fruit similar to a tart passionfruit) in happy hour, and they were delicious!!
The following morning, we got up early for our dives (I was better, but unfortunately Jacs wasn’t feeling great but was tough and powered through). The coastline was beautiful as we left the bay and entered Tayrona National Park for our dives. The water was incredibly warm (27+) so we had 2 nice relaxing dives, although the visibility wasn’t wonderful, and there aren’t any big fish. Nevertheless we saw some Moray eels, lion fish (including a cool huge one), some nice coral and lots of reef fish. For dinner we decided on a cute little cafe called Bonsai where we had a nice bbq for dinner, before having a drink with the couple from the Jungle.
This morning we were thrilled to wakeup to a beautiful sunny day which really made us appreciate where we are. Although Taganga is a littl touristy, and there is rubbish on the beach, when the sun shines the bay looks incredible set against the green mountains of Tayrona. We decided to rent a kayak and explore the bay and swim at some spots away from the crowds. It was lovely. This was the holiday we had been waiting for. After the kayaking, I had some fresh grilled fish by the beach for lunch, however the heat of the middle of the day was starting to take its toll, and I decided to have a rest in the shade of the hostel, and write this blog 🙂
This afternoon we’re going to take a bus the 10 minutes to Santa Marta, the bigger town nearby, to check that out and buy some groceries for our trip into the National Park tomorrow. Tomorrow the plan is to catch the bus 1 our to the entrance of Tayrona which is meant to be stunning. We’ll then trek 2 hours into the park and stay at one of the beautiful beaches where there are some hammocks and basic amenities. Depending on how we go, we’ll be there for one or two nights before returning here for a night or two, then heading back to Cartagena for a few more days before flying home!
We’ll let you know how Tayrona goes soon!
Ben and Jacs