This past January I went to visit a small part of Colombia for a two week holiday. I was only able to make it in a small part of northern Colombia. Cartagena and around Santa Marta. I must say that two weeks was absolutely not enough. There was so much more to see in just that part of the country and I haven't seen anything else. Now I definitely wish to go back to visit the rest of this incredible country.
January 4th, 2014 I take the plane from Toronto towards Cartagena. I get there around 4:30 pm. I get to my hostel 'Las Chancletas' and meet with four Argentinians that also just got in town. We chat around the hostel for a while and later in the evening we head out into town to find some good street food. Awesome as usual, why is street food always so good.
(Little note for people seeking hostel, you will find all kinds of hostel to suit you in this part of Colombia. Prices vary mostly in between 12$ to 20$ a night for dorm rooms.)
Street food is always good, Cartagena
On the 5th, I get up way too early at 6:30am. It's too early to find breakfast anywhere so I just walk around and discover the town a little. Around 10, I leave with Marsol buses to head to Santa Marta. With my luck, the ride that was supposed to take around 3:30 ends up taking more like 6:30 hours. The motor belt broke on the first bus about an hour after we left. Broken down on the side of the road for at least an hour, happily the four Argentinians I met yesterday are on the same bus and they have a guitar. The play all kinds of songs while we wait and time passes quickly. A second bus comes to pick us up and we are back on the road, but about an hour and a half later, this one breaks down also with exactly the same trouble. Now this is bad luck. This time we end up waiting about another hour, luckily we are in a small town were we can get to a store and we assist to a football (soccer) game from a bunch of kids having fun nearby. I finally get to "Hostel Drop Bear" in Santa Marta at around 5pm. In the evening the owner of the hostel gives us a tour of the house that used to be a cartel house and explains to us the history of this huge house (quite an interesting history).
(The bus service from Marsol is a very nice option. Yes a bit more expensive, but they come and pick you up right at your hotel. Instead of having to catch a cab, find a local bus that could be full with your baggage. I was unlucky on the day I used it here, but used it again on the way back to Cartagena and everything went incredibly well. The price to go from Cartagena to Santa Marta was of 38,000$ Colombian Pesos and the same the other way around.)
Waiting for the next bus between
Cartagena and Santa Marta
Monday January 6th, I spent most of the morning chatting around with other people at the hostel. I meet with a few very nice people. In the afternoon I go into town with someone I met that morning to find the Turcol agency with whom I will be going on a five day trek to 'Ciudad Perdida'. We then find a bus to go see Taganga for the afternoon, it's only a few kilometers from Santa Marta. Nice little place filled with tourists everywhere.
(To get to Taganga catch a bus anywhere downtown Santa Marta, just look for signs in the front windows of the bus saying Taganga. It only takes about 20 minutes to go from one town to the other)
January 7th finally arrives. It is the day that I leave for the 5 day trek to 'Ciudad Perdida' (lost city). The tour company comes and picks me up at around 10h30 and we get on the road heading to Mamey where the trek will begin. We have lunch before we start walking. After a first easy 30-40 minutes, the trail start going up. A pretty good incline and we climb that hill for an hour and a half, but once we got to the top the trail becomes much easier again going down towards the first camp. Dinner is cooked and it's very good food. I was told that the food was good on the tour, but I was half expecting it to be that good, I was delightedly surprised. The people from the group gets to know each other a little more in the evening.
(A few tips for the trek, you will not need that much on the tour other than your clothes, towel and your personal hygiene things. Don't do the same as me and bring your big backpack, if I would have known I would have only carried my day-pack. There some place where the trail goes uphill at a good incline for a little while, so the less you carry the easier it will be for you. You can bring some snacks if you wish, like granola bars. They will give you some snacks in the day while trekking, but it's always nice to have a little extra. If you have any fast drying clothes, bring them, the humidity level is pretty high in the mountains and nothing dries easily)
On the way to Mamey
Cooking supper on the first day
We get up very early at 5am on the second day. We have breakfast and get walking at 6:30. The trail is going up for a while but then goes back down towards the camp where we have lunch. There is a river where we can go for a swim and the pretty cold water is so refreshing after sweating all morning. We leave again after lunch and get to the second camp at 3:30pm. I spent an awesome evening with the whole group. Our group is composed of one American, one German, one Australian me Canadian, and the other 12 are all Colombians. I must say that we had a great group that made the experience so much better.
Beautiful sunrise on the second morning
Swimming in the river Indigenous hut
Third day of the trek. This morning we leave camp at 7am to climb the 1200 steps (so it is said, I did not count them) that will lead us to the site of 'Ciudad Perdida'. Early enough to see the rising sun over the mountains down onto the site. The site is very nice, there are so many terraces in every direction. Very impressing to see that the indigenous of the time would thing of building this infrastructure in such an environment. We walk all around the site for a few hours and get back down to the camp for lunch and after walk back towards one of the camps we have seen the day before.
Going up Beginning of the site
Ciudad Perdida (Lost city)
Day number 4 of the trek. This morning our group of 16 splits up. When you go on the tour you have the option of 4 or 5 days, so 7 of us had taken the 4 day tour and leave in the early morning. 9 of us are left for the 5 days tour, we leave the camp after having breakfast about an hour and a half after the first group. This is a very easy day because we only walk back to the camp we stayed at on the first night and we get there by noon. We have lunch and the whole afternoon is for us to enjoy, relax, swim in the river.
Sadly comes the fifth and last day of the trek. We leave early again and walk for a few hours and stop at natural pool, where some will go swim. From that point on we only have about half an hour walking to get to Mamey where we started off on the trek. They have some very cold beer that is very welcome after a few days of sweating. We have our last lunch together and get back in the jeep to go back to Santa Marta. We say our goodbyes and who knows I might see some of them again because I will definitely be going back to Colombia. Soon I hope. If you ever wish to do the trek to 'Ciudad Perdida' I will give a big recommendation to go with Turcol Agency, they were very nice and professional. Price for the tour 600,000$ Colombian Pesos and that's for 4 or 5 days, the price is the same.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
The highest point of Colombia
January 12th, I had planned on going to Parque National Natural Tayrone today and spend the night, but I end up changing my plans. In the morning I go walking around the historic center of Santa Marta. I buy a few souvenirs while exploring the town. It get very hot in the afternoon and decide to head back to the hostel and take it easy because it is too warm to walk around everywhere. Tomorrow will be Tayrona Park for the whole day (4 hours of walking, more or less), where I will get to see the most beautiful beaches of Colombia, So I was told.
I leave in the early morning with two Americans and one man from England and get to Calabazo. Most people will walk the park the other way around from Canaveral to Calabazo. But I prefer having done it this way. The trail goes up for about an hour towards Pueblito, but after that point it mostly goes down. The trail in between Pueblito and Cabo San Juan is mostly big rock and I was happy to go down instead of having to climb up this trail. We stopped in Cabo san Juan for a while to enjoy the beach and the sun. Stayed there for close to two hours and then get walking again towards Canaveral. I short walk that takes us a little more than an hour. When we got to Canaveral we took a taxi that brought us back into Santa Marta for about 10$ each. The cheapest option is to take a cab or walk to the main gate (about 7-8km) and take the colectivo back into town.
Entrance prices for the Parque National Natural Tayrona
Kids -- 7,500$ Colombian Pesos
Students less than 26, with documents -- 7,500$ Colombian Pesos
Colombian adults and resident foreigners -- 14,000$ Colombian Pesos
Adult Foreigners -- 37,500$ Colombian Pesos
(Bring some extra money with you if you want to have lunch in the park, naturally prices are a little more expensive than into town. There is a restaurant in Cabo San Juan that only opens around noon and when it does there is a like-up that gets pretty long pretty quick. If you are going only for a day, bring yourself some food in your bags, this way you will not have to get in line and wait for a lunch. Your time will be all yours to enjoy the beach and the surroundings)
Pueblito Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan
January 14th, Quiet day visiting downtown. I also went to see the little "Museo de Oro". Around 12pm, it starts being very warm and I decide to go see the botanical Garden called "Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino", it is also the place where Simon Bolivar died, the liberator of Latin America. I go around to do some shopping in the end of afternoon and spend the evening at the hostel.
(The museum of gold is free if charge, don't expect a big museum. It is fairly small but interesting just the same. Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino has a entry fee of 12,000$ for adults and 10,000$ for children)
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
The next morning I leave at 11:30am to get back to Cartagena at 4:30pm, I soon as I booked in my hotel I leave again to go walk around town. I did not have much chance to visit around when I got here on my first day so I will visit more this time for my last few days. It make me think of Quebec city a bit because of the fortified walls around the historic center. The walls were built for the same reasons as Quebec city, to protect against the invading English, but here it was also built to protect from the pirates. It is a very nice town that I won't have much time to explore, but I guess it's one more reason to come back at another time. I want to get up early the next morning to enjoy as much as possible my last day in Colombia.
I do get up early and get to Castillo San Felipe at around 8:30am. I visit the fortress from one side to the other and then head back to the historic center. I walk the whole 11km of the walls that surrounds the center, then walked all around the labyrinth of small streets while buying a few things to bring back home at the same time. I get back to my hotel for a well deserved shower and, surprise I have a message from one of the girls that was on the 'Ciudad Perdida' trek with me. She says that she lives in Cartagena and that we can go have supper and drinks with a couple that was on the trek with us also. I agree to an evening with friends, what's better than to spend my last evening in Colombia.
Click on image below to see the complete picture album from Colombia
Fortified wall and cannons of Cartagena
My plane leaves from Cartagena at 9:30am and I get to Toronto at 6pm. I get to my hotel and have a small nap but can't seem to be able to sleep. I guess all the excitement from the last few weeks and the disappointment from having to get back home as to do with it. So I decide to get on the road to get home. I live a little over 600km from Toronto. I leave at about 11:30pm and will be driving all night, I love driving at night there is less traffic. I finally get home at 6:30am very tired but with a bunch of very nice memories.
I must say that I loved Colombia and since I have only seen but a little part of it and seeing how welcoming the people were, I do want to visit the rest of the country. I will need to take a month or two at one time to really have time to visit the country from north to south and from east to west. Everyone I ever met that went to Colombia loved it and told everyone they should go there. Now I understand why, and I will also tell everyone to go and visit the country. Don't hesitate and don't believe all the stories from 20 years ago about it being a dangerous country, it is no worse than anywhere else. Feel free to go and enjoy.