Colombia: Cartagena, Santa Marta, Lost City & Taganga
Mar 7, 2011
We arrived in Cartagena, hot, tired and hungry after spending the night on the Bogota Airport floor. Immediately hit by the hot air of the Caribbean we were thrown when we saw how much chaos and traffic there was- as we had expected Cartagena to be small and colonial like our Antigua experience. This was our first welcome to South America and realisation that things wouldn’t be that similar after all!
After a good nap the hostel we headed into the old part of the city, feeling dubious and unsure that Cartagena is all it is cracked up to be. That afternoon we were proved wrong over and over again as we walked through tiny alleys and parks filled with amazing old buildings and local people just doing their thing. It was great to be in a famous tourist spot but for it not to feel over run with tourists! The best part of the afternoon was undoubtedly sitting in one of the many squares with a cold beer, watching the world and its people go by as we just soaked up the atmosphere of the place.
Our plan had been to head up to Santa Marta to arrange a tour to Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) in the Tayrona National Park. So the following day we hopped onto a bus to Santa Marta, again having no idea what lay ahead or what the town would be like. Arriving at night in yet again more chaos, traffic and general busyness, we were ready to pack up and head to the nearby backpacker’s haven of Taganga. We stuck it out though and the next day (Saturday) arranged our trip, which would start on the Monday, my birthday. It was now Saturday morning and we were in a dirty and windy town with no real sights to see and having done everything that we needed to do. Again we considered heading to Taganga to sit out the time, but instead we ended up having a brilliant time just hanging around the city- people watching and just wandering around.
Our best memory from Santa Marta will definitely be that of sitting on the harbour wall with a few locals, beers in hand, watching the sun going down over the sea, and ships coming in and out of the harbour. That all took place after some really delicious street food -if you’re ever in Colombia definitely get a mixed meat kebab- and pure wandering around town doing nothing in particular to do. Again it was great to feel part of the action and to not be simply in Tourist Mode.
After more good food and chilling on Sunday, we visited Taganga to check out the beach and have a swim before heading out to have a mini celebration for my birthday, which would coincide with starting the trek.
CIUDAD PERDIDA (the Lost City)
The first day of the trek is a mixed one because you only meet at the tourism office at 9.00 and you still have a drive of 2 – 3 hours to the park after that, before a supposed 3 hour walk to your first camp. We met at the office at 9.00, but only left at 10.00, picking up what were to be our next new group of friends at 10.30 before heading to the park. After meeting the different people that we were meant to be trekking with, we decided to change our trek to 4 days for various reasons. This worked out really well because we ended up in a small group of 6 that included us, 2 Irish guys and 2 German girls.
Our first day turned out to much tougher than expected as it had been raining and the path was virtually un-walkable due to the amount of mud that had been churned up. We finally arrived at our first night’s accommodation in the dark: cold, muddy and hungry. After being served up a huge plate of delicious food, our expectations for the rest of the trip, at least food-wise, had been set really high: but we weren’t disappointed!
Lying in bed that night in my hammock, playing with the lights on my new pink birthday watch, having been sung happy birthday by the group, and having had an awesome day, I couldn’t help but feel unbelievably chuffed and lucky to be able to spend my birthday on the trek.
We spent the next day hiking to the camp at the base of the Lost City- trekking through rivers, mud and up and down loads of hills with amazing sights and views of the jungle. Finally arriving at the camp after 7 hours on the trail we chilled out, played chess and eat freshly made popcorn and hot chocolate made by our guide. At this stage, our initial 5 day group had been split and we had been given the original cook of the group to guide us to and from the Lost City. Having been not too stoked on the initial main guide, this decision turned out to be an absolute winner for us, as although he spoke no English, he was brilliant in making sure that everyone was alright all of the time.
We spent the morning of our third day exploring the ruins of the Lost City. Again, because we had the cook as a guide, we were put with another guide who had loads and loads of information and knowledge about the Lost City and gave us a full on tour of the entire place. Despite the 2000 steps up to the City, it was absolutely brilliant and really added to the trip as we had expected just to go up there, wander around and come down. Also there were some archaeologists working on the site so it was great to chat to them and hear what they had to say. After that it was back down for a good lunch before a 4 hour hop back to our third night’s camp.
Our final day was much shorter (only 6 hours) than the other days and we arrived back out the jungle at about 1pm- just in time for an awesome fresh fish lunch and the mission back to Santa Marta. Our trek to the Lost City was absolutely amazing for so many reasons; we were surprised and amazed over and over at the jungle, the city, our camps, our new friends and so much more. It was such a brilliant experience and definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far (if that’s possible!).
Having now met up with some cool people we decided to go with them back to Taganga for a few days... I think the promise of a 3 star Michelin chef meal along with a postponed birthday jol also had a lot to do with the decision!!! Cleaned up and smelling better than we had for days (we hadn’t really been dry since the start) we headed out for big steaks and bigger drinks and a good night was had by all! What a birthday and what an awesome week!
Two days spent chilling around and hanging out at the beach and we were ready to move on. The big decision now became where to go. The difficulty in this decision was the fact that it is Carnaval weekend and Baranquilla (2 hours from Santa Marta) had the second biggest Carnaval in South America, after Rio. The Irish boys had booked a place since Christmas and had been raving about it all week and to add to that, Santa Marta and Taganga where alive with the Carnaval spirit. However after loads of debates we decided to skip Carnaval- mainly due to the cost and because we were never going to be able to get accommodation anywhere and bussing in and out sounded like a huge mission.
And so, with very mixed feelings about missing out and promising ourselves that we will definitely be doing the Rio Carnaval in full force one day, we hopped on a bus to Medellin, which is about 16 hours South of Santa Marta.
Thanks for all the birthday wishes and messages and, as usual, there are extra photos of everything on Facebook :)
JP (and Rhydriguez)