Santa Marta

Finding the beaches
Santa Marta, Colombia


Just as I was getting the hang of streets that all look the same, it is time to leave! After a quick papaya breakfast, I hopped in a taxi (6k COP – £1.80) to head to a bus terminal.

The bus to Santa Marta left at 9am (there is one every hour) and cost 30k COP (£9). We drove out of the city, back past the mud volcano and on to the city of Barranquilla. Here, the whole bus got out! Only me left.

Luckily there were toilets here – everywhere seems to charge 15p to have a wee! Just outside the city, we started to drive through a very poor area. Small huts built out of wood and corrugated iron, out onto the water. The people were dirty, with no shoes and torn clothes. Costa Rica and Panama are comparatively rich countries – I didn’t see this kind of poverty there. And Cartagena being such a rich, touristy city, didn’t have so much poverty either. It was quite sad.

By 1pm we were arriving into Santa Marta. This is the second most important colonial city along the northern coast. But what a contrast.

Gone are the cute streets and balconies overflowing with flowers. This is chaos. Markets on every street, people everywhere and lots of shops kind of chaos.

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After getting a taxi from the bus terminal to the hotel (5k), I dropped my bags and went out for a wander around. I was so hungry, having only eaten a few slices of papaya. I wandered to the main square – Parque de Simon Bolivar. Here there were some homeless people hanging around. No food here.

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The coastline was right here, not very nice – just a large port and some dirty water! Back inland, the main cathedral was surrounded by a large open space. And it was here that the streets became even more chaotic. Fruit stalls, jewellery, clothes, electronics, hair ties, shoes, you name it, you can find a stall selling it. Every shop seemed to be selling sparkly high heeled (read tacky) shoes. I bought some sliced green mango (2k) and a fried dough ball (1k)…I was so hungry!!! Then I found the supermarket. Perfect. The hotel has a kitchen. The supermarket has porridge. Amazing. So I stocked up on snacks for the next few days (and a huge bag of passionfruit!).

Back at the hotel, in the ‘fully equipped’ kitchen, I was disappointed to find no microwave, no kettle and no way to light the hob. Very hard to make porridge then….. Luckily the attached restaurant gave me a cup of hot water. So I stirred some oats into the hot water and threw three passionfruits in as well. Not the best porridge, but better than nothing!! Then for the rest of the afternoon, I did nothing. And planned my last few days.

Thursday 20 November 2014

The whole point of being in this rather rubbish city is to explore the surrounding area. The main attraction being the Tayrona National Park. Yesterday I enquired about a trip to the national park, but the guy was most unhelpful and told me to just get a public bus and walk by myself. A 2 hour hike by myself in scorching heat didn’t sound like the most sensible idea, so I was a bit nervous. And almost considered not going.

But I can’t come all the way here and not go. So off I went. The lady at reception told me where to get the bus to the park entrance – 6 blocks right, then 3 blocks left. I attempted those directions. And counted what I thought was the right number of blocks. I was totally wrong (thanks google maps again!!). More sensible instructions would have been, the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11. Much easier.

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The bus ‘stop’ was right in the middle of the market. It was 7.30am and the market was heaving. So many fruits and vegetables in a maze of haphazard stalls, overflowing onto roads and pavements. I was very aware that I was the only non local around, and people very much noticed me.

Luckily I didn’t get too much hassle and managed to buy some last minute bananas – seemed like a good idea for a hike! Plantain were very popular at the market, many people were lugging huge bags of them home. After the fruits and vegetables ended, the fish started. Wow it smelt. And the cut up meat. But then more fruits and vegetables. I found the bus sitting on the side of the street. A quick enquiry and yes it was the right one!

Within 15 minutes we were full and were off!

It took 1 hour 15 minutes to reach the park entrance (6k for the bus). Here was a tad confusing. But turns out you have to sit and watch a (completely pointless) video showing pictures of animals. Then you are given a paper ticket, which allows you to go to the ticket office and buy an actual ticket. For foreigners this is an ‘expensive’ 38,000 (£11), which many were complaining about. Well I suppose when a local costs 7k, it is quite a lot more.

You are given a wrist band. Then pay 2k for a mini bus to drive a couple of kilometers down the rest of the road to Canaveral beach. Or you can walk. But there is no point.

From here, it is a walk through the jungle. More like a trek. Up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and through mud. It was a sweaty 45 minutes to reach Arricifes beach.

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It is not possible to swim at this beach, there are dangerous currents. So we just observed! It was pretty. Then back into the jungle. Every now and then we got a view out across the ocean – so pretty. We saw monkeys, squirrels, a small little frog, lizards, butterflies and so many different birds.

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Then we must have taken a wrong turning. There are not many signs! But we ended up going through a river and just so much mud. We bumped into a local who told us to keep on going. So we did. And we made it!

To the beach Cabo San Juan.

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Such a relief to see Palm trees after emerging from the jungle. I was so hot. Enroute I had drunk all my 2 litres of water! And was sweating everywhere. Sweat was even running down my legs. Attractive.

It was now 11.30am, so the walk had taken us nearly 2 hours.

Cabo San Juan is said to be the prettiest beach along this section of the park.

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And it was pretty. Two semi-circular patches of sand, with a small island between them. Jungle all around. Beautiful blue sea. And a mini house perched on top of the rocks. It was so beautiful.

But you are sharing the beach with a few hundred other backpackers. It is possible to stay here overnight. There are hammocks for rent and also a camping area.

I’m not staying, I’m just here for the day. Aside from the beach, there is really nothing to do. We wandered around the beach, up to the hut for an amazing view. Across to another beach – which was completely deserted. It was all so pretty.

Then several hours of sat on the beach. I’m not a beach sitting person. I get so bored.

Getting back is a 2 hour walk and the 1 hour bus. Or, conveniently, a speed boat ride which goes to a neighbouring village of Taganga.

The boat costs 45k (£13). So comparatively expensive. I caved. Too lazy to hike back. So I got the boat.

I’m so glad I’m not staying a night. 4.5 hours on the beach, doing nothing, is plenty for me. I don’t need to be here for a night to repeat the same again tomorrow!! And I’ve slept in a hammock before. I know how much sleep you actually get. Precisely zero.

As 4pm approached, a lot of people were gathered on the beach waiting for the comparatively small boat. Which was broken. A guy was fiddling with the engine. Around 4.15pm, another (much smaller) boat turned up. They filled that one up with some people and sent it on its way. Finally around 4.30pm, they decided that the boat will work and we were loaded on. About 40 people on a tiny boat. I couldn’t move.

And it was wavy. It was a bit scary!! But we made it. One hour later and pulling up into the bay of Taganga.

This looked like a touristy strip of sand. Tacky shops, little hotels and some dive shops. I’ll be back tomorrow! I needed to get a bus back to Santa Marta. No idea where they go from, so wandered to what looked like a main road and waited. I didn’t have to wait long, a couple of minutes and I was being ushered into a bus to Santa Marta. Easy! (1.4k) and it only took about 10 minutes.

Once in Santa Marta, good old Google maps told me where to get off, and I only had a couple of blocks to navigate through the ongoing market-filled streets. I bought a yucca snack enroute too – yum! I got back just after 6pm. Tired. But what an awesome day!

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