Friday, 4 October 2013

Cartagena to Santa Marta and back

We've had a bit of beach and sun for the past 6 days, 2 nights in Cartagena, followed by 3 nights in Santa Marta and another in Cartagena before our 2 flights taking us to Lima.
We arrived in Cartagena from Bogota and stepping off the plane you are instantly hit by the heat and humidity. We collected our bags and jumped in a cab (the airport is 3km from the old town, so cost us only COP9,500) to our hotel, which was probably the poshest place we have stayed so far, cooked to order breakfast, very comfy bed, 3 pillows each, and importantly air conditioned, this is a must up here; it's very muggy.
Cathedral, Cartagena

The old town is gorgeous, colourful old colonial buildings some with balconies with bouganvillias pouring down them like waterfalls and several squares most with well kept churches. There's not a lot here as the town is within a walled fortress (built because Francis Drake attacked the city, then many pirates), and outside the walls is pretty dodgy and not as much money put into it, though this is apparently changing.
We had planned to take a boat to Playa Blanca but the weather turned (and it rained) and we decided to eat and drink and roam the town streets instead, the sun came out again in the early afternoon.
We caught a bus (MiraSol) from Cartagena to Santa Marta, door to door service for COP42,000 each which took about 5 and a half hours. They collected us from the hotel then picked up another bloke from a hotel then took us to their office for about 30 minutes until they left for Santa Marta. The trip was a bit scary, most roads here are one lane each way, and they like, no love, to overtake. Needless to say it's not a relaxing journey, but hey it's an adventure! (And we made it!)
Tropical storm, Santa Marta
Santa Marta is not a very pretty place, it's one of the oldest towns in Colombia and where a lot of Colombians come for holiday, but it's pretty run down, it really stinks and the the people are not as friendly as we have seen in Bogota and Cartagena. But we are here for the Tayrona National Park, not Santa Marta. We arrived at the hotel, Hotel Nueva Granada, which is much cheaper than the hotel in Cartagena and looks like it was built in the 70's and never renovated, but it is clean, safe and has a pool!! There is also a resident cat, Timoti (we think like the shampoo, or it could be Timothy, we weren't sure). The first thing we did was jump in the pool, then about an hour later the skies opened up and unleashed a massive tropic thunderstorm, it was actually very cool and brought the temperature down a bit. We waited for the rain to stop, or calm down at least, and then headed out for some dinner. We had read on Trip Advisor about a great Mexican place called Agave Azul with tasty burritos, and we have been talking about Mexican food for a few days so we went, and were not disappointed. Starving, we dove into guacamole and chips while we waited for our burritos (one chicken, one beef, shared) and washed them down with a couple of beers and margaritas (it was happy hour, you can't let one go by!)
La Piscina, Tayrona
The park is stunning, beautiful beaches, tropical jungle, not a lot of people, millions of ants making their highways across the pathways ... This was pretty cool to see actually.
We had a really nice day at the park but we left on a sour note after being ripped off on the way out of the park - there are guys at Cabo San Juan offering a boat ride to Santa Marta, but they took us to Taganga and when we told them they had said they would take us to Santa Marta they just said 'no' and turned away, literally. This had cost us COP45,000 each which was supposed to be a treat. As a storm was brewing we decided not to hike back the way we had come (which was 2 hours via La Piscina and Arrecifes - which were stunning!) and take the boat back instead, it was pricey but we thought it would be worth seeing the coast. Which is amazing.

We did have a great time at the park, the walks are gorgeous - even if badly sign posted and no map is given despite if costing COP35,000 to get in (Columbians pay COP14,000), the only thing that ruined it for us was these guys on the boat. They were walking around the beach saying 'boat to Santa Marta' so it was not like we had misunderstood. It was more the attitude when we arrived at Taganga and they could not have cared less. In just over a month it is the only time we have been ripped off so we are not going too badly.

We decided to end our day on a better note and went out for burgers. The place we went to was La Placita and we had a La Placita burger and a Tango Burger, both were very very tasty, made with homemade buns. It was nice that they noticed that Ellen had pulled out the rarer part of her burger (greedily, she had a 220g patty) and put it to the side and the manager came over and asked if everything was ok and would she like it cooked. A the burger was massive she said she had eaten enough so they kindly offered Angel a free dessert! (He is always up for dessert - especially free ones!) 

Overall a really great place, a right stand-out here in Santa Marta, indeed Columbia.

For our final day in Santa Marta we decided to take a chill out day. By 10am it was 36 degrees so we thought best not to stray too far from the pool! There was a family from Chile staying in the hotels we had a chat (in English, we are not that good!) and they gave us some tips for Peru. We went back to the Mexican place we had been to on our first night for dinner and beers, we tried something different this time - enchiladas and tacos - and then slept in the comfort of our air conditioned room.

The final day was really just a travel day, another 5.5 hour bus ride back to Cartagena after breakfast and then a bit of street food (Arepas) for lunch and then back to write this blog. We are off out again for dinner tonight, Ellen is on the iPad looking for somewhere to go.

Tomorrow we fly back to Bogota to catch a connecting flight to Lima. So goodbye Colombia, we'll miss you.

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