Here's the section of my travel blog which relates to Santa Marta & Tayrona National Park. It might be helpful for anyone who is planning their trip.
MONDAY 27 JAN 2014
I'M NOW IN COLOMBIA
Not a very exciting day. I got my taxi at 2.00 am. I don't remember getting any sleep. Check in was 3 am ie 3 hrs before my flight from Quito to Bogota in Colombia. The flight was only 1 hr 40 mins!!!
Quito airport at 3 am resembled a homeless refuge with bodies lying all over the floor & seats with people trying to sleep. They had probably been there since the night before.
I hadn't been able to organise a vegetarian meal because I had booked my flight direct with the airline & that was complicated enough. The breakfast came round & it was an omelette (no thanks), a funny little sausage (no thanks) & something that didn't really resemble anything (definitely no thanks). There was also one of those horrible dried up bread rolls & even though I was hungry, I wasn't that desperate! I was still feeling a 'bit delicate' & couldn't really decide whether I wanted to eat or drink anything or not.
I then had a 4.5 hr wait for my next flight up to Santa Marta. Wifi at the airport didn't seem to want to work properly so I was a bit cross as I could have got some work done. I then spotted a McDonalds upstairs. I really fancied a big bag of fries & was quite put out when they said they didn't serve them until 11 am (I suppose that was reasonable as it was only 9 am). I had a caramel ice cream sundae instead to cheer myself up.
The next flight was from Bogota to Santa Marta (the top end of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast). We got a bag of peanuts & a tasty little biscuit so I was happy with that.
When I came out of the airport at Santa Marta to sort a taxi, the heat hit me - it was very very hot! Security in Colombia seems to be pretty tight everywhere. There were police with guns at Bogota airport & sniffer dogs everywhere. All the resorts around here have got fences all round them & the gates are padlocked at all times with a security guard 24/7.
My accommodation here is a backpackers hostel (called Playa del Ritmo), right on the beach about 5 km out of Santa Marta. I chose this deliberately because I wanted some R & R for a few days. The rooms etc in the hostel are fairly basic but I booked a private superior room with air con so I'm happy. I've got my own patio/garden area with a hammock and it is just a few steps from the beach. There's a little beach cafe/restaurant just a few yards away so I had a meal there soon after I arrived. There's a kitchen here that we can use so I've just made myself a mug of coffee. Within an hour of getting here, it started to cool down which was a huge relief. I went for a walk along the beautiful sandy beach & had a swim (very warm water).
I am now writing my blog looking out at a really beautiful sunset with the sound of the waves lapping on the shore & with a lovely breeze keeping me cool. (I'm now really really happy with my choice of accommodation). I've covered myself with Deet as I'm sure there will be 'bitey things' around.
I've had 2 episodes of 'Delhi belly' (or the equivalent for South America!) this afternoon & this evening which is a bit worrying because of my plans for tomorrow. I need to check my stocks of imodium instants.
My reason for coming to Santa Marta is to 'do' Tayrona National Park. It is one of the incredibly beautiful places that appear in the glossy books '100 things to see before you die'.
I'm determined to do it 'the backpackers' way' which won't be easy. I've gathered all the information I need & plan to set off soon after 5 am in the morning (I hope the little man on our locked gate hasn't gone AWOL otherwise I won't be able to get out!) I need to walk to the main highway & flag down a bus (making sure I'm on the correct side of the road, otherwise I'll end up at the airport!). Then I need to get another bus from the centre of Santa Marta (after buying some bottles of water to take with me). This bus will take me to the entrance to the National Park. Then I pay the fee to go in & there should be another bus that will take me part of the way into the Park. Then it's a long (very long - probably 3 hrs or so) hike through forest/rocks/etc leading eventually to the various beaches. I then plan to hire a hammock on one of the beach areas for the night (after covering myself from head to foot in Deet). I gather it gets quite cold at night so I'm just working out what I'm prepared to carry to keep warm. There are showers/toilets/cafes/lockers etc down there so it shouldn't be too uncivilised.
Then, the following morning I do everything in reverse to get myself back to my little haven on the beach for 2 more nights.
Watch this space .........
WED 29 JAN 2014
BACK FROM TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK, COLOMBIA
I'm back from my 'intrepid adventure' to Tayrona National Park, near Santa Marta, Colombia. It was just incredible & I am so glad that I did it.
I set off at around 5.30 am & had to walk to the main highway & needed to flag down a bus (local!) going in the direction of the market square (45 min journey). I achieved that OK & managed to get a seat. I was the only 'gringo' on the bus - all the rest were locals, on their way to work. The bus had definitely 'seen better days' but it worked. There was loud Caribbean type music blaring out of the speakers (which I wouldn't mind but not at 5.30 am in the morning!).
I had assumed that the market square was the final stop. I was wrong! After 45 mins, I asked the person next to me how many more minutes it was to the market square. She told me I had missed it so I got off pretty quickly & just hailed a taxi. I didn't have a clue where I was & a taxi seemed the easiest option.
Once I got to the market area, I needed to load up on some food/water for the trip. I bought a 5 L bottle of water - that was going to be joyous having to carry that on my hike.
Then it was another local bus to get to Tayrona which was a 1.5 hr journey. Another pretty manky bus. There were 2 other 'gringos' on this one. I got a seat so that was a relief.
The bus drops you off at the entrance to the National Park where you pay your entry fee & walk a few yards further on where there is a small van type of bus (even mankier & I spotted a little wooden stool for the last person on to sit on - luckily it wasn't me!).
Then you started the hike through the Rainforest. I didn't really know what to expect but it was easier than I had expected. The ground was dry (no deep mud like the jungle trip) & there was overhead shade for quite a bit of the hike (not like the Galapagos where you had no shade at all). It was hot though, very very hot!
The route was waymarked which was helpful as there weren't many visitors yet as it was still relatively early so I couldn't 'just follow everyone else'. The direction posts had something on them saying '20% recorrido' etc. As there seemed to be lots of inclines etc, I just assumed that it was the gradient. It was only towards the end of the hike when it said 90% recorrido that the 'penny dropped'. It was telling you how much of the trail you had completed! Oh well, at least I knew now so it would help for the return journey. The trail was up & down continually which was probably a good idea. If it had been all downhill then it would have been all uphill coming back. Some of the hike was tricky & I had to do some 'tree hugging' to get down some of the slopes. It was extremely hot & I was drinking loads of water. It took approx 2 hrs to get to the campsite area.
As regards wildlife, there is loads in the National Park but most of it stays well away from the tourist trails. There were lots of lizards, birds, butterflies & I also saw some woolly monkeys. Then, I saw some other monkeys - possibly Capuchin monkeys? They were black and white & had really pretty faces. There were also lots of ants (very large) on the march everywhere & often across the trail, carrying big chunks of leaves to their nests.
As I got closer to my destination, I could hear the crash of waves on the beaches & then got my first glimpses. Lots of photo opps. The scenery was breathtaking.
As soon as I arrived at the main beach/camping/facilities site, I immediately checked out the hammocks & the showers & there were immaculate. I booked my hammock & locker straight away which meant I could offload most of the contents of my backpack & some of my water.
A strange thing happened on my route in. Coming the other way was an American woman who was also travelling alone. As we passed, she said 'are you the lady from Tripadvisor - I recognise you from your photo'. Her name was Lyn & we had exchanged a few messages on Tripadvisor before my trip started. I had posted various questions on the Travel Forum of Tripadvisor, especially regarding my visit to Tayrona as I knew it was quite tricky to do. She was the same age as me & was visiting similar places towards the end of January. We chatted for 10 mins or so before we went in our opposite directions.
Once I had rested & 'lightened my load', I decided I needed a swim (& soon!). The beach next to the campsite wasn't safe for swimming so I had to walk 20 mins to the next one. 45 mins later, I still hadn't found it. The trail wasn't clearly marked & I ended up on the 'horse trail' instead. The horses get hired by people who are camping & need help with carrying their gear. They looked pretty manky (worse than the donkeys at Mijas). When they cantered along, you needed to somehow scramble out of their way. I eventually asked one of the horse riders where the swimming beach was & discovered I was on the wrong trail. Luckily there was another entrance at the far end of the beach so I hadn't overshot by too much.
By the time I got to the beach I was even more hot & bothered. It took me just a few seconds to strip off & get into the sea - what bliss. That was the best dip in the water I have ever had! I had 3 swims in the space of the hour that I spent there. I managed to find some shade under a rock so life had improved considerably. I had some snacks in my bag & a bottle of (very warm) water to drink.
I hiked back to the campsite & found the correct trail. It was easier this time because lots of other people were doing the route. It was quite hard though as it skirted along all the beaches so a lot of it was without shade & was along the sandy beach.
Back at the campsite I headed straight to the shower block & had a truly wonderful icy cold shower - absolute bliss.
There wasn't really anywhere to sit or relax other than some picnic tables. I therefore decided to 'test out' my hammock & had a little siesta for an hour.
I had a walk down to the beach at sunset but it wasn't really a 'photo opp'.
Another shower later & I decided it was time for bed (7.30 pm!) The hammock was surprisingly comfy to sleep in. It had a mosquito net which was re-assuring. I put on an eclectic mix of clothes to keep warm as I had been told it got cold at night. I also covered myself from head to foot in Deet & I somehow managed to get no mosquito bites which was amazing.
I managed 10 hours of sleep so that was another good dose of 'catch up'.
I was up at 6 am & it was still fairly cool. A cold shower soon woke me up.
I set off very early for my return hike. This paid off as I saw much more wildlife, including lots of monkeys feeding on nuts in the trees & several funny mammals running through the trees that looked like very big guinea pigs with pointy noses. I think they might have been peccaries.
Even though it was early morning, it was still a very hot hike back. I was relieved when I got to the point where you pick up the little minivan.
It was about 11 am by the time I reached the market square in Santa Marta. I did some 'shopping' around the market for food/drink supplies to keep me going for the next couple of days in my hostel (as it is 45 mins out of town). My bag got heavier & heavier. I also managed to find an ATM & my card worked OK which was good news. 2 ice creams later (they were SO welcome), I managed to find the bus that was going in my direction.
Back at my hostel I offloaded all my 'goodies' into the fridge. I couldn't wait for the bottle of fizzy drink to get cold so I stuck it in the freezer.
My air con room was wonderful. The lowest setting was 16 degrees - it was heaven as was the cold shower that I had soon afterwards.
I didn't have too many e mails to catch up on so that was good news.
I washed all my clothes (& shoes) etc from my hike (they were pretty bad!) & used my emergency string as a clothes line.
Then I headed to the little kitchen to cook a meal which comprised a stir fry of all sorts of veggies that I'd bought from the market. I also cooked some tiny new potatoes (yellow inside but they tasted good). I finished it off with a huge chunk of fresh pineapple from the market which was delicious. I managed to buy some breakfast cereals for the next 2 mornings & needed some long life milk. I was offered a powdered variety which didn't appeal but I eventually found a carton. That is now in the fridge chilling down nicely so I'm going to enjoy my breakfasts (with sliced bananas on top).
I waited until late afternoon before I went for my swim in the sea. It was just too hot before then. It has been lovely being able to just walk out of my room & onto the beach. Even though I'm a long way out of town, I think this place was a good choice for my needs.
Tomorrow, I'm heading back into town (on the local bus) for some sightseeing around the tourist area & to meet up for lunch with someone else (a fellow Brit this time) that I've corresponded with on Trip Advisor.
Bye for now. Christine
THURSDAY 30 JAN 2014
LAST DAY IN SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA
I've had a very relaxed day today. I even had a 'lie in' (well until 7.00 am). I made myself a wonderful breakfast of cereals/granola topped with sliced banana & immersed in ice cold milk. I then had a bowlful of sweet fresh pineapple (ice cold) & a glass of ice cold milk. As you've probably gathered, it has been a real treat to eat/drink cold stuff!
I then set off to get the local bus into town. They go past every few minutes so it is very easy & it's a set fare (1,400 pesos which is around 50p). I didn't need to take much with me so it was nice not to be laden down for a change. I did take a bottle of water with me (which I had 90% frozen so that it would 'last' & stay cold for a while). I had also squeezed some fresh lime into it. That was wonderful, being able to drink tasty ice cold water during the day. I have been very tempted by the street stalls where they sell freshly squeezed juices etc but I daren't risk it in case the water/ice is 'dodgy'. Instead, I've enjoyed (many) ice creams/lollies but only from shops where the freezer is connected to a mains supply. They have a strange system where the freezers are secured with padlocks. You have to get the key from the shop assistant, negotiate the padlock & remove the bolt bit, then get your ice cream out & then lock it all back up & give them the key back & pay them. It's a bit of a palaver but my need for an ice cream overcomes the hassle factor.
I got the bus to the cathedral which was in the centre of the 'tourist area'. There isn't that much to do tourist-wise in Santa Marta itself. People mainly come here to do the Tayrona Park thing & also to do the hike to the 'Lost City'. That wasn't even on my agenda. It is a hike of 3-4 days in very tough conditions. There's no way that I could have done that. From the reviews that I've read about it, there isn't actually much to see when you get there, it is the journey that is the achievement (definitely no thanks then!).
I walked along the seafront & saw the 2 little town beaches which weren't up to much & felt really pleased that I was way out of town with my own beautiful (& almost deserted) beach. It started to get very hot very quickly & I tried to stay on the shady side of the street but it didn't help much.
There was a museum about Tayrona which I went into. It wasn't hugely interesting but it was free & it had air conditioning so I lingered as long as I could. I then found several large stores that had air conditioning so I wandered around them & tried to look interested in their 'wares'.
As I wandered back along the seafront, I came across a 'Bomberos' (ie a fire engine - green for some reason). Anyway, there was all sorts of 'action' & I saw that a pizza restaurant was on fire. There was a big crowd of onlookers enjoying the entertainment & even the local radio had sent a reporter.
I then met up with my 'fellow Brit' from Tripadvisor & we chatted over coffee about our travels etc & we then went for lunch in a really nice restaurant at the end of the seafront. It was very colonial. We got a table out on the terrace upstairs which had fantastic views.
We then shared a taxi to the Simon Bolivar museum which is about 5 km out of town. (Simon Bolivar is the 'big hero' to Colombians as he gained independence from the Spanish in the early 1800's). There was a botanical garden there also with large iguanas roaming around & climbing the trees (a few more photos to add to my Galapagos collection).
We got a taxi back into town & I then easily found my return bus to my hostel.
I had a late afternoon stroll on the beach, followed by a swim & then a little rest in my hammock (I hadn't used it yet so I was determined to make use of 'all the facilities'.
I've just cooked myself some supper (stir fry of the rest of the veggies & new potatoes, served with some fresh tomatoes/mayonnaise/balsamic vinegar & some crisps). There's lots of the fresh pineapple left so I'll have a bowlful of that shortly.
I'm typing this blog on the comfy seats on the patio area outside the reception at the hostel. The owners' 2 dogs (friendly) are sitting nearby. It is a very friendly/relaxed place. I did remember to cover myself with Deet as I'm pretty much 'mosquito bite free' at present & want to keep it that way. I've just taken my Malarone tablet with my supper & have just got 1 final tablet to go. I can't believe that I've got away with no nasty side effects this time. I think I've finally caught up with my de-hydration issue so health-wise all is pretty much good for me. If somebody could just 'turn the heat down a few degrees' then life would be perfect!
I leave here early in the morning & am heading to Cartagena. It is just 4 hours by road so I was happy to do that by bus. The bus that I'm getting collects everyone from their accommodation so I just have to hope that they've done most of the 'pick up's in town before they get to me. I might be unlucky & be their first 'pick up'. Anyway, my pick up is 6.45 am & the bus is air conditioned & only costs approx £13 for the journey so that all sounds OK to me.
Bye for now. Christine