- Walk through the historic old town of Cartagena and explore the candy coloured buildings surrounded by a stone city wall.
- Check out Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena's fortress.
- Discover the endless beauty of Tayrona National Natural Park (Parque Tayrona).
- Hike to hidden beaches along the cactus studded hills of Taganga.
- Spend much time in Santa Marta. Just use it as a connecting point to get to Tayrona and/or Taganga.
- Expect cars and taxis to stop for you just because you're in a cross walk. You will not have the right of way. ****This rule applies to most of Central and South America****
- Bring valuables out with you.
After 7 days of living on a sailboat and thinking I wasn't going to make it to land alive, I was more than ecstatic to see the skyline of Cartagena. I would have jumped up and down when I stepped on solid ground if my world wasn't still rocking back and forth.
Our captain guided us through customs where we then hitched a ride with one of his friends to the city center. In all honesty, I still cannot figure out the layout of Cartagena. Definitely know where you will be staying prior to your arrival (both property name and street name + number), so you avoid having to drive around aimlessly or spending unnecessary money on a taxi.
We made it to the street called Media Luna, where there is an abundance of hostels/hotels and guesthouses. You're basically at hostel party central here and about 10 minutes walking distance from the old town.
After a much needed shower, we went to explore the vibrant city of Cartagena. As I walked the streets of Cartagena, I had women left and right telling me to watch my purse and to be careful. The funny thing is, I didn't feel like I was in danger here, but these friendly warnings led me to be more cautious than normal.
Walking up to the old city wall, we found that the old town was filled with colourful buildings and street artists everywhere you turn. Not to mention the occasional horse and carriage passing through the streets. Be careful not to step in piles of horse poop when you cross the street.
Every second person is selling jewelery or fruit and there are colourful bags and souvenirs shops scattered around the town.
We spent the whole day walking around the city, snapping photos, and taking peaks at the street jewelry. We stopped and had dinner at Crepes and Waffles for it's awesome salad bar. Veggies were just what the doctor ordered after several days of pasta and chips. The menu also includes crepes, waffles, pizza and more for those of you afraid of health foods.
The next morning we took a 4hr shuttle bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. Arriving in Santa Marta was interesting to say the least. There wasn't much going on.
Since we didn't get into Santa Marta until the late afternoon, we decided to stay the night and take a chicken bus to Tayrona National Natural Park the next morning (the bus is about 1hr from Santa Marta).
Do yourself a favor and spend a few days here. There's so much to see and so much beauty to be discovered. You can spend hours hiking and exploring the vast empty beaches. When you come across the ivory boulders on the shore you'll be in awe. Indigenous people still inhabit the land and there are several archeological sites to see.
A ticket to enter is about $15.50 USD. You can take a shuttle from the entrance of the park to the beginning of the walking/hiking trail at Cañaveral for about $1 or you can walk it in 45 minutes.
Arrecifes Beach (first photo below), will be your first sight of Tayrona's coastline. You'll want to keep hiking to La Piscina if you want a save place for swimming (30 minutes), or further to El Cabo San Juan for the most popular spot with good snorkeling (10 more minutes). Make sure to make a stop at each and enjoy the views.
For a detailed guide to Tayrona, including camping information and what you'll need, click HERE
In the evening, buses going back to Santa Marta don't run as often or they are jam packed with passengers and will not stop to pick you up. After having 7-10 buses pass by, leaving us with no hope of catching one, my friend and I decided to hitch hike our way back to Santa Marta. We got picked up by some beautiful souls from Taganga, the city just before Santa Marta, and they gave us a ride back to our place in exchange for some beers. Upon our return to Santa Marta, the girls had to catch a night bus to Ecuador, hence I faced the solo road again. So I decided to move along and explore Taganga after hearing great things about it from our hitch hiking hosts.
Taganga is a quiet little fishing town, with unpaved dirt roads and enough cactus to make you feel like you're in a wild west movie. I stayed at Tortuga Hostal even though it was really hard to find. There are signs for hostels pointing in every direction, so pick a path and you're bound to run into one.
I had some breakfast at Cafe Bonsai, a cute little find between all the corner stores and bars. Their selection of teas and healthy eats started my day off in the best way possible.
After breakfast I could conquer the world, so I wandered and found a tiny dirt road that seemed to run along the coastline. I decided to follow it since it was a nice day and I had nothing better to do (so glad I did). This path is actually a hike that takes you to little beaches around the hills. Most of them are old secluded fishing coves.
The first and most popular one is Playa Grande. Go here and enjoy a drink on the beach, as a bunch of the locals will be doing, or have some lunch as there is not a shortage of restaurants here. Just be prepared to wait a while as the service is sloooww. But hey what's the rush?
After two days in Taganga, I caught a bus back to Cartagena where I spent one last day walking around the city and checking out the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.
Aaaaand I may have had a ridiculously big night out before catching a 6am flight to the Dominican Republic. Thank you to my friends of 5 hours for finding me, waking me up, and holding my surf bag out of the window of a taxi the whole way to the airport. If that's not friendship, I don't know what is.
Up next: Medellín!