White sand beaches, lush green forest, lavish colonial architecture, meandering rivers and parties aplenty. You better believe it… this is Colombia!
So, we had explored its ancient history in the south, sipped our way through the coffee region, explored the city streets, rumbled through the jungle and trotted around the countryside. With the little bit of time we had left we were amped to get to the beach! So with the Caribbean in our sights all that was left was to decide where to divide our time. These were our top experiences:
Diving in Taganga: After reading Taganga was “a cautionary tale about the over-development of small towns” I was second guessing our decision to book accomodation here. But after we arrived I felt happy with the fact that we’d found just the right amount of gritty grime necessary to keep us entertained. Taganga is a place to be taken with a grain of salt, expect to find a dump and you won’t be disappointed. The place is a sleepy little fishing village made über popular due to its close proximity to Tayrona National Park. A whole bunch of dive shops opened, backpackers swarmed its little bay in the thousands, and the little village grew up all miss proportioned. Expect to see dirty streets, drug dealers and a homeless naked man called Cielo Wee who wanders the streets searching for bottles. BUT in spite of all this there is a great community vibe and the diving is cheap, colourful and teeming with life. We loved diving with the crew at Reef Shepherd and would highly recommend them as an outfit. I did my advanced certification with them and only paid 500,000 pesos ($230aud). The night dive was absolutely spectacular and their whole team was super professional. We also loved staying at Taganga Beach Hotel, the staff were a bunch of legends and made us feel at home straight away! We also highly recommend floating around on the glassy horseshoe bay on a standup paddle board to enjoy the sunset.
Tayrona National Park: I first heard of Tayrona National Park in a book I was reading before we left for our South America trip, then I saw the pictures and spoke to some others who’d been there and I was more than sold. The reality was a lot hotter, stickier and more mosquito infested than the pictures led on but it was worth the 4+ hour hike to get there! We entered via the Calbozo entrance and spent the morning walking through the lush, fragrant jungle until we reached the little indigenous Kogi village, called El Pueblito. The Kogi are a peaceful people who dress in hand woven and sewn clothes all in white and can often be seen collecting shells on the beach to make lime to mix with the coca for ceremonial purposes.
From El Pueblito the beach is about another hour and a half, mostly down hill following a path of giant boulders. When we were halfway to the beach we heard and smelled a tropical storm blowing in before it reached us. It drenched us in giant fat drops of rain which just made the landscape and the journey more magical and we felt as though we were the only ones in the entire park. This feeling changed quickly when we arrived at San Juan and saw the thousands of people all stuffing themselves into the restaurant to hide from the rain. We later found out we had arrived on a Colombian national holiday, make sure you check before you make the trip because the hoards of people tend to spoil the illusion a little. The walkable path from one end of the park to the other is about 2 hours and the El Cabo campsite at San Juan is the final point for most overnight trippers, so we had arrived at the busiest part. Not overly impressed we walked back towards the main entrance, enjoying a quick dip at the other less crowded beaches as we went along and finally settled at a more low key, palm tree lined campsite called Arrecifes. There was a little restaurant onsite with simple tasty food and cold beers, and a beautiful long stretch of sandy white beach only a 3 minute walk. For breakfast there was a bakery right next door with giant slabs of hot banana or chocolate bread with fresh squeezed orange juice on offer!
Palomino River: Floating from the mountains to the sea on tubes down the Palomino river was a surefire highlight for us. We arrived late from Tayrona and because it was a cursed long weekend accomodation was slim and top dollar but definitely worth it to experience the river tubing. That morning I spoke to a man in the street about how to make it happen and as soon as we’d finished breakfast the guys were there to pick us up on the back of their bikes. We each carried our tubes with us and bounced all the way down to the river path on a muddy, potholed road where they left us at the beginning of a walking trail. From here we hiked for a further 30 minutes up and down hills through the lush green forest until we heard the welcoming sound of the babbling river, waiting to soothe our itchy skin. We jumped in and relaxed, floating for around an hour through pure serenity which slowly turns into more recognisable civilisation. Once you reach the motorway bridge you realise the calm is coming to an end, just in time to hit the waves and the current of the ocean.
Cartagena: This city is like a very charming old colonial gentleman. A bit rough and faded around the edges and starting to crack up, but still worth spending a day or two with to learn his tale. Just wandering around the streets at dusk with the horse and carriages trotting around is an endearing experience. However, we happened to arrive during their independence carnival and shit was LOCO! Foam guns, flour bombs, paint and firecrackers all flying in every direction. We were lucky enough to find a hole in the wall to hide out and were able to enjoy the parade sipping cold beers while the chaos mostly unfolded below. There was a point where we had to buy a foam gun for self defence, but it was all in good fun.