Following the general information about tourism in Colombia, some locations in southern as well as in central Colombia, here’s the final part of the 3-4 weeks “gringo trail” itinerary, that’s suitable mainly for the travellers visiting Colombia for the first time.
Santa Marta and Taganga
We’re now on a Caribbean coast, namely in a place where I was sent by my cherished local friends when asking about authentic Caribbean Colombia. Santa Marta is an old colonial town, in fact after Quito, Cusco and Cumana (Venezuela), it’s is the fourth oldest surviving city in South America.
I have loved the vibe of the city and yes, it is very authentic. It’s colourful and filled with many restaurats, bars and stylish cafés, not to mention the stunning sunsets on the beach. The city has been destroyed by the pirates in the past but the authorities are doing a good job revitalising its historical centre as we speak.
The close proximity to Venezuela makes Santa Marta to be full of homeless refugees, which might make the city look a bit dodgy for some tourists, especially after the sundown. It might just as well be a bit dodgy but I haven’t experienced any element of danger in Santa Marta myself.
To be honest, to me it was all but dodgy. More than anything else, to me it was hard to take, seeing people forced to go through such a situation in their lives. From this point of view, Santa Marta was far more intense if compared to any other place I’ve seen so far.**
Just next door, a over a hill from Santa Marta, there’s a small village of Taganga, a popular backpacker spot. I haven’t planned to go there but because Santa Marta was a bit too much for me, I decided to go, in my search for that peace and quiet I was desperate for. Well, Taganga and its surrounding bays are truly beautiful with a lot of potential suitable for the purpose I was seeking but…
But Taganga proved to be just yet another small party town and it comes with everything those usually come with, just like in Peru’s Máncora, Ecuador’s Montañita or in any small party town on the globe for that matter. It was impossible to walk on the strip by the beach that’s filled with restaurants and not to be bothered by touts or drug dealers every 30 seconds. I guess where’s demand, there must be sales and later into the night, I’ve observed that there was a lot of demand…
Furthermore, there was a story about Israeli mafia operating a horrible child-trafficking establishment in the area. I only got interested in looking into that, because I found it unbelievable that someone was powerful enough to establish a foreign criminal ring on a Colombian soil, thinking that the country have had enough of the hard criminal characters itself so the politics surrounding these people must have been really hard core. And it was. I’ve only seen a closed building where the establishment was based in the past and it looked like a fortress. Echoes of the dark side of humanity ):
Other places of interest near by: Ciudad Perdida AKA Lost City. If you’re in the area and have some time on your hands, please, make sure to check out the popular multi day trek to the Lost City here.
I won’t spend much time writing about Cartagena, because in my humble opinion it’s just yet another overpriced sterile tourist trap many like to fall for. If you live in one of the major tourist destinations, you know what does it come with. I’ve personally left the city quite fast.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad place – on the contrary, I’d say that it would make the list of the top 20 prettiest colonial towns in Americas. I just haven’t find it that special. For me it just lacked any element of authenticity and character. And it was expensive like hell.
Except the classic tourist SCAM that any major tourist destination comes with, Cartagena, especially its part Gatsemani, comes with a rather vibrant party scene and everything related to it from the geographical as well as the cliché cultural point of view, it is after all the most visited location in Colombia.
One thing that caught my attention was the good job the city officials did to hide the poverty stricken areas away from the otherwise eclectic combination of wealthy modern city and 16th century colonial Old Town. One thing I’m kind of sad I’ve missed on are the near by Islas del Rosario, I’ve however had other Caribbean islands on my mind already.
Rincón del Mar
Part of me doesn’t even want to talk about this place with anyone to keep it as unknown as possible. Rincón del Mar captured my heart pretty much instantly not only because it was exactly the peace and quiet kinda place I was desperate to find but also because it is an authentic as well as picturesque place with very very friendly locals. Rincón is certainly one of the best spots I’ve visited during my nearly 8 months long trip.
Located in an area previously held by paramilitaries, the whole western Caribbean coastal Colombia is now slowly opening to tourism. There was only one hostel just few years ago but things are changing fast. However, you can still enjoy the slow vibe while relaxing in the settings, feeling like if you’re inside the cliché postcard from rural Caribbean.
In other words, it’s just a small fisherman’s village with few hostels and local restaurants offering fresh fish and the beach. No resorts, no touts – well that’s not entirely true because the locals would offer you to purchase the still living lobster they’ve just caught – but more or less it’s as real as it can get. I really hope that it will remain that way as long as possible.
Necoclí and Capurganá
We’re now in the Gulf of Urabá, right in that bottom left corner of Caribbean seas. In my opinion, the town of Necoclí as a travellers’ location is rather underrated and it deserves more than being just a stopover on the way from or to Panama for those that are not willing to pay the $500 for the sailing trip through the San Blas islands. Except the Caribbean set, the area offers numerous activities, the most famous being swimming in the mud of Volcán de Lodo (not to be mistaken by Volcán de Lodo El Totumo near Cartagena).
If you are around – please do not make the same mistake of arranging your further transportation in advance (like me) so you will need to leave the next day. I wish I’ve stayed longer. Being a fascinated with outpost locations, I however rushed to Capurganá but with the knowledge I have now, I would have stayed in Necoclí a bit longer instead.
**Some travellers pick another town of Turbo that lies further south to cross the gulf when heading to Capurganá. Due to the fact that Turbo is infamous for child trafficking, human trafficking and all sort of other dark activities, I have decided to skip the place. But Capurganá wasn’t that different. The thought of perspectives from above comes in with a twisted angle for the less fortunate Terrans ): I’ve written an separate piece about the place here.
Some sort of conclusion
In spite of the fact that some parts of this text might come across as being a bit dark because of the ever-present impact of the human greed has upon lives of millions of people in this part of the world, Colombia still is one of my most favourite countries I’ve visited. The country’s diverse nature as well as its friendly people left a mark that will stay in my heart forever.
How to get there
- Medellín to Santa Marta: I took a 70minute / €34 flight. Bus journey is estimated to be 16+ hrs. Taxi from the airport to the city cost me 30000,-COP (€8.40)
- Santa Marta to Taganga: taxi @ 15000,-COP (€4.20) or a bus @ 1600,-COP (€0.45)
- Santa Marta to Cartagena: 5-7hrs bus drive to Cartagena‘s bus terminal @ 30000,-COP (€8.40), then a 18000,-COP (€5.10) taxi to the city centre
- Cartagena to Rincón del Mar: 2,5hrs bus ride to San Onofre @ 20000,-COP (€5,70); tuk tuk from San Onofre to Rincón del Mar @ 20000,-COP or mototaxi @ 12000,-COP
- Rincón del Mar to Necoclí: mototaxi to San Onofre @ 12000,-COP (€3.40); 2,5hrs bus ride from San Onofre to Montería @ 29000,-COP (€8.10); 3hrs bus/van from Montería to Necoclí @ 30000,-COP (€8.40)
- Necoclí to Capurganá: boat/ferry @ 85000,-COP/ €24 (75k for ticket + luggage extra weight + port tax)
- Santa Marta: I’ve stayed in Hotel Granate. It was OK. Nothing special. Clean and cheapest private room in town I could find. No A/C though. Central location.
- Taganga: I was looking for a place a bit outside of the party area to get an option of no-party in case I didn’t feel like it because by the beach it was one loud horrible reaggaeton hell so I’ve picked Hostal Las Terrazas, run by a friendly local gentleman. It was the cheapest private room in the whole village and the house’s terrace had a truly good view. The small swimming pool was also OK. The tax for all this was a 5-7 minute walk to the beach through the local area of the town though. If there’s more of you – I’d take it. For a solo person it was a bit too far away from everything and everyone
- Cartagena: I’ve stayed in Iguana House Hostal. It’s an OK place to sleep. Given the price, I wasn’t disappointed but if there was other option (at the time it was the cheapest private room in the Gatsemani area), I’d try elsewhere. One shower for like a million people and a rather comedy-like useless-ish duo of young local dudes who cared for the place during the night
- Rincón del Mar: I’ve stayed in a brilliant Hostel Beach House with super friendly owners and attentive staff. The place is located right on the beach and if you stay in the largest dorm, you’ll be pretty much in a semi-open space under the roof, falling asleep with the sound of the ocean. The only bad thing was that the mosquito nets were a bit too small for someone taller than 180cm. Make sure to get the single beds located nearer to the ocean. Otherwise the place is a well-oiled machine
- Necoclí: I’ve stayed in La Mariapolis and I loved it all the way. Definitely recommended, if you’re a liberal person. There was very friendly owner, bar with good coffee and even better views, lots of colours around as well as cuddly dogs and cats
- Capurganá: First few nights I’ve stayed in a place called Hilltop Capurgana. It was not bad, except it was like a 15-20 mins walk to the village through the semi-jungle. Then I’ve moved to La Bohemia, a place that’s well praised in its reviews. Be aware that it is a nice hostel but it’s more or less for non-conformists only. It’s friendly and it has good vibes but everything is wobbly and it looks like if you’ve displaced on nail, the whole place would fold down like a house of cards. But if you’re a hippie, you’ll love it.
- You’re right above the central Colombia’s Bogotá, Medellín, Villa de Lleyva and Ráquira
- Further south, I’d recommend going to Colombia’s Ipiales, Pasto, Cali and Desert Tatacoa
- If you have made it this south, I’d go to check out Ecuador’s Quito if I were you – it’s a stunning town, one of the first two UNESCO towns 😉