Country Colombia | Dates August 7-9 | Accommidation Casa Carolina (Santa Marta) & La Brisa Tranquilla (Costeño Beach) [Read My Review]
Santa Marta is a popular destination on Colombia’s Caribbean coast mostly because it’s the city the Lost City Trek originates. Aside from that we hadn’t heard such good things about the town and didn’t plan to spend long.
Having flown in, we walked right out into bright sun and hopped the local bus downtown for like $.25 (why people are spending $10+ on a taxi, I do not know). It was crowded and chaotic, people coming on and off until we got off on the crowded streets and headed for our hotel. As we don’t often stay in hotels, we spent most of our time recouping and enjoying the clean and much-needed break and luxury of the hotel’s pools, not to mention delicious included breakfast and coffees.
Exploring Santa Marta
We took a little time to explore the town, checking out the largest church in the Americas and the side streets and alleys lining it. Vendors sold fresh coconuts, fruit, and sickeningly sweet and sour tamarind snacks. It was sunny and chaotic. Although there were visitors, the city felt more authentic than some other places in Colombia.
Parque de Los Novios | We wandered the area around Parque de Los Novios, the main tourist section lined with toursit-centric [read: overpriced] restaurants and bars (we checked out Radio Burger Bar Cafe for drinks and local beer). We opted to eat at a cheaper locals spot off the main drag for lunch, obviously, but if you are looking for other foreigners or nightlife this is the area to head.
Waterfront | I headed to the waterfront in the evening to check out the sun sinking into the water, the sky changing to pink as it did. Vendors lined the filthy beach, of course, offering goods from food to tourist trinkets to alcohol served out of the usual dirty reused plastic bottles. Children splashed their feet in the stinking water as people watched from the small marina and overpriced waterfront bar. Walking back after dark I found the streets busy, although not as sketchy as we were warned they’d be.
We planned to go to Tayrona National Park, a giant and beautiful park boasting hikes and pristine beaches, and Santa Marta’s other claim to fame. Unfortunately, we left our passports in the hostel not realizing they were needed for park entry, so we spent all our coast time at Costeño Beach.
We headed to the crazy busy street corner “el mercado de Santa Marta,” surrounded by guys selling water in plastic bags out of coolers, yelling, and hoards of sweaty people as we waited for the bus. When we heard the man leaning out of the bus yell “Tayrona” we got on, slide into a coveted seat, and began the hot journey our legs sticking on the leather. Less than 10 minutes from Tayrona we got off and began walking down the sandy road to the beach, past a guarded gate, until a car slowed and a nice Australian couple picked us up and offered to drive the rest of the way (I maintain this does not count as hitchhiking).
Costeño Beach was advertised as a secluded, pristine beach on the Caribbean coast, and we were excited to relax. The reality was a bit different. While it was a beautiful and not-crowded private beach, the waters were extremely rough and frankly terrifying to swim in (not to mention dangerous – signs warning of rough conditions lined the beach). The surf lessons the beach is known for were cancelled day after day due to the current, so aside from reading and drinking there wasn’t a ton to do. As it was so secluded, the only food options were the hostels (which did serve better food than expected); there was not even a minimart anywhere.
A bit bored we took a walk the “village” down the beach, which was a small row of falling-down wood houses, hammocks hanging from poles with sketchy signs that said you could sleep there, and people swimming in a less-rough inlet. On our way we spotted some graffiti-covered ruins in the woods nestled among the yellow-green palms, which appeared to be an abandoned hospedaje. Obviously, we went into the trees barefoot and then entered the abandoned buildings for a closer look.
I continued on to Barranquilla to conclude my South America experience, waiting for a 2-hour bus delay at the station in Santa Marta. While I waited, some obnoxious Canadian boy tourists shotgunned beers in the bus station (why is this necessary?). Finally onboard the bus, someone was in my seat and there were zero free seats I could take instead. The bus driver eventually told someone in the wrong seat to move, and a ticketless child hopped into her mother’s lap (also the child was hiding a puppy under a blanket). The lady next to me attempted to converse about how we were both going to Miami – she was nice and helpful – until she began asking me the price of my tickets and urged me to get off the bus early to take a taxi from the side of the highway “for cheaper” than going from the bus station. Needless to say I did not heed this advice and opted to take the licensed taxi from the Barranquilla bus station. Thank goodness, too, as it was wildly sketchy at night, and I spotted some hookers and men with baseball bats lining the deserted streets en route to the tourist area.
This concludes the South America portion of my travels for now. I am heading to Asia next – please stay tuned!