Our last few days in Colombia were spent up in the northeast of the country in and around Santa Marta, another large, old city along the Caribbean coast. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains are up here along the coast, and the wild part is this small pocket of mountains actually is home to Colombia's tallest peak, over 18,000 feet and around 50 miles from the coast! However, the mountains were not the reason for our last detour...the sea was.
Tayrona National Park. Mountains, dense forest/jungle with good trails, and plenty of scattered and beautiful beaches with crystal waters...this combination of things is definitely my favorite by way of terrain. This reminded me a lot of Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand, just a lot hotter...and with monkeys. Unfortunately, we only did a daytrip into the park, but I wouldn't have minded at all if Missy and I had crashed there for a few days.
The hike in was great, and not at all strenuous despite the oppressive humidity. The trail bobbed and weaved through the jungle and along the many beaches as we made our way to Cabo San Juan de la Gaia...our destination for the day. Along the way, we were treated to many trails of leafcutter ants and even a band of endangered cotton-top tamarins.
The day started out overcast, but despite the threat of rain, it was still great to be outside away from cities and taking a great hike through some beautiful and scenic country.
Luck found us... just as we reached our destination, the sky along the coast and the sea cleared drenching us in sunlight.
Cabo San Juan...this place was spectacular! The beaches were golden and the sea was clear. And those boulders...they made the place totally unique.
So it's possible to camp at the beach, though it should be avoided during national holidays when the place is overrun with visitors, which is no good for the natural environment of the park. However, if you are visiting at a less busy time (which I would highly recommend....I mean this is the type of place to escape to, right?!?), you can also rent a hammock or one of the two "double" rooms up in the hut there on the rocks, which overlooks the entire area. Not a bad deal...just make sure you bring bug spray. We ran into one of the guys staying in a hammock who had so many mosquito bites that it looked like he had some horrible disease.
There is a small community here too to support the visitors, and the food at the one restaurant hut was quite good with plenty of options! I had the seafood fried rice, which was just great.
I've been lucky to see some of the world's most beautiful beaches, and I've got to put these ones in Tayrona right up there on the list...I LOVE beaches that have little to no human development crowding all around.
The beach at Santa Marta. We really just used Santa Marta as a jumping point and didn't spend too much time here. We wandered around it bit and it seems as though they are working hard to clean up the old center of town (they are learning from Cartagena I suppose). Plus, we found several good restaurants here...one of which was just across the street from our hostel (Casa Familiar) and was absolutely priceless! The food there was phenomenal and the "large" juices were served quite literally in a jug and only cost a dollar. Needless to say, we ate there a few times and I had lots and lots of fresh delicious juice.
Jack and Tiffany left us after our day in Tayrona, and Stefan left us our last day in Cartagena. Missy and I, however, had another couple of days in Colombia. We decided to just take it easy and relax, but we didn't want to do this in Santa Marta. So, we caught a short and cramped minibus ride over the ridge to Taganga, a little fishing village and backpacker hotspot tucked away in a little bay around the coast from Santa Marta. Taganga was a great place to do what we wanted...just sit back and relax. We stayed at Divanga, which is a few blocks in from the beach, but well worth it. Unfortunately, the pool was being re-tiled though...so we missed out on that luxury. The food, juices, atmosphere and staff were great though and the rooftop patio was priceless...especially at sunset looking down over the village out onto the bay. We also took a nice little hike up the coast out to Playa Grande, a nice beach with great, clear water for swimming and plenty of locals selling food from beach-side huts. Like I said, a nice way to spend the last couple days. So that was it for Colombia...I really enjoyed our time there, and I'm happy to say that I think we blew away many of the negative stereotypes that come to mind when you think of the country. I found the people to be very nice and friendly, particularly in the central mountains region. The country is spectacularly beautiful and blessed with every sort of clime and terrain. It's such a shame that this place is still plagued by a civil war with the narco-terrorist guerrillas and drug cartels, but we also noticed first-hand the effort that is being put forth to battle these problems. Anyway, if you learn anything from these posts on Colombia, I hope you learn that it is a beautiful country with nice people and is really a great place (and safe) to visit!