Part 1: Welcome to Santa Marta
Come to Colombia they said. It’ll be fun they said; and they weren’t wrong!
‘They’ are our good friends Jamie and Paola who have an awesome little place located in the coastal town of Santa Marta, northern Colombia, and who invited us over to stay in May 2018. Jamie was keen to show us some of the amazing Tayrona National Park as soon as he could, and what better way to sweat out the jet-lag than to go for a 3-hour trek in 30 degree heat through the jungles of Colombia! So, with Paola’s cousin Nano (short for Hernando) as our local guide, that’s exactly what we did.
The uphill bits started pretty instantaneously but served up some excellent views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
View across part of the Sierra Nevada at the start of the trek
Local homestead surrounded with tropical flowers
Coming from a country like England it’s fairly common to see horses, cows and maybe the odd donkey if you take a wander off the beaten track, but the Colombian jungle has some more exotic little critters on show!
Jungle camouflage locusts
Tayrona national park is home to an indigenous local tribe called the Kogi (or Cogui) who still maintain homesteads deep in the heart of the jungle all made using traditional techniques, it was certainly an odd experience to be trekking through lush jungle and then to suddenly enter a small village. I felt like we were trespassing but the locals seemed unconcerned with us stopping off for a quick bite to eat.
Indigenous Kogi palapas (palm branch rooves)
Traditional Kogi palapa
Nano wanders along the amazing natural rock path in the Kogi village
After a quick stop for lunch we were off again towards the beach along one of the craziest paths I’ve ever seen. Nano explained that the Kogi had built the path from rocks and boulders over many decades, if not centuries, since some of the boulders were truly humongous. Parts of ‘the path’ were fairly easy to navigate on two feet, but I’d say we spent at least half the time using all four limbs to clamber over some sketchy looking drops and crevices.
Jamie and Nano showing us the way
One of the more gentle sections of the rock path
One of the more sketchy sections of the path
A little bit of paradise at the end of a long trek
Taking a well earned dip in a cool ocean to wash off multiple layers of sweat and soothe aching knees!
Part 2: Scuba Diving at La Isla Aguja (Tayrona National Park)
There are plenty of dive shops to choose from in Santa Marta or in the nearby towns of Rodadero and Taganga, but we were lucky enough to find Santa Marta Dive and Adventure just 2 blocks stroll from the flat, and after a quick check on Trip Advisor we realised that they also happened to be one of the best in town.
In May 2018 they were charging $180,000 Colombian Pesos (about £47 GBP) per person for a 5-hour trip which includes two 45-minute dives, road and boat transport to and from the dive site, and also drinks and snacks during the trip. Our dives were based around ‘La Isla Aguja‘ which is a short 20-minute boat ride from the town of Taganga.
Our guide Marvin was very professional and made sure he went through the usual pre-dive instructions and checks calmly and slowly, which is always hugely reassuring when diving in a new place and in a country far from home. Since life in Santa Marta gets very warm very quickly, the day trip runs from around 8am-1pm to make sure you’re not out and about during the hottest part of the day; which also means you can fit in a timely siesta once you get home again.
Hand painted logo
Map of ‘La Isla Aguja’ in the Tayrona National Park
Vic’s backwards water entry from the boat
No one likes a show off
Following the progress of a mean looking Moray Eel
Plenty of fish to spot in this little clip
Massive thanks to Marvin and the team at Santa Marta Dive and Adventure for running a tight ship and making our scuba trip a memorable one for all the right reasons.
Part 3: A quick trip to Medellin
After a couple of little adventures in the mountains and under the ocean we decided it was time for a little culture in the famous city of Medellín. Santa Marta has its own airport so it’s pretty simple to get a flight to Medellín which takes just over an hour in order to enjoy a quick city break; be aware though that it’s a good hour from the airport to the centre of Medellín in a taxi (about $70,000 Pesos).
We were amazed at how modern the city is; a clean, safe and efficient central rail system with good disabled access and regular trains, and a noticeable yet reserved Police presence which served to reassure us during our tourist wanderings.
Looking out over Medellín from the top of the free cable car which travels from the centre up to the poorer suburbs of the city
One of the many famous statues created by Fernando Botero in the ‘Plaza de las Esculturas’
Another Botero statue in front of the impressive building overlooking the plaza
Botero statue simply entitled ‘Head’ (Cabeza)
Botero’s depiction of Pablo Escobar’s death on the rooftops of Medellín in 1993
Decent local graffiti -‘Streets of Medellín’
Part 4: Mountain Biking in Minca
Once back in Santa Marta we had a day to chill out before heading back into the Sierra Nevada mountains for a couple of days in the little village of Minca. Known for being less commercialised and much more relaxed than Santa Marta, Minca is located at a higher altitude and is therefore a damn sight cooler than the sweaty heat down by the coast.
Our main day in Minca consisted of hiring mountain bikes from Minca Mountain Bike Tours and cycling 5km up a mountain road to La Victoria coffee farm; we got drenched in rain on the way up and then narrowly escaped being hit by lightening during a thunderstorm on the way down…it was quite the day!
Jungle wildlife – a huge millipede!
(we named him Godfrey obviously)
Halfway up the big climb and it starts to rain
We’re already drenched in sweat so a bit of rain is actually quite refreshing!
We make it to the top as a team or not at all!
Celebrating with a poser shot once we reach ‘La Victoria’ coffee farm (which has a tropical stream running through it)
The oldest coffee farm in Colombia!
(and yes, we bought one to go on the wall at home)
A final shot of the crazy jungle before we raced 5km downhill to avoid the crackling thunderstorm!
Overall I’d definitely recommend Santa Marta as a base of operations if you’re visiting northern Colombia.