Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
The majority of tourists who venture out to Colombia’s Caribbean coast fly from Bogotá or Medellin to Cartagena or Santa Marta. Either way Cartagena is definitely worth a visit. The old town inside the remarkable old city walls is stunning, the centro historico area has some beautiful buildings and architecture and it’s a good use of a morning or afternoon to take a walking tour in order to learn more about them. This area of Cartagena can seem slightly more expensive than the other cities in Colombia, however the streets are lined with boutique stores and delightful artisan products so it’s easy to see why! Nearby Gestemani also has charm and is a more affordable area in terms of accommodation. Inside the city walls is for sure the area to stay when you visit Cartagena as it’s also much safer than the outside area at night. Another thing I noticed upon arrival is just how incredibly hot the city is, a walk along the docks will get you some sea breeze but for a real swim to cool off a trip to the nearby islands or beaches should be considered. Although on the coast, Cartagena doesn’t have the most pleasant beaches in the country. However fear not! The famous Playa Blanca beach is a short boat trip away and if that’s too touristy or not adventurous enough for you then I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Islas del Roasario. There are plenty of options to stay on these islands ranging from affordable to ultimate luxury, regardless you’re guaranteed to find a slice of heaven!
Buses from Cartagena to Santa Marta are regular, cheap and take around 4-6 hours depending on the route. The majority make a stop in Barranquilla which has an incredible carnival in February but aside from that, not too many tourists stop there. You can also catch reasonably priced flights Cartagena to Baranquilla/Santa Marta if desired. There are two main entry points to Tayrona National Park; by boat from the small hippyish diving hot spot town known as Taganga or by road from Santa Marta. It’s advisable to pack light as the walk into Tayrona (to the beaches and accommodation) can be humid and tiring, there’s always an option to hire a horse once inside Tayrona. Furthermore Depending on budget, package trips do exist that can take care of all the details for you, even transport from Cartagena and back. If getting the bus from Santa Marta it drops you right outside the park entrance, after paying entry its advisable to take another bus from the entrance to the start of the trail. If staying overnight in this beautiful park make sure you’re prepared for the heat and insects, a small tent can be suffocating but there are hammocks for hire and in some areas of the park more luxurious accommodation options available. In Tayrona National Park you will find some of the best beaches in the whole of Colombia if not South America, just watch out for the rough currents; the warning signs and statistics are there for a reason!
Santa Marta itself can be interesting and has some of the best fresh juice I’ve had in South America. Minca, (accessible from Santa Marta), was a great surprise stop; affordable eating, great hiking and a real “immersed in nature” type feel. Waterfalls, swimming holes and much more to keep you occupied, conversely also a great place to rest or re-energise. Wherever you travel on Colombia’s Caribbean coast you are sure to find outstanding natural beauty and be kept busy with all the sights, flavours, cultures and places to explore in this corner of the country.