Hello! I have left Cartagena on a cushy Avianca flight that cost about the same as the 18 hour bus. I will take the one hour flight, especially with baggage included, TV and games and juice, huge seats, and the nicest flight attendants I have ever met (put Spirit to shame, which is not hard to do, but also most domestic Delta flights under a few hours). Well worth it. Had to have help booking it online since they only accept Colombian credit cards but that is what a great hostel does.
I stayed at Casa Viena in Getsemani. The area has a lot of restaurants where there are mostly locals along with some more international eateries which still have a lot of locals and hostels. Mind you, if you are coming to just see the nicest, most touristy, part of Cartagena or do not want to see the side that has prostitutes selling themselves and drugs and propositioning you, it might not be the best area to walk back from at night or even sometimes in the day time. But only a few limited streets are very bad, the rest I did not hear anything and there were locals watching out for the tourists, helping if I look lost, asking me if they can speak English to talk with them in English, stopping traffic so I can cross the street, helping me up into the colectivo (local bus) with my ridiculous pack, telling me how wonderful Colombia is and how I will not want to leave, telling me the best place to eat, telling me to be careful on certain streets, telling me to watch out there is a puddle and a car coming to splash it on me. Honestly, I am getting the impression that this is who the Colombian people mostly are.
I know there have been a few muggings and confrontations with drug dealers in the area, but just do not carry a lot of valuables at night and don’t flash out fancy phones or cameras in areas you know you shouldn’t at times you know you should not and ya know don’t buy sex or drugs and you should be fine. Be vigalent about your pockets and cash and belongings. I had two dollars in bus fare stole from my pocket, I even saw the guy do it and he had a “so what you gonna do about it” look. Also I have felt pick pockets, though I do not normally carry anything there so it was just annoying to have my ass poked.
I stayed in Santa Marta at an awesome hostel that had a free drink and free breakfast included and was MUCH cheaper than any in the area. Candela y Chocolate actually has been the cheapest I have stayed in, at 16 COP per night. They also have the CUTEST dog. It is two blocks from the main park near the beach, which has about 4 banks with ATMS and a couple police officers checking the ATMs regularly. There are fruit carts there also and there is an Exito on Calle 20 and Carrera 5 (Hostel is on Calle 12 and Carrera 3), so 8 or 10 blocks. Exitos I thought were grocery stores but this one was like a super Walmart. The hostel had excellent Wifi, stores luggage (5 mil COP or free if you stay when you get back), paid laundry service, books buses, etc.
The town is a touristy beach town that seemed awfully crowded when I was there because it was a national holiday. It seemed expensive. Also while I was there I met a large group of Peace Corps volunteers serving in Colombia. One of them got mugged sitting on the beach late at night by three guys. I recommend you not sit on the beach by yourself at 2 AM.
I only spent a few hours in Taganga waiting for the boat to Tayrona. It was a gorgeous ride down on a little colectivo (you can catch the bust to Taganga on Carrera 5, just look for a sign in the window saying Taganga, for about 1,500 COP). Not too long of a ride in a little rickety bus but driving down the hill side into this little town nestled into the mountains with a small beach front was amazing. The prices seemed a little cheaper, or maybe I was just better at bargaining. I tried to go early enough to get there and store my unimportant luggage at a hostel and buy some fruit to take but I got there and the boat was leaving so soon I did not want to risk missing it. Just show up and someone will offer you a boat ride, maybe though if it is not so busy as it was when I was there, shop around.
And here to help me with the boat salesman was a couple from Michigan! They were hanging out with two friends (Californians maybe) who were teaching English Baranquilla. I hung out with them for that day. It made me feel safer swimming with people.
I know it is way more expensive (45 mil COP though I heard a girl paid 20 COP at the hostel I was in) but it was gorgeous. The coast line along the entire Tayrona is amazing. People rock climbing, lots of caves and little deserted beaches and mountains…it just really has it all. Then you arrive in Cabo San Juan. Cabo San Juan has two of the swimmable beaches. Arrecifes, the first beach from the trail down, is incredibly dangerous to swim in because of the currents. I think you can swim at Piscina (half-way between Cabo San Juan and Arrecifes) and you can also swim at Play Brava. Playa Brava, however, is a tough hike that takes about 4 hours if you do not have a lot of stuff with you. I walked almost half way trying to see the Pueblito at the top of the hill (half way up) but my shoe broke and I ran out of water so down I went. It is a very tough up and down and through and over rocks hike. Very steep and sometimes you have to figure out the path. I think it 2.4 km but 250 m incline. Possibly. There is a sign saying do not take kids and do not leave after 1 PM. Good suggestions.
In Cabo San Juan there are lower hammocks and upper hammocks. The upper hammocks can get wet and cold and do not have mosquito nets. They are however positioned on top of a rock right on the ocean, there is also a path to go sit on the rocks. The lower hammocks are near the tent area. There is a restaurant, snack shop, lockers (free, provide your own lock), bathrooms (provide your toilet paper) and showers. The food shops close occasionally and the lockers close at night so take what you need out (bug spray, flash light, water, pajamas, tooth brush, bathing suit, towel). Though, I did not see a single mosquito. In fact, in Cartagena in the hostel I saw one mosquito and one night got bit by something, I have no clue to what it was but the bump looked sort of like an ant bite. I wonder if I brought some from the beach. I carry bug spray with me in case I need it, but so far limited need, thankfully.
The food is way expensive (25 mil COP for chicken and rice which was about 6 mil COP near where I was staying in Cartagena). Bring a large amount of water and food with you and have a light pack on the way out.
I did yoga on the rocks, swam, sunned, napped, watched and talked with one of the workers swapping Spanish and English help (his English was very good, my Spanish almost nonexistent). It helped me a lot to just talk. I tried my hike to the Pueblito, a small indigenous village. When I went we got a few of the last hammocks, so get there early if it is a holiday. The next day there was hardly anyone and mostly foreigners instead of Colombians. I have found Colombians go to bed late, wake early, and make a lot of noise doing both. So bring ear plugs or headphones or something.
I woke every morning early, the day I left around 530 when the sun came up. It was a good 2.5 to 3 hour hike (with my huge heavy pack remember) that was only partially marked. It was beautiful, especially with the rising sun. The path from Cabo San Juan to Arricefis was a bit rocky and not too much up-hill while the hike to the bus stop was very steep but fairly smooth as it is a horse path. You can hire horses for different parts to carry you and stuff but I think no one should take the horses or demand they take better care of the horses and charge more. There was actually a demonstration outside Cartagena while I was there about abuse to horses. The horses are very sad, have heavy saddle marks and whip and switch marks. They carry huge loads for as small as there size is. It was very sad in both places.
Once you get to the park entrance there is a 2 mil COP bus to the main road (or a 3 km additional walk up a paved road) and a 5 mil bus (on the same side as the park entrance, the bus will be going right as you exit the park) to Santa Marta. I took the tourist bus back thinking it would be more comfortable and quicker. It was not. We had to stop a lot along the way and go through Baranquilla, there were broken seats, barely enough room, no room for luggage and it broke down on the way back and for an hour and a half we were sitting in a bus with three less seats that what we needed. There was a guy sitting on top of the luggage and someone sitting on someone’s lap. For 42 mil COP, so not worth it. This was Marsol.
Leaving from Cartagena
I stayed at Casa Viena when I got back to Cartagena again. They had the camera charger I left there. Very honest people. I had a phone interview with Google Voice and they had a headset with microphone I could use. I walked around and took more pictures and then met up with a friend I met last time and we left to Medellin. We took the colectivo again which was on the main bus area near the entrance to the city (millions of buses, can’t miss it). You want to be on the furthest side of the road near the water heading away from the City. I think the bus said something like Crespa on it. Also the airport is sort of small and hidden, we missed the stop and someone stopped the bus for us and we walked two blocks back down to the airport. The national departures area is the furthest down to the right. And you know the rest!
The internet is spotty here, I guess it is broken, so I am not going to add links and pictures here, I will add a separate post later when I have reliable internet. Now off I go to find a long sleeve shirt and a hot shower (ah, luxuries) in the posh party hostel.