Learn Spanish!!!! - Spanischkurse (small private school)
Learn and practice!!! Lernen und anwenden!!!!
• Nationalpark Tayrona
• Sierra Nevada
• Kaffee-Finca (1 Tag oder 3 Tage)
• Wasserfälle / waterfalls/trekking
• Tauchkurse / diving
• Schnorchelausflüge & Tauchexpeditionen (snrkel and diving excursions)
• Segeln oder Fischen auf offener See (sailing or fishing)
• Inlandflüge (im Voraus planen: 2-4 Monate für gute Tarife)
• Busreisen (Cartagena liegt ca. 4 Std. von Santa Marta)
• Ausflüge an einen der vielen schönen Strände
The Tayrona National Park was established in 1964. It is a large tropical park with a number of species that are unique in this area. The western side of the park is dry, but the northeast part, where we went, gets much more rain.
There are several hiking trails in the park. Route A is the easiest—it is only about ½ mile and almost flat. Route B goes off from it, for 1½ miles with hills and stairs. I took the A trail, and it was a lovely walk through the tropical forest, ending up on a rocky beach. (Note: The A trail is easy, but it isn't handicap accessible because of a few stairs up to a walkway.)
Leaf cutter ants had 4” wide trails through it in several places, and it was a moving sea of green bits. Large warning signs say to keep out of the small river that flows into the sea because it is full of caimans.
Camping is allowed in some areas, and rental equipment is available.
Admission for Foreigners: 35,000 pesos; car fee: 10,000 pesos; daily parking is an additional 7000.
The small fishing village of Tagana (population 4500.) is about 15 minutes from Santa Marta. The fishermen are out for 12 hours a day (5 a.m. to 5 p.m.) They fish from crude homemade boats made from local trees. When they come in, people come to the beach with plastic bags and wait while the fishermen fillet their catch. It is interesting to watch the activities when the boats come in
Tagana has very nice beaches, and it is supposed to be great scuba diving too. (I don't do that, so I have no first-hand experience.)
The Cathedral in Santa Marta is the oldest one in South America. It was started in the mid-1600s and took 40 years to build. Simon Bolivar was buried at the side of the cathedral for 6 years and then moved to a site under the floor in front of the altar. Later, he was moved again to Caracas, Venezuela.
Originally the museum was housed in the customs house. But the customs house is under renovation, so the exhibits have been moved to a bank. We did not go to this museum, although their website says "This is the best museum of gold in the world. It went through some renovations a few years ago and will now leave the visitor breathless!" But I knew I couldn't take pictures there so we didn't go in.
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. / Sundays and Holidays from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
Several others on VT have noted that when they visited this area, they stayed in the nearby village of Taganga, a few miles north of Santa Marta. The town is a little more comfortable because it is a lot smaller. It is much closer to the most popular Colombian national park, Parque Nacional Tayrona. That said, the beach here is not what dreams are made of. It does look a lot better than the beach at Santa Marta, but that is because there are no coal docks that despoil the scene at Santa Marta. Check out the included website for an interesting view of Taganga.
The Museo de Oro or Gold Museum is located just off the Plaza de Bolivar in a nicely renovated hacienda-type colonial mansion known as Casa de la Aduana. This former Customs House is reported to have a great collection of pottery and gold from the native Kogi people indigenous to the area. There is also a diorama of Ciudad Perdida which is surely interesting to see if you are going to do the trek to the “Lost City.”
Unfortunately, it was never open when we were in town and I went by numerous times to see. It's a shame as admission is free and with a few days to kill there between waiting for my wife to get healthy and doing a couple treks, it would have been a nice diversion. Reports now state that the Museo de Oro has been moved to the second floor of the Banco de la Republica which is in between Carrera 1 and the Aduana on the same side of the Parque Bolivar. Another reason to return to Santa Marta though I would do that just for the cerviche alone!
Taganga is a picturesque fishing village with a perfect horseshoe shaped bay that makes for incredibly scenic sunsets. It was surely a paradise fifty years ago but since its “discovery” by gringos at large it has become shall we say a bit less authentic. It has also taken over from Santa Marta as base camp for the majority of non-Colombian tourists in the area primarily to take in the regions main sights of Tayrona National Park and La Ciudad Perdida. If taken in small doses, it still retains much of its charm but staying there must be akin to Khoa San Road in Bangkok, where you're never quite sure exactly what country you are in. If you are looking for Colombia, this is probably not your best shot at finding it but it is certainly worth a short visit to enjoy what is an obviously very pretty if crowded place.
We did not stay here as most gringos do but chose to day trip from Santa Marta. This is easy to do as frequent mini-buses ply the route for a mere 1200 COP (60 cents) and take only 15 minutes. Head to Carerra 1C or 5 in Santa Marta and look for Taganga signs on passing mini-buses. Drivers will likely seek you out as if you are a gringo, they will correctly assume you are headed that way!
For more details, check out my Taganga page.
La Ciudad Perdida has not only a rich and lengthy history but a storied recent past as well. Though settlement in the vicinity dates back perhaps a far as the 7th century and the actual structures' construction to between the 11th and 14th, the “Lost City” was just that until the early 1970s when local grave-robbers happened upon the jungle-strewn ruins of the indigenous Tayrona people. The terraced structures that remain incredibly well-preserved even today were mere platforms on which the wooden thatched homes of the Tayrona were built.
Even after its “discovery,” the area was far from settled and remained in a state of turmoil first with grave-robber gangs fighting over the spoils and then with cocaine cartels using the perfect growing conditions and inaccessibility to their best advantage. This was in great conflict with its tourist development and in the early years of this, a few intrepid travelers were taken hostage, thus propelling La Ciudad Perdida to backpacker mythic proportions. In a world where Macchu Pichu was now all too easy to visit, this was a more esoteric jewel in the crown for those drawn to tramping on less trodden if dangerous grounds. As with all things to do with Colombia, information about such danger lagged far behind the steady progress away from it. La Ciudad has been host to many organized trekking groups since the millennium and now appears to be as safe a trek as any in South America. Of course, such organization takes from its illusive allure but it still has a few years before it is overrun like similar treks in Peru so enjoy it while it lasts.
You must do the tour with a group and thankfully there is now some competition amongst the ranks after many years of it being monopolized by Colombia's national tourist company, TURCOL. It can be done in as little as five days but the more typical trek is six days and five nights. This can be arranged in Santa Marta or Taganga and definitely cheaper than doing it in Bogota.
For more details, check out my La Ciudad Perdida page.
Rightfully one of Colombia's most popular destinations, Tayrona National Park is most closely associated with breathtaking coastal scenery but the park encompasses 12 hectares of land with some of it rainforest close to 1000 meters and lowlands of brown desert-like hills. Most who visit only see the park's hallmark beaches shaded by towering coconut palms and perhaps a brief climb to indigenous Tayrona ruins in the most accessible highlands so the misconception of the park is easy to understand. To be fair, these areas are more than enough to warrant a visit to this stunning piece of paradise and it is easy enough to get lost doing just that for a number of days.
The park is a bit of a mishmash of developmental styles. While it is perhaps less than pristine when it comes to the properties built to cater to tourist needs and the only transportation mode is by horse, it is happily vehicle-free. This makes it perfect for hikers and even more so backpackers who truly can take advantage of the park's incredible beauty at more affordable prices than those at the mercy of the less than stellar accommodation choices.
It is easily reached from Santa Marta on buses leaving from the market at Carerra 11 & Calle 11. We paid 5000 COP ($2.50) for the one hour trip. From the road you are dropped off at it is about an hour walk to the first accommodation option. You could certainly do the park as a long day trip and see a fair amount but with a 34000 COP ($17) entrance fee why not stay a few days and enjoy the amazing scenery a bit longer.
For more details, check out my Tayrona National Park.
There is a bit of an odd monument to the native people of this region on the waterfront. I saw it before going into the mountain regions where some of them still live so had no idea what they looked like at the time so thought little of it aside from the fact that it seemed a little sexy for what seemed a family beach town. The native woman's nipples seemed a bit shall we say swollen. At any rate, both male and female figures were quite muscular and on the big side. The woman looked like she wold make mincemeat of a mere mortal man. Well, out on the trek we saw the local Kogi and there were quite small, actually petite. Even the men were on the delicate side in stature and bone structure. They were nimble footed and could race up and down mountains, across rivers, you name it. I'm sure for their size, they were very strong too but they in no way looked like the statue in town. When I saw them on my return, I could only laugh at the generous depiction.
Santa Marta might not be noted as having great beaches but certainly, it has a serviceable and very convenient one compared to Cartagena, where you have to travel a bit to enjoy such things. Locals enjoyed the warm lapping waters and fair enough sand. It seemed particularly popular early evening when the sun had gone down a bit in the sky and temperatures had dropped a tad. While it may have lacked the post card scenic beauty of the beaches of nearby Tayrona National Park, it was just a stone's throw from fairly affordable accommodation.
While you might expect an amazing “sight” at every turn when you are wandering around South America's oldest city especially if you just arrived from its younger sister Cartagena, Santa Marta has not been so well-preserved. Perhaps its only bonafide sight is the white-washed cathedral which is reported to be the country's oldest. It is a bit of a mishmash due to the lengthy construction period which did not end until end of the 18th century, laying its “oldest” moniker a bit moot. It does however hold the ashes of Rodrigo de Bastidas, the town's founder though this pales in comparison to it once housing no other than Simon Bolivar's remains which have unfortunately been moved back to his native Venezuela.
Parque Santander is surely meant to be one of the nicer spots in a city bent on renovation. On all sides are businesses aimed at the well-to-do, from high end hotels to trendy upscale restaurants. The park itself is groomed to perfection and free of graffiti and as South American parks go, any debris. It was very close to our hotel and also one of town's best seafood restaurants was situated on it so I was walked through the park a fair amount. Oddly enough, it seemed full not so much of locals enjoying the city's finest but more of perhaps the less desirable elements loitering. So, we never really got to enjoy the park and the restaurant that we were interested in checking out never seemed opened when we were looking for a meal.
Though the colonial center of Santa Marta is relatively small, especially when compared to its main competition in Cartagena, it's obviously under a state of renovation much befitting its “oldest city in South America” moniker. Much of it is still very much in disrepair and if you want to see a textbook town past its prime, Santa Marta will surely do. There is a certain charm in this disjointed state with some areas obviously very spruced up and others looking more ready for the wrecking ball than a makeover. It does appear that with Colombia's bid to become a bonafide tourist destination, Santa Marta is a city much deserving of a face-lift due to its position as the gateway to two of its most important natural treasures: La Ciudad Perdida and Tayrona National Park. There are some great examples of the more fixed up colonial architecture near the Plaza de Bolivar and lots of the more dilapidated ones near the budget accommodation mecca closer to the port.