Up the Colombian Coast: Santa Marta & Taganga

Early morning in Taganga, Colombia

I definitely shouldn’t have tried to start blogging again during the holidays.  Now that they’re over, stories of Colombia await.  Up first: Santa Marta.

Santa Marta is an improbable city nestled between the bright blue Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevadas, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.  Palm trees and cacti dot the landscape.  The winter winds blow ferociously.

This port city is the site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.  It’s also one of the best jumping off points for nearby Tayrona National Park and the 6-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s lost city that predates Machu Picchu by 650 years.

Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta

All of this, and it’s also home to my favorite hostel to date, the Drop Bear Hostel in Barrio Jardín.  A former mansion that once housed a local drug cartel, this hostel now has a giant pool for guests, hammocks and swings all over the property, a restaurant and bar on site, and the biggest hostel room I’ve ever stayed in, for $25 a night.  (For a private double – with double-size futon – and a tremendous private bathroom.  Dorms would run you much less.)  You seriously won’t want to leave.

Drop Bear Hostel
Drop Bear Hostel

But if you do, a cab to downtown Santa Marta is COP 6,000 and to downtown Taganga is COP 12,000.  Many drivers will try to charge a little more, but you can probably get them down.

Between Calle 16 and 17 sits Carrera 3, an impossibly cute alleyway where waiters have dragged tables and chairs and festive lanterns hang above.  Musicians and street performers wander through, singing old Colombian folksongs and performing backflips for pesos.  A quick walk later, you’re in Parque de los Novios (more or less Sweethearts Park), where you can see an impressive lighting display if you’re there during Navidad – which luckily, I was.

Colombians love their Christmas lights.  They leave them on well after New Year’s Day, and will cover anything in a string or two.  The more a display blinks – the better.  Don’t believe me? I could literally see Bogota’s blinking Christmas lights from the airplane.  Each house had its own rhythm.

Nearby Taganga is a fishing-village-turned-backpacker-town, and is basically just one long beachside street.  If you’re up early enough, you’ll see fisherman coming in with their catches, fileting the fish on stumps right on the beach.  We also saw some groups of men training nearby roosters for cockfighting.  They put small weights on the chickens’ legs and move them in seemingly-random directions – strength-training the birds.  Definitely not a practice I condone, and something many visitors to Taganga might miss.

Early morning in Taganga, Colombia
Early morning in Taganga

Come 9 or 10, and everyone has emerged from their hostels to get a cheap breakfast by the sea.  Around 10:30, the first boats start to leave for Tayrona National Park – a ride that lasts nearly 1 hour and 40 minutes (each way).  If you go on a day like I did, at the end of December during heavy winds, it’ll feel like a lifetime.

But at the end, you are rewarded with this:

Cabo San Juan

Que chevere.

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