Another fortunate encounter with some more backpackers, allowed some savings on the taxi to the airport and the taxi from the airport to our hostel in Santa Marta. This hostel may have been the best yet (La Villana). Aircon (needed at the northern coast towns!), bunk beds with stairs instead of shakey ladders, high ceilings and a personal plug and light for each bed (although mine didn’t work). The hostel even had a pool, bar, bean bags, Xbox and great wifi.
After getting settled in we headed to the number one rated (trip advisor) restaurant in Santa Marta, Lulo, which was just around the corner too. More people than tables is always a good sign so we joined the waiting list and had some smoothies while we waited. Some street performers (breakdancing) kept us entertained while we ate. The atmosphere reminded me a bit like quay steet and shop steet in Galway back home on a summers evening.
The next morning we were signed up for some scuba diving, in the Caribbean. The dive shop ( called Octopus) was located in Taganga, a small town about 10 minutes from Santa Marta and the dive itself was off the coast of nearby Tayrona Park. I was really excited for it but I always get a bit anxious when it comes to diving. The first dive didn’t start as planned, I lost my fin in the water so we had to spend a minute or two looking for it before we got started. Once found, we decended and started the dive. The visibility was the best I’d seen yet and the colors of some of the fish were so vibrant. I usually struggle with my buoyancy so I was very aware of it this time and improved a bit I think. When the dive ended and as we surfaced I felt sick, again, similar to how I felt after the first dive in Brazil. I was beginning to come around to the idea that scuba diving wasn’t the sport for me and that I might skip the second dive again. I started preparing my gear for the second dive anyway and in the process got my thumb caught between on of the clasps and the tank. The hook cut in deep enough but I’d survive. Between this and the nauseous feeling I skipped the second dive again. I need to invest in some seasick tablets before I go scubadiving again!
After we returned back from the dive we grabbed a bit of food and hit the, not so impressive but still really sunny, Taganga Beach for a while. I think I might have baked a bit with my shoulders getting a bit red. Taganga is ok to visit for a day or for diving but wouldn’t recommend staying there when Santa Marta is so close.
Next day we got the bus to Tayrona National Park. It was a really beautiful place where you can rent out hammocks to sleep in at night but they are pretty popular and were sold out by the time we got there so we had to settle for a not so original idea of a tent. The beaches in the park were fantastic and sun was shining. A great combination. We had planned on staying 2 nights in the hammocks, but after one night in the tent (I didn’t get a good nights sleep because few little ants kept annoying me!!) I was up early and hit the beach again for a few hours before deciding Santa Marta for one last night would be better than the tent again. I recommend everyone goes to the park, it’s worth it but I think I just got unlucky with the sleep. A bus from Santa Marta to the park cost 7,000 pesos, entry to the park was 42,000 pesos (note that you have to watch a information video before you queue up to pay so don’t waste time queueing unless you got the introduction video thing first) plus bus to start of the trail of 3,000 pesos. The tents/hammocks cost about 20,000 pesos per night. Oh and the park is cash only with no ATM nearby so make sure to bring enough cash – and yes, we learned that the hard way.
Back to Santa Marta for a relaxing evening in the same hostel, bite to eat in same restaurant, and a couple beers to chill out before an early start again. Next stop, and last Colombian stop, was Cartagena.
Tips and Prices:
Hostel: La Villana Hostel 35,000 pesos per night. Definitely recommend!
Scuba diving: 150,000 pesos for 2 dives. It is worth it. Make sure to use a reputable company. We used octopus.
Open water scuba diving courses are avilable for about 650,000 pesos.
Taxi to Taganga from Santa Marta. 10 minutes. 5-10,000 pesos
Tayrona National Park: bus to it from Santa Marta 7,000 pesos. Entry fee 42,000 pesos, bus (or 4km walk for free) to start of trail 3,000 pesos. Accommodation (tent or hammock) 20-25,000 per person. Opening for hiring hammocks does not open until 1:30pm but queue early if u don’t want them to sell out and be stuck with tent.
On entry to the park, you need to watch a introduction video before buying ticket to enter. Be sure not to waste your time queuing for ticket without doing this as he has to give you a slip before you can buy entry. Brig cash, no ATM nearby to pay for anything!
Transfer from Santa Marta to Cartagena (or visa versus) 50,000 pesos per person via company called Marsol. They pick you up at your hostel.
Palomino is an area that we didnt get a chance to visit but I heard is beautiful. Might be worth researching if planning a trip to this part of the world.
The other place is ‘the lost city tour’. It takes about 4-5 days and costs about 700,000 pesos. We didn’t have time to do it but everyone I met that did do it said it was unbelievable. If I was doing this again I would definitely make time for it.