Colombia: January 2nd – 23rd 2013
Bogota: 2nd – 3rd January 2013
Bogota, our sixth capital city and by now, they were starting to all look the same. Bogota did have the Bogota Beer Co. from where we enjoyed a tasty pint / cocktail and embarked upon an unsuccessful attempt to witness something a bit different that is on offer in Bogota – Cock fighting. When we got to the venue it was closed and appeared deserted so I was rather surprised when I got an answer to knocking on the door. The somewhat scary looking man helpfully told us to come back on Friday. It was just a shame that we had already booked our flights out of Bogota for Friday. Oh well.
One highly recommended attraction of the city was the Gold Museum, but Sarah and I didn’t take a shine to it, finding the endless displays a little repetitive and tedious. There was an interesting video reconstructing how some of the artifacts were made that we enjoyed, but otherwise it wasn’t our cup of tea really.
But there were some enjoyable highlights. We had a great time wandering around the free Botero museum. Botero is a Colombian artist with a penchant for the rotund and this free exhibition of over 100 pieces was set in a beautiful building and was an amusing and pleasant use of a couple of hours.
We also enjoyed the Bogota graffiti tour. A sunny afternoon spent wandering around the Candelaria region of the city with a friendly guide and group of people admiring the works of Pez, Nomada, Rodez, Crisp (the tour’s founder), Toxicamano, DJ LU and others. There were some truly amazing pieces of work and it was a pleasure to learn a little about them and their creators.
Thirdly, we took the ride up to the top of the hill overlooking the city. We went at night time and with it being close enough to Christmas there were still lots of pretty lights which made the whole place more beautiful. There is also a church at the top which was beautifully lit and the view of the city was impressive.
Medellin: 4th – 7th January 2013
Sarah and I really liked Medellin from the beginning of our time there. This was in large part due to the fact that we were staying in the heart of the El Poblado neighbourhood. An upmarket area full of trendy bars, restaurants and boutique clothes shops, it was a great place to be staying. There was also a nearby Exito supermarket to get me excited where I finally found a camera to buy to replace the one that sadly became water damaged way back in Peru.
Medellin was also the only place on our trip where we found not 2 for 1, but 3 for 1 cocktails! The place was called Thaico and it also happened to have really good food (which was also half price before 7pm) and the cocktails weren’t lacking for alcohol either. They have got it down at that restaurant and that explains why it was really busy all night long, with queues later on.
The Botero appreciation continued in Medellin (actually his home town) with a sunny morning spent in the Botero park which had about 30 sculptures made by the man himself. It was funny posing with some of the ruder sculptures, but some of the locals weren’t as Britishly prudish as us, with one oldie jumping up onto the plinth to pose with the statue of the Adam and she didn’t bat an eyelid at Adam’s display of masculinity (Adam was depicted pre apple)!
We also managed to learn a lot about water with a trip to the water museum, where Sarah and I were able to enjoy a guided tour in English and were the only two on the tour.
From Medellin we were also able to take the 1.5 hour bus trip to nearby Guatape, a colourful, lakeside town where you can also visit El Peñol, a huge rock (that looked like a whale sticking out of the ground from a distance) that they have built a concrete staircase to the top of so that everyone can enjoy the view (which was stunning). The 700+ steps were well worth the effort! Unfortunately it was the Colombian equivalent of a bank holiday and so Guatape was teeming with people and had too few buses back to Medellin. We were back at the bus depot by around 5pm and were told that the next bus that we could buy a ticket for was at 9.45pm, so I asked a conductor if we could sit on the huge plastic island between the drivers seat and the passeger seat up front. A couple of cushions were duly produced and Sarah and I had our way back to Medellin sorted (albeit non too comfy after an extra half an hour stuck in the massive train of traffic going the same way).
Cartagena: 8th – 10th January 2013
Cartagena has an old, colonial heart which sits within its own walled enclosure that draws a lot of visitors and while it is a nice change, making it stand out from most of the other cities of South America, Sarah and I weren’t unduly fussed by it all. That could be because we were hotly anticipating the Wednesday night Media Luna (our hostel) party, which was reputed to draw gringo’s and locals alike from all across town.
But before that we had time to get on a big boat and take a long time to get to a tiny island with an aquarium (which we chose not to visit, instead favouring the 3 metre wide beach). We then took our big boat to Playa Blanca, which is the nicest beach in the area, but if you’re going to visit I’d recomment that you stay a night and not just do a day tour. That way you’d get to enjoy the beach when all of the day trippers aren’t then, when I have heard it is quite nice. To be fair to the slow boat, they did do a good job at providing entertainment to help the journey to pass quicker, but it is anything but relaxing!
The Media Luna party turned out to be as busy as we were led to believe, but thankfully we were able to wave our wrist bands and jump the queue. There were two live bands to enjoy (the four members of the first band were actually our dorm mates), tasty cocktails and it was a fun, party atmosphere.
The highlight of Cartagena was a trip to Volcan El Totumo – a mud volcano! Visitors get to wallow in mud for a while, get a massage and then get scrubbed clean again, all being snapped by the local kids who offer photography service, each for a small fee. It was a funny feeling in the mud, moving around was difficult, but it was sadly a bit busy and some of the other people in there didn’t seem to mind kicking or bashing you in their endeavours to move around. I felt that there was a sign needed to ask people to be aware of other people around them, but then that should be common sense! On the way back we stopped for lunch at a nice beach side restaurant and then enjoyed a walk on said beach, which was beautiful and quiet.
Santa Marta: 11th – 12th; 14th and 19th January 2013
I would like to tell you how amazing Santa Marta was (or wasn’t) but the honest truth is that I can’t because we didn’t see it. We were staying in The Dreamer hostel which had a decent pool, served good food, had a good amount of seating, friendly staff and a nearby supermarket and so we spent all of our time at the hostel. And we enjoyed every moment! It was nice to have a swim, sit and read, have a snack and a drink and then repeat the cycle.
I tell a lie. We did visit one of the Santa Marta beaches and a bar in town when we took the Chiva bus from the hostel for a couple of hours jaunt around town with a stop at the beach, before getting back onto the bus to go to the bar. It was a brilliant party bus with enough alcohol to ensure that everyone was doing plenty of socialising, space enough to dance and the bartenders from the hostel also came along to serve the drinks. The bar was also a lot of fun and we were able to have a good dance before the night’s end.
We loved Santa Marta and we didn’t even see it!
Taganga: 13th January 2013
Taganga is a small town over the other side of a mountain from Santa Marta which has become an increasingly popular party destination, but Sarah and I were there for one reason only – to go diving in the sea with the fishes. A little bit of wandering around later and we were signed up with Oceano Scuba Diving to do a couple of dives. The staff and instructors were friendly and relaxed, but also very professional, the equipment looked good and the boat looked sturdy (after Peru an important factor). We did two 40 minute dives up to a maximum depth of 12 metres. We saw lots of different little fishes to say hello to, which was nice, but the best bit was swimming between two huge rocks in what felt like a scene from a James Bond film. We were just missing harpoon guns.
Despite having the pull of Babaganoush restaurant (which was very tasty) we weren’t overly enamored with our hostel or the village and so we cancelled our second night and made our way back to the sanctuary of The Dreamer for a night before making our way east to Tayrona National Park.
Tayrona National Park: 15th – 16th January 2013
Tayrona National Park certainly makes you work for your rewards. We wanted to get all the way to the furthest camping sight at El Cabo. This meant a walk of about 2 hours in the morning heat, thus ensuring that you arrive hot and sweaty. A quick dip in the sea soon has you feeling better and then you are able to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings. It is awesome. We managed to secure a hammock for the first night of our stay which we were excited about, but the fact that we changed for a tent the second night tells you all that you need to know about how much we didn’t enjoy sleeping in the hammock. It was a little chilly with the sea breeze and the cooler night temperatures and while hammocks might be comfortable for a nap, we both found that for a night’s sleep we preferred something a little firmer beneath us.
Besides the beautiful scenery, notable mention must also go to the pan chocolate which were available fresh every day and yummy! Tayrona was a beautiful, quiet place to relax for a couple of days, but we were both looking forward to our next stop which was The Dreamer in Palomino.
Palomino: 17th – 18th January 2013
Dreamer on the beach. Palomino wasn’t originally on the destination radar, but when we rocked up to The Dreamer in Santa Marta and they told us about their Palomino sister, well, it would’ve been rude not to visit really. The hostel itself had the best pool that we were to encounter on the trip. It was huge, clean and drenched in glorious Colombian sunshine. The hostel was only a few weeks old and they were still finishing the final building and adding finishing touches elsewhere around the place, but it didn’t detract from our enjoyment. The hostel was also a stones throw from the Palomino beach, which was rustic and largely unspoilt by tourism. You could walk along or sit and relax relatively confident that you were not going to be bothered at all. Which was great! There were also some huge tyres that appeared a bit random, so we took turns to stand on top of them.
One of the highlights of Palomino was the fact that a few fellow travelers that we had met at various points along the way also happened to rock up. This meant that along with a couple of new faces we had a group of 11 with whom to share a tranquil afternoon floating down the river with tubing. This was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment which started with all 11 of us squeezing into a land rover, with 11 giant rubber rings strapped to the roof. We then had a short walk to the river and a couple of hours floating down stream. We also enjoyed a meal together at a beach restaurant where the Langostino were sublime and later we made a fire on the beach to sit around.
Bogota: 20th – 22nd January 2013
With a flight to Rio that we didn’t want to miss, we reluctantly decided to leave the beautiful Caribbean coast behind us and head back to Bogota for a few nights to finish our time in Colombia. Cleverly we had left the Salt Cathedral (200 metres underground within the tunnels of a salt mine) to visit, so we spent a day there.
We also visited (on more than one occasion) Crepes & Waffles which is a chain of restaurants recommended to us whose menu centres around Crepes and Waffles (of course). They also had a Panne Cook, which was a hollowed out bread loaf filled with various fillings (Stroganoff was the best) and it was always tasty (and cheap).
That was Colombia and Colombia was fantastic!