A Travellerspoint blog

A Different Side of Caribbean Colombia

Our time in Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park and Taganaga

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We had just arrived in Santa Marta and we saw already the massive change from Cartagena. The infrastructure and the socio-economic situation in Santa Marta is definitely not as good as in Cartagena. After driving through slum like areas with make shift shacks and garbage everywhere we stopped for lunch.
I had been given a few warnings about petty crime, well mainly theft in Santa Marta and the small village beside it Taganaga. Sadly for one of those in our group who left his wallet on the table this was a reality as soon as we were in the area. A guy selling baseball caps did the smooth hat over the top and pull trick. Needless to say he will never see that wallet again.


When we arrived in Santa Marta and safely locked our stuff away we went for a little exploring. The historic area of town is meant to be the oldest in Colombia but compared to Cartagena the area has not be shown in its full beauty. That isn’t to say the area has no life and you need to grip onto your handbag it’s more. The place is lively and loud if I am completely honest. This is a town where the residence are more about work then there colonial heritage. We explored and started preparing.


We sat on the water for the sunset and marvelled at how there were specs of metallic gold looking dust in the sand and then headed in for much needed falafel pitas and then delicious chocolate torte which was rather like mocha cheesecake and either way was delicious! The next day we were off hiking for five days to The Lost City. There is another post to come.


On arrival back from our hike we were transferred to Taganaga, a village four kilometres from Santa Marta but again completely different. From what I understand about Taganaga is that it was a very sleepy poor fishing village that got inidated with tourists and dive courses about 10years ago. The issue with this is the infrastructure (aka the lack of water that has to be brought in) are struggling. The town is rough around the edges and even less developed than Santa Marta. The roads are all dirt roads, the people are a little more fierce and if I am honest no doubt a little resentful that tourists with money they could only dream of are taking over their town. The town is made up of 80% fisherman and 20% who work for the tourists. The waterfront area where most gringos go is the most developed area. Our mission when we arrived to Taganaga was simple after 5 days of hiking in a sauna (40 degrees) we needed a shower and birthday cake/brownie was in order.


We managed to have both of these done within half an hour. We discovered Café Bonsai, a little local café where they make basically everything from scratch (bread, a few cakes, juice) and try to make it as healthy as possible. The brownie we got was MASSIVE and it was delicious, luke warm, soft and not granularly with sugar and it had a thin crunchy crust. fresh chocolate sauce and vanilla icecream topped off this delicious creation. Although the prices were a little higher the food was top notch. We did a daily run to this place for the two days we were here. It is definitely our best find while we were here.


As we wandered more around the village I could see what held this place together. Near the middle of town is a massive football pitch. To be honest except for the main drag it is the most modern thing in the town, you can see that it is it’s pride. Football is part of the centre point of this community. The fireld was always covered with kids and adults playing football. It is a huge thing in Colombia and to be honest when I think about it it is part of what makes this country like it is. The other vital component that makes this village unique is the fisherman. They come in with the setting sun in the late afternoon with there catch and proudly show it on the back of there boats. A lot of this is for sale and is brought from the boat itself for the locals and the restaurants. The fishermen happily showed me their catch for the day and held it up showing the boat name or company name on their shirts with pride…they were clever enough and knew the secrets to catch these the biggest fish. It reminded us a lot of when we were younger as the whole town comes down to the sea edge as the sun sets to check out what has been caught for the day and to interact with everyone else. It definitely gave that strong community feel.


Our last destination was Tayrona national park. It was the day after returning from the lost city and we were still exhausted and to be honest most of us still had some mild stomach issues.


Our trip was basically we walked for a couple of hours to our camp where prices were through the roof (four times what they were in Taganaga) and the food was nothing special. We left our things with a hammock for the night and dragged our feet to the beach for the afternoon.


We arrived at the famous El Cabo and found it covered with people (well compared to home where you go to the bach and you can barely see anyone next to you). Lewis and I were unanimous that the beach was nice with it’s blue water, large rocks and a hut but to be honest our beaches at home are just as nice. To be honest though we were hot (still 40degrees with minimal wind) and exhausted so I think it would have taken a lot to impress us. We opted to head back to camp early and relax. On the way walking through the forest we managed to see monkeys and a weird possum looking animal.


That evening I never thought to think about the extremely frayed rope on my hammock…I awoke at 4am to a sharp pain through my heels…The two strings of the frayed rope that had held me up had snapped….I had nearly slept the other way and to be honest if my head had had the same fate with the concrete I don’t know if I would be here writing to you about our time so far. About half of us managed to get attacked by the brutal mosquitos/fleas through the net on our knees.


The park itself is a lovely place. To be honest we are so exhausted I don’t think we could truly appreciate it’s beauty and couldn’t help but think that we could find similar (minus the high temperatures) in New Zealand. Our option next time would potentially be go for the day and walk in and get a boat back to Taganaga. It would mean you would get to see the forest and other beaches but you would also get more rest. Unless you love the beach I don’t think you would want to do more than a night there.


Santa Marta and Taganaga are still definitely having there issues. A big one due to the dryiness is the lack of water. Most people are struggling to get enough for their everyday needs. You can also see that as travellers we get first priority and to me that sucks. There are a lot of areas where the houses are thin gib walls and in some cases thick cardboard. Money is low for most locals here which is why petty theft is increasing, a lot of tourists are oblivious to what is going on and taking there wallet, handbag or camera which could feed these guys for a few months is easy. These areas are further made worse by the huge amounts of rubbish all over the roads and the streets besides the unpleasant look and smell it doesn’t help with hygiene which in this climate is vital. Coming to Santa Marta and Taganaga don’t expect the beauty of the old town in Cartagena. Expect to see the natural beauty of the park, expect to see real locals struggling to make ends meet but having pride in what they do. That spirit is a great thing here.


Posted by chellebelle 16:14 Archived in Colombia Tagged football fishing beach tour bonsai community rough infrastructure caribean brownie comparision

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You two astound me with what you are doing & seeing, love your blog.xx

by Betty lowe

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