Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

So there we were…standing on a beautiful white sand beach while looking at the snow-capped Andes in the background.

We left San Gil on an overnight bus to Santa Marta.  This definitely brought us back to our old travelin’ days and of course it was not comfortable but it was the most efficient way to get to the coast without wasting a day of travel.  We landed in Taganga, a town that used to be a sleepy little fishing village until travelers started making their way there to access Tayrona National Park.  The town is now a full on backpacker ghetto and as Jason puts it a “real dump”.  We based ourselves here to do a bit of diving and to explore the nearby national park.  The first afternoon we headed out for a two tank boat dive.  It was the first time either of us had been in the water in about a year so it felt good to get out again.  We realized though once we got on the boat, our dive guide didn’t speak a word of English.  This might not seem important when you are underwater, but as he went over hand signals and explained the dive, we were pretty lost.  Besides the language barrier, the diving was pretty decent; we saw a few eels, some lobster and lots of colorful fish.  For us, it wasn’t so much about what we saw, it was just nice being under the water again.

The next day we headed into Tayrona National Park, which is known for its many nice beaches.  To get into the park, you get dropped off at the main gate and then you hike along the coast, visiting all the beaches along the way.  There are several places to sleep inside the park and you can walk as far as you want before grabbing a place to spend the night.  We decided to stay at the popular Cabo San Juan beach and we made our way there by walking through the lush green jungle and along a few beaches for about two hours.  It was a beautiful (and very hot) walk where we got to see some monkeys and a few lizards.  When we arrived, we were able to book one of the popular hammocks that swing up in a cabana above the ocean.  The cabana holds about 15 hammocks out in the open overlooking the water, it was a picturesque place to spend the night, but turned out being one of the most miserable night sleeps we both had.  Sleeping in a hammock might sound like fun, but for both of us, it was extremely uncomfortable and surprisingly cold.  But it is all about the experience, right?   After a restless night sleep, we headed back out of the park the following day.  We met some wonderful fellow Americans in the park and they offered us a seat on their private shuttle back which was a nice way to head back into town.

Wanting to relax a bit, we spent the following day just hanging by our hotel pool before jumping on another bus to make our way to Palomino.  Palomino sits on a lovely stretch of sand just a few hours from Taganga.  It was much less touristic and definitely more peaceful then where we came from, so we enjoyed a few days here lounging around in hammocks and on the beach.  Once of the cool things about Palomino is that while standing at the ocean, you can look behind you and see 20,000 ft snow capped mountains.  We have never seen anything like it in the world, but it made for a beautiful backdrop.

With time winding down, we headed back the same way we came and travelled onward to Cartagena.  The city is full of old colonial charm and we found it to be a very pleasant place to end our trip.  The old part of the city is surrounded by a large fort and inside the walls are wonderfully preserved buildings with stunning Spanish Colonial architecture.  The best thing to do there is get lost in the city and that is exactly what we did.  We wandered around the blistering hot streets until we couldn’t take it anymore and had to escape to our air conditioned hotel room.  As our time wrapped up, Jason asked “what would you tell people about a Colombia?” and we agreed that it is a misunderstood country that is extremely safe and is so diverse with wonderful, warm people and tons of great places to visit.  We hope that more people will give Colombia a chance, as you will not be disappointed.

Highlights

  • Floating the river in Palomino straight down into the ocean, we got a little sunburned, but it was a fun way to spend a few hours
  • Cartagena as a whole was a wonderful city to spend a few days
  • The beaches of Tayrona National Park
  • Palominos snow capped peaks, it was one of the most stunning places we saw
  • Our wonderful rooms in Cartagena, thank you Dad for the Hilton points, it was a great hotel!

Lowlights

  • The horrible facilities inside Tayrona, they make a KILLING on what tourists pay to get into the park and the area is poorly maintained
  • Our night spent in the park, sleeping in a hammock is overrated

 

First beach in Tayrona National Park
First beach in Tayrona National Park
Second beach in Tayrona
Second beach in Tayrona
That's our hammock cabana in the background!
That’s our hammock cabana in the background!
Stunning sunrise over Cabo San Juan
Stunning sunrise over Cabo San Juan
Palomino's stretch of sand
Palomino’s stretch of sand
View from our hostel in Palomino
View from our hostel in Palomino
Enjoying being beach bums again!
Enjoying being beach bums again!
View of the peaks from the ocean
View of the peaks from the ocean
Cartagena
Cartagena
Cartagena's old city inside the fort
Cartagena’s old city inside the fort
On top of the fort walls
On top of the fort walls
Looking out at Cartagena's new city and more ritzy area, Bocagrande
Looking out at Cartagena’s new city and more ritzy area, Bocagrande

Colombian Honeymoon Parte Dos

So there we were…floating over Colombia’s spectacular landscape from high up in the sky around the hills of San Gil.
 
After our quiet time in Villa de Leyva, we were ready for some more action so we headed to San Gil, a town that is known as the adventure capital of Colombia.  The surrounding hillside boasts a variety of adrenaline activities including white water rafting, abseiling, mountain biking and paragliding.  We really wanted to do the mountain bike trip, but we arrived late in the day and the only tour going while we were in town was full.  So we settled into our wonderful room at Macando hostel and pondered our choices.  We decided on an afternoon paragliding trip, neither one of us have ever done this activity before and we thought it would be a great way to see the surrounding hills from above.
 
Since our trip was not until the afternoon, we decided to venture out in the city for the morning.  We started at the local market which is always a great place to wonder and people watch.  The fresh fruit always looks so refreshing and for breakfast we had a yummy fruit salad full from one of the stands.  Strolling out of the market and along the Rio Fonce (the local river) we landed inside the Parque El Gallinera which is known for its “Old Man’s Beard” trees.  It was soon time for our paragliding and we hopped in the car with 3 local teenagers (our guides) who bumped extremely loud Colombian and American rap music for most of the ride up.  Once we got to the top, we really didn’t have to do much to get up in the air.  Our guides just had us sit back and relax while they caught some wind and off we went.  The views were spectacular with many tobacco and coffee fields below as well as Chicamocha Canyon off in the distance.  The ride only lasted 20 minutes or so, but we both had a great time.  We mentioned it would be a fun activity to learn how to do ourselves back home!
 
The following day we caught a bus to another nearby colonial city Barichara.  Looking slightly similar to Villa de Leyva, the old buildings, main square and churches all had the same “old city” feel.  The dramatic views though from the edge of the town have helped name this one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia.  The town looks out over some very large mountains, making for picturesque views in all directions.  We left the city sweaty and hot and ready for a dip, so we jumped in a taxi to take us out to Cascadas de Juan Curi , a stunning 120 meter waterfall outside of town.  Afternoon showers are common here and right as we started our short hike up to the waterfall, the rain came down on us.  It eventually passed, but the weather made the waterfall slightly chilly for swimming.  We hung out though for an hour or so before hitching a ride back to San Gil just in time to catch our 13 hour overnight bus ride to Santa Marta…more to come from the Caribbean Coast!
 
Highlights
  • Our room in San Gil, our hostel had some new private rooms and it was one of the nicest rooms we have stayed in so far
  • El Mana, a wonderful restaurant in San Gil, they do a set menu everyday for lunch and we ate there as much as we could because it was some of the best food we have had yet
  • Paragliding over the Colombian country side
  • Our side trips to Barichara & the Juan Curi waterfall, it was nice exploring the area

Lowlights

  • Not being able to do the bike trip, it was supposed to be an epic day of riding over 50 km and we heard really great things about the tour…we will just have to come back and do it again next time!
Barbas de viejo (old man's beard)
Barbas de viejo (old man’s beard)
One of the birds in Parque El Gallineral
One of the birds in Parque El Gallinera
Paragliding over the hills around San Gil
Paragliding over the hills around San Gil
Jason taking off
Jason taking off
After the paragliding adventure
After the paragliding adventure
Views in every direction
Views in every direction in Barichara
Cemetery with interesting stone tombs in Barichara
Cemetery with interesting stone tombs
Sweeping views of the area surrounding Barichara
Sweeping views of the area surrounding Barichara
The best way to enjoy the city is to just wander the old streets
The best way to enjoy the city is to just wander the old streets
Jason with his Hormigas Culonas (fat-bottom ants), a culinary tradition that dates back 500 years...yum!
Jason with his Hormigas Culonas (fat-bottom ants), a culinary tradition that dates back 500 years…yum!
Enjoying the falls once the rain stopped
Enjoying the falls once the rain stopped
Cascadas de Juan Curi
Cascadas de Juan Curi

Colombian Honeymoon

So there we were…beginning our honeymoon the best way we know how – by sleeping in the Fort Lauderdale airport – ahh, life on the road again for The Blyth’s!

Many people asked us if we were going to write a blog about this trip and we had shrugged it off as a short adventure and that there might not be much to report home about, but given the misconception many people have about Colombia, we thought it would be helpful to share more about our trip and what a wonderful experience we have had so far.

It took us a day or two to get our travel legs back but when we arrived in Bogotá after a sleepless overnight in the airport, the crazy taxi driver brought us both back to reality.  We quickly realized we were back on the road and in a place where taxi drivers find it acceptable to go 100 mph while you can’t find a seatbelt in the backseat.  After settling into our private room at the hostel, we headed out to find some food and explore the city.  One of the first things you notice when wandering the streets is the graffiti everywhere.  You think it must be legal because there is so much of it, but we learned it is in fact against the law.  The second thing we noticed was all the policemen, not only roaming the streets but also stationed on several main blocks.  In a country like this, we were a bit unsure if they would be on our side if something went down,  but it made us feel slightly better none the less.  La Candeleria (the area where we were staying) is considered the ‘old city’ and the historic buildings and narrow streets gave it a lot of charm for such a big city.  We spent our time checking out all the nearby sites, old churches, the main square and the many judicial buildings that surround it.

It didn’t take us long to be ready to move on from the capital city and we soon landed in what felt like a world away.  We arrived in Villa de Leyva later than expected after a “direct” bus not only stopped a million times to let people on and off, but also took the most indirect way possible.  We quickly found a cute hostel just off the main street, dropped our bags and went out exploring.  Visiting here is like taking a step back in time. The streets are made from original cobblestone, all of the buildings are painted white with terracotta roofs and the town sits below a wonderful backdrop of rolling green mountains.  When you wander the narrow streets and you can’t help but eventually run into Plaza Mayor, the main square with a large church, straight out of an old Spanish western movie.  After popping in a few restaurants to check out some menus for dinner, we were stunned at the prices, but after a stroll around the plaza, we quickly realized that we were not the only tourists.  This is where rich Colombians, many from Bogotá, come to spend their weekends, spending money that we were a little shocked so many of them had.  So far we have found all of Colombia to be very expensive and wonder how many locals can pay these prices based on the average low salary.  All of the accommodation, food and transportation has been much higher than we anticipated.

Even though we only spent one night in Villa de Leyva, we had a great time.  We did what all the local tourists do; we wandered the quiet streets, drank beer in the Plaza, ate an expensive pizza at a nearby restaurant and just soaked up the cities charm.  Before leaving, we were able to explore the surrounding hills with a quick hike to get views from above.  Overall,  it was a short trip, but definitely a highlight for us so far.

Now off to do some more adventures before hitting the beach…more to come!

Highlights

  • Doing a Bogotá Bike Tour where we got to explore the city by bike.  We were able to cover a lot of ground and get a lot of insight about the country from our guide.  We are also thankful neither one of us got hit by a car or bus, there were a few close calls.
  • The quaint cit of Villa de Leyva and the surrounding hills
  • The beautiful countryside we have passed so far on our bus rides, the country is stunning in all directions

Lowlights

  • A noisy room in Bogotá with loud guests which made for some sleepless nights (are we getting old or what?)
  • Our “direct” bus that took 2 hours longer than it should have, we don’t have as much travel time as before so it was frusterating!

 

Bogotá’s main square – Plaza de Bolivar
Bogotá’s street graffiti
Bogota Bike Tour
More street graffiti
Views of Bogotá from above
Charming streets of Villa de Leyva
Plaza Mayor and its beautiful backdrop
Villa de Leyva
Views from our hike in the hills around Villa de Leyva
Amazing sunset around the Plaza