The four of us worked through the remaining list of tourist destinations in Cartagena, hitting the local market Bazurato, el Convento de Popa (highest point in the city) and Bocagrande. Our taxi driver was a legend, taking us to all these places at a fifth of the guide book price before dropping us at the overrated Bocagrande – a true tourist destination, full of ugly high-rises and a large, crowded beach. The highlight of the whole day was realising a 6ft6 pale Irish man provides the perfect distraction for the usual local attention a gringa can experience. ☺️
Cartagena has so many nooks and crannies to explore, although we had done the majority of tourist recommended places, it barely felt completed. But the rest of Colombia awaited – I split from the group and although I had had all morning, no second was wasted and it was still a sweaty, taxi-intense dash for my bus to Santa Marta.
For the history-lovers amongst us, Santa Marta is where the legendary Simón Bolivar passed away and was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia… It is also a port town and more of a stop-off point before Tayrona National Park, something I sorely needed as I felt super unprepared for any type of jungle experience.
Thankfully, after twenty-four hours of preparation in Santa Marta and feeling like the next Bear Grylls, I was ready for the early start and trek towards the hammocks of Cabo San Juan.
At the foot of the Sierra Nevada, Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Tayrona covers 12,000 hectares of land. The terrain varies from picturesque beach to rainforest to dessert-like space. Indigenous people still live locally and prefer not to be photographed but many can be seen on the route to your accommodation, selling refreshments for the unprepared.
As expected, it was an intensely hot and picturesque walk, complete with wild monkeys, teams of marching ants and jaw-dropping coastal views. However I was grateful for it’s end as, upon arrival and drenched in sweat, I flung myself into the Carribbean sea, metres from my hammock and bed for the night.
After an afternoon of soaking up the sun, evening arrived promptly with the arrival of the daily thunderstorm. At this point, the mosquito-nervous and sandfly-paranoid are best advised to swap bikini and trunks for any clothing they were prepared to carry the distance into the PNN with them. With a bunch of new friends and protected from all eventualities, we settled into the evening. Looking around, it was clear some had learned the hard way that unless you were able to bring cards, a book or good chat with you, there was no wi-fi for the unimaginative amongst us.
My first night in a hammock was uneventful and thankfully, much more manageable than expected. Feeling doubly refreshed after a morning swim, our group set off early to Pueblito, a pre-Hispanic town inside the park where some archaeological remains can be found (around 500 which were home to about 4000 people!) The highlight of this walk is by far the journey – a boulder-filled climb, complete with lizards, frogs, vines and cursing. It was so much fun to get lost and have an increased awareness of the history and culture of this vast National Park. So much so, that by the time I completed the four hour round-trip, I’d made a new friend and had decided to book another night…not even the large black spider on the way down would change my mind.
The last morning in Tayrona was stunning, spent completing the lesser talked about walk called Nueve Piedras (Nine Stones) near the entrance to the park. This walk offers unparalleled views of the rainforest and coastline of the park and is nowhere near as difficult as the Pueblito trek. It also has the benefit of the nine egg-shaped stones – a quirky and historical element to our exploration that opened yet another window into indigenous history and their understanding of the cosmos.
Tayrona was a breathtaking experience – somewhere between idyllic resort and back to basics. It was sad to leave this beautiful park behind but with my rations low, my wallet lighter and my legs resembling something closer to red spotted bowling pins…I was undeniably ready to leave this hammock-lined, nature-brimmed paradise.
#youreasyoungasyoufeel #hammocklife #jungleliving #feelingwildandfree
Seconds to make count
Ask a taxi driver you trust what else he knows and where else he can take you and you might end up doing more for less
Shop around the hostels for bus/city connections – Volunteer hostel in Cartagena has a deal with MarSol that takes you door to door, cheaper than getting a cab to the station and less hassle
Sleep diagonally in a hammock – it helps you lie a little more flat
Always look before you brush whatever is itching you off yourself, you don’t know what it could be
Keep toilet roll in your pocket at all times
Don’t just rely on guide books, read other blogs online
Portable chargers are invaluable
Get a number padlock or if you have keys, have them on a secure chain like a necklace or bracelet
Tips for travellers going to Tayrona
From Santa Marta, its 45 minutes on the bus (7,000COP) followed by a two hour trek into Tayrona.
Arrival to the campsite before midday is essential if you want to have a San Juan hammock for the night although reservations can be made at the entrance for a fee (28,000COP vs 25,000COP). There are of course other accommodations earlier in the park but this is a backpacker favourite given it’s located on top of a beach that allows swimming, a welcome relief from the heat and humidity!
The site is secure but beware, it’s so secure that the locker room is bolted at 21:30 and you won’t have access to any of your items until 6:30 the next morning.
http://www.seecolombia.travel also does a great list of what to take with you, how to get there and a host of other Colombian advice.