With more cheap flights on our faithful ViveColombia, we headed up to the Caribbean coast of Colombia. This is often the part of Colombia fellow travelers get ‘stuck’ in for more than a few weeks, with amazing beaches in the Tayrona National park, jungle eco lodges, coffee farms and adventure spots all a couple of hours on the local bus from each other.
Santa Marta being the oldest city in Colombia is itself pretty non descript, with crazy bus drivers, rubbish strewn everywhere and a sub-par beach. While the town centre offers some delicious food, most kai and drinks here are more expensive than further south with huge tourism both from locals and further abroad. We even ventured over the hill to the raved about neighbourhood of Taganga, one of the cheapest places to go diving with apparent bohemian vibes. While we stumbled across the most delicious steak in red wine jus I’ve had in a long time, the surrounding rubbish strewn beaches with techno blaring across the bay didn’t paint the picturesque scenery we’d been expecting. As the site made famous for Simon Bolivar’s death, Santa Marta really just serves as a base point to start your adventures, and definitely get washing done after some sweaty humid jungle time.
The Lost City Trek, Sierra Nevada 💦🍉🌳
I had been looking forward to this hike since the start of our trip, as Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu (without the over commercialisation and 5000 tourists per day). The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) or Teyuna is a sacred meeting place big enough to host ~2000 people built by the ancient civilisation of Tayrona around 500 AD, who were nearly wiped out by the Spanish conquest for gold. Not even the biggest ancient site, the city is only partially excavated, as the local Kogi tribe descended from these ancient people hold the power to preserve it without government meddling. It was amazing to walk past some villages of the nomadic tribes Kogi and Wauyu, who strongly preserve their language, traditions and mostly isolated existence from Western influence. This doesn’t include the Coca Cola or Gatorade available for purchase at the rest stops conveniently at the top of a hill when you’re absolutely dying of heat exhaustion and in some need of electrolytes. We are so predictable so congrats to them for exploiting our need for sugary substance! The local tribes run these rest stops and the camps we stayed at, also providing mules and horses for carrying equipment or defeated humans.
You have to complete the 46km walk with a guide to ensure a) ecotourism keeps the national park as it should be and b) you don’t get lost in the maze of jungle tracks. The walk itself wasn’t too taxing being undulating the whole way and only carrying the bare minimum in a day backpack, however the persisting heat made it mentally challenging when faced with an hour climb up a muddy hill getting two steps up and one back. We chose the 4 day route with recommended company Expotur, you can do up to 6 days however I’d be well and truly over Jungle torrential downpours and sweaty humid heat by then. Although it was too hot to bother with a jacket in the insistent afternoon rain only to start sweating in the sweltering temperatures again, we made the most of plenty of swimming holes along the way to minimise any attack on the nostrils from our group stench!
Reaching the entrance to the Lost City at 7am on the morning of our third day after a hectic river crossing claiming many a flip flop, we climbed the 1200 perilous stone stairs to be greeted with the amazing sight of the eery, overgrown jungle city. While smaller, it felt a lot more authentic than its Peruvian counterpart, without the political tape imposed, and isolated surroundings beneath the 7000m high mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The ancient housing circles dotted all over also served as graves for the family, buried under their nomadic meeting site. We took our obligatory ‘golf course’ snap and enjoyed the opportunity to bake in the sun in the middle of the jungle, before making the 23km trek back.
El Rio Hostel, Buticaca 🌴👙
Well worth a quick note was the hostel El Rio, based in the jungle at the end of the Buticaca river a few isolated kilometres from any kind of civilisation. Jumping on the back of a motorbike taxi, we headed straight here from the end of the Lost City trek with our gear being delivered to the roadside. The hostel was run by two party loving Brits and their awesome volunteer staff, playing house music all day at the jungle hut bar over looking the river which was the most pleasant change to the ever repetitive reggaton beat we’ve grown to greatly despise. Having only opened in December, the hostel was fully cranking during our stay, while waking up to howler monkeys in open walled hammock dorm rooms and no wifi was brilliant to unplug, meet some new amigos and recharge the soul. It was amazing what a difference no wifi makes, with people hanging out meeting each other or chilling with a book rather than checking for likes on Insta. Letting the legs recover for a couple of days post hiking, we partook in both the blackberry infused gin and tonics and tubing down the river. This was a hilarious task for the man floating down with our chilly bin full of beers shepherding 7 girls and one Phillip through river crossings, rapids and rocks to end back up at the hostel cliff jumping spot. I highly recommend a visit here if you perchance on this corner of the world !
Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park 🏝🕶
A bustling bus drive serenaded by more mind numbing reggaton pop music from Santa Marta led to the Tayrona National park and its beautiful white sand Caribbean beaches. We were keen to stay at least a night at Cabo San Juan, a couple of hours meander through forest into the park. While I say meander, it wasn’t really the most pleasant Sunday stroll slipping and sliding through mud and pond scum for the second half of the walk, while avoiding ants and sweating your butt off in the humidity. Let’s just say definitely not one for your pretty beach dress, Phill ended up walking in bare feet getting attacked by the ant trains since it was so perilous in flip flops. While I understand it’s not practical to only supply the camps via boat, the overuse of horses to carry equipment and people is really ruining the tracks and surrounding area, so I hope they minimise this in future to really step up to Colombia’s Eco tourism aspirations.
That being said, once we arrived with mud splattered legs we were ready to jump straight in the turquoise water of the surrounding bay, looked down on by the postcard perfect hammock hut perched on top of the rocks. The Camp restaurant provided tasty natural juices (we are getting obsessed with Lulo) and staying overnight in the hammocks actually proved pretty comfy, with sleep broken only by the engulfing thunder and lighting storm passing through. Definitely a unique way to wake up on a Monday morning !
Next stop 🔜 Cartagena & San Andrés Island 🏝🌋🐠