3 months: Bogota → Medellin → Santa Marta (Tayrona, Minca, Taganga) → San Gil → Bogota → Santa Marta (Tayrona) → Bogota
01.01.2015 - 01.04.2015
The cities people usually hit are Cartagena, Cali, Bogota, Medellin, and Santa Marta.
I ran out of time to get to here, but it's supposed to have beautiful architecture and I’ve heard Playa Grande is a sweet place to stay for the day/overnight in a hammock.
Tip #1: because so many tourists go here, it's expensive, so just beware/be careful about what you're paying. My friend got a hammock at Playa Grande and was under the impression the price was a lot cheaper than it actually was and didn't realize until he had to pay.
Tip #2: be especially careful of yourself and your belongings. I heard a lot of horror stories about people getting mugged in Cartagena - doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen, but it does mean you should be careful.
I didn't make it here either... or for that matter any part of the country further south than Bogota. Supposedly really good night life there though. But other than that I heard the city isn't too interesting and you get over it in a couple days.
It's a cool city! But not one you need to spend a lot of time in as a tourist.
STAY: in Candelaria neighborhood! I stayed at the Cranky Croc which was really nice and good location.
....is fucking amazing. People raved about it and I didn't understand how a city could be so cool but it really is. There is tons to do - my list is just the tip of the iceberg. Be ready for some late nights and good times.
STAY: Poblado neighborhood for sure, lots of delicious restaurants and clubs and a park where everyone goes to drink and chill and party.
DO: The Free Walking Tour is legit. The city has made major efforts to turned itself around since Escobar, primarily in terms of creating positive public spaces. The walking tour will take you to most of them and provide historical and social context you won’t get otherwise. Take advantage of the metro system - a pride and joy for Paisas. It’s nice, clean, and extensive system; it offers a perfect way to see the city for cheap. The metro also has a couple cable lines, created with the intention of connecting the poorer neighborhoods in the hills to the city in the valley. They offer impressive views, a glimpse into the poor side of the city, and a means to get to Parque Arvi, a nature reserve with tons of trails.
Pueblito Paisa is a reconstruction of a small, typical Antioquian city. It’s on a hill so it offers good views of Medellin, but besides that it’s pretty much just a tourist trap.
GO: About an hour outside Medellin is Guatape, a crazy man made lake city with a huge rock (El Penol) that you can walk up in order to get incredible views. You can do it in a day trip but it's a cool little town that you could easily spend a night or two in if you're looking to relax (there are a lot of water-based activities, but we didn't look into them due to time and money).
It's hot as shit here. Like literally so hot you don't want to do anything except lay in the sun because even doing that you sweat.. But it's amazing. Definitely not the most interesting city, but it is a really good jumping off point for a lot of places…
STAY: I worked at Drop Bear Hostel and had the time of my life. It's an old cartel house of Escobars so it's legit a mansion. The rooms are big, there's a pool, a nice kitchen (half for hostel service and half for guests), a bar, a huge TV room with ping pong and pool tables and a comfortable lounge area, as well as tons of hammocks scattered all over the hostel. It's within walking distance to a grocery store but it is a little bit removed from down town (nothing a taxi ride can't fix). La Brisa Loca is a more centrally located hostel, but with a roof top bar the noise and party scene is basically inescapable.. Drop Bear allows for party and chill. The Dreamer is also popular, but it's even more removed than Drop Bear.
DO: No matter where you stay, your hostel will have tons info about activities and tours. A lot of people do the Lost City Trek and say it's one of the best things they ever did. I didn't do it because of money, but I never heard anyone regret going. BUT, if you are strained for money, Pueblito is *supposedly* a legit alternative. Day trip to Minca ($15 tour includes a coffee farm tour, short hike to a waterfall, and time to explore the tiny jungle town). Day trip to Bahia Concha, Tayrona Park’s nearest beach to Santa Marta ($30 tour includes traditional lunch, motor bike transportation there and back, cliff jumping, beach time, and snorkeling – snorkeling was not impressive but the cliff jumping was a lot of fun and would have been difficult to find without a guide). Friday night Party Bus. Rodadero beach (touristy – lots of vendors). Surf at Costeno beach.
FROM SANTA MARTA:
Tayrona National Park: for some reason, I just did not understand the logistics of going to the Park at all, which in retrospect is kind of embarrassing because it's pretty straightforward. A local bus from Santa Marta will drop you off at the main Park entrance, where you have to watch a short informational video and pay the Park fee. Then you're on your way!
A lot of people go for day trips or just for one night. If you have the time, stay for two so you have a full day to relax. There's 3 main places to stay... I forget the first one then there is Arrecifes and then Cabo San Juan. Cabo San Juan is the spot to be, that's where everyone goes during the day no matter where they are sleeping because that's where the best beaches are. It's likeee a two hour walk from the main park entrance I think. You can also get there by horse – not too expensive and pretty entertaining.
Tip #1: the park provides a ride from the entrance gate to the beginning of the hike. We didn’t know that and walked that distance which added at least 45 minutes.
Tip #2: Try to get there earlier rather than later so you can claim a hammock, the other option is tents... And if you get there too late like we did you'll get a tent without a mattress ha.
Tip #3: Bring food. There’s a restaurant there but it can add up if you eat all your meals there (although at least once you have to get a shrimp dish for dinner.. One of the best meals I've had in my life!!). Also, there's no filtered water so either bring a filter, bring your own water, or expect to pay more than you want to for water there.
Tip #4: Rather than leave the park the same way, hike back via El Pueblito. I’m not going to lie it’s tough but sooo worth it. Not because of El Pueblito (it’s pretty much just some rocks on the ground) but the hike itself is beautiful and a lot of fun when you don't feel like dying.
Taganga is an awesome dirty little backpacker/fishing town about a 15 minute cab from Santa Marta. Not a lot to actually do there but you can get hassled by street vendors while eating some delicious ceviche and do a short hike to a nice beach called Playa Grande. At night, go to the Mirador bar/club. There's no where else worth going more and you can easily walk down to the beach from there to continue the party.
Minca is a little jungle town that you gotta get to. I thought a day tour/trip was enough, but I went back and stayed a couple nights at Casa Elemento. It's out of the way and a trek to get there (45 minute bumpy motor bike ride) but you won’t regret it. Just beware of the sandflies.
Rancho Relaxo – past Tayrona Park and on the way to Palomino is this hostel that has the same bubble/off the grid feel as Casa Elemento. Family-like vibe, close to the beach. Opportunities to tube and hike to waterfalls.
Beautiful and full of opportunities for activities and adventure!
DO: So many options... kayaking, white water rafting, paragliding, biking, bungee jumping, etc. We didn’t have money to do a lot of them so we chose the one that appealed to us the most: waterfall rappelling down the Juan Curi waterfall – so much fun; definitely recommended (only $15)!! We also did a lot of hiking; there are a few natural pools within relatively short walking distance from the main city area. (We went to Pozo Azul which apparently gets pretty crowded over the weekend with locals but when we went during the week had it to ourselves).
FROM SAN GIL: Barichara – a small colonial town just outside of San Gil. Some people may say to go for a few days or at least a night but we passed through during a day hike (bus to Barichara then hiked to Guane) and that was plenty enough for me. Chicamoca National Park – maybe the strangest place I encountered in South America. The setting is beautiful but it is ruined by the park's commercialization of it. There is a bizarre variety of attractions (ostrich farm, extreme swings, zipline, historical monuments, buggie rides, and a neighboring waterpark); the best part was the bus ride to the park and the tram ride across the valley that offered impressive views.
I went for a day trip to during Carnaval and had a great time, but I have the impression it’s not a place a passing tourist needs to go to; although I’ve heard from a number of people who spent substantial time there that they love it.
Buses are actually pretty expensive in Colombia which sucks, but quality is good (although they are notorious for being sooo cold... I never had any extreme experiences but my friend was on one that was so cold he put socks on his hands haha). Anyways expensive buses also means that sometimes you could pay the same amount or even less to just take a flight. So if your doing major transportation like Santa Marta to Medellin or Bogota, check out flights too and see how they compare.
Bandeja Paisa! But make sure you’re hungry… one plate includes rice and beans, tons of meat (pork, ground meat, chicaron, chorizo), fried egg, plantain, arepas, and avocado.
Buñuelos! Little fried cheese balls. Arepas! By themselves they are soo dry and bland (it’s a corn based type of bread), but they can be modified and stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. Camarones!!! I had some of the best shrimp dishes of my life in Santa Marta, at Cabo San Juan in particular. Cazuelas!
Chicha! corn based alcoholic drink. Super cheap. It was everywhere in Bogota (even sold in the street). It’s usually yellow but I also tried red and green flavors – red was my favorite. Aguardiente: I mean... not the smoothest alcohol but it’s cheap and gets the job done. Fresh Juices: MARACUYAAAAAA; mora (similar to blackberry) also definitely worth trying!
I want to hit the coffee region (Manizales), Cartagena, and explore deeper into the northern coast.