Santa Marta did not become our favourite city… and it is not the city’s fault. It’s the education system’s that did not teach those living here to respect nature and live environment-consciously.
It’s a pity because the town has a lot of potential, from a western perspective. The biggest one, the reason why so many tourists arrive here, is the location; it is a gate to the natural treasures found in this country. The Tayrona National Park is only an hour away with magnificent beaches. So is the small town of Minca, with its Instagram-famous rest area in the mountains. The Sierra Nevada mountains are also close, and many other postcard-worthy sites.
Santa Marta was the first town during the Spanish colonial times, founded in 1625. Nowadays the main problem is the litter. Although this problem is present everywhere in Colombia, this was the first place where we found it suffocating. We quickly decided that the town’s beach is not really for bathing, there are too many freighters in the port polluting the water. So we took a taxi to the small fishing town of Taganga, only 6 km away from Santa Marta. The sight was disturbing, garbage everywhere, and the small boats leaking the smoke into the water as well. We decided against bathing in the sea in general.
These small boats are the way into the national park, but I advise against it, because the sea is often stormy, and not all captains are well-trained. A homeless gentleman approached us when we were walking along the sea, and it turned out he spoke much better English than the locals in general, and was knowledgeable about the history of Colombia, the literature and the sights worth visiting. We spent half an hour talking with him. He recognized the problem with the garbage and said that the fault lies with the education: people are not taught to not to throw away the litter, and to pay attention to nature. It is sad to see that such beautiful places are ruined by this, when they could be true gems with a little care and investment.
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Despise such negativity the 5 days we spent here were good. The weather got better and better, and we could use the pool on our rooftop. We got the best hotel in town, in contrast with the collapsing houses it was a modern boutique hotel with 7 apartments, 24h reception, nice crew who spoke English well. The rooftop pool definitely compensated for the beaches, so we could rest after the five-hour long drive from Cartagena.
As usual, we depended on Tripadvisor for the sights, breakfast places and bars for the evening… The city centre was colourful, full of charming streets and easy to get around. On the other hand, on the Fifth street it is easy to get lost among the traffic, the noise and the vendors.
We decided to visit the Tayrona National Park on a Sunday, because the weather forecast promised the best weather then, and since the following Monday was a national holiday, many others had the same plan as us. The prices are similar, many agencies offer a daytrip from the city, including the entry, transfer and the guide, for 120 000 COP (approximately 40 USD). Although the guide wasn’t really useful, he barely spoke English, so we had to guess what was going on based on a few words. 😊 And anyway, the guided tour basically meant that we were dropped off at the entry and were collected from there a few hours later.
The Tayrona National Park is a preserved area, composed of 30 km2 sea and 15 km2 land, and ha s a wide variety of both plants and animals. More than 100 mammals and 300 birds live here, and scientist recognized more than 1000 different species of plants.
The bus took us 1km inside the park and we were dropped off there. If you’re only there for a day you have to choose between the many villages and beaches accessible for a visit, because the time is limited, the park is open between 8 AM and 5 PM. However, you have the opportunity to spend more days here, and it is possible to spend the night in the park, in a camping or a small cabin. The visitor’s accounts usually suggest this, so you can enjoy the park early in the morning or in the evening without the massive amount of day tourists.
We chose the Cabo San Juan beach, about a 2-hour hike away from the entrance. The distance is merely 15 km (there and back altogether), but it is exhausting due to the humidity, the hot temperature and the rocky and sometimes muddy roads. Unfortunately, that left only 1,5 hours to enjoy the beach, it would have deserved a lot more.
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Cabo San Juan is the most beautiful part of the park, if you believe the homeless man from Taganga, who claimed to have lived in the park for months once, the perfect location for pictures of the sea and the beach. A small rock is between two bays where they built a bungalow with hammocks, so the hikers can have a rest. The place is worth the muddy boots, the sunburned shoulders and every drop of sweat on the hike. Upon arrival your first thought will be: now THIS is worth it!