Colombia was the last country we visited during our trip to South America, and I am not going to lie – I was getting a little burnt out on the whole continent. Of course, it didn’t help that we had already been robbed twice – once at knifepoint in Argentina and a second time while we were riding a bus in Ecuador.
So by the time reached this point on our trip I was kind of ready just to bolt for Southeast Asia (which was next on our itinerary). Unfortunately, we had plans to meet up with two of Nick’s siblings and one of his friends for a big party in Colombia so we really couldn’t change our travel plans. We had three weeks in Colombia and we were determined to make the most of it and finish off our time in South America with a bang!
Our Colombia Itinerary
Taganga is the jumping off for several activities in Colombia including the Lost City hike and trips to Tayrona National Park so we made several trips to this little town. At first glance it seemed cute and quaint but as we were checking into our hostel the lady drew a map of the town and warned us of dangerous areas and “a bad man on the corner”. We were like “seriously? How dangerous could it really be?”
Turns out that the police patrol Taganga during normal business hours but depart at 8:00pm at which time all hell breaks loose. We heard from several people who got mugged while visiting Taganga; both at knife and gunpoint. We were specifically warned about walking to the beach; you can either walk on a short trail (apparently this is a VERY common mugging spot) or take a taxi ride (highly recommended). We were lucky and didn’t have any trouble but beware if you go.
Ciudad Perdida (“The Lost City”)
Nick has wanted to hike Ciudad Perdida for a few years; he says it’s because a friend did it and loved it; I personally think it’s because a girl was kidnapped there in 2003 and since they have a strong military presence (he just loves getting into trouble!). Anyways, these days it’s part of most people’s Colombia itinerary.
The trek is 46.6 kilometers round trip and can be done in 4, 5, or 6 days depending on preference. We chose the 5 days hike; opting for a slower pace as we would be hauling our stuff along with us. Well, Nick would be hauling his stuff. Ever since my bag was sliced in Ecuador I have failed to replace it; our travel company promised they had one for me to rent but it never showed up so my garbage bag full of clothes rode on the mule. Lucky me!
Our first day started immediately with a grueling uphill hike followed by a torrential downpour for the remainder of the day and into the night. The rain caused us to slide all over the place in the mud and it turned the trail into a river.
By the time we reached camp we were soaking wet and starving. Camp was a covered building filled with hammocks that were covered by mosquito nets. We spent the evening chatting with the other hikers (there were about 30 people at camp on the first night but only 7 of us were doing the 5-day trek together).
For some reason the mule that carried my bag showed up to camp hours after we did so I was forced to wear a stranger’s stone-washed jeans and our cook’s sweatshirt while attempting to dry my clothes.
Day 2 started with a photo shoot of us playing with the birds that lived in our camp. Lola was my favorite; she liked to drink my coffee and bite my nose.
Our hike on the second day was fairly minor and when we arrived to our next camp we had time to take a dip in the frigid river. We spent the evening playing my new favorite card game “shithead” with our gang; Edward and Lawrence (who we called Ed and Larry just to drive them mad), Joss, and Anna and Dave. All of them were from England so I had a chance to try out my ever evolving accent and my favorite British sayings like “shit the bed”. I learned a few new ones; “fill your boots”, “pang off her wig”, and “the dogs ballocks”. They all agreed that my accent needs some work…
Day 3 was also fairly relaxed. We got into camp early (more hammocks to sleep in which I found to be miserable since it’s impossible get into a comfortable sleeping position) and we got to soap up in the river. Good thing because mildewy, wet clothes and body odor were proving to be an epic combination.
Our evening ended with more shithead and “good chess”. Trying to sleep in the hammocks proved especially challenging as I had Eddie on one side and Nick on the other and they were so close that every time I adjusted to get comfortable, I bumped into them and woke them up. There were beds available as well but we heard a nasty bed bug rumor and opted against them.
Day 4 was a long one; we started early with a hike up to the Lost City which included climbing 1200 stairs. Prior to starting the hike we had heard that the scenery along the way was beautiful but the city itself was not so impressive so our expectations were low. We were pleasantly surprised by the ruins when we got to the top; granted, it’s no Machu Picchu, but the ruins were modest, well maintained, and most importantly not overcrowded with tourists (the country only allows 100 visitors to the Lost City per day).
The night before the trek I lost the last game of shithead and as punishment I had to take off my shirt and yell “I’m a shithead” at the top of the ruins. So I’ll likely never be invited back.
The rest of our day 4 hike and our day 5 hike were just heading back to where we started but we would take only 2 days to complete what we did in 3 on the way up. So our days started early and our hikes were long and challenging. By the forth night we were all a little tired of playing shithead and switched to “yaniv”. After playing only 5 rounds we agreed that it was boring and promptly returned to our beloved shithead.
By the time we finished the hike it was around noon on the fifth day; we were hungry, sweaty, stinky and exhausted. I wanted to squeeze in a good workout and chose to run the last 3 miles, so I would like to think I was the stinkiest of the crew. We ate our last lunch together, had a few beers, and started the 2 hour drive back to Santa Marta. We were sad to part ways with our new friends but were happy to have a proper bed, air conditioning, and a shower.
Tayrona National Park
Tayrona is one of those must-see places in Colombia that seems totally unreal! It has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I think it might also be one of the hottest places I have ever visited.
Because it is a National Park you’ll need to hik in – which is actually great because it means you can enjoy nature an the beaches have still not been built up or commercialized. However, the camping situation is rather persnickety – it’s first come, first served, no reservations and you have to wait in a long line to get either a hammock (they seemed to be the most popular) or a tent (which was pretty gross considering how many people sleep on the pads and how sweaty you get in a tent in the morning).
We hiked in and boated out (the boat ride out was VERY bumpy. Wait, bumpy is an understatement, we almost died! On the day we were planning on leaving Tayrona National Park there was a rather large swell. The bay itself is protected so the waves weren’t all that big near the shore but to get out of the bay you had to cross a rather menacing break.
We had to be back in town so our friend could catch their flight out so we really didn’t have a choice. We all loaded up on the boat and away we went. The boat driver took us out towards the break and started trying to time the waves. He would rev the boat up to full speed and head out but at the last minute, he would change his mind and circle back towards shore.
Finally, he thought he saw an opportunity (or maybe he just lost his patience). He gunned it for the massive waves and then he realized he hadn’t timed it correctly. He started to turn the little boat and then a huge wave broadsided us.
We all thought we were going over but when the wave passed we did a headcount and everyone was still there, albeit soaked to the core (along with all of our stuff).
We then spent a couple of hours on the boat back to Taganga dodging waves and trying to not run out of gas. Whew!
Even though we had unbelievably hot weather and the boat ride back was pretty horrifying I would still say Tayrona National Park is one of the top things to do in Colombia.
Want more specific info on where to go? Check out this awesome 2 week Colombia itinerary.
After partying hard with our friends in Taganga and Tayrona we decided to take a couple of weeks off of alcohol. Unfortunately, this aligned with our time in Cartegena which seems like it would have been a pretty fun city to do some drinking in.
Still, we made the most of it visiting the Inquisition Museum which shows the gruesome history of the Spanish Inquisition in Colombia and was definitely one of the top things to do in Cartagena. We also walked the walls of Cartagena which offered us beautiful views of the city below.
The highlight of our time though was visiting the beaches of Cartagena! We took a day trip to Isla del Encanto; a lovely little island off the shore of Cartagena with white sand beaches and turquoise water.
- We stayed in the Finca Escondida Hostel.
- We stayed at Oscar’s Place.
I’m not sure if it’s because I was over South America in general after spending 6-ish months there and being robbed twice, or if I just wasn’t that into Colombia. By the time we got to Colombia, I was at my South American wits end. I don’t think I gave it the chance it deserved.
We heard a few horror stories but for the most part we felt Colombia is safe for tourists and didn’t have any issues. As a whole Colombia is working hard to improve their reputation and increase tourism and indeed I felt safe-ish most of the time. Except in Taganga. Beware of Taganga. We will most certainly be back in the future to give it a proper, untainted visit.
We visited Colombia in July 2013
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