[:en]We took a boat back from Playa Blanca to Cartagena. Our host for the 45 min ride was a costeño Michael Jackson impersonator who promised a dance routine but not before a couple of Colombian songs and a ranchera mixed in. He had all the gringos and locals dancing in a mere two minutes.
As the day came to an end, we jumped on a bus that would take us straight to Santa Marta with a quick stop in Barranquilla. It was very uneventful ride until 30 min out of Santa Marta where we were held up for close to an hour due to something happening involving riot police in a little town called Cienaga. We watched Maleficent in the meantime.
Our arrival to Santa Marta didn’t happen until close to 11. A quick taxi ride from where the bus dropped us off and we are finally at Aluna hostel, our bed for the night.
Santa Marta, unlike its sister city of Cartagena, does not have all the colonial architecture the walled city has. It was destroyed a few times over it’s long history as the first Spanish settlement in South America and most of its construction and buildings are newer and lack the finesse and elegance that are characteristic of the colonial era.

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We spent only a couple of nights here, exploring the town took just one day as most of the interesting sights are close to the Bolivar Plaza. We visited the Gold Museum and drank a lot of street juice. Our favorite spot was located on Carrera 16 and calle 5, where a handful of street food vendors are set up 24 hours a day. Many maracuyá juices were had over the span of our two days in the city. This is also a place where most people gather from 12 to 2, also known as their lunch break since banks and most businesses close for that time.

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Food in general was much, much cheaper than Cartagena. There is usually a cheaper option for lunch that there is for dinner, so we took advantage of that and had massive lunches and small dinners, mostly freshly made juices and some sort of street food option.
It was then time to head to Taganga, one of those places that travelers rage about. It was time we found out what was so special about this little fishing town and why people spent weeks there.

The 3 short days in Minca only wetted our appetite for nature, so we went directly to Tayrona National Park. We left the majority of our possession’s at a small family run B&B outside of the park, and took only our day-packs, stuffed with camping supplies, food, and a change of clothes.

After a quick breakfast we rushed to the park entrance, eager to arrive early in order to have plenty of time to hike to the campsite. Greeted with a long line of impatient tourists, we looked at each other in surprise. It looked more like Disneyland than the entrance to a national park. Apparently, it was a bank holiday (I have to admit we didn’t even know it was the weekend, pitfall of travelling for extended lengths of time). The crowd was thronged with Colombians, mainly from the capital, escaping the hot overcrowded cities. We couldn’t do anything except wait.

An hour later we finally purchased our tickets and we ushered to the security checkpoint where they searched out bags. Food is expensive in the park so people try to sneak in as much as they can, but alcohol and flammable cooking gas are forbidden. We got off scot-free and paid 3k for a bus to take us further into the park.

After the bus, you either have to hire a horse for 30k or use your own 2 legs. Since the trek was only an hour and we could use the exercise after all the arepas we’d eaten in the last week, we hiked to Arricifes. By the time we crested the last hill, we were drenched in sweat, our clothes sticking to us as we approached the San Andres camping grounds. After finding some blessed shade, we pitched our tent underneath a grove of palm trees only 50 meters from the beach.

We stayed two nights, and the day and a half was filled with magical forest walks and breathtaking snorkeling with thousands of colorful fish. The water was crystalline clear. As I dove underneath the water, the visibility was so far and so crisp I could barely tell I had submerged. The world underneath the surface was bright and colorful, home to countless tropical fish that flitted from rock to rock. The sand glittered like gold, catching the sunlight and reflecting a dancing magical light that caressed my skin.

For the most part, we had the water all to ourselves. There are bays at Cabo and La Piscina, and a few smaller unnamed inlets that are perfectly safe, where we spent hours chasing fish and playing in the turquoise water. However, the current along the unprotected coast is very strong, the waves crashing thunderously. Apparently 100 people have drowned, so most of the coast is marked as a no-swim danger zone. As a result, most people were overly cautious, preferring to stay out of the water all together, leaving the tranquil bays for us to explore.

Next to Cabo bay, we discovered a covered path that hugged the coastline, leading all the way to the last beach. It was less crowded than the others, but had far more skin showing. We enjoyed our first nudist beach of the trip, spending the rest of the afternoon napping in the sand and playing in the calm waves of the sheltered cove.

We only bought one lunch in the park, otherwise we ate canned chili and bought a few cokes to wash it down. Even in the middle of nowhere, Coca Cola has managed to make a steal. We also hauled in the majority of the water we drank, finishing our last drop as we hiked back.

On the way out of the park we took a risk and chose the horse path. Used to transport goods and wealthier campers, it is only ½ an hour, is much shadier, and has only a mild incline. We walked cautiously, staying out of the way of trotting horses and bottleneck hazards. A few close calls later, we made it out the other end, passing the “no people allowed,” sign. Laughing at the surprised look in the horsemen’s faces, we quickly moved away from the incriminating entrance. Nature Check. Camping check. Close calls, check. Always an adventure.

Lodging: Aluna
Cost: 80,000 COP (for a private room with private bathroom and AC.
Kitchen: very shabby, we brought food that did not require cooking.
rating: 4/5

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