As we got off the bus in Santa Marta, we were hit by one of my favourite things about travelling to hot climates: that wall of hot air that you feel when you first enter a warm place. I was immediately at home – I must say I have been waiting for the hotter climes since my last few days in Mexico. (That brief stint in Brazil and then again in Huacachina merely wet the appetite).
Now as I took very few photos on the North Coast, preferring instead a spot in a hammock listening to a podcast (that quickly evolved into an afternoon nap) I thought I would combine the last few (blissful) weeks of my trip into one post.
Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona
We started in the bustling town of Santa Marta, most often used by travellers as the stepping stone into Parque National Tayrona, a beautiful national park renowned for its beaches. And this we did: after a very hot night, we woke early to complete the two hour walk to the campground and beach inside the park, where we secured our hammocks and sheltered from the tropical rainstorm that had hit the area. The next day, however, I awoke to the most incredible red sky at sunrise, and a beautiful, clear morning by the beach. Sadly, we decided not to stay another night there – limited activities, food availability and the chance of another storm meant that we walked out in the blistering heat the next day, to spend another night in Santa Marta before travelling to our next spot.
We bussed past the entrance to the park the next day and further East to Palomino, a tiny and extremely popular beach town. We stayed right down off the mainroad, a 15 minute walk down a dirt road, at a hotel-like hostel with an incredible pool, right beside the beach. This was an absolute blessing – the sea is (for me, who likes to remain as sand-less as possible) a bit too rough for enjoyable swimming, and the heat on the beach becomes quite overbearing when not combated by water once in a while. So the pool was our refuge – laying out with podcasts and books on deck chairs, having a break for a game of catch in the pool and diving under to cool off. A lovely, lovely, place to rest.
We also managed to go tubing in Palomino, on a river nearby. We took a mototaxi ( you hop on the back of a motorbike, hold on for dear life, pray to whatever is above while ricketing over rocks and speeding through intersections) to a jungle area, where you walk (holding a huge donut rubber tube over one arm) for a very sweaty half our to the river. From there, its a lovely couple of hours down the river, sat in your tube, negotiating the gentle sway of the current down to the sea.
I cannot speak higher of our next destination, a hostel in the middle of nowhere in the bush, off the highway, wifi-less and not particularly near any food markets, but absolutely perfect. Initially coming with the group of 4 others I was travelling with, I loved it so much here that I returned after we parted ways to live out the last few days of Colombia in the tranquility. Rancho was set up to be all inclusive: a beautiful wooden bar in a shack with excellent brownies and a brilliant film hard drive, cheap and delicious lunches and dinners, a waterfall and a little pond with a turtle that sometimes pops up as you swim about — it was the perfect place to simply do nothing. When you needed a change of scene, one could stroll down to the beach – where you could connect to wifi, lay in a different hammock from the ones you had been sampling at Rancho, and listen to the sound of crashing waves. Perfection.
We then took another hair-raising mototaxi to Costeño Beach, where two hostels run a similar program to Rancho (that is that it is practically a requirement to buy food there). Initially, we stayed at a cramped, poorly organised hostel, but quickly changed to the famous Costeño Beach Hostel, where table tennis, beach chairs, surfboards and hammocks entertained the visitors. I stayed here an extra day after I said goodbye to my friends, enjoying the relaxed beach setting for another night.
After that, it was back to Rancho for me – a place I loved going on my own just as much as with a group, as it is small enough to meet people – you all eat around a huge dining table, and the lack of activities and wifi means that people group around the bar and chat in the evenings. On the first night, I helped out the hilarious chef to cook dinner – as he arrived on the scene with only an hour until dinner service, largely unprepared. It was so so great to be back in a kitchen again, with space to breathe and experiment with dressings, and sharp knives (never does a hostel kitchen have a sharp life, let me tell you).
I then went off to Cartagena for my last two days (!!) in Latin America, but I’ll tell you about that in another post.