After nearly four months in South America, our time here is drawing to an end. We chose to spend our final weeks enjoying Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. We booked a flight from Cali to Santa Marta with the aim of exploring Tayrona National Park.
Unfortunately for us, our flight that was supposed to arrive up north just after 9pm was three hours delayed. For most people that travel regularly in the US, a three hour delay is fairly routine, annoying yes, but not a big deal. Apparently, this is not the case in Colombia. The flight delay turned into quite an ordeal. First, the captain came out to the gate to personally announce the delay and explain the reason; a flight attendant had fallen ill and could not make the return flight. The crowd exploded in an angry roar; from that point on, it was impossible to hear any of the announcements being made about the delay. Can you imagine an airline providing a reason for a delay other than “technical issues”?! Every time an airline official tried to take the microphone, the complaints from the crowd got louder. Then, our luck changed. Our delayed flight turned into some free food. To try and calm things down, the airline decided to give out sandwiches and juice. After 14 months of traveling, we will take any free meal we can get!
When we finally did arrive in Santa Marta, it was after midnight and there were only a few taxis still lingering around at the airport, so we had to share with a stranger. The driver told us, “no problem, I just need to drop this guy off in a neighborhood nearby.” What he didn’t tell us until we were already on the road was that the neighborhood is the ghetto of Santa Marta. As we drove further into the barrio, the driver slowed down to ask some rough looking guys for directions. This is when we both thought, “Great, almost done with Colombia and now we are going to get robbed in the classic taxi scam that we have heard so much about.” But oh, ye of little faith, we were wrong and thirty minutes later were finally safe and sound at our hostel and ready for some sleep.
The next day was spent gearing up for our Tayrona camping trip. Canned tuna, fruits & vegetables, 18 liters of water, bug spray and a bottle of rum all made the shopping list. It wasn’t until we got back to the hostel and started packing up that we learned some dreadful news: bringing alcoholic beverages into Tayrona National Park is prohibited…nooooooo! But being the optimists that we are, we decided that there are worse things in life than being in the Caribbean with a bottle of rum that needs to be consumed in an expedient fashion. The next morning, we fought through some mental fog and made our way by bus to Tayrona National Park.
Getting into the park itself proved to be a bit of a process. First, they search your bags for plastic and styrofoam, neither of which are allowed inside. Next, you go through a police check point where you get questioned and searched again, this time for drugs, weapons and alcohol. Once you’ve made it through both of these steps, then they let you fork over the 38,000 Pesos for the entrance ticket; a colorful wrist band gets slapped around your hand and off you go to hike to the beach. The walk itself was beautiful; it cuts through the dense jungle, in and out of coconut groves, up to viewpoints of the ocean and finally onto the sandy white beach, however, it was a very sweaty and exhausting journey and we were glad to find a place to camp at the end of the trail.
When we departed Santa Marta for Tayrona, we didn’t know how long we would stay, but the tranquil beaches and awesome camping spot made us want to hang around a little longer. There isn’t much more to do in Tayrona other than lounge on the beach and hike, and that was plenty enough for us. Both are right up our alley. Part of the beauty of Tayrona is that each beach is its own cove, all of which are strung together by footpaths through the jungle. Every day we explored a new spot.
While many campers choose to set-up near the beaches, we opted for something less crowded, more laid back, and a lot more affordable. We found a campsite nestled in the jungle about 10 minutes walking from the sea. Being away from the water meant longer hikes every day to the beaches and archeological sites in the park, but we didn’t mind one bit. Even at that distance from the water, Tayrona is so remote that we could still hear the crashing waves from our tent at night, and during our daily treks we crossed paths with some of the craziest ants we have ever seen! Countless ant super-highways were strewn about the jungle.
Eventually our food and water ran out, and while we would have liked to stay longer, we decided to hit the road and head west towards Cartagena and Playa Blanca, another rustic beachfront locale. With our days in Colombia numbered, we think back frequently on a slogan we heard when we first arrived in Bogota: “Colombia – the greatest risk is that you won’t want to leave.”