Dates: 4-22 February 2014
DAYS 93-94: “Bogota” (4-5 Feb)
We arrived in Bogota at around 9pm, eager to explore this infamous city. We were told that the only (ie: safest) place to stay for tourists in Bogota was the Old Town, also known as La Candelaria. As we always choose life, we heeded this advice and got dropped off at our hostel in La Candelaria, Destino Nomada. As it was quite late, we weren’t brave enough to hit the streets so we showered and opted for dreamland.
We had one day to take in all that Bogota had to offer so we had an early start; first making our way up Cerro Monseratte via the cable car to admire the view of the city from this mountain top. We then walked back to La Candelaria, past the University, sampling the various street food on offer (almojabana = corn + cheese bread, and wafer sandwich with caramel, jam) along the way, finally ending up at the plaza. Then it was time to sort out some admin which involved booking a bus to Medellin and arranging our trip to Villa de Leyva for the next day. Just a quick note on our hostel in Bogota – the staff here blew us away, they couldn’t have been more helpful to these two non-Spanish speaking gringos!! Gracias :)
DAYS 95-96: “Villa de Leyva” (6-7 Feb)
At the advice of the ladies at our hostel we decided to spend a day and night in an old Colonial town 3 hours outside of Bogota, called Villa de Leyva. We arrived mid morning and wondered around this historic town, which has a distinctive Wild West feel, expecting to see John Wayne riding through the tumbleweed on his stallion. This preserved town looks as though it has been plucked straight from history making it a popular destination for tourists.
After strolling around this small town, taking in the few sights highlighted on our dodgy map, we stumbled across a massage parlour. As you’ve been following this blog religiously you’ll know that we are great fans of a good massage, so of course we signed ourselves up. This was truly one of the most memorable massages we’ve yet to have. This is not, however, due to the expertise of the masseuse…let us elaborate! We were escorted into a dimly lit room (alternating blue, red and green lights provided the ambiance) with a water feature, fake flowers everywhere and a slight haze. Settling onto the beds ready for some pamper time we were nearly suffocated when the smoke machine was turned on (explains that haze!). We’re not too sure what the purpose of this was but we did kind of feel like we were about to embark on new careers as porn stars!!
We had chosen to stay at the only hostel available on Hostelworld, Colombian Highlands, which was lovely besides the fact that it was situated quite a way out of town at the very top of a hill. So after our massages we had to snap out of our zen states and endure a bit of cardio…not ideal but unavoidable really.
The next day was spent on the road: we made our way back to Bogota to then catch our night bus to Medellin. Our first couple days in Colombia were not the frightening ordeal that people may have thought them to be. We weren’t caught in the crossfire of rival drug gang warfare, kidnapped by terrorists and held ransom – in fact the only threat we faced was perhaps being killed by people’s kindness! Our first taste of this country and its people was fantastic and we had a good feeling for the rest of our time here.
DAYS 97-99 “Medellin” (8-10 Feb)
We took an eight hour night bus from Bogota to Medellin having heard great things about the second largest city in Colombia, and home to the notorious late Pablo Escobar. Quick fact: Medellin was ONCE known as the most violent city in the world due to the urban war set off by the drug cartels in the 1980’s. We stayed at a hostel called The Palm Tree where the staff carried on the trend set in Bogota and were absolutely outstanding – helping us with everything from booking flights to setting up leg waxes!!
Our first evening in Medellin started with a few beers at the hostel where we met Jordan, a 26-year-old American who used to own a bar in Guatemala. He provided lots of travel tips on the country as well as kept us riveted with some crazy stories of his time as a bar owner in San Pedro on Lake Atitilan. The 3 of us then headed out for a night on the town, aiming for El Poblado. On our way we thought it sensible to line our stomachs (finally, we’ve learnt our lesson) and asked the taxi driver to take us somewhere authentically local. Little did we know he was going to drop us off on an island in the middle of a busy intersection, underneath a flyover! But when in Rome and all that…we exited the taxi to a few food-stalls smoking away, locals sitting around eating and chatting. We chose the stall with the longest queue and were not disappointed. There was a man braai-ing/BBQing generous beef and pork steaks on the biggest braai/BBQ we’ve ever seen, making ample use of a hairdryer?! This deliciously flavoured, tender meat came with arepa (cornbread) and a big chunk of local cheese. Obviously an unconventional restaurant choice for us gringos, as we were the only ones there and got a few curious looks, but the food was well worth the attention. After dinner, shit got real…We ended up in a club in El Poblado called BarLovento. We arrived as 2 random gringos and left feeling like 2 of the Kardashian sisters. We started chatting to a group of locals who were celebrating a birthday. Now we don’t mean to blow our own horns but these people loved us! Upon hearing we were from South Africa they were dedicating songs to us, the DJ was making shout outs to us (which of course we did not understand as they were all in Spanish but helpfully translated by our new friends) and the birthday boy even shared his birthday tequila with us. Our greatest fan however was Mario…who kindly offered to be our tour guide the next day!
The day after the night before…we had grand designs of exploring the city, taking the metrocable up to the poorer neighbours and just being good tourists. Unfortunately we woke up feeling a bit under the weather and only managed to meander through the local supermarket (Exito) for a few hours…bad broads!!
The following day we woke up early bells to make up for our poor performance the day before. We took the local train into town, checked out a few Cathedrals and Plazas and then headed back to our hostel to pick up our bags and make our way to the airport for our flight to Santa Marta.
DAYS 100-104: “Santa Marta” (11-15 Feb)
We arrived in Santa Marta, situated on the Northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, at around 5pm. Our home in Santa Marta was the extremely social Dreamer Hostel…After settling in and getting some food we noticed 2 vaguely familiar faces walk into the hostel. Upon chatting to them we realized that these 2 hombres looked familiar as they were on the same flight as us from Medellin. We, however, had taken a 45 minute taxi to the hostel (no surprises there) whereas they had opted for public transport, hence their delayed arrival! Matias and Diego were from Argentina and after chatting for a while we made a plan to hit the beach with them the next day.
The 4 of us left for Bahia Concha (the boys choice – if you understand the various meanings of “concha” you’ll know why!) for our first experience of the Caribbean. We spent a lovely, albeit windy, day on the beach; swimming, chilling, chatting, reading and drinking mate (which is a herbal tea – those Argentineans don’t go anywhere without their special cup, flask and leaves). On the way back to the hostel the boys offered to cook us supper, Argentinean-style. They made Asado, which was cooking pork ribs, potatoes and onions on the braai/BBQ…it was simply delicious…they were certainly not just pretty faces. After dinner the 4 of us decided to “sample” some of the local liquor called Aguardiente, which resulted in us drinking the entire bottle…oops!
The rest of our stay in Santa Marta involved relaxing at the hostel, making new friends: Trevor (a South African born American who is riding his massive motorbike around South America), Jake (an uncouth American who has a tendency to stick his grubby fingers in Sarah’s food), Patty (another crazy American who is now living in Buenos Aires)…to name but a few.
DAYS 104-105 “Taganga” (15-16 Feb)
On Saturday the 15th we headed to Taganga with a small crew from The Dreamer to check out this nearby town. After having a few drinks at our hostel, La Masia, we hit the famous Mirador – a right of passage for anyone in this part of the world. This multi-level club on the hill is a dancers dream where you can groove the night away on their various terraces with the Caribbean wind blowing through your hair.
The next day Jake and Trevor headed on whilst we chilled at the hostel and wondered around this rasta town with another new friend, Josh (can you believe he was also American?!). Tam met an old family friend, Leanne, and her boyfriend Nathan for sundowners. We later all reconvened back at the hostel for what would be our last meal together, sob!
DAYS 106-107: “Tayrona” (17-18 Feb)
We woke up tres excited as we were heading to the much raved about Tayrona National Park, to sleep in hammocks on Cabo San Juan del Guia beach. We decided to take the boat to the beach, spend the night and then hike and taxi it back to Taganga the next morning. Our eager anticipation soon turned into sheer fear as the 45 minute boat ride was 45 minutes of pure hell. When they told us to put our backpacks in waterproof black plastic bags we thought it was an overly cautious money-making scheme. Oh how wrong we were! This speedboat was flying over massive swells and it seemed as though we were airborne more than we were on the actual water. We got off that boat traumatised, soaking wet and with very bruised derrieres! But when we realised where we were and took in our magnificent surroundings we came to terms with our means to get there. We booked our accommodation for the night (ie: a hammock) and spent the day wandering from beach to beach, tanning, swimming, snorkelling and reading.
They turn the electricity off at 9pm on Cabo San Juan, which was perfect for us as we were tucked up in our hammocks by 8:30pm…perhaps suffering from a mild case of PTSD after that horrific boat ride. Everyone we’d spoken to had said that their night in the hammock had been one of the best nights sleep they’d ever had…well we’re not too sure where these people have been sleeping but it’s certainly not in the comfortable style we’re used to. Now you know we’re not ones to complain, but the fresh Caribbean air felt more Arctic than Caribbean, the natural acoustics more threatening than soothing and the orthopaedic support of a hammock left much to be desired – unless of course you’re a banana! But it was a memorable experience, and waking up to the sound of the ocean with a nearly deserted Caribbean beach in front of you is pretty spectacular…
After clearing out of our, uh, hammocks, we started on the 2 hour hike out of the National Park to get our taxi back to Taganga. We pretty much hiked through the jungle on our own (which alternated between scary & peaceful) admiring the dense foliage which gave way to the rugged coast every now again, grateful that the only animals who posed a threat were the horses which would sneak up behind us on occasion, and trot past.
DAYS 108-110 : “Cartagena” (19-21 Feb)
We got back to Taganga with plenty of time to catch our shuttle to Cartagena. We arrived at around 9pm, checked into our busy hostel, Media Luna, and fell fast asleep after the days exertions…despite the thumping tunes. Media Luna is famous for their Wednesday night party – coincidentally we woke up on Wednesday fresh-faced and ready to rave. After a relaxing day we met Tam’s mates, Leanne and Nathan, for pre-drinks at Hostel Mamallena across the road from us and then ventured back to Media Luna to get the party started…and oh what a party it was!
The next day was spent taking in the beautiful city of Cartagena and arranging a day trip to Playa Blanca – this beach is rated one of the top 30 beaches in the world and we can see why it has been awarded with this title. Take a look at these pics and see if you agree.
When we got back to Cartagena on Friday afternoon we stocked up on supplies as the following day we were setting sail for Panama, via the San Blas islands.
There are 3 ways to get from Colombia to Panama.
1) By air, which you’d think would be our first choice!
2) By land, via the Darian gap which is only advised for terrorists/those with a death wish.
3) By sea, via the San Blas islands, which we think, if you’re on the right boat, will be one of the best experiences of your life. Read our San Blas island entry to see why….