Colombia 3: Tayrona (Santa Marta)

I actually think I had one of the best nights sleep on the night bus from San Gil to Santa Marta, having been so ill and sleep-deprived that I conked out at around 8:30pm and stirred intermittently until 7am. We arrived at a bus terminal in Santa Marta just before 8am but I couldn’t see any of the buses to Tayrona that my hostel (The Journey Hostel) had mentioned on Hostelworld. Attempting to enquire in Spanish I was directed to the other side of the main road and instructed to walk. So there is me, almost invisible by the number of backpacks covering me, trundling along a desert-esque highway with dirt being blown into my face by the trucks and lorries zooming past, honking at me as I went.

Every so often I would ask a passer by as to “don de esta el autobus para Tayrona” to be directed further and further on, navigating highway junctions and only seeing buses heading to Santa Marta. After half an hour, covered in dirt and sweat, I passed by a minibus with “Flamingo” emblazoned across the side, with the driver and money-man beckoning me on. After a frustrated conversation (frustrated on my side as I couldn’t communicate myself properly nor understand their responses fully) I decided to pay the $8,000 pesos (£2.40) for this minibus to drop me at my hostel, “circa Tayrona”, rather than try to locate the local bus that may cost a few mil less. The driver, Rafael, was so lovely to me and keen to engage in chit chat with me, despite my clearly poor Spanish abilities, and came with me as I ordered jugo naturales from a stall and offered me some of his bread on the journey there. I was grateful for his warmth and kindness when I was clearly tired and lost.

I arrived at The Journey Hostel at around 10am; this newly-built, still-being-renovated hostel amongst the trees on a hill that overlooks Tayrona National Park, built out of bamboo and palm tree leaves with hammocks hanging from the beams and a hippy, relaxed, natural vibe. At $30,000 (£9) a night including breakfast (by their onsite chefs) it was more than a Bogota and more than I like to pay but so worth the peace and tranquility. I spent the next few hours asking questions about Tayrona National Park, Cartagena (my planned next stop) and generally doing absolutely nothing – something welcomed here and something you cannot help but fall into. I completely slowed down while I was here, which was lovely but also made it very difficult to move again.

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At around 4pm I eventually decided to get off my arse, venturing on the “Monkey Walk” with Romina, a fellow Journey Hostel guest from Vienna, Austria. The walk starts by heading right along the main road then turning left down San Martin, walking over open land and crossing two gates made from bamboo and wire, lifting wire wrapped around the gate in order to open it. 

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You then reach a river that you have to cross on foot, removing shoes as you go, before reaching sand on the other side. You then head straight on, through the jungle, where you pass various wildlife including monkeys (hence the name). At the end of the path you turn right, where you pass multiple gates until you reach the same river, which then leads into the sea.

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You have to cross the river to reach the sand in the other side, Los Naranjos beach. The crashing waves against the rocks, with a hotel made of bamboo and tree leaves to your right making for an intense view. The river near the hotel is surprisingly calm and peaceful in comparison, and the walk back – across the hotel and back to the main road, leaves you feeling refreshed.

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Back at the hostel we joined in the group dinner for the evening; 12,000 pesos (£4) for beef, rice and smooshed plantain with juice, all prepared by the in-house chef. There’s not much in the way of cooked food nearby and the meal here was both fresh and filling. I heade to bed early that night – waking only once as the wooden plank underneath the head of my mattress fell off during the night so I changed beds – in preparation for an early start the following day. Up at 7am with a breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs at 7:30am, Romina and I set out on the 1 mile walk along the main road to the main entrance of Tayrona National Park (El Zaino), arriving just after 8am when they open.

After queuing for about 10 minutes I paid $44,500 (£15) for my entrance to the park, for which you need your passport (or a copy of) before Romina and I walked an hour down the main road to reach Museo Chayrama. Now, you can get a colectivo to this point, paying 3,000 pesos (£1) and taking 10 minutes rather than one hour, which most people do as it’s not the most scenic part of the park and it gets you into the main areas much more quickly. For some reason we decided against this, then regretting our decision every time a colectivo full of people zoomed past.

You see, Cabo San Juan is the most popular area to sleep in as they have hammocks overlooking the sea, but you can’t reserve them beforehand so it is a mad rush to get to the reception desk when it opens to guarantee a spot. So, when we finally made it to the Museo, where the colectivos stop, we upped our pace and managed to cover the distance to San Juan, estimated to take 1.5 hours, in only 1 hour, overtaking fellow tourists on our way. We hiked through the jungle, passing the crashing Coast at Arrecifes (another place you can sleep at) and the calm waters at La Piscina on our way, as well as the indigenous people selling fresh coconut water from the fruit and horses trekking people from the Museo to San Juan, shaving off about half an hour from the journey but costing 40,000 pesos (£12). 

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Cabo San Juan

We finally arrived at Cabo San Juan at about 10:25am, 2 hours after we had set off, to find a small queue had already formed at the reception that didn’t open until 11. San Juan offers tents, hammocks on land at 25,000 a night and then hammocks within a teepee-type structure in top of rocks overlooking the ocean for 30,000 a night. Knowing it would be windier but wanting the views in the morning, plus preferring to be surrounded by 16 other people rather than 40, we paid 30,000 pesos (£9) for a hammock up top.

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The only downside is that anyone can access the teepee and, because if it’s spectacular views over the sea and the rocks, many tourists go up and sit in your hammock, thinking they are free-for-all. Plus, because of the sea air, the hammocks constantly have a damp feeling to them. In spite of this, the views are phenomenal and the air is so fresh, plus relaxing on a swinging hammock whilst gazing out to sea was second-to-none.

We were settled in by around midday and basically spent the remainder of the day doing nothing other than lying on the sand, lazing in the hammocks, and eating. Around 6pm we had a shower (the use of showers and toilets are free for those with a wristband whom have paid for accommodation) before watching the sunset from the rocks.

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At around 7pm we decided to head for dinner at the only restaurant in site, to find a huge queue at the door and hoards of people in the restaurant with no one actually eating. It turns out you order and pay at the door, to then sit down and wait for your food to arrive by the announcement of your number. We only ordered arroz con verdures (at 15,000 pesos, or (£4.50) so our number was called out sooner than those preceding ours, and it was entertaining when groups whooped with delight at the arrival of their food after an hour of waiting.

I’ll be honest, I was pretty lame that night and went to bed around 9pm, exhausted from the hiking and the sun and the sea air, falling asleep in the hammock listening to the Chainsmokers on my phone and being swayed by the wind from the ocean, waking up regularly during the night to change position,try to keep warm (when I say windy, I mean WINDY), and push the hammock beside me out of the way as it kept whacking into my face (damn the girl whom chose to spend most of the night on the beach rather than in her hammock).

 

I woke sleepily at 6am as the sun rose over the ocean, choosing to stay wrapped up in my hammock to watch it rather than get out and take photos as others did, remaining in a dozing state until around 8am when I finally ventured out and we headed down to the beach. I had a Jugo Naturales of banana with milk for 5,000 pesos (£1.50) before packing up my things and checking out of the campsite at around 9:30am. 

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Although we didn’t have to check out until 11:15 we knew a huge queue would soon start to form and we wanted to embark on our walk back through the pack before it became unbearably hot and so that we could take it slowly this time. I also chose to walk more of it back along the coast, trudging through the sand and feeling the sea air on my face (yes, I burnt my face). Once we reached the Ecohabs we decided to veer off the “main” route and head to Canaveral beach – you can’t really swim because of the tempestuous waves, but you can cool off at the edge of the water and the beach is mainly deserted due to the popularity of other stops, so we had the sand practically to ourselves as we dozed under the sun for a couple of hours. We headed back to Museo Chayrama at around 4pm, this time deciding to take a colectivo back to the entrance for 3,000 pesos (£1) and then walking the mile back to our hostel.

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I should have mentioned that there are a number of volunteers working at The Journey hostel and 3 of them were leaving the following day, so that evening at the group dinner there were about 15 of us and a fellow guest, Gary, had kindly offered to cook that night, making a delicious vegetarian curry that I devoured in about 10 minutes flat; it may possibly have been e best rice I have ever tasted. Absolutely shattered after the last couple of days hiking in the sun and bathing by the ocean, I hit the sack at around 9:30pm in our open, bamboo dorm, falling sleep to the sound of the wind and wildlife and having an incredible sleep of about 10 solid hours. Honestly, I could easily get used to this.

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I woke at around 8am in time for a breakfast of a huge pancake, scrambled eggs and avocado at 8:30am, before eventually mustering up the energy to head out to a nearby waterfall at 10am. Catching the colectivo outside of our hostel and paying 4,000 pesos (£1.25) to go to Cascadas Quebrada Valencio, I jumped off the bus again 15 or so minutes later to then have a broken conversation with a local before paying 3,000 pesos (£1) to enter. You walk through the jungle, passing toucans and lizards along your way, stumbling across various good shacks and craft stalls, before reaching the steam from the waterfall about 15 minutes in.

You then cross the steam a few times before reaching the base of the waterfall and the pool of water created by it, where you will find the most other tourists. I immediately began climbing up the rocks at the edge of the waterfall, making my way up past various “levels” before making it to the top. Sweaty and in need of cooling down, I stripped off and dunked into a pool of water within the rocks, halfway up the falls. For a while, I just sat on the edge of the rocks, taking in the sounds of the trickling water and absorbing the peace of the jungle.

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After slowly making my way back to my hostel I had a shower, packed my things and walked to a nearby restaurant (about 5 minutes, to the left) for the classic Colombian Menu del Dia; potato soup followed by a huge plate of meat, rice and plantain, this time my meat being carne a la plancha (grilled beef) and also getting a side of tuna spaghetti as well as rice.

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I also got a fresh lemonade to wash down my meal, all for a reasonable 9,000 pesos (£2.80). After chatting to some fellow travellers I headed back to my hostel where I updated my blog (this entry, in fact) whilst drinking the cheap and ghastly vino espumente (and breaking the seal in the process) before catching my bus to Cartagena. Not the wisest of choices. The local bus company of Marisol picked me up right outside the hostel and took me to just outside the old city for 67,000 pesos (£20); goodbye peaceful jungle, hello city.

LS.

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