We flew from Medellin to Cartagena, as the bus was to take forever, was supposed to be quite uncomfortable and it was only marginally more expensive. Cartagena is a walled city on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia – and it is beautiful. Or at least, the walled part of the city is. We were staying just outside – a 5 minute walk away – and the place we were staying was a little rougher around the edges. It’s the only place I’ve felt nervous in Colombia really. But the old city was beautiful and felt extremely safe.
It was much much hotter and more humid than we’d been dealing with for the past few weeks which was tough going at times. We are pale and Irish and not made for hot climates! We tried to book a walking tour, but apparently the tour guide is no longer allowed to do official tours as she doesn’t have the proper paperwork. She offered to do a “secret” tour, but I’m too nervous of Colombian law so we didn’t! On the first full day we were there, we did a chiva tour instead – you go around on an open bus and they show you the main sights. It was quite fun, even though the Spanish explanations for things seemed to take twice or three times as long as the English explanations, so I’m pretty sure they got extra information and jokes. My Spanish isn’t up to the speed and accent of coastal Colombia. Even the words I know I know sound totally different – including the numbers, which makes everything confusing! Anyway. We visited the old Spanish castle – which has some awesome defensive features (the picture of me with the old man’s arms around me is him demonstrating one of these!) – and the monastery, and visited the old town at the end, including a little talk about emeralds. The following day, we wandered around the old town, visited the Museum of the Inquisition (and looked at some lovely instruments of torture!) and wilted in the heat.
We also had some beautiful meals in Cartagena, although one dinner was punctuated by a mouse running out of the kitchen, through the restaurant and out the door. Something that would have you out the door yourself in Ireland – after 5 months backpacking, you just sort of shrug and get on with eating and smile at the waiter who looks slightly bemused, but not worried either. It was a gorgeous dinner.
Our next stop was Palomino, a tiny fishing village about 6 hours further east. We’d debated the pros and cons of Tayrona and Taganga, both meccas for backpackers but decided that Palomino sounded a bit more what was required – Taganga sounded a little too cocaine-fuelled and dirty, while Tayrona sounded amazing, but maybe a bit too rustic. Palomino was perfect. We took a shuttle to Santa Marta and then a local bus to Palomino – about another hour and a half. It was a slightly uncomfortable journey – they shoved our bags on the roof and I was mildly nervous about their safety the whole way, the bus had no air con, so they solved this by just leaving all the doors open, and it seemed to have trouble starting every time it stopped. But we got there – and were immediately dragged onto motorbike-taxis (one each) to bring us to the hostel! I’ve never been on a motorbike before, and to be on one with a 15kg backpack, a valuable daypack and no helmet wasn’t exactly in the plan, but he went pretty slow and it was actually quite fun.
The hostel was like a resort and was amazing. Gorgeous pool, beautiful beach (although you can’t swim), cheap cocktails and friendly people to play cards with. We basically just read all day. I think I read 9 books in the 3 days we were there! The hostel provided all the food too, and it was lovely, but did get a bit samey after a while. I also had to spend a lot of it a bit dosed up, as I somehow managed to get a cold/sinus thing at some point. But Colombia is pretty good for super strong painkillers, so it’s all good! We spent one night in Santa Marta after this, before catching a flight to Bogota – our last flight before our flights home!