Tayrona National Park

After the 4 day tour to Cuidad Perdida the bus of my tour operator Expotur dropped me and my big backpack at the entrance to Tayrona National Park around 15 o’clock. Gabriel our tour guide asked on the opposite side of street in a restaurant whether they could deposit my backpack for me. For 5000 COP/day they and me were happy to do so 😉

I paid the expensive entrance fee of 63,500 COP plus another 3000 COP for obligatory health insurance and 6000 COP for two additional days I intended to stay. I recommend to claim that you’ll be staying just for one day as nobody really checks this. 😉

I took a collectivo for 3000 COP which brought me 7km into the park. As if the last day of the Ciudad Perdida trek with 15km has not been enough I had to walk another 6km to San Juan de Cabo from the parking lot where the buses dropped me ;( After 30min I decided that I can switch to flip flops as my feet started to hurt. My ten year old hiking boots had done amazing job and now it was time to rest in peace for them. Cheers for being an awesome companion for the last decade!

The trek was not very hard a couple of ups and downs through forest and in between rocks. After one hour or so I reached the small settlement of Arrecife which I let behind me because of the lack of swimmable beaches. In the next forest section I ran into a monkey family – what a great thing to see during my last days on this trip!

After 1:45h I finally arrived at San Juan de Cabo. Unfortunately, no tents were anymore available such that I ended up with a hammock for 40,000 COP/night without breakfast. I changed immediately to my swimming shorts, bought a cold Aguila (beer) and jumped at sunset into the ocean. What a relief!

After another beer and a shower I went to bed early and even skipped dinner as I was completely exhausted from the 4-day trek.

It turned out to be a terrible night. My throat was hurting and I got really cold due to the breeze at night. I also got a little fever and took some pills to survive the night. Much sleep was not in for me ;(

The next day I went to the on-site nursery and got some fever and throat medicine which helped me through the day. Honestly, I could not really enjoy the beauty of this place that day and hence I was hanging around in the shade, got some breakfast from the only restaurant available and booked a tent (40,000 COP/night) for the following night. Unfortunately, there was no wifi at all available in San Juan and my cell phone did not get any internet connection either in order to kill time. Somehow I made it through the day 🙂 After a mediocre dinner at the same restaurant I went to bed at 21 o’clock and got a good amount of sleep.

The next morning I started enjoying the beauty of the bay. It is gorgeous! There’s a small strip of sand which separates two small beaches from each other and on the small strip there are rocks on which an open wooden house was built equipped with top notch view hammocks! 50,000 COP/night for this luxury spot if you’re fine with sleeping in hammocks – I am not 😉

Next to the two bays there’s a forest of palm trees and as well a small swamp where apparently caimans live. I did not get see any. Well, there were plenty in the Amazon, so not a big deal! I swam twice across one of the bays and got me afterwards one of the yummy fruit juices. What a beautiful day!

I decided to head slowly back towards to the park entrance around lunch time as I wanted to stay another night in a proper bed in Santa Marta and have some proper food and draft beer 😉 I had a wonderful day. I stopped after 20min on the next beach called “La Piscina”. This beach is equally beautiful as San Juan de Cabo’s! I went snorkeling and saw couple of colorful fish and some corals along the rocks which were close to the beach. Visibility was great (>10m) and the water color in deed looked like the one from a swimming pool (la piscina!). Then I swam to the rocks which serve as a wave breaker and enjoyed the amazing view of the nearby Sierra Nevada. Three hours passed by like nothing.

I continued walking to Arrecife beach which turned out not to be swimmable due to strong currents. In fact, there were signs at every corner of this long beach that moren than 100 people have drowned here and that one should not become part of the statistic. I respected that warning!

Ultimately, I found a small beach at Playa Castillete where swimming was possible. I took a short cut and had to climb over a couple of rocks to reach it. It was nearly an hour from “La Piscina” to this beach.

I swam here and hung out for another hour and then left around 17 o’clock to catch the last shuttles before 17:30 to the park entrance. It was just a 15min walk from the last beach. Walking this trail with swimming pauses was so much nicer than without any as on the first day!

I picked up my luggage at the restaurant and asked for 5000 COP of reimbursement because I came a day earlier. They agreed and I could immediately catch the bus going to Santa Marta’s market. I checked spontaneously into the same hostel (Sierra hostel) I stayed at before the Ciudad Perdida trek and got some decent Mexican food and a couple of craft beers before heading to bed before midnight.

The next day I bought some more presents for my relatives and walked to the MarSol bus terminal in the city. As the next bus at 11am was already full I jumped into a taxi for 7,000 COP to the terminal (unfortunately nor Uber neither Cabify were available at that time in Santa Marta) and got immediately a small bus for 15,000 COP to Barranquilla. I got off at a main street crossing, walked 500m to the other side of the road and took the next bus towards the airport (2000 COP).

Unfortunately, my flight to Bogota got delayed by 1.5h and hence it was a bit of a rush in Bogota’s international airport to catch my flight home to Germany. I arrived two hours before departure, picked up my checked bag and had to walk through half the terminal to reach the Lufthansa counter.

After a long argument about airport tax I could proof that the airport tax was already included in my ticket price 😉

Shortly before boarding I am typing now these lines which means this is the end of this amazing journey through Colombia and particularly South America. My family and I had a wonderful time and we do not regret a second that we decided to take a year off and pursue our dream to travel through this wonderful continent!

We are very thankful for the beautiful places we got see and the fantastic people we met! This trip will stay forever in our memories and we can encourage everyone to come and spent some time here. Food, people, nature and animals are incredible!

Muchas gracias por tu amistad, tu naturaleza, tu pasion, tu comida, tu gente y tu amor, America del Sur! Du hast uns sehr viel Freude bereitet!

Pics:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/j5p1zpvcj6kvewj/AADoBRoLkhnN4goMDAfCtqKAa?dl=0

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Ciudad Perdida

The day began with the arrival at the tour office of Expotur in Santa Marta, the travel agency I got recommended by other travelers in Medellin. The price for the 4 days / 3 nights tour is fixed at 1,100,000 COP at all agencies and hence it is important to pick some which have a good reputation. Santa Marta is the starting point for all Lost City Trek tours.

The night in Santa Marta’s hostel was very hot – one could clearly feel that Santa Marta is based in a tropical zone 😉 I paid the outstanding balance in the morning of the departure (paid a deposit of 30USD via PayPal) as I arrived the day before shortly before midnight. I left my backpack in the tour companies’ office and asked them to bring it with them on the arrival day such that I could head straight to the Tayrona National Park.

In total the Expotur group was huge: 39 people and hence we got split into 3 smaller groups. Apparently, they did it according to age such that I, of course, landed in the group of the oldest 😉

It was thirteen of us and mainly couples: Two Belgians, two Dutch, two English, two Slovenians, two Americans (dad and son) and two other Germans and me.

We drove in three Landcruisers around two hours to the village of El Mamey where we had lunch in a restaurant (chicken, rice, salad and platano). Then we started hiking uphill at 12:45h. It was very hot and humid outside and the first section was completely open.

The trail started at 400m above sea level and led through a couple of up and downs to the highest point of 840m on this day. The distance covered the very first day was quite easy: Only 8km. However, due to the heat and the reoccurring ascents and descents it took us 4h to reach the first camp.

During the hike we had great views of the forests and fauna of the Sierra Nevada, which is apparently the highest coastal mountain range (tallest peak above 5000m). We crossed a bridge over a river which was located close to the first base camps. After two hours of walking it started to rain which is quite common at this time of the year. Our guides Gabriel Jose and Paula handed out plastic bags to cover our backpacks. On this track we had to carry our luggage by ourselves.

Due to the heat I did not bother to put on the rain poncho I brought. My clothes were anyway soaked due to endless sweating. The last section was slippery and muddy and every second person fell. Bryan, the young American, slipped and got even a cut on his elbow. Fortunately, not too deep. Hence, everybody was quite happy to arrive at the first camp where we got a refreshing shower and cold beer for 6000 COP. We even got real beds covered with mosquito nets – what a luxury! As electricity went out around 21:30 we went to bed early.

The next day started early at 5:00 and breakfast was served at 5:30. Shortly, after 6:00 we left the camp and hiked uphill and had great views of sunset breaking through the trees of the Sierra and on the lush green grassland. What a great start into the day.

The second day was harder than the first as we needed to hike 17km. We had two cross several times small rivers and one time even had to take off our shoes to get to the other side. Adventurous! At our first pause we got to know three persons from the local tribe Wawa. They and three other groups (Kogi, Arhuaco, Kankuamo) are the descendants of the Tayronas which built the Cuidad Perdida.

Their main Shaman gave a talk about their culture. We learned that there are around 18,000 Wawas in the Sierra Nevada and they live a self-sustained life with hardly influx from outside. They grow their own plants (Yucca, platanos, rice, vegetables, etc.) and eat from time to time meat from their own animals (mainly chicken and pork). The males also have long hair since they see something spiritual in it and it has the advantage to protect them against the sun as well 😉 One interesting tradition which made everybody joke afterwards is that young 18 year old males need to have sex with an experienced 45 year old from the community before they have their first girl friend or wife 😉 Some of the elected Wawas can go into town to obtain a university degree under the promise that they will return to their community afterwards. Apparently, only few leave the tribe completely! A very interesting talk!

Around 12:00 we arrived at the second base camp of Mumake where we had the first time the joy to jump into the nearby Rio Buritaca. Sooo refreshing!! Then lunch was served. The portions were always big and the food was yummy. Most of the time it was rice, platanos, salad and a protein such as chicken, beef or fried fish. Also we could not complain about insufficient vitamin supply: Each day there were two stops were we got fresh fruits.

After lunch we continued for another four hours and again two hours before our arrival at the third camp the rain came. Again we arrived fully soaked at the camp. We used the proximity to the river for another bath and a cool beer in the river 😉 Then dinner was served and fortunately everybody got a bed as the Belgian couple agreed on sharing one mattress 🙂 Again, we had a early bedtime.

Day 3 started again at 5am and we left for the last kilometer to the Lost City shortly after 6am. After a 20min uphill section we had to cross along a rope and without shoes again the Rio Buritaca. Then 1200 stairs waited to be climbed and we arrived sweaty after an hour at the Lost City. Everybody received a passport which we got stamped at the entrance.

Gabriel started to tell us the story of the city. It has been built around 700 A.D. by the Tayronas which originally migrated from Central America to Colombia. It has been built over multiple generations. One of the main characteristics of the city are the stone circles which represent house foundations. According to their amount archaeologists estimate the amount of people who most likely has lived at the Lost City at around 2000. The city was destroyed with arrival of the Spanish conquistadors at their second attempt. It was abandoned and re-discovered by local farmers in 1972. In 1976 it got explored and protected by the government. At the beginning there were only a handful of tourists a week but this has changed in the last decade as can be seen from the count of tourist agencies increasing from one to six nowadays.

We walked around the four sectors of the Lost City while listening to the explanations of our guide. We enjoyed the view on the terraces from different angles and as well the great lookout points into the Sierra Nevada. We even spotted a Tucan flying in quite a distance from us from one side to the other.

Particularly interesting were also the huge palm trees whose tops had a V shape.

We also got to see another group of Wawas in the second section where we could observe replicates of the Tayrona houses. A group of young children completely dressed white was playing in front of one of the houses.

After four hours we started to hike back. The weather has been great and we should be lucky on the third day. Unfortunately, the Lost City track has not been designed as a loop and hence we had to walk the same way back we came. That meant stairs down, river crossing without shoes, passing by the third camp and back all the way to the second camp where we arrived after 10km around 15:30 which gave us again plenty of swimming time in the river. When we were all protected under the roof the late afternoon arrived. We enjoyed the last night in our group with beers and games until bed time (21 o’clock).

The last day we started again at 6 in the morning and hiked the remaining 17km with short fruit breaks

up to the restaurant where we started with lunch the first day. The rain stayed away luckily but it was another sweaty, hot day. We reached the restaurant at 12:30 after a bit of 6h of hiking.

Fortunately, my backpack was already waiting for me and so I could start repacking for Tayrona National Park which was next on my itinerary. After lunch we said Goodbye to everyone within the group and the minivan brought us back towards Santa Marta.

I can recommend the trek since it was very well organized. However, due to the lack of high mountains it was not as scenic as the Santa Cruz or Salkantay trek. Further, if you can’t stand humidity and heat the trek to Ciudad Perdida is not for you 😉

Pics:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/anro57qhchc2qj6/AAD_9xTfnzgw3xW6aDHlnG6Za?dl=0

Cartagena

I arrived an hour later in Cartagena as my flight was delayed. There were no direct buses from airport so I walked two blocks and found a bus there which just operated with per-purchased cards. Hence, I took a Cabify for 7,000 COP to my hostel.

As the last week of my trip just started I needed to be efficient. So I dropped my bags and immediately around the neighborhood to get a set fish lunch for 10,000 COP. Good value for a soup, a main and a drink!

Then I walked to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. I decided to take as well the audio guide (16,000 COP + entrance of 25,000 COP) which turned out to be more like a story time than a history lesson. The fortress played for Spanish an important role in the defense of Cartagena. The English launched a couple of attacks in the 18th century on it but were unsuccessful to bring Cartagena under their reign.

The fortress is well-preserved and has a lot of canons and big storage room for ammunition. It was very interesting to walk through the narrow and low walls of the battery. It was built on purpose that narrow since the Spanish were usually smaller than the English and used this as a defending strategy.

There’s a good 360 degree view of town with it’s skyscrapers on the horizon. As this was a sufficient viewing point and the weather was getting worse I skipped to go up to the Convent on the next bigger hill.

I started walking towards the old city center but then a tropical rain started. It was pouring like hell and a heavy thunderstorm went through. I nearly forgot how heavy it can be in the tropics 😉

Locals told me that the storm lasted longer than it usually did and the streets flooded up to 30cm high!

Suddenly, even big garbage bins were floating around the streets!

I decided to make the best of the situation (luckily I had my rain poncho) and grabbed one of the nearby standing taxis. On the way to the Palacio de la Inquision the cab driver had to turn around three times and use alternative routes as streets were deeply flooded. At one point I realized that water even made its way into the car where the driver’s and my feet were. It was not a lot and hence we continued to the museum. For 1.5km it took us nearly 30min! I was glad that arrived at the Palacio.

The Palacio talks a lot about the history of inquisition and exhibits examples of individuals who got imprisoned because of disbelieves. It has two floors with temporary and permanent sections. Most of the explanations are in Spanish. I’d say that it’s worthwhile for people interested in the inquisition topic but I did not like it (18,000 COP with student ID 😉 ).

Afterwards, I wondered around town a bit and visited as good as I could Plaza de la Aduana, Plaza San Pedro de Claver, Catedral de Cartagena and parts of the surrounding town wall. I say as good as I could as after the heavy storm water was standing everywhere in the old city center. Fortunately, I decided to go with flip flops this morning 😉

After the stroll I got some nice octopus ceviche dinner at La Cevicheria which was yummy but definitely overpriced (60,000 COP for a decent sized bowl). Ceviche was by the way the only thing the restaurant served at that time as there was a power outage going on after the rain.

Then I went for a couple craft beers near my hostel and returned to it around 20:30. As I booked it because of the roof top Jacuzzi I had to use it as well. To my surprise the water was quite cold and it did not produce any bubbles which was a bit disappointing. The adjacent bar and couches were nice though so I chilled out a bit before hitting my bed.

The next day I tried to catch a bus from Mamallena to Playa Grande on Isla Baru for 50,000 COP. However, the bus had left earlier than a travel blog had claimed. I spontaneously decided to try the travel blog’s other option and took a moto taxi for 3,000 COP to the Mercado. Unfortunately, I was unlucky as well as no boats were heading in this direction.

So I jumped on the next bus to Pasacaballos (2,500 COP, 1 hour) where upon arrival a moto taxi driver offered me the journey to Playa Blanca for 10,000 COP. After 30min on the scooter we saw the vast landscape of Isla Baru and crossed a bridge to the island which was just 5 years old. Before people had to cross by ferry. Stiven, the moto driver, dropped me right in front of the beach path and I tipped him with an additional 2,000 COP.

Hardly arrived at the beach a mussel seller offered me couple of his treats with lemon. I figured that he would get cheeky as he asked for 120,000 COP for six mussels. I gave him 6,000 COP and left quickly.

Then I finally saw the ocean and the beach. A picture as from a travel magazine! Turquoise water and white sand. Welcome to paradise! Vamos a la playa!

The drawback of this paradise is that it’s a well-known secret and completely packed with visitors. Particularly many Colombians seem to love this beach as there were more Colombians than Gringos.

I headed south towards the beach and found a tiny beach spot behind a short climb over rocks. Here I had the paradise nearly for myself!

I went snorkeling which was far from spectacular. Still I got to see small fishes and dead corals. I relaxed and read my book and then headed back after two hours to the craziness of the main beach in order to get a beer. I even ran into Cem and Benny who I met in Medellin – such a small world!

At 15 o’clock I took the last boats leaving for the day towards Cartagena. I asked the driver of boat which carried a tour group whether he could take me with them and we agreed on 15,000 COP – a great deal! Bye bye beach of my dreams – I had a blast!

About half way one of the engines died. Luckily, there was a second one which was brought us slowly (even a small rubber boat with engine overtook us 😉 ) and safely back to harbor. I walked in 10min back to the hostel and grabbed my backpack and took a moto taxi for 4,000 COP to the bus company MarSol. As the next bus to Santa Marta was leaving 50min later I grabbed a quick dinner around the corner (pizza food truck!) and came back to the terminal on time. As always in Colombia the bus left late (25min) and took longer then proclaimed (5:30h instead of 4:20h).

I can recommend Isla Baru despite the mass tourism and also Cartagena is nice for a day or two. However, I did not find it as fascinating as the Lonely Planet who named it the most beautiful city in South America. Disagree! For me that’s still San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico 😉

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fjvx7l7xkpwtprx/AABZcHNc_BTvwVqfdu1NNZfha?dl=0