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Parque Tayrona is located in the north of Colombia. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta separates the Caribbean region from the rest of Colombia. Tayrona National Park offers wonderful hikes and views and hot weather all year-round. The Sierra is also home to the Lost City of the Inca also known as Ciudad Perdida. Both the National Park as the ruins can only be reached by foot, which is a good workout in the heat of the Colombian Caribbean region.
The second the aircraft opens its doors in Cartagena, heat rushed through the airplane. By the time my foot touches the tarmac, my shirt is already soaked. Great, but sticky. We start the search for accommodation. The hostel we found online is cheap and cozy, but when temperatures rise this high, you might want to opt for air conditioning. Our fan-cooled dorm room squeezes 6 people into 4 square meters. The battle for the fan goes on through the night. The ensuite bathroom is even tinier. The door can only be locked if you first walk all the way in, straddle over the bathroom, left on foot to reach the door, … It’s too small in these burning conditions. Just going to the toilet is so exhausting and claustrophobic that we move to another hostel the next day. If we ever return to Cartagena we plan on booking this hostel other travelers were bragging about.
The hot Caribbean city
The old town of Cartagena is definitely worth a visit. This part of the city has cobblestone streets and historic buildings. It is shielded from the Caribbean by a thick wall which has great views. Our accommodation was in the Getsemani area, close to a little square called Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad. Our evening was spent on the square, watching kids playing soccer and people socializing. We appear to be the only tourists in the plaza. People are buzzy walking in and out the store on the corner to buy cold beers and drink them with their friends on the square. Great and sweaty evening.
Santa Marta and Taganga
When traveling to Tayrona, Santa Marta and Taganga are the two major hubs to travel through. Our arranged minibus will take us to Taganga, making a stop in Santa Marta first. This city is larger than Taganga and it looks like a tropical paradise. Most travelers get off in Santa Marta, but we travel to the smaller town of Taganga. The town has a bad name for violence and robbery, so we’re extra careful. Most of the hostels are expensive or without air conditioning. We’re not big fans of air conditioning, but we feel as if we will just melt without it. Taganga is a small town with a few surrounding beaches. Nobody tried to rob us, but other people had scary experiences while we were there. The Taganga beaches weren’t spectacular and I wouldn’t go back there. Luckily there was this great hostel with a great backpacker vibe to accommodate us a few days.
Unlike our friends, we didn’t book the Ciudad Perdida tour. We planned on doing the tour, but the heat has knocked us down and we’re not up for 6 days of stickiness and sweatiness among millions of mosquitos and massive spiders. Our choice is the beach: easy and calm. That’s what we thought anyway. Boy, were we wrong. You might need to know we decided to take our own tent into the park, so we wouldn’t have to rent a hammock. I can tell you: pay extra for the hammock! Our tent is a small two-person tent from Exito. By the sight of the package, we should have known it was for kids and cooler climates. Anyway, we bought the stupid thing and decided to carry it along. Of course, we also needed some sort of sleeping mat too. We had to bring everything.
A taxi takes us to the entrance: Arrecifes. From then on, you can only proceed by foot. Like donkeys, we hike the trail that follows the beach. Some parts of the trail go through the forest, where we enjoy the cool of the shadow and see millions of crabs and ants. The other parts of the trail are stretches of beach, where you can only walk in the sun and the hot sand. After two hours of plowing the beaches, we arrive in Cañaveral, the first accommodation option. Our actual destination is Cabo San Juan, where the views are amazing and the beaches to die for. We continue our journey and walk over the most beautiful beaches we ever saw, unspoiled by roads, buildings, and masses. There’s nobody but us. This place just feels pure and untouched. Another hour later we finally reach Cabo San Juan.
Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan is the best place to spend the night in Tayrona. You can rent a hammock on top of a windy cliff by the water, away from the beach or pitch your own tent. We choose the worst option available. Look at the picture to see our tent and I shall say no more. This sauna was an impossible place to sleep without suffocation. All the hammocks were rented out by night fall and we had to sleep in the tent or stay up. So we stayed up and socialized with some cute Colombian guys, who ended up offering us their tent, without hesitation. We are forever in their debt! Although we intended on cooking for ourselves, we end up eating in the restaurant. For a good sleep, we recommend the hammocks on the cliff. They are more expensive, but definitely the best in Tayrona.
The next beaches
The immense heat wakes us up at 5 AM. We can’t stand it any longer and escape the tent for the slightly cooler morning breeze. A short walk later, we discover a deserted beach. While the sun comes up, we’re sitting on this unspoiled beach, just doing nothing but breathe and enjoy. It’s a pleasure to watch the crabs appear,wary-eyed, looking out for a few seconds, before shoveling sand out of their sandy caves and disappear again. Before
Back to Taganga
During lunch, a skipper sells us tickets for his boat to Taganga. We need only a short look at each other to make a decision. Choosing between a sweaty 3-hour hike and a relaxing boat ride isn’t really choosing. We’ll take the boat anytime. The boat is, of course, delayed and we just sit on the beach, waiting to leave. People run around with backpacks and the peace of the other beach is nowhere to be found around here. The only thing I can see is the size of the baby boat we’re about to embark and the size of the waves breaking into the rocks. By the time the skippers talked to everyone on the camping, our brains have been cooked thoroughly. Finally, we’re ready to go. “Twenty-two passengers!”, I overhear the skipper telling his companion. 22! Twenty-two people have to fit into that tiny sloop? The boat was perfectly equipped for 22 people. We don’t like to push for better spots and that’s how we got the worst spots. Everyone gets a life vest and off we go. We’re all sitting on top of each other, grasping limbs and holding on to other people. The waves are higher that the boat and the skipper fiercely cuts through them while we get catapulted into the air. We navigate by rough rock formations, sandy beaches and steep slopes of lush vegetation.