Lost in Colombia: A Side Trip to Santa MartaAdventure Travel, Blogging Your Trip, City Travel, Colombia, Couples Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Food & Wine, Hotels & Resorts, Tours & Attractions — By Amanda P on April 22, 2009 at 10:23 am
By Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor
Even if you’re hard at work on a big project (in my case, a book!) every Lost Girl needs a vacation. This year, I took mine in Cartagena, Colombia and posted about my experiences for the fabulous travel website Jaunted. This week and next, I’ll be sharing dispatches from my journey, and (hopefully) dispelling some of the myths that Colombia is a risky place to visit (it’s not, but its wise to stick to the beaten track ). Want to share the story of your own journey? Send us a note by clicking here.
When deciding where in Colombia to spend our vacation, we were lured to Cartagena partly because of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and partly because of its location along the southern rim of the Caribbean. Getting the chance to explore centuries old Spanish colonial architecture-after spending the day at the beach-felt like a two-for-one deal.
It was only after our arrival, however, that we learned that during the winter months, much of Cartagena’s beaches wash to sea, leaving only a tiny ribbon of sand along the shoreline. If we really wanted some vacation-worthy sunning, the locals told us, we’d have to travel to Santa Marta, a coastal city 4 hours away by colectivo (shared ride).
Since finding a the local bus would have required wandering through a dicey neighborhood located an hour outside the city, we decided to book a colectivo through the concierge at the Sofitel Santa Clara for $25 each. For that price, we hopped on an air-conditioned minivan that picked us up in Cartagena, and dropped us off at our hotel in Santa Marta.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the action in Santa Marta (for tourists anyway) can be found along the 1-kilometer stretch of beach and boardwalk at Carrera 1 C (also the drop-off point for cruise ships). Here, you’ll find an incredible number of hotels and guesthouses, so even if you don’t book a room before leaving Cartagena, you won’t have to worry about finding one upon arrival.
After poking around a bit, we choose the Hotel Bahia Blanca ($40 per night) for its beachfront location and incredibly gracious staff (they actually reheated some leftovers for us and served them on a try along with a cheap bottle of wine we’d purchased next door).
Our local friends didn’t lie about Santa Marta’s allure: the beaches here are wide, white and pristine (you’ll see men in orange jumpsuits constantly collecting trash-they’ll snag your mostly finished can of Club Colombia beer if you’re not watching closely enough) Because we went during the week, we practically had the whole strip to ourselves.
Since the sun here can be brutal, it’s worth the 5000 pesos ($2.50) to snag a couple seats under one of the blue canvas tarps. Once you’re sitting, there’s no need to get up. If you wait long enough, a few minutes at most, guys hawking beer, water (served in 350 mL bags, instead of bottles) and ice cream will find their way to you.
Besides the beaches, there’s next best reason to visit Colombia’s oldest city (founded in 1525) is Tayrona Park, a 37,000 acre jungle reserve that contains reefs, beaches, mangroves and Indian ruins. You can book a one- to five-day trip through the front desk of any of the hotels in town, but the Hotel Miramar runs a brisk business arranging getaways for backpackers-they can answer most of your questions in English (or some savvy traveler hanging out in reception can translate for you).
When night falls, snag an outdoor table and dinner at Ricky’s or Ben & Josep‘s, both located main drag, or pick up a late night bite at Crepes Espresso Cafe. All three serve alcohol, and there are plenty of bars near the beach serving a full menu of cocktails. You can pay full price at these spots, or do as the locals do: pick up a bottle of Ron Medellin and a mixer at the liquor store, and mix up your own cocktails at the plastic tables set up outside. If case you were wondering, that’s where the party’s at…
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