Having spent 4 days in Isla Baru we had transferred to the Berlinas bus station for our 5 hour bus ride from Cartagena to Santa Marta. As this was a critical part of our journey I had tried to book the bus tickets in advance. However the website was not having any of it so we turned up at the bus station and hoped for the best!
Fearing a bustling noisy and over-crowded bus station we were surprised to find Berlinas to have its own small, clean and organised yard. There was no queue and we simply paid the equivalent of about $12 each for our two seats, gave our case to the driver (who gave us a receipt) and the bus left about 15 minutes later! We were given no tickets, only a scrap of paper containing the bus and seat numbers.
While somewhat cramped and with the odd traffic hold up we arrived in Santa Marta at around 4 pm in the afternoon and took a taxi for the short distance from the bus station into the Old City to our next accommodation.
We arrived at the Casa Amani and were slightly alarmed to be faced with huge locked wooden doors and a massive white wall… however we had soon entered into a stunning little oasis! A beautiful Spanish style colonial building with rooms surrounding a colourful courtyard with a small pool and decorated with a tasteful array of traditional ornaments and accessories. The group of pots and lamp in the above two photos were in our room!
The Casa Amani has a brilliant location in the heart of the old city of Santa Marta. Just steps away from a range of excellent high quality restaurants located in old squares lined with outdoor tables. We had 4 fantastic evening meals during each of the 4 nights we spent here and would highly recommend Ouzo, Lulo and Soul Food restaurants.
We spent day 1 exploring colourful Santa Marta…
Having enjoyed our past visit to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogota we headed for Santa Marta’s own Museo del Oro.
What a delightful place this was! The information was in English as well as Spanish and we spent time wandering around absorbing the fascinating history of Santa Marta (which is the oldest city in Colombia and possibly in South America), the Tayrona National Park and northern Colombia.
The Museo del Oro is located at the Parque Bolivar. This was named after Simon Bolivar, a revolutionary who led the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama from the Spanish Empire. Bolivar died in 1830 in the house that is now Santa Marta’s Museo del Oro.
Quaint cafes and coffee shops can be found among the brightly painted streets of old city Santa Marta, offering a little breather from the 33 degrees heat!
There are numerous informal lunch options. We had a leisurely vegetarian lunch in the ‘Natural food restaurant’ in the corner of Parque Santander de los Novios.
Tayrona National Park
For day 2 we spent a full day in the Tayrona National Park, having booked a tour the previous day with a local tour company. We were collected from the Casa Amani at 7:15 am and driven by bus to the park entrance, about an hour away. Unfortunately all of the information was provided in Spanish and the guide couldn’t speak any English. We are not suggesting by any means that all guides should speak in English but this did make it difficult to know what we were supposed to be doing and important details such as when we were being picked up later!
At the park entrance we had to pay a small fee for ‘medical insurance’ should anything happen while in the park. Once the formalities were complete we began the two hour trek to take us to the five beaches.
For the first hour we trekked through the jungle along well maintained paths and wooden walkways. It was steep in places but wooden steps had been built so it wasn’t too difficult.
After an hour we reached the coast and spent the next hour walking along mainly sandy footpaths near the beaches.
Sign posts showed us the way although there was a steady stream of people so it was impossible to get lost!
Walking through the mangroves…
Walking under the palm trees…
Eventually we arrived at the first of five beaches. By now we had lost sight of our guide so we just continued along the paths and onto the next beaches.
30 minutes after the first beach we came to Cabo San Juan and the beaches at the cape. There were two busy beaches here as well as a camp site and restaurant. The restaurant was busy with a queue however we were able to buy drinks from a kiosk.
We couldn’t see the guide or anyone else from our group so we continued past Cabo San Juan and followed the track for about 15 minutes around to the next beach. Before long we found ourselves on a nudist beach! This seemed to be the last of the beaches so, keeping our heads down and eyes pointing to the sand, we headed back to the busy beaches of Cabo San Juan for a swim in the sea and a cool down from all of the walking.
A friendly German who had been part of our tour had managed to decipher, with the help of some Argentinians, that the bus left the National Park at 4.30 pm. We had bumped into him at one of the beaches. As the trek was to take 2 hours to return we started to make our way back.
Overall we had a fabulous day in the National Park. In hindsight you can probably do this by getting a taxi from Santa Marta to the National Park entrance and without the need for booking a tour. We didn’t see the tour guide until we arrived back at where we guessed the bus would be so certainly didn’t need him!
For our third full day in Santa Marta we had booked a day tour to Minca with Expotur. I had found Expotur when looking for trips to the Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City. This didn’t fit our itinerary on this trip to Colombia but is on my list for a future visit.
Minca is a pretty village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada although with the Colombian drug wars only 10 years ago would have been too dangerous to visit.
Expotur collected us in a taxi at 8:45 from the Casa Amani and drove for 45 minutes to Minca. Here we joined Jungle Joe tours as part of a group of about 20 people.
We were led through Minca village to an organic coffee farm where we were shown coffee plants (together with a range of other tropical plants) and received a demonstration on coffee grinding. Most importantly the demo finished up with a tasting session of the delicious organic Colombian coffee 🙂
Following the coffee demo, we were led back through Minca to begin our trek to a waterfall.
The trek lasted an hour or so through stunning jungle scenery. Unlike the previous day there were no other tourists and the trail was wilder and more remote.
Past banana plantations…
And to the waterfall! Following a steep scramble down we arrived at the waterfall and were able to swim in the cool refreshing water of the pool.
We were given some healing mud which we were meant to leave on our faces for 10 minutes, wash off in the water and suddenly look 10 years younger… hmmmmm….
Following our refreshing dip we were led back towards Jungle Joe’s own home all made from bamboo! From here we had a great view with Santa Marta in the distance.
Jungle Joe had cooked us a delicious lunch which was followed by a chocolate session! We were shown how chocolate is grinded from the cocoa plant and were given some luscious warm chocolate to taste!
Once everyone had had their fix of chocolate we made our way back to Minca village and returned to Santa Marta in a taxi.
This trip to Minca was brilliant and one of the best days of our Colombian holiday. We met some lovely people, had a short trekking adventure and were able to absorb the stunning lush scenery. Oh and awesome coffee and awesome chocolate! We would highly recommend booking with Jungle Joe; Joe and his team were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and looked after everyone extremely well.
Next: 2 days in Cartagena…