Leaving Bogota, wet from weather and wounded from overnight bus travel, we both realised that this was the end of another stage of our travels. Our short flight to the Caribbean coast would be the beginning of our planned holiday to end the holiday – I will explain. We have had an incredible time in South America, seen and been part of some incredible experiences, but there is a limit to how many colonial towns you can visit, how many mountain treks you can endure and waterfalls just fail to impress after Iguassu. For the last three months we have planned a relaxing slice of beaches/islands with only a dash of excitement thrown in every now and again.
Our rough schedule gives us about six weeks on the beach out of 12. Starting in Tayrona national park in Colombia we will head up to Cartagena before venturing overland to the Panama border, a short three day tour of the San Blas islands will leave us in Panama. From here we have just three weeks to hot foot it through Panama and Costa Rica and into Nicaragua. We are going to have a nice quiet Christmas on Little Corn Island and New Year in the Bay Islands, Honduras. From there it will be a sun soaked shuffle up through Belize and the cayes to Mexico then home. About three months left, two and a half in Central America, only two weeks short of our original plans.
We land in Santa Marta, some guide books will tell you this is a charming beach town, those days have sadly long gone and it is now a bit of a pit. We catch a short taxi to the nearby fishing village Taganga. This tiny town is still visibly shell shocked from the recent influx of Lonely Planet-clutching gringos. Infrastructure is a mix of original local wooden housing with hastily built shops, restaurants and hostels in delightfully unpainted concrete. Still, there is an incredible sense of slow here. Maybe this is the infamous relaxed Caribbean attitude we have been looking forward to, maybe it’s just the fierce heat. Although we landed shortly after a storm that left streets flooded, the next morning at 9am it’s scorching.
There are three reasons to come to Taganga, we are ignoring two of them. First, this is the cheapest place on the planet to learn to scuba dive and get PADI certified, secondly, this is the starting point for trips to the Lost City. We original had this on our list of ‘to-dos’ but meeting others travelling it seems a bit pointless after the Inca trail, so we decide to pocket the hefty fees and spend it on cocktails later on the beaches. This leaves Tayrona national park, promising paradise beaches and warm pacific waters; well worth the effort for those with a sense of adventure.
We catch a local minibus to the park entrance, stock up with a few snacks and just a few bits in our day bags. Our destination is Cabo San Juan, about a two hour hike on foot from the park entrance. It’s a sweaty walk through jungle and along beaches, I couldn’t help myself at one point and dive into swimming trunks and then in to the sea. We were both drenched with sweat. Mid-afternoon we arrive at a small campsite. It’s basic and accommodation is simple: your tent, our tent or a hammock. We opt for a hammock in a small hut perched on top of the rocks just out from the beach. The view is incredible and the beach is stunning but unfortunately food options are limited. There is a restaurant here but the food is awful, we were warned though and many people told us to bring our own food, but we didn’t.
Things didn’t go so well. Relaxing in our hammock a small storm whipped up. This ‘small storm’ rapidly became one hell of a storm and sitting in the exposed huts was a surreal experience, horizontal rain flooded the floors, soaking everybody’s bags. We stayed up there , at times cowering behind a small wall until we decided we had to get out. Usually getting to the hammocks meant navigating a small stream between the sand banks and the island. After just an hour of torrential rain this stream was now a raging torrent. Stepping into it was like being hit by a bus, gingerly we made our way across the river – four of us in total hand in hand. If one of us had lost our footing or lost grip with each other we would have be swept out to sea in seconds. Later, when the rain subsided we attempted to go back but even the locals said it was impossible to reach so we abandoned our stuff and bagged another couple of hammocks on dry land. I was soaked through and although Leah had a change of clothes I didn’t so it was an uncomfortable night!
The next morning the skies were clear and by 9:30am we were swimming in the clear waters. The beaches here are stunning, much nicer than the one you pass en route. We met many travellers who never made the extra trip, which is a shame because it was worth it.
We spent two nights in total here, exploring the nearby deserted beaches and just enjoying the nice weather. A bus was waiting for us at the end of another sweaty two hour hike back and we spent another day in Taganga. It’s a nice little town; there is a great tea-shop serving the best tea we have had in months. There was also a vintage 80’s Spurs scarf over the door, perfect.