Hidden cities & Isolated beaches near Santa Marta

Trip Start Nov 29, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
the dreamer hostel

Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Dreamer Hostel just outside of Santa Marta became my home for a couple of weeks...the last week of 2010, and the first one of 2011.  Originally I planned to go to Santa Marta because it's the starting point for tours to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), a large ancient city founded about 1,200 years ago in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta mountains.  The 5 day trek sounded interesting, so I booked the trip for Dec. 26th and got to the Dreamer on the 23rd.  It turns out there's plenty to see in the surrounding areas, so I ended up sticking around to check out Taganga & Tayrona National Park after recovering from the Lost City trek.

The Dreamer is the nicest hostel I've been to so far with a nice pool, pool table, a couple of flat screen TVs, hammocks all over, and very friendly staff.  It's so nice in fact that some people just stay there and relax for days.  I had a few rest days there, but managed to stay pretty active.  Day 1 I went to a nice beach called Playa de Los Angeles with 4 French speakers.  They were quite nice though and did me the favor of speaking Spanish while I was around.  They made the effort because they were surprised that an American was interested in socializing with non-English speakers, and also to a lesser degree that I speak Spanish.  After the San Blas Islands I was pretty jaded by beaches and although I enjoyed walking around, didn't even bother to get in the water.  The following days were rainy and the Chrismas BBQ was kind of a let down.  I rested up on X-mas day and got ready to embark on my first multi-day trek of my life, a 5 day, 34 mile journey.

Santa Marta had been hit hard for weeks of heavy rains.  The car trail on the way to Machete (end of the "road" town) showed it.  I have done my fair share of off roading in CR on bad roads, but nothing compared to this.  There were points where the fat (& friendly) chef Wilbur sat on the front of the hood while our tour guide William drove in order to get more traction on the front wheels.  There were points where I had to turn my head away from a sheer cliff because our wheels were truly on the edge and it was scary (passengers were all asked to lean to the other side).  In any case, after getting stuck a couple of times, and after helping other stuck trucks get unstuck, we made it...just in time for the rain.  This was the last day that cars would make it to Machete due to more severe landslides that wiped out the whole road

We had a quick sandwich and salad and made it about 30 minutes hiking before we got to an uncrossable river and turned back.  Night 1 was spent in a wet school building with the plumbing turned off.  We now had 4 days for the typically 5 day trek.  Despite the rain of Days 1 & 2, and lots of mud, the going was pretty easy for me through the beginning of Day 3.  I wore big rubber boots which helped tremendously to keep my feet dry in muddy, wet terrain.  The landscapes were varied and beautiful, and the flora was extremely diverse as well.  Ups and downs, mud, dirt, rock, rivers, jungles, plains, mountains, and occasional bare-footed (or in boots) indigenous people characterized the trek.  The food provided was good and plenty, and the other 8 in my group were all enjoyable company.  A Swiss guy came with his Colombian wife and her mom (who did splendidly on the whole trip at about 55 years old).  A couple of Irish girls that have been traveling for over 6 months around the world.  An Australian girl who has been traveling about 8 months and has another 4.  An Italian guy and his Swedish wife who had 1 month off from their work as medical researchers.

Camila is the Swedish woman who has run a marathon and teaches "Pulse Spinning", a new phenomenon in spinning where you work around your own personal heart rate which is projected anonymously on the wall in front of you.  She told me on Day 3 that I had runners knee after I pointed to the spot on the outside of my left knee that was hurting.  In any case, we got to the camp on Day 3 (1 hour away from the Lost City) at about 2pm.  Although it was hazy, everybody in my group but me wanted to go up there knowing that wed only have a short time to explore seeing as we had to get back before dark (5;30pm).  We got moving fast and made it up to the Lost City just after 3pm.  Although the history of the Tayrona indians was fascinating and the Lost City was beautiful to walk around while learning from William, we had to leave after just seeing a small fraction of the city as it was past 4;30pm and had started to rain.  I was disappointed but knew we needed to leave.  We made it back just at dark, and a few people from my group sent our headlamps back with one of the guides to help out the group behind us.

My knees hurt the whole way back, but I still enjoyed beautiful weather and scenery.  And fortunately it was just the downhill sections that most bothered me.  It was one of the hardest things Ive ever done physically (right up there with Volcan Baru in Boquete), and was overall a great experience, but it was a real shame to only have 1.5 hours to explore the Lost City after 2 days of walking in each direction.

I spent New Year`s Eve with a Colombian Forensic Psychologist that speaks 9 languages and his family.  I met Larry and talked for a couple of hours with him before leaving for Ciudad Perdida at the hostel since hes friends with the Italian owners.  NYE in Colombia is a family holiday.  Each of the 11 people around the table including the children under 10 years old stood up to say what they wished for 2011.  Then we all lit candles wishing for 1 thing as well.  I cant remember what the purpose of eating grapes is, but thats part of the tradition as well.  It was a delicious dinner with turkey, potatos, beans, and salad.  A nice, low-key NYE.

Getting to Taganga wasnt easy.  The little van/bus that goes there only costs about $0.70 USD, but several passed by me even empty before I realized that they didnt want to take me because I had a big backpack.  I shouted to one passing by that I would pay for 2 people and was able to make it to Taganga at around 4pm.  I ended up getting lucky and finding a place that had a hammock for rent for $5, because all of the other places in town (and there are many for a little town), were all full.  I talked with the many Argentines that were staying there who were all very interesting, and had a low key night.  The next day I checked in early to a different hostel which was more expensive but much nicer, Casa de Felipe, and set out to explore.  I visited isolated beaches and one way overcrowded beach (Playa Grande), but all had clear Caribbean blue waters.  One day was plenty in Taganga, but well worth a day it was.

The plan was to try to meet up with my friend Kate (Aussie on Lost City trek) in Tayrona the following morning.  Not very well made plans went awry and upon getting to the entrance to Tayrona about 3 hours later than I should have, and after putting my rain gear and boots on, I realized the money and my only card were no longer in the safe zipper pocket of my shorts.  I think I must have left the zipper down and they fell out on the bus or something.  My heart raced and I freaked out for a minute before catching a bus back to the Dreamer Hostel where I knew the friendly staff and owners would put me up until I figured out a way to pay them.  I was right.  I got my emergency card from Visa in 3 days.  A nice Aussie girl Cordelia who I didnt even know lent me $80 in the meantime (on Kates vouching for me), so I could go to Tayrona 2 days after the original plan.

It worked out much better really.  The weather was fantastic which was the first time in weeks that it wasnt raining there.  Trails were still muddy but it was only about 3 hours of hiking and I did it all in my Chaco sandals and barefoot.  More beautiful beaches and georgeous surroundings made for a nice first day, and a 4 hour round trip hike to Pueblito (the first discoverd indigenous city in the area) made for a great 2nd day in Tayrona.  Of 6 people from the hostel that went to Tayrona, only 1 stayed the night.  Chikayo, a nurse from Tokyo, also stuck around for the trip to Pueblito.  Honestly the hike was much nicer than the destination, but it was still cool to see some more ruins and understand more about what I was seeing.  We were treated to a big troupe of white-faced monkeys raiding a fruit tree as we were leaving.  It was hilarious to see them banging the fruit against the tree with both hands to crack the fruits open.

So, thankful for non-hurting knees, I returned to The Dreamer Hostel for one day there before booking a 14 hour bus trip to Medellin.  I should also mention in Santa Marta I met 3 very nice locals that showed me around for a day, which was great as I was planning on walking around on my own.  I met up with them again on my last night to go dancing, and had another good time as well. 

So far in my travels, I am much more likely to have a good time when doing something with locals recently met than with other travelers met in the hostel, but I have had great times with international travelers too.  Kindness of strangers and people recently met is always impressive.  Ive met many people that I can consider good friends already, even though Ill likely never see most of them again.  Im also quickly learning that Im not really a speed-traveler like many that I meet.  I prefer to travel stress free, taking my time to see and do what I want to see and do with plenty of time to rest, read, write, and play pool in between.  I no longer think Ill make as many countries as I originally planned because I would rather get to know fewer countries better.  Now Im hoping to get to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.  I may or may not get to Chile, Brazil, & Uruguay this trip.

I hope to hear from you.

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davidfromberg on

Man this post is incredible! You need to take it easy with the hiking you don't want to end up with some arthritis or tendonitis! I'm sure your Dad can tell you all about that too, haha. I think you are making the right choice in sacrificing # of countries visited for more quality time spent. Sure its cool to be able to say you have been to all these places here and there, but what you did there is more important I think. You also need to invest in a travel fanny pack that hides under your shorts over belly, this way there won't be any more "accidental falling out of money" that I am highly suspect of. You have a friendly smile and I think there are more than plenty people willing to try and be your friend in order to get a quick grab at your valuables, be careful out there. Those isolated beaches look amazing, like from that Leo movie, the Beach, watch out for sharks. Take some quality time and sit on your ass, rest up, stay healthy, and keep up with these awesome blog posts!

Oh and I expect updates on that tour guide gig u got, sounds like a sweet deal.

Eve on

love it Ben!!! You are soooo lucky!! :)

Emily on

Ben, So glad to hear of your travels, it helps me thru my utterly boring days of working in the states. Travel at your own pace my friend, but do try and hit Uruguay, I think you would really like it, the Northern part anyways. I look forward to hearing what your up to next.

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