People from Medellin say that the best part of Bogota is the road to Medellin. Whilst I wouldn’t go that far, Bogota definitely has its charms, I do sort of know what they mean. It is not a pretty city and the overwhelming feeling is one of chaos and crowding, it’s not a place to relax.
Which is why, only 3 days after arriving we took a daytrip to Zipaquira, home of the Catedral de Sal, a church (having no bishop, it’s not officially a cathedral) constructed 200m below the surface in a disused saltmine.
It feels very unreal, walking in the dark past alcoves lit up portraying the 14 Stations of the Cross, every element (including kneeling places) being carved right from the rock.
The main nave does feel like a cathedral, it’s huge (can take up to 3,000 worshippers) and the illuminated sculptures and cross shining in the darkness add a mystical element absent from many actual cathedrals.
I’m not actually a very big fan of tango. There, I’ve said it. It’s very impressive to see, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a show, and my entire time here I have never actually paid to see anybody dance it.
Having said that, I have written another post over on Medellin Living and this time it’s about tango.
If Tayrona is the natural jewel in Colombia’s Caribbean Crown, then Cartagena de Indias is without doubt the City highlight. A major port during Spanish Colonial times, the walled city and fortress were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and the tourists have been pouring in ever since.
Cartagena is split into 3 main tourist areas, the walled city, Getsemani (where the majority of the backpacker hostels are) and Bocagrande, a beach and high-rise hotel area obviously trying to be Miami, and one of the least inspiring places I’ve been to in South America.
I’ve been to a few Colonial towns in South America (Sucre in Bolivia, Salta in Argentina, Cusco in Peru, Ouro Preto in Brasil, Villa de Leyva in Colombia all spring to mind) and along with Cartagena they all have one thing in common that distinguishes them from similar historical sites in Europe.
Whereas in Europe, a similarly well-preserved historical town would be a Disneyfied site, beautiful, yet devoid of any soul, full of high-rate art galleries, overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops, in South America these places, are alive, they are lived in. This is not to say they don’t cater to (and in some cases obviously rip-off) tourists, but on the whole everyday life continues around, and despite, you.
We spent 2 days in the Old Town, simply wandering around enjoying the atmosphere, the architecture and the sea breeze. It’s a very walkable place, probably the best thing you can do there is just amble. Every corner holds a new surprise, every building is begging to be photographed. Jewel in the Crown indeed.
Fernando Botero is a major force in Colombian artistic circles and his sculptures can be spotted in many cities in Colombia and around the world. I’ve done a little write up of some of the ones I spotted whilst there over on Medellin Living.
Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Parque Natural Nacional de Tayrona on Colombia’s Carribbean coast. I first heard of it when it was featured in a Top 10 Beaches list in the Guardian a few years back, and within hours of arriving in Colombia, fellow travellers began talking about it as one of the places to see whilst here.
And, of course, they were dead right – it’s a wonderful place; wild, beautiful, unspoilt, unique and utterly charming. If you are in Colombia it should definitely be on your list and to help you here are some tips based on our experiences there to help you get the most from your visit:
a bus from Santa Marta to the park entrance costs 5000COP – if you are staying at the wonderful Dreamer Hostel, you can pick the bus up from the main road a couple of blocks away
entrance to the park costs 34000COP for non-Colombians, 12000COP for the locals
from the entrance a minibus to the start of the trail costs 2000COP
there are 3 official places to stay – Canaveral, El Paraiso (Arrecifes) and Cabo San Juan plus a private campsite about 10 minutes walk from Arrecifes
only Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan are actually on a beach, and it’s only safe to swim at Cabo San Juan (a sign at Arrecifes reminds you of this by telling you over 200 people have drowned there!)
Arrecifes is roughly an hour from the start of the trail, Cabo San Juan another 45 mins from there – both trails are rough and involves a fair bit of scrambling and clambering
prices for Cabo San Juan are 15000COP with your own tent or hammock, 20000COP to rent a tent or hammock, 25000COP to rent a hammock in the outlook, 50000COP in a room in the outlook (all per person, per night)
having spoken to 3 people who slept in the outlook it can get very windy and cold at night, take a sleeping bag if you can or just try it for one night and see how you get on!
food is available at both Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan, but is expensive – 8000COP for a breakfast, 20000-30000COP for a lunch or dinner
the best swimming is at La Piscina between Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan
the sun is STRONG – wear sunblock at all times – especially when swimming / snorkelling (this is from painful personal experience!!)
keep an eye out for the blue landcrabs in the last 200 metres before getting to Cabo San Juan
bring a torch / flashlight and mosquito repellent
there is a boat to Taganga which leaves at 2pm and costs 40000COP, otherwise you have to walk back and get either a taxi or the bus back to Santa Marta
I think that’s about it – the most important thing is plenty of money – it was more expensive than we were expecting (and we’d been told it was not cheap) and we had to leave a day earlier than planned because of this. These tips are all personal opinions and the prices are correct as of March 2010 when we visited. I really cannot recommend Tayrona enough, it is absolutely amazing and unspoilt place and a highlight of any trip to Colombia!