We left Cartagena and traveled for 4 hours by bus along the Caribbean coast, past Barranquilla, to Santa Marta. This was a one night pit stop, in preparation for a trek in the Tayrona National Park. We unburdened ourselves of the bulk of our backpacks, filling our smaller daypacks with the bare essentials for 2 nights in the park. Still incredibly hot and humid, we did not require much in the way of clothing, planning to spend many hours on the beach and in the waves. The following morning, we took a one hour bus ride to the park entrance, followed by a required tutorial on the park rules and safety (as many of the beaches have a strong riptide and should be avoided), and another 15-20 minute shuttle trip to the start of the trail. We coated our bare skin with insect repellent and sunscreen, and began our sweaty 3 hour hike into the park along the Caribbean coast and tropical dry forest at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, all the way to El Cabo San Juan.
The muggy weather meant that our views were hazy, but there was no denying the beauty of the white sand beaches and turquoise waters. We hiked over boulders, up and down stairs, through coconut trees and sandy mangroves, passing howler monkeys and lime green iguanas. Before arriving at our final destination we couldn’t resist a swim in the ocean at the first safe beach and a scrumptious lunch of arepas (fried cornmeal cakes stuffed with various meat, cheese or veggie fillings). Eventually we checked into the San Juan campground, where we opted to sleep in hammocks for the first night, and tents for the second, all semi-permanent and provided by the finca. We were carrying our own sleep sheets for bedding. The single restaurant was our meal and beer source for the next three days, while we “slothed out” in the beach cove.
Here is an excerpt from my Tayrona diary on our last day in the National Park:
My little love bug and I share a tent. The night was brutally hot and humid, as we tossed atop sweaty foam mattresses, me trying to keep my body on my personal bedsheet and Gabriel whimpering with discomfort. We had a zippered screen separating us from the bugs, but it also prevented any soft breeze of wind from cooling us down.
Now it is 5:30 AM, the birds are maniacally chirping, and rendering it near impossible for me to sleep. I’m hot and oily, fantasizing about soapy showers, soft mattresses and air conditioning. Were the hammocks we slept in last night actually better? I don’t remember sweating half my liquid weight, but do remember the contortionist poses I kept shifting between, my feet often higher than head level. Each night of sleep provided its individual form of torture, equally bad.
Two days of beaches meant moments of boredom for Mama, but provided endless joy and entertainment for Stella and Gabriel. In and out of the Caribbean sea, with or without goggles, more than a dozen water and sand games to make up, toes and fingers turning into raisins, ignoring bathing suit rashes in exchange for more time in the salty sea, too much sun and never enough sunscreen.
We hiked out of the park along the same route in, stopping for more arepas, fresh squeezed orange juice and tangy shrimp ceviche, eventually busing back to Santa Marta for one more night’s rest. We were staying at a lovely family run hotel (Santa Sophia del Mar) that treated us to ice-cold beers, shrimp cocktails and a bag of colombian coffee. Stella and Gabriel played happily with the owner’s children allowing us time to focus on planning our next destination … San Gil!
Here are photos of our Santa Marta exploration: