Days spent: 2
Days recommended: 2 days are enough but, if your batteries are very low, up to 4 days won’t hurt.
Where we slept: one night in Santa Marta in a private double room @ the cool-vibed “The Dreamer Hostel” and one night in a tiny tent at Don Pedro camping inside Tayrona National Park.
What we ate: few great meals at the hostel in Santa Marta (on my diary I literally wrote “great meals” so, most likely, nothing too exotic that was worth mentioning!). Huevos pericos (scrambled eggs with tomato and onion) and arepas de queso (cheese-filled corn cakes) for breakfast in an isolated shack by the beach run by a couple of centennials (old but not dumb: they really didn’t hesitate to make us pay an obviously exaggerated bill, the “tourist extra fee” as we call it) inside Tayrona National park.
What we drank: shakes, shakes, shakes! Inside the park was so hot that we couldn’t hold ourselves back from getting one batido de fruta after the other. We pretty much tried every available option: lulo, tomate de arbor/tamarillo, mango, papaya, maracuja, melon…
How we travelled: we took a van for locals from Cartagena to Santa Marta (4 and a half hours, 2 unintentionally spent listening to a girl that, like a broken record, kept on repeating the same nursery-rhyme about making a feast out of a dead dog…), from Santa Marta we reached the entrance of the park on a public bus in a matter of 40 minutes. By foot inside the park.
Km walked: 34,5
How Tayrona affected our wallets: as usual, everything was affordable. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper, mosquito repellents, sunblock, Imodium (you never know…) and few bottles of water inside the park or you’ll pay extortionate amounts of money.
Issues we encountered:
It was not an issue for us, but a lot of backpackers struggled to find a tent or a hammock for the night (especially at El Cabo beach). My advice is to make it to the park quite early in the morning to avoid nerve-wracking queues and to get the tent/hammock you desire.
While I had one of the best sleep of the whole journey, Isa was, at least that’s what she claims, harassed the whole night by a cheeky hen that was trying to make her way into our tent. Apparently she left the tent half naked to push her away ending up being the one chased. Don’t really know if you can define this as an issue…
Also spartan group cold showers are the way inside the park (unless you are super fancy and opt for an expensive beach hut instead, which is kinda silly since you miss the real point of the whole Tayrona experience). And, to be utterly honest, an ice cold shower is what you crave the most after hours spent trekking through the jungle and sweating like a pig while carrying your heavy backpack.
Would we recommend it? Hell yes! One of the most memorable experiences we had in Colombia and, doubtlessly, between the most scenic coastlines we stumbled upon in 4 months of travels.
Analogue tips: Cameras loaded with different ISO speeds films to make the most of every kind of light. A polariser and a wide angle won’t hurt either nor a case for some underwater fun.
What to do:
As soon as you get to the park’s entrance you realise what the whole experience is about: disconnecting. Small twisted paths in the middle of the lushest jungle, with monkeys and birds of every sort right above your head, which after few hours of trek lead you to enchanting and wild white sand beaches. No comforts apart from a few beach shacks providing you with food and drinks and the unique chance to enjoy the mesmerising nature all around or the brightest starry sky while hammocking or resting in a very unpretentious tent. It’s going back to basics at its best, and, while there, you really don’t find yourself wishing for anything more.
El Cabo heavenly beach is probably the most popular destination, especially between young, slightly rowdy crowds and trust me, for a very good reason. Just to name one, the water seems to be glittering with golden sequins! There’s a windowless hut on the cliffs in the middle of the beach which gives home to hammocks that can be rented out for the night. To be honest, seeing how strong the wind was blowing even during the day with the warmest of sun, I really didn’t envy those who paid to spend the night there.
A more pacific beach, popular between families, might be La Piscina, which is renowned for its calm waters which are perfect for not-so-experienced swimmers. Still looks stunning but definitely not as charming as el Cabo.
Arrecifes beach is another touristic spot, but we preferred venturing some more secluded beaches instead. The reason why these spots are quite packed is their safety. The currents can get rough elsewhere, and you are constantly reminded about the risk of drowning and about those who have died there.
If you feel sporty you can challenge yourself on the 2 hours uphill hike that takes to the pre-Hispanic ruins of El Pueblito. We heard it was though, but weren’t expecting it to be one of the hardest treks we’ve ever done. If I remember correctly, we did the same old stupid mistake again: wearing flip-flops. Everybody we stumbled upon looked at our feet with a mix of genuine concern and amusement. Took us a while, a considerable amount of sweat, bruises and swearing, but we made it! And taking a dip right after? Priceless
Things we missed: I guess we made a great use of the time we had on our hands. No regrets and didn’t have the feeling we missed out on something.
Canon EOS 300, Fuji Pro 200 (35)
Olympus OM-1, Agfa Scala 200 (35, expired)
10-11/3/2017, Tayrona (Colombia)
PALOMINO + MINCA
Days spent: 2 nights and 1 full day in Palomino, an afternoon and 1 night in Minca
Days recommended: I’m fine with what we did but I guess if you’re a chilled kind of person you can double up the days.
Where we slept: shared dorm in a quite fancy hostel by the shore in Palomino, “The dreamer hostel” and a double private room in a hippie retreat by the river in Minca, “Casa del Pozo Azul”.
What we ate/drank: mmm my travel diary mentions a “drunk dinner” after two mojitos by the pool on the first night we arrived in Palomino. If I couldn’t recall after few hours I guess it’s quite hard to do it now! However, I mentioned a fish based dinner in a locals’ restaurant on the following evening: pescado in coconut sauce and camarones al ajillo. The latter, shrimps in garlic sauce, was probably one of the dishes I went mostly for while on the Colombian coast. Also had Colombian beers (Aguila and Club Colombia) and more lemonada de coco (what a surprise).
In Minca we “cooked” a mushroom instant soup. You know nothing Jamie Oliver!
How we travelled: shared a cab with a couple of German guys from Tayrona National park to Palomino (less than one hour). Never actually mentioned them that we bargained with the driver to pay half of what they paid… From Palomino we went back to Santa Marta on a public bus. From Santa Marta we reached Minca in less than one hour on a van arranged by the hostel we stayed few nights before.
Km walked: 12
How Palomino/Minca affected our wallets: it wasn’t as cheap as other places. Especially the hostel in Palomino (hence the dorm) but still definitely cheaper than Europe. Travelling around is very inexpensive.
Issues we encountered: Isa was not so impressed with how strong the current was in Palomino, especially after the lifeguard experience she had few months before in Brazil. She just took quick dips where she could touch the bottom and there was not even a remote chance to be dragged away.
My biggest issue was actually sleeping in the same dorm of a dude suffering from terrible flatulence. Never in my life I woke up because of the horrendous smell around me.
Would we recommend it? Palomino totally, I really enjoyed its “still not so popular between tourists” vibes and the kilometres of solitary beaches. I guess things will change soon though. Just hope it won’t become the Colombian version of Peru’s bleak Mancora. As far as Minca is concerned I’m actually not that sure that it’s really worth it, especially if you’ve been to other laid back villages in the cloud forest (such as Mindo or Banos in Ecuador). Generally backpackers head there to chill on the huge hammocks of Casa Elemento (was fully booked that day, make sure to make a reservation few days before). In our case we had some time to kill before heading back to Cartagena. If you’re on tight schedule invest time on exploring more of the northern coast and maybe get to Punta Gallinas instead.
What to do: Palomino is perfect for beach-strolling, riding waves (I could go on for hours without getting tired) and trying to fight against the currents, sunbathing, chilling and enjoying few drinks. Nothing that really involves your brain making an effort!
Minca is the kind of place where you go to do yoga, read a book, or just watch the hummingbirds buzzing around.
Things we missed: river tubing in Palomino. Killing time on the huge hammocks of Casa Elemento.
Who deserves a big thank you: Steffie and Konrad, two freshly graduated teachers from Germany. Quite epic was when Steffie spent a good half hour painstakingly talking about her gastrointestinal virus experience endured in Tayrona National Park (we just met) or when, while walking towards us after we randomly met on the beach, she stepped barefooted on a big dog poop and tried her best to hide her legitimate disgust to then run to sea to get clean. Really appreciated the lack of inhibition!
Olympus OM-1, Kodacolor 200 (35)
12-13/3/2017, Palomino + Minca (Colombia)