Arriving in Santa Marta
Even though Santa Marta has its own airport, I arrived by bus, from Cartagena.
I arrived in Cartagena on a Monday afternoon, after a hectic stay in San Andres.
Landing on Colombia’s mainland was a relief. Finally, I could get a couple minutes and embrace the joy that the worst part had already gone past. I said goodbye to my travel partners, Katia, Anna and Laris, the ones I had lived this not-so-good-experience with. Cartagena was on my to-do list, but the San Andres experience made me want to get to places that were less known. Since this was Carnival season, Cartagena would be packed, busy and expensive.
Just as I stepped out of the airport, I saw a MarSol bus. I had heard much about MarSol and the amazing service they offer on the northern coast of Colombia, so I approached the driver asking if they had buses running directly from Cartagena Airport to Santa Marta. The driver was really nice, asked me a couple questions (are you travelling alone, is Santa Marta your final destination?), and passed me his mobile phone (awkward moment here!). A lady was speaking to me on the other side of the line – a speeded Spanish that was way too fast for my limited language skills! She was asking me the same questions as the driver. No, I had no mobile phone.. So I was asked to remain exactly where I was, and a car would come round and pick me up in five minutes time. For 41,000COP, and would take me directly to Santa Marta. I handed over the phone and lit up a cigarette, as the driver left on his mini-bus. Five minutes later, another bus stops nearby. The driver picked up a white cardboard that read “TANIA – SANTA MARTA”.
Well, I’m guessing that’s for me! No mobile phone needed.
The bus was really nice! It was a brand new Mercedes mini bus, guess it had just under 15 seats. Air-conditioning, smooth ride, comfortable seats. Perfect for a four-hour nap, I thought. Surprisingly though, roughly half-way through the journey, we pulled over – the bus broke down. Soon after we were picked up by another bus, and continued our journey.
When we were arriving in Santa Marta, the bus driver asked us – me and two other girls, who were also travelling solo, where we were going. I gave him my address – La Villana – and the two others girls theirs – they were both heading to The Dreamer. For a moment here I thought I could have the worst pick, as I was going alone to a hostel they never heard about. A million thoughts were cruising my mind. Then, for my surprise, the bus pulls over and the driver called me by my name: he was dropping me off just outside the hostel, so I wouldn’t have to walk alone at night. Pretty awesome!
Hostel: La Villana
By now, it was already really late, and I was pretty exhausted. The whole San Andres experience and the long bus journey, the heat, the backpacks… It was all coming down at the same time. I hadn’t had a shower for two days, and I had already been stuck at an airport, been on an abandoned site, gotten on a broken bus… I was craving for some decent food, drinkable water, a cozy bed!
As I stepped in the hostel I was greeted with a large smile from the receptionist. I dropped of my oversized backback and asked him for a minute. I wanted to go outside and breathe in the warm air of Santa Marta. I sat on the step and lit a cigarette. Relieved, as I could now get some rest.
I checked in, and was asked if I was hungry. Damn, yes! He giggled and picked up my backpack. “Come on”, he said, “I’ll show you around and get you some food from the restaurant”. Those were the most comforting words I had heard in a week!
The hostel was amazing: the rooms were all around in a patio with a centre-featured pool. Huge palm trees surpassed the ceilings, good chill music playing, the pool lights on and some balloons resting on the water. People giggling. As we entered my dorm, I was amazed: custom-made bunks, with actual steps instead of ladders. Each bed frame had its own niche with 2 plugs and a personal night lamp. Tall ceilings made it feel airy and “light”. A fan and air-conditioning would keep the temperatures down, mosquitos away, and the air refreshened. Each bed had a designated drawer to store the backpacks, plus a locker, for other more important things – the lockers are big enough for a small backpack. To top all of this, the linen provided had a flower scent – not a common feature in hostels! They also provide us with two pillows (yes, TWO) and fresh cleaned towels. I was truly impressed. I felt really welcomed, because the staff were incredible, the place was immaculate, all little details made this hostel worthy of a five-star ranking amongst the finest hotels.
When I sat at the restaurant, by the pool, I could finally breathe with relief. I got a pepperoni pizza from their italian inspired restaurant, and treated myself with a nice glass of chilled wine. And when I laid on my flower scented bed, I though even heaven could not be any better than this.
A day in Santa Marta
I was only spending a day in Santa Marta. Not a problem though, this was just enough to fall in love with this city. Even though it’s not too big, it has two sides to it: contemporary and historical, despite distinct, come hand-in-hand. Santa Marta is the perfect place to get in touch with local culture – people are nice and welcoming, and you can tell it is still a “raw” and genuine place. With great cultural heritage, you can either walk though the city and visit it’s local monuments, markets and plazas, or take a day trip to the nearby Taganga Bay (hostel offers this for 10,000COP, but you can get it cheaper with a mototaxi off the streets). The Catedral de Santa Marta is just next door to the hostel, and the beach just three blocks up. A variety of programmes is available, for things such as diving, snorkelling, boat trips, moto trips and museums. The hostel also provides bikes to rent, at around 5,000COP/h.
Park Tayrona is the most popular destination nearby. This is where most backpackers head towards. However, I found Santa Marta so welcoming and cozy, that I totally recommend you’d spend a night or two here (as an opposite tip from what most travel guide books will say).
Park Tayrona is closed down through November, for cleaning. If you are planning to visit, double check the exact opening / closing dates.
My stay in Santa Marta was short, but I bring it close to the heart! I would later meet up with Lucie, the french girl I had met in San Andres. We were going to go to Palomino together. I will tell you all about that on the next post! 🙂
I had a little health issue, that I think it is useful to mention. I am always extra cautious when it comes to health, as I have already mentioned here (in portuguese only).
The morning after my arrival, I woke up having the skin on my face and necks’s left side with a strange texture. It was looking like some sort of a really bad allergic reaction had occured, as it was really reddish and textured. Unsure about what to do, I decided to ask the hostel receptionist about it. He pointed out immediately that it looked like an allergic reaction caused by some sort of virus, present in the northern Colombian coast only. Nothing too serious if treated in time. I went to the closest pharmacy, where I was advised to take loratadine pills (for ten days, once a day) and put some corticol gel locally. They said it’d disappear in a few hours, and it did – some three hours later, I was fine! If you ever have this reaction, go to a pharmacist as soon as possible. If not treated, symptoms can develop to fever, headaches, and sometimes diarrhoea.