I took a chiva (colourful Colombian bus) from my home in Santa Veronica to Santa Marta near Tyrona national park to continue exploring the Caribbean coast. The chiva took me as far as the nearest city, Barranquilla, for just 4,000 pesos (£1.11) and took a minibus from there to Santa Marta for 20,000 pesos (£5.62). The entire journey took about 4 hours to cover a pretty large stretch of the coast.
Having been to Santa Marta a few times, I’ve stayed in a couple of different hostels. The first, and one of my favourites, was Masaya which I stayed in during hurricane Matthew and enjoyed ample rain and little electricity. Luckily, the beauty of the hostel wasn’t ruined by the weather. We arrived late on a Friday evening for a weekend away here and headed straight to the rooftop bar which has a stunning pool overlooking the town. The rooms were big and comfortable and the bunks had individual fans and lights which would have been great with electricity.
The next time I visited Santa Marta I stayed at La Villiana hostel which is another great option. This hostel has a nice outdoor bar in the courtyard area and a small pool under tall palm trees, which is a great place to sit in the heat. There’s a beautiful square in Santa Marta with restaurants and bars surrounding an area of trees covered in lights. The area makes for a great walk in the evening and the restaurant we visited served sea food which is fresh from the Caribbean sea. Visit the markets along the main street in Santa Marta the next day and prepare to breathe slowly to make your way through the crowds. Personally I went in search of a cheap phone and hiking boots. Although the hiking boots were a great deal and still serve me well today, the phones are not recommendable, as if the fact that they are sold out of a glass booth on the street, flaunting their many cracks and dents, wasn’t enough to put you of already.
Next I took a bus to Costeno beach. Unfortunately, my hostel turned out to be 20 minutes away from Costeno beach and centered in the middle of nowhere. If you want to visit Costeno beach, book the actual Costeno beach hostel in advance to make sure you get a place. This is a pretty boasted about tourist destination but it is really just a beach bar hostel where backpackers swarm. The atmosphere is relaxed and sociable but probably the furthest away from authentic Caribbean Colombian lifestyle that you can get. Having said this, it is quite something. The beach itself is covered with white sand and has deck chairs and volley ball to accommodate the active and the loungers alike. The hostel also offers surf boards and yoga classes. The hostel I chose to stay at, Hacienda Valencia, was quiet in comparison. If you’re looking to be the sole occupants of a ominously large room run by a very sweet but quiet Colombian woman who never actually told me her name, then this is the place for you. A 20 minute moto-taxi ride from Costeno , Hacienda Valencia offers a private alternative to the party hostel atmosphere at the beach, just don’t turn up in the dark because it is so eerily quiet that you’ll feel like you’re about to star in a slasher movie.
On the way back to Santa Marta I took a detour to Taganga, for some world class diving. I arrived at La Tortuga hostel just before sunset which was great because the hostel features an all-around balcony and roof top bar. From just outside my room I could sit in a hammock and watch the sun go down. A well recommended restaurant in Taganga is Babaganoush which is also on a balcony overlooking the beautiful bay by night. I enjoyed a three course meal for the first time in months, featuring Thai curry and rounds of cocktails. For the price of any cheap meal in England I got five star quality foods for just 35,000 pesos (just under £10). I continued my night with relaxed drinks and cocktails at some awesome beach bars along the bay.
The next morning I descended on the bay again to ask around for the best deal when it comes to diving. Eventually I ended up going to the dive school beneath the restaurant from the night before, called Tyrona dive center and managed to get a day of diving for 170,000 pesos (just under £50) which, considering I was a first time diver, is very cheap. The day included two separate dive sessions for about 45 minutes each time and sandwiches on the beach for lunch with fresh ice tea. The instructor was also very reassuring and everything appeared safe and secure. After a long day of diving, I took another stroll along the bay and got the usual fried fish, rice and plantain for dinner, the standard Colombian diet which is cheap wherever you go and just 10,000 pesos here (£2.81). When I got back to the hostel, the staff were throwing a birthday party for one of the locals on the rooftop bar and invited us up for BBQ, drinks and cake. Seeing as I was the only guest staying in the hostel at this time, it was pretty nice to join in with the locals and see how welcoming they were. When people spend so much time complaining about tourists or overpopulation in some countries, it’s nice to see how willing others are to make anyone feel welcome.