Whether you are a mountain person or a beach person, who can say no to having the best of both worlds? Imagine the dramatic landscape of white sand beaches at the edge of a mountain range that goes on for miles, surrounded by tropical tree lines full of delicious fruits and awesome wildlife? To experience a country to its fullest you'd have to get off the beaten path a little.
The paradise described here is Taganga- a small town in the mountains outside of Santa Marta, Colombia. My solo trip to Colombia lasted a week. Three days in Cartegena (see blog post: Colombia Part I) and 4 days in Taganga. The places I visited, the people I met aren't what most people experience when they visit Colombia. I actually ended up in Taganga by chance when I booked my Airbnb in a town I thought was Santa Marta. In the end, Taganga is what made my experience in Colombia as memorable as it was.
The goal of this blog isn't just to talk about my experience, but to help you plan your own adventures in Colombia. I hope to answer questions you may have in terms of transportation, lodging, and things to do, all in one place.
Where is Taganga?
Taganga is a small town at the foot of the Tayrona National Park. There are many beaches at each gulf surrounding the national park that you can take a boat to for just a few pesos (5-10pesos). The boats shown above on the 1st photo are just locals waiting to take tourist to neighboring beaches around the national park. Much quicker than traveling by land where you'd have to take a bus and/or taxi, and then travel on foot through the forest to get to the beach.
Places to Stay
I stayed in an Airbnb with a view of the ocean for $20 a night. One good way to make sure you find a place in Taganga and not the city of Santa Marta is to look for homes in "Taganga, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia" in Airbnb. I became good friends with my Airbnb host during my stay. We went on the tour together to Minca and she also showed me around town in Taganga. She is from Bogota, Colombia so it was awesome having someone who spoke the native language to help me get around.
There is also Pelikan Hostel, hard to miss, bright orange place right by the main road.
Whenever I travel, I usually book a rental car. However, since Colombia was my first time traveling solo to South America I didn't want to push my comfort zone too far. Plus I heard from friends who visited before, taking a bus/van across towns is very safe and easy.
I used Marsol Shuttle which is more of a minivan than a bus. It cost about $50,000 pesos (approximately $17USD) to go to Taganga from Cartegena. Going to Santa Marta is about $42,000 pesos. The drive took about 4.5hrs and left me right in front of my Airbnb.
*As of July 2018, $1USD is about $2876 Colombian Pesos.
The first picture is Marsol's contact information which can be found in their website.
The second picture shows a typical Marsol van. Good space, comfortable seats.
For all local transportation while you're exploring a town, Uber to the rescue! Yup, Colombia has Uber and it is much easier for tourists and foreigners than taxis and local bus, and its relatively cheap too!
Locals in Taganga usually head up to Santa Marta to party. Taganga is a small residential town which doesn’t offer a crazy night club experience. However if you’re up for dinner by the beach, live music, the moon hanging over your head, and walks along the shore in the moonlight, it is the perfect place. The food is delicious and the music is amazing.
It is romantic if you are traveling with your significant other, and super fun if you are traveling with family, friends, or just by yourself. I made great friends with locals and other travelers. I did not spend much time in Santa Marta during my time in Colombia because I had more than enough things to look forward to during the day and evening in Taganga .
Being at the foot of a great national park and surrounded by mountains and the ocean, there is an endless list of things to do. You can go exploring by yourself, just hop on the bus or get a taxi or you can book tours through the many tourism offices in town. The tours are relatively cheap, free pickup/ drop off, lunch provided, and most importantly worth the price. Here are few of the tours I did.
Tour Company: Magic Tour Colombia
Quebrada Valencia & Buritaca $24
Cabo San Juan $38
*Price may vary depending on the exchange rate if you are paying while in Colombia versus paying online
Rio Buritaca is one of the first tours I did. The first portion of the tour included a hike through the woods to a big waterfall (Quebrada Valencia) where people swam and relaxed. The hiking trail passed by a couple of villages that were ready with stands full of local food/snacks (see third image below), handmade souvenirs, and a variety of other homemade items that tourist might find attractive.
After the waterfall we got back on the bus and went to Rio Buritaca. Lunch was served there as well. Typical food in this part of Colombia is rice, fish, with fried plantains. I loved it.
The river (Rio Buritaca) was amazing because it collided with the Caribbean Ocean. It was cool to swim in the salty ocean water than jump into the fresh river water 10ft away to clean up before settling down to relax and enjoy the view.
More than once I was the ONLY non-Spanish speaking person on the tour and I was so touched by how the tour guides and the people treated me. Most of the tourist were from different parts of Colombia or from a different South American country. Since I was traveling alone with a very limited Spanish vocabulary everyone looked out for my safety and made sure I was having a good time.
In the tour to Rio Buritaca I became a third child to this woman who was traveling with her teenage daughter and son from Medellin. Whenever she bought food for her kids she would offer me some as well and always made sure I didn’t get separated from the tour group. I hung out with them all day and became best friends with her daughter who was the most fluent in English.
I am used to traveling alone and probably did not need a mother hen but I was absolutely blown away by the level of this woman’s affection and I fell in love with Colombia. The whole day she communicated with me in Spanish and her daughter translated back and forth.
It really just takes one person or one experience to make a significant difference and this family is one reason I will never forget Colombia.
Another of my favorite tour was Cabo San Juan. It is one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. Clear blue water, white sand, cabanas and hammocks. It was incredible. However, I must add that what made this beach so incredibly beautiful was the three hour hike through Tyrona National Park. It was HOT, humid, some parts of the hike was muddy, and you had to share the road with horses. I fell into the mud and cracked the screen on my phone when I tried to moved over for a horse (I still use the same phone with the crack-more for the memory now, I’m sentimental like that).
I can’t remember a time I wanted to jump into the water as badly as I did during this hike. I was hot, sweaty, itchy, and now muddy. When I arrived at the beach I was so overwhelmed with relief and happiness, nothing else in the world mattered in that moment and it was truly a paradise. Needless to say I swam to my heart’s content and took a nice nap on the hammock before heading back to the bus.
Last tour I did was to a small village called Minca. It is a small viallge in the Sierra Nevada. It provides a great view of the mountain range as you pass by beautiful rivers and waterfalls. This tour included a coffee tour in La Victoria village.
Colombia is a beautiful country with great history, and amazing culture. Taganga is a hidden treasure to me and I hope more people gets the chance to visit and see this amazing place along with everything else the area has to offer. Tayrona National Park is a piece of paradise all by its self and I know I will be going back at least once more to revisit these wonders.