Twenty-eight hours of traveling later, Susie and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. Our only ammunition for a taxi was $15 and my high school Spanish that I hadn’t practiced since I left the final exam room years ago. “Not to worry,” I told Susie with my ignorant Western ideas. “Everyone speaks English.” I was wrong. By the end of the trip, my Spanish had been given a run for its money, as had my melanin levels.
Cartagena is a an old port city from colonial times. The mixture of Colombian color and European ideology is reflected throughout the architecture. The juxtaposition between the canon-fortified, rustic Old Town and the new, sleek high-rise hotels just across the bay is synonymous with the locals and the tourists. Tourists stick out like sore thumbs: the fashion, the attitude and the pace of life. That’s what makes it so great. A city with a character so innate and a spirit so colorful that it cannot be penetrated. In my eyes, Cartagena is an essential not-to-miss on the tourist trail through the Caribbean Coast.
Las Islas Del Rosario: La Cocotera
A 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena lies an archipelago of Las Islas Del Rosario. Rumors of white beaches and turquoise water made us buzz with excitement. The 6 a.m. alarm would’ve dampened anyone’s holiday spirit; this foul mood was worsened, however, because it was New Year’s Day, and we had drunk our body weight in sangria and whiskey the night before and not slept a wink. The long, bumpy boat ride in the unrelenting heat was the last thing that our dusty hungover carcasses needed. The breeze added no comfort to the nausea.
After what felt like an eternity, the engine on the boat cut, and we drifted toward a dock of a paradisiacal-looking island.
After we had unloaded six heavy rucksacks and one oversized large suitcase, we walked down the boardwalk, unsure of what to expect; the place seemed eerily quiet. One of our group members who was the worst for wear dumped his suitcase at the end of the boardwalk and fell straight to sleep on the sand. The rest of us were left to fend for ourselves at check-in.
We walked into a dark mahogany room, covered in bookshelves and shells on any available surface. Through the window, a large woman beckoned us over; she was standing in front of a large green tent in the garden. On closer inspection, the tent had three large mattresses inside. After some broken conversation, it was established that this was where all seven of us were to sleep. Despite our reservations, our stay at La Cocotera was the most memorable. We spent the days sunbathing, reading and drinking. It was paradise. I would again say that this island is a fantastic place to stop if you have a good book or lots of friends to keep you company.
Santa Marta is a great pivot point in Colombia. We traveled through it several times, and each time we stayed at the Dreamer Hostel. The incredible all-you-can-eat buffet is a fantastic start to the day. The reception works like a well-oiled machine, and the nightly social events they hold make it a relaxed and fun environment. Apart from the hostel, there was not much else to see in Santa Marta.
Contact India Clare at [email protected].