Taganga is a little bit up the coast from Santa Marta. Diving is cheap in Taganga, probably because there is nothing extraordinary to see, but it has some nice dive sites nonetheless. We went diving with Santa Marta Dive and Adventure dive center — they are a small company with clean gear and a great team of instructors and divemasters.
Accommodation: The Dreamer Hostel, Santa Marta
Must: Scuba dive
The drive up to our hostel in Minca would make the Trans-Siberian Highway feel like a newly made tarmac — it’s bumpy. We stayed at Casa Elemento, a hostel located in the mountains above Minca, surrounded by dense jungle and home to the self-proclaimed largest hammock in the world. We disembarked the jeep with sweaty backs and a crown of fresh bruises from the consistent head bumping.
Two tips we heard: First, you can take a jeep into the city of Minca and then take a 15-minute motorcycle ride up the mountain to the hostel. But we met two people who fell off said motorbikes on their slippery journey up. I suggest you pay the extra $10-ish and go up the whole way in a car. Second, as a UC Berkeley student, blessed in our current heat wave, you shouldn’t even need a reason to get that Patagonia gear out, but it gets cold at night, so bring layers.
We also took a coffee plantation tour — I highly recommend this. Not only does it support the local school and plantation, but it is also a good way to gain a deeper understanding of Colombian life, which can be hard when you are on the tourist trail (side note: make sure someone in your group speaks Spanish). The plantation workers do truly back-breaking work — they carry enormous sacks of beans up and down the humid mountains, day in and day out. That’s what made it even more impressive when they thrashed us at soccer after work. The men were gentle and kindly cajoling whenever they scored —all they wanted to do was laugh, and their happiness was contagious. Minca is an incredible place to visit, and I don’t know what is more beautiful — the scenery or the attitude of the people.
Accommodation: Casa Elemento, Minca
Must: Go on a coffee plantation tour and stargaze on the biggest hammock in the world.
Mood: Reconnected with nature
An hour bus ride away from Santa Marta (be prepared to stand the bus ride or take a car), Palomino is a laid-back town, with a nice selection of restaurants and hostels and no ATMs. Tubing down the Palomino River has become a bit of a must on the Colombia tourist checklist, and it is obvious why — it’s serene and beautiful, and you can just doze off in your tube while you glide down the river for two hours. Lush green jungle lines the river, and the sun makes you hot enough that the cool water is refreshing.
Accommodation: Palomino Breeze Hostel
Must: Tube down the Palomino River
Mood: Beers and salsa
Tayrona National Park
We hadn’t booked any accommodations, so we were a bit rushed to find somewhere. I was very ill this day. What I saw in the hourlong walk through the park to our hostel was gorgeous, but the most memorable part was the 16-hour feverish nap I took directly after arriving, before being woken to be told we had to leave again.
Accommodation: My feverish haze did not register (sorry)
Must: Hike the many trails on offer
Mood: Cheap and cheerful
Colombia should be at the top of everyone’s list to travel to next. Its eclectic topography and scenery, from sandy beaches to steep jungle, would make anyone fall in love with it. What stood out for me the most was the kindness of the people — always wanting to help me practice my Spanish and share stories with us. Colombia has something to offer everyone: nightlife in bustling old towns, serene calm on the islands and hard treks inland. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who will listen.
Contact India Clare at [email protected].