We had recently published a guest post by Sally on tips for solo women travellers. As luck would have it, we got in touch with Natasha Murtagh and weren't we impressed! Natasha is that quintessential solo woman traveler who possesses that adventurous spirit, the courage to go to the unknown and that dash of great humor. So we bring you her extraordinary journey to Colombia in her own words..read on..
Costa Rica to Panama………Here I begin!
I had wiggled my way up through the pacific coast of Costa Rica, into the rain forests of Monteverde, south along the Caribbean, into Panama and down to the tropical archipelago that is Bocas del Toro. After crisping myself up nicely on the white sandy shores there, I had to face the dilemma of how exactly I was going to get into Colombia. There is no road going into Colombia from Panama, you either sail or fly. Anyone that’s traveled the Americas knows that when you cross over from Central America into South, flights hit the roof and can cost you an arm and a leg. Sailing there is like picking straws, you can get yourself a costly but luxurious 5 day sailing trip from Bocas all the way down to Cartagena with a stop off at the amazing San Blas Islands, or you can land yourself on a sail boat with a dodgey French captain who works you like a slave and dumps you at the grotty town of Colon Panama.
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I wasn’t willing to shell out $540 dollars for the 5 day sailing trip nor did I want to pay a $380 flight, so there was one other option- a new ferry that leaves straight from Bocas del Toro every Saturday and goes all the way down to Cartagena over two days with a stop off at Colon Panama which will only cost you $140. It turned out to be a very uncomfortable nights sleep on the floor of the ferry and a very boring and long stop over in Colon, but was definitely the most budget friendly and safe way to get there. Unfortunately I believe this ferry has stopped since February 2015 and I am not sure if they will start it up again.
The ‘Ferry’ tale to Cartagena
The ferry was once owned by an Italian family and left from the Italian shores working it’s way up to Sweden where the ferry was actually built. The large ship was then bought by an American family who decided to start doing this trip from Panama to Colombia and back. Anyway, I ended up befriending a wonderful Swedish boy named David while in Bocas and we caught the boat together. There was an option to pay an extra $60 for a cabin but we chose the ferry floor instead, it wasn’t the worst trip of my life so no complaints there.
We arrived into Cartagena on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately the dock area for the ferry is extremely unappetizing. A port full of cranes, cargo ships and large containers welcomes you to Colombia, not quite the stunning old walled city you see when you look at pictures of Cartagena. However, a short bus ride and a 15 minute walk later and you come off the smooth busy motor way and into the beautiful cobbled streets of Cartagena.
Cartagena- Old World Woven in Cumbia
The giant wall surrounding the city is almost like the wardrobe from Narnia, you walk through it and there you are, in a whole new world. Old cracked building of bright yellows, purples and blues draped in curtains of pink bougainvillea, little cafes on every corner and the constant sound of Cumbia.
Cumbia is the most popular music in Colombia and is described as a mixture of Spanish, Native Colombian and African music, There is something very special about it. The moment I walked into Cartagena I really felt like I was in Colombia, I felt very far from home. It does attract a large tourist population due to its astounding beauty and authentic feel, however they pass through fairly quickly. It is not one of those places that hoards ex-pats escaping their homes.
I spent a week trotting around this city and without a doubt my favorite things about it were the sheer beauty of the place, the constant music ringing through the streets and the wonderful street food you find on nearly every corner. They have a food there called Arepas. It’s like the Salvadorian pupusa, but slightly different. A corn flour tortilla with either an egg or a meat mixture kneaded into it. A quick and easy snack for any traveller wandering the streets
Santa Marta Story and a Quick Warning!
After I spent what I thought was enough time in Cartagena I kept moving South towards Venezuela along the small bit of Caribbean coast that Colombia has. I passed through Baranquilla and into Santa Marta which I’m afraid I don’t have much good to say about. I instantly felt unsafe there, not because of rapists or robbers or thugs, but because of the very unnerving police force there. I would warn any traveler to keep out of trouble while in Santa Marta or even be aware that you could be tricked into a situation where you are vulnerable for arrest and bribery.
Taganga- A Heart Throb of a Village
I went 7 kilometres further along the coast into the small village of Taganga. I had read about this small fishing village, mostly as a reference point for getting to the famous Tyrona National Park, but I ended up staying here for over two weeks. I don’t know what it was exactly about this very charming village of no more that 3,000 Colombians, but it really captured me. I had read it was ‘the ghetto’ of Colombia, but in reality it’s just a very simple village that comes to life on the weekends by Colombian tourists and families. There is one very unreliable ATM there and the public transport is fairly useless, but isn’t that the charm of some places?
It’s a small village perched in a little bay, surrounded by rock and forest. The village itself is on a little hill, so the further up in the village you are, the better the view. I stayed in a wonderful hostel called La Tortuga, which was quite far up in the village away from the water, but my goodness did it give you the most spectacular sunsets.
I spent my first Christmas away from home here in this hostel and one of my fondest memories is watching the sunset on Christmas Eve, this big orange burning ball slipping behind the horizon, half hidden by the mesmerizing sea stacks that poke up from beneath the ocean, little sail boats cutting through the water gently after a days fishing; absolute priceless beauty.
A Hammock Sleep at Tyrona National Park
During the day there are various activities such as diving, fishing and boat trips to Tyrona National Park, one of Colombia’s biggest attractions. Getting there is either a 45 minute boat ride around the bay in very rough choppy waters, or a 45 minute bust ride followed by a 2.5 hours hike through the jungle. Either way it’s a challenge to get to, which only adds to its tropical mysterious charm. I chose to boat it over and hike it back after one nights sleep in a hammock.
There is nothing in the park aside from a very expensive, basic small bar. Prepare food yourself and carry lots of water. You have a choice of sleeping in a tent or a hammock, I chose the hammock as it’s cheaper and what better way to fall asleep than slowly closing your peepers to the stunning view of the ocean crashing against the large boulders that fill the shores. This trip is a must do for anyone thinking of going to Colombia.
Back to the Heart Throb!
During the day in Taganga, I mostly wandered around the white dusty rocky streets, admiring the families playing in their porches, elderly people swinging in chairs and watching the world go by and young lovers dancing together in their kitchens with the doors open. There is definitely some magic here, it’s like a village of Colombians who left to escape the pressure, high pace life and business of the bigger cities. Everything is slowed down here, everything is Colombian, well, what I believe to be the real Colombia. And if you’re lucky enough you might even get invited into a house to have dinner, and I tell you now, it will be one of the best dinners you’ll ever have, just say yes!
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Natasha, all of 24, from Greystones Ireland left home over two years ago. She travelled to Africa, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and now lives in Guatemala where she works as a volcano tour guide, hiking an active volcano of 4,000 metres twice a week! She lives in the mountains of Antigua with her adorable dog Randy! To follow her happening life, visit her website https://thenoseyfox.wordpress.com
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