Colombia by Land
18 January 2018
As unpleasant as Colombia is by sea, it is a delightful place to visit by land. Santa Marta is a sprawling city with a popular sea front. We were told right away by the marina that Santa Marta people are “happy and safe.” They were all of that and more. Not much English is spoken so we spent some time with “Spanish for Cruisers” an excellent language tutor for us. Restaurant prices are very reasonable, even the excellent higher end restaurants. Street vendors crowd the major streets, all welcoming. We often heard, “Welcome to Colombia.”
The working part of town was an interesting 12 block walk. The blocks in this area seemed to specialize in a certain trade. Several blocks had small, auto parts shops. Cars parked in front were jacked up, replacing brakes, mufflers and suspension parts. There were fruit and vegetable areas and some with fresh meat or fish. Fruit and vegetables were very fresh and great prices.
Lisa and I were admiring a very large tree. An older man brought a handful of unusual seeds, gesturing that they were from the tree. I wanted to find an aluminum pole to replace the whisker pole. I received a lot of directions and help but couldn't find the right piece of tubing.
Minca is an area in the Sierra Nevada mountains, above Santa Marta. There is a rushing river through this area with many falls. Coffee farms and nature preserves make this area great for eco tourism (whatever that is). We booked two nights in Casa de Azul, a basic hotel with 10 rooms on the Minca River. This place is basic! But it was clean, served nice meals and had delightful staff. They welcomed Sophie and she was on her best behavoir. Chris and Karen from Skabenga were with us as well as new friends, Ian and Cathy from Sea Cloud. We had a great time hiking in the area. One day we hiked 8 miles and gained about 2,000 feet of elevation. We were whipped! The only way down was to walk or ride on the back of motorcycles. Six tiny motorcycles (150cc) arrived to carry us back to the hotel. This was a thrill ride over rough dirt roads. My driver didn't put a wheel wrong. I kept calling him “Rossi” and he would go a little faster.
Cartagena is the oldest Spanish port in the new world. Gold from the area was loaded onto ships here, bound for Spain. The British, French and Dutch pirates knew this well and regularly attacked Cartagena. The Spanish built a walled and fortified city to protect their treasure. Here they built a thriving and opulent city with cathedrals and beautiful parks. This is a major tourist area and we enjoyed exploring here.
Just outside the walled city was the village of Gethsemani. This was where the poor people lived who worked in the walled city. We stayed in a small hotel here. Gethsemani has become the bohemian area of Cartagena and we loved it! There was a small square near our hotel where local residents as well as tourists congregate every evening. It was a delightful, neighborhood scene.
Colombia is noted for emeralds. I researched emeralds online at the marina and was armed with some basic information. Lisa and I shopped extensively for just the right earrings. Yes, we found them!
It was well worth the 4 hour bus ride from Santa Marta to Cartagena. If you believe Colombia is a dangerous place over-run by drug lords, think again. It is a beautiful place to visit......by land, not so much by sea.
Our recommendation for cruisers sailing from the Eastern Caribbean to Panama would be to skip Colombia. Spend all the time possible in Los Roques, Venezuela. Fly to Colombia from Bonaire, Curacao or Panama. Hotels, meals and travel are quite reasonable in Colombia. You will save the $1000 in marina fees for a marina that will fill your boat with sand and dust. But do visit this delightful country.