Santa Marta, Colombia: beaches and scuba diving 

IMG_4064Santa Marta is a town east of Cartagena still along the beach. It took just under 5 hours from Cartagena in a mini van through Barranquilla. Once I arrived, it was late but I managed to find my hostel using map.me.

My hostel wasn’t in the centre but to be honest, I just wanted to find food and chill at a quiet hostel. That’s exactly what I did. Just round the corner was an outdoor food court, El pueblito with every type of food. There were a couple of vegetarian options including pizza and Mexican food. I order a veggie quesadilla along with an agulia.

Luckily, I was in a 4 bed dorm on my own so I could sprawl out, blast the fan and sleep.
The following day I had a bit of a plan after speaking to the owner about what to do here in Santa Marta.

After waking up pretty early and grabbing a coffee, I walked to the centre of the town about 10 minutes away. I took a bus stating ‘Taganga’ on the front, costing under 2,000 pesos to the beach, taking around 15 minutes to the beach.

IMG_3853My first port of call was to find a dive centre to book scuba diving for the next day, which was easy as there were so many. I inquired in about 5 different centres, where the price ranged from 150,000 pesos to 230,000 peso for a 2 fun dives with all the equipment and snacks. In the end, I booked with ‘scuba master’ because the guy on the desk was so friendly and helpful with good English, and I could see other doing a course there.

After I wandered along the picturesque beach with boats scattered along the sand, and mountains surround the area. I bought a juice from one of the street vendors and sat on the beach, listening to the waves.

As I was getting up, an older guy came and spoken to me as I was looking red, and wanted to make sure I was careful. He invited me to his restaurant in a open hut, away from the sun. I sat with him for about 10 minutes, chatting (I’m sure he just wanted to practice his English) before leaving him and catching a bus back to the main Santa Marta town.

I dawdled along the beach, where the ferries stood still in the port, and through the straight, narrow, cobbled streets with plentiful cafes and restaurants. On the Main Street, there were heaps of clothes stores, looking like they were affordable clothes as well as street vendors at the side of the pavement. I stopped of at a bakery to have a palito and juice, but I was so disappointed as they weren’t freshly made, before returning to the hostel to get away from the heat and have a cold shower.

DCIM122GOPROOnce I had cooled down, I walked to the main road and caught a bus west to Rodadero, which took about 10 minutes. The bus dropped me off on the main road so I strolled to the beach, where there is a long street, parallel to the beach, with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and arts and crafts.

I wandered along the sandy beach barefoot, squishing the sand between my toes and letting the warm sea run over my feet. Majority of the beach was packed full of people, sunbathing and swimming, with the kids playing with the sand and having fun. There were multiple street vendor, walking along, seeing food, massages, drinks, beach equipment and some souvenirs. I did purchase a delicious bread type food with cheese and just sat staring at the rough sea. Just behind the sand is a row of palm trees to get shade as well as musicians playing a variety of Spanish music with different instruments. Each end of the long strip of beach was a lot quieter with a view of the high glass building and the next town.

After, as it was so hot, I bought a McDonald’s mixto cono with vanilla and arequipe ice-cream before chilling under the palm trees. Before leaving, I had a beer, of course águila at one of the tiendas then took a bus back to my hostel.

In the evening, I went for pizza close to my hostel and just chilled before going to bed.
The next day, I had to be up early, around 6.30am as I was going scuba diving. I was so excited as I hadn’t been in several months. After my morning shower, and packing the stuff I needed for the trip, I strolled into town to catch a bus to Taganga.

When I reached the beach, I realised I was earlier than I needed to be. I went into a bakery to buy a cheese palito with difficulty as the guy serving was either drunk or his Spanish was so different to others that I just didn’t understand him at all. I sat on a wall looking at the sea, where I bought a tinto from a passer-by vendor, and had breakfast gazing at the water. Considering it was 7.30 in the morning, there was a lot of people and even some drama; two guys having a fight.

I entered the scuba diving shop at 7.45am, where I met my instructor, who was from Bogota. He gave me all the equipment I needed and I tried everything on for size; wetsuit, flippers, BCD, googles and wet boots. I changed into my wetsuit and prepared myself to go before having a basic briefing, going over signals, places and safety.

IMG_4019Soon enough, we walked down to beach with all the gear and hopped in a boat, full of other divers mostly doing a course, whereas I was doing a fun dive. It was about a 15 minute ride to the Isla , where we then put on all our equipment and did the safety check before sitting on the side of the boat and toppling in backwards.

It was time to go. I want so excited about what we would see and just swimming and breathing underwater. My aim was to improve my buoyancy this time so that I control where I want to be without moving my hand rapidly. With my instructor’s thumb down, he was indicating to slowly descend, letting the air out of my BCD. On this dive there wasn’t a piece of robe to hold on to, to lower myself down so my guide helped me. Breathe in, breathe out, pinch my nose to equalise, repeat. We were down the bottom of that level, where we swam around, staring at all the sea creatures and coral. It was beautiful. Every time, it fascinates me how there is a whole new whole under the sea, getting on with their own lives. There were severally levels and cliff sides, where we ended up going 26m below sea level, which is my personally best so far. We saw trumpet fish, angel fish, porkie pine, puffer fish, dotted moray eel, sandgounard fish and some others.

Time flew and with air slowly disappearing, we suddenly came to the surface. I wasn’t quite expecting it as we had only been under for 40 minutes and I still had air in my task.

Waving our arms, the boat picked us up from our spot, where I took off my flippers and tank, then unsuccessfully heaved myself onto the boat with the help of others. As we waited on the boat, the air was feeling chilly but also with the bright sun, we ate some snacks of mango and cake and drank some water.

After about a 40 minutes break and driving to our next spot for our second dive, we did the same process again of equipment on, check, back roll into the water and down we go. It was pretty similar to the first dive except that this time the current was strong, so my guide grabbed my hand, not to lose me. Swimming around, there were cow fish, queen fish, rainbow fish, colourful coral, butterfly fish and lots of others.  It was amazing. Again we were under the water about 40 minute before surfacing and jumping bac on the boat.

IMG_3976I swear, every time I do two dives, I am bursting for the toilet and my body refuses to go in the sea. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for the others and the journey back was only 15 minute, where I literally hopped off the boat and ran to the shop. Then I changed back into my normal clothes, filled in my logbook and thanked my instructor.

After, I walked along the beach to find a place to eat, which wasn’t hard as it was packed full of restaurants and cafes. I wanted to find the guy from yesterday and eat at his restaurant but I couldn’t find him or recognise the place as they were all so similar. In the end, I ate at a restaurant, where a lady was promoting it. They could give me a veggie dish, which included coconut rice, a curried pasta, beans, plantain, avocado and salad. It actually was full of flavour. Sometimes I find Colombian food quite bland.

On the way back to the bus I bumped into the guy from yesterday. Typical. Then I took a bus back to near my hostel. I was feeling so hot and sticky by now so I had a shower to cool down then chilled and spoke to my Mum as it had started to rain. I needed to check out as I was changing hostels to meet my friend coming from Cali.

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Once the rain had stopped, I walked through the town to the other hostel I was staying out, where I could check in. Then I met a friend for coffee, who is from New Zealand but I met her in Thailand and I knew she was doing a similar programme, teaching in Santa Marta at the same time as me. Such a small world. We went to a café, called Ikaro Cafe, which is predominantly serves only vegan food and drink. In Santa Marta, there are many vegetarian and vegan places, which makes it a great place for me and other foreigners because Colombia doesn’t seem to understand vegetarianism. I had a latte with almond milk, which I haven’t had in a long time as there are normally no alternatives to ‘normal’ milk. We chatted for ages about our programmes and the country and what we were doing next. The last time I saw her was when I was in Auckland, new Zealand.

IMG_3871 (1)Then we walked back to my hostel and bid our farewells, When entering the hostel, I saw my other friend I was meeting up with then travelling with at reception with her sister and friend. I let them sort themselves out before wandering the streets to find food. Nearby, there are so many restaurants and bars of different kinds, with a variety of choices and prices. Along the cobbled streets are street entertainer and promoters with pretty light, brightening up the area. With all our different needs, we had to find a suitable place. We found a fast food, kind of place that served mostly Mexican food. I ordered a pizza like arepa. Basically, when it’s your turn, you go up to the counter and tell them what you want your wrap, taco to be filled with or in my case, what I wanted to pile on top of my arepa. There was a selection of meats, vegetables, salads, rice, beans, cheeses and sauces to choose from, where they gave you a generous portion on each. My food was super tasty, filling me up perfectly.

Once we were ready to leave, we dawdled along the beach at night with some stores, then wandered the streets to find some stuff we would need for Tayrona National Park, which was where we were going early the next day. You can obviously buy food from the park but we were told that it would be more expensive. Also, we wanted to be sneaky and bring alcohol in, which was forbidden. We took in dark rum and poured into energy bottles but you could also buy aguadiente or vodka and put it in water bottles.

When we were back at our hostel, we climbed the stairs to the balcony to claim our free beer and relaxing before heading to bed. It was more difficult to sleep than expected as we were staying at a party hostel, which meant that the music was blaring and people were around drinking, with no soundproof walls. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The next morning, we got up really early to go to Tayrona National Park.

Where I stayed:

Doña Cumbia Hostel – this is a family run hostel, a little walk from Santa Marta Centre. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. The hostel was comfy with individual fans for the beds. There weren’t enough plugs in the bedrooms and there were alot of mosquitoes around. It had a bar and a nice outdoor area located close to the beach and food places.

La Brisa Loca – Located in the centre with an indoor swimming pool and lots of dorms. I found the staff weren’t helpful or interested in their job but they spoke good English. This is know as a party hostel so it has a bar and dance area on the room with a view of the city. If you don’t want to party then trying to sleep is difficult with loud music and vibrations that can be heard from your rooms.

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