Chelsea and I landed in Cartagena on Wednesday afternoon and headed straight to our hostel that we already booked in advance (the only pre-determined spot for the entire trip!). Immediately hit with heat waves, we found a taxi at the airport and started our journey to the city. It was a quick 10-minute drive before landing at Hostel Media Luna. We checked in and got settled in our 6-person dorm, then headed to the Old City for some exploring.
“The Old Town” is the walled part of the city that features impressive architecture and bright colors. We wondered around within the city’s confines without a map and took in the sights, sounds and (intense) smells.
Although quite touristy with vendor-lined streets, some hassling and a multitude of hotels, the area still certainly has some authentic charm to it. Although I’ve never been to New Orleans, the city’s flower-filled balconies certainly looked familiar. We wanted a snack since we had dinner plans later, so we stopped an arepa cart to pick two up for 2.000 COP, or about $1.50 USD.
We met up with Alannah and Corey for dinner. Chels and Alannah met in Vietnam and have been travel buddies ever since and Corey, Alannah’s boyfriend, came along for the trip. Because we were all hungry, we didn’t venture that far before choosing a mediocre touristy-like restaurant where I ordered carne asada. We continued to catch up later that night and took part in our hostel’s party on the roof.
One thing I had been interested in doing since first booking our flights was the nearby mud volcano–a half-day trip from Cartagena. I read about it on a few blogs and it seemed like a fun little excursion. We bought our tickets from the hostel across the street because they also offered a bus that would take us from Cartagena to our next destination, Santa Marta, after the excursion. We hopped on the bus at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, after grabbing some smoothies in the neighboring stand and headed an hour north along the coast to el Volcon del Totumo. Once at the site, we climbed the volcano’s stairs in our bathers, and down into the mud pit. (Photos to come) It was so thick and there was no need to swim—you were basically stuck in place. We got a 3.000 COP ($1 USD) 3-minute massage in the pit and walked to the nearby river to clean off with the help of some women with buckets—another 3.000 COP, which I tried to avoid but gave into as I eventually didn’t have a choice. It was a fun trip that got us outside of the city (that didn’t give any of us great first impressions to be honest) and resulted in some funny photos. We bussed back to Cartagena to board on our second trip of the day to Santa Marta.
The four-hour bus ride was a breeze… literally. The air conditioning was on full blast, which we were luckily prepared for thanks to a warning from another backpacker we met at our hostel. Naps were taken, books were read and we passed through a few towns along the way. While in Cartagena that morning, I noticed everyone was wearing yellow or a soccer jersey. Turns out Colombia was playing Peru that night and as we drove through Baranquilla, we passed house after house with crowds surrounding brightly shining TVs. I tried to think if I’d seen such slum-like conditions before. I couldn’t remember but it was interesting that while a family lacked a couch, dining room table or even a proper indoor chair, they had a TV to loudly root for their country’s team.
We arrived in Santa Marta after dark. Luckily one of other bus riders helped us wrangle a taxi with her pristine Spanish to take to Taganga. This was our end destination because everyone else in the group except of me was going to scuba dive. I was more than happy to go along with their plans. Because there were four of us, we figured it would make the most economical sense to split the cost of one. It only ended up being $1.25 each for the 20 minute drive, so I’d say we opted for the right choice. Alannah did her research and found a hostel near the dive shop: Hostel Pelikan. We pulled up and asked for availability, dropped our packs and headed to the beach for some dinner.