Many people want to add Cartagena to their Colombia itinerary. The city has a tremendous reputation, there are many delicious restaurants and upscale hotels. However, you probably don’t know the truth about the Cartagena Beaches.
The Cartagena beaches nearby the city are unpleasant.
Fortunately, there are some cool alternatives to find a lovely white-sand spot. Read this post to find out where are the best beaches nearby Cartagena.
Cartagena Beaches: What you must know
Beaches within Cartagena: Boca Grande and La Boquilla are surrounded by skyscrapers, covered by plastic chairs and invaded by street sellers. Avoid them.
Tierra Bomba: It’s an island nearby where you can find some good beach clubs.
Rosario Islands: Archipelago nearby Cartagena where you will find your dreamy white-sand beach. Depending on the season, they can be overcrowded. Stay overnight if you can.
Isla Baru: The most famous Rosario island. There is a fabulous beach, but it’s always crowded. The easiest way to get there is to take a shuttle from Cartagena.
Isla Grande: Outstanding Rosario island with lots of Eco-resorts. Stay there to enjoy the most beautiful beaches. My favorites are Carolina Island and Isabella.
Day trips: Many beach tours sold in Cartagena aren’t great. I would recommend this one if you don’t have time to spend 1 or 2 nights on the Cartagena islands.
Isla Cholon: It’s a famous party place on the weekend that you can only reach by boat.
A. The beaches Boca Grande and Laguito in Cartagena (+)
It’s the wealthiest district of Cartagena. With the tall skyscrapers, it looks like a little Miami. There are fancy restaurants, boring Cartagena beach resorts, and tourists living on Mac Donald’s diet. In front of the buildings, there is the beach Boca Grande. Hundreds of Plastics chairs and umbrella are waiting for the lazy tourists who refuse to walk more than 50m before getting in the water. At the end of the peninsula, there is Laguito beach – similar.
Yes, I’m not in love with the two closest Cartagena beaches.
B. The beach La Boquilla in Cartagena (+)
La Boquilla is a little fisherman village just after Cartagena. There is no skyscraper this time but the Boquilla beach is not pleasant, and the sea is often murky. Still, it will be less touristic, and you can book an excellent tour to go fishing with locals among the mangroves.
In restaurants, there are many seafood options. Be careful, some unscrupulous owners try to increase the bills when white tourists with blond hair are eating. A plate should cost you around 20 – 30 000 COP.
C. The beaches Manzanillo del Mar, Marbella, and Crespo in Cartagena (+)
The beaches Manzanillo del Mar, Marbella, and Crespo, are between The Old City center and La Boquilla. It will be the same Colombia beaches than La Boquilla without the mangroves at the end.
Also, the currents can be dangerous around Cartagena. Don’t swim too far.
Best Day trips to fantastic beaches near Cartagena
Don’t stress. It’s not because I’m telling you that Cartagena beaches suck that you can’t have a great time with a cocktail in hands and your butt on a white-sand Colombia beach.
There are lovely islands nearby Cartagena. Ready to become a pirate?
A] The beaches in Isla Tierra Bomba | Day trip from Cartagena
Where is isla Tierra Bomba (+)
Tierra Bomba is an island 10 min away from Cartagena. You can take a boat by yourself in Bocagrande in front of the hospital. It’s quite big, and there are four little towns on it.
The best option is to get to Punta Arena. It’s where the loveliest beaches are. The water and the sands are still not heavenly, but you’re surrounded by trees instead of buildings. And the street vendors are less annoying :).
The other beaches are: Linda, Palmarito, Chiringuito and Marina
B] Isla Baru, Playa Blanca beach | 1 or 2-day trip from Cartagena
There, the beaches are beautiful with white sand and a turquoise sea. But there is another hic. It’s a famous place. It will be crowded. However, there is always a solution to avoid people. You just have to do it differently, and you will love Playa Blanca beach.
How to get to Isla Baru from Cartagena | 3 ways (+)
There are three different ways to arrive at Playa Blanca beach.
C] Playa Azul, Isla Cholon, Rosario Islands | Day trip from Cartagena
Lovely Cartagena beach a little further than Playa Blanca beach. You can book a full-day private boat tour in Cartagena or with the hotels near Cholon. There are many packages Isla Baru+ PIaya Azul. I believe it’s a private island so I don’t know if you can hang out by yourself. But it seems lovely, and there is almost no street vendor!
D] Playa libre, Isla Grande Colombia, Rosario islands | 3-day trip from Cartagena
The Rosario Archipelago is a set of 30 islands. Many are privates or protected, but fortunately, it’s not the case for Isla Grande in Colombia.
Isla Grande is a little paradise. The tiny islands around are fantastic, and they belong to the National park and reef of Rosario. It’s the best spot for snorkeling near Cartagena! And the lush vegetation of mangroves is an idyllic habitat for many birds.
Boats leave from the tourist port between 8 and 10 am and it takes 1h. Be careful, most of them are Rosario island tours. I don’t recommend it. They offer you to visit an oceanarium where they keep poor animals and to swim in a natural aquarium – where there are more Colombians trying not to sink than fishes. And you won’t go on Isla Grande.
If you’re not interested in the Cartagena beaches above, there is one last option. Grab a bottle of rum, a dead parrot, an inflatable buoy – I’ve got a preference for mermaids – and go to explore the San Bernardo Islands.
For that, you need more than two days, but it’s worth it – It’s 2-3 hours away from Cartagena. Isla Mucura and Isla Tintipan are superb, these Colombian beaches and landscapes are better than what you can imagine.
And Casa En El Agua is loads of fun if you’re looking for parties.
I know it seems odd. Before Caño Cristales, I thought rainbow rivers were only in the imagination of three years old kids, with unicorns and flying bunnies.
But in Colombia, magic realism is more than a style of fiction used by famous writers.
Here, nature has no limit.
Read our travel guide to find out about the most beautiful river in the world.
River of five colors: What you must know
Where: You can admire this mind-blowing show in Caño Cristales. The national park is close to La Macarena.
When: The national park is open from mid-June till the end of November.
What is it: An aquatic plant grows in the bed river during the raining season. Its color changes because of the sun, and it makes the river looks like a liquid rainbow.
How to get to La Macarena: You can fly from Bogota with Satena. Some local agencies organize charters from Cali and Medellin.
How to visit Caño Cristales: It’s a lot easier to use the service of a local agency. Entrances per day are limited, and visitors must register at the Centro Ambiante. You can’t get in without a local guide. Geotours can help you to organize everything.
Is Caño cristales safe: Yes, 100%.
Where to stay: The accommodation will be included if you book a travel package. Otherwise, I recommend you one of the following hotels:
Macarenia Clavigera is an aquatic plant – Not an algae! – that grows in the bed river of Caño Cristales during the raining season – from June to November.
The color of this plant change according to its sun exposure. It goes from Green to Brown – When it’s burned.
Hence, the 5 colors of Rio Cristal are:
Plus, the sedimentary rocks add a 6th color, the Yellow!
2# Where is the river of 5 colors?
Within the Meta department, in the middle of nowhere.
Caño Cristales is located in the National Park Natural Serranía de la Macarena.
It was an old FARC’s stronghold for a few years. Roads and tourism infrastructures aren’t ideal :). And yes, it’s now 100% safe to visit. Read our safety post about Colombia to get a better understanding of the political situation of the country.
It’s not easy to get there.
Let’s speak about your different options.
How to travel to the river of five colors
First of all, you need to arrive in La Macarena. The easiest way is to take a small plane from Bogota or book a seat in a charter through a local agency.
1# How to fly to la Macarena
1. Flights from Bogota to La Macarena (+)
You don’t like buses and don’t want to book a tour?
Then, you will have to take off from Bogota to reach La Macarena.
As usual, Satena is the only company that you can use.
Flight Bogota – La Macarena| Duration : 1h20 | Price: Around 240 000 COP / 80 $
Sat at the back of the jeep, I could feel the excitement slowly growing inside me. I was looking all around like a kid while my butt played some drum beats on the car’s bunch. It was a jarring ride indeed.
Read the rest of our field trip in Caño Cristales (+)
1 hour later, we arrived at the park entrance. Militaries were playing cards and gave us a quick glimpse. We were among the last visitors of the year and they didn’t even check out our bags.
It allowed us to save some precious time within the park as we had to be back before 4 pm.
The trail is only 9 km long, but it takes time to appreciate the numerous spots. We knew we would not come back any time soon!
It was an easy hike through the savanna del Parque La Macarena. Ronald led us to the different highlights of the park while communicating with the other guides. Thus, there are not dozens of people in the same spot.
Caño Escondido and Cascada la Virgen were the appetizers. We could observe the pink aquatic plants, but the water was too shallow – the end of the season – to appreciate the show.
Moreover, the pictures I found on the internet were way too edited to match with reality.
I had to admit I was a bit disappointed at first.
People should stop lying on their pictures! And we always should below our expectations 🙂
Then, after our lunch break at Cascada Los Pianos, everything changed.
The sun finally decided to show up while we were above Tapete Largo. In a second, all the colors became brighter. The contrast between the green of the vegetation, the blue of the sky, the yellow from the bed river, and the pink colors of the plants was astonishing.
We stopped at another waterfall – Los Cuarzos – for a quick dip on our way to Tapete Rojo.
After that, it was an outburst of colors. Tapete Rojo is to Caño Cristales what Guernica is to Picasso. A masterpiece.
It was my favorite spot to appreciate the river of five colors.
And that was not all!
Like in San Jose del Guaviare, the bed river is made of sedimentary rocks. Throughout the years, the erosion caused by the water has created mesmerizing sceneries.
Los Ochos and the Coliseo are two of the spots where we could admire Mother Nature’s work.
Then it was time to get back to La Macarena. But not without enjoying a last swim in the clear water of Piscina Cristal.
Are there other highlights nearby la Macarena?
Yes, the river of the five colors is the main tourist attraction. But, it’s not the only one.
Have fun in Caño Piedra, a place located 8 km away from the town La Macarena | Half a day | 60 000 COP – Round Trip
Drive in the savanna at the end of the day to contemplate gorgeous sunsets | A couple of hours
Enjoy a boat trip to the Raudal Angosturas on the Guayabero river. You will be able to spot birds, caimans, and turtles | Full day trip
Organize an expedition to Caño Canoa – Huge Waterfalls | 1 or 2-day trip | 150 000 COP for the transport | Field trip here
How much does it cost to admire the river of five colors?
It’s time to decide if you want to do it with or without a tour package.
1# La Macarena Without a Tour Package
Do you have plenty of time and ready to cross the savanna with your machete?
In that case, you could try to reach La Macarena on your own and organize your tours to the river of five colors once you’re there.
Get the numbers and calculations (+)
Flight: 80 $ *2 = 160 $
Accommodations: 20 $ * 4 nights – You arrive on Wednesday and you leave on Sunday = 80 $
Meals (L & D) = 12 $ * 5 days = 60 $
3 Tax Entrances = 131 000 COP / 45 $
Guide + Transport to La Macarena = 50 $ – You will join a group
Other activities (Caño Piedra & Raudal Agosturas) = 90 $
A traveler might spend at least 485 $ (5 days) to visit La Macarena and Caño Cristales.
You might be able to reduce the cost if you take the bus to reach La Macarena. But, you will need more days to organize your trip.
2# La Macarena with a Package Tour
Like San Jose del Guaviare, it’s financially interesting to book a tour to admire the river of five colors, especially if you don’t have many days to travel to Colombia.
In average, a package tour with Geotour to La Macarena will cost 575 USD for 4 days | 625 USD for 5 days
We used their services to explore La Macarena and we had an excellent time with them.
What does this package include (+)
A direct flight ticket from Cali, Medellin or Bogota – Round Trip
Pick up at the airports
1/2 day trip exploring the Savanna around la Macarena
Day trip to Caño Cristales
Day trip to the river Guayabero to reach the Raudal Angosturas and observe wildlife
1/2 day trip to admire the sunrise in the Savanna around la Macarena
3 nights in a Finca with a swimming pool and games
3 meals per day
All the transportations and taxes
Where to stay in La Macarena
You will have to find a place to stay if you want to visit Caño Cristales on your own.
We have visited different places to help you to make the right choice.
Hostel Caño Cristales is the only hostel in La Macarena. The building is new and it will be your best chance to meet the few other backpackers. Hammocks are at disposal so you can rest after your expeditions.
El Punto Verde is a nice hotel in the center of La Macarena. Lovely green alleys surround the different cabanas nestled near the river. Rooms are simple, comfortable and clean. Pleasant staff. They do their best to be eco-friendly. Also, there is a pool where you can relax after your excursions.
Albeit authentic, the town of La Macarena isn’t appealing. If your budget allows it, you’ll get a better experience if you immerse yourself in nature. La Manigua is an ecolodge located 20 min away on the Guayabero river bank. Their wooden cabins are well-built and blend perfectly in their environment. They also offer package tours.
There are not many options, and you will probably die if you’re vegan.
Every restaurant will offer a menu del dia for less than 12 000 COP – It’s a bit more expensive for dinner. I write down the most famous ones.
List of our favorite restaurants (+)
Punto Verde serves a tasteful buffet to their guests for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Join them and make new friends! – 16 000 COP / pers
Caporal is a Colombian Llaneros restaurant in La Macarena. Huge tables and lots of overcooked meats. – Around 20 000 COP / pers | Every day from 6 am to 11 pm
Aramis is THE local restaurant. The menu del dia is massive and you will have to roll from your seat to quit this place. – Around 14 000 COP / pers | Every day from 6 am to 8 pm
Cafe Litho is a cozy coffee in the center of la Macarena. The decoration is fantastic and would make jealous most of the trendy-hipster bars in Paris/Berlin. Stop there to enjoy a good coffee and delicious pastries for 1 or 2 dollars. They also serve various meals 😉 | Open from 6 pm.
Is it Mandatory to book a Package Tour to travel to the River of Five Colors?
A place like San Jose del Guaviare is not easy to prospect. We couldn’t find any information on the internet.
Where to start? Who should we meet? How is the bus?
Nothing, nada, nitchts.
Ten years ago, San Jose del Guaviare was a FARC’s stronghold. Even the government didn’t want to get there.
But the political situation has changed a lot in Colombia. And now, this town is a paradise filled with secret gems, colorful rivers, Colombian cowboys, and aguardiente.
San Jose del Guaviare: What you must know
Where: San Jose del Guaviare is in the Guaviare department, South of Bogota.
When: Although you can visit San Jose del Guaviare all year round, some highlights are more worth-seeing during the raining season.
What can you expect: Many stunning sites surround San Jose del Guaviare. You can admire a river that turns red during the rainy season (like in Caño Cristales), unravel mysterious rock paintings, observe pink dolphins, and swim in various natural pools and waterfalls.
Is it touristic: Not yet as this destination has recently opened to the public. It’s the ideal occasion to stay in an authentic Colombian town!
How to get there: There are direct flights from Bogota and Villavicencio. You can also take a 10h night bus from Bogota.
How to plan your activities: You need to use a private vehicle to head to the different touristic sights. The easiest way to use the service of a local travel agency. We went with Geotours Guaviare. They did an amazing job.
Is San Jose del Guaviare safe: Yes! We never felt insecure during our stay, even late at night, when heading back to our hotel.
Where to stay: The lodging offer in San Jose del Guaviare isn’t exceptional.
Hotel portico suite | With swimming pool and Air-con
How many days: You need at least 4 days in total to visit the main highlights. Save time by heading back to Bogota with a night bus.
Our best tips: Although you might save a few dollars by planning everything on your own, the experience will be a lot better (and easier) if you book a full package. Ask the agency if you can join a group tour. You will get more possibilities if you contact them for a few months in advance.
We planned to take the boat all the way to La Macarena. Unfortunately, there was a strike that day. So we had to take a boat then a jeep to La Macarena. The ride was insane! Plus, we had a massive hangover from the previous night…
The town of San Jose del Guaviare isn’t appealing, but we enjoyed a lot our stay there.
First of all, the town is 100% safe. We could hang out with our cameras and phones without being worried to use them.
Second, there are many bars, clubs, and restaurants. We liked to spend the evening with our crew and the staff of Geotours. It’s perfect to create bonds while sharing beers and histories.
I will tell you about restaurants and bars in San Jose del Guaviare a bit further in this article
1# El Centro Cultural de San Jose del Guaviare
Some travelers don’t want to book their activities in advance. I wouldn’t recommend to do it in San Jose del Guaviare, especially if you’re a small group (1-2 people) because it can be a lot more expensive. Indeed, the local travel company won’t be able to add you to another group at the last minute.
But, if you don’t mind to pay a private tour, you shouldn’t have too much problem to find someone.
Once in San Jose, go to El centro Cultural to get the best information about the tours and trustful guides.
Centro Cultural | Opening hours: Monday to Friday | 8 am – 6 pm
#2 Cool things to do in town
There are not many things to do in town. But we still found 2 fun activities:
1. Wake up at 5h30 am and take pictures of the fish market.
2. Drink a beer and observe the sunset on the Guaviare river
From boat-bar at the port
From the bar El Mirador
#3 The different day trips from San Jose del Guaviare
I’m sure this place will be soon a booming touristic attraction in Colombia.
Located between the Llanos and the Amazonia, San Jose del Guaviare offers various landscapes such as an immense savanna, a deep jungle, endless river banks, and so on.
You need to be a bit organized to visit the maximum of these gorgeous places in a minimum of time.
First but not least, you have to book a guide and vehicle.
All these places are outside San Jose del Guaviare and there is no public transportation to get there.
We used the service of Geotour, and there were awesome 🙂
1 - Cerro Azul and the River Guayabero (+)
Located two and a half hours away from San Jose del Guaviare, Cerro Azul is one of the main highlights in the area.
There, an old and unknown civilization drawn hundreds of pictograms on 2 large facades.
The drawings are perfectly well preserved. And that’s weird! Because they are subject to every climatic condition like rain and heat.
Caño Sabana is the little sister of Caño Cristales. There, from June to November, an aquatic plant called Macarenia Clavigera grows in the bed river.
The color changes from Pink to Purple according to sun exposure. The result is astonishing.
On the way to observe this marvelous river, local tours give you the opportunity to start the hike a bit further so you can admire the Puerta de Orion, a huge rock – 12 m high – in the middle of the savanna.
Then, you can chill at the waterfalls in Tranquilandia, hoping to spot a few monkeys.
4 - The intriguing pozos naturales (+)
Back in time, El Guaviare was just a small part of a huge ocean. But things are never set in stone with Mother Nature.
Nowadays, the water has disappeared and made rooms for a soil composed of sedimentary rocks.
Because of the erosion, holes occurred through the ages in a bed river located 30 min away from San Jose del Guaviare. They look like natural jacuzzis. Moreover, some of them are deep enough that you can jump in it!
5 - Serrania de la Lindosa and Los Túneles (+)
As I told you, flows, rains and tides have shaped the landscapes of El Guaviare.
Serrania de la Lindosa and Los Tuneles are 2 perfect places if you want to admire the work of mother nature.
There, massive rocks create a mysterious atmosphere with sceneries comparable at an old abandoned city or a secret maze.
Where to stay in San Jose del Guaviare
The climate is very humid in this area of Colombia. Book a hotel with a pool and air-con if you can’t deal with the heat.
Panorama hotel: It’s one of the cheapest hotels you will be able to find in town. The family in charge is always smiling and ready to help. Rooms are simple but more than acceptable for the price.
Hostel Guaviare soul: The owner had the great idea to turn her mother’s house into a hostel where travelers can meet and share. Private rooms and Dorms. They also sell tours.
Portico hotel: A pleasant hotel, with air-con in the rooms. As in every hotel in Colombia, the soundproofing is inexistent. Refreshing swimming pool.
Aeroporto hotel: The value for money isn’t exceptional, but it’s still the best hotel in town. The rooms are moderns and comfortable. Guests can also relax in the pools and the gardens.
Where to go out in San Jose del Guaviare
San Jose del Guaviare isn’t a big city. You won’t have any issue to stroll in the zona rosa to pick your restaurants and bars.
1# Where to eat in San Jose del Guaviare
List of our favorite restaurants (+)
Nomadas was my favorite restaurant for the night. They serve different delicious meals around 22 000 COP. No menu del día.
El Dorado de Omar is a perfect restaurant if you wanna eat a big fish with your menu del día. Around 18 000 COP
Carnes y Carnes is for meat lovers. The small portion is already huge! They only open at night. Around 20 000 COP
El Mirador del Barquito in the Cultural center is our little tasty secret. The view on the river is gorgeous and the food fantastic. Get your Menu del día for only 6 500 COP!
El Ranchon is one of the upscale restaurants in town but the menu del dia is affordable. 10 000 COP
2# Where to Go out in San Jose del Guaviare
Bars and clubs are open every day in San Jose del Guaviare. But the inhabitants usually go out on Saturdays.
The Zona Rosa – party district – is composed of 2 streets near the main square. Follow the lights and music beats, you can’t miss it.
List of our favorite bars (+)
Banana Disco club and La Cantina are 2 funky clubs with a mix of Salsa, Merengue and Reggaeton. A bottle of aguardiente cost 70 000 COP and there is no cover.
Also, enjoy the sunset on the river Guayabero from EL Mirador or El Barquito Sol Y Arena. Cheap Beers.
And in case you wanna drink a good coffee or juice, don’t hesitate to pay a visit to Marroqui cafe. Their internet is fast!
Can you visit San Jose del Guaviare on your own?
The answer is yes.
You can book your accommodations online and pay a bus ticket at the bus terminal in Bogota.
Once you are in San Jose del Guaviare, go to the Cultural center and find a guide who will organize your day trips – you can’t do otherwise. You’ll also need to pay for a private vehicle.
By doing so, you will need more days to visitthe main highlights. Also, it might be quite expensive if you can’t join another group.
Is it cheaper to book an all-included tour to visit San Jose del Guaviare?
This is the option we chose.
We had a great experience with Geotours Guaviare and we are happy to consider them as partners.
There are other local travel agencies in San Jose del Guaviare, and I’m sure some of them are doing a great job too.
Tip: Don’t book your tour with a national travel agency. Try to find a local travel agency in town. Thus, you will avoid paying an intermediary.
1# How much do you need to visit San Jose del Guaviare without a tour?
Let’s say you are a couple who wants to explore San Jose del Guaviare 4 days / 3 nights
Considering you arrive at the last minute, you’ll have to stay one extra day and night to organize your trip.
Moreover, it will be hard to join another small group – As it’s not very touristic yet.
In less than 15 years, the safety situation in Colombia has totally changed. San Jose del Guaviare is a perfect example of it.
Once a dangerous FARC stronghold, it’s nowadays a secret paradise full of undiscovered gems. Travel to San Jose Del Guaviare to admire rock paintings, chill in natural jacuzzis, swim with dolphins, take fantastic pictures of a purple-pinkish river and wander through unreal landscapes made of vegetations and intriguing stones.
Read our 5-day adventures in San Jose del Guaviare with Geotour.
We added it to our excel planning – Adrien loves it. It was set in stone. On the 10th of November, it will be.
But 2 weeks, 3 liters of aguardiente, and 2 Salsa classes later, we messed up with the dates. We thought the tour would start the 11th instead of the 10th. When we realized our mistake, it was too late. We had to take two night-buses in a row to arrive on time in San Jose del Guaviare.
The night bus Medellin – Bogota with Rapido Oacha was surprisingly comfortable – We booked the VIP seat thanks to the app Red Bus. There were luxurious and spacious seats, with individual screens to watch movies.
However, it was still a rolling fridge…
Once in Bogota, we spent the day in the hostel La Pinta in the Zona G. For the food addicts, this district is a true paradise.
Then, it was time to take our second night bus.
What an experience!
Shitty seats, no space, no toilets, it was the opposite of the previous one.
Day 1 in San Jose del Guaviare: Mysterious Rock paintings and dolphins
– “Guys, be ready at 6h30 am tomorrow.”
The early bird catches the worm. It’s the same in San Jose del Guaviare. There are lots of activities to do around, so you need to wake up early to enjoy it a maximum.
Sat at the back of the jeep with 4 other fellow travelers, we were ready to discover one of the most impressive Guaviare’s secret.
It took only a few minutes to be out of the city. We followed a dirt road for 1h45 before arriving at Finca Chontaduro for a traditional Colombian Breakfast.
The rock paintings in Cerro Azul near San Jose del Guaviare
Filled with arepas, we were now ready to discover Cerro Azul. The hike isn’t tough, but the humidity makes you sweat like hell.
Anyway, it’s worth it.
After 30 min, we were able to enjoy the first part of Cerro Azul, a colossal wall of 7 m long and 4 m high. There are so many pictograms on it that I couldn’t observe them all at once. Drawn with an orange-reddish painting, they represent huge disappeared animals, geometrical patterns, and daily life events of the indigenous living there back in time.
There are still many unexplained mysteries around these rock paintings.
First, it’s complicated to date the pictograms. Scientists found foods and human rests near Cerro Azul. Thanks to the Carbon 14’s method, they were able to date them around 12 500 years old. But is it the age of the pictograms?
And if it’s the case, how is it possible they stayed in such perfect conditions? What ingredients did they use to draw the paintings?
So many questions left to answer.
After a short break, we continued our exploration. To reach the second part of Cerro Azul, we went through dark tunnels and passed by fantastic viewpoints.
Boat ride and dolphins nearby San Jose del Guaviare
In San Jose del Guaviare, the day never stops. On the way back, we had one last stop before enjoying the swimming pool of our hotel.
Regrouped on 2 small boats, we rode upstream el Raudal Guayabero to look for dolphins and have a quick dip in Cascada del Amor.
During the boat ride, I felt tiny. On both sides, high cliffs covered by the vegetation surrounded the river and our makeshift boats. Moreover, we noticed huge chunks of wood perched on the rocks. From June to September, because of the heavy rains, the river can increase up to 4 -6 m!
Day 2 in San Jose del Guaviare: Let’s swim with dolphins
Villa Lilia is another old Coca plantation located 2 hours away by boat. There, tourists can have a typical Colombian lunch and chill in hammocks before looking for dolphins.
Indeed, 20 min away from the Finca, there is a famous canal called Laguna Damas de Nare where live a small community of dolphins all year long. However, their number is higher from June to September.
Because it was a 3-day weekend, we were a big group (30 people). But, everything was well organized, and I didn’t fell “oppressed.”
After a quick 20 min walk from Villa Lilia, we jumped into 2 long speedboats to look for dolphins. It took us more than 1 hour to find 2 of them. During this time, we could swim in the warm water of the canal with our life jackets.
Dolphins love the vibrations of the motors. They are curious and want to know what’s going on.
Our guide threw many times a long rope in the water to play with them while calling them by their name.
I have no idea if dolphins can recognize voice’s noises. But they grabbed the rope with their “mouth” and started swimming between our legs.
I have to admit it was a bit scary at first. You can’t even see your feet in the brown water of the canal. So, I let you imagine my face when I felt a big unknown submarine monster touching my legs.
Then, it was time to get back on the boat to arrive in time for our Velada Indigena – An indigenous Ceremony.
But traveling to La Macarena can be a bit expensive for some of us.
Another alternative is to observe theMacarenia Clavigera plant in Caño Sabana. It’s not as impressive than in Caño Cristales, but it gives you a good taste of it.
And it’s a lot easier to access.
Fitted with our best outfits – 2 same long shirts bought in San Jose del Guaviare because sandflies terrorize us -, we began the expeditions 40 min away from the city, in the direction of the Puerta de Orion.
A long time ago – way before the birth of my old old Grandpa -, the Guaviare department was under billions and billions of Cubic Meters of water.
Nowadays, the ocean is gone, but it left lots of traces of its passage like sediments and weird rock shapes. One of the most typical of them in San Jose del Guaviare is La Puerta de Orion.
We heard 2 explanations for the name.
The first people who have discovered it could observe the Constellation of Orion through the huge hole
The place is deeply connected with Chiribiquete (There are the same rock paintings in both areas), and the Constellation of Orion is visible there through the year.
The 30 min walk to La Puerta de Orion was pleasant. Landscapes change a lot in San Jose del Guaviare. After 2 days walking among dense vegetation, it was surprising to wander in the savanna.
Caño Sabana and the cranberry river
Then, we arrived in front of Caño Sabana. Below our eyes, we admired cranberry water flowing between rocks and palm trees.
On 100 m long, a beautiful purple/pink carpet covers Caño Sabana.
From June to November, the Macarenia Clavigera grows in this bed river. The color of this aquatic plant change from Green to Purple according to its exposure to the sun – like your skin, especially if you’re from Irlande.
After hundreds of pictures, we moved to our final stop.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing our sour muscles in the cold water in Tranquillandia with beers, monkeys and fun Colombians
Let’s compare the different day trips in San Jose del Guaviare
Maybe some of you can’t/don’t want to stay five days in San Jose del Guaviare.
In that case, you have to choose between different day trips.
But, how? :0
Let’s have a closer look at each of them.
1# Day trip to Cerro Azul and Raudal Gayabero
Duration & Points of interest (+)
Duration: 6h30 t0 19h00
Transportation time: 4 – 5 hours
Point of interest: Rock paintings, dark caves, boat drive in the nice canyon, dolphins
Why you could not like it: You hate cavemen paintings because you think you could do better
Preference order: 2/5 | 1 being my favorite
2# Day trip with Dolphins and Laguna Damas de Nare
Duration & Points of interest (+)
Duration: 6h30 to 19h00
Transportation time: 4 hours
Point of interest: Swimming with Dolphins
Why you could not like it: You’ve already seen pink dolphins and they scare you
Preference order: 4/5
3# Day trip to Puerta de Orion and Caño Sabana
Duration & Points of interest (+)
Duration: 8h30 – 17h30
Transportation time: 1h30 – 2 h
Point of interest: Red-purple-pink river because of Aquatic plants, weird rock shapes, and swimming
Why you could not like it: You don’t like pink
Preference order: 1/5 – My Favorite
4# Day trip to Pozos Naturales
Duration & Points of interest (+)
Duration: 9h – 16h30
Transportation time: 1 hour
Point of interest: Lovely river with deep holes, swimming, an aquatic path
Why you could not like it: You don’t like to play and record funny videos
Preference order: 3/5
#5 Day trip tunnels and Ciudad de Piedras
Duration & Points of interest (+)
Duration: 9h – 17h
Transportation time: 1h30
Point of interest: walking among giant rocks and admire the Guaviare plants
Why you could not like it: You don’t care about rocks
Preference order: 5/5
Our thoughts about San Jose del Guaviare
Julian, Andres, Sebastian, Amilton and the others are a young team full of energy, and they are proud to represent their hometown. Through their travel agency, they help different locals to live from tourism.
They were always smiling, helpful and ready to show us the best of San Jose del Guaviare – and a few nightclubs ;).
The different expeditions were well organized – not perfect but a lot more than what I was expected, considering that tourism is a recent thing here.
The town of San Jose del Guaviare itself is not attractive. However, we found some cool restaurants and funky bars.
I was also surprised to discover a town 100% safe. We could walk day and night with our camera without being worried. The inhabitants are smiling and glad to observe the growth of tourism thanks to the peace agreement.
There are 8 certified Paragliding companies in San Felix. And it seems that nobody dies during the paragliding sessions. Hence, we couldn’t sort the companies by the number of deaths. Youhou.
Then, like a ninja, I checked their Facebook page.
Parapente San Felix has more than 47 000 followers. I guess they can’t be bad with such a number. Moreover, they let you record your experience with your camera whereas some other paragliding companies prohibit it for money security reasons.
Psst, Fabio did 900 jumps last year.
B] What are the different steps to book a paragliding tour in Medellin
You can contact Parapente San Felix with WhatsApp or/and email to book your tour. Fabio answered us very quickly.
Everyone uses WhatsApp in Colombia. So you should download it on your phone right now ;).
In no time, we were able to pick a date and time, and we received a detailed file with all the information we needed to arrive in San Felix with the public transportation and be prepared for this exciting paragliding adventure. I tell you more about it in the second part of this article 😉
All the documents were in Spanish, but they can also send it to you in English.
The D-day, we wake up and discover that a horrible fog had invaded the city. Medellin’s nickname is City of the eternal spring but the weather can change 4 times a day during the raining season.
While we were wondering if we should cancel or not our paragliding session, Fabio sent a text to reassure us. The altitude in San Felix is 1 000 m higher than Medellin, and the climate can be entirely different. Moreover, thanks to a bunch of websites and their weather-skills, they’re able to tell you if the conditions are right or not for paragliding.
If not, they will inform you before you leave to San Felix.
C] The last 20 min before the big jump over Medellin
After a short 50 min ride, we get off the bus just in front of their small office. A lovely lady and Fabio welcomed us with a huge smile and directly put us at ease.
They asked us if it was our first time paragliding and if we had any concerns.
Then, we sat in front of a huge screen to watch a short explanatory video in English. In a nutshell, you have to do nothing except running a the beginning. Easy Peasy.
After that, the lovely lady handed us a form with a bunch of health questions like medical history, plastic surgery, phobias and so on. It’s part of their medical insurance of flight. As a reward, you will get an orange bracelet with all the necessary information.
Once outside the office, we took the 167 steps – I didn’t count – to reach the official departure runway for paragliding above Medellin.
Fabio and his employe were already waiting for us. Behind them, we could discern a green slope and a deep valley. Down there, Bello – North of Medellin – spread everywhere like a paint can which has felt on the floor.
D] You run, run, run
The staff set up the canvas on the grass and Fabio checked his material out loud with me:
First-aid kit: Ok
Emergency Parachute: Ok
Weather condition: Ok
Then, he hooked me my equipment and asked to run the fastest I could while he was holding my seat. I don’t remember my diaper-childhood when I was a kid, but I think I was running in a similar way.
The staff checked once again our equipment then we started running down the slope.
E] Paragliding in Medellin with birds
– “Run, run, run!”
The canvas quickly expanded because of the wind and before the last “run” my feet couldn’t touch the ground anymore.
Then, it was silent.
Below me, I could spot tiny people, coffee plantations, waterfalls and admire the large city of Medellìn in the valley.
Because you’re comfortably sat with someone at your back, paragliding isn’t a scary experience. During the 20 min flight, I was able to appreciate every moment, with the wind in my hair on my face and birds on my sides.
Some time to time. Fabio gave me the names of the rivers and showed me the different parts of Medellin. Then we did a few twists for fun before going down toward Bello*.
– “Ok Thomas, now raise your legs and do nothing else.”
It was time to say goodbye to the birds and get back to the ground.
*Most of the time, you will fly back to San Felix instead of landing in Bello.
II) Useful Information for paragliding in Medellin
A. Book the paragliding in Medellin at least a few days in advance (+)
We had a great time doing it with Parapente San Felix but the other companies seem great too. Take the time to contact them a few days in advance so you can organize your trip.
Moreover, the weather change often in April – June & September – November. Every day, they will let you know if the conditions are right or not. Try paragliding the first day when you arrive. Thus, you will be able to reschedule it in case of bad weather.
B. What should you pack for Paragliding in Medellin (+)
Paragliding is an outside activity. You have to be protected from the cold and the sun.
Comfortable and warm clothing: Jacket and pants
Sunscreen and sunglasses
C] How to travel to San Felix for Paragliding in Medellin
1. Private transport to travel to San Felix (Paragliding departure) (+)
There are transport companies that can pick you up in the city of Medellin, drive to the flight site, wait for you during the activity and then drive back to your accommodation.
1 to 4 people: 100 000 COP in total
5 to 8 people: 200 000 COP in total
How to contact them:
Ask the paragliding company
Some hostels offer to book for you the activity and the transports
2. Taxi and Uber to travel to San Felix (Paragliding departure) (+)
It’s easy to book an Uber or a taxi to get to San Felix from Medellin
Price: Around 30 000 COP
Duration: 50 min
However, once you’re paragliding experience is over, it will be complicated to find another taxi/uber to get back to Medellin.
But don’t worry, you won’t be stuck forever.
Wait on the side of the road to catch a bus in the direction of Medellin.
Frequency: every 15 min from 5 am to 8 pm
Price: 4 800 COP
Duration: 50 min
Final stop: North Bus Station (Caribe metro station)
Then you can take a taxi/uber or the Metro.
3. Public transport to travel to San Felix (Paragliding departure) (+)
It’s simple and cheap to get to San Felix with public transport, especially if you stay in Laureles.
Take the metro and stop at Caribe Station.
Cross the bridge to arrive at the North Bus Station
Look for the Counter 11 and buy a ticket to San Felix
Tell the bus driver you want paragliding. He will know where to stop.
For the way back, follow the steps in the previous section.
Metro: 2 625 COP
Bus: 4 800 COP – 1 Way
Buses leave every 20 min – More or less.
D] Prices for Paragliding in Medellin 
All the paragliding companies in San Felix offer similar prices – except the illegal ones.
This is why we picked Medellin to learn Colombian Spanish.
Spanish School in Medellin: We chose Colombia Immersion
But, how to find the best Spanish school in Medellin?
You see, there are many schools and private teachers giving Spanish lessons in Medellin, It’s hard to make a choice, especially when you don’t know the city at all.
From my experience in Medellin, I wouldn’t recommend booking a school in Poblado.
You will want to find a place near your Spanish School so you won’t have to spend money on Ubers and Taxis. The Zona Rosa is great for parties, but there are so many foreigners that you will speak English most of the time.
There are 2 other districts that I consider perfect for studying Spanish in Medellin.
Laureles is a district located near the center of the city. It’s safe, and there are metro stations that you can use to move around in Medellin. Moreover, there are 2 famous areas where you can go out at night: La 70 and La 33.
Envigado is a little town in the South that belongs to Medellin. More and more ex-pats and wealthy Colombian families are settling in this quiet area of the city. It’s also one of the safest districts of Medellin.
Colombia Immersion offers you the possibility to learn Spanish in both places.
Also, I think a mix of activities, small groups of classes and private Spanish classes are essential to learning how to speak like a Colombian, especially if you’re a beginner.
I know It’s never easy to start learning a new language.
“Al principio, me dolia la Cabeza “– At first, It hurt my brain. And it was a bit scary to speak with locals.
On Colombia Immersion’s website, we can read that we will:
Speak with young teachers full of energy
Enjoy daily activities to learn about Colombia, Medellin and its culture
Get Spanish classes in small groups
Explore the city and get off the beaten path
It was more than enough to convince us to make the jump with them.
So, here we are, in front of the old house in Laureles, ready to become mas Paisa que la Arepa.*
Now, I hand the keyboard to Adrien. Tell us about your Colombian Immersion Experience!
Adrien’s experience in Colombia Immersion, Medellin.
A] Why learning Spanish in Medellin was important to me
Before going to Colombia, Thomas and I agreed on one thing. We had to improve our Spanish a lot to be more confident in dealing with our project.
We looked on the internet to find the best Spanish school in Medellin to learn this ‘’new’’ language. We finally chose a school called Colombia Immersionsix weeks before leaving.
We didn’t know yet, but we had made an excellent choice.
Our first contact with the school was friendly and professional. We took our first leveling test on the internet whilst in France. A week later, we got a phone call to complete our level test.
Thanks to the results, the school can determine your Spanish level and put you in the class that suits you the most.
Once in Colombia, we decided to have a look at our future Spanish School before starting the classes.
We discovered a lovely two-floor house close to Plaza La America in a neighborhood of Medellin called Laureles.
All around the house, a black gate protects the entrance.
There are fences because it’s the house where Pablo Escobar was killed. Each day, lots of tourists were trying to come inside the house to take pictures. Therefore, it was necessary to stop them to keep the place quiet for the students.
We rang the bell to come inside.
What an enthusiastic welcome from the staff!
They offered coffee, cookies and big hugs. We immediately felt comfortable. We loved it because a family atmosphere is one of the most important things to learn Spanish or any other language.
Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish yet, everyone is able to speak English as well if needed.
And in case you’re from France, you will have to use your body language to communicate.
But it shouldn’t matter anyway! You are here to speak, eat and dream in Spanish.
Are you a bit scared?
You shouldn’t be mate.
Let me tell you how I dealt with that.
B] My experience in the Spanish School Colombia immersion
My Spanish wasn’t good although I knew some basic stuff to ‘’survive’’ in Colombia. I decided to take the full immersion package.
What a great choice!
It’s a good mix of Spanish courses with teachers and fun chats with Colombians. It’s a useful package to improve your Spanish skills quickly.
Also, I enjoy the fact the school is in a house. You bump into staff members, teachers, and the other students every time. It’s easy to meet people, make new friends and start conversations in Spanish.
Every Monday morning, Buñuelos (a Colombian specialty), hot coffee and broad smiles from the staff welcome you to begin your week on the right foot.
a – My Spanish Classes in Medellin
I met the other students from my group on Monday. We were with six in my class which is the maximum.
Can you imagine one teacher for only six people?
It’s an excellent opportunity to discuss, ask any questions you want and stay focused all the time. I enjoyed the desire of our teacher to make our lessons and courses alive. He put a lot of energy and enthusiasm to find different activities to make us participate. And believe me, it’s not that simple with a bunch of beginner students.
I had 4 hours per day of Spanish Class with my group.
b – Let’s do one-to-one talks in Spanish
Coaching is like a “one to one” discussion with a Colombian. It hurts the brain, but it’s an excellent method for learning a new language. I liked the fact that you can talk about anything you want without any pressure or judgment. You can also give a rendez-vous in a bar or a park.
I met many interesting students, and it was fun to discuss hundreds of different subjects. Moreover, I appreciated I could organize my private coaching as I wanted in order to attend the daily school activities.
Oh, I didn’t mention the activities yet!
c – Daily Free Activities with our Spanish School in Medellin
Each day, the Spanish School gives you the opportunity to register to an activity. Most of them are free and are running by an excellent guide named Felipe.
The tours are very diversified and allow you to discover more of the Colombian Culture, find out how Medellin works and learn thousands of great tips from your guide.
How to give your direction to a taxi driver
Know the different kinds of supermarkets
How it works with daily restaurant and their “Menu Del Dia” – Menu of the day
I went to the Laureles Tour, where one of the two schools of Colombia Immersion is located.
It was formidable to know the story of the neighborhood. We learned about the way the streets of the city were built, and how the addresses work.
Also, our guide was always happy to answer our questions and did his best to maintain good vibes during all the tour.
Hence, I recommend you to register for all of them. It’s a great way to improve your Spanish, and you will get to know your classmates better.
A community is essential to learn a language 😉
d – Field trip in Spanish in Medellin every Thursday
Beside the daily activities, students can join the field trips on Thursdays.Medellin is divided into 16 communes and 275 districts. Each part of the city has an exciting story to tell. And Colombia Immersion wants that its students get the possibility to learn more about it.
Each Thursday, thanks to 2 local guides, we explored a different district for more than 4 hours with our Spanish school in Medellin. We learned about the history, admired hidden graffiti streets, and visited untouristic places like Moravia.
During the 50’s, Moravia was the official dump in the middle of the city. And, because of its strategic location, poor people decided progressively to build houses made of bric-a-brac.
This district wasn’t safe at all. Methane emissions came out from the tons of garbage, the ground was unstable, and a significant wildfire destroyed hundreds of houses.
To protect its inhabitants, the city of Medellin decided to shut down the dump in 1984 and started to offer other accommodation options to the people. Nowadays, trees and flower have replaced the mountains of trashes.
During the tour, we were able to wander among the streets, eat the best empañadas of Moravia and understand the efforts made by the city to improve the quality of life in the disadvantaged neighborhoods.
It was very instructive.
e – Let’s speak Spanish in Envigado on Friday nights
I had 25 hours of Spanish practice after my first week with Colombia Immersion. And it’s without taking into consideration the activities!
I felt more at ease while speaking Spanish and I was excited to practice even more with unknown Colombians. It was the perfect moment to intend our first Language Exchange in Spanish.
Every Friday, Colombia Immersion organizes one in Envigado.
It was quite simple to get there. We took the metro to Envigado station then we walked 15 min. The Language exchange starts at 6h30 pm. I recommend you to use the metro if you stay in Laureles. From 5 to 7 pm, it’s rushing hour in Medellin, so you will be stuck in the traffic if you take a taxi.
Like in Laureles, I immediately could feel the family vibes in the school in Envigado.
At the first floor, there is a large terrace where people can sit and interact while drinking a cold beer. We all know it’s a bit easier to speak another language with a club Colombia in our blood 🙂
Salud, Cheers, santé, Saúde, Proost!
Every Friday, more than 70 people from different countries come here to meet and improve their language skills. And to facilitate the interactions, members of Colombia immersion organizes fun games!
There is one rule. If you’re a foreigner, you have to speak in Spanish!
I had to guess the animal written on my forehead. Conejo!
The language exchange ended at 10 pm. Then, with our new friends, we have decided to join another party at Social Club to dance Salsa all night long!
We had a great time in Colombia Immersion and when the week was over, we were glad to still have one left.
What are the best things to do in Santa Marta? How to decide among the different tours and activities?
It’s complicated to make choices if you’ve never been to a place before.
Although Santa Marta is quite boring, the surroundings are astonishing and offer many activities like diving, birdwatching, and hiking.
I traveled several months on the Caribbean coast and I wrote down this post to help you to organize your stay in this city. Find out my favorite things to do in Santa Marta and the Sierra Nevada!
Things to do in Santa Marta: What you must know
Where: Santa Marta is a costal Caribbean town close to Taryona and Minca.
How to get there: Direct buses or door to door shuttles leave from Cartagena (5-6 hours). There is also an airport at 25 min from the historic center.
Beaches in Santa Marta:
Many visitors stay in massive resorts in the Rodadero district. The beach is nice but crowded with tourists and street sellers.
The old city center is next to the trading port. You don’t want to swim there.
Fortunately, there are lovely secluded beaches like Bahia concha and playa Cinto.
Nightlife in Santa Marta: It’s quite fun on the weekends. Head to Rodadero if you want to party in large Colombian nightclubs or hang out in the center to go from bar to bar. I love the Brisa Loca’s rooftop.
Is Santa Marta safe: You must be careful in Santa Marta. It’s fine to stroll nearby Parque de Los Novios and Rodadero during the day. However, the city becomes super dodgy at night. Take taxis.
The beaches in town aren’t pleasant, and the city center is small. In less than 2 hours, you should be able to visit the most “interesting” sights.
List of the things to do in the city of Santa Marta (+)
Admire the Cathedral in Santa Marta
Visit the Golden museum
Explore La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. Simon Bolivar spent his last days in this famous Finca. 4 km away from the center of Santa Marta
Then, at night, travelers like to have a few drinks at Parque de Los Novios before heading to various nightclubs.
The nightlife in Santa Marta is a lot cheaper than Cartagena. Almost none of the bars/clubs ask for a cover.
However, be careful when you walk outside Parque de Los Novios. Streets are dodgy and quite unsafe at night. We give many safety tips in this post.
1# Going out in the old town of Santa Marta
Santa Marta doesn’t have a “Zona Rosa” but most of the bars & restaurants are located in the same area, near El Parque de Los Novios.
List of the best bars in Santa Marta: (+)
Crab’s Bar: The best place for rock and blues in Santa Marta | Pool tables | 6 000 COP for a National Beer
La Puerta: Nightclub with a mix of locals and foreigners |Salsa music | cheap
La Azotea: Nightclub with a rooftop | Crossover music |Good Cocktails | Higher prices | Cover: 10 000 COP
La Bodeguita Pirata: Small bars with a friendly staff | Good Cocktails | Fair prices
Festival shots: A large variety of shots to spend a fun and tipsy night |Shots | Good prices
Brisa Loca: This hostel organizes rooftop parties every weekend. It’s a great place to dance and have an unforgettable night in Santa Marta | Caribbean Music | Normal Prices | Cover: 10 000 COP after 11 pm
There is also a bunch of other bars around Parque de Los Novios. Don’t hesitate to check them out. And read this post from Nomadichustle to get more details about the nightlife in Santa Marta.
There are also many tasty restaurant options in the old city center. The two main spots to enjoy a delicious meal are Parque de Los Novios and the street ” Callejón del Correo “
List of the best restaurants in Santa Marta (+)
Ouzo | Mediterranean food and pizza | Go early or make a reservation |Romantic |Parque de Los Novios| $$$
Radio Burger | Delicious burgers & cool staff | Fast | Parque de Los Novios | $$
Caribbean Team | Good meals and music & Lovely view | Food to share | La Marina | $$
Donde Chucho | Great Seafood | Parque de Los Novios | $$
Lulo Cafe Bar | Correct vegetarian food, stuffed arepa & great smoothies | Callejon del Correo” | $$
Absurdo Grill | Pork lover | Parque de Los Novios | $$
2# Going out in Rodadero
I never stayed in Rodadero, so I can’t give my personal opinion about it. I’ve just passed by a few times. From what I’ve seen, it’s a mix of hotel resorts – Like Boca Grande in Cartagena.
List of the nightclubs in Rodadero (+)
Bar Jamaica: A quiet place where you can drink a cocktail or smoke a hookah while listening to reggae music
La Escollera: An old nightclub surrounded by water | Colombian music
Burukuka: The best restaurant in Santa Marta with a fantastic view of the coast | DJ on weekends | Expensive
3# Going out in Taganga
Taganga is a little fishing village located 10 min away by cab from Santa Marta. Well-known for its many cheap dive centers, it’s also a place of debauchery at night – Lots of drugs.
Be careful, don’t wander alone in the alleys or on the beach at night. I’ve heard many robbery stories.
The Mirador is the most famous club in Taganga. There is a great view of the open sea. It’s only worth it if there is a 3-day weekend or during the high season. We give you the best months to visit Colombia in this post.
The Sierra Nevada is the second highest coastal range in the world. It means that on a clear day, you will see the white snow peaks while drinking your margarita on the beach.
Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
And, that’s not all. Between the white sand beach and the snow-capped summits, there is vast tropical rainforest hosting thousands of species of birds, monkeys, frogs, and plants.
The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta is a vast playground for explorers and nature lovers.
Let’s see the activities you can organize from Santa Marta.
1# Hiking 1, 2 or 3 days in Tayrona National Park
Things to do around Santa Marta
The National Park of Tayrona is a vast protected area of 150 square km on the Caribbean coast. There are two enters to get in. Calabazo and Zaino.
I love this park.
Visiting Tayrona is an excellent way to explore a rainforest and spot animals for days without a guide. The trails are well marked, and the hikes are easy. Plus, the visitors don’t have to carry a heavy backpack filled with bottles of water and foods because there are campings nestled along the coast.
And, at the end of the excursions, gorgeous beaches like Cabo San Juan, La Piscina, or Playa Brava are a fantastic reward. Particularly when you’re all dirty and sweating.
Pros and Cons Tayrona Park (+)
The + + +
Monkeys and birds
Camping and restaurants inside the park
The – – –
It’s crowded during long weekends and holidays
The park entrance is a bit expensive if you decide only to stay 1 day
Don’t book a tour if you decide to hike in Tayrona National Park. You don’t need it. And the tour will only last one day. It’s not enough for enjoying the experience. Besides, it’s one of the easiest things to do from Santa Marta.
Most tourists met on the same crowded beach called Rodadero. Fortunately, you can do things differently and head to the secluded beaches of Tayrona. Read our post about the best Santa Marta beaches to get even more information.
Bahia Concha is beautiful bay easily reachable and it’s an excellent thing to do in Santa Marta. Ask any taxi to drive you to the park entrance (50 min) then walk 30 min to arrive at the beach.
What you must know about Bahia Concha (+)
Tips: Get there early to find one of the rare shady spots on the right side of the beach. Otherwise, act genuinely like a Colombian and book a tent with some plastic chairs.
Price: The ticket entrance costs around 5 000 COP and the taxi should cost around 130 000 COP round trip. Don’t forget to tell him when he should come back to pick you up.
3# La Ciudad Perdida, a fantastic multi-day hike in the Sierra Nevada
Things to do around Santa Marta
The Tairona were indigenous who lived on the Caribbean coast of Colombia hundreds of years before the colonization by the Spaniards. And, to escape the conquistadores, many of them went deeply in the Sierra Nevada. Nowadays, the Kogi, Wiwa, Arthuacos, and Karkuamo people are their direct descendants.
For the indigenous, Mother Earth is a goddess, also known as Pachamama, who needs to be loved and protected. And, they consider the mountains of the Sierra Nevada as sacred.
Therefore, you can’t wander as you want. You need a bunch of permissions, a certified guide and pay a few taxes to the local communities.
Fortunately, 5 local travel agencies are authorized to organize a multi-day hike through the national park to discover the Ciudad Perdida, a secret gem hidden in the Sierra Nevada.
If you’re looking for a thrilling thing to do around Santa Marta, the Ciudad Perdia will be a great pick.
Pros and Cons Cidudad Perdida (+)
The + + +
An original experience in the jungle (hammock, meals, nature)
Birds and animals
Learn about an indigenous culture
Not many tourists
The – – –
Some travelers don’t like to deal with hot and humid weather. Or the occasional heavy rains. Or the wet feet.
The trails can be muddy
The ruins aren’t great
Bugs and mosquitos
Don’t hope to find ruins like in Mexico or Peru. You will be disappointed.
This hike through the Sierra Nevada is more of an experience, a challenge, an adventure. You will live between 4 and 6 days in the jungle, sleep in bed camps, eat local meals like tamales, observe birds and monkeys, cross rivers, and kill hundreds of mosquitos.
The 5 certified companies are Guías Y Baquianos, Magic Tour, ExpoTour, Wiwa Tours, Turcol Travel.
What you must know about the Lost City (+)
Organization: Although there are many visitors doing it, you will only hike with your group. You still have this pleasant alone-in-the-world feeling. The size might vary from 5 to 20 people.
Difficulty: The trail isn’t technical – except for the thousand stairs at the end. However, you will cover nearly 19 km a day. You need to be in good shape if you want to enjoy the experience.
Duration: Most people are doing it in 4 days.
Weather: Be ready to be soaked every afternoon, especially during the rainy season. The Sierra Nevada is warm and humid.
Tips: Avoid the high season (Dec – Jan & July – Aug) to get a better experience. Keep your sleeping clothes dry. On the way back, you can ask the agency to let you at Tayrona.
#4 A 2-day hike to Cerro Kennedy to watch the snow-capped peaks
Things to do around Santa Marta
The town of Minca is in the Sierra Nevada, but it’s not part of the national park. Therefore, travelers can chase waterfalls, visit an 100 years old coffee farm, look for colorful birds, or hike in the mountains around without annoying indigenous communities.
Cerro Kennedy is an off the beaten path trip that allows hikers to admire an astonishing sunrise and a clear view of the snowy peaks.
Pros and Cons Cerro Kennedy (+)
The + + +
You can do it without a guide
Beautiful view of the snow peaks
You cross a bird reserve
The – – –
If it’s cloudy when you wake up, you won’t be able to admire the view. Fortunately, it’s not often the case.
The path is easy to follow and you can stay in the hotel El Ramo. Wake up at 4 am the following morning and hike the last hour with a flashlight to reach the military base camp of Cerro Kennedy.
Download Maps.me just in case.
What you must know about Cerro Kennedy (+)
Do it on your own: Take a moto-taxi early in the morning and ask him to drive you the “Y”. Once at the intersection, take the path on your left. There should be a sign “San Lorenzo reserve”. Hike 4-5 hours till reaching the Hotel “El Ramo”. You will spend the night there. The rooms are very basic. They serve 3 meals per day. Wake up at 4 am the following morning and hike the last hour with a flashlight to reach the military base camp of Cerro Kennedy.
Tips: It’s best to hike early in the morning to avoid the rainy afternoons.
Use the services of a local agency: It will be a bit complicated to organize everything if you don’t speak a bit of Spanish. Fortunately, River Adventure is an excellent company that can take care of it! The meeting point is in Minca, and Santa Marta is only 40 min away by taxi.
Don’t want to spend most of your time being moist in the Sierra Nevada?
Don’t worry. There are other activities around Santa Marta without involving long hikes, bugs, and river crossing.
Taganga is a small fishing town nestled between Santa Marta and Tayrona. Because of mass tourism, the place became unsafe at night (drug and security issues).
I’m not a big fan of the vibe there.
Still, I stayed there for over a week during my first trip to Colombia because it’s also one of the cheapest places in the world for diving. The Dive centers are all over the place and organize tours in the submarine reserve of Tayrona.
The Pros and Cons diving in Taganga (+)
The + + +
Playa Grande is a nice beach
PADI certified Companies
Beach town vibes
The – – –
There are too many backpackers
Safety issues at night
The dives in Taganga aren’t like in the Philippines or Egypte, but it’s still pleasant, especially if it’s your first time and you wanna pass your Open Water Diver Certification.
For obvious security reasons, book your tours with a certified company.
What you must know about diving in Taganga (+)
Santa Marta or Taganga: There are excellent dive centers in both places. It can be pleasant to stay in Taganga if you decide to pass your open water though.
Where: You usually dive in the Tayrona reserve. You won’t be able to do it when the national park is closed. Don’t worry, there are still colorful fishes and corals in the other areas.
Tips: There are more visibility from May to November.
Don’t stop at the beach in town. Walk 20 min more to arrive at Playa Grande. The place is lovely, and you will be able to swim. Moreover, there are many restaurants where you can eat, drink or rent a sun tent + Long chair.
It’s a cool place to relax during an afternoon even if it is crowded on weekends.
How to get to Taganga (+)
Bus from the city: 1 800 COP
Taxi: 15 000 COP
How to get to Playa Grande (+)
Walk along the coast for 20 min from the port in Taganga
There are 4 entrances but only 2 – Calabazo & Zaino – are for the travelers who want to hike within the national park.
The two other entrances are Bahia Concha & Palangana. Both are near Santa Marta and allow the visitors to explore the secluded beaches in the park.
Since March 2019, 3 beaches in Tayrona are closed to the public: Chengue, Los Naranjos, and the oriental zone of Bahia Concha.
#1 Beach in Bahia Concha
Bahia Concha is a vast bay where travelers can camp on the beach. The place is well-known from the Colombians, and they love to get there for the weekends -> crowded.
The place is more expensive than the usual places on the Caribbean Coast. There is no shop to buy some food, so the restaurants increase their prices. Bring your meals if you’re traveling on a shoestring budget.
Tent: 25 000 COP
Meal: Around 30 000 COP
Why visit Bahia Concha Beach (+)
You want to sleep 1 night on the beach with your tent
You’re looking for a lovely beach in Santa Marta and easy to access
How to get to Bahia Concha (+)
Park entrance: 5 000 COP
Taxi from the old city center: Around 60 000 COP/ 50 min
Tours from Rodadero: Around 60 000 COP
Or you can use public transport
Take the Public bus with the sign Bastidias on it and get out at the last stop: 1 800 COP / 40 min
Then use a moto-taxi to arrive in Bahia Concha: 5 000 COP / 20 min
Playa Cristal was one of the most beautiful beaches near Santa Marta. Each day, only the first 300 visitors are allowed to get their butt tanned on this gorgeous white-sand beach. Unfortunately, the beach is quite small and there are 300 people most of the time.
Avoid going there on the weekend and during the high season.
On-site, many restaurants welcome visitors with fresh fish, long chairs, and cold beers.
Meals around 35 000 COP
Sun tent around 30 000 COP
How to get to Playa Cristal from Santa Marta
It’s the longest way. Tours leave early in the morning, and they reach the beach 2h30 later. But it’s the best option if you’re afraid to use the tiny speedboats.
Tours from Rodadero (Entrance + Transport): Around 110 000 COP / 2h30
How to get to Playa Cristal from Taganga
It’s a lot faster, but the boat ride is bumpy during the windy season. It can be scary if you’re not used to it. Every day, boats leave around 10 am and come back at 4 pm.
Tours from Taganga: 70 000 COP / 40 min. I recommend the local agency “Chez Boaz”
It’s my favorite beach in Tayrona and it’s an easy day trip from Taganga. Like in Playa Cristal, the bay is surrounded by lush vegetation. Don’t forget to take your snorkel gears, the snorkeling there is fantastic! Playa Cinto is only 10 min further than Playa Cristal, but 99% of tourists don’t go there.
It’s less known
It’s a few bucks more expensive
There is no restaurant and bars
Therefore, bring your bottle of water and sandwiches if you decide to take the trip to Cinto Beach from Taganga.
How to get to Playa Cinto from Taganga
Book a tour with the local Agency “Chez Boaz” in Taganga