Opting for the slightly more expensive, but door-to-door service and air-conditioned MarSol van to Taganga, we arrived 4 hours later at Hotel Techos Azules. Taganga is a fishing village just outside Santa Marta. We had over ten days to relax, practice our Spanish and soak up the sun, so we negotiated a room with private bath and a small kitchen for 45,000 pesos/night ($18). The idea of making a meal without rice and beans was very appealing. After 2 nights in a larger, more expensive room, we moved to our cheaper room with a great view. The first day we wandered around Taganga and discovered that there wasn’t much to see except fishermen bringing in their catch (and their outboard motors) at the end of the day.
The next day we hopped one of the frequent and cheap collectivos (1000 pesos per ride (40 cents)) to Santa Marta, a large Caribbean resort and seaport, to shop in the big grocery stores. Our first meal was a deliciously thick juicy cheeseburger. Latin America does not know how to properly make a real American burger. Another memorable meal was the best pork loin chops I think we’ve every tasted. It is very strange the things that you crave when you are removed from home. Although we had no light in the kitchen we still managed to make so many good meals that Cynthia started to complain that she was beginning to develop the Latin belly. We did explore Santa Marta a bit, but the hectic city is an entry port for cargo so it failed to impress. It does have a thin beach if you like to watch them unload ships all day. It is also famous for being the place where Simon Bolivar expired and you can tour his last residence here on earth.
Taganga has a decent beach, half of which is occupied by fishing boats and the other half seemed to be used as a poop sandbox by the numerous local stray dogs. Fluorescent green uniformed trash collectors were impressively effective in their efforts to keep the beach and cliffs free of debris, however fecal matter was, well, another matter. We never could bring ourselves to swim there, but a 15 minute hike over the north hill was Playa Grande, a longer beach with lots of seafood restaurants, expensive beer and few stray dogs. We enjoyed snorkeling and hanging out there for a day. We did enjoy a few hours at Rodadero one day – a very long, touristy beach which was actually impressively nice and is popular with Colombian vacationers (maybe because of all the beer and drink vendors roaming the beach – what service!
Next to Taganga is the national park reserve called Tayrona. It is a large area of rugged coastline that boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. We took a natural gas taxi (we all were required to leave the car when he filled up at the station) from Taganga with Thomas, a German traveler who was nice enough to let us in on his plans to visit this beach he had yet to discover. It turned out to be more expensive than we’d planned – a 110,000 pesos ($44) round trip taxi ride, 70,000 pesos ($28) park entry fee (Thomas (an imposing 6’4”) bargained it down from $40, figuring the guard at this remote entry was just going to pocket it anyway), and a 50,000 pesos ($10) boat ride. Thankfully we divided all that by 3 (actually, for the boat, 5 since another couple had been waiting to split the fare). Playa del Muerto was beautiful, but not as deserted as we had hoped; so much for “Beach of the Dead”. There were a couple fish restaurants, beach cabana’s, and maybe 20 people but we moved to a more deserted end and enjoyed our 3 hours there snorkeling, swimming and just soaking up the sun. It was nice that the boat was hired to stay with us, and the taxi driver did not ask for money until we arrived back at the hotel, so there were no worries about getting back.
Taganga is not only a backpacker resort, but one of the nicest places (and cheapest) to SCUBA dive in Colombia. After several days of extremely high winds (which took out the power for several hours 2 days in a row) Cynthia and I waited a few more days then finally did some diving. The first site off Isla Aguja was a drift dive; it was great having the current move you along – until you had to fight it to get back! At our 15 foot, five minute safety stop, it was amusing to see each man extend a hand up and grab hold of their woman dive buddy to prevent them from floating to the top. They all looked like they were holding women balloons. After lunch at a small cliff-side beach, the boat went out for a second dive (which Cynthia declined) that had a swim through. Both sites had very nice corals and an abundant, and wide variety, of fish, but not a lot of large sea creatures. We dove with Aquantis because they were new so the equipment was in good shape and they spoke English. During the off-season, the dives are only 100,000 pesos for 2 dives with all the equipment, lunch and free underwater photos.
Cynthia had hoped to spend time at the language school in Taganga, but they were closed for renovations, so she solicited two hotel employees to practice. Unfortunately, I think she spent more time teaching them English then practicing Spanish! But she had fun, made new friends and after 13 days, we said a reluctant “good bye”. We had to catch our flight to Bogota and Freddy, the manager, kindly offered us a ride to the airport. He’s a very busy man and we’d no idea it was a 45 minute drive! We could not have chosen a more relaxing and wonderful place to stay – they even had a family of Rottweilers who were so cute! Our friend Rusty asked when we were going to take a vacation from our vacation, this definitely was it. Check out the additional photos in our gallery!! Our last stop, Bogota.