I packed my life’s possessions into my backpacking bag, headed off to the airport and dropped it on the scale at the check-in desk. The electronic scale beeped twice then flashed the numbers 13.4kg. That’s what my life had boiled down to. 13.4 kg of checked baggage and a backpack of camera gear. I was off to South America with HostelWorld to check out some of their coolest hostels in epic locations.
I felt I had packed everything I needed for four months in South America. I felt prepared for new cultures, foods and situations. To be honest, I’ve never felt surer of myself and comfortable than boarding that plane.
35 hours later I still felt sure of myself but also a little tired, as I stepped onto Colombian soil. Double red-eye flights had taken their toll on me but I arrived to warm weather and sunny skies at 9 am in the morning. Santa Marta, a beach town in the north of Colombia, was welcoming me with one of it’s finest days.
As always before I had left, everyone who heard of my plans to travel to Colombia had given me the speech. Be careful of the drugs, the cocaine, the guns, the gangs, the people. After two years of traveling, I knew as well as ever that the world was a safe place where unlucky incidents happened from time to time. People have good hearts.
So far Colombia has been as expected. I’ve met a ton of awesome people and had countless strangers take the time along the way to continue to deepen my faith and belief that at the root of human nature we ARE ALL THE SAME.
I was sent over to Colombia for a campaign with HostelWorld, to experience two amazing locations from unique hostels. I brought Josh Lynott over for the trip so it was bound to be an adventure. Santa Marta for six days would be followed by 4 days in the famous, Medellin.
Santa Marta is a beach region and a base for multiple adventures such as Tayrona Natural Parque, the mountains of Minca and the Lost City of Cuidad trekking. It’s also a popular beach destination for Colombians.
We were staying in an ex-cartel mansion called Calle 11 Hostel. Boy did the place have some character. White walls, contrasted against the red brick roof and the azure blue of the pool. If walls could talk what a story these would tell. It’s not every day you stay in an accommodation that in history was part of the Escobar empire. We were essentially staying in a museum, disguised as a budget, beachside accommodation.
I immediately fell into a satisfying groove of an early morning breakfast, followed by a day of catching up on lots of blog posts from the Philippines, with sporadic pool breaks to slice up the time.
Josh and I explored the Santa Marta region, climbing the cliffs no one else seemed to be enjoying and swimming in Playa Blanca, the beach no one else seemed to dream of swimming in. It was a bizarre emptiness up in those cactus-laden mountains. The highlight of our adventures nearby the hostel was a 700m open water swim to an island, only to be rejected by the dissatisfied senor, who sent us back into the water to swim back to the mainland.
The other highlight of the week was our 16km run from Rodadero to Santa Marta and back. We jogged through some interesting streets and neighborhoods. Old women cheered us on, kids joked around and then we seemed to make it into a poorer area. A family motioned to us, making a gun signal with their hand telling us to put our phones away. I just smiled naively.
I’ve made a conscious decision not to live in fear of bad situations and instead run full throttle assuming life will reward you for your faith in people as a whole, as a community. In two years no-one has ever attempted anything untoward and whether I attribute it to this attitude or not I am unsure but one can only guess.
After several days of this relaxing rejuvenation, it was time to get out and explore beyond the Rodadero, Santa Marta region. Brock the hostel owner at Calle 11 Hostel was a wealth of knowledge and quickly became our go to for information in the area but also chats as fellow Aussies on the road do. He had recently purchased the hostel and was living full-time in Santa Marta, having previously hailed from Perth. His first suggestion was Tayrona Natural Parque.
Off we set the next morning to explore the Natural Parque. A few buses and a taxi had me brushing up on my Spanish muy rapido. Yea I still suck but my one year of studying Spanish has given me a nice little base to get my learning underway.
Tayrona Natural Parque was quite beautiful. We made the 1.5-hour trek through the jungle and then along the coast as did hundreds of tourists on a Sunday. It was quite busy but still magnificent nonetheless. Huge boulders are the recognizable feature that gives this coastline its uniquity.
We decided to climb a few of these boulders at Cabo beach and fly the drone, which resulted in a summon by the police and a full search for weed. Not sure how we got away with no fine but I’m sure I said ‘lo siento’ enough times to make them leave us alone.
Our second big adventure from Santa Marta and Calle 11 Hostel was into the mountains of Minca. I liked Tayrona Natural Parque but Minca was absolutely the best spot in the region from what we say.
A couple of buses took us up above the clouds into Minca and before we knew it we were on the back of a dirt bike, our lives in the hands of a young local as we sped around muddy corners, back tires spinning, laughter flowing.
Minca is the ultimate location to disconnect. Wifi is long-gone and all decks and balconies seem to point towards the mountains and far away horizons. It’s a true mountain escape.
We stopped off at Casa Elemento for lunch and to take a peek at their jungle hammock, a huge multi-person hammock suspended high above the jungle floor but hidden by the thick canopy. It was an epic place to hang out for the afternoon with other travelers.
Josh convinced me to do the high-line ‘Extreme’ adventure course without a harness, which was not our brightest idea but it got the heart pumping as we toed our way across the course, knowing full well a slip would result in a 20m fall.
After our adventure at Casa Elemento, we continued on to our home for the night, Casa Viajes.
Casa Viajes had a vibe to it. The bar and restaurant area were all on undercover decking, so the whole hostel hung out the entire time in the common areas, overlooking the mountains all the way down to Santa Marta.
The food was off the charts. We were in the middle of the jungle and eating fresh, nut-crusted tuna, granola bowls with tropical fruits and avocado, bacon and toast breakfasts. Casa Viajes and even Minca, in general, had brushes of Ubud struck throughout the region.
We enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of Minca but had to head off to catch a flight after staying up in the mountains for just one night. We were off to Medellin for our next week of adventures!
Cheers if you have been here since week 1. Welcome if you just joined the journey. It’s been 100 weeks of backpacking continuously and a little over 26 months of adventure travel blogging. It’s been a ride.