Travelling on the coast
I want to start by saying that this is my second time in Colombia: last year I travelled for two months through Colombia, but I can tell you there are still so many places I’d like to see in this beautiful country. I’m happy to have been placed on the coast (although sometimes I complain a lot about the heat), and since I came to Barranquilla in February, I have been exploring some amazing places here.
Let’s start with my placement city, Barranquilla! The city doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tourist attractions, and all the good beaches are in Santa Marta, but its Carnival should definitely be on everyone’s travel bucket list. There are parades, live music, street parties, flour and foam fights – in short, four days of craziness!
Cumbia dancers in “La Gran Parada de Comparsas”
Only two hours from Barranquilla lies Cartagena, “the very old and heroic city of Cartagena de Indias, the most beautiful in the world.” No visitor can deny the truth of Marquez’s words, but personally I find it too touristy, and therefore sometimes lacking authentic Colombian character. Still, I enjoy walking among the colourful colonial houses in the walled city, and I would also recommend visiting the Getsemani and La Manga neighbourhoods.
Fuerte del Pastillo in La Manga, Cartagena
As I said the beaches around Barranquilla are not good, so I’m glad Santa Marta is only about two hours away. Taganga is a fishing village popular with foreign backpackers. It has a slightly dodgy atmosphere, and its beaches are not the best, but if you want to learn diving, you can do so here cheaply. For swimming, I prefer the Rodadero beach, which is about 10 minutes from the centre of Santa Marta. On holidays, it is packed with Colombians, especially Barranquilleros who escape to Santa Marta at every opportunity. You won’t have a quiet beach day, but it’s great for people watching. On a weekday, you’ll probably be the only one at the beach until local people start to arrive after work.
Locals at Rodadero beach during the Holy Week break
My favourite place so far has been Mompos. Mompos is magical. It’s a remote colonial town down the Magdalena River, so strictly speaking, it’s not on the coast, but has the same regional character and identity. The architecture is as beautiful as it is in Cartagena, but it’s a much smaller and quieter town. Momposinos were the friendliest people I’ve ever met in Colombia. I spent two full days just wandering around the streets, talking to locals, sitting by the river reading my book. I also took a boat tour to the surrounding swamps, one of my most memorable travelling experiences in Colombia.
Santa Barbara Church, built in 1613, is one of the seven colonial churches of Mompos - and to me, the prettiest.
Local fisherman in the swamps near Mompos
Last but not least, I visited La Guajira department during the Holy Week break. Its capital, Riohacha, is probably the cutest city on the Coast. It has a small town feeling and a huge beach with coco palms. At first I thought I would only use it as a base for my trip to the desert, but I liked it so much that I decided to stay another night after coming back from the desert.
La Guajira could be the most rural and poorest region in Colombia. The scenery is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but it’s heartbreaking to see its inhabitants so deprived of basic needs. During my three day stay in the region, I was wondering the whole time what it would be like to wake up to these amazing views every morning, but have no running or drinking water; to grow up here as a child, block tourists’ way to get treats because your parents don’t or can’t give you enough food, instead they send you to beg from tourists and might beat you up if you don’t do so. I will never forget the happiness in kids’ eyes when we gave them sweets through our jeep’s window. Never would I have thought that such a small thing could have made someone so happy.
There are two main destinations in La Guajira: Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas. The first one can be reached from Riohacha via Uribia, “la capital indigena de Colombia” (the indigenous capital; because of its indigenous Wayuu population) or “la bomba” (petrol station; because of the smuggled petrol from Venezuela). The ride to Cabo de la Vela is a bumpy one on unpaved road for about 3 hours, maybe a bit more if you, like me, choose to take one of the camionetas which deliver goods to rancherias in the desert.
The only way to get to Punta Gallinas is by an organized tour. It’s another three hour bumpy ride through the desert, this time a bit more comfortable because I was in the front seat of an air-conditioned jeep. And once you get to Punta Gallinas, you get on yet another vehicle to go to the more remote places of the region. But all these rides are worth the trouble; I feel like neither words, nor the pictures I took could explain the feeling of being in such a beautiful place.
A Wayuu kid in the desert
Taroa dunes in Punta Gallinas
So this has been my travelling adventures on the coast so far. I look forward to exploring many more places in this beautiful country next semester.
Leave a comment
Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.