The city to daytrip from


  • Cartagena – Santa Marta
  • Santa Marta – Tayrona National Park
  • Palomino

Five hours and five litres of sweat later, our shuttle bus dropped Lucy and I off at the Masaya hostel. First impressions were great and with two pools, all we wanted was to go for a swim. We donned our costumes and head to the rooftop for the pool, a cold beer and a view over the city. What a spectacular place! And to prove how incredible our current situation was, we FaceTimed Josh to show him how much fun we were having (whilst the poor guy was sat up late writing a work presentation).

Fran, Rhona and Mette came across to join us on the roof for a snack and a few more drinks to make the evening another great one. Also a sad one because it was my last time seeing these beautiful girls and again, another sad goodbye that I had to go through. First Naomi and now Fran and Rhona – losing all my travel buds swiftly! Thankfully Lucy had come to save the day.

After the girls left us, Luce and I went out to get supplies for our next day Tayrona trek and for dinner that night. Santa Marta was a heaving little city at nighttime and not at all the quiet beach town that I’d expected it to be, but instead hustling and bustling, roads lined with street vendours a la Asia, and such a buzz about the place. I trasped around the supermarket in swimwear at 8pm at night but had no cares in the world because I was finally in a beautifully hot and beachy place.

We cooked up some chicken pasta and made lunch for the following day, planning our route to Tayrona and sleeping arrangements, bags etc. The hostel had fabulous little pods for sleeping in, equipped with personal fans and air conditioning, and a little curtain to pull over for privacy. I slept like a baby and was thoroughly impressed with the calibre of hostel; more like a hotel you’d be paying decent money for!

You can see what I got up to for two days in Tayrona here (it’s on its way…).

Once back on the bus from Tayrona and cooling off in Masaya’s pool once more, we did have to mobilise ourselves to move hostel. We’d booked Dreamers which was a cab ride away but actually appeared to be worth the move. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a fabulous atmosphere chilling around pool and after we’d got ourselves ready, we joined in a game of water volleyball, made friends with a few others around the hostel and got in some sunbathing. We also spotted someone walking in Bristol hockey kit and just shouted Bristol at them in the hope that we knew who they were. Turns out we didn’t but had loads of mutual friends and spoke to this guy, Duncan, for a while longer.

Our early evening was spent sorting out our lives – booking buses, flights and hostels and planning our few remaining days before sailing San Blas. We showered and grabbed some dinner and then made our way to the supermarket to sort supplies for our day trip to Palomino the following day. The power had been out all day around the block and everywhere seemed a bit eerily silent and dark for 7pm at night. But the time we came back out of the supermarket though, it was like a different place! The hostel was lively, the roads were packed and people were energetic. As such, we grabbed two beers and started socialising around the bar.

I wasn’t feeling particularly sociable given the heat and early mornings we’d repeatedly had but we did meet a lovely girl named Alex, also a Bristol alumni. We retired to our sweatbox of a room fairly early in comparison to the rest of the hostel who pretty much head out on mass to somewhere nearby. They all came storming back in at 3am, smashing glasses and generally causing havoc. Oh the British drunks!

Lucy and I were up at 7am, making breakfast sandwiches and packing our things for a day to Palomino. Palomino is a tiny beachside village on the Carribean coast, beyond Tayrona. It sits in the Sierra Nevada hills of which the tallest mountain is so sacred that only the indigenous families are allowed to summit it. The entire area is luscious jungle and the sound of  howler monkeys can be heard from the moment you step off the bus. The best part is also that there are really very few tourists, or people at all, so it’s just a teeny taste of paradise to visit.

The bus took two hours and upon our arrival we were hounded by the agencies selling tubing excursions. That was how we wanted to spend our morning but first had to go on search for a bag to waterproof our belongings. Then we came back and paid our 20,000 pesos, hopped on the back of a mototaxi carrying our giant tubes in one arm and sped up the dirt track towards a walkway through the jungle. Our drivers told us it was another 25 minute walk to the river where we could start the tubing. Not an easy affair in flip flops and carrying a big old tube when the path is narrow and you have to pass by horses coming in the opposite direction!

Sweaty and dirty, we arrived at a fairly fast flowing section of the river from which we could start. There were two other groups arriving with us and after some difficulty actually getting in to tubing position, we were off. Well, so we thought, until the first current sent us all in to the trees under which we ducked and emerged covered in leaves and insects! Not a fab start but a funny one. We eventually got the hang of staying fairly central in the channel and enjoyed the relaxing experience of floating through the jungle. The scenery was stunning and the birds and monkeys really set the mood for us, despite a few hairy moments of beaching ourselves or smacking in to rocks and logs in more rapid areas.

Two hours of floating later and we reached the beach (with a nice red glow to the front of our bodies from the 15 minutes the sun popped out for!). The beach was beautiful, lined with palm trees, a few food and drink shacks but otherwise completely unspoiled and seemingly undiscovered. It was a shame the clouds were showing no signs of clearing but still we chose to take a nap and “sunbathe” for the early part of the afternoon. Not a single person interrupted us to sell us food and drink and there was no shouting or screaming of children. It was just pure bliss!

We started to get peckish about 1.30pm since we’d only really taken a snack whilst tubing (which we ate whilst floating). Further along the beach towards the main town there were some makeshift restaurants and we ordered two smoothies and a pizza to share, with the backdrop of rural beach lifestyle and a view of pelicans floating in the sea. The food and drink was awesome and so had been our day. It was time to hop on the bus for another two hours back to Santa Marta though.

When we returned I thankfully got to move rooms to the air conditioned dorm. H E A V E N! Poor old Luce stayed put but it wasn’t such a hot day and the rain was lashing down outside so the fans weren’t such a problem the second night. We briefly took a dip in the pool but then packed up our things and jumped in the shower before attempting a more sociable evening! The night was then spent eating dinner, playing pool (of which I’m still utterly terrible) and socialising with a few other hostel residents such as Ashnee from Coventry who we had a right girls natter with, and Chris and Camil. The rest of my room were all heading on the Lost City trek the next day so I didn’t feel guilty about my pre-midnight bedtime either!

So, 191 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and whilst still sweaty, I’ve loved all the possibilities available from Santa Marta. Actually, it’s a pretty lively city that I’ve really enjoyed visiting too!

Gabby x


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