Chronicles of Colombia: Part 1

When I told my friends and family I was going to Colombia for three weeks to visit a friend, the response I received was one of bewilderment…why would I want to go there? Is it not really dangerous? Drugs? Gangs? Crime? Surely I would return home in a body bag?! Having just returned I can safely say that I am alive and very well, my holiday surpassed all expectations and was one of breathtaking beauty and peace. Our trip included the paradise deserted beach of Playa Blanca, the charming walled city of Cartagena and the intense trek into the jungle to visit the Lost City and Tayrona National Park. We didn’t even really scratch the surface of this country which is twice the size of France, the 26th largest in the world.

We stayed on the Caribbean coast, flying straight out of Bogota to Cartagena. Cartagena was founded by the Spanish in 1533 and became an important port for the trade of gold, silver and slaves. The old walled city, the Ciudad Amarullada has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. As a consequence many of the colonial landmarks have been preserved and it is a wonderful place to while away an afternoon wondering down the cobbled streets lined with balconies, adorned in bougainvillea or take a horse and carriage ride around the city to admire the architecture, churches and fortresses that remain.

We took a boat from Cartagena to Playa Blanca, the most idyllic, peaceful beach I have ever been to. Palm trees line the shore and the warm water is a turquoise blue. Accommodation here is basic, primarily tents or hammocks however we were fortunate enough to find one of the two places offering cabanas – basic huts with a bed and a mosquito net. With no electricity (apart from the occasional generator) or running water there is no option but to swim, read, sunbathe, eat fresh fish and sleep. So that’s exactly what we did.

It was hard to leave Playa Blanca but we ran out of money so we had to head back to the mainland. We headed along the coast to the town of Taganga, which acts as the gateway to the Sierra Nevada including the Lost City and Tayrona National Park. After a week of lying horizontal we decided it was time for a vertical challenge and decided to embark on the trek to the Lost City Ciudad Perdida. Amazingly this ancient ‘city’  dating back to the 9th century, remained undiscovered until 1972, when by chance two local explorers found a series of moss covered steps rising up into the mountainside (1200 steps to be exact!). The trek has been open to the public since 2005 and covers 44 kilometres round trip but don’t let this deceive you – it includes crossing the river (numerous times), steep climbs and descents, scaling rock faces with no safety ropes and the rains (you are in the rainforest after all) that come down at clockwork every afternoon. Regardless of this, I have never laughed so much in five days. Our fellow trekkers were great fun and the company we did it with Magic Tours were brilliant.

Walking through the jungle was something I will never forget.  The smell, is like sticking your head in a sweet, tangy compost bin, the air seems so fresh and pure and it’s quite remarkable how isolated you feel with no sign of western commercialisation. It is a special place. The communities you pass through are those of the indigenous people. They have managed to remain relatively untouched and seem almost other-worldly. We learnt a little bit about their customs and traditions like how the white hats the men wear are representative of the snow on the sacred peaks of the mountains in the Sierra Nevada.

After four nights, sleeping in hammocks, we returned back to Taganga exhausted, bruised and riddled with mosquito bites but happy and triumphant in our mission. Next up was another little adventure to Tayrona National Park but I’ll save that story for another day……

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