Ciao Colombia, adios America del Sur

I left South America in style.

Well… That’s not entirely true.

I left South America hungover.

Yes, I know, another flight, another hangover.

But I certainly said my farewells to South America in style.

P and I decided we would allow ourselves one day of pure adulterated indulgence. So…

We said farewell while soaking up the last of the Colombian sun in a rooftop pool overlooking the golden splendour of Cartagena.

We said farewell again while enjoying a bottle of crisp white wine next to said pool and watching the sunset.

We said farewell once more with a sumptuous cocktail while darkness descended.

We said another farewell while being expertly smothered with coconut oil after deciding that we couldn’t possibly leave Colombia without first experiencing a full body massage under the stars.

We toasted farewell with the complimentary bottle of champagne that came with the massage.

We slurred farewell while tucking into a delicious supper and red wine in the hotel restaurant downstairs.

There may have been another farewell when I scoffed down a snickers bar from the minibar later that evening.

There may have been many other farewells.

For our last night we checked into one of the most stylish hotels in town and delighted in the hot shower, the soft feather pillows, the cool white linen, the cleanliness and most of all, the air conditioning.

It could not have been a further contrast from the simple palm huts – buckets of cold water for washing and no electricity – we had called home for the previous six days.

We decided to eschew luxury in favour of the tranquility of the wilderness where the only disturbance came from the dawn cacophony of a thousand tropical birds and the distant, or sometimes not so distant, call of monkeys.

First in Isle Grande, which is anything but ‘grande’ in both dimension and pretension, where we found ourselves at the idyllic ramshackle Ecopackers Hostal Las Palmeras, a collection of about four small huts nestling among the palm trees five minutes walk from the beach. Run by the friendly but formidable Anna Rosa and her family, we were fed a simple breakfast, lunch and supper and left to our own lazy devices for the rest of the sweltering day.

We lay on the hot sand, we bathed in tepid blue waters, we snorkelled, we meandered the length of the island, around mangrove swamps and dusty beaches, we swung on hammocks, we did really very, very little. And it was blissful.
By 9pm each night, blanketed by total unremitting darkness, we were asleep.

Then we headed for what is often labelled as Colombia’s crowning glory, the Tayrona National Park.

This 150 square km of hilly jungle which lines the coast north east of Santa Marta, boasts some of Colombia’s finest sandy beaches. But you have to be willing to work for them.

It is a two hour walk through jungle thick with hanging vines and echoing with the strange calls of unknown creatures from the entrance of the park to the coast, where the sweating backpacker is finally able to feel a fresh ocean breeze on their cheeks and spy turquoise water with its promise of cool relief through the branches. But if they think their trudge through the steaming hot jungle is about to be rewarded they are mistaken.

The first few beaches are among nature’s cruel jokes. While their white sand and clear waters stretch into the distance like a holiday commercial, the waves carried in on the Caribbean swell crash shoreward with a force that make the water too dangerous for swimming – “More than 100 people have died on this beach”, the signs warn, “Do not become another statistic”.

So, sticky from the rabid humidity and dreaming of ice lollies and fridges and cold showers, you continue for what seems like several days. After, more accurately, another 45 minutes of passing beautiful but lethal beaches from where the sea spray whispers sweet nothings to you, beseeching you to ignore the signs and die among their silken waters, you reach La Piscina, where you can finally plunge bodily and safely into the welcoming water and lose yourself amongst the soft surf.

Even more stunning, and even further to walk, is the picture perfect sandy bay of Cabo San Juan protected from the dangerous currents by huge granite rocks which jut into the ocean on either side. And boasting some of the smallest bikinis and best bums in South America, as rated by P and I.

We spent two happy, very sweaty, days walking through the park, accompanied by monkeys, lizards and rare birds, and lazing on its gorgeous beaches before heading back to civilisation and preparing for our final hurrah in Cartagena.

We exploded into that hotel in a flurry of excitement over the rooftop pool and chic interiors.

Colombia is too colourful a country to leave sensibly. You should leave Colombia singing joyfully and tunelessly while trying to dance salsa with a cocktail in one hand. Con mucho gusto.


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