We booked a paragliding experience through “Paragliding Medellin” and the Colombian paragliding pioneer “Ruben Fly”. That morning we woke up and made our way to the San Javier Station. We rode the Metro Cable Car up to La Aurora and our driver met us at the station about 15 minutes later. We got into his car (not the marked van as advertised on their website), but then had to wait for another couple who was supposed to be there when we were. After waiting another 20 minutes or so, we were finally given the go ahead to make our way to the launch site in San Felix for paragliding. It was a winding, twisting road on the way up, and would definitely have been difficult to navigate on our own.
We were dropped off in a parking lot with a few restaurants around and then hiked up a hill for about 10 minutes to get to the actual paragliding site. Once there, we filled out our paperwork and were given helmets and attached to a parachute and a guide. The site was filled with about 50 people waiting for their turn to take flight. Everything there ran smoothly and orderly, and it was clear that this company knew what they were doing. Everything felt safe and professional.
We had a few minutes to watch other people run, launch and fly through the air before it was our turn to make the plunge. There wasn’t enough time to be nervous or ask questions, all the sudden I was attached to my tandem pilot and soaring through the air.
It was actually less scary than expected, as once you’re in the air, you’re just lounging back in your harness, almost like you’re sitting on the couch. My guide spoke some English, as some of his family members were from Chicago, so he and I were able to have a conversation while floating through the air. Tim’s partner spoke only Spanish but responded to his reactions and knew he wanted a more wild ride. They scraped over the tops of trees, powerlines, and even flew right next to birds. We did the 30 minute ride through the air, which was plenty of time to enjoy the experience and get some pictures and videos. The views were incredible, and you’re able to see the whole city down below. For a small fee you can add a GoPro to your flight package, but we had our own.
After our flight, were sat in a nice homemade structure with stairs and enjoyed some popsicles that were sold by a local with a cooler. Next we hiked down and then we had to wait for our ride back to the Metro station, so we wandered around the shops and restaurants. There is a great viewing spot where you can grab a beer or a cup of coffee and watch other people paragliding. We had to wait another 30 minutes or so for our driver, and the communication was definitely lacking. We did get to meet “Ruben Fly”, and he was very nice, but definitely needed a few more drivers that busy summer day. Overall though, we’d highly recommend booking with “Paragliding Medellin”.
We took the cable car back down the hill and then rode the metro over to San Javier. Right outside the station there was an amazing bakery where you could grab lunch before your next adventure. We had various empanadas, pastries and cakes- and there was a guy nearby selling freshly made sugarcane juice.
We only had a half a day left to explore the town and we weren’t feeling great so we didn’t get to experience the true nightlife and culture of Medellin. However, just walking around the El Poblado area was full of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. We unsuccessfully tried to hire our Uber driver to take us on an off-the-record Pablo Escobar tour, but just saw the outside of his house (it was $30USD each to go inside) and his grave. Before we went to bed that night, we did make sure to have a shot of Aguardiente, the local anise-flavored spirit that tastes like black licorice. It may have been better at the end of a night of drinking, but we went to bed early after only one lone shot. We can’t wait for our next trip to Colombia to be able to return to Medellin and fully experience the town of eternal spring.
Having limited time in Medellin, we decided to book a full day tour to the colorful town of Guatape. We booked the Viator tour that was $30USD each, and totally worth the money. We started our day by meeting in Parque del Poblado plaza, which was a quick walk from our hostel, and then stopped to pick up the rest of our tour group at Hotel Nutibara. While we waited for the rest to load on the bus, we were given about 20 minutes to wander around Botero Plaza to see all the Botero Statues.
From there, we drove about 45 minutes to our first pit stop, which was a tiny cafe that served us Aguapanela, or sugarcane tea, and a traditional arepa with a slab of salty homemade farm cheese.
The next stop was a small town called Marinilla, where we were given a tour of the town square and local historical sites. The town had a huge town center with many people around and a beautiful white cathedral.
The next stop was Penol Rock, where you climb over 600 steps to the top of the giant rock. At the top, you can wander around and take pictures, have a beer from the bar, or shop for souvenirs. The climb is beautiful and the view from the top is amazing. There are hundreds of little islets in the bright, blue water down below. At the bottom of the rock, there are plenty of restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. Though the place is pretty toursity, it is definitely one of the best views in all of Colombia, and worth the trip. Our tour did not include the $18,000 pesos ($5.50 USD) entrance fee, but the fee was worth the nicely maintained stairs and facilities.
We loaded back on the bus and headed to our lunch stop. Lunch was included in our tour, which was one of the reasons we picked it. We had the opportunity to try the local cuisine of Bandeja Paisa, which is essentially a giant platter of meat. Our plate consisted of sausages, ground meat, rice and beans, a fried egg, avocado, plantains and an arepa. We tried to takedown this calorie-filled cuisine, but were unable to finish the whole thing.
Finally, we started our tour of the town of Guatape. The town is made up of colorful houses and a bright town plaza. Each house has their own colorful zocalos on it, which a picture depictions showing who lives there. The pictures might express your occupation or interests (example: blacksmith, baker, boat enthusiast, gardener). You can spend hours wandering through the cobblestone streets and admiring the artwork and colors on all the house.
Even though we were still full from our lunch, we had to try a few treats while wandering around the town. In the main plaza, there is storefront that sells fresh baked cinnamon rolls. We also wandered into Ice Cream Colossus to try Salpicon de Frutas, which is essentially a fruit cocktail with sparkling soda, condensed milk and ice cream. Ours was filled with papaya, pineapple, apples and bananas.
The whole day was worth the $30, and the bus ride home was quiet and relaxing, as everyone was so tuckered out that many people just slept on the way home. We made it back by the evening, in time for dinner and, if you wanted, a night out on the town.
Taganga, Colombia is only about a 20 minute taxi ride from Santa Marta. It’s a tiny fishing village with two beaches and lots of shopping. When we got there, we wandered the main street, exploring the area. It looked like during the high season it would be a happening place. There were discos with speakers blasting music, stalls for street vendors, and tons of boats. However, it was a bit dead when we were there. Scattered about were groups of locals, and it looked like it would be a good weekend scene for local families who wanted to escape for the day.
Our boat driver dropped us off at Yaki, one of the many restaurants. He brought us in and introduced us to his wife who worked there. We were allowed to use their beach chairs for the day as long as we purchased some food/drinks from the restaurant. It was a nice place to settle down, needing both beverages and a bathroom. We ordered two new juices that we hadn’t tried yet: lulo and zapote. Both were refreshing and delicious. The zapote juice tasted just like a malted chocolate or fig milkshake. The lulo was almost like a tart and acidic rhubarb and lime juice.
We were able to rend a snorkel mask for $5,000 pesos (or $1.50) and explore the nearby coastline. There were a variety of fish, although not the greatest snorkeling we’ve done. But for only $1.50, it was definitely worth it. We saw a sunken ship, many schools of fish, and even an eel.
The bus ride back to Santa Marta was only $1,600. The bus was slow and bumpy, making several stops along the way to pick up or drop off locals. If you’re looking to save some money, it was really easy to catch the bus on the corner; no hassle at all.
Back in Santa Marta, we were able to explore the town and sample all the delicious street food. On the corner of Calle 5 and 12 streets you’ll find a tamale cart lined with locals. For a rice and chicken tamale and a bag of mystery pink juice, it will only set you back $5000 pesos ($1.50 USD). To learn more about all the street food we ate, check out our article “5 Street Foods You Must Try in Santa Marta”.
As we made our way down to the waterfront, we ended up running into a giant parade. We had no idea that July 16th was Dia de la Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of transportation. We got swept up in the hustle and bustle of the parade and began following it down to the water. The event had hundreds upon hundreds of locals following the floats through the streets. During the festival you could purchase just about anything your heart desired. From firecrackers to candy/snacks to coffee/beer to these amazing fruit smoothies. The parade culminated in the church courtyard, the Cathedral de Santa Marta, the oldest Cathedral in all of Colombia. The courtyard was filled with people dancing, singing and lighting off fireworks.
After the parade we decided to play tourist and hit up the local Juan Valdez coffee shop to enjoy their free air conditioning and free wifi. It’s always smart to find a local chain coffee shop to take advantage of their amenities, as many cater to the tourists. Finally, we ended our evening by filling our bellies with local street food. Calle 17 street was the place to go, with about 20 carts lined up and dishing out different delights. I think we tried a few things: pizza, empanadas and fresh juice smoothies. You really couldn’t go wrong with any cart, as most had lines and were serving up fresh food made right then. It was a great first day in Santa Marta.
Day Two: Day Trip to Tayrona National Park
While many travellers will opt to spend days in Tayrona National park and recommend an overnight stay, we are here to share that, if you’re ambitious enough, it is possible to do as a day trip from Santa Marta.
You’ll definitely want to get an early start on the day, as it will be a long one. We caught the
Bus to Tayrona Park from the Central Market on 10th Street and Carrera 9 downtown for 7,000 pesos each (about $4 total). The buses leave about every 30 minutes or so. You’ll want to stock up on water and snacks before entering in the park, as everything is far more expensive once you get inside. We took the bus to the El Zaino stop. From there, you go straight to a line to buy your entrance ticket. It was 54,000 pesos for the entrance ticket plus another 2,000 pesos for the shuttle up the road (highly recommended as it saves a long, shadeless mile walk). It turns out you can reserve a ticket in advance, which we didn’t know about, but that might save you some time upon entering the park.
From where the shuttle drops you off, there are a few hiking options. Most people trek ahead to Cabo San Lucas beach. We took the road less traveled and did the 9 Stones hike first. There are three trails to follow along. We headed to the one that goes straight out to the ocean, past the signs that says “Beware of Alligators”. The loop was about a 45 minute detour, but had some amazing views and fun places to take pictures.
Next we continued on to Cabo San Lucas beach, which was about a 1.5 hour hike. The hike was relatively flat through sand and a bit of jungle. It was really hot and humid. The best part about the hike is about half way when there are locals selling popsicles out of a cooler for $2000 pesos. It seemed that every hiker, drenched in sweat, was stopping for a delicious paleta.
Cabo San Lucas beach is beautiful but crowded. There were rows of tents where you can camp, or you can rent a hammock in an open air gazebo for the night. There was one restaurant for lunch, or a couple locals selling sandwiches out of ice chests. Just beyond Cabo San Lucas beach, another short walk away is Playa Naturalista. This was a much more quiet and secluded area, only about 10 people were on the beach with us. We stayed at the beach for a good few hours, swimming and enjoying the sunshine.
The highlight of the day was on the walk back when we discovered a secret sandwich shop in the forest. For $5000 pesos (or $1.50 USD), you get a hot, fresh baked roll with ham and cheese in a brown paper bag.
Feeling tired, full and hot, we debated whether to continue our walk back or get carted out of the forest by a horse. For only $20,000 pesos each, we opted for the horseback ride through narrow, winding canyons. The ride was about 30 minutes and quite the adventure. The horses had to maneuver uphill, through small little sand paths. They were very well trained, and we had a guide accompany us along the way.
The shuttle back to town was $25,000 pesos each. We got back just by sunset.
We ended our evening by exploring downtown Santa Marta. We wandered around Simon Bolivar plaza and had cocktails at an outdoor cafe. There were lots of locals about, showing off their various talents. We ended up chatting with a local artist Oscar Franco and looking at his artwork. We bought one of his painting and he told us about his “exhibit” later that night. We walked around a bit more and then decided to swing by and check out his exhibit, which turned out to be just him on a street with even more of his paintings. He was a super nice guy, and it was nice to have a souvenir that had a story that went with it.
Having loved the street food the night before, and having scouted out the loaded french fries, we decided to head back to Calle 17 to end our night with filling our bellies. We got the french fries that had about 10 more ingredients piled on top, made fresh to order. Loads of potatoes, lettuce, hot dogs, cheese and all the condiments. These fries were so loaded, you had to eat them with a fork. Full and tired, we headed back to Casa Escritor, our cute booking.com bed and breakfast find that was central to everything and we’d highly recommend it.
Day Three: Day Trip to Minca
Minca is a small, quiet town in Northern Colombia, and an easy day trip from Santa Marta. There is a ton to do in Minca, including coffee and cacao farms, waterfalls, and plenty of restaurants and cafes overlooking a stream.
We headed to the bus stop to catch the local van that heads down to Minca each morning. For $14,000 pesos total (about $2USD each), we took a 45 minute ride over to Minca. The van drops you off right next to the eager locals just waiting to take you on a motorcycle adventure. You can walk to the Pozo Azul waterfall, but it would be about an hour walk at 1.5 miles. For $10,000 pesos each way, we hopped on the back of these two guys’ motorcycles and caught a ride down a bumpy dirt road. We zoomed past weary travelers and were dropped off right at the entrance to the waterfall. You have to have a stomach for adventure to enjoy the wild motorbike ride, but the drivers were very friendly and cautious, and will even let you borrow their helmet if you’d like.
Pozo Azul is a refreshing swimming hole. Just at the base of the small falls, there is a perfect swim area to beat the humidity. A few brave souls were jumping off the side of the falls, but most were just lounging or swimming. A lone old man had set up his very own 7-11 style store right at the entrance, selling beers, candy and chips. The place was pretty crowded with tourists, but nevertheless refreshing and nice.
Once done at the waterfall, we walked back and found our drivers patiently waiting to drive us back to town. We wandered down the main streets and ended up at a Bakery/Cafe, La Miga Panderia. Upon walking up, you’ll smell the fresh baked bread and treats. They had samples of the different types of breads and dipping sauces. We purchased a loaf of bread and some hummus, and washed it down with a fancy coffee. However, we were having major FOMO over the table next to us and their delicious sandwiches. Everything there looked amazing; we don’t think you can go wrong.
After lunch, we stopped by the Lazy Cat Cafe for a beer overlooking the river and to use the free wifi. The outdoor patio was peaceful and surrounded by trees. We enjoyed listening to the river below, and ended up splitting a huge banana, coconut milk and cinnamon smoothie which is every bit as good as it sounds.
We then walked back to the motorcycle stand to catch a ride to Marinka waterfall. This one was about 20 minutes down another curved dirt road. Again, it was $10,000 pesos each way to rent motorcycle. There’s a small hike to get to the entrance where there is a S4,000 pesos fee to use the facilities. There are also two waterfalls here, nice restrooms, a restaurant, and a giant hammock to relax in. We spent more time here than expected, but our motorcycle drivers were still patiently waiting for us (and probably had been for an hour) and happily drove us back to town.
We hopped in the shuttle van to get back to Santa Marta and had a quick dinner before heading to the airport that evening. Then it was off to Medellin for our next set of adventures.
Frappe Caribeno: a delicious fruit smoothie for less than $1. You can catch the locals pushing a Frappe cart down the streets or in the middle of the town plaza. There are a variety of flavors to try including: strawberry, cantaloupe, etc. We had at least four tiny cups at a day to beat the Santa Marta heat.
Tamales: on the corner of Calle 5 and 12 streets you will find the tamale guy and a line of locals. For $1, you can purchase a delicious, banana-leaf-wrapped tamale. The chicken tamale has a whole piece of chicken baked inside the surrounding rice. For an extra .50 cents, you can buy a bag of mystery pink juice that you drink through a straw poked into the bag (like an archaic Capri Sun).
Arepas: also on the streets of Santa Marta, you can get a stuffed arepa. An arepa is a flat, round, and puffy ball of maize dough. They are grilled on a flat top grill right in front of your eyes and served up nice and hot. The ones in Santa Marta are then split in half and stuffed with delicious cheese, avocado and meat. You’ll find various street carts throughout the city selling these amazing arepas. While we were waiting in line for ours, the local bus pulled over and the arepa cart guy was selling to people out of the bus windows!
Loaded Fries: at Calle 17 street there are so many choices of street foods to try. One of the most impressive plates was a cart that was pushing out piles of fries loaded with all kinds of goodies. We sat one night and watched the whole process, from peeling and boiling potatoes, to grilling hot dogs, to piling on all the fixings like cheese, lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, potato chips, etc. The result is a plentiful pile of potatoes that you have to eat with a fork.
Juice/Smoothies: At various restaurants and carts, you can purchase fresh fruit smoothies. You literally stand at the cart, choose your favorite fruits and watch them being blended into a delicious drink. We found a new favorite drink which was made with zapote and milk. This zapote juice tasted just like a chocolate or fig milkshake. We also enjoyed trying new fruits, like lulo, mixed into our drinks.