Exploring serene El Rodadero, heavenly Santa Marta and the boisterious rhumba of Barranquilla!
10.12.2015 - 23.12.2015
It was time to move on from Cartagena and explore the rest of the Caribbean north.
I took the Marsol bus without hassle along the busy yet gorgeous coastal freeway, stopping occasionally for snacks, and finally arrived at the very lovely, quiet, family oriented beach town, El Rodadero.
I was lucky enough to be there for Día de las Velitas (Day of the Candles), where families light candles and spend special time together just before Christmas.
The atmosphere was serene!
The beach was full of people yet calm... music played and people danced...
the night illuminated with candles and lights.
The beach is a big drawcard here.
The water is calm and safe and the sunsets are just downright magical!
Calle 11 Hostel
This place has an interesting history.
It was reportedly owned by a mafia kingpin, and then sold by the government after his take down.
It's one of the most luxurious and best run hostels I've ever stayed (no, they aren't paying me).
Backpackers will appreciate the spaciousness and privacy curtains provided for the beds.
Santa Marta is heaven!
It's clean, beautiful, friendly yet boisterous, with wonderfully warm weather, stunning beaches.
Not too big/yet not tiny with very much a strong sense of community!
The streets are full of character.... and full of music.
We stayed at Chocolate y Candela hostel and I recommend them to you!
There are a few big clubs in Santa Marta, but the best time is probably had at the chilled bars surrounding Parque de Los Novios.
Later though, you'll no doubt end up dancing somewhere, whether you intended to or not!
One night a couple of friends and I ventured out clubbing, and decided to walk.
The club was about 5 minutes walk from the hostel....
As we progressed down one of the silent streets, 3 police saddled up to us, riding Segways.....
"Where are you boys going?"
"Miko Bar, why?"
"You shouldn't walk at night..."
... the officer directed us to turn around...
A group of rascals, who were probably harmless, had been following us from a distance, and were now cautiously diverting their path.
One of the officers said.... "We'll take you to Miko...."
Barranquilla is famous for two things... pop star Shakira, and the world's biggest Salsa carnival every February.
Many people overlook Bazza outside of Carnival time, because it's isn't an especially pretty city, and lacks tourist attractions.
This is a shame, because it's a really friendly, welcoming and fun place, and a significant cog in Colombia's gloriously diverse society and economy.
Hostel from Hell
As Barranquilla isn't really on the backpacker's trail, there is a lack of hostels.
In fact we could only find one, and it was, well interesting....
The reviews were mixed, to say the least, but my compadres and I took a punt. How bad could it be?
.....nothing prepared us for the horrid, turgid, pungent, mess that was The Meeting Point Hostel, Barranquilla.
<cue Deliverance banjos>
When the three of us entered our dorm, we were greeted by an odd fellow lying on one of the bunks, wearing only his undies.
As we settled in, the odd fellow just stared art us.
Mildly disconcerted, we continued our conversation about whether to leave/stay/sleep outside.
Our staring friend continued to gaze, voicelessly.
I had pre-arranged to meet someone via Couchsurfing, so mentioned I was going to shower (there is only one).
Suddenly, the staring elf jumped up and yelled ....
"Are you having a shower?!! Are you having a shower?!!!!!!!... I was going to have one..."
"OK buddy, go have your shower."
Here's my Tripadvisor review:
The putrid waft hit us as soon as we walked in.
Dirty clothes and clutter are draped everywhere, cats roam the halls where the owners leave handfuls of food for them on the floors.
The dorms are scary. No A/C or decent fans in a very hot/oppressing atmosphere.
The dorms are cramped, yet did seem relatively clean, though the loose live wires hanging from the ceiling was disconcerting.
The bathroom was horrible - no shower curtain with water splashing everywhere across the filth.. hair and stains everywhere.
My feet have been itchy since we left.
The owner family are indeed friendly and helpful, but the padre smokes in the common area (inside) - and it wafts through the entire building.
Do yourself a favour, heed the other reviews here and stay clear!!
Second Chance Pays Off
After a horrid night's sleep, my homies and I quickly prepared to escape.
Whilst my pals opted to return to serene Santa Marta; I thought.... that there had to be more to Barranquilla!
So I stayed a while.... and so glad to have!
There really isn't much in the way of sites, but it's a very nice city, easy to navigate and has really friendly people, and a positive vibe!
I walked most of the city; past the panaderías, markets, the mechanics and factories, through the fancy shopping centres, and via the very picturesque and spotless neighbourhoods.
Salsaaaa and Nightlife
By contrast to say, Cali where folks bust a frantic move, Barranquillan's prefer to savour the music... sitting in big groups, occasionally dancing between the tables.... closely with their partners.... or banging out rhythms with the cowbells and claves that they brought from home!
There are many many discoteques in Bazza.... but the most famous one... the must see....
.... and my absolute favourite on earth is La Troja!
It's boisterous, friendly and totally unpretentious.
People congregate and dance inside the venue, and at nearly every available space on the periphery.... literally stopping traffic.
There are street vendors outside servicing the additional crowd... who are there for the magic of music!
It's a very incredible experience!
Definitely check out their Instagram for a taste!!!
Inside, there are also TV screens everywhere showing boxing and football too!
I'll be back....
If you want an authentic Colombian experience; to see just one of the true beating hearts of this amazing country with such diversity and contrasts, then please do visit.
You will have a great time, and have the (unfortunate) luxury of being one of the only tourists around.
Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Cartagena are so starkly different yet essentially Colombian, it's really incredible.
I can't wait to get back to Bazza for Carnival and rejoin the nice friends I met there.