A Travellerspoint blog

January 2016

Colombia: Rodadero, Santa Marta, Barranquilla

Exploring serene El Rodadero, heavenly Santa Marta and the boisterious rhumba of Barranquilla!

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El Rodadero

It was time to move on from Cartagena and explore the rest of the Caribbean north.
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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.
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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.
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The atmosphere was serene!
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The beach was full of people yet calm... music played and people danced...
the night illuminated with candles and lights.
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The beach is a big drawcard here.
The water is calm and safe and the sunsets are just downright magical!
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Calle 11 Hostel

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This place has an interesting history.
It was reportedly owned by a mafia kingpin, and then sold by the government after his take down.
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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

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!

Nightlife

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.
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Later though, you'll no doubt end up dancing somewhere, whether you intended to or not!

Police Escort

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....
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As we progressed down one of the silent streets, 3 police saddled up to us, riding Segways.....
(in Spanish)
"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...."
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Barranquiila

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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..."
hmmmm.... oookay
"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!

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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

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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!

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There are many many discoteques in Bazza.... but the most famous one... the must see....
.... and my absolute favourite on earth is La Troja!
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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!!!

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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.

Posted by SkinnyFists 16:14 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa colombia santa_marta barranquilla el_rodadero colombian_beaches calle_11_hostel Comments (0)

Colombia: Cartagena

Border advice plus... dancin', chillin, cyclin' plus more in Colombia's paradise on the Carribean coast

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Arrival Colombia

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I left Central America full of great memories.... via Avianca and landed on the sunny shores/airport of tropical Cartagena.
Luckily I had bought a bus ticket to Ecuador for a month's time, because the customs officer asked for evidence of my departure before letting me in to the country.
This has happened twice for me so far.... so be warned.

I made the mistake of not supplying onward travel evidence in Costa Rica.
It created all kinds of havoc, though I'll save it for another chapter dedicated to border crossings.

Lodgings

I stayed at two different hotels at different times, and both were excellent!
Though, I really recommend Patio de Getsemani.
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It's run by a super friendly family, the rooms are wonderful, cool and quiet... and the hotel has the most amazing rooftop patio/garden with astounding views.

Getsemani

Barrio Getsemani is a wonderful, hip suburb just outside of centro.
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The streets really come alive at night... many families blast music out of their front rooms with the windows open and often sit out the front socialising with their neighbours and tourists alike.

It's a very nice environment to be part of.

There are many bars in this area, but the spot where most people congregate is Trinidad Square.
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Many food stalls surround it, and there is often sound systems blasting quality tunes.

Centro

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Central Cartagena is wonderful!
It is a photographers dream, and most likely heritage protected as it has a very antique feel, retaining its 600 year old charm.

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You will find all of the boutiques, upscale shops, and fine restaurants in an amazing setting.
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It seems like from the facades the city has not changed since inception nearly 600 years ago!
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There are many squares, where people either sit and eat, or amazing performers ply their trade.

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Café del Mar

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If you want to impress your loved one, book a seaside table at Cafe Del Mar for sunset.
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It's a truly beautiful spot with incredible views out to sea, and out to Bocagrande.

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Beach

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Cartagena isn't famous for the beach, but it is nice.
It is easy to get to the more pristine places like El Rodedero or Playa Blanca

Explore by bike

Cartagena is a great place to explore by bike.
It is very flat, and doesn't have much road traffic, with many bike friendly avenues.
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I took 3 hour tour covering centro, Getsemani and often less visted barrios for a bit of contrast.

Festival of Lights

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Cartagena put certainly put on a show in terms of Christmas lights.
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Huge light statues and presentations were scattered all over the cities and parks.

Nightlife

Cartagena has amazing nightlife! All Latin forms of music plus electro are catered for here!

Salsa

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Salsa is the staple form of music in Caribe Colombia, and Salseros are in for a treat.
You can study at Crazy Salsa, and enjoy some awesome venues to dance or just listen and marvel.

Here are some venues I visited....

Donde Fidel is a small bar with a huge voice!
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(Folks sit outside of Donde Fidel, in the main square enjoying the music by night)

There isn't a great deal of dancing here, it is more of a place to sit appreciate/talk about music with others so passionate about it.
Many groups, couple, individuals sit and appreciate the tunes, amidst the photos of famous Salsaneros who have visited the place.
Bring sticks and even a cowbell!

Quiebra-Canto is a 3 story venue dedicated to Salsa.

quiebra_canto.jpgThe bottom venue attracts many casual punters, and the top floor was filled with aficionados passionate about the music .
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I spoke with the barmen about different artists... and they of course bash rhythms and singing passionately when they aren't serving drinks.

Havana Café. Arguably the premier live Salsa joint in town.
They have smokin hot musos gracing the stage and a really festive environment.
My only problem with it was that it was full of tourists and no room to dance.

I had the best time at Donde Fidel and Quiebra-Canto!

Music

One day I came across a busker playing didgeridoo... in a way that Colombian's would - rapidly, with marvellous complex rhythms and a strong groove.
His girlfriend was playing a soulful clarinet accompaniment.
It was truly amazing and I'm kicking myself for not filming, but if you visit Cartagena watch out for them!

I saw a lot of other really wonderful performances in different pockets of Cartagena.
It was my first taste of the country and the importance of musicality in Colombian culture quickly became very clear.
I could write subjective tomes about it... and others have done exactly that....

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

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The Jewel of Cartagena and a very significant/strategic part of Colombia's history.
I spent more than four hours exploring, via aid of audio guide.
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It was really fascinating, especially to lean that at one stage British Pirates conquered the fort.

Amable personas

Cartagena is just one of the many magnificent cities of the Carribean coast of Cartagena.

I also had an amazing time in Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona, which I'll write about shortly.
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I definitely recommend Cartagena as a destination for families and backpackers alike.
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Hasta luego!

Posted by SkinnyFists 14:18 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa cartagena colombia_cartagena Comments (0)

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