Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cities of the coast: Cartagena

Cartagena's old city

Cartagena is a colonial city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is best known for its old city and colonial architecture. The city itself has an interesting history of colonisation, pirates, privateers and battles amongst all the colonial powers.

Overseeing the old city is the imposing fort of San Felipe de Bajaras

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

This enormous fort protected the old city of Cartagena from privateer attacks, as well as attacks from the French (a successful attack) and the British and colonial US forces (an unmitigated disaster). Interestingly, the father of George Washington participated in the unsuccessful British attack.

One of the many cannons used to repel the British attack.

When you explore the fort's defences it is easy to see why it was so difficult to take and why the French attack was only successful due to the cunning of their commander, the French intelligence about the lack of defenders in the fort at the time and the utter incompetence of the defenders (forgetting to destroy the wooden stairway that allowed entry to the fort).

The entry showing the reconstructed stairway (red)

The fort also has an extensive number of tunnels that were used for transporting troops and ammunition between the many batteries in the fort.

One of the many tunnels

The tower from one of the batteries

The South battery in the tower.

The old city of Cartagena is also surrounded by city walls with an impressive display of cannons.

The city walls

And enclosed within these walls are narrow colonial streets

A street in the old city

Colonial churches

San Pedro church

The Cathedral

San Domingo church


Plaza de los coches

And of course the city walls and defences.

City walls overlooking the harbour

The clock gate

Just outside the city walls are even more narrow colonial streets.

Streets in the Getsemani barrio

Often adorned with street art

Street art in Getsemani

Further afield is the modern part of Cartagena, which is just like any modern city and, although the beaches are nice, the constant harassment from aggressive street sellers makes a trip to Cartagena beach quite unpleasant.

Cartagena beach

Much better to enjoy a beer and the sunset in one of the bars on the walls of the old city.

View at night from one of the bars on the wall

Friday, October 21, 2016

Minca - Coffee in the mountains

Mist rising over the mountains in Minca

Minca is a small village about 30 minutes from Santa Marta. It is famous for its coffee and beautiful mountain scenery. Sadly, on the day I went it rained heavily for most of the morning, so I was forced to enjoy it's coffee from a café rather than the coffee farm.

Lots of rain and lots of coffee while waiting

By the time the rain had stopped, I lacked sufficient time to go to the lookout or the coffee farm so I decided to walk up to the local swimming hole - Pozo Azul.

The walk is basically up one of the few roads in Minca until you reach the well marked turnoff to Pozo Azul.

From the end of this road there is a short trail until you reach the river.

a fairly rickety bridge over the river

As there had been a lot of rain the pool wasn't particularly 'Azul' (blue) and the river was more a torrent.

More brown than blue

The swollen river

On the way back from Pozo Azul, I discovered a sign for a 'nature trail', so having an hour or so to spare, I decided to investigate.

The trail

The 30 minute round trip is well marked but steep and slippery. It takes you up into the jungle for views over the valley.

Halfway up the trail

View from the top

Descending the trail

As the light was beginning to fade, I had to hurry back to the main road - just in time to see the sun set over Santa Marta in the distance.

Sunset over Santa Marta from the top of the road

Santa Marta from Minca

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trekking in Parque Tayrona

Beach at Tayrona Park

The Tayrona national park is around an hour by bus from Santa Marta. The bus drops you off at the entrance to the park where you must pay the entrance fee of $COP16,000 (about $A8). From here you can take a $COP3000 ($A1.50) minibus to the trail into the park. 

The trail takes about 1.5hrs over fairly flat terrain to reach the campsite.

View from the trail

At the campsite you can hire a tent for $COP25,000 ($A12.50).

The campsite

The campsite is right on the beach where you can swim

Swimming at the beach

Watch the local wildlife



And enjoy the sunset with a quiet beer from the overpriced restaurant on site.

Sunset over the beach

There are several walking trails near the campsite - one leads high into the surrounding hills to an archaeological site.

This trek is very steep and difficult in the hot sun as much if it is exposed.

The trail

View from the top of the trail

Once the trail reaches the top of the hill it descends into a small valley where there are several ruins.

The ruins

And reconstructed buildings.

Reconstructed buildings

The entire trip takes a good part of the day so there's time to make it back to the beach for another stunning sunset.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cities of the coast: Santa Marta

Sunset over Santa Marta beach

Santa Marta is a city In the coast known for it's beaches and the nearby Tayrona national park.

The old city near the beach is a relaxed place with a mix of old colonial architecture, narrow streets and open air markets.

Santa Marta church

The nearby beach is a perfect place to enjoy the sunset or a swim, although the nearby Tanganga beach is better for swimming.

Santa Marta beach

Taganga beach

Cocktails on Taganga beach

Also in the city of Santa Marta is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino - a restored hacienda which was the place where Simon Bolivar died.

The hacienda has now been restored and is a unique tourist attraction showing the history of Bolivar's last days.

The hacienda

Monument to Simon Bolivar

Statue of Simon Bolivar inside the monument

The impressive gardens in the hacienda also have a large population of iguanas - who seemed quite sanguine despite the large number of tourists eagerly taking photos.


Iguana climbing a tree

On the other side of Santa Marta is the upmarket area of Rodadero, lined with upscale apartments along the beach. The beach here is perfect for swimming but lacks the charm of the Santa Marta beach...

Rodadero beach

... which is a much nicer place to enjoy a quiet cocktail at sunset.

Sunset over Santa Marta beach