Friday, October 28, 2016

San Andrés - A Colombian island paradise

San Andrés beach

San Andrés is a small island in the Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua. Although it is part of Colombia, it has a very distinct carribean culture - including its own Creole language.
The island is relatively underdeveloped with only a few large expensive resorts. The town is mostly just a laid back local place.

San Andrés town

The island is known for it's beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches.

San Andrés from the boat to Johnny Cay

And it's excellent snorkelling, especially on its nearby coral quays.

Boats with Johnny Cay In the background

Johnny Cay

To get to the main coral quay (Johnny cay) you can take a boat from the main beach (tickets are sold from the yellow transport co-op building).

It's better value to buy the trip that goes to the acuario Island too which is better for snorkeling.

Fish at Acuario Island - my phone doesn't take great photos underwater

As well as Johnny cay and Acuario Island, there is another coral quay easily reached from the main town. Just outside of the village of San Luis is the excellent snorkelling spot of Rocky Cay.

San Luis beach

Rocky Cay

You can easily walk out the 250m through the shallow water to the island

Walking out to Rocky Cay

where there is excellent snorkelling around the reef and the sunken ships that are nearby.

A Rusting ship

Further up the coast is a short nature trail through the mangroves which is filled with birds and other animals. 

The walkway

The river through the mangroves

Mud crab in its burrow

After many trips out snorkelling and trekking through mangroves, San Andrés is also the perfect place to relax on the beach with a cocktail or two - including the (in)famous Coco Loco, an incendiary mix of liquor served in a coconut.

One of the many beach side bars

San Andrés is the perfect place in Colombia to relax and enjoy the carribean without the stress of some of the larger cities. 

Another part of San Andrés beach

It's beautiful beaches, laid back culture and small town feel made it the perfect place to relax before continuing my journey away from the coast - inland to the city of Medellin.

San Andreas from the air

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.