Coffee Plantations & Waterfalls

After our couple of days living in the isolated paradise of Tayrona National Park, we headed back to Santa Marta and got the chance to wash our hair and dry out our clothes and become civilised again. We were only staying for the night before heading to the small village of Minca, which was only half an hour away.

Minca is famous for its coffee plantations and jungle-like surroundings. Hidden away 600 metres above Santa Marta, its the perfect place to escape the heat of the Caribbean coastline. The tiny village is all of one small road long and full of friendly Colombians offering lifts or tours.

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A village local

We arrived in the late afternoon, just as the heat of the day was starting to subside. Our hostel for the night was Casa Loma, which was this groovy treehouse-esque style hostel tucked in high above the village of Minca. We were thankful for only bringing small backpacks as the walk up to Casa Loma was a vertical ascent. Sweaty and out of breath, we reached the open area of the common area and checked in. Already I could tell that i would love this place. Big timber tables sat out on the edge of the mountain, with the spectacular jungle view below us. The hostel was covered in postcards and memorabilia and the staff were super friendly. It was obvious that people stay much longer than they intend here, its just a very homely place.

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Casa Loma

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Our beds for the night

We checked and signed up for the home-cooked dinner that night because a home-cooked meal sounded absolutely amazing (and we didn’t want to have to climb those stairs again!) To tide us over until dinner there was a very welcoming tray of brownies that we tucked into. As we watched the sunset over Santa Marta, with our beer and brownies, it was clear that Casa Loma had definitely won us over.

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Dinner was delicious but slightly on the small side, luckily there were extra brownies for dessert! We headed to bed early that night, eager to make the most of the following day. It was another night in a hammock but these ones were miles better than the hammocks at Cabo San Juan. I managed to get a full night sleep comfortably and woke up feeling fresh and ready to explore the area.

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Sunset at Casa Loma

We walked down the hill to a little cafe and had a filling breakfast of plantain, eggs and chorizo – washed down with local coffee. After breakfast we negotiated a price for some of the locals to drive us around for the day. Our driver from yesterday was there and he happily organised drivers for us and off we went on the back of their little moto-taxis ready for adventure.

Our first stop was the La Victoria coffee farm, about a 15 minute ride from the village. This small coffee farm still uses the original machines and has ingenious systems using water to transfer the coffee to one point from anywhere on the huge farm. We learnt about the coffee making process and the steps that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee.

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Our drivers and us at the coffee plantation

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Learning about the coffee making process

It was interesting to learn that all the best coffee in Colombia gets shipped overseas and the Colombians only use the second and third rate coffee beans. It seemed peculiar that they would give away all their incredible produce but I guess whatever pays the bills! The farm does keep a small selection of the first grade coffee for their small cafe, which we happily took advantage of! They even had freshly cooked brownies and carrot cake which had our name all over it. This was definitely turning out to be the brownie tour of Colombia!

 

After the coffee farm tour, we jumped on the back of the bikes again and were taken to Pozo Azul to cool off. This little swimming hole was the perfect way to spend the afternoon and we played in the icy water, jumping off the waterfall ledge and taking a few too many GoPro selfies! We reluctantly headed back to the village of Minca, sad that the day had gone too quickly.

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At Pozo Azul

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Defs up for Colombia’s Next Top Model :p

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Unfortunately we were out of time in Minca and had to head back to Santa Marta to catch the bus to Medellin. It was a quick but peaceful stay in the this tiny village and when I return to Colombia one day, I’m definitely going to spend more time there. Its the perfect little oasis to escape the daily grind of travelling.

Now to catch the bus to Medellin! Hello 16 hour bus ride – I’m sure you’ll be a delight! :/

J. x

Diving in Tagana

To be honest, I hadn’t really considered scuba diving in South America. But then again, I hadn’t really planned much past Cusco and here I was in Colombia by the Caribbean coast so I guess anything could happen. Like the majority of the things that I’d done so far, I’d heard from other travellers that scuba diving was cheap and beautiful in Colombia so I dug out my old PADI license from the depths of my bag and signed up for refresher course.

My pal L and I booked our dives with Tayrona Dive Centre in the small town of Taganga. This little town was known for diving and crazy parties but it was so dirty and unfinished I was much happier staying 15 minutes away in Santa Marta. Our dive instructor Juan made us watch a video on the basics of scuba diving and then suited us up and ushered us out to the boat. L hadn’t dived before so I was expecting the first dive to be all about learning techniques and skills but once we were in the water, Juan made sure L was calm and confident and we set off to discover the world below the water. It sure was a big change from when I got my PADI license a few years ago, where it was all about safety techniques and practising skills. It was nice that they were so relaxed about it all because we got to spend more time under the water!

The first dive I was still a bit nervous because it had been four years since my last dive but once I got my ears to equalise I was on fire.We swam amongst schools of fish and past healthy looking coral life. Massive puffer fish floated past us and we found lion fish hidden away in in the hard coral. We took a break on a lone beach, where small geckos flitted around our feet before diving into the clear waters once more. I’d forgotten how amazing diving was and was so glad I decided to do it again.

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Cheese!

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All the gear … No idea

The following day we woke up early again and headed back out to Tanganga for our second day of diving. I was feeling a lot more confident today and loved every single under the water. Completing my Advanced Dive certification was now much higher on my bucket list!

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After our dives we said goodbye to Juan and headed back to Santa Marta. The following day we spent at Playa Bahia Concha, a local beach on the outskirts of Tayrona National Park. It was the perfect way to decompress after our two days diving.

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Hanging out at Playa Bahia Concha

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Tomorrow we head out Tayrona National Park to discover one Colombia’s must-see attractions. And to get in some more tan time!

J. x

 

A Holiday From a Holiday in Palomino

It was time. I’d been gallivanting around South America for about four and a bit months now and was surprised at how worn out I was getting at playing tourist. Whoever said travelling was a walk in the park obviously has only been on all-inclusive holidays. This travelling business is just as hard as a job, the only thing is that its full time. So after reaching Colombia, I was a little tired of always being the tourist, I just wanted to relax and chill out. I guess you could say I wanted a holiday from my travels – ah its a tough life!

Luckily Colombia is full to the brim of places to get stuck in and really just live like the Colombians. After a week and a bit in Cartagena, I was ready for some serious beach time and Palomino Beach seemed like the perfect idea.

I caught the bus to Santa Marta and spent one night in this hot, busy city. Santa Marta didn’t leave much of an impression on me in the short time I was there. It seemed too chaotic, dirty and busy so I caught the bus to Palomino the following morning to meet two of the English girls I had stayed with in Cartagena. The drive to Palomino was long but beautiful. We passed Tayrona National Park, the starting point of the Lost City trek and many different little roadside villages. I arrived at the Tiki Hut Hostel where the girls were staying at instantly felt at ease. This tropical resort looking hostel was exactly what I was chasing. I spent the afternoon lazing around the pool with the girls, catching up on what we’d been doing in the past week.

The following day I did more of the same – devouring the amazing breakfast on offer at the Tiki Hut, sun baking, swimming and sampling one of the best brownies I’ve had ever. Not even kidding, these brownies were LIFE-CHANGING! Life is good! I went tubing down the river with some Danish girls that were also staying at the hostel and a big group of us solo female travellers found a delicious vegetarian restaurant that we may have visited twice in one day!

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The Tiki Hut – amazing!

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For the first time of the trip I was surrounded solely by girls and it was absolutely wonderful. We were all either travelling solo or in pairs and it was great to see how we could all come together from different parts of the world. I felt like girl power was definitely at its finest in Palomino, no boys needed here! I also found it hilarious that despite your address, every group of girls will have the same conversations. We talked about boys, our bodies and futures. As cheesy as it sounds but talking with these girls was empowering and it made me realise that my decision to travel instead of settle down was the right decision.

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Girl Power!

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Falafel and quinoa 
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Raw beetroot salad

We stayed in Palomino for the week, extending our stay every morning much to the hostels staffs humour. Each time we’d go to reception they’d said ‘Another night girls?’. That was another great thing about the Tiki Hut, the staff were so friendly and welcoming. I definitely recommend this hostel to anyone in Palomino – it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Caribbean coast. Plus the pancakes at breakfast are absolutely bomb!

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Palomino Beach

One of the English girls L and I wanted to go diving so we reluctantly left our little oasis in Palomino and headed back to Santa Marta to find a dive school. We booked into Masaya Hostel which was a grand old building, that must of have been a fancy hotel back in it’s day. The best dive shops were 15 minutes away in the small town of Taganga, so we put it on tomorrow’s do-to list and enjoyed dinner at a small little cafe called Carambolo, which had the most delicious wraps and drinks. It was here that I was introduced to coconut lemonade and let me just say that my life has never been the same! Carambolo was situated in a colourful little street that opened up into a big square, which was much nicer than the area of Santa Marta than I had seen briefly. My opinions on this city were starting to change.

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Inside Masaya Hostel

We headed to bed early that night, still running on our Palomino schedule where the bed time was early and the sleep was solid. Tomorrow, lets go diving!

 

J. x

 

Cartagena Part 2: Playing Tourist

I’d been living the high life in Cartagena for the first three days but I actually hadn’t seen much of the city. We’d spent so much time in enjoying the luxury of our own apartment that sightseeing had taken a backseat. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time living it up in style, I was also eager to experience Cartagena.

After a pretty ordinary stay at Chill House Hostel I made it my first mission of the day to find a new hostel. Luckily I didn’t have to go too far until I found the greatest hostel in Cartagena. Mi Llave Hostel was on the outside of the old town, right by the water in a bright pink building. This relatively new hostel had absolutely everything you wanted in a hostel and the staff were so lovely, I booked in straight away. After cooling down for a bit (Cartagena was the hottest place on the planet!) I set back out with my trusty camera and went to explore the Old Town.

Surrounded by Las Murallas – the thick walls built to protect the town from enemies – the Old Town is a real piece of colonial architecture. The construction of the walls too two centuries to complete due to storms and pirate attacks. It was finished in 1796 however due to the excellent military engineering they still remained in remarkably good shape. Inside the walls, the bright coloured buildings are squashed between churches, plazas, palaces and many different restaurants and cafes. I spent the day wandering the cobblestone streets, getting a sore neck from constantly looking around. Late in the afternoon I stumbled across what can only be described as a dessert lovers heaven and I thought it would be rude not to sample their goods.

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Entrance to the Old Town

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These cast iron statues are surrounded all around the Old Town

Mila Cafe sits on the corner of a colourful street in the Old Town and takes ones breath away once they walk through the door. The gold accented building has a French influence and their display cabinets are enough to make anyone a dessert person. I was particularly drawn to the gold topped brownies and tarts that sparkled under the bright lights. Deciding it was definitely cake o’clock, I ordered a brownie and iced latte and sat down in the cool air-conditioning. Let me just say, this brownie was not only the most amazing thing I’ve eaten, but it was definitely the prettiest! I knew I would be returning to this place a few more times before I left!

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Too pretty to eat!

That night my friend L, who I trekked the Santa Cruz trail with in Peru met me at Mi Llave and we planned to spend the next few days together in this hot little city. We walked the streets, ate more brownies, talked until we couldn’t anymore and almost gate-crashed a wedding.

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Exploring the Old Town
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Fresh orange juice!

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One day we caught a local bus to Playa Blanca, the nearest beach to Cartagena for some much needed ocean time. Playa Blanca is a beautiful beach, only polluted by the masses of tourists that visit it everyday. The snow white sand and clear water is incredible to be near, but the hordes of tourists and annoying hawkers make it not such a relaxing stay. We stayed for a few hours, playing in the cool water and working on our tans before heading back to Cartagena.

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Playa Blanca
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Welcome to the Caribbean Coast!

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L left after a few days together and I was alone for three whole hours before my bus buddy J met me again. He had been up north and we shared our adventures from the past week over more brownies and coffees (I may have become addicted to Mila Cafe) We watched the sunset on top of the walls of Las Murallas and had some delicious pizza to end the night with.

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Final sunset in Cartagena

The following day we split up again, with him heading south to Bogota and myself to Santa Marta. I’d had a small taste of Colombian beaches with Playa Blanca and I was keen to get some more. Caribbean coast here I come!

J. x