Colombia Part 1: A Stunning Semana Santa on the North-East Coast

Once again I have been having too much fun to keep on top of the blog! I have already finished my 4 weeks volunteering in Cartagena, and am dying to write a massive post about the amazing work I did with Emerging Voices, the charity I was working for. However, I first want to write about my amazing Easter holiday on the North Coast of Colombia. Although I was having the most fantastic time volunteering, I was still thrilled to hear that the week-long Easter break would mean that we would be able to fit in a trip to Santa Marta, La Ciudad Perdida and Tayrona National Park. I had been desperate to visit all of these places since I’d read about them in the Lonely Planet guide, but I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to visit them after I finished my volunteering. After finishing teaching English at a community church on the Friday morning, I set off on the 5 hour bus journey to Santa Marta with three of my volunteer companions. We spent two nights at La Brisa Loca, the most incredible party hostel (you may have seen my many snapchats!). It boasts a tiled pool, a rooftop bar with endless hammocks, delicious food and five happy hours! We partied hard, chilled on the beach and tried to rest our bodies in preparation for the exhausting week ahead.

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IMG_2952.JPG On Sunday morning, we headed to the Turcol Travel offices to meet the rest of our group and begin our trip to the Lost City. After reading about it in my Lonely Planet guide, I had been desperate to do this four day hike, but didn’t think I’d have time to fit it in to my two weeks of travelling time after the volunteering project. Every company seems to charge 700,000 Colombian pesos (about £180) for four days and three nights of a guided trek (although our guide, Javier, was at the back of the group most of the time), amazing, filling meals and accommodation in little cabins. It seems like a lot of money, and I can definitely understand why some of our friends decided not to join us, but it could not have been more worth it. I had not been expecting to be able to swim at least two times a day in amazing rock pools, to eat such delicious food or to meet so many incredible people. These things are all priceless and it was definitely worth the money! Here is a run-down of the trip (from what I can remember): On Sunday, after an uncomfortable jeep journey from Santa Marta to the bottom of the mountain, we were fed up on plastic ham and cheese sandwiches and sent off on our first 8km hike. It was uphill, but certainly not impossible. It also helped that the sun was hiding behind rain clouds and so we weren’t burnt to a crisp on our first day as anticipated. After a couple of hours of walking, we stopped for fresh oranges before continuing on our way to the first camp site. Upon arrival, we shotgunned our bunk beds (the slower tour groups were left with the hammocks – sucks to be them) before heading to the watering hole to cool off.
IMG_3163.JPG After a delicious Colombian feast, we played a few rounds of cards before an early bed at about 8.30. I was woken at 4.30 the next morning by my enthusiastic Venezuelan neighbour singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and walking around with a glaring headtorch…He also kept me up all night with his snoring, so he was no longer in my good books! Breakfast (fresh papaya, scrambled eggs and corn pancakes) was eaten in the dark at 6am, and we headed off on our 15km hike as soon as it got light. The second day was supposed to be the hardest, and it was certainly very challenging. Fortunately, however, it was never a straight uphill climb and, although Monday afternoon’s walk involved an impossibly steep 2 hour ascent, it was always encouraging to know that a downhill would come soon after.
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IMG_2969.JPG We stopped frequently for fresh watermelon and oranges, and our chirpy Venezuelan handed out sweets and unwelcome advice (“don’t eat meat or cheese. You’d understand if you did yoga.” “You’re brushing your teeth wrong”, “I hate the British monarchy”). Again, we stopped for a dreamy lunch and swim, and then set off on the difficult uphill afternoon hike, which was still very enjoyable due to the great company and beautiful views. About half an hour from the campsite, we got to walk through the most beautiful field. I stopped to take photos and soak in the incredible scenery, while my friend Matt used the beautiful backdrop as an opportunity to take selfies!
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IMG_3015.JPG Monday night was the coldest, but I slept like a log and was raring to head up to the Lost City at sunbreak on Tuesday morning. Our campsite had been at 900m altitude, so we didn’t have to walk very far to get to the beginning of the 1000 steps up to the Ciudad Perdida.
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IMG_3022.JPG Halfway up the steps, our guide explained the Tayrona culture to us and described a bit of the history of the city.
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IMG_3043.JPG However, we got kind of fed up of his slow pace and managed to join on to another tour later on, where we learned more about the indigenous culture. The Lost City was incredible, but if I’m honest I was more amazed by our achievement upon reaching the city than the actual sights we saw there.
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IMG_3054.JPG I had been expecting the city to be crowded with tourists, like Borrobodur in Java or Cristo Redemptor in Rio, but we were one of two or three tour groups up the top of the mountain. That’s what happens when you have to trek for 2.5 days to see a famous site!
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IMG_3073.JPG It was also kind of nice to know that every single person there had been through the same experience; there is no fast route to the top here.
IMG_3079.JPG Tuesday afternoon was wonderful. After walking fast and being in the front group for the first two days, I decided to hang back and take it more slowly, giving myself time to reflect on the experience and enjoy the walk itself. IMG_3090.JPG

IMG_3097.JPG We went for a swim when we arrived at the campsite, and played a few rounds of cards before meeting the leader of the Cogis, one of the indigenous communities in the Sierra Nevada.
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IMG_3107.JPG It was fascinating to hear about their culture, which seems so different from our modern civilisation. He told us about their language, customs, marriage ceremonies and the ‘coca’ plant which they constantly chew on. Instead of a driving licence or a passport, these indigenous men are given a unique ‘poporo’ stick when they turn 18, and they use this as a form of identification. The poporo is a kind of wooden bulb with a stick inside, and is undeniably extremely phallic. They swipe the stick around the bulb to extract the calcium, which they mix with their saliva inside their cheeks and chew the coca leaves. Alongside this special stick, the men also get gifted with a wife at the age of 18, but I won’t go into that…
IMG_3112.JPG We had a hearty dinner (I was given steak and creamy mashed potatoes because I couldn’t eat the spaghetti!), and watched Matt perform some impressive card tricks before saying goodbye to the members of our group who were staying to do the 5 or 6 day treks and heading to bed at the early hour of 8pm. The final day was supposed to be somewhat exhausting, but it was surprisingly chilled and by far my favourite day.
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IMG_3113.JPG We left the campsite at 6.30am and walked for four hours until we reached the placed where we had stayed at on the first night.
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IMG_3115.JPG The boys went cliff diving again while we waited for our guide to arrive with watermelon, freshly-squeezed passionfruit juice and chocolate bars, and then we set off on the final stretch home.
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IMG_3160.JPG We all remembered the horrifically steep climb from the second day, and were dreading going back down that hill (especially as my knees were starting to hurt), but it was surprisingly bearable. Again, I decided to hang back and walk by myself a bit, enjoying my own company and reflecting on everything I’d learned during the trek (cheeeesssee).
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IMG_3198.JPG A clumsy and malcoordinated girl, I had been obliged to look at my feet for most of the trek in order to avoid tripping up and bumping into things, but I tried to look up more on this final stretch and enjoy the beautiful scenery. This meant that I then fell over about 5 times, but I think it was worth it!
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IMG_3218.JPG About thirty minutes from the end of the trek, we stopped for a swim in the last watering hole. The boys enjoyed a beer, and we all discussed how much we had loved the four day trek.
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IMG_3221.JPG We put our trainers back on and donned our backpacks for the last time, and set off to finish the hike together. Lunch was a hearty Colombian affair of rice, beans and fried plantains and fish, and then we made the treacherous truck journey back down the mountains to Santa Marta. At our new hostel, The Dreamer, we found our hungover friends, and settled down for a few days of sunbathing, caipiriñas and partying – completely the opposite of what we’d been doing up the mountains!
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IMG_3244.JPG On the Thursday evening, we met up with some of our friends from the trek and headed to the Mirador, an amazing beachfront club in Taganga, for a night of dancing to classic Colombian tunes.

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On Saturday, we rose at the early hour of 5 am (those of us who’d been on the trek found this surprisingly easy!) and headed for Tayrona National Park. Only 3000 people are allowed in all day, and we were determined to spend a day in the park. Although we weren’t too happy when we entered the empty park in the rain at 6.30, after hiking for 2 hours to the first beach we were pleased that our early start had allowed us so much time for sunbathing.
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IMG_3248.JPG We slept in the sun, chilled on some hammocks and had a delicious local meal before making our way back out of Tayrona before the gates shut at 5pm.

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On Easter Sunday we headed back to Cartagena. Although I had had an incredible week, I was feeling pretty exhausted and ill and really looking forward to going back to our apartment in Crespo. There’s no place like home! )
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The Lost City trek was hands down the most incredible experience of my trip so far, and I would recommend it to anyone planning on spending a significant amount of time in Colombia. Since finishing the trek, I have recommended it to dozens of other travellers, and I get kind of jealous every time that they have yet to discover the city! The Ciudad Perdida trip has only made me more excited for the other hikes I will be doing in the next few months: I have already planned a day’s hiking in the Valle de Cocora in the Colombian coffee region for this week, and I am so excited for the Machu Pichu jungle expedition and the Colca Canyon trek which I will be doing in Peru. Who knew I would become such an avid walker?! Eliza is definitely en route (or ‘en camino’, if you prefer)!

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