During the journey to Colombia’s Caribbean coast, I pondered the topic of this next blog. By the time the air-conditioned bus stopped at our destination, I knew what it would be: Why do travelers choose Santa Marta or Taganga or El Rodadero to stay? When I stepped into Santa Marta’s mid-afternoon heat, I felt like I had slammed into a humid wall.
But one Sunday afternoon, my quest for an answer meets a familiar specter: a blockade.
Our buseta’s journey is stopped cold. Orange cones form a loose chain across the road heading to Taganga. Word passes: There is no electricity. A man carries a guanábana-sized rock, to lay it in the street. A fist fight almost breaks out between police officers and the neighbors.
Our driver’s insistence in getting through the blockade doesn’t get us very far. Around the bend, local people are piling more branches across the road. Traffic on the other side extends up beyond the brow of the hill. These neighbors are frustrated with the electric company. It still had not come out to restore service.
A group of foreigners, bowed beneath knapsacks, climb over the blockade. What is the draw of Taganga, that they are ready to walk four kilometers (2.5 mi) in this day’s 36°C (97°F) heat?
Legend says that in the early 1990s, two backpackers “discovered” Taganga, a sleepy fishing village just over the hill north of Santa Marta. Through the mochilero grapevine, word spread about a cheap, laid-back, authentic Colombian pueblo with great beaches.
And word still spreads. Sitting together on Taganga’s beach watching the sun set, Lauren (from Canada), Steve (UK) and Cassie (New Zealand) tell me they came here because other travelers recommended it. Taganga has better beaches than Santa Marta, which is a boring, dirty port town. Also, it is the stepping stone to Tayrona National Park. Pat (UK) said, “Taganga … is much nicer for travelers than Santa Marta. It has more nice restaurants, more of a back packer feel, on the beach.”
But it was just that atmosphere that turned Chris and Emma, also from England, off from staying there. We met in our Santa Marta hotel. They explained Taganga is too hectic, with too many foreign backpackers – too much like a European resort town. They came to know Colombia, not hang out with a bunch of foreigners. And too many people are constantly trying to sell stuff. Santa Marta is definitely more chilled.
A surprise was to find foreigners at El Rodadero, a traditional Colombian-family resort just south of Santa Marta. Anja and Nikki, both of Norway, are staying at a hostel on the outskirts of the port city; the location attracted to them. Anja says, “We’re trying out different areas on day trips.” On their agenda are the beaches at Taganga and El Rodadero and Tayrona.
In truth, each of the three towns appeals to a different type of traveler. V!VA Colombia can help you to decide which would be best for you. In part II of On the Road – Colombia: Choosing Colombia’s Best Beach, we’ll take a look at what each town as to offer to vacationers and wandering backpackers.
In the meantime, drop us a line and tell the V!VA community which you chose: Taganga, Santa Marta or El Rodadero.
Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of the book. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.