|Cabo San Juan - Tayrona National Park|
Our recent trip there was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Over the course of two weeks, my boyfriend Ryan and I traveled from the stunning Andean city of Bogotá through Colombia's spectacular Caribbean coast. We spent four magical days in sweltering Cartagena, cooled off in the crystalline waters of Playa Blanca on Isla Baru, and headed on to the sleepy fishing village of Taganga. From there, we spent three days camping amidst the otherworldly beauty of Tayrona National Park, and settled in the cool mountain village of Minca, perched high in the Sierra Nevada, for our final days.
|Mojarra Frita at El Cocoroco, Cartagena|
Ryan and I are definitely culinary travelers -- our best moments together always involve some type of transcendental food experience. The meal we had at El Cocoroco in Cartagena––a no frills worker's cantina in the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani– was simple, fresh, incredible. We ordered the pescado frito -- a deep-fried mojarra aguadulce (fresh-water tilapia) with a simple side of patacones (smashed plantains) and arroz con frijoles. The ambience made our experience feel unpretentious and authentic; we shared our table with locals devouring sopa de pescado and even drew a few laughs from our fellow patrons as we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over what most colombianos consider a very typical meal!
|Street food in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota|
Colombia is home to various types of indigenous tropical fruit rarely found anywhere else in the world. Breakfast consisted of fresh lulo, maracuya and guanabana juice and every afternoon, without fail, we devoured helados artesenales made from local grenadilla, zapote and mamoncillo. Cartagena is full of vendors wheeling their colorful carts through the streets -- overflowing with luscious avocados, pineapples and mangoes to more the exotic tomate de arbol and uchuva. Ryan and I are serious aficionados of hand-painted signs.. Colombia's fruit carts are often lovingly painted and adorned with religious adages. Our favorite: Proprietario = Dios (Owner = God).
|Gorgeous facades dripping with flora in Cartagena|
In contrast to the physical beauty of the country, we relished in Colombia's fantastic colonial architecture. La Candelaria, the old city of Bogotá, is both the cultural and historic center of the city and a labyrinth of winding streets and alleys, peppered with amazing street art and murals. La Plaza de Bolivar is Bogotá's main square and political heart, it is also the site of some mouth-watering street food. We feasted on chocolate con queso at the famous cafe La Puerta Falsa, indulged in obleas filled with dulce de leche from a local street vendor in front of the cathedral and snacked on artery-clogging super-perros (hot dogs on steroids!). In Cartagena, we fell in love with the historic Spanish mansions dripping with bougainvillea, the decaying covered balconies, hidden garden patios and gorgeous ironwork. It isn't hard to see why this languorous city inspired Garcia Marquez's classic Love in the Time of Cholera... its charm is magical and overwhelming.
|Plaza San Pedro, Cartagena|
|Relaxing on the beach in Tayrona National Park|
Our favorite jaunt was the three days we spent camping in Tayrona National Park. After a grueling 3.5 hour hike through jungle and beach (which despite the blistering heat, afforded us some astounding views of rugged coastline and desolate beaches), we arrived exhausted in beautiful Cabo San Juan. We pitched our tent and spent the next several days swimming, reading, and sunbathing on an ethereal beach. And at night -- no creature comforts, no distractions -- just bedtime filled with the sound of crashing waves, crickets, braying donkeys and the occasional falling coconut.
|Watching picaflores (hummingbirds) in Minca|
After spending a week on the coast, we decided to escape the heat and travel up to a tiny mountain village called Minca. Only 45 minutes from Colombia's second largest city, it felt like we were a world away. From our treehouse at Hostal Casa Loma, we had breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada, the city lights of Santa Marta, and the glimmering Caribbean Sea. This part of the Sierra Nevadas (the tallest coastal mountain range in the world) is ecologically diverse and home to over 260 bird species. We were told to keep an eye out for the elusive toucan -- and while we weren't lucky enough to catch sight of one, we did see plenty of picaflores -- hummingbirds!
|A view of La Finca Victoria, organic coffee farm outside of Minca|
|Me & Jorge, the "jefe" of La Finca Victoria|
|Dirt roads and sunsets in the fishing village Taganga|
Writing this post gave me a chance to reflect on the amazing experiences we shared there. And while Jordan, Lebanon and Japan are on my travel list for next year, I'm already planning the next time we can head back!
|Our last night in Tayrona National Park|