Above: The beach at El Rodadero
Two hours east of Cartagena is Santa Marta. My Lonely Planet guide had gone into quite a lot of detail on Santa Marta’s attractions. Really, in all honesty, there is really no reason to be in Santa Marta. The attractions are the towns and parks around Santa Marta: El Rodadero, Taganga, and Parque Tayrona.
Lissette and I used El Rodadero as our base to the area. There really isn’t much to the place, it’s basically a beach resort town. But it is clean, comfortable, has some comfortable restaurants, and it was quiet when we were here (although I hear that Colombians come here in droves during the holidays).
Getting escorted by men with machine guns seems to be a re-occuring thing with me in Colombia. I previously mentioned the two soldiers who had given me a tour in Cartagena. Last year when I came to El Rodadero, I had gone to the tourist information center (located on the beach) to ask directions to the bus station. There were two soldiers manning the booth and, after a little talking, they decided to take a walk with me, machine guns in hand. They brought me to the bus station. When I offered to give them a tip they had replied that they couldn’t do that, it was against the rules. This time around, with Lissette, we were walking around looking for a travel agency when we encountered a soldier. Another incredibly friendly and helpful guy, he walked us over to a travel agency. Again he didn’t want a tip. I’ll probably write about this in depth one day, but it is so great to travel places where they see little foreign tourists. People are so happy and proud that you come to their country and try so hard to make your experience pleasant. I’ve been to so many places where they don’t care, where a tourist is an easy target. Not in Colombia.
We stayed in El Rodadero one night. What surprised me was the dryness. I even saw cactus. This is a huge contrast to Cartagena and especially Parque Tayrona which are much more lush and green. I’ll go into detail on another post – but one of the attractions in Colombia is the geographical diversity that you encounter just travelling within a small region.