Today we are headed to a place called Santa Marta, the third largest city on the Colombian Caribbean. It is about a four-hour trip, northeast of Cartagena by bus on modern not so well-kept highways through a mix of industrial development, small towns and rural farmland. The commercial traffic on this route that follows the coast is heavy.
We found a bus service by a company called Marsol Transportes that offers a door to door service between hotels in Cartagena and Santa Marta that can be booked through most hotels. The older equipment had air conditioning that worked and reasonably comfortable seats.
Santa Marta lays claim to being the oldest European settlement in South America and the oldest colonial town in Colombia. Today it is a major port on the Atlantic with a population of nearly 500,000 people. The Spanish planted their flag here in 1525, deliberately choosing the site as a convenient base to support the acquisition of the reputedly incalculable gold treasures of the Tayronas.
The Tayronas were a very advanced civilization that built incredible cities and roads all over the area. As soon as the plundering of the Sierra began, so did the natives’ resistance, and frequent clashes followed.
By the end of the 16th century the Tayronas had been wiped out by the Spanish gold thirst and the various diseases they brought with them and many of the Tayronas’ extraordinary gold objects were, melted down for rough material, for the Crown’s coffers.
Engaged in the war with the Tayronas and repeatedly ransacked by pirates, Santa Marta didn’t have many glorious moments in its colonial history and was soon overshadowed by its younger, more progressive neighbor, Cartagena.
We have stayed in a number of colonial building conversion hotels on this trip and I thought you might be interested in what they are like. They are usually smaller boutique type hotels of a dozen or so rooms. Reasonably priced at around US$70.00 per night, our stay in Santa Marta was in a delightful little place called la Casa del Piano. This is very typical of this style of accommodation. It was located in the older part of town, clean, well-kept, renovated old construction with comfortable beds and modern conveniences, dressed up with current lighting and a design that incorporates the old Spanish Colonial architecture. Large fluffy towels, hot water, blow dryer, personal toiletries, wireless Internet, air conditioning, TV, telephone, a small pool, and an area where a full multi course hot breakfast is served to your specification which is included in the room rate.
The careful attention to detail in the la Casa del Piano extended to little touches like snow-white walls, black and white floor tiles to mirror the keys of a piano and rooms named for composers and the keys come attached to a wooden musical note. The lobby had an old upright piano long past its playing stage. Also, the front desk was staffed by well dressed, attentive, knowledgeable, helpful and English-speaking staff who were eager to assist. We were assigned to the Liszt room while Alicia got the Beethoven room. Her key was missing the “h” in the name so she said she was in the “Beet Oven” room! Maybe nursing training should include a class on classical music.
We were just a few short blocks walk from the beach, through one of the town squares that was full of restaurants and presently sporting a wedding in the square. I helped myself to some wedding shots as we moved toward the ocean. Eventually, we emerged from the city to a beautiful wide beach on the bay. Sunset was approaching so we headed for a structure out on the beach which turned out to be a marina. There was an open upper floor bar where we settled to take in the sunset.
As the sunset bloomed the pier below filled with people enjoying the spectacular sight, including this thirsty one.
We decided on dinner in the square we had passed through on the way to the beach. The hotel had recommended a restaurant called Donde Chucho Restaurante for seafood. We elected to sit outside, next to the square, in one of the dozen or so tables all set with white tablecloths and fine china. We had an excellent meal with very good service at a reasonable price. Later, we all agreed that this meal was one of the most impressive of the whole trip to date. We had three remarkable meals in Colombia and two of them were here in Santa Marta.
Tomorrow, we head for Tayrona National Park for a night. This side trip was the reason we came to Santa Marta as the Park is only an hour by bus from the city. Alicia had “inside” information from people at work that this was a must for any trip to Colombia. So that is the reason we came to Santa Marta but we all agreed that we could easily spend more time here trying restaurants and poking around the city. We will be coming back for another night after our trip to Tayrona National Park.