After a wonderful few days in the Medellín area, we were ready for some beach time. We arrived in Santa Marta in the afternoon where it was 87 degrees humid and hot. We stayed in centro which gave us easy access to the malecon, the square, marina and to many restaurants. Our first afternoon was spent at an ocean front restaurant for lunch followed by a short drive to the nearby Rodadero beach with a beautiful sunset and the hundreds of hawkers. The kids played soccer and made a sand castle at the beach past sunset, before we headed to the square to get some local food in the square listening to live music. The next morning we took a tour on a sailboat to a secluded beach in Tayrona national park. We enjoyed the 1.5 hour ride to the beach that was choppy with beautiful views of Santa Marta, the coast and the park. Our afternoon was spent chilling on the beach, snorkeling and eating a grilled whole fish. We walked around Santa Marta that evening and ate dinner at a spot called Ouza which had delicious Mediterranean food. Colombia is an interesting mix of South American, Caribbean and Centra American culture and food.
We drove to Cartegena next morning for 4 hours to catch our boat for the next leg of our journey. Google Maps detoured us again which reminded me why it’s better to trust the locals than technology in countries such as Colombia. Nonetheless the drive was beautiful and we reached just in time to catch our boat to the amazing Isla del Encanto hotel in Isla Baru. We’ve been dreaming of our hotel stay in Belize from our sabbatical, and Encanto was that and much more. The entire experience was a little like the show White Lotus with no twists. A small 34 room property that can only be accessed by boat with 2 salt water pools (one with a pool bar), all inclusive local meals and a really calm beach. We spent our time here kayaking, lounging and eating some great food. They had pony rides on the beach at the hotel too! Ariana, Ayaan and I also learned how to stand-up paddle board (Anjali being the pro). For Christmas Eve, they had a celebratory dinner with live music and an elaborate buffet, which made the night memorable. We really loved our stay at Encanto which felt really intimate, and ended with a private boat transfer directly to our next hotel at Playa Blanca also on Isla Baru.
Playa Surf Baru is a tiny beach shack hotel with 6 rooms above a famous restaurant right on the beach. Our room and balcony was literally above the water with the smooth sounds of waves crashing. We witnessed a beautiful sunset as we walked along the narrow white sand beach spotted with beachside shacks. Playa Blanca is the beach you’d expect when you come to the Caribbean with brilliant blue warm water and white sand beaches. The stretch of beach gets crowded in the day with day tourists from Cartegena and tons of boats and vendors. We enjoyed our day having all meals on the beach, swimming and hopping between different snacks for meals and drinks. My favorite foods were the huevo arepas and the garlic grilled octopus devoured while staring into the sea. Ayaan had a pina colada in a real pineapple, while Ariana got her hair braided.
Our last stop for the last 4 nights was the international city of Cartegena. Founded in the early 1500s, Cartegena is a walled city with a ton of history, culture, live music, lights, nightlife, dining and stunning sunsets. We stayed at the Hilton located at the tip of Bocagrande with a beach and four pools. It was perfect with the kids as it had a kids club and served as a nice break from the afternoon heat. We started the first evening with a drink watching the sunset at Cafe Del Mar sitting atop the wall and ended it at The Arsenal: Rum Box, a wine and chocolate tasting restaurant where the kids got to make their own mocktail at the bar! The next morning we joined a free walking tour of the old town that walked us through the charming streets and squares over two hours. Ayaan and Ariana did really well even in the heat and we were all rewarded with a delicious local lunch at San Valentin along with live music. After some pool time, we went on a sunset catamaran cruise overlooking Cartegena that ended with Ariana and Anjali dancing to Colombian music with the locals.
On our third morning in Cartegena, we left the kids in the kids club and visited the San Felipe fort overlooking Cartegena and the bohemian Getsemani neighborhood. We loved Getsemani with murals everywhere, colorful houses and tiny bars and restaurants on the street. We liked it so much that we took the kids and went back on another free walking tour of the neighborhood that evening! On our last day we relaxed at the beach and the pool, and Ayaan loved playing soccer with the locals. It was New Year’s Eve, so we started the evening with the kids at the Wala beach club near our hotel overlooking a final stunning sunset while listening to house music. To bring in the new year, we left the kids at the kids club that had celebrations planned, and went bar hopping. From a street side bar in Getsemani with $2 mojitos to the swankier El Mirador with specialty cocktails and house music, we wandered in the crowded party streets. Our final hour of the year was spent at Cafe Del Mar as 2023 arrived with a stunning display of fireworks across the city.
Colombia, the land of Pablo Escobar, Shakira, Sophia Vergara, Encanto and arepas, made a memorable two week vacation with amazing hospitality where we not only felt safe but also welcome and well treated. The people are kind and make an extra effort to compensate for the reputation that country unfairly has. We definitely recommend it for families! Such a great way to end 2022 that was filled with travel and to kickoff off 2023. Happy new year to all!!!