When you’re travelling, you have to follow people’s advice on the way. Someone who’s been somewhere two days previously is going to be more up to date than any guidebook in circulation. But occasionally you get a surprise, and wonder what on earth your informant was thinking.
This was the case with Taganga and Santa Marta. The two towns are 5km apart, between Cartagena and Tayrona National Park, and we were heading for Santa Marta.
“No, no,” said everyone, “you don’t want to go there. It’s all right, but nothing like as nice as Taganga. Taganga is a little fishing village with a lovely beach; much better than Santa Marta. Just get a taxi as soon as you arrive in SM and go there.”
Who argues with such certainty? Off we went.
Firstly, we weren’t able to book any accommodation in advance. Hostel owners seemed strangely reluctant to let us reserve. That was unusual, but not really a problem; we’d got most accommodation on arriving in a place for the whole trip. But once there we found that all the hostels were booked, and all the hotels were extremely expensive. Except one, and it was dark and dingy and didn’t feel even remotely safe, but since we weren’t going to be there for long, we grabbed it.
Then there was the small matter of the whole town being dug up. Taganga is quite literally one street, running along the sea front. The hostels tend to be up darker side streets, but that’s where the action is. And the entire length of that street was being dug up, just in time for high season! Wouldn’t that be something you would mention to someone going there?
Then there were the dogs. Oh, there were hundreds of dogs, manky looking strays which roamed the street in packs, barked in symphony all night and looked pretty rabid. When I was checking out one of the hotels (Casa Blanca, for anyone who needs to know where to avoid), the owner’s dog backed me into a corner and barked at me while I tried to get past, and then when I tried to leave, bit my bag and wouldn’t let go. I screamed; the owners smirked; it wasn’t a good moment.
And then there are the police. For such a tiny town, Taganga has a scary amount of police presence, who stride around in gangs with truncheons out and cuff the heads of teenagers who slouch around looking shifty. It’s not a nice atmosphere, as a result.
Oh, yes, and the beach. Suffice it to say that it’s not nice. Nor is the one in the next bay but one, although the walk is pretty and the sunsets are good.
Santa Marta, on the other hand, the place we were advised to avoid, was great! It’s a big place, with some really nice architecture, loads of shops and restaurants, a mental market with cheap fruit and a lovely waterfront with great views – and probably lovely sunsets as well. It just has a better feel to it than Taganga, and there’s far more to do and see. If you’re going to make a stopover from Cartagena on your way to either the national park or the border, I’d recommend Santa Marta anytime.