Diving photographs courtesy of Dan Holden Bailey and Doug Gueldner
Bogota - This bustling metropolis is the gateway to Colombia and an excellent spot to spend a few days. Bogota has everything a cosmopolitan hub would boast including fine dining, shopping, shows, and museums. Its unique luster comes from the 18th century historic buildings and lush tropical parks that are scattered throughout the city as well as boasting its own heritage of artists, craftsmen, and cultural traditions.
Santa Marta & Taganga - After a short flight from Bogota, we were on the Caribbean coast in the city of Santa Marta, which has been a vacation spot for Colombians and South Americans for decades. Dismantled buildings and construction sites are being replaced with new buildings, condos, and swanky restaurants. From Santa Marta we drove through the hillsides with roads winding around the slopes on our way to the sleepy little town of Taganga. We descended through the hills into a quiet harbor with dark sand beaches and locals playing in the water. The town curves around the bay in a horseshoe shape and is the equivalent of about four city blocks, with the hotel La Ballena Azul (the Blue Whale) front and center on the beach. The hotel is an excellent spot to soak up the sun, enjoy a cocktail or a delicious dinner and comfortable, stylish accommodation for a very reasonable price. The dive shop was just across the street, which took us out to the waters near Tayrona National Park where walls of coral displayed hidden treasures inside the nooks and crannies. The fish were not plentiful, but the diving was entertaining without a doubt.
Tayrona National Park - A short drive out of Taganga and into the dense jungle reveals the entrance to Tayrona National Park, a 150 sq km protected area boasting a vast amount of biodiversity including a howler monkey which greeted us at the entrance to the park. One of the most appealing parts of the park is the coastline, with aggressive waves that make the beach less about swimming and more about absorbing the beautiful black rocks which have been carved by the powerful waves throughout time. The tropical jungle juts out of the coastline in a very dramatic connection between land and water. Within the jungle lie the Ecohabs, thatched rondavels constructed in the style of the Tayrona indigenous tribe, where visitors can enjoy their tree-house view of the coastline as well as the luxuries of hot tubs and delicious cuisine. I became very fond of the coconut milk - lime smoothies that were introduced to our group for the first time at this lovely resort.
Cartagena - Rivaling the most romantic cities in the world, Cartagena offers days of exploration and beauty within its fortressed walls. I lived in Paris, I have been to Venice, Florence, and Barcelona and I can say with strong conviction that this city is among an elite group of destinations which have maintained the historical beauty, romance, and character that tells a story around every turn and every pathway. We were lucky enough to be in the company of a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide who led us through a colonial history centuries old. We explored the fortresses, he opened our eyes to the spanish colonial architecture that surrounded us, and we returned each night to the beautiful Hotel Bantu with its stone walls, open courtyards, and cozy accomomdations.
Islas Rosarios - A short boat ride away from the Cartagena coastline brings visitors to the soft sand beaches of Las Islas Rosarios, a group of islands that are used as weekend getaways for the locals. Once the proud posession of Colombia's most notorious drug lords the Caribbean beaches are now open to the public to enjoy and the diving is vast. Our night dive gave us the opportunity to see octopus, loads of parrot fish, and one photo journalist didn't even make it five feet from the rope where we dropped into the water because he was so enamered by the shrimp in that spot.
San Andres - A return to Cartagena for one last tour of the city before our flight to the island of San Andres and magically transported to a true Caribbean island complete with beachfront resorts, a bustling duty-free shopping district, and even a pirate museum. Despite its commercial development, San Andres is far from the level of development found in more popular Caribbean destinations, which in my opinion is a large part of its charm.
Providencia - Closer to the coast of Nicaragua than Colombia, this island poses quite a challenge for divers, as the infrastructure is still working out the kinks to support the dive industry. In the future, it will most likely be easier to get your dive gear on the small propeller planes without being charged an arm and a leg, but our group had a hefty sum of excess charges. The island itself was like being transported to the Caribbean 50 years ago both above and below the water. One photojournalist on the trip commented that the diving from Providencia rivals that of Bonaire and is very difficult to find these days anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Colombia has risen out of a dark past riddled with crime and successfully positioned itself as an up-and-coming destination with adventures that include coffee tours, volcano mud baths, beautiful beaches, authentic culture, indigenous craft markets, beautiful cities, and a unique charm that can only be experienced by going.