A New Continent

Col Map

We arrived in South America! After three years of island hopping, we made landfall in Colombia. Our first reaction was “Woah, this place is huge!” The city of Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, was founded in 1525 by the Spanish, and is the second oldest non-indigenous city in South America. It is a contrast of gleaming high-rise buildings and historic areas filled with parks, markets, art, and lively crowds. A veritable playground awaited us right outside the marina gates.

Santa MartaSanta Marta
View of our homeView of our home

As we normally do in a new place, we set out to try local food. We were not disappointed. You can’t walk a block without meeting a street vendor selling green mangoes dusted with salt and sprinkled with lime juice, hot churros, empanadas, meats on sticks, ceviche, frozen fruit pops, coffee, and fresh squeezed tropical juices

Street foodStreet food
Salted mango vendorSalted mango vendor
Beautiful graffiti in Santa MartaBeautiful graffiti in Santa Marta
Art everywhereArt everywhere
More graffitiMore graffiti

It was not just play that first week. We both needed routine medical and dental check-ups, and this is the place to do it. Healthcare in Colombia is accessible, high quality, and astoundingly affordable. Lab work, x-rays, and mammograms were equally inexpensive, and we got the results in person the same day or the next. After a lot of prodding, pricking, and squeezing, we received a clean bill of health. We also got a full check-up and cleaning by the friendliest dentist you could ever meet. He decided that since we were guests in his country, he would be our personal travel consultant. He gave us his list of personal favorite restaurants and attractions, and told us to reach out to him anytime we had questions.

The beach next to the marina is a big family destinationThe beach next to the marina is a big family destination
Santa Marta lighthouseSanta Marta lighthouse

A couple of weeks after arriving, we set out on a bus ride to Cartagena. Quite unlike the movie Romancing the Stone, the ride was uneventful, lacking live chickens, and nobody tried to kill us. I think Kimberly was a bit disappointed in the civility of it all.

Bus to CartagenaBus to Cartagena
Bus station full of friendly crittersBus station full of friendly critters

Both of us have always wanted to visit Cartagena, and our timing could not have been better. The city was celebrating the anniversary of their independence with parades, street parties, a beauty pageant, and general revelry. Kimberly booked us an apartment inside the historic walled city within walking distance of all the festivities.

View of downtown Cartagena from atop the walled cityView of downtown Cartagena from atop the walled city
Rooftop view from our apartment buildingRooftop view from our apartment building
Our streetOur street

We had only been in Cartagena for three hours when Kimberly started crying in the street. Really crying. Wet face and heavy breathing crying. She was overwhelmed by the scenery, the food, the music, the architecture. Just steps away from our apartment, we stumbled upon a parade with bands, dancers, and revelers adorned in vivid costumes and traditional garb – so much like New Orleans. It was a dazzling display of beauty and creativity that lasted over an hour. We were home!

Street dancersStreet dancers
Young and old paradingYoung and old parading
Elaborate face paintElaborate face paint
more dancersmore dancers
Traditional Colombian colorsTraditional Colombian colors
The streets were packed for the paradesThe streets were packed for the parades

After the parade I had to dissuade Kimberly from rushing to a realtor and making an offer on a house. I distracted her like a pro by suggesting we go get cocktails on one of the many balconies overlooking the streets. It worked! Well, at least for now.

The old city gets even prettier at nightThe old city gets even prettier at night
Balconies adorn every streetBalconies adorn every street

The rest of the week continued with more parades, music playing in the streets, eating and drinking way more than usual, and getting sprayed with foam. Yeah, that’s a thing here during festivals. We got caught up in the merriment and just rolled with it. While Kimberly’s Spanish is improving daily, I had failed to teach her how to say “please don’t shoot me in the face with foam!”

In the face!In the face!
Still smilingStill smiling
Everyone gets foamedEveryone gets foamed
Scary Scary
Carnival brings out the crazyCarnival brings out the crazy
We even attended the pageant to choose Miss ColombiaWe even attended the pageant to choose Miss Colombia
Dancers in traditional garbDancers in traditional garb
We saw several half-and-half outfitsWe saw several half-and-half outfits
Waterfront parade a block from our apartmentWaterfront parade a block from our apartment

The day after the independence festival was over, the city changed. We strode along quiet, empty streets. We got to enjoy museums and parks almost alone. Imagine Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, in the French Quarter.

Jolly fun at the Inquisition MuseumJolly fun at the Inquisition Museum
India Catalina - an amazing woman that was influential in trying to negotiate with the SpanishIndia Catalina - an amazing woman that was influential in trying to negotiate with the Spanish
We even met the popeWe even met the pope
At the tribal art museumAt the tribal art museum
Castillo San Felipe de BarajasCastillo San Felipe de Barajas
COL - Cartagena Set 1 (27)

For dinner, I joked with Kimberly that I would rent out an entire fancy restaurant, just like in a romantic 80s movie. It came true; for the duration of our two-hour meal, we were the only people in the place. We had the entire kitchen staff and four servers at our beck and call. Damn, if only I could play the saxophone, we would have been in retro heaven.

Strolling to find a lunch spotStrolling to find a lunch spot
We even crashed a weddingWe even crashed a wedding
Metal sculptures at every turnMetal sculptures at every turn
One of dozens of sculptures we encounteredOne of dozens of sculptures we encountered
Street art in the Getsemani districtStreet art in the Getsemani district
Moon over the cathedralMoon over the cathedral

Our week of play was up so fast. We returned to ¡Pura Vida! with a long list of boat chores that had to be done before our next “vacation” to Bogota and Cuzco, Peru. But that’s a story for the next blog.

Love the graffitiLove the graffiti
Statue right outside our marinaStatue right outside our marina
The architecture reminds us so much of New OrleansThe architecture reminds us so much of New Orleans



  1. Fabulous story and pics, did not imagine Columbia so beautiful !! We have added Columbia to our must visit list !! What a fabulous life !! Continued smooth sailing !! XXOO

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