Colombia city trip and Guna Yala, Panama

After being in Santa Marta for more than two months we decided to make use of Mila’s safe berth in Santa Marta Marina and go on a vacation to visit Medellin, Bogota and Cartagena.

Travelling inland in Colombia is easy and cheap, by bus as well as by plane. A bus ride from Santa Marta to Medellin would have taken more than 20 hours so we decided to go by plane. The Santa Marta airport is only a short taxi ride from the marina and as we traveled without checked luggage and as there are no customs problems when crossing no borders flying in Colombia is fast and efficient.

Our first hotel there was cheap but quite some distance away from the city center and not very comfortable. As it was also very loud there we changed to a better place after two nights where we could have a good rest on the 17th floor and the Medellin night life was in nearby walking distance.

Hotel selfie
View from our room

Medellin is a very vibrant city, we explored the city by foot, by Metro train and also took the cable car up the hill to have a view of the whole city. There are many street vendors, in general there are loads of people on the street all the time and it often is very loud.

We did a city tour with “Real City Tours” as was suggested by our friends Silvie & Dirk and learned a lot about the history of Medellin. The tour was not only about the former drug trafficking problems with the Escobar cartel, but it was an important part of it. It was hard to imagine that not so long ago Medellin was an extremely dangerous city, as we felt very safe there during our stay. We had a nice stay in Medellin and left for an 8-hour bus ride to Bogota after four days. Of the Colombian cities we’ve been to, Teresa liked Medellin the most.

For me, Bogota was much more interesting. Because it doesn’t need to be crammed inside a valley, there is a lot more space and room to breathe. Apart from the poor areas in the outer parts Bogota is very European and avant-garde for a Colombian city. It is very clean and there are many big shopping malls. Because Bogota is very high in the mountains at 2700m, the climate is very cold for a city in the tropics. We wore long pants and occasionally even a sweater. It was quite nice to have a rest from the usual sweating for some days.

Bogota also has a very active rock music scene, we took the opportunity to visit a concert of the Ukrainian metal band Jinjer. We wanted to attend one of their shows back home in Berlin some years ago, but this concert was canceled because the band could not get a Visa for Germany.

We explored Bogota for three days mostly by foot but also by Bus. Buses in Bogota run like a Metro, so they have their own lanes that are separated by a barrier from normal traffic, and their stops are comparable to a metro station.

From Bogota, we took a plane to Cartagena. Originally we planned to sail there as it is on the way to Panama, but clearance and immigration procedures for boaters are so complicated and have to be repeated everytime you change port in Colombia, so it was easier for us to leave the boat in Santa Marta. In Cartagena we met up with our Swedish friends of catamaran Pangea that took the bus from Santa Marta to explore the city with us.

Hotel with central pool in Cartagena

Our hotel in Cartagena was very scenic, but we could hardly get any sleep there as the city center is very loud and the windows consisted only of blinds instead of glass.

Cartagena is a bit like the big sister of Santa Marta. We stayed there for one and a half days which was enough to get a good impression of this generally nice but also very touristic city.

After three and a half months it was finally time to leave Colombia, where we initially planned to stay for four weeks. For me, this country was the absolute highlight of our whole journey for now. You can really feel that Colombia is on the rise after having serious civil war problems with drug trafficking and guerillas for 50 years. All the people are optimistic and working very hard to raise their economic status. Also, they are very open-minded and social. There are millions of Venezuelans in Colombia due to the crisis in their home country, and in general this is well-accepted by Colombians even if they are quite poor themselves. Regarding our own “refugee crisis”, there are many people back home in Germany who could learn from Colombia.

The only downside of Colombia is that people on the caribbean coast and in rural areas very rarely speak English, but at least this helped us to raise our level of Spanish from inexistent to being able to communicate somehow. Also, in Bogota and Medellin we had the impression that there were a lot more english-speaking people. In Medellin we even attended a stand-up comedy evening in English, in a bar nearby the university.

Finally leaving Santa Marta at sunrise

Shortly before we left we did our usual rig check and noted a broken strand in one of our forward lower shrouds. We rigged Dyneema safety line which doesn’t allow us to use our Mainsail because it is wrapped around our mast.

Nevertheless, it felt good to leave the Marina and go sailing again. We made good speed using only the jib and arrived after exactly two days in our planned anchorage in Guna Yala. Guna Yala is an autonomous territory on the Atlantic coast of Panama that belongs to the Kuna indios. It consists of many small islands, most of them uninhabitated and some with huts on them. Most Kunas live a very traditional life. There is no tap water (they get water from a river on the mainland), no electricity and their means of transport is a dugout canoe. They do use mobile phones and Whatsapp though.

Mila in Coco Banderas

The Kunas we met so far have been very welcoming and friendly, completely different to the sometimes very pushy boat boys we met in the Windward Islands (especially in Dominica). Sailors and Kunas coexist together very well, they sell us fruit, Coconuts, fish or Lobster or they trade it for drinking water, beer or the opportunity to charge their phone.

We met Pangea again and spent some time with them. Barbecued the Mahi I caught on the way to Panama, went snorkeling and fishing and met some new people. We visited Green Island and took the dinghy up Rio Diablo, where Teresa saw a small crocodile. Then we went to the Holandes Cays for christmas. We had a very nice christmas dinner on the Norwegian Catamaran Mais Uma and went on BBQ Island where the Kuna living there made a big fire.

There is a big crocodile (about 4m) living on Banedup, Holandes Cays. We never saw it ourselves but we dinghied a guy that swam to the island and then saw the crocodile back to his boat as his motivation for swimming had faded. Crocodiles are freshwater animals, but they can live on the islands because there are water holes on some islands that contain water that is less salty because of being filtered by the coral. Crocodiles are endemic in Guna Yala and as they are quite fearful accidents involving humans happen very rarely, but they are known for eating sailor’s dogs. I think i also saw the Banedup crocodile running away in front of me when collecting firewood, but i’m not totally sure as it was dark.

When we started to run out of provisions after some weeks, we sailed to Linton in mainland Panama. We rented a car to visit Panama City and the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal, took the bus to Portobelo and finally bought a second folding bike to explore the area. Biking here is fun as the roads are in good quality and there is not so much traffic. Also, there are road blocks by the Panamanian police all the time and if you are on a bike they wave you through without a search.

So far, we like Panama. We will stay in the area for a while as my brother and his girlfriend will visit us here in February.

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