Backpacking in Colombia – (Santa Marta, San Guil, Villa de Leyva, Popayan, and Ipiales)

Santa Marta
After the craziness of Baranquilla, we headed further up the coast to Santa Marta for some R&R. We found a nice place to stay in the main area of town and remained there for about 3 days. Santa Marta is known to have some of the nicest beaches along the coast. When I got there, the only thing that really stood out were the unprecedented number of shoe stores. Yes…shoe stores. Apparently, they love shoes in Santa Marta, and this place is a shoe lover’s dream. There are at least two VERY large shoe stores every block throughout the city. I am not kidding. In Baranquilla, my flip flops broke at the perfect time. For a moment I got to put my backpacker mentality to the side and be a girly-girl. A practical kind of girly-girl, but non the less I got to be one. Let me tell you, it felt great! ;) After finding a good replacement for my dearly departed flip flops, we headed to the beach!

Santa Marta’s beach gave me mixed feelings. It had beautiful blue-green water, just like one would imagine the Caribbean to have. The beach was realitivly uncrowded, which is nice. Unlike Cartagena, I didn’t have someone come up to me every 2 or 3 minutes trying to sell me something. However, I was sad to see it ruined by huge oil and cargo liners built right on the beaches everyone hangs out on. For the first time on the Caribbean, we saw incredible blue water with gorgeous beaches. Then boom! Oil liners, and a huge cargo yard right on the water.

I also noticed amazing black sand mixed with a typical light brown beach sand. It gave the beach a beautiful glitter like effect. When I went to google why the sand was black, it said it was from the pollution of all the industry going on next to the beach. It was sad, and alarming.

I did hear that if you take a shuttle or bus, you can get to some very nice beaches in Santa Marta. We didn’t because we wanted to relax and not be on any kind of mode of transportation for a while. We had a big bus ride coming up.

San Gil
San Gil was one of my favorite towns in Colombia. It has a population of about 40,000. San Gil has this wonderful colonial charm, with amazing nature and outdoor sights. Its is quieter, cleaner, and just a really cool town. The food here was great, and they had many cute coffee shops with great coffee. The other wonderful discovery we found in San Gil were Panaderia’s! They are massive bread shops with an array of breads to choose from….sweet bread, hearty bread, bread with chicken, croissants with ham, bread with frosting and chocolate all over it. You name it, it was there, it was cheap, and I ate a lot of it. San Guil was also the first time since I left Denver we had…..wait for it….. WARM SHOWERS!

The only low point of San Gil is that we got our Camara stolen…don’t ask. I will have pictures posted in Ecuador when we finally get a new camera. Regardless, I still look at San Gil fondly. We enjoyed our time, and stayed for about 4-5 days.

*Some advice for travelers…never go into isolated places in nature, no matter how pretty.*

Villa De Leyva

Villa De Leyva was a pristine town with a well preserved colonial history. We only stayed for 2 days, because it was one of the more expensive towns we visited in Colombia. It was very touristy, but very pleasant and nice. I would call this the ‘Pleasantville’ of Colombia. We walked around cobble stone streets and ate some really good pizza. Veggie Pizza has become my go to meal since our arrival. It is filling, hearty, and pork and beef free. I have been having a lot of difficulties with food since we landed in Colombia, and I am starting to look scrawny.

Our next town was Popayan. It was a very friendly town and had the BEST places to eat for cheap! We stayed for 2 days. After a long bus ride from Villa de Leyva, it was very nice and relaxing. We ate at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant, a crepe place, and a local place with the nicest mother/daughter duo. They made us special meals everyday. All I can say is I was so thankful to eat!

Ipiales and the border
We headed to the border of Colombia and Ecuador. Ipiales is a border town, and anyone who has been to a border town knows what that means. There isn’t much more I can say about it. I would love to know what it is about border towns that make them so unpleasant. To top it all off, once again, I am in a bad situation with food. It was a rough night in Ipiales… I was grouchy due to many hours of bus travel, on top of the fact that I couldn’t eat most of the food in the entire town. Yes, the entire town put pork or beef on their food in some way, or the people at the restaurants were so difficult to deal with we just walked out. I resorted to ice cream, and I slept off the hunger. The next morning we checked out a cathedral called Las Lajas Sanctuary. Then hit the road for the border of Ecuador!