I have visited the Tayrona National Park, the city of Santa Marta, its beautiful beach at El Rodadero, the city of Barranquilla and the historical city of Cartagena. I know there are some real paradises further North, but I never had the chance to get there. Here is a brief overview of these places.
Tayrona National Park: Located 21 miles to the east of Santa Marta, it is a real paradise. There are many small secluded beaches where you can enjoy privacy in the midst of beautiful sceneries. Tropical vegetation is all around you. It is a large national park that was inhabited centuries ago by the Tayrona Indians. There are archaeological ruins in the park, mangrove swamps, coral reefs. It has more than 100 species of mammals, 200 different kinds of birds, 50 different classes of reptiles. You need a lot of time to thoroughly enjoy this charming place. I was on a business trip, and only spent two hours in the park, but I found it delightful. Some hills border the seaside. Some tourists were captured near the national park by the guerrilla over a year ago, but this happened because they took the risk of exploring very solitary areas, where there are some archaeological treasures. Santa Marta: The city of Santa Marta is an important port, but there are no real good beaches in the downtown. However, 20 minutes away from the city, Taganga is one of the best places in Colombia for snorkeling, where you will see all sorts of fish and coral reefs. There are very few hotels in the city of Santa Marta and none really attractive (at least when I was there some years ago). But very near Santa Marta (8 miles away), El Rodadero and its beaches are a real paradise.
El Rodadero. This is a very nice beach with very good hotels. It is far safer than the city of Santa Marta and a really enjoyable place. The beach is surrounded by foothills, making the area more attractive. I stayed at the hotel La Sierra, an inexpensive good 3-star hotel very near the beach. Once I discovered this beautiful place, each time I went to Santa Marta I always stayed at El Rodadero. The buses that go to Barranquilla and Cartagena stop at El Rodadero. You do not need to go to Santa Marta to take the long distance bus. One of the major attractions of El Rodadero is a beautiful aquarium on an island (only 5 minutes away on a motorboat trip). Tickets for this aquarium can be purchased just in front of the police stand on the seafront. There is another aquarium some 13 miles beyond El Rodadero, with fresh water fish of the Magdalena, Amazon and Orinoco river basins. The name of the aquarium is Agua Viva. You can go on a taxi, or on regular suburban bus lines (BONDA route).
Barranquilla: This is a modern city, the fourth in importance after Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, located on the shores of the Magdalena river, some 13 miles before it runs into the sea. I was not aware that the sea was so near, or I would have visited its beaches. In Barranquilla I stayed at the hotel Royal, a very nice 4-star hotel with a good swimming pool. Only 15 minutes away from Barranquilla, you have a nice resort on the Atlantic: Hotel Pradomar. Their address is Calle 2 No. 22-61 Pradomar - Puerto Colsombia, Atlantico, and their phone number is 309 60 11 or 309 52 50. In the downtown the hotel El Prado is the best, and also the most expensive one. Cartagena: It is one of the oldest cities in the American continent, and was founded in 1533. Obviously, the city is full of history; it is one of the most important historical cities in Colombia. The Bocagrande area has nice beaches (not very wide, however). The historical part of Cartagena is impressive. The well conserved fortifications built by the Spaniards are the most important part of any visit to Cartagena. The city could be divided into two areas, the historical part, and the modern city, that is well developed. I stayed at the Hotel El Dorado, a budget 3-star hotel at Bocagrande. Cartagena is also the gateway for flying to the island of San Andres.
Islas del Rosario, 29 miles away from Cartagena, is a real paradise. Bus services along the coast are really comfortable, and travel time from one city to another generally does not take more than two hours. So you can really tour the coast at a low cost. There are flights from Santa Marta, Barranquilla, and Cartagena to the main cities in Colombia, in most cases connecting at Bogota, and from Cartagena to Cali and also to the island of San Andrés. To see photos of the different areas we have reviewed, and of other parts of Colombia, click on this link: www.colombialink.com/fotoscolombia.html.
Enjoy your visit to Colombia. Unlike Venezuela, where I was not impressed by the experience of the airline pilots, Colombia has really professional pilots. I have been on flights in emergency in both countries, and while the Aeropostal pilot in Venezuela was scared to death, the pilot of ACES in Colombia handled the situation very professionally. In the first case the outer window of the airplane cabin had cracked, in the other case a motor had failed. I really commend the professional way in which the pilot of ACES handled the situation. He simply said: "Gentlemen, we need to return to the runway to carry out a check. Sorry to bother you. Keep calm, I am calm." Colombia is a beautiful country, and you should face no problems if you take minimal care. Don’t take any risks, and you will enjoy your stay.