30 October 2023 Santa Marta
In search of the Caribbean
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”Eleanor Roosevelt
I left the Ibis Styles Hotel at midnight, taking an Uber to the airport. Once there you have to check-in even if you only have hand luggage. My papers were confirmed as OK, and I was invited to check my cabin bag through to Cartagena via Panama. Which I did, but I missed a trick because I didn’t transfer my liquids to the checked luggage. This would have avoided having a new 125 gm bottle of mosquito repellent confiscated; and I had left a large bottle of mouthwash and an aerosol can of ‘bug spray’ at the hotel knowing that these wouldn’t be allowed in hand luggage.
Travel Tip: If you know that your hand luggage can be checked through for free then this is an opportunity to avoid all the limitations on liquids and aerosol cans, if that meets your needs. Of course, if you don’t have oversized liquids or aerosol cans, then it is better not to check your bag so that you don’t have any delays at your final destination.
At the check-in counter, I asked to change my aisle seat to a window seat on my connecting flight from Panama to Cartagena. I was given a Premium Economy seat 7A at no extra charge, but as I would find out later, the downside being that this ‘window seat’ does not have a window!
The first flight from Manaus to Panama City was fine. I had a window seat (with a window) and two empty seats beside me. I even managed to get an hour’s sleep. This flight landed at terminal 1 and my connecting flight to Cartagena was leaving from Terminal 2. It was actually touch (down) & go, as it’s a very long walk between these 2 terminals. Google Maps tells me I walked 1,127 km between the Terminal 1 arrival gate and the Terminal 2 departure gate (the only short detour being a visit to the loo).
The second flight was quick and comfortable even without a window! Cartagena Airport is very small and easy to navigate. After Immigration, security and customs there is a FX office by the exit doors. I changed the last of my Brazilian cash here but I should have read the small print as I ended up paying € 5 in charges to exchange the equivalent of € 20.
Travel Tip: Use an app like Xe to have an idea about how much money you should expect with foreign exchange transactions.
I walked out of Cartagena Airport to the main road and ordered an Uber ride to the main bus station on the other side of town. Sadly and frustratingly, this was another rip-off as the driver took a much longer route than necessary and nearly doubled the estimated fare. My complaint to Uber went nowhere. Not a good start to arrive in a country and be cheated twice in the first 30-minutes of arrival.
At Cartagena bus station I got a seat on the next bus to Santa Marta and was told the journey would be about 4 hours. It turned out to be 6 hours but the First Principle of Transportation is Safe Arrival, so I shouldn’t complain but I will anyway, as the bus dropped me way outside central Santa Marta necessitating getting a taxi during a tropical downpour.
The bus journey itself was an experience with many stops and starts, and food and snack vendors getting on and off the bus. The standard ploy being a vendor would jump on the bus and just give everyone something whether they wanted it or not and then come around to either collect payment or take the goods back. Surprisingly, some people did actually buy the things they had been given. A slight twist to this ploy was the travelling preacher, who stood at the front of the bus giving a seemingly splendid sermon that went on for quite some time raising intermittent enthusiastic applause. He then distributed something to each passenger on the bus but ran out before he got to me (as I was sitting in the back row). As far as I could tell, he collected all of his stuff back without making a sale.
While on the bus I booked the Hotel Casa Bethel for two nights. A pleasant enough property right in front of the town beach. The room did have an aircon but no hot water (by design not by fault), but for € 25 a night with breakfast this is quite acceptable. The staff were all friendly and kind with my attempts at beginners Spanish.
It had been a long time since I checked out of the hotel in Manaus yesterday and with very little sleep I decided to have dinner at the hotel. I did go to a nearby supermarket for snacks and drinks, bug spray aerosol (for the room) and mosquito repellent (for me).
Now it’s time for a cool shower and early night.
- Copa Airlines: Manaus (Brazil) to Cartagena (Colombia) / Cartagena to Panama City (Panama) / Panama to San Jose (Costa Rica) € 405 combined fare.
- Uber Cartagena Airport to Bus Station € 19 (rip-off fare)
- Bus ticket Cartagena to Santa Marta € 10.50
- Hotel Casa Bethel booked through Booking.com € 25 per night with breakfast
- Dinner at Hotel Casa Bethel (Burger & Fries and bottle of water) € 8
- Essential supplies from supermarket € 12