Transport Woes Visiting Santa Marta, Colombia

Cartagena Taxi, Transport Woes

While visiting Colombia last year, I was keen to head up the Caribbean coast to see Parque Tayrona, which I had heard was quite special. I had only initially intended on seeing Cartagena and Bogotá during my visit, so I attempted to shuffle things around to accommodate a visit. Little did I know the problems this would cause.

It didn’t take long for my bad luck to begin, striking before I had even left. Because I had made a mistake with dates and flights, I had just 2 days in Santa Marta before I had to be back in Cartagena to fly to Bogotá.

My friend and I had bought bus tickets online for our bus to Santa Marta. The day we left Cartagena, we hopped in a taxi outside our building and began to make our way to the bus station. Roughly half way there, our taxi broke down on a major road that narrowed to one lane briefly, but exactly where we had stopped.  The driver tried to revive the beast but with no luck.

Cartagena Taxi, Transport Woes

Starting to stress that we were going to miss the bus, we got out and switched to the taxi behind. Once our old taxi had finally been pushed clear, we sped off and made it there with enough time to spare. We began looking around the station for the bus company’s counter to collect our tickets. Once at the counter, we were struck our second blow. The tickets we had bought were for 10pm, not 10am. We had both looked at it online and failed to catch that crucial detail.

Not wanting to waste the day at the station and lose half my time in Santa Marta, we asked about for a bus leaving in the morning and soon we were thankfully on our way. The bus ride was uneventful and we made it to Santa Marta. Again, the bus station was far from town so we jumped into a taxi and set off for our hostel.

We were just a few short blocks from the hostel when our luck worsened. As we stopped at an intersection to give way to traffic, a brawl erupted on the footpath next to us. Two men grappling each other, suddenly slammed into the side of the taxi doing some damage to the door and mirror. Rightfully upset, our driver leapt out to inspect the damage as one of the offenders ran off. After several minutes of agitated discussion between our driver and the remaining man, we learned he was waiting for the police to make a report. Not wanting to wait around or get involved, we quickly paid and walked the remaining distance to our accommodation.

We spent the rest of the day exploring town, although we had both been feeling unwell since the day before, and the stress surely hadn’t helped. The next day we ventured off to Parque Tayrona, which was fantastic fun.

Parque Tayrona Beach, Transport Woes


That evening I had to take a bus back to Cartagena to make my early flight the following day. I had been unable to buy tickets in advance so knew I had to be there a little before the bus left at 7pm. At around 3.30pm, we hopped in a speedboat that runs between the main beach of the park and the town of Taganga, close to Santa Marta. It was meant to arrive in Taganga by 5pm, where we would take a taxi the last little way. Of course, it wouldn’t go smoothly.

We had been cruising along the coastline, taking in the amazing scenery when suddenly the boat spluttered to a halt. We had run out of petrol, 20 minutes out from Taganga. And so we sat drifting, waiting for other boats to pass by. 15 minutes of waiting and another boat came over, giving me a glimpse of relief before it was snatched away. After chatting for a minute or two, the other boats captain threw his hands up as if to say “nothing I can do” and off they went, leaving us to wait.

While we chatted on the boat, I kept doing the math in my head on whether or not I’d make the bus. This threw me into contingency mode, trying to figure out what to do if I missed the bus. It wasn’t for another 30 minutes or so until we were finally helped my another boat, giving us enough fuel to make it back. Once in Taganga, we grabbed the first taxi free and sped off for the hostel in Santa Marta.

At roughly 6.15pm I briefly flew through my hostel to collect my bags and was off again to the bus station. My relief at making it to the station on time was short-lived. I arrived to a bustling station and a huge line at the counter for my bus to Santa Marta. I soon learned that all the direct buses to Santa Marta were fully booked. A little panicked, I stayed in the line not sure what I was going to do.

Once I’d reached the counter I asked for Santa Marta and was met with the lady at the counter shaking her head. Dejected I was about to leave when she said something in Spanish and I turned about puzzled. Thankfully, the student behind me was able to translate for me, telling me that I could take the bus to Barranquilla and transfer to a bus there for Cartagena. While it wasn’t perfect, I was grateful that I was somehow heading to Cartagena. In the end, the transfer in Barranquilla was quite straightforward and I arrived in Cartagena after midnight. I had picked a hotel a short walk from the station which turned out to be very important as the bus station was nearly deserted and in a rough area.

The next day I made my flight no hassles and thus ended 48 hours of transport nightmares.

Have you ever had a string of bad luck while travelling? What happened and how did you cope? Please share in the comments below.

Transport Woes Visiting Santa Marta, Colombia via @travelsewhere


2 Comment

  1. What an adventure! Even though you had some troubles with the bus, taxi and the boat… you are still focusing on the positives! Good on you 🙂
    Patrick and Cecile 🙂

  2. tony logan says: Reply

    Shame on both of us for not going to nearby Minca which I think would be a lot more interesting than spending much time in Taganga.

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