We all know that Colombia is shedding its undeserved stigma and opening up to international tourism, and nowhere is this more apparent than the Caribbean fishing village of Taganga. How awful! you cry, a magical part of the Colombian coast ravaged by hedonistic foreigners in the mold of a Thai island!
But that isn’t so. Whilst its magnetism for backpackers continues to strengthen, it is far from overrun and has not lost one bit of its true Colombian magic. The crudely painted signs on battered boards of wood advertising fresh pargo and mojarra do so in Spanish, and if you approach one of the attractive girls tending their street stalls of innumerable fresh fruit juices and talk to her in English, she’ll look at you with a bemused expression that succinctly tells you who she is, and where you are.
This is the beauty of Taganga: it is accessible to, and increasingly enjoyed by, foreign tourists, but it hasn’t lost its authentic Colombian Caribbean coastal culture. Having earlier arrived from a fifteen minute ride from Santa Marta, (the ‘micro bus’ picks up passengers along the main Santa Marta malecón every 15 minutes) – my girlfriend and I – sat eating some fine examples of the above-mentioned fish, whilst watching the moonlit fishing boats bob in the harbour, when we were approached by the guitar-wielding, silver-bearded Rolando, who proceeded to serenade with songs of Santa Marta. He was not intrusive and he was most welcome, and he only added to the romanticism of this madly romantic town.
We asked during one of his interludes, if he knew any fishermen whom we might accompany on one of their early morning excursions, for, contrary to the paranoid advice of Lonely Planet, we didn’t want to take a guided commercial trip and thought we could just pay the fishermen and tag along.
We set out early the next morning with ‘Saliva’ and ‘Poncho’, two toothless jokers who made Captain Jack Sparrow look like a Wall Street yuppie. They were friendly and accommodating in so far as they answered our questions with enthusiasm when asked, but otherwise went about their daily business amongst themselves and were thankfully far from the annoying guides of the commercial tourism we had, now successfully, sought to avoid.
An hour after watching the sunrise over the green hills behind the village, we arrived at our destination. The cackling Saliva killed the motor and we jumped ashore, east of Taganga and near Bahia Concha. Half a dozen athletic youths emerged wearing expressions of amused curiosity from within the hut that was their home. Carelessly wielding our cameras, my girlfriend and I glanced at each other in fear of our possessions and perhaps even ourselves. The fear was not warranted.
We enjoyed a unique day chatting with the youths who lived out here in this wooden house on the jungle-lined coast, and we played dice with them and drank coffee until we got the shout from the man snorkeling around the nets that they were full and ready to come in. We leaped up and pulled at the ropes of the sprawling nets like maniacal tug-of-war contestants and were rewarded by flapping fish and the successful cries of the fishermen.
Back in the harbour, the bars were coming alive with a jarring mix of reggae, vallenato at distorted volumes from seemingly ubiquitous big speakers. And we would be drinking rum with the care and tooth-free locals until the sun rose again, the next morning, for this is the magic of talking your way out of the Taganga ‘trap.’
Travel Tips: Locals will talk you in to taking a boat ride to the next bay, Playa Blanca. Just 10 minutes around a rocky point, Playa Blanca can also be accessed walking 20 minutes along a cactus trail. The boat ride to Playa Blanca shouldn’t set you back more than $5,000 pesos for the return ride.
If heading east towards Tayrona by sea, make sure you advise someone as to your whereabouts, as the waters between Tayrona Park and Santa Marta become rough with afternoon swells. From Taganga to the more remote Bahia Concha, Chengue and Playa Neguanje, it costs approx. $40,000 pesos per person.
A final word to the wise: Make sure your ‘lancha’ has life vests.