Although we were sold one ticket each from Santa Marta to Cartagena we had to change in Barranquilla which thankfully was quick and painless. We still hadn't quite made our mind up about whether we were going to stay the night in Cartagena or continue on to Covenas, our next beach destination. Once we arrived though we came to the decision that we were too tired to continue and it would be a shame to miss a supposedly vibrant, Caribbean city. So after a twenty minute taxi ride, and a quick walk around we'd found a cheap place to stay in a pretty good location and they owned a parrott.
We decided we would get up early in the morning to have a proper look round the town and just went out for an early dinner.
In the morning we got up about 7:30am and walked straight down to the historic quarter of Cartagena and I was really quite pleasantly surprised. It was very pretty with brightly painted buildings complete with wooden balconies, which lined narrow streets leading to palm tree filled plazas.
At this time it was very quiet and we wondered round without being bothered. We had read that one of the major negatives of Cartagena was that tourists were continually harassed by touts but it appeared we had caught them napping.
The only thing that followed us around was a little street dog which we named Lester.
He followed us all along the historical city walls and then a little way through the streets as we made our way back to the hostel. I didn't want him to follow us too far because it would be too sad, so when he got distracted by a bucket full of water we picked up the pace a little.
We couldn't help looking back a couple of minutes later and we spotted him down the street, he saw us too but he may have wandered out of his patch because other dogs started barking at him and he didn't come any further.
Once back at the hostel we literally picked up our bags and jumped on a bus to the terminal. Here we were directed to get off at a junction and were asked where we wanted to go. When we said Tolu we were rushed on to another bus and I was a bit concerned it wasn't actually going where we wanted. In the end though it worked out perfectly, in fact it took us all the way to the small place called Covenas where we wanted to stay, which is about 20kim west of Tolu. Covenas doesn't really have a centre, or not one that we found anyway, instead it is strung out along the Caribbean coast line and we had to walk along it for quite some time to find the hotel Adam had read about on the internet when doing some research about quiet beach side spots. Covenas is not really mentioned in our guidebook and hasn't really been discovered by foreigners, it is just for Colombians at the weekend and during holidays. We arrived on a non-holiday Monday and therefore it was pretty much deserted.
We stayed at the Los Corales Hotel which is owned by a Swiss man in his senior years, he's been in Colombia for over twenty years and he said running the hotel was his hobby. Nice hobby!
Covenas beach is lovely, definitely the best we found along the main land coast. On the first day we were there we just relaxed on the beach.
The hotel had a couple of deck chairs and a little shelter so we plonked ourselves down and did a bit of sunbathing. We also spent quite a bit of time in the sea which was lovely and warm. We did get a little bother from some touts but they generally took no for an answer and I didn't always say no, some of them had some nice things. Adam got talking to one of the touts called Orvil who had been learning English for a couple of years, he was from Cartagena and was down in Covenas for a month or so. Tough gig, wandering up and down a fairly deserted beach, we felt bad for them. Later in the afternoon Adam began to dig a big hole and during this process was joined by a energetic Labrador who tried to molester him a number of times, it was quite funny to watch.
Eating cheaply wasn't really an option, we'd bought a bit of food with us but for main meals we ate at the hotels restaurant which was really lovely but a tad more expensive
Our next day in Covenas we went into Tolu to have a look around the town and also find out about trips to the San Sebastian Islands which from the pictures we'd seen looked lovely. Tolu was nice enough bu nothing special, I was glad we were staying in Covenas. Although I'm sure it would be much more lively in holiday season. We easily found somewhere offering tours to the islands and we booked to go the following day for £17 each including lunch and entry to an aquarium. Of course as soon as we'd booked it we had concerns about whether this tour was going to actually live up to the description. We had our fingers firmly crossed. After a little bit of shopping in Tolu we returned to Covenas where we spent the afternoon on the beach and Adam built a sandcastle.
In the morning we got an early bus back to Tolu where we had a quick breakfast before boarding the boat. It was packed full of what I presumed to be Colombian's tourists, and when the boat picked up speed (it went really fast) they all started whooping and stuff. Given that most of them were over fifty it was quite funny.
It took about thirty to forty five minutes to reach the first island where the aquarium was situated. As it was including in our ticket we were of course going in but the rest had to choose whether or not to pay the entrance. One of those people was an Australian guy called Robert who had been cycling through South America for 17 months. We had a brief chat to him before going in, he decided not to as did most of the other people so it was quite a small group of us who entered. It actually wasn't only an aquarium but also an ecological park and first of all we walked along to see some turtles swimming about in natural pools built in the ocean. I've never seen a turtle that close up and it was really quite special. They were so graceful and surprisingly inquisitive.
After the turtles we walked through the interior of the island and saw loads of red squirrels, a few rabbits, a big bull, monkeys and lots of birds.
The guide was chatting away in Spanish so obviously we didn't pick up too much but it was good nonetheless. There were a few fake skulls scattered about, perhaps in reference to the old tribes which lived on the islands, and one of the “Colombian” tourists, an old guy kept pointing them out to us which we thought was sweet.
There was then a little nautical themed museum in a coconut shake, an area with more elaborate birds such as a peacock and a giant Ostrich who didn't look real, more like a puppet.
At one point while we were having a little break from walking we were approached by a guy who asked where we were from. He was from Medellin and was here on holiday with his wife and daughter. A very nice guy who spoke decent English, and we both thought it was kind of him to talk to us. The final part of the tour was the aquarium and we entered it through a tunnel which started with the mouth of shark!
Inside the first few tanks contained fairly unimpressive fish and lobsters but then the main attraction was a huge tank which had at least two dolphins in it.
We couldn't quite believe it, all we'd seen for about £4.50, it was pretty impressive.
After the aquarium we got back in the boat and went to drop someone off at the most populated island in the world based on size, it was truly crazy. I couldn't quite wrap my head around why everyone wanted to live in this one spot.
There must be a reason. We didn't stay long enough to find out though, instead we went off to the final destination for the day, one last island. Here we were to have lunch and relax on the beach. The sea was finally that beautiful colour we had been searching for and for the first time it did feel as though we were in the Caribbean.
Once on the island we had a little dip in the water and then decided to do some snorkelling. It was only us and the guy from Medellin who got in a boat and were taken out into slightly deeper water. Then it was masks on and over the side. The coral unfortunately looked a little dead and it wasn't teeming with life like you would hope but there were a couple of interestingly coloured fish. Two things saved the little outing though, one was the guide picked up and showed us a puffer fish which was really cool and secondly he told us to hang on to a line attached to the boat and he dragged us along through the water. That was fun. The rest of the afternoon was spent eating a lovely lunch and then finding a quiet spot to relax in the wonderfully clear water.
Here we were joined by the Australian guy Robert, it was nice to chat and hear about his experiences although all too soon we were called to get back on the boat. Robert was staying on the island for a couple of days so we left him to enjoy the tranquillity.
Although we didn't make our mind up until the following morning that ended up being our last day in Covenas. We wanted to get back to Bogota as we had things to sort out but as we did on the journey north we were going to break things up a little bit.
Laura & Adam