Finally, finally we’re in a place that’s hot, not humid, and has lots of delicious vegetarian food! Thank you for being awesome, Santa Marta!
Santa Marta is Colombia’s oldest surviving city, so Lonely Planet tells me. I can’t tell you what the alternative is to a surviving city. Anyone? No, okay, I didn’t think so. Anyway, Santa Marta is super old and super important.
It’s here that fútbol (football, soccer) was introduced by the English ages ago, and it’s here that many Colombian fútbol stars, like Carlos Valderrama were born. There’s even a big statue honouring “El Pibe” outside the old stadium.
Look, I feel weird calling the sport fútbol, and I have to keep Googling every detail because I don’t actaully know anything about it, so I’m going to change the subject. Plus, there’s way more interesting things in Santa Marta!
Like it’s vegetarian restaurants.
And plethora of coconut vendors.
And you know, it’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada.
And it’s history of riches, drugs, and Simón Bolívar.
Honestly. I don’t know why so many backpackers skip this place. Especially since it’s rated #3 on TripAdvisor for top places in Colombia! Maybe everywhere else in Colombia is way freakin’ better, or maybe it’s because the Lonely Planet tells them to they should want to skip it. I say, don’t listen to the book! Come to Santa Marta, plant yourself in a cool hostel (Casa del Escritor is awesome) in or near the historic centre, and eat some vegetables. K?
As a vegetarian traveller, I miss out on a lot of the cusine and food related customs of countries. For example, in Colombia, many little restaurants serve a menu del dia for a cheap set price. Normally, it includes soup, a main (rice, fish or meat, salad kind of thing), a desert, and a fruit juice. It’s not just an amazing value, it’s part of the culture to take advantage of these big set lunches. But I (and because of me, Matt) can’t partake because of the meat/fish situation.
Govinda’s Restaurante Vegetariano was definitely our favourite lunch spot because finally I could join in the fun of a set lunch and feel totally confident that there wouldn’t be meat hiding in my food! For 8.000 COP ($3.10 USD), you get a soup, main, desert, and fresh fruit juice. There’s no menu to choose things from. You just sit down and wait for the delicious food to be placed in front of you!
Also, I can’t stop thinking about the sandwiches at Carepastel. Their bread was so good, and so were their homepade spreads for the sandwiches. Matt loved their chicken and I loved that they catered to vegetarians as well! Sandwiches there started at 5.000 COP and salads started at 3.500 COP (the salads were pretty small but they were still really good).
There really were lots of restuarants for us to choose from — those are just two of the best and cheapest!
Aside from being impressed by the options for vegetarians (can you tell how happy it’s made me?), we were equally impressed by the Museo del Oro.
Museo del Oro
Matt and I spent a few blissful hours at the Museo del Oro (museum website), soaking in the history of the area as we were amazed by it’s gold artifacts. There are English explanations for everything, which was completely unexpected, especially since the museum is free for everyone and is beautifully set up.
I’ve never understood why people take pictures of informative signs until now. I wish that I could remember everything I learned in the museum. Actually, learned is maybe not the right word since I can’t remember any of it. But everything that I read and was certain that I’d be able to remember, like how the various Pre-Columbian indigenous groups used gold and how they sculpted it into beautiful and intricate things.
Despite being extremely fuzzy on the details, it was great to visit this museum before we did the Lost City trek. It gave us a greater insight into the route we’d be hiking along.
Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino
In case you don’t know (which I also didn’t either so don’t feel bad), Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino is the death place of the man with the two accents in his name: Simón Bolívar. Simón Bolívar is celebrated in Colombia as El Libertador, The Liberator. And yes, the country Bolivia is named after him.
For it was he who played an instrumental role in the establishment of Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia first as Gran Colombia independent of Spanish rule, the federal dream of Bolivar’s. And then subsequently, after his death, as sovereign states (read the rest of the wiki page for all the info I’m not telling you because I’d just end up plagiarizing).
As part of our quest to understand Colombia and specifically Santa Marta, we spent an afternoon at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino. There’s one thing that our 20.000 COP entrance fee ($7.75 USD) didn’t get us, and that was English signs. We did get a guide who spoke English though!
But he somehow managed to get out of his tour guide duties by getting us to agree to take a map and walk around by ourselves. Neither Matt nor I have any idea how that happened. One minute he was all “nice to meet you, I’m your guide” and the next minute he was all “here’s your map, have a nice life.”
Given that nothing was in English, we were reduced to the equivalent of looking solely at the pictures in a textbook and trying figure out what the entire chapter was about. Which was alright because a) Matt can fill in the historical gaps pretty well and b) hey, we don’t actually know what we were missing. And anyway, the grounds of the Quinta were beautiful enough to walk around blissfully unaware of what exactly we were looking at.