Taganga: What happened to this place?

Carrie taking a swim at sunset in Taganga, Colombia.

About a month ago, we reserved our sailing trip from Cartagena, Colombia, through the San Blas Islands and into Panama.  This put us on a schedule and, wanting an entire week on the Colombian coast, we had to cross the interior without stopping.  From the Ecuadorian border, it took almost exactly 48 hours to travel up to the Caribbean beach of Taganga.  It was a grueling journey but we were also very excited to be back in Colombia where the adventure began.  I remember writing about the country when we first arrived in South America.  At the time it had seemed so scary, chaotic, and poor.  Now, after our travels, it looked very safe, orderly, and rich.  It’s amazing how much your perceptions change after a few months on the road.

We planned poorly in picking our time to depart for Central America.  All the Colombians were headed to the beach for Easter week which greatly inflated bus prices and made everything a lot more hectic than normal.  You just can’t ever remember which day Easter is supposed to be until it’s upon you!  Luckily we found a hostel to review which saved us from paying the horribly expensive holiday accommodation prices.  So we rolled into Taganga in a taxi, not really sure what to expect.  A friend who had traveled to Colombia several years ago described the place as a “relaxing and quiet fishing village with a slight hippie vibe” which sounded kinda like exactly what we were looking for.  Oh, how things can change in a couple of years.

What we found was something very different.  Some words to describe the new Taganga would be as follows: dirty, overcapacity, loud, commercial, expensive, annoying, and did I say dirty?  Lets go over each of those adjectives one by one.  Dirty:  The town lacks proper trash collection to deal with the hordes of irresponsible Colombians that just throw their garbage everywhere.  (Let’s be honest…we’ve observed that it is mostly the Colombians, not the North American/European/Australian tourists that litter everywhere.  It’s probably an education problem.)  The beach is a straight environmental nightmare piled high with beer bottles, plastic plates, all kinds of trash, much of which ends up in the ocean.  It made us sick how no one really seemed to care.  It’s sad when people have so little respect for the world around them.  Overcapacity: The town is just too small for this amount of people.  The road is completely blocked up with taxis all day long, and the infrastructure is years behind the demands on it.  Since we’ve been here, transformers have been blowing up all over the place from the amounts of electricity being used, turning the power on and off all over the town.  Ahh, what a mess.  Loud: You just can’t escape the noise.  The town is in a little bay and sound just reverberates off the surrounding hills.  Commercial:  There are some hippies selling cool bracelets and things along the beach, but most of the shops sell generic garbage that you find everywhere else.  The restaurants have nothing new or exciting, and it is hard to find anything out of the usual. Expensive: Sure it’s Easter week, but the cheapest thing to eat is about $5.  The hotels in the area have inflated prices at this time, but their usual rates are still way higher than other places along the coast.  It’s just so not worth it.  Annoying:  You add expensive and commercial together and combine it with thousands of boom boxes and Colombians trying to show off their drunken English, and what you get is classic annoyingness.  SOOOOOO DIRTY:  People should really be ashamed of what they are doing to the beautiful beach.

Good things about Taganga include some spectacular sunsets that just made us sadder thinking about what this place used to be like…

Taganga is a classic case of what happens when a place gets too popular too fast.  We wish we could have seen the Taganga our friend saw two years ago, the Taganga we were hoping for.  While the tourism boom is surely benefiting local businesses, I’m afraid that if the infrastructure doesn’t catch up fast, the environmental effects of this many visitors in this tiny, unprepared village will be disastrous.

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Danny’s Fruits & Cocktails in Taganga, Colombia

Danny’s Fruits & Cocktails in Taganga, Colombia, has the best value of any restaurant along the beach.  With a daily “Sandwich and Jugo” special for 4,000 COP ($2), this spot became our daily dinner.  The sandwiches are toasted and contain ham, tomato, onion, and melted mozzarella cheese, and included in the price is a delicious slushy limeade.

The juice bar is colorful and hip, with friendly servers and a convenient beachfront location that’s perfect if you love people-watching while you eat.

They also make a variety of delectable-looking fruit salads and ice cream sundaes that are sure to satisfy the cravings of any sweet tooth!

Location: Calle 1, the road along the beach.  It’s near the middle of the strip.  (Not many places have real addresses in Taganga.)

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The most momentous book exchange of the whole trip!

The clock is ticking with only five days left in South America!  It’s bittersweet to be leaving this continent we’ve grown to love so much, but knowing that more adventures await further north!  We got lucky to find Literar-té in Taganga, the biggest book exchange we’ve seen in South America!  Finding the shop is kind of an adventure.  We saw the place mentioned in several blogs but none of them gave directions on how to get there!  So we decided to follow suit and not ruin the fun of the search.  Don’t worry, you’ll find it if you keep your eyes open!

One dog-eared, over-highlighted copy of South America on A Shoestring plus 4,000 COP ($2) got us a similarly well-loved copy of Central America on A Shoestring.  We have our issues with Lonely Planet’s accuracy, but we’re not the type of travelers to go totally guidebook-less.  It’s always a good reference when read with a grain of salt.  Five more days, Colombia, than adelante a Panama!  Is it just me or has this adventure gone way too fast!

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