On my recent trip to Colombia, all I heard from other travellers was “You have to go to the coast, to Santa Marta”. So when I arrived in Santa Marta I was positively underwhelmed, and wondered what all the fuss was about. However, a few conversations later and I realised there really was a lot to see here, but most of it was in the areas around Santa Marta. As a Dive Instructor, getting back in the water was top priority, so I headed to Taganga for a few nights to scuba dive in Tayrona National park.
Which shop should you choose?
It is possible to find dive centres in Santa Marta, however most drive you to Taganga and then hop on a boat there. I really recommend going to Taganga for a couple of days, it’s a little nicer than Santa Marta in my opinion. What used to be a sleepy fishing town has grown into a tourist hot spot, and despite some bad press a few years ago, the small town continues to grow and is popular with backpackers and Colombians. There are around 10 Dive Centres in Taganga. I chose Ocean Lovers because of their high rating on tripadvisor, and I can confirm that high rating is well deserved! The shop is owned by the very experienced Lisi, an Austrian Instructor. The rest of the staff are a mix of locals who have been diving here for years, and multi lingual Instructors from other places. Equipment was in great condition, and Lisi is always on hand to answer any questions. Group sizes are maximum 4, which is a big plus in my book. There is nothing more annoying than diving in a huge group, having sand flung in your face.
Is the diving in Tayrona Park good?
So I had heard a few comments from people that the diving wasn’t great, but I had never dived the Caribbean so I wasn’t going to let that put me off. Now, maybe it’s because I had just spent 6 months working in Malta, where there are very little fish, but I loved the diving in Tayrona! I did 5 dives in total, including a night dive, and I couldn’t believe how underrated this place seems to be. Perhaps it is dependent on where you have dived before (although I have dived quite a lot of places) and what you enjoy. For example, you’re not going to find any huge life or shipwrecks. If you love coral and fish though, it’s perfect!
What will you see?
Lots of coral, that’s a definite! And it’s huge, colourful and in great condition. Some people theorise this is because the coast of Tayrona is protected from any kind of extreme weather by the nearby Sierra Nevada. There’s some impressive brain coral, as well as colourful soft fans. Hiding in amongst that, you will find plenty of moray eels and lobster. Fish are tropical and vibrant, with huge angel fish sailing right past you, as well as trigger fish and the occasional barracuda! A few other divers on the boat spotted a turtle too. My personal highlight was seeing some very cute cow fish! Luckily my guide had excellent eyesight and managed to find 2 seahorses too. Dive site Salichan was my favourite, with a slight current we were carried effortlessly along past the beautiful corals and fish. The night dive was equally impressive, with many more lobsters and Moray Eels out swimming freely. At the safety stop, out went the torches so we could play with the bioluminescent plankton – if you’ve never seen it you’re in for treat!
Is Taganga a good place to learn to dive?
The little town itself is a great place to base yourself if you want to get your Open Water certificate. It’s extremely cheap for the Open Water course in Colombia – Ocean Lovers are currently charging $850,000 COP (December 2018). That is $260 USD which is amazingly good value! Many of the backpackers in Taganga are in town to dive, so you will have things in common and meet new people. The diving itself is ideal for a beginner, with many shallow sites which are sheltered from big currents. Many dive sites are protected from the winds, and have sloping bottoms for an easy and slow descent.
How about for certified divers?
Whilst it may not blow your socks off, there’s plenty to see underwater. At around $55 USD for two fun dives, I think any keen diver would be mad not to at least take the time to see another side of Colombia! With Ocean Lovers, that price includes all equipment, plus snacks and drinks on a sheltered beach during your surface interval. They also offer a range of courses and specialties. I met a Divemaster Intern who was loving her time there, so if you are considering going Pro, it could be a good place to choose for your Divemaster Internship! If you do plan to go for lots of diving, check out my dive packing list.
When is the best time to dive in Tayrona National Park?
The Caribbean waters off Taganga are perfect for diving year round. The water temperature can change quite significantly throughout the year, with January hitting as low as 22 degrees celsius, and July/ August sometimes reaching 30 degrees! I get cold very easily, however Ocean Lovers were quick to offer me 2 wetsuits and a hood so I was comfortable! Not too many people realise that the park is shut for the month of February. You can still dive, however not in the perimeters of the park, so it is definetly something to think about.
Getting to Taganga from Santa Marta
Taganga is only about 15 minutes drive from Santa Marta, so you could easily take a taxi for around $12,000 pesos. If you’re extra frivolous like me, you can take the local bus. Blue buses fly down the streets of Santa Marta and might seem a bit daunting, but just throw your arm out when you see one that says Taganga in the front window and hop on. The fare is $1600 pesos, and of course the bus takes a fair bit longer than a taxi. It’s hot and gets full, but if you have the time, take it!
Where to stay in Taganga
There are several options in Taganga, ranging from very budget to more luxurious. Me and Vincent stayed at the Alchemist, which was super cheap ($34,000 pesos) and not that bad. We had a private room which is located in a different building to the dorm rooms, so it was fairly quiet and suited us. I can’t comment on the dorms though. Nirvana has a pool and is a bit more lively, with an on-site bar and lots of backpackers staying there. If you want a quiet hostel, walk out of town towards Taganga for 10 minutes to find Hostal Cielo, run by a friendly local family and offering beautiful views from their rooftop. The town itself is tiny, so anywhere you stay you will be in walking distance of the beach and all dive centres.