Santa Marta, Colombia, March 2016

Santa Marta is another city on Colombia's Caribbean coast. It's a major port, but there is a small beach and a marina. The town itself has some nice old colonial style buildings. The Plaza de los Novios is a square around which are several bars and restaurants, and it's a nice and safe place to go for a drink or a meal. I stayed at the Nueva Granada hotel, which had a nice courtyard to relax in and a small swimming pool. Daytime temperatures were as high as 34C, so the pool was welcome.

The city is also near the Tayrona national park. I did a day trip and visited a number of beaches which were very picturesque with big boulders. It was quite a lot of walking, about 4 hours, though it was all quite easy. It did finally finish off my old flip flops at the end, but they lasted the day.

I booked a day's diving with the Santa Marta dive centre. It was a lot cheaper than in Cartagena at $160,000 (about US$53) for the two dives including full equipment. A car drive us over to the village of Taganga where there are quite lot of dive shops. You can stay there but Lonely Planet has safety warnings and I'd prefer the greater options in the evening that Santa Marta has to offer. It's not far and even if you made your own way there, taxis are cheap.

I was diving with a shop called Under Pressure. They weren't sure initially where we were going to because of the weather. Normally most of their dives are around a small island but it was very windy and had been for days. I was unsurprised when they said we were doing the nearest site, at the base of the cliffs on the mainland. I think there was actually a coastguard restriction stopping them going out further.

I was diving in a pair with a DM who seemed quite happy that he was going to have an easy day. Normally they take pictures underwater but after chatting about diving, he realised I wasn't going to be interested in any of them, and left the camera behind.

Rolling into the water, the viz wasn't great. After all those windy days and the fact that we were at the nearest site had lowered my expectations. It was about 8m maximum. It also wasn't that warm by Caribbean standards at 25C. The reason for this is the rivers in the area come off the mountains. I was told later that they'd seen it get as cold as 19C when the snows melt. Tlere was quite a lot of soft corals growing on the boulders at the base of the cliff. The fish life was OK, there were quite a lot of moray eels including some big black and white speckled ones. I also saw a medium sized grouper, but Tayrona is a fishing village, so I wasn't expecting to see too many large fish. There were also some scrawled filefish.

For the break in between dives, we came into a small beach and had a couple of empanadas and some water, then we went back to more or less the same place again, though they did drop myself and the guide further round the corner where it was quite rough. I think they dropped the other groups where it was more sheltered. The second dive was much the same as the first.

For a cheap half day's diving, it was a good experience. The weather really wasn't on our side, so I probably did not see the best of what the area has to offer. The sites further out may well be better and the viz is almost certainly better.