The very essence of travel is the discovery and exploration of new places, experiencing new things and meeting new people. Some choose the beaten path, the most popular hostels and follow the “top tourist attractions” lists, while others opt for remote locations, gor-tex sleeping bags and Bear Grylls travel tips.
No matter what your means of exploration, from weekend pub crawls to cross-country road trips, I wish for you at some point along your journeys that you’ll discover the greatness of hidden gems.
Hidden gems are those spots that have yet been discovered or overlooked, even if only by you. They’re the magical places that extract from you certain emotions. You get excited when you find one, like a hidden Italian restaurant in blue-collar Buffalo (Mulberry) or an impressive rooftop terrace at a hotel in London (or at the amazing The Roof Gardens). There’s a sense of pride you get when you let your buddy in on a free off-street parking discovery or impress a date with a secret sunset make-out spot.
Hidden gems come in all different forms and they’re different for everybody. One person’s hidden gem discovery could be another’s typical Friday night. They’re finger-lickin’-good, road-side BBQ stands and ‘locals only’, family-owned restaurants located in places Lonely Planet can’t reach. They’re back-woods, fresh powder ski runs, waterfalls at the end of 4-hour hiking trails and ocean-view cantinas that serve fresh fish and live music. These are the places that drive me to explore. Hidden gems are what I love most about traveling because they’re always the places you remember most.
On day two of our Caribbean adventure we got some insider info about a private beach just north of Tyrona National Park. The scoop was that when we arrived in Santa Marta we should head past Tyrona’s main entrance to a secluded oasis called Arrecifes los Naranjos. Without much convincing needed, we did as suggested and caught an overcrowded, 45-minute bus ride from central Santa Marta in search of the hidden gem.
We were dropped off on the roadside in the middle of nowhere with only a little old wooden sign to notify us that we’d arrived. Arrecifes los Naranjos/ Playa Los Naranjos the sign read and carved below were little symbols for food, lodging, swimming, and surfing.
We passed the sign and followed the sandy road down through a palm tree forest and into a small village where we were met by Javiar, a village resident who acted as the beach gatekeeper.
He told us that Playa de Los Naranjos was a private beach and that we weren’t welcome. We played dumb and he declined. I made up a story and he declined. I tried to bribe him and he declined. There was no way I was going to get back on that stuffy bus and go to another beach at this point, so we had to think fast. I remembered the little lodging symbol from the sign and that my friend mentioned something about a sweet hotel overlooking the water. I quickly brought up the idea of staying in the hotel for a few nights and that we wanted to check it out first… Javier bought it! Jackpot! gate lifted and we were on our way*.
We snuck up on the hotel to avoid any other guards and crept along their path over the sand dunes and down to the beach.
Some hidden gems are amazing because of the people that frequent it, but this find was great because of the lack there of! The beach stretched as far as the eye could see and besides a few surfers off in the distance trying to manage the rough surf, it was all ours.
As seen in the photo above I really explored the space. The breeze coming in from the ocean just felt too good to pass up the opportunity.
We made the most of the afternoon by removing tan-lines, juggling coconuts and trying not to drowned in the giant wakes.
*Just to cover our tracks, we got a tour of the amazing hotel before we caught the bus back to Santa Marta just in case Javier gave us any trouble on the way out. He was passed out on his rocking chair.
Arrecifes Los Naranjos was a true hidden gem and made for a great day along the coast. They don’t always work out this way but that’s what makes the adventure great. We could have skipped the sweaty bus and stayed at the sunny beaches in El Rodadera. We could have turned around when Javier told us no. But what fun would that be? You’ll never discover anything if you don’t go for it.
It’s funny because as I’m writing this I’m sitting at an old hand-carved wood table on the ‘closed’ rooftop terrace of my hotel in Cartagena, Colombia watching the sunset.
OTHER FAVORITE HIDDEN GEMS:
***Never Stop Exploring***