If you’re looking for a nice hiking experience and a chance to learn more about Colombia’s Caribbean culture, you should consider checking out Taroa Adventures’s Jaguar’s Footprint Tour in the Montes de María a few hours south of Cartagena. Read on for a complete review of the Jaguar’s Footprint Tour in Cartagena, including what to expect and our overall impressions.
*Disclosure: Taroa Adventures invited us on this tour in exchange for this review. My review is still my honest opinion of the tour. For more information, please consult my Disclosure Policy.
Taroa Adventures and the Footprint of the Jaguar
Susana and I went recently on the Footprint of the Jaguar Tour with Taroa Adventures (check out their website here and page on the tour here). The tour consisted of a hike in the morning and a music presentation after lunch.
It’s always nice escaping the city for a taste of nature. While Cartagena may be better known for its islands and colonial history, this tour is a great way to escape the city and get a taste of nature. I would definitely qualify it as a great day trip outside of Cartagena.
All of the tours by Taroa Adventures are led by its founder Olinto. Olinto is a former engineer who spent much of his career working in Colombia’s coastal rural areas. After discovering its natural and cultural beauty, he eventually decided to dedicate himself to showing it to others and started his tour company, named after the Taroa Dunes in his home state of La Guajira.
One of the things I loved about going on this tour was Olinto as our guide. His love and passion for sharing the area, its nature, and its culture is evident and infectious. Anyone can give a historical tour of Cartagena’s Walled City, but it’s nice to see someone so passionate about sharing these type of lesser known areas on its periphery.
What You Will See on the Footprint of the Jaguar Tour
We started the tour early, with Olinto meeting us in a 4×4 a ride at 6 am. We then headed out of town before stopping to have breakfast about an hour out of town.
From there we proceeded to head down the road towards the Montes de María. The Montes de Maria are the end of a small chain of mountains and foothills that extend from the Western tail of the Andes. During colonial times, the area was a safe haven for runaway slaves from Cartagena and indigenous communities.
Today, the fertile land of the area is used for agriculture and cattle ranching. The cows make some interesting pathways in the hills, which make the hills you see on the way there interestingly pretty. You also cross over the Canal del Dique, and Olinto pointed out some neat bird species along the coastal swamp we passed as we crossed it. It struck me how green the scenery is on the way.
Finally, we arrived in the area to do the hike. After a quick bathroom break stop, we pulled into a small finca and staging are to prepare for the hike. There, Olinto showed and explained to us several herbs and plants used in traditional healing and we met our local guide who would accompany us on the hike.
Then we started on the hike, stopping to see several other medicinal plants along the way. It always strikes me as interesting how much we today have forgotten ancient knowledge. One of the plants he showed us can be used to cure earaches, while another has drops that can solve conjunctivitis.
As we started the hike, my old 10+ year old boots sadly feel apart, but fortunately our guide Rodrigo loaned me some other boots as the trail was fairly muddy given the recent rains. He also loaned us some handy walking sticks. We then headed off on the trail, crossing a small stream several times and heading into the forest.
Unfortunately, it rained on us during the hike, so most of the animals and birds stayed in hiding. However, Olinto told us he regularly sees monkeys and lots of bird species on the hike. We did get to see a beautiful butterfly and a pretty tree frog up close.
There is also a neat little look out point along the trail. You also head out of the forest for a moment and can see the green of the grass covered hills.
After about an hour of the hike, you come to some interesting petroglyphs. The carvings in a rock face along the creek show an indigenous chief and his wife surrounded by the figures of animals and their footprints.
From the petroglyphs, you head along the river to loop out of the forest. There is a section where you have to do some knee deep wading in the creek, so do expect to get wet even if you have better weather than we did. There is also a neat part where you head out of the forest for a moment and see the surrounding hills.
There are some neat little gullies you will pass through on the hike out. The forest and trees branching over the creek above is quite pretty. After crossing back over the final stream, we headed back out of the forest on the same trail we entered it on.
All in all, the hike took about 2 hours, and is mostly easy going. There is one part where you do have to climb over some rocks, a few small inclines, and one part where you have to pass through some manure in a cow pen, which was probably made much worse given the mud and rain for us.
Afternoon Music Workshop
After changing into dryer clothes, we headed into San Jacinto for a nice lunch in town. We had some terrific fried yuca as an appetizer, and both the chicken and meat options were great with huge portions. After our hike and being soaked to the bone, it hit the spot. The homemade hot sauce and suero are also both really good!
After lunch, we got a presentation by a group of musicians on the traditional form of music known as Gaita. The music was born in this area and mixes the indigenous flute (the gaita) and African drums. These music forms were in many ways an assertion of identity and resistance during the independence area, and are widely revered as examples of Colombian folklore today (folclórico).
There are 4 main rhythms, the most well known being Cumbia. The band played for us a song of each in addition to explaining the history of the music and how the instruments are all still hand made.
Then they taught us how to play the basic drum rhythms and we joined them for a song! Given the rain on the hike, this was definitely the highlight of the tour for us!
After deciding we probably aren’t musically talented enough to quit our jobs and start our own gaita band, we climbed back in the car to head back to Cartagena. We got home about 6, 12 hours after we had left. After the long day, we were both pretty pooped out and went to bed early.
I think we would have enjoyed the hike more had the weather been better as we didn’t get to see too many animals, and we were wet and cold by the end of it. Still, despite the rain, we did enjoy it, and it’s the only day trip hike I know of around Cartagena.
The music workshop is what really made the tour for us, and adds a nice cultural aspect to the tour. Olinto was also a good guide, both knowledgeable and passionate about the area and showing it off.
The tour does have a set fee ($159 USD as of October 2019) for groups from 2-8. With 5 or more people, it works out to be a pretty good value considering it includes breakfast and lunch. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy hiking and the outdoors and want a day trip.
Practical Tips if You Go
- Be sure to take along insect repellent, as Susana got eaten up pretty bad, even through her pants.
- Wear comfortables shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting wet and dirty (even had it not rained, there are a couple spots where you have to wade through the creek in ankle deep water, and one spot about knee deep).
- Bring along a change of clothes and shoes (I’m glad we had this).
- The hike itself is pretty easy on a mostly flat trail. There is one part where you do have to climb over a few rocks.
Want to follow the Footprint of the Jaguar yourself?
Learn more about it and plan your trip at Taroa Adventure’s Website.
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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You may also be interested in the following other destinations that offer hiking:
Ultimate Guide to the Lush Mountain Town of Minca
Comprehensive Guide to Tayrona National Park
Ultimate Guide to Palomino, Colombia’s Hippest Beach Town
Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?
Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena