Now that we have our African Safari excursion booked, we are looking into other ports of call for our 108 day world cruise.. After departing Miami, we spend a little time in the Caribbean, a place we have been to often. Some places are worth getting off the ship for and others are better spent staying on board and enjoying the ship's venues.
Our first port is Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. We've been there twice and agree that this trip we will stay on board the ship and enjoy it from a distance. At this point in time, Crystal has not even offered any excursions for that port. We can always leave the option of taking one if something unusual comes up.
The next port of call is Willemstad, Curacao. This is a beautiful little town and is easily walked from the pier. We have been there many times and once on New Year's Eve. The town really celebrates the New Year. Fireworks went off regularly, mostly in the form of huge strings of firecrackers. The cruise ships are all taller than the buildings and we could look out over the town and see curls of smoke going up where there was a new noisy explosion of crackers.
Curacao is Dutch (since 1634) and their heritage is reflected in the colorful buildings of the town. Willemstad dates back to the mid to late 1600s. The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. St. Anna Bay divides the city into two districts that are connected by a bridge that floats on the water and swings back and forth to allow ships and boats into the bay. It's a neat place and we will enjoy a leisurely stroll along its streets, a snack at a waterside cafe, and maybe a little shopping.
Next up is Santa Marta, Columbia, a port that is new to us and not a frequent stop for most cruise lines. Our research into the port included searching Tripadvisor and the Cruise Critic Boards, our two most reliable sources of information. From the Cruise Critic forum, I learned that the port is not one of the safest. Still, there many people who had said they had no problem. Others told stories of stolen property and one of crew members being attacked. It's always a tough call on stories since you don't know if common sense was used in all cases. The best advice came in one post that said they stayed together as a group of ten to explore on their own.
There are some interesting sights in the area including the Tayrona National Park which was highly recommended as a ship's excursion (mainly to be sure you got back in time to sail). Guests said there were beautiful scenic views. There is also a little fishing village nearby called Taganga but that would require your own transportation unless an excursion is offered. Simon Bolivar lived out his life in Santa Marta and his mansion is open to tours. He was a great military and political leader who influenced the independence of Latin America from Spain. And lastly, there is the Gold Museum, said to be within walking distance of the pier but not in a great section of town. Common sense will prevail here and we will choose an excursion. Most likely the panoramic drive that goes through Taranga and takes in other sites in Santa Marta--all from an air conditioned motor coach.
Cartagena, Columbia, is a place we've visited several times. The first visit was not so good but our second stop a few years later found much improvement in the city. In exploring the options available, I came across several posts in the forum that mentioned a wonderful tour given by Friends For Columbia, a non-profit foundation that is helping the Colombian people in that area. The tours sound like a wonderful opportunity to interact with people and perhaps build bridges of friendship and encourage those we meet. I think it will be high on our list.
Now it's off to research the ports of Ecuador.