Teach English in Colombia: Life’s a Beach in Taganga!

TEFL interns, Kristy and Jarryd, went to teach English in Colombia. Read on to find out about the little slice of paradise they found when they visited the cool coastal town of Taganga.

Sometimes, you find a place that speaks to your soul.

A place that makes you feel happy, relaxed and like you never want to leave.

TEFL interns relaxing in Colombia

Sometimes, you find a place like this quite unexpectedly.

This is how we felt about the quaint fishing village of Taganga, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Seeking a change of scenery from Santa Veronica and Puerto Colombia, the towns where we are living and teaching English, we decided a weekend getaway was just what the doctor ordered.

A couple of buses and one short taxi ride later, we arrived in the tiny town of Taganga.

View of the beach in Taganga

Charming beachside village

Smaller than we expected (just one square kilometre!) but also much prettier, we instantly fell in love with this cool Caribbean community.

Taganga is one of Colombia’s oldest settlements, flanked by a beautiful blue bay and surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It has a chilled, relaxed, hippie vibe, but is still brimming with colour and life.

The beach is lovely and clean, with white sand and turquoise water that must have a high salt content because it is incredibly easy (and fun) to float.

Taganga beach

Tasty vegetarian and vegan food is easily accessible.

We feasted on delicious vegan pizza and veggie tacos at restaurants on the beach.

Vegetarian tacos in Colombia

Plus there are two-for-one cocktails at most venues every night.

Cocktails on the beach in Colombia

TEFL interns posing in Taganga

Views, views and more views

We hiked up to the lookout point and got breathtaking views of Taganga bay.

Then we continued our trek to the nearby beach of Playa Grande, where we took a refreshing dip in the cool water.

Playa Grande in Taganga

While in Taganga, we stayed at Viña del Mar hostel, which had spectacular views of the beach.

Views from the hostel in Taganga

We enjoyed sitting on the rooftop, drinking beers and watching the town come to life at night.

Lights of the town Taganga

We sat at beachside bars, listened to live music and watched people salsa dance in the sand.

For a little town, there was definitely a great vibe.

Beachside bar in Taganga

The following night, we stayed at Ki’Kuxtah Hotel, which had rooftop jacuzzis.

Watching the sunset in Taganga

Perfect for watching the sunset.

Diving boats in Taganga

Diving and day trips on offer

Taganga is known for its great diving and its accessibility to Tayrona National Park.

Unfortunately, the park – known as the jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast – was closed while we were there, so we weren’t able to take a boat trip out to its stunning beaches.

However, we were able to do a day trip out to Los Flamencos Sanctuary (Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos) to see the flamingos.

Flamingos in Colombia

It was certainly not a quick trip, as we had to get up at 3.30am, sit in a car for three hours and then take a two hour kayak until we reached the flamingo habitat.

But it was definitely worth it.

Having never seen these vibrant pink birds in real life, we loved watching them wade around with their backwards-bending knees, just going about their business.

Flamingos in Colombia

We never expected to be sitting in a kayak among hundreds of flamingos – and in Colombia of all places!

Just another unexpected delight that made our Taganga weekend even more special.

Taganga is one of Colombia’s underrated destinations with some superb features on offer.

It certainly won our hearts and if you manage to find yourself there one day, we think it just might win yours too.

Teach English in Colombia: Inside the Classroom

Colombia TEFL Experience intern, Kristy, reveals the magic and mayhem of teaching English in Colombia.

To say that teaching English to a bunch of preschool students in rural Colombia is a challenge would be an understatement.

On my first day at a small school in the coastal town of Puerto Colombia, I pretty much wanted to run from the classroom and never return.

Empty classroom in Colombia

Having never taught before and also having had very limited experience with children, let’s just say the atmosphere was a bit of a shock.

The students were noisy, inattentive, disruptive and incredibly rowdy. They were yelling, throwing pens, books and bags around, some of the boys were being quite rough with each other.

At one point, two of the students abruptly got up and ran out of the classroom (much like I wanted to do) and my limited Spanish language skills meant I didn’t know how to tell them to stop or come back.

It was chaos.

 

Take a deep breath

I never once expected this experience to be easy.

But then, we can’t learn and grow if we don’t step out of our comfort zones.

So I put on a brave face and returned to the school for a second day.

And a third.

And a fourth.

Smiling TEFL teacher in Colombia with students

As a preschool teacher (in Colombia, it is called ‘preschool’ for children aged four to seven and ‘primary school’ for those aged eight to 12), you try different methods of teaching, different games and activities.

Some work, some don’t.

You just have to be flexible, have a backup plan and move on to something else.

Class of students in Colombia

From chaos to clarity

There is a lot of repetition.

Like, a lot.

We’ve basically been teaching the same four or five topics (colours, numbers, animals, days of the week, etc.) for a month. The language barrier is huge and it can be incredibly frustrating when you feel as though nothing you’re saying is sinking in.

Female student in Colombian school

But, then, comes a breakthrough.

The first time I heard an entire class sing one of our English songs word for word, I swear I almost shed a tear.

They were learning.

It was a magical moment.

These days, the children come up to us and say, “Hello,” or ‘Good morning,” and “How are you?”

They point to something we are wearing and say the colour of it in English.

They start singing our songs and it makes our hearts swell with pride.

TEFL teacher surrounded by students in Colombia

The moral of the story?

TEFL teaching is not easy.

You have to be creative and patient and resilient.

You have to keep calm, think on your feet and bounce back when things don’t go to plan.

It can be frustrating at times and very slow going.

But you will get there.

As an intern, it helps a lot if you have supportive teachers around to guide you through and assist when you are struggling to keep the children focused, or if you need a hand with discipline.

And, let’s not forget, the majority of the time the children are incredibly sweet.

 

Different paths for teaching

Preschool teaching is not for everyone.

Some people might feel as though the students are too young, or find the thought of singing songs and playing games all day unappealing.

Colombian students playing jump rope

But that’s OK.

There are plenty of other avenues you can take when it comes to TEFL teaching.

Some of the interns in our group are teaching a community class of adults who wish to learn English as a life skill.

Every weekday from 7am, they teach this willing and eager group for 90 minutes, conducting English listening exercises and conversation practise.

Some of the other interns are teaching high school students who engage in lively discussions about politics, the environment or pop culture.

Some of us are teaching a group of primary school students who are so desperate to learn English that they stay back after school twice a week and give up their spare time just to be part of the language class.

Smiling faces of Colombian TEFL students

Don’t give up

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a unique profession that certainly has its share of challenges.

But it can also be very rewarding.

I’ve found that despite the initial shock, confusion and intimidation, it definitely gets easier each day.

It’s truly heartwarming when you see the students enjoying an activity you are running or when they beg you to sing a song that they like.

I can recall learning another language when I was young and although I never followed it up, or became fluent, I still remember all the songs we used to sing and look back on the experience fondly.

I hope I leave a positive lasting impression on my students in Colombia.

If reading Kristy’s latest blog has made you think about taking the first step in becoming a TEFL teacher we say DO IT! Take a look at our range of TEFL courses here to get qualified to teach English in Colombia.

Teach English in Colombia: Life on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

Colombia TEFL Experience intern, Kristy, sheds light on what it is like living in Santa Veronica and teaching in Puerto Colombia.

Life can be tough as an intern TEFL teacher when you are living on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Colombia TEFL intern relaxing in a giant deckchair

I mean, the weather is sunny and hot all the time, the people are super friendly and go out of their way to say good morning to you and there is an abundance of gorgeous weekend getaway spots all within a few hours of Santa Veronica.

Santa Veronica beach

Plus, it’s Carnival season in February, so there is always music, dancing and entertainment happening in the streets and schools.

Carnival flamenco dancers

Sounds really hard, doesn’t it?

Of course, I am kidding.

Being a TEFL intern is a great way to experience Colombia’s people, culture, music, food, dance and schools.

People in fancy dress at the Carnival

Let me tell you about a few aspects of life as an intern TEFL teacher on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, so you can get an idea of all the interesting, fun and beautiful things we get to experience.

 

The TEFL House

 

Swimming pool at the apartment in Santa Veronica

The TEFL house in Santa Veronica is not at all what we expected.*

It is a two-storey, tropical, yellow villa complete with a pool, palm trees and hammocks.

Tough life, I know.

The house is tiled throughout, has three bathrooms and a huge balcony that wraps around the top floor.

It is a really nice place to be, whether you’ve just finished a hectic day of teaching or you just want somewhere to chill on the weekends.

There are two stray cats that live on the property and seem to get adopted by each group of interns that stays here.

The grey and white male cat is a bit of a handful, as he’s full of energy, loves to steal food and will chew on or chase anything in sight.

Cat at the Santa Veronica apartment

The older, female cat is very placid and has a really pleasant personality.

Cat at the Santa Veronica apartment

She has also just given birth to a litter of kittens.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered she’d given birth inside the couch in the living room!

 

The Joy of Cooking!

 

Colourful vegan Colombian salad

Being able to cook our own food in the TEFL house has been a blessing for myself and my partner, Jarryd, as we’re both vegans and can sometimes struggle to find suitable meals when we go out.

But there are a number of supermarkets in Puerto Colombia and also one in Juan de Acosta (a 15 minute bus ride away), so shopping is fairly easy.

We always have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, pasta, beans and lentils, which we use to whip up creative and colourful meals.

Home made Colombian food

We’re definitely not going hungry or eating junk food (Mum, you can stop worrying).

Also, Barranquilla is only an hour bus ride away, so if we need specialty food items (like tofu), clothing or electronics, we just head there to do our shopping.

 

The Beach

 

The beach at Santa Veronica

Playa de Santa Veronica is a five minute stroll from our house and is a nice spot for a run, a swim or somewhere to sit and watch the world go by.

Kristy on the beach at Santa Veronica

There are a number of restaurants in this area, where you can get cheap lunches or dinners – great for interns on a budget!

Santa Veronica is a fishing village, so you’ll find fishing boats scattered along the shore and there are usually local people swimming in the surf.

We found the beach to be a nice place to walk around and explore and we even made our way up to a nearby lookout where you can get a great view of the town.

View of Santa Veronica from the hillside

The Exclusive Beach House

 

View from the beach house in Santa Veronica

About two weeks into our internship, we were given access to ‘the beach house’, a stunning property right on the seaside in Santa Veronica.

We’ve spent afternoons there swimming in the ocean, chilling out on the rooftop and watching beautiful sunsets.

TEFL interns relaxing at the beach house after a day teaching

It’s also a great place for the TEFL team to come together on a Saturday night for a communal BBQ and drinks.

 

Stunning Sunsets

 

Sunset on the beach in Santa Veronica

Speaking of sunsets, it’s hard to find a bad one on the coast.

Whether you’re in Santa Veronica or Puerto Colombia, there seems to be no shortage of spectacular sunsets.

Sun setting on the horizon in Santa Veronica

We love seeing the sky turn pink, purple and blue and watching the sun dip below the horizon in front of our eyes.

There is a great spot in Puerto Colombia called Hotel Pradomar, where you can sit, sip beers and watch the sunset from a little table on the sand.

 

School Days

 

Kristy with the children from the school in Puerto Colombia

The three schools we’re teaching at in Puerto Colombia are Maria Mancilla Sanchez Preschool, Francisco Javier Cisneros and San Nicolas de Tolentino Primary and High School.

Each school is unique in its own right and our teaching experiences have been vastly different.

Some of the interns are also teaching a class of adults from the local community who wish to learn English as a life skill.

The schools are often under-resourced and the classrooms are basic and small.

But despite the lack of facilities, the children are so warm, friendly and curious and they’ll often come up and hug you when you’re leaving school for the day.

TEFL students in Puerto Colombia

I’ll write more about our teaching experiences in future blog posts, but right now it’s time for the pool. You can follow Kristy and Jarryd’s travels on their blog here.

Teach English in Colombia: Colourful Cartagena

Kristy and her partner, Jarryd, decided to spend two days relaxing in Cartagena before embarking on their two month Colombia TEFL Experience. Here’s what they got up to.

Our South American odyssey begins with a flight into Bogota, (where it’s a chilly 15 degrees – not at all what we were expecting!) and then another flight into Cartagena, where we will spend two days exploring before heading to bustling Barranquilla.

Food cart in Cartagena, Colombia

Balmy Beachside Living

The weather in Cartagena is completely different to the country’s capital: 27 degrees, even at 5.30pm.

The sun is glowing and the sky turns pink as we make our way in a taxi along the coastline to our hostel.

We stare at the crashing waves and people frolicking in the water, families enjoying some late afternoon beach time.

On the other side of the road, opposite the beach, there are people already taking up their positions on the city’s famous fortress walls to watch what will no doubt be a stunning sunset.

A street in Colombia at night

The Fun Begins

We check into our hostel, which is in a funky part of town full of restaurants, bars and street art.

Cartagena is buzzing and it’s only a Wednesday night.

At the end of our street is a small plaza, where buskers are juggling, children bounce on a trampoline and lively music blares loudly into the balmy night.

People are dining and sipping cocktails on the street, while staff members do their best to entice passers-by with a look at the menu.

Busy street with restaurants in Colombia

We walk through a gated park with market stalls selling sizzling street food, souvenirs and secondhand books, as heavy traffic circles around, causing a traffic jam of yellow taxis and blaring horns at one street corner.

We pass beautiful historic buildings with Romeo and Juliet-style balconies adorned with pretty flowers.

We gape at oversized arched doorways with their elaborate carvings and big brass knockers, which look more like they belong to the drawbridge of a fairytale castle than something you’d see in this day and age.

Cobbled street in Cartagena, Colombia at night

We stroll cobbled streets until we arrive at another plaza with upbeat Colombian music, outdoor dining, late-night shopping, souvenir stands and street food carts.

It is an absolute feast for the senses – chaotic, busy, fun, fascinating.

Colombian food at a restaurant

Our First Dinner in Colombia

We find a lovely restaurant for dinner and take a seat by the window so we can continue to watch the hordes of people passing by.

We don’t want to be left out of anything that is happening on the streets outside.

We order entrees of lentil croquettes and falafel with tahini, followed by a delicious quinoa risotto and vegetarian paella for mains.

The falafel is the best I have ever tasted and the tahini is light and flavoursome, not at all like the thick, heavy versions you get back home.

Hummus dish in Colombian Restaurant

The paella is packed with beans, vegetables and olives and we leave the restaurant with full bellies and happy hearts.

Exploring Cartagena’s Old Town

The next day we are up and at it, as we brave the scorching sun to spend a few hours exploring Cartagena’s famous historic city.

Streetart in Cartagena, Colombia

The walk to the old town is just as exciting as the previous night, and we are constantly surprised and delighted by the impressive street art and beautiful, vibrant, old buildings.

Street art of an old man with a beard in Cartagena, Colombia

When we arrive inside the walled city, we see hawkers selling colourful wares and local women parading around in brightly-coloured traditional dresses.

 

Colourful doorway in Catanega, Colombia

We photograph beautiful doorways and eat fresh fruit bought from street vendors for just $1USD – such a refreshing snack on a hot day.

Kristy, TEFL intern in front of colurful wall in Colombia

Jarryd and I are so blown away by all the bright and colourful buildings that we can’t help but take a bunch of silly photos in front of them, which we later use to make a selfie montage.

Kristy and Jarryd Selfie Montage in Colombia using colourful walls as background

Street along the beach in Catanega Colombia

Time for the Beach

It’s humid and the streets are busy, so we walk to the closest beach for a quick swim before heading back into town to find a restaurant on top of the fortress walls where we can sit, sip cocktails and get an unrivalled view of the sunset.

Sunset on beach in Catanega, Colombia

Sunset and Margaritas

It’s a gorgeous sunset with a fiery hot pink sun that makes for great photos, particularly with the barrel of an old cannon in the foreground.

We then head off to settle our rumbling stomachs with a satisfying dinner of veggie burgers, fries and huge frozen margaritas with a thick layer of salt lining the glasses – just what we need after a long, hot day exploring Cartagena.

We slurp the drinks down greedily and order another round, as we chat about how beautiful the city is and how much we have loved visiting the old town.

We are excited to spend more time in Colombia and to start our teaching roles, and we can’t wait to see what Barranquilla and Santa Veronica have in store for us.