Santa Marta Colombia | Ultimate Traveller’s Guide
Santa Marta Colombia, a beautiful place to visit on your next holidays whenever that will be!
I know these are uncertain times, so how can we still travel? If only with our minds and heart, we can still look at the most beautiful places out there and make plans for brighter days.
This is why today we are going to take a stroll down the streets of Santa Marta Colombia and imagine the sun rising on the Santa Marta beach.
We can maybe sip on a little Margarita while making plans for next summer!
About Santa Marta Colombia
Santa Marta is a place full of history. It is the oldest city in Colombia and the second oldest in South America. Santa Marta is a Spanish conquistador’s ‘child’.
Rodrigo de Bastidas founded it in 1525 and up to this day, it has been serving as a major trading port of Colombia.
It is also the home of a dozen beautiful beaches, markets, traditions and stories.
The great Simon Bolivar took his dying breath here, in the now-turned-museum of La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. The place now breathes to tell his story and warm us with its innate beauty.
Santa Marta is part of a small bay in the Caribbean Sea. Some boggy channels and lakes link the city to the Magdalena River.
This river has been a major commercial artery during the Spanish conquest and up until the 20th century when it was gradually replaced by trade by air, highway or railroad.
For its good geographical position, Santa Marta became an important port for the colony of New Granada.
It became an important center of commerce and stood that way up until the 19th century.
Nowadays, the city is connected with Bogota through a railway. You can also get to Santa Marta through the highway or by air.
Things to Do in Santa Marta Colombia
1. Visit Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is iconic for Colombia.
It is situated at about 34 kilometers from the Santa Marta city center and has an area of about 150 square kilometers.
There are about 408 species of mammals and birds living in this protected area.
This is a remote paradise you need to explore if you want to take a break from Colombia’s lively and bustling everyday life.
You can just spend one day relaxing at one of its stunning beaches or doing some sightseeing or you can stay 2 or 3 nights to swim and explore the hiking trails hidden in the jungle.
You can travel around the park by shuttle bus, or you can walk or travel on horseback.
There are a couple of hotels and campgrounds for spending the night in the park. And in order to have a pleasant stay, you also need to know the park’s rules.
For example, you can’t swim after 6 pm or you can’t swim at all on some beaches. Also, you won’t be able to bring alcohol with you; the park guards are rather strict in this aspect.
Tayrona National Park is huge and you can get lost in it quite easily.
To make sure you get to see all the best places there, put these on your list:
- Walk along Playa Arrecifes and admire the small lagoon on the one side. You can’t swim here, but you’ll surely have a great time admiring the view
- Swim in the warm, calm, and shallow waters of La Piscina
- Take an Instagram picture on the top of Cabo San Juan; make sure that is not the only thing you do on this tropical paradise beach, ok? Get some swimming and relaxing time between the palm trees leaning over the two beaches at Cabo San Juan.
- Take the about two-hour hike from El Cabo to El Pueblito, a pre-hispanic town where you can still get a sense of how the indigenous people once lived
- Take the Nine Stones to hike all around the park; you’ll just have to follow the funny-looking egg-like stones around to get the view of a lifetime
2. Go on an adventure on the Lost City Trek Colombia
The “Lost City” of Colombia or “Ciudad Perdida” in Spanish, is an ancient city deep in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The city was discovered late in 1972 and it is made of 169 mountain terraces linked through a network of tiled paths and adorned with several circular plazas. To get into the city, you’ll have to climb up 1,200 stone steps through the jungle!
Not a simple walk in the park! You’ll need your most adventurous self on to really enjoy this experience.
It will be definitely worth it, because the city is believed to be 650 years older than Machu Picchu itself and the views, well, you judge for yourself…
3. Scuba diving in Taganga
Scuba diving in Taganga should be at the top of your list of things to do in Santa Marta Colombia.
Taganga is a little town near Santa Marta, in the Tayrona National Park, where a lot of divers like to hang out and a lot of dive shops await your arrival.
If you decide to take the Ciudad Perdida trek, then you will most likely start the adventure in this town.
So, make sure you then come back for some diving. Some amazing coral reefs, sunken ships, caves, and cute, colorful fish are waiting for you on the bottom of the ocean.
4. Visit Museo del Oro
Once a Customs House, today Museo del Oro from Tairona is a journey through Colombia’s Caribbean history.
It contains four thematic chambers, which will take you from the pre-historic societies from the Sierra Nevada and Tairon around 900 A.D respectively 1600 A.D, to present-day Magdalena province and its people.
You will learn a great deal about metalwork, pottery, and how all these are intertwined with rituals and stories to remember for a lifetime. You might find a sense of poetry here…well, that’s enough with getting emotional. Let’s move on!
5. Visit Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
This could also be named the Simon Bolivar Museum. It is the place where the famous El Libertador died in 1830.
Simon Bolivar is a very important name for Colombia.
He led the liberating armies of Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia to independence from the Spanish Empire.
He was a military general, political leader, and the father of the Nation of Colombia.
So, if you really want to get a sense of what a nation is all about, go to the very root of their identity and discover the person who inspired them for generations.
Now, to get back to the point, this “hacienda” was built in the 17th century and served as a rum, honey, and panela production site.
Nowadays, it’s the place where people can come and honor Simon Bolivar.
6. Take a stroll down Parque de Los Novios
You only need to have watched one or two Spanish telenovelas to know that “Parque de Los Novios” should be a popular meeting point for lovers.
“The Park of Lovers” is a large plaza where you can enjoy a few drinks in the evening and maybe get a taste of the Santa Marta Colombia nightlife in a relaxed and secure manner.
You can take a leisure stroll down the red-brick pavement and let the kids play around the small fountains.
Taste the street food, listen to the local musicians and maybe buy souvenirs.
Parque de Los Novios in Santa Marta is a nice place to relax and enjoy some peaceful time after you’ve adventured to, say, the Lost City.
7. Visit the town of Minca
Minca is 45 minutes away from Santa Marta. It is a small town you will probably fall in love with.
The temperatures here are much cooler than in Santa Marta, so if you want to get away from the sweltering warmth there, you can always find refuge in Minca.
You will love the organic coffee it is so famous for and maybe even venture uphill to the La Victoria Coffee Plantation.
There are numerous possibilities in Minca, like going to see the Marinka waterfall, the Pozo Azul or even the Museo Minca.
Now, scroll a little to “visit” the Marinka waterfall!
8. Go shopping at Santa Marta Public Market
On your way back from Tayrona, after you get off the bus, you should visit the sprawling market that begins right near the bus stop.
If you’ve never been to a bona fide Colombian market, then you will be taken by surprise by the variety of colors, flavors, smells, spices, you name it.
You can even buy fresh fish and ask them to fry it for you right there on the spot.
The Santa Marta Market is surely one authentic way to get a taste of the real Colombian spirit.
9. Roam around the Historic City Center
The historic city center of Santa Marta has been a national monument since the 1960s.
It has been renovated in the past years and it now asks to be explored. You should start with the Simon Bolivar Plaza and continue with the Tayrona Gold Museum.
Santa Marta Cathedral is another beautiful point of interest placed in the historic city center.
Completed in the 18th century, the cathedral features a bell in the shape of a dome, marble ceilings, and the statue of the Virgin.
The Santa Marta historic center is the place where you can walk through the history of Colombia and Santa Marta.
You could also visit The Customs House or the Santo Domingo Covent and the Town Council; then you can spend some time at the restaurants or cafes from the Parque de Los Novios.
Do not be tempted to think it’s just a public square. It’s got its own kind of magic, the Colombian magic which is a mix of authenticity and stories, culture and respect for the national heroes.
10. Try the Street Food/Caribbean Food
Santa Marta, the oldest city in Colombia, is home to some amazing beaches, stories, history, and a really authentic mix of Caribbean, Latin America, and European food.
Although this might sound strange, you will see food every step of the way because there are countless vendors selling food on the streets, ad-hoc markets or beaches. And Santa Marta got plenty of all these.
Make sure you try new things and foods that you cannot really get at home. The Santa Marta street food merchants sell everything from fried fish to interesting mixes of fruits and juices. Put lulo and maracuja on your list!
If you’re a fan of seafood, then Santa Marta could be heaven for you; and even if you’re not a seafood fan, there are chances you will acquire a taste for pargos, warm water lobsters, or a special and delicious seafood stew called cazuela de mariscos.
Now, you cannot say you’ve visited Colombia without trying a little grilled chorizo and some fried potatoes from the Exito supermarket in Santa Marta.
Also, do not forget about arepas! Made from ground maize dough, Arepas date back to pre-Columbian times and they are quite versatile and leave space for imagination. You can eat them with cheese, meat, avocado and so on. It’s best you try Arepas with eggs also.
11. Paseo El Camellon
Also known as the Paseo de Bastidas, this waterfront promenade runs between Santa Marta’s old port and the new marina.
There are several plazas along the way and they are linked by palm trees. It is perfect for peaceful sunset walks where you can enjoy the stunning views.
Moreover, local vendors will always be there to sell their crafts and delicious sweets.
An interesting authentic touch to Paseo el Camellon is the story that the indigenous people sculptures tell along the way.
You’ll just have a serene stroll at sunset and follow the history of Santa Marta with your mind and eyes while taking in the view of the Caribbean.
What About The Santa Marta Colombia Beaches?
A lot of people say that the Santa Marta beaches are the best beaches in the whole of Colombia.
From swimming to bathing and admiring the breathtaking view, the Santa Marta beaches have it all…
These 3 Santa Marta Colombia beaches clearly deserve their fame:
is one of the most visited, mostly because it offers the possibilities to do some really fun activities during the day, like swimming, kayaking and even has raging parties in the bars and discos that are around the beach.
Offers serenity and calmness, a series of delicious dishes and…well, if you’re not the lazy kind of summer lover, you can also do some kayaking here
So, say you’ve got emerald water with some calm, lazy waves, some beautiful mountains guarding your back while you lay in the white sand savoring a delicious fresh seafood dish and enjoying the Caribbean weather.
Unfortunately, you’re dreaming and you’ll have to wait some time until you make it to Playa Blanca and live this experience.
Other notable Santa Marta beaches mentions:
The largest beach in the Tayrona National Park
Cabo San Juan
A quiet getaway beach where you can just relax and maybe do a little bit of snorkeling
As the name might suggest, it boasts incredible clear waters.
Santa Marta Colombia Nightlife
Well, one thing for sure, you can’t compare the Santa Marta nightlife to the one in Bogota.
If utter bacchanal is what you’re after, then the Santa Marta Colombia nightlife won’t satisfy you. If you’re a person mostly looking to relax and have some laid back fun on the side, at dusk, on the beach, with other tourists and locals, then Santa Marta nightlife is for you.
No fancy preliminary preparations are needed. It is all rather spontaneous and it gives you the feeling you’re really living in the moment.
What is more, is that the prices are also quite laid back. By normal, passionate traveler’s standards, it’s not expensive to have a night out in Santa Marta.
For example, a beer in a club costs somewhere between $1 and $4. You can get a bottle of wine at a bar for $20.
When it comes to the best places to party in Santa Marta, well these names will do you justice: El Centro, Taganga, El Rodadero.
The best time to party is the weekend. Go out on a Friday or Saturday night and mix up with the locals and other travelers.
Usually, people are very laid back in Santa Marta. They’re not just partying in small, close groups, but are rather open to meeting new people and making new friends.
If you need a word to describe Santa Marta Colombia nightlife…I think “laid back” would just be it.