11 Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
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If you plan on visiting Santa Marta in Colombia, then this blog is for you! It is my complete travel guide to the city including things to do IN Santa Marta, things to do near Santa Marta, as well as where to stay, and how to get there! (Updated 2019)
Visit Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta, Colombia is a city that almost everyone who goes to Colombia at least passes through. Its central location near many of the top tourist destinations makes it a popular place.
But little do people know, there is actually a lot to do in the city of Santa Marta itself! In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Santa Marta and I’m confident that you can too!
This is my travel guide to Santa Marta which includes many useful topics such as:
- How to get to Santa Marta, Colombia
- Things to do in Santa Marta. Colombia
- Things to do near Santa Marta, Colombia
- Where to Stay in Santa Marta
- Where to go next
But first…a little bit about Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta is a city along the northern Carribean coast of Colombia and is South America’s oldest city!
However, this city (which I loved) tends to get a bad reputation with travelers and therefore most travelers use it solely as a jumping off point to more popular spots such as Minca and Tayrona National Park.
While Santa Marta, Colombia is useful as a base for exploring its surroundings, I also found that it has a lot to offer on its own. I spent four nights in this city discovering amazing street performers, beaches, seafood, gorgeous buildings, and cheap shopping!
In this post, I will not only write about Tayrona, Minca, and Taganga, but also about why Santa Marta has a lot of charm on its own.
Getting to Santa Marta, Colombia
I would recommend spending a couple of days in the city of Santa Marta. However, if you are set on only going to Minca or Tayrona National Park then it is still necessary to bus or fly to Santa Marta first (unless you have organized a direct shuttle which is only possible from Cartagena.)
Cartagena to Santa Marta
Cartagena to Santa Marta is only about 5-6 hours so flying would just be a waste of money.
I would recommend taking an organized shuttle as opposed to taking a local bus. The bus terminal in Cartagena is 45 minutes to 1.5-hour drive from the city center (depending on traffic) and will cost you 20,000 to 40,000 COP (if you can even manage to find a taxi driver who is willing to take you.)
A shuttle can easily be organized through your hostel or any tour company which will take you directly from your hostel in Cartagena to Santa Marta, expect to pay about COP 50,000 per person.
You can also book a private transfer from Cartagena to Santa Marta.
Medellin to Santa Marta
By bus you are looking at 15+ hours and about COP 120,000. Buses depart several times throughout the day and will take you directly to Santa Marta.
If you are happy to spend a few dollars more then flying would be a good option, the airport in both Medellin and Santa Marta are easily accessible by taxi and shouldn’t cause you too much of a headache with traffic.
Interested in booking a flight from Medellin to Santa Marta? Browse the most affordable domestic flights in Colombia here!
Bogota to Santa Marta
By bus, this route will take about 20+ hours and cost about COP 160,000 – flying would definitely be comfortable and less time-consuming.
However, if you are interested in going to Colombia’s adventure capital San Gil for a couple of days then you can catch a 9-hour long bus for COP 75,000 to Bucaramanga (and then a short shuttle to San Gil). After spending a couple of day in San Gil then take the bus from San Gil to Santa Marta for 10 hours and COP 60,000.
*Tip, once in Santa Marta taxis are pretty reliable, they actually have a set chart for pricing between all areas and do not use meters. Most of the taxi drivers follow these chart prices correctly, but some do ask for too much to start when they see a traveler, just simply ask to see the chart and the driver will adjust the price accordingly. Always ask before getting in a taxi to find out how much the ride will cost.
11 Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a ton to do in Santa Marta. Below are 11 things to keep you busy while visiting this high underrated city in Colombia.
1. Explore the city’s historical center
Some of the buildings in the city center are absolutely gorgeous and deserve a look. It is South America’s oldest city so there is a ton of history everywhere you look and the streets seem to be lined with colonial architecture.
The city feels very safe, so we took our camera out for a couple of hours and spent an afternoon taking photos while we were in Santa Marta.
You can explore Santa Marta Colombia on your own or with a tour. A tour will give you more insight on the history of the city and Colombia in general. For more information on city tours, click here!
2. Walk along Avenida Las Bastidas
Avenida Las Bastidas is a boardwalk along the water’s edge in Santa Marta. This street is a lively place to explore with locals enjoying themselves swimming or eating street food. Try some street food for yourself such as arepas or empanadas, or even get a cocktail from one of the streetside stands.
At sunset is the best time to explore Avenida Las Bastidas as you will be rewarded with a gorgeous show as the sun goes done.
Book a tour in Santa Marta, Colombia…
3. Scuba diving
If you want to go scuba diving while in Colombia then Santa Marta is the place to do it! There are both shore dives and boat dives available and a selection of scuba companies to choose from. The crystal clear Caribbean waters are perfect for scuba diving and prices are also very reasonable.
If you’ve never scuba dived before you can do your PADI course here in Colombia and become a certified diver. If doing a course doesn’t sound right for your there is also an option to do a “discovery dive” which allows you to scuba dive with no experience for the first time with an instructor! I love scuba diving and highly recommend giving it a try.
4. Go shopping
There is some great shopping in Santa Marta (and by “great” I mean cheap!) There are food markets which are perfect for buying fresh local ingredients to cook with. Or, if you are in need or some new clothing or trinkets you’ll find a market for that too!
While in Santa Marta Daniel and I both bought new pairs of sunnies, Daniel got a hat, and I got a pair of shoes! It definitely was a successful shopping trip.
5. Experience the Nightlife
On the weekends Santa Marta can be quite lively. We went out on a Friday evening and found ourselves in the middle of a food festival, parade, and street party.
Drinks and food are also much cheaper in Santa Marta than Cartagena, so it is a cheaper option to have a good night out here. All of the surrounding streets near the Plaza de la Catedral Basilica have great bars and nightclubs.
6. Go to El Rodadero Beach and surrounding area
El Rodadero is an amazing place to go for a swim, watch the sunset, and then eat street food and drink cocktails out of coconuts. It is a super lively, yet relaxed, place to hang out.
The hostel I stayed at (Casa del Ritmo) was just a five-minute walk from El Rodadero Beach so I spent a lot of time there.
7. Eat Seafood
Coming from Cartagena to Santa Marta one will notice that seafood is much cheaper here, so I took advantage of this and tried some seafood restaurants. The seafood in this city is fresh, high quality, and prepared perfectly.
I found two restaurants (both in slightly different areas) that were incredible:
LamArt – Right smack in the middle of the city, this family-run restaurant produces gourmet style dishes which will not disappoint. The pasta is homemade and the seafood is all prepared to perfection (my salmon was to die for!). The restaurant offers some outdoor seating on the walkway where there is lively street music and performers on the weekends. Definitely, some of the highest quality food I have had in Colombia was at LamArt.
Restaurante Karey – Located at El Rodadero which a beach view, this place has all the seafood you could imagine at a reasonable price (and 2 for 1 cocktails from 6pm!) The portions are actually huge and the menu has everything you could imagine to choose from. I recommend the Kerry Style Shrimp which was incredible. Expect to pay between COP 30,000-45,000 for a main and the 2 for 1 cocktails are only COP 16,000.
Day Trips from Santa Marta
8. Go on a day trip to Bahia Concha
A day trip should cost around COP 50,000. Bahia Concha is a beach that is not very busy and has crystal clear water. For those that don’t have time to make a full trip to Tayrona (or who prefer fewer people), this is a great easy alternative.
9. Visit Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia’s most famous attractions, and for good reason as it is absolutely incredible! I recommend spending a night in the park, just leave your luggage at your hotel in Santa Marta and bring only the essentials.
If you plan on spending a night or two in Tayrona National Park, be sure to check out our Tayrona guide on where to stay, how to get there, and other tips!
Getting from Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park
There is a local bus from Calle 11 and Carerra 11 in Santa Marta city center which goes directly to Tayrona National Park.
If you are short on time and can’t stay the night in Tayrona National Park, consider booking an organized day trip.
10. Visit Minca
Minca is a small town up on mountains only about 45 minutes from Santa Marta, Colombia. Tourists come here to check out the views, explore coffee and chocolate farms, and swim in waterfalls.
Getting from Santa Marta to Minca
I did a day trip to Minca, which I recommend, but it is possible to spend a night or two in a hostel in Minca. Direct shuttles can be organized with hostels or local buses leave from the main bus terminal regularly.
11. Visit the village of Taganga
Taganga is only a COP 12,000 taxi ride from the main bus terminal in Santa Marta or COP 10,000 from the city center. Taganga is a pretty cool backpacker oriented area which deserves a day or two at least.
For more information on visiting Taganga, read our Taganga blog!
Where to Stay in Santa Marta, Colombia
Hostels in Santa Marta
There are a ton of hostels in Santa Marta and for really good value. I stayed at Casa del Ritmo and it was great – it had a small pool, vegetarian restaurant (super affordable lunch for only COP 10,000), and was a five-minute walk to a beach that was swimmable.
It was only a COP 12,000 taxi ride to the city center which was easy enough whenever we wanted. This hostel even had lockers to store our big backpacks for us while we went to Tayrona National Park. For more information or to book Casa del Ritmo, click here!
There are a few other very popular hostels rights in Santa Marta city center. Some of the most popular are:
- La Brisa Loco Hostel – This hostel is only 100m from Santa Marta city center. It is inside a beautiful colonial building and even has a swimming pool in the courtyard. Private rooms as well as dorms are available for as little as $10 USD per person!
- Drop Bear Hostel – This Aussie owned hostel is perfect for those looking for a centrally located, affordable hostel with a bit of a party vibe. Dorm rooms go for as little as $8 USD and they have a huge outdoor pool!
If hostels aren’t your thing and you are after some privacy but at an affordable price, consider booking an Air BnB. There are entire homes for rent for cheaper than a hotel room! If you’re new to Air Bnb then sign upwith this link to save on your first booking!
Hotels in Santa Marta, Colombia
If you are looking for a bit more luxury or privacy while in Santa Marta you have a huge range of beautiful hotels to choose from! Some of the most highly recommended hotels in Santa Marta are:
- Best Western Plus (Budget hotel) – This is a very affordable hotel that offers great value. For around $50 USD you can get a king room with air conditioning and an ensuite as well as access to a gorgeous rooftop pool and onsite bar and restaurant.
- Hotel Suite Boutique El Cactus (mid-range budget) – This is a gorgeous boutique hotel where the owners have really thought of every detail. It is centrally located, has a pool and breakfast is included in the room rate. For a peaceful and relaxing stay, this hotel is the right choice.
- Zuana Beach Resort (high budget) – If you want absolute paradise then Zuana is perfect. Featuring beautiful outdoor grounds, many pools, and rooms with amazing views you can’t wrong here. This resort is also located right on the beach while still being close to city center.
Santa Marta and all of the attractions near this city was a treat. We were glad after we visited that we gave the city a chance as we had a blast the entire time we were there.
I hope that this guide has helped inspire you to check out Santa Marta and the surrounding area.
As always, if you have any questions or anything to add, we would love to hear from you in the comments directly below this post!
Where to go next
Santa Marta is just one of the many amazing places to check out in Colombia. Be sure to consider visiting one the following places after Santa Marta:
- Guatape – The most colorful town I have ever seen!
- San Gil – The adventure capital of Colombia and home to world’s cheapest bungee jump.
- Salento – This town is a coffee lover’s dream. Some of the highest quality coffee in the world is made here.
- San Andres Island – An island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea which is technically closer to Nicaragua then Colombia but still belongs to Colombia. It is paradise!
If you are travelling more in Colombia then you should definietly check out our general Colombia travel guide here. It has a ton of tips that I wish I would have known back when I was touring around Colombia.
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January 5, 2020