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If you’re looking to plan your visit to Santa Marta, Colombia, and need some inspiration then this blog is for you! Here’s information about 21 amazing things to do in Santa Marta along with other important tips for visiting such as where to stay and how to get there!
Before returning to Santa Marta, Colombia (my second visit in two years) I read a few blogs about the different things to do in Santa Marta. What I found was that all of these blogs were quite negative, saying there wasn’t much to do in Santa Marta and that it isn’t that nice of a city.
I 100% disagree with these bloggers.
In fact, Santa Marta is easily one of my favorite cities in all of Colombia! Sure, when you first arrive it might seem a little rough around the edges but there is so much more to the city than what first meets the eye.
I’ve spent a total of 4 weeks in Santa Marta over the past two years and have come to really enjoy this city and the wide range of things to do and see. So, in this blog, I’m going to share with you all of the amazing things you can do in Santa Marta.
And, besides including the most popular day trips everyone recommends, I’ll also suggest some more off-the-beaten-path experiences that will make you see Santa Marta for what it truly is – a beautiful and vibrant Colombian city.
- Santa Marta Colombia Overview
- Getting to/from Santa Marta
- 21 Fun Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
- 1. Go Sailing
- 2. Enjoy the view at Restaurante Burukuka
- 3. Conquer the Lost City Trek
- 4. Chill-out in the village of Taganga
- 5. Relax at Playa Grande
- 6. Go on a Food Tour
- 7. Go Scuba Diving
- 8. Visit the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
- 9. Take a Cooking Class
- 10. Explore Rodadero Beach
- 11. Take the boat to Playa Blanca
- 12. Visit the Simon Bolivar Museum (Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino)
- 13. Wander the Historical Center
- 14. Watch the Sunset at “Sunset Bar”
- 15. Visit Tayrona National Park
- 16. Eat fresh Seafood
- 17. Go Shopping
- 18. Visit Minca
- 19. Visit Bahia Concha
- 20. Go on a Coffee Tour
- 21. Relax at Playa Cristal
- Where to Stay in Santa Marta, Colombia
- Before you go…
Santa Marta Colombia Overview
Santa Marta, Colombia, is a coastal city in Northern Colombia with a rich history. The city was and still is an important port city with heavy influence from abroad. A mix of indigenous, Spanish, and African cultures combines to create one of the most interesting cities in Colombia – very similar to Cartagena.
The city was established in 1525 by the Spanish and is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. You can see this in the old cobblestone streets and architecture, which to this day has been well preserved in most areas of the city.
However, Santa Marta isn’t just a place to discover history. The surrounding beaches and landscape are beautiful, and it’s well known as a tropical paradise. Discover hidden beaches or head up into the mountains – you have it all in Santa Marta.
Santa Marta is located around 3 hours east of Cartagena but arriving for most other cities requires and short domestic flight or long overnight bus. Both are inexpensive, but the flight is undoubtedly the better option (I’ve done both) – especially from Bogota or Medellin.
Regardless of what your first impression of Santa Marta is, give the city a go, and you’ll discover what many don’t!
Getting to/from Santa Marta
There are three different ways you can reach Santa Marta: by airplane, bus, or private shuttle/car.
There is a small airport only about a 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Marta. Although technically an international airport, almost all of the flights are domestic.
If you want to get to Santa Marta from another city in Colombia there are plenty of very affordable flights which will save you time from taking the bus. I have taken the bus and plane from Medellin and much prefer flying – especially when taking the bus eats into my Medellin itinerary.
If you’re interested in booking a flight to Santa Marta, you can browse domestic flights here.
Many people reach Santa Marta by bus from other cities in Colombia like Cartagena, Medellin, or Bogota.
Cartagena is the closest at only about 4 hours away. Expect to pay about 27,000 COP for a one-way journey on a large bus with air conditioning.
From Medellin, you are looking at 15+ hours and about 120,000 COP. Buses depart several times throughout the day and will take you directly to Santa Marta.
From Bogota, buses take 20+ hours and cost about 160,000 COP.
When traveling by bus in Colombia I always book my tickets online in advance to secure my seat on the website Busbud.com
Private transfers are quicker and more comfortable than taking the bus but they are also more expensive. Most people book a private transfer from Cartagena to Santa Marta and then back again.
21 Fun Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
1. Go Sailing
It isn’t just Cartagena that has amazing islands, beaches, and boat excursions. In fact, going on a full-day sailing tour in Santa Marta is not only breathtaking but super affordable too!
On a sailing trip from Santa Marta, you can visit beaches in Tayrona National Park, which are some of the most pristine in the country. You’ll also see islands, jungle landscapes, and mountains. The scenery is super impressive around Santa Marta and you really should enjoy it from out on the water.
We did this particular sailing tour that stops at a couple of gorgeous beaches as well as visits the only island in Tayrona National Park. It includes lunch, snacks, snorkel gear and only cost us $55 USD each! You’re definitely in capable hands with Luis on the tour.
2. Enjoy the view at Restaurante Burukuka
If you want to have a drink or meal with a magnificent view then head to Restaurant Burukuka in Santa Marta. This restaurant sits up on a hill overlooking the ocean and beach in El Rodadero.
It is simply breathtaking, especially at sunset!
From Santa Marta, you can get a taxi up to the restaurant for about 15,000 COP. Once there, beers will cost you 10,000 COP, a bottle of cheap wine is 70,000 COP, and the average meal price is about 50,000 COP.
Sure, it isn’t the cheapest restaurant, but the view alone makes it worth a couple of extra bucks. We ate here and loved it! Daniel still won’t stop talking about the seafood pasta! It is popular though so we recommend booking a table on the terrace in advance to secure your spot!
3. Conquer the Lost City Trek
The Lost City 4-day trek is becoming very popular these days. On our first visit to Santa Marta, we barely heard of anybody doing it. But now, due to the rave reviews and top-notch tours, it seems to be on everybody’s things to do in Santa Marta list!
This guided hike takes you through the jungle and mountains showcasing some of the most remote areas of Colombia. You will visit “Cuidad Perdida” or the “Lost City” which is a complex of ancient ruins.
Many people compare it to Machu Picchu saying that it is just as impressive but much less busy (expect to see almost no tourists besides your own tour group for most of the trip. To be honest though, I’d say it’s not as good as Machu Picchu but still an awesome experience.
You must visit the Lost City on a 4-day guided hiking experience, there is no other way to go. But as we said, it’s an incredible experience that’s unique to Colombia and departs right from Santa Marta!
4. Chill-out in the village of Taganga
Is the hustle and bustle of the city a bit too much for you? Head to the village of Taganga that’s only a 10-minute drive away!
Although Taganga isn’t super “nice” by most western standards, this tiny fishing village is the perfect place to hang out for a few hours (or even stay a night or two!) The village is right on the beach and although the beach isn’t the most beautiful for swimming, the cactus-covered mountains surrounding the bay are stunning and unique.
There are popular places to eat in Taganga such as an Indian restaurant called Babagonush and heaps of trendy cafes and fresh fruit juice stands. You can get a whole fried fish for lunch at a beachside restaurant for as little as 15,000 COP and beers for 3,500 COP. But our favorite is to head to the beach for Pina Coladas to watch the sunset!
You can catch a local bus or take a taxi to Tanganga. If you do take a taxi, ask your driver to stop at the viewpoint along the way – it’s beautiful!
5. Relax at Playa Grande
From the beach in Taganga, you can jump on a boat for only 10,000 COP and visit a beautiful calm bay and beach called Playa Grande. The boat ride only takes 10 minutes.
Although a busy beach for locals (who are fun to watch and interact with) it is super pristine and calm for swimming. The water is bright blue and contrasts against the dry mountains in an odd, but beautiful, way.
There are lots of restaurants at Playa Grande as well as chairs to rent (5,000 COP), jet skis, and snorkel tours. We thoroughly enjoyed hanging out here one afternoon for a couple of hours.
You can also hike to Playa Grande from Taganga. It is a short 20-minute walk but very steep, and the occasional robbery has been reported on the trail – so the boat is your best bet!
For a unique experience from Santa Marta, you can join this guided E-bike and kayaking tour to Playa Grande. It begins with an electric bike ride to Taganga before kayaking to Playa Grande. It’s a 5-hour tour that’s perfect for active travelers. The tour also includes breakfast and lunch.
6. Go on a Food Tour
One of our all-time favorite tours to do in cities around the world is food tours! Understanding the food of a destination is the easiest way to get a glimpse into their culture and way of life.
Plus, who doesn’t want to try tons of tasty food?!
This Santa Marta food tour includes heaps of different local food samples and is only $38 USD! You’ll tour the city stopping along the way to try many local favorites and learn about where the influence of the food came from.
It’s a grassroots tour that visits lots of family-owned restaurants supporting the local community while teaching you all about the food that makes Santa Marta.
7. Go Scuba Diving
If you want to go scuba diving while in Colombia then Santa Marta is the place to do it! Not only are there a lot of great dive sites around, but divine in Santa Marta is relatively cheap when compared to other places around South America.
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 when visibility is good, you can see so much!
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!
One of the best companies in Santa Marta is Caribbean Pro Centro de Buceo which offer lots of dive course and tours.
I love scuba diving and highly recommend giving it a try.
8. Visit the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
I’m not going to lie, I am not a huge museum fan. Especially in South America where I’ve found many museums to be only in Spanish. However, in Santa Marta city center you’ll find the Museo del Oro, which is definitely worth a look!
This museum is in both English and Spanish and it is free to visit!
Here you’ll find ancient artifacts and tons of information about the history and landscape surrounding Santa Marta. It only takes about 30 minutes to explore the museum and it’s one of the best free things to do in Santa Marta.
9. Take a Cooking Class
The Caribbean food made in Santa Marta is delicious! Imagine whole fried fish, coconut rice, and rich spices. The only bad part is leaving and not being able to bring the food with you.
That’s why one of the best things to do in Santa Marta is to learn how to cook Caribbean food for yourself and join a cooking class!
Cooking classes used to be very easy to book; however, recently, many of the tours have closed for good. Although I can no longer recommend the tour I did, be sure to keep this in mind during your visit and ask your hotel for recommendations.
10. Explore Rodadero Beach
The area of El Rodadero is really nice. It is a neighborhood only a 10-minute drive from Santa Marta city center and features lots of hotels, highrise apartments, restaurants, and a massive beach!
To me, El Rodadero is even a great area to base yourself and find a hotel. It is a safer area than centro and as such, a lot of wealthier people live here.
You can head to the beach during the day or late afternoon for sunrise. There will be tons of street food around (the pineapple pizza is delicious) and people selling drinks on the beach. It is a vibrant and fun place to hang out for a few hours.
Rodadero Beach is pretty busy with lots of vendors trying to sell things. It isn’t the place to go to relax, but it sure is vibrant and fun!
11. Take the boat to Playa Blanca
From Rodadero Beach you can jump on a boat for 12,000 COP return that takes you to a very popular beach called Playa Blanca.
This beach is famous for its calm water and white sand. Although it can be busy, it is a very beautiful and easily accessible spot popular with foreigners and locals alike!
The best thing to do here is to grab a shaded tent and enjoy some drinks and food while you relax!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4-weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
World Nomads is a good option for anybody looking for fully comprehensive travel insurance including things like trip cancellation and adventure activities. They included coverage for over 250 different adventure activities, everything from snowboarding to whitewater rafting! You can also buy the insurance in advance in case your travel plans are interrupted, or, while you’re already on the road.
We’ve personally used both SafetyWing and World Nomads for different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive.)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
12. Visit the Simon Bolivar Museum (Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino)
This is the most famous museum in Santa Marta simply because Simon Bolivar, the man who lead Colombia and many other Latin American countries to independence from the Spanish empire, actually died in the building.
Today, this building is actually a contemporary art museum that is a tribute to Simon Bolivar.
The museum is located about a 15-minute drive from the city center in a complex called Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. It is actually located quite close to the popular Dreamer Hostel (where most backpackers spend a night or two.)
Entrance to the museum is included in the entrance fee to the complex and is 23,000 COP for adult foreigners. This is well worth a look if you love history and want to visit the end place of the most famous man in South America.
13. Wander the Historical Center
Parque de Los Novios is the center of the action in Santa Marta. From here, you can explore cobblestone streets, colorful houses, boutique restaurants, and cafes, as well as see lots of street art.
It’s actually a very pretty place to explore for a few hours. During midday, the city is very quiet simply because it is very hot. If you want to see Santa Marta’s historical center at its most vibrant, come out after 5 pm and find a place to enjoy a meal or a drink on the street.
You can also book a walking tour of the historical center to be sure you don’t miss all of the best spots!
14. Watch the Sunset at “Sunset Bar”
Right in between the beach and the marina in Santa Marta center you’ll find a trendy bar called Los 7 Mares Santa Marta. It is an elevated bar that definitely offers some incredible views at sunset.
We actually visited this place on two separate occasions and really enjoyed their ice-cold beer and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a comfortable bar that also serves tasty food.
15. 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.
There is a local bus from Calle 11 and Carerra 11 in Santa Marta city center, which goes directly to Tayrona National Park. From here, you can hike in and spend the night at one of the campsites or choose to stay at a hotel near the entrance.
If you are short on time and can’t stay the night in Tayrona National Park, consider booking an organized day trip. One of the best tours you can book is this Tayrona National Park day trip. The tour includes hotel pickup in Santa Marta and other nearby areas, your admission fee, some water (although you should still bring a bottle), and an English-speaking guide.
If you would like your entire time in the area taken care of, consider this 5-day tour that includes 2 days in Tayrona National Park, a trip to Minca, and a tour around Santa Marta.
If you plan on spending a night or two in Tayrona National Park, be sure to check out our blog about where to stay in Tayrona National Park.
IMPORTANT: Tayrona National Park is CLOSED the entire month of February every year.
16. Eat fresh 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 that will not disappoint. The pasta is homemade and the seafood is all prepared to perfection (my salmon was delicious!). The restaurant offers some outdoor seating on the walkway where there is lively street music and performers on the weekends.
Restaurante Karey – Located at El Rodadero which has a beach view, this place has all the seafood you could imagine at a reasonable price (and 2 for 1 cocktails from 6 pm!) 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.
17. Go Shopping
There is some great shopping in Santa Marta (and by “great” I mean cheap!) There are food markets that are perfect for buying fresh local ingredients to cook with. Or, if you are in need of 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 some great shorts, and I got a pair of shoes! It definitely was a successful shopping trip.
If you want cheap clothing head to Carrera 5 in the city center. If you want a more traditional market head to “Mercado Publico de Santa Marta.”
18. Visit Minca
Minca is a small town up in the 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. It is a jungle mountain paradise!
I did a day trip to Minca on my first visit a couple of years ago, but this last time I actually spent 2 nights there.
If you’re short on time then a day trip will suffice, but if you can spare a night or two I highly recommend booking the beautiful hostel/hotel called Casas Viajes as they have the most incredible infinity pool with mountain views right in the jungle – amazing!
You can either jump on a shuttle to Minca for 8,000 COP per person, take a taxi, or arrange a private transfer. Personally, we used the shuttle service and booked it through our hostel which worked out just fine.
While there, check out all the best things to do in Minca!
19. Visit Bahia Concha
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.
From Santa Marta, Bahia concha is only an hour’s drive away. You can book private transport, or a shared shuttle and speed boat and enjoy your day at a beautiful beach!
20. Go on a Coffee Tour
Coffee tours are easily one of the best things to do in Santa Marta and you can do them in the hills around Minca. On a day trip there you should do one but if you spend a few nights be sure to visit one of the many coffee farms.
However, you don’t have to go all the way to Minca to get good coffee in Santa Marta. In fact, it’s possible to try some locally grown fresh coffee right in the heart of Santa Marta – you just need to know where to go.
On this coffee and culture tour of Santa Marta, you’ll taste tons of delicious coffee all while learning about its production past and present.
Trying Colombian coffee is not only one of the best things to do in Santa Marta, but also in all of Colombia!
21. Relax at Playa Cristal
Of course, this list of things to do in Santa Marta has to finish off with another amazing beach! Playa Cristal is one of the best in the area and easily reached by boat from Santa Marta!
This beach is much less built-up than the others and therefore is the perfect place to relax on the white sand between dips in the calm sea. In fact, many consider Playa Cristal one of the best beaches in all of Colombia!
The number of visitors is limited each day to ensure the beach is never too crowded. You can book your return transfer including entrance fees, snorkeling equipment, and lunch.
Where to Stay in Santa Marta, Colombia
There are awesome places to stay in Santa Marta for every type of traveler with any range of budget! I’ve personally stayed at all of the places below and can highly recommend them!
Low Budget – Backpacker Hostels
La Brisa Loca – This hostel is located right in the heart of Santa Marta city center. Featuring a large rooftop bar and patio as well as a swimming pool, this hostel is as glamorous as it gets for backpackers. They have various sizes of dorm rooms as well as flashy privates. You can book on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Dreamer Hostel – This is the most popular place for backpackers to stay in Santa Marta and for that reason, it is almost always booked full! They have a beautiful courtyard with a large swimming pool that makes for a very social area to hang out. They also have a communal kitchen and a restaurant that serves the best Carbonara ever (trust me on that one!) You can book on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Color Hostel – This hotel is clean, modern, and centrally located. It isn’t luxurious or flashy but has everything you’d want in a super comfortable hotel at a steal of a deal (with breakfast included!) When I stayed here I couldn’t believe how large the rooms were! Oh, and they also have a small pool.
Grand Marina Santa Marta – This hotel offers luxury apartments with full kitchens and balconies overlooking the marina right in the center of Santa Marta. It is the perfect place to explore the city while having time to relax poolside. Pure luxury for surprisingly good value!
Before you go…
I truly hope this blog helps you have an amazing time in Santa Marta and grow to love this city as much as I do! Sure, it isn’t your typical touristic city, but there are still a ton of amazing things to do in Santa Marta and nearby!
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments and I’ll get back to you! Also, once you’ve been to Santa Marta, let us know what you honestly thought of it!
Be sure to check out the rest of our Colombia travel blogs including some useful guides below:
- Guatape, Colombia – The best things to do and how to get there from Medellin
- Ultimate Colombia Travel Guide – Everything you need to know before visiting Colombia
- San Andres Island, Colombia – Colombia island paradise and my favorite place to relax at in Colombia
- Things to do in Salento – Colombia’s coffee region and home of the Cocora Valley