Colombia’s oldest mainland settlement has rapidly converted itself from a city of historical significance to a hot spot for Colombian tourists looking for sun and sand. For the majority of international travellers to Santa Marta the charm isn’t in the history, nor is it in the adjacent beaches but rather the proximity to the incredible Tayrona National Park. Those who chose to spend time in the lush coastal gem that is Tayrona National Park will not be left unsatisfied for even a moment. Tall palm trees provide shelter to the soft sand beaches of this natural paradise. The waters are so clear and calm that it would be easy to mistake them for swimming pool waters. Pack in a hammock to Tayona and just let the gentle sound of lapping waves rock away your stresses. If your travels have you spending significant time in Santa Marta as well, you will have to dig a little deeper for rest and relaxation. However, if it’s history you are in search of a couple of days worth of exploration is well worth your time.
Time Needed: With Tayrona = 4-6 days. Without Tayrona = 2-4 days
Budget: 25-45$ a Day
Things to do in Santa Marta
- Tayrona National Park: One could easily spend the good part of a week hiking around Tayona National park never getting bored with the views. It is possible to visit the park on a day trip from Santa Marta, however, I recommend spending at least one night in the park. If you choose to stay overnight there are a number of places to stay in the park all of which offer hammock space (about 3US$) and meals (usually between 4-6US$).
- Scuba Diving: Tayrona is quickly becoming a hot spot for people wanting to learn to dive due to the very low cost of getting your PADI certificate here. The waters outside of Santa Marta aren’t the clearest you’ll find, but it is a good place to learn.
- Jardin Botanico: It seems like every single Colombian town has a botanical garden and Santa Marta is no different. This huge floral garden/park is very much worth a wander if you have a free afternoon or morning.
- The Beach: The best beach in Santa Marta itself, in my opinion is La Concha, although there are a number of others.
- Museo Bolivariano: This is primarily an art museum featuring artwork from the time frame that Colombia was still a part of Gran Colombia.
- El Rodadero: Local Colombian tourist flock to this small resort town just outside of Santa Marta since it is quieter and features a nice wide beach. It is worth spending a day if you have the time.
- Ciudad Perdida: Santa Marta is the base for those who want to take part in the epic 5 days round trip hike to La Ciudad perdida in the nearby highlands. Some call “the lost city” the Colombian Machu Picchu. It is a tough hike due to the high temperatures, but well worth it upon arrival.
Where to Eat in Santa Marta
You’ll find that the best places to in Santa Marta are in the center of town. If you have a couple extra pesos to spend try a place on the water called Ben and Josep’s which has great food and a perfect location. If you’re searching for quicker food there are plenty of places that serve up cheap set lunches for about 5US$.
Where to Stay in Santa Marta
By far the most popular hostel in the Santa Marta area is The Dreamer Hostel (Dorms 11US$). They have a great staff that will help you with getting out to Tayrona, and a pool to cool off in. They are also very close to the beach. If you prefer to stay right downtown Santa Marta check out El Noctambulo Hostel (dorms 9US$).
Getting out of Town
Santa Marta is well connected with the rest of Colombia despite its location on the fringes of the country. Down the coast you can get to Barranquilla (2hrs) and Cartagena (4hrs). Heading inland buses head for Medellin (16hrs) and Bogota (26hrs). You can also get to Venezuela from here. There is one daily direct bus to Maracaibo, otherwise you will need to catch the bus to Maicao (4-5 hrs) and then catch a chicken bus to Maracaibo (2-3hrs).
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