You may have read several blogs telling you to skip Santa Marta in Colombia. But, I am giving you five good reasons why you should not. I added Santa Marta to my list of destinations because it is in the department of Magdalena, which is the origin of my name.
True, it is not the cleanest city in Colombia; and clearly, the streets are way too crowded. Definitely, stay away from the beach near Centro Historico. I know these things do not sound promising.
Santa Marta History
You may not know that San Marta is the birthplace of Colombia’s history.
It is the oldest city in Colombia and also in South America. Founded in 1525 by the explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta is the fourth largest city in Colombia. Situated on the Caribbean coast, it is the capital of the Department of Magdalena.
The home of Simon Bolivar (El Liberator) before he passed away, who is a hero and patriot in Colombia. There are many parks and streets named after him.
Not only does this city hold ton of history, but it also surrounds by the highest mountain range on earth, jungles, and deserts.
It also remains home to many indigenous groups, the Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuacos (Ijka, Ifca) and Kankuamo, who are ancestors of the Tairona.
Why Go to Santa Marta
There are some interesting sites to visit in Santa Marta historic center.
Start with a walk to the Simon Bolivar Park to see the monuments. Then, head over to the Plaza de la Cathedral, to tour the oldest church in the Americas.
For nightlife and dining, go to the Parque de Los Novios to grab a drink or people watch. Head to Ouzo to eat the best Mediterranean food in town. For vegetarian dishes, the Natural Food restaurant offers healthy smoothies, fresh salads, and vegetarian burgers. For brunch, skip over to Lulo Cafe Bar for natural juices, wraps and the best Colombian coffee.
Places to Stay in Santa Marta
The best hotel boutique in town, Casa de Carolina offers first class service to its customers. The hotel is beautiful, and breakfast comes with the room. It is in a great location, close to the Plaza de la Cathedral and the seafront.
Also, Casa Bugambilia has a modern look a terrace roof to see the sunset and a pool to stay cool during the hot days. It located in the middle of the center of Parque de Los Novious. For a fun place to stay on a low budget, Brisa Loca is the perfect hostel.
Santa Marta may be a base or stopover to explore the Sierra Nevada, the Tayrona National Park and Minca.
Here are five places you can visit while you are in Santa Marta.
Watch the Sunset in Taganga
Taganga is the other oldest colonial city in Colombia, next to Santa Martha.
A small fishing village just 15 minutes by bus from Centro Historico Santa Marta. It has become a hub, and a must stop for backpackers. Taganga is full of life. With the influx of international and local travelers, you meet people from many different walks of life.
The fishermen walk around with their catch of the day. You can get the best fresh fish platters in Santa Marta.
Budget-friendly hostels are located close to the beach.
Catch the sunset in Taganga before heading to your next destination. The beauty and vibrant colors of the sky create a special memory for your vacation.
For a small town, it is full of restaurants, bars, and a decent nightlife. Diving is a favorite pastime at Taganga.
A fun place to meet people. There is no other place near Santa Marta where you can thoroughly enjoy yourself like in Taganga. Do not go to Taganga for only the beach but the experience.
Catch Some Sun on Rodadero Beach
Only 10 minutes from Santa Marta by bus, Rodadero Beach is also favorite for diving dives. The Deep Coral Diving company offers a variety of courses for many levels, from beginners to dive master. As you get closer to Rodadero, you will see the high-rise buildings, a long strip with beachfront restaurants and hotels.
Do not expect much there, besides the water sports (skiing). It is a great half a day trip. Go there and grab a table at one of the restaurants on the beach and get the local souvenirs.
Where to stay in Rodadero Beach
A favorite hostel in Rodadero, Calle 11 is an old mansion with a swimming pool and an onsite massage parlor. For large groups, couples or families, another choice is Villa Escobar, a private colonial style home. It is described as a hotel with an incredible swimming pool overlooking the city and has the best sunset views in Santa Marta.
Catch the sunrays in Bello Horizonte
If laying on the beach is a preferred pastime, spend a day in Bello Horizonte. The beach is cleaner and more beautiful. A fabulous place to spend the day on the beach. It is very family friendly, really quiet and safe to walk around.
The area has many high-end hotels and resorts. If you enjoy your time in Bello Horizonte and want to stay an extra day, Azuana Beach and Resorts is an excellent place to stay. It has many amenities, pool tables, restaurants, and spas. But, this hotel is not for the budget conscious travelers.
Hike in Tayrona National Park
A trip you can take from Santa Marta is to the Tayrona National Park. Less than a two-hour bus ride or on tour, you can visit the most secluded beaches in Magdalena. The Tayrona National Park lies along the Caribbean coastline. A sacred land inhabited by the Tairona indigenous people. The Kogis occupies the area and maintains the Tairona customs.
Wildlife and white sandy beaches, Tayrona National Park, has everything. You can spend most your day hiking or walk around the park. Enjoy the peaceful surroundings with the monkeys, the iguanas, and the woodpeckers. A visit to the Pueblito – a small indigenous village – will make the trip more meaningful, discovering the culture and the Kogis people.
A night stay at the park can be expensive if you are looking for luxury. There are many Eco cabañas near the park. For a less expensive option, you can opt for a camping site or rent a hammock.
Experience Nature in Minca
Minca gives you a reason not to avoid Santa Marta. An original town with 800 inhabitants, it is 30 minutes from the city center. You can get there by bus or on tour. The weather is much more refreshing and a great escape from the scorching temperature in Santa Marta.
This tiny village brings you to the midst of a cultural experience.
It is a great place to relax and appreciate nature. Minca deserves more than a day visit. Spend two days hiking the Mundo Nuevo or bird watching. Bike around and be part of natural wonder, that is occupied by over 300 types of birds.
Final Thoughts on Santa Marta
All these fabulous spots to explore near the center city of Santa Marta are just less than two-hour by bus. Each area has something for everyone to have a perfect vacation – beach, nature, culture, and nightlife.
The Majic Tour offers several tours to Tayrona, Minca and the lost city. Let their experienced tour guides plan for you an unforgettable adventure.
I am looking forward to revisiting Santa Marta. What are you waiting for, hop on a bus for the six-hour ride from Cartagena to Santa Marta?