Santa Marta Colombia: The oldest city in Colombia, romantic Santa Marta is fringed by beautiful beaches and the stunning mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range. Ancient ruins take cover in the lush mangrove forests of Tayrona National Park, the perfect spot for a day hike. Snorkel along vibrant reefs, then make your way to a café for a multicultural meal that incorporates the flavors of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. When the sun goes down, the nightlife kicks up its heels in the bars and discos of the Parque de Los Novios.
Santa Marta officially Distrito Turístico, Cultural e Histórico de Santa Marta (“Touristic, Cultural and Historic District of Santa Marta”), is a city in Colombia. It is the capital of Departamento del Magdalena and the fourth-largest urban city of the Caribbean Region of Colombia, after Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Soledad. Founded on July 29, 1525, by the Spanish conqueror Rodrigo de Bastidas, it was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia, its oldest surviving city, and second oldest in South America, This city is situated on a bay by the same name and as such, it is a prime tourist destination in the Caribbean region.
Armed groups are still active in this area, there is extensive cultivation of illegal drugs and the risk of kidnap remains high. While tour organizers may assure you that the area is safe, we do not believe it to be so. The Parque Nacional Tayrona is a popular tourist destination for Colombians and foreigners alike.
What is Santa Marta known for?
Just an hour out of Santa Marta, the beautiful mountainous town of Minca is famous for its coffee plantations, rivers, and waterfalls. Go on a day trip or stay overnight to better explore the region.
Is Santa Marta Colombia worth visiting?
Santa Marta is South America’s oldest European-founded town and the second-most-important colonial city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Despite its long history and charming center, it gets a bad rap from many travelers, who cite its unlovely urban sprawl and terrible traffic as reasons not to hang about here. The secret to Santa Marta is to use it for what it does well: hotels, restaurants, and bars, and then get out to the slew of superb nearby destinations during the daytime. The Caribbean sea and snow make Santa Marta a difficult place to forget. The city is located on the shores of the Bay of Santa Marta on the Caribbean Sea, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, whose peaks can be seen on clear days from the beach. The capital of the department of Magdalena, which was founded in 1525, is one of the oldest cities in South America.
Near the birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez, the father of magical realism, Santa Marta’s beach captivates with activities and culture, among other options. Here visitors always find something to do: diving, adventure sports, and visiting beaches where the rainforest meets the sea; bird watching, a historic city tour and a visit to the heart of the Tayrona culture.
Cartagena To Santa Marta
We are in a bunch of Facebook groups for travelers heading to Colombia, and somebody always mentions that Santa Marta has nice beaches.
We didn’t seek out its beaches on our first visit and always regretted it a little bit.
We really shouldn’t have.
You can walk to Playa Los Cocos – the city beach – from the city center in five or ten minutes, but it actually feels more depressing and unsafe than anything else. Honestly, don’t go out of your way to visit it.
A decent taxi ride away in the fancier part of the city – Rodadero – there are nicer stretches of beach, but most travelers aren’t going to go there in a day or two they have in Santa Marta (and there are much better beaches in this part of Colombia).
WALK THE MALECON
The newly renovated malecón de Bastidas is worth a walk on a sunny morning or late afternoon. Although there’s an industrial backdrop in one direction, there’s a little slice of beach filled with families and young couples, and the walkway has street food vendors, people selling drinks, and a lively local vibe.
VISIT MUSEO DEL ORO TAIRONA
This relatively new cultural addition to Santa Marta exceeded our expectations, and it’s definitely something you should visit whilst in the city (no excuses either as it’s free entry).
Set in an old building which used to act as the customs house in the colonial era, the Tayrona Gold Museum charts the history of Santa Marta, details the lives and customs of the four indigenous groups of the region, the cultural roots of northern Colombia, and details the huge ecological importance of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. There are lots of museums in South America that focus on similar types of themes, but this compact one is actually really well curated and laid out rather than offering just a few dusty displays and old explanations. All displays have English descriptions.
When | Tuesday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, Sundays and Public Holidays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed on Mondays
Alternative | We have unfortunately never made it out to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the old hacienda where South America’s liberation hero Simón Bolívar spent his final days battling against tuberculosis. It’s a 20-minute bus ride from the center, and Atlas Obscura has a good short article about why it’s understandably such an important site for South Americans.
Santa Marta Dominadora
Before the arrival of Europeans, the South American continent was inhabited by a number of indigenous groups. Due to a combination of tropical weather, significant rainfall, and the destruction and misrepresentation of many records by Spanish conquistadors, our understanding of the peoples of this region is limited.
The Tairona formed mid- to large-size population centers, consisting of stone pathways, terraces, protected waterways, and spaces dedicated to agricultural produce. Their economy was primarily agricultural, cultivating corn, pineapple, yucca, and other local foodstuffs. The Tayrona are considered quite advanced for their time period. Surviving archaeological sites consisted of formed terraces and small scale underground stone channels. They also were known to actively collect and process salt, which was a significant trading commodity. We know that they traded with other indigenous groups along the coast and interior. Archaeological excavations have recovered significant works in pottery, stonework, and gold.
Santa Marta is located on Santa Marta Bay of the Caribbean Sea in the province of Magdalena. It is 992 km from Bogotá and 93 km from Barranquilla. It is bordered to the north and west by the Caribbean and to the south by the municipalities of Aracataca and Ciénaga.
Oraciones Santa Marta Dominadora
PREPARE FOR THE LOST CITY TREK
Colombia is not renowned as a hiking destination (especially as many other South American countries offer so many phenomenal outdoor opportunities). But the Lost City Trek is slowly establishing itself as a landmark experience in the region.
Trekking through the tropical humid jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta for four or five days, sleeping in basic accommodation, and carrying (nearly) everything you need on your back isn’t going to appeal to everyone or be possible on short Colombia trips, but it’s exactly the sort of experience and challenge which curious travelers crave.
It’s only possible with an approved tour company, and tours all depart from Santa Marta. You can either book ahead of your visit, or look around your options when you arrive at various agencies and hostels. We did this Lost City tour with G Adventures which involves an exclusive fifth-day route and is led by a fantastic indigenous guide.
So, if you’re hoping to do the Lost City, you will need a minimum of one night in Santa Marta before the trek starts and then will also need one recovery day when you come to return (trust us, you will absolutely stink and will want to devour a pizza, burger, or bowl of pasta).
COFFEE + GREAT FOOD IN IKARO CAFE
If you are choosing to just have a bit more of a lazy laptop or planning day in Santa Marta, then heading to Ikaro Cafe is a great shout. It’s a bit of a gringo haven hangout, but that is totally understandable due to its cool space, great coffee, and fantastic vegetarian + vegan menu which offers a nice change from traditional Colombian fare.
In the heart of historic Santa Marta (Calle 19 #3-60), their coffee is produced on their own farm located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and roasted in the coffee shop.
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Calle 19 overall has a bunch of places to go eat and drink too, including Carambolo which is a good Mediterranean fusion place (with great veggie options) and Buon Gelato for ice-creams!
Tip | If you see a man making stuffed arepas over a barbecue on wheels in the street at night, then you must simply buy one. Arepas are the go-to Colombian cornbread that Emily is addicted to, and he was some of the best we tried in the country.
TRAVEL TO MINCA
Minca is a little slice of heaven on earth.
Although it’s becoming more and more popular each day, it remains somewhere to get away from urban stresses and streets for a few days of nature trails, waterfall swims, coffee farm visits, stunning rainforest views, and peaceful relaxation in some of the best hostels in Colombia (like Casa Loma).
And the best way to get there on your own is via Santa Marta.
It’s simple enough, with shared taxis and colectivos leaving regularly from Carrera 9, between Calle 11 and 12, near the Mercado Publico – look for the Cootrasminca office/sign. Journeys take 45 minutes and cost 8,000 COP per person.