THINGS TO DO IN SANTA MARTA
Santa Marta is the holder of the title of Colombia's oldest city. Set near the northern tip of the continent Santa Marta enjoys all-year-round good weather to a backdrop of the Caribbean Sea and Sierra Nevada mountain range. It may be a little rough around the edges but it's easy to see why so many travellers are drawn to Santa Marta. There isn't too much to do in the city itself and most travellers use it as a base to explore the wonders of the surrounding area.
How to get there
From Medellin - A flight with VivaColombia will take 1 hour and cost around 173,500 COP (£46.90) or you take a bus which takes 16 hours and costs 125,800 COP (£34).
From the airport - jump on the blue bus which will take you the rest of the way to the city for 1,600 COP (£0.45).
Things to do in Santa Marta #1 - Parque Tayrona
So, it's probably a safe bet that if you're going to visit Santa Marta, you'll likely be heading to the most famous National Park in the whole of Colombia. Tayrona is a bio-diversity hotspot famed for it's wildlife, fauna, hiking trails and pristine beaches.
From the city you take the green and white bus from the Mercado to the Calabazo entrance to the the park. The bus takes 30 minutes and costs 7,000 COP (£1.90). If you're staying overnight in the park, which we'd recommend given the 44,500 COP (£12) entrance fee, then you'll need to make arrangements at the booth near the entrance. There are a few different options but we opted for a hammock on the beach which cost 25,000 COP (£6.75) for the night. Falling asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing on to the shore just yards away is a memory we will never forget.
- Bring your passport - you need it to enter
- Student ID gets you a discount
- Take only the essentials as you will have to walk a lot and bring food and water purification tablets as it's expensive inside
- The 'No Swimming' signs are no joke. There have been many deaths here due to the strong under-currents
- Do your research and have a clear idea of where you want to go once inside. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a day walking around aimlessly
Things to do in Santa Marta #2 - Take a trip to Minca
Minca is one of Colombia's worst kept secrets. Set in the idyllic hills of the Sierra Nevada, this tranquil little village is a haven for backpackers looking to lose themselves in its beauty. Minca is full of incredible bio-diversity, rivers, waterfalls, hikes and coffee and cacao farms. The tragic history of this region, however, is a far cry from the peaceful reality we see now. From Santa Marta take a collectivo from outside Mercado Publico on Carrera 9. The 45 minute journey will cost you 8,000 COP (£2.15).
Minca has many wonderful attractions including Pozo Azul, Las Cascadas de Marinka and Las Piedras. For more information on Minca, check out our guide here.
Things to do in Santa Marta #3 - Spend a day in Taganga
Taganga is a small, traditional fishing village about 10-15 minutes north of Santa Marta. Up until recently, Taganga had a reputation of being a seedy, drug-ridden pit that was unwelcoming of outsiders. Whilst a small element of that may still exist and attract an array of travellers to its bustling nightlife scene, Taganaga by day is a whole other story. Come during the day and you will see a charming little village on the sea. A small beach one end and dozens of fishermen's boats at the other set behind a row of tiny restaurants serving up the catch of the day. There's not much to do other than relax on the beach and enjoy some fresh fish. Come early afternoon the bars will start to open up and lure you in with their happy hour offers before the evening crowd draw in.
To get to Taganga jump on the blue bus anywhere along Carrera 5 for 1,600 COP (£0.45).
Things to do in Santa Marta #4 - Find The Lost City
When compiling your 'Must Do' itinerary for South America, most will feature the likes of Machu Picchu, Uyuni Salt Flats or Patagonia. All great choices! But, for all you intrepid, challenge-seeking trek lovers out there, we have another name for your list - The Lost City. Ciudad Perdida (as it's known in Spanish) pre-dates Machu Picchu by over 600 years and can only be reached during a gruelling 4 day hike through in the sweltering heat of the Colombian jungle. During the hike you'll pass thundering rivers, swim in beautiful waterfalls and climb deep into the Sierra Nevada. For a full run-down on The Lost City Trek, check out this post.
Things to do in Santa Marta #5 - Get you PADI diving certificate
The aforementioned Taganga is one of the cheapest places to get PADI certified. There are a number of diving spots along the coast from Taganga up to Parque Tayrona. Be sure to check out the safety ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor of any company you're thinking about using.
Things to do in Santa Marta #6 - Be a beach bum
Yep, bum it up on one of the many beaches around Santa Marta. It is the Caribbean Sea, after all. Which beach? Well, there are a few in Parque Tayrona, there's one in Taganaga and Playa Blanca and Palomino are also highly rated. There is a beach in Santa Marta itself but it's not one we'd recommend.
Things to do in Santa Marta #7 - Shop til' you drop
So you've hiked to The Lost City, scrambled through Parque Tayrona and you're just a bit of a scruff in general after backpacking around South America for the last six months. It's about time to freshen up your wardrobe (smelly backpack) a little bit. The good news is the centre of Santa Marta is full of clothes and shoe shops at incredibly low prices. Not only that, but the streets are jam packed with market vendors selling an array of football t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, dresses and sunglasses. If you need to change up your style a little without breaking the bank, Santa Marta is the place to do it.
Where to stay in Santa Marta
We stayed at La Guaca Hostel for a few days and found it to be more like a hotel. Super clean and well organised with a big breakfast included and they looked after our bags when we did The Lost City trek. The dorms were spacious, each bed had its own light, fan and socket and the communal kitchen was pretty big and well-stocked. Can't ask for much more.
Where to go next
Cartagena - The 5 hour bus journey with Exalpa costs 25,000 COP (£6.75)