Sun, sand and seafood are what draw tourists to the growing city of Santa Marta. But there is much more to the city than just the beaches. Santa Marta is Colombia’s oldest city dating back to 1525 and has a handful of historic attractions to balance out the beach days. This peaceful yet festive city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has been a popular tourist destination among Colombians and in more recent years, has received overwhelming attention from international travelers.
Families, couples and backpackers love the hot, always sunny climate of Santa Marta and seek relief from the powerful sun in the turquoise waters of Santa Marta Bay. Although debris and garbage occasionally drift on to the crescent of sand that hugs the boardwalk, it can still be a great place for an afternoon nap or people watching. Most midrange restaurants double as chic café-bars and are located along the boardwalk across from the beach. The area is safe to stroll both day and night but beware of harassment from drug dealers as dusk sets in.
Santa Marta receives 170,000 visitors a year encouraging the government to invest in a complete restoration of the historic centre. The ongoing restoration of the buildings, churches and streets is proving successful and is fuelling a desire to develop Santa Marta into a world-class vacation destination.
Within the next ten years, Santa Marta will have a new face and a different ambiance. Marina Santa Marta is the city’s newest project and aims at ushering in a new economic class of travelers. It will be the only marina between Panama and the Netherland Antilles and will offer top of the line services like helicopter tours, fine dining and professional yacht maintenance. Luxury resort chains, condos and timeshares to follow.
Despite the modernization of a historic city, the government promises to exempt the historic centre from any high-rise structures, but can’t guarantee that a McDonalds won’t pop up beside the cathedral. The marina has promised to hire only Colombian workers and seek international help only when necessary to better the local economy.
There is no doubt about it – Santa Marta is changing. For the better or worse is yet to be determined.
Things to do in
Boardwalk Paseo de Bastidas – Also known as Carrera 1, great seafood restaurants and late night watering holes consume this main boardwalk.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
– This museum, botanical garden and art gallery commemorates the life and death of Simón Bolívar. The Quinta is where Bolívar died in 1830 and offers free tours around the hacienda grounds Open daily 9:30AM-5PM. Tel. (57-5) 433-1021
Cathedral Santa Marta – The first church built by the Conquistadores in Colombia, Carrera 4 and Calle 14.
Mamancana Nature Reserve – This 600 hectare dry tropical rainforest has hiking, scuba diving and canopy tours. Near the Irotama resort.
Tayrona National Park – Located east of Santa Marta city, Tayrona is a jungle getaway reachable by local bus from the Santa Marta market.
Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City is accessed by walking tour and you must book a guide from Santa Marta before heading to the ruins. Tours last between 4 and 7 days
To arrange a tour to Tayrona National Park or the Ciudad Perdida visit the in-house tour agency at Hotel Miramar on Calle 10. The hotel can hold your luggage until you return from the tour, whether it is for a day or a week.
Visit the neighbouring fishing village of Taganga
Santa Marta Beaches
Tayrona National Park – Some of the best Colombian beaches are found in the Tayrona National Park but charge an entry fee. Entry cost varies for national and foreign visitors and discounts are available for students, children and seniors
El Rodadero – this beach is located right in Santa Marta and is popular with Colombian tourists and locals alike.
Bahía Concha – Quiet, beautiful beach with the option to camp
Pozos Colorados – Warm waters lap onto the sometimes crowded beach. Accommodation available nearby, including the Decameron resort complex
Playa Blanca – Clear waters and calm beach vibe with a variety of services and amenities for visitors
Budget Hotels Santa Marta
Hotel Miramar Always busy, great location only steps from the beach. Drug use is prevalent in many Santa Marta budget hostels but take caution as Hotel Miramar often attracts a party crowd due to the “relaxed environment”. Calle 10, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 423-3276
A perfectly fine budget option and quieter than Miramar. Calle 21 and Carrera 5-72, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 432-4916
La Brisa Loca Backpackers Hostel The easygoing ambiance of Santa Marta is adopted at La Brisa Loca. Calle 14, 3-58 and Carrera 3/4, Santa Marta. Tel. (57) 318-303-0666
Midrange Hotels Santa Marta
Hotel La Riviera -
outdated decor gives La Riviera a certain charm. Located in Bahia de Gaira only ten minutes from Santa Marta.
Hotel Bahia Blanca
- affiliated with Hotel La Riviera. Carrera 1 and Calle 11, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 422-7090
- a prime location on the boardwalk, great views and nice breeze. Carrera 1, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 421-2785
La Ballena Azul
- Crisp sheets and clean rooms in the neighbouring area of Taganga.
Mi Casa Holanda
- a friendly guesthouse within walking distance to the beach. Calle 14, 1B-75, Taganga, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 421-9390
Luxury Hotels Santa Marta
Irotama Resort -
this resort boasts lush gardens and a kilometre of quiet beachfront.
- not a tropical beachfront resort, but a great hotel nonetheless. Carrera 2A,11A-98,
El Rodadero, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 422-7015
- lavish, lush and luxurious. Km 17 Route to Ciénaga, Santa Marta. Tel. (57-5) 432-0630