Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

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We’ve been wanting to see Santa Marta for ourselves for a long time, especially since renovations were launched in the city. So in this post we answer the question “What are the best things to do in Santa Marta?” by giving you all our tips for visiting the city.

As you may know, Santa Marta has a rather bad reputation: a city with a dilapidated and poorly managed image, where there are problems of delinquency… As a result, many people see no point in visiting Santa Marta.

So, myth or reality?

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Historical center de Santa Marta

BEst things to do

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

It was a pleasant surprise for us! We’d heard about the efforts being made to make Santa Marta’s historic center more attractive, and we were charmed by its many colorful colonial houses. It’s reminiscent of Cartagena in its roots, but there are some damn fine houses!

Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and as you walk down some of the streets, you wonder how it’s possible to leave houses like these abandoned, but it’s really fun to stroll around the historic center during the day.

This is also where the nightlife is in full swing, but that’s another story. For those who like to party, you’ll be in your element, with music blaring from every corner until the early hours of the morning. For those less keen on fiesta, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of the “picos ” wherever you stay in the center.

In terms of safety, Santa Marta is a city where certain neighborhoods and streets are clearly to be avoided. The hypercenter between calle 22 and calle 12 is reputed to be safer, but at night it’s best to remain vigilant.

Malecón de Bastidas

BEst things to do in Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

Santa Marta’s new Malecón is clearly an achievement that is changing the face of the city. In the evenings, when the temperature starts to drop, the Samarios come down to stroll along the seafront , and it’s very pleasant indeed.

The promenade is nice, with games for children, places to relax and the famous sunsets over Santa Marta Bay, which are truly beautiful. If you walk down to the marina, you’ll find a nice setting for a drink or a bite to eat.

Here you’ll also find the central beach of Santa Marta, which, according to our local sources, isnot recommended for swimming due to doubts about the cleanliness of the water in this area.

Tairona Gold Museum

BEst things to do in Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

If Bogotá’s Gold Museum is, in our opinion, the most beautiful museum in Colombia, without equal, Santa Marta’s Gold Museum is well worth a visit. The museum focuses on the history of Santa Marta and the surrounding region.

You’ll discover a wealth of information about the Tairona civilization, the main population living in the region before the arrival of the Spanish settlers. Learn about their mastery of goldsmithing, and make the connection with the present-day indigenous populations inhabiting the Sierra Nevada (Koguis, Arhuacaos, Kankuamos and Wiwas).

An entire section of the museum is devoted to the colonial era and the history of Simon Bolivar and Colombian independence.

Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

Visit Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta
credit: erik cleves kristensen

Simon Bolivar died in Santa Marta in a house that is now a museum: the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. The “libertador” lived out his last days in this house before passing away on December 17, 1830.

Located away from the city center in the Mamatoco district, not far from the bus terminal, the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is a complex comprising the house, a monument (Altar de la Patria), a contemporary art museum and a botanical garden.

Mercado publico

BEst things to do in Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta
credit: colores mari

The mercado publico is a must if you’re heading for Parque Tayrona, Minca or Palomino. It’s from here that the small local buses leave for the troncal del caribe, the main road along the coast between Santa Marta and Riohacha.

But while you’re there, take the opportunity to discover the market and its local folklore. Markets are always a good cultural marker. You’ll find typical products from the region, local customs and a popular atmosphere that’s a welcome change from the tourist sites.

Beaches of Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta
credit: EEIM

The Rodadero beaches are the best-known in Santa Marta. In fact, it’s where most Colombians go on vacation. To put it very simply, those with money go to Cartagena and those with less go to the Rodadero in Santa Marta.

This is where you’ll find the typical atmosphere of the beaches (very) frequented by Colombians, tents, chairs and street vendors included.

While Rodadero beach is the most popular, there are many (slightly) less crowded beaches in the surrounding area:

  • Playa Blanca (not the one in Cartagena)
  • Cabo Tortuga
  • Pozos colorados
  • Playa del amor
  • etc.

The beaches in Santa Marta go on like that all the way to the airport. Of course, we’re only talking about the beaches in town, but we could mention all the beaches in Tayrona Park, or those in Taganga and all those on the road to Palomino…

Scuba diving

BEst things to do in Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s top scuba diving destinations. Here you can dive in the protected waters of Tayrona Park. Departures can be made from the Santa Marta marina or, more frequently, from the nearby village of Taganga, where you’ll find an astronomical number of diving centers.

It’s one of the ideal spots to learn to dive or take your PADI certification at a reasonable price. But beware! Competition between dive centers means that prices are driven down to the detriment of service quality and safety. We don’t recommend diving with just anyone for the sake of the best price, and we recommend that you check out the seriousness of the center you’re going to dive with.

Day Tours in Santa Marta

Visit Santa Marta

As we said in the introduction, while Santa Marta is a must-see for Colombian tourists (especially the Rodadero), the city itself is not overly frequented by foreign tourists, who are more likely to be passing through to explore the surrounding area.

On the other hand, it is of course a must for anyone wishing to visit the most famous sites in the area, starting with the famous Tayrona Park. But Santa Marta also offers many other possibilities for day trips departing from the city center.

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

Day trip to Minca

Minca is a village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, 45 minutes from the mercado publico. It’s easy to get to by bus or cab to enjoy the cool air (the village lies at an altitude of 1.000 m) and take a dip in one of the many waterfalls.

Day trips are available from Santa Marta, and we recommend that you contact our local partner, who offers a very attractive tour to give you a more comprehensive experience of Minca:

  • Visit to a coffee finca
  • Forest walk
  • Swimming in a waterfall
  • Visit to a cocoa finca and the cocoa museum
  • Discover local bamboo architecture
  • Meals and guide included

Contacts

Sierraventur (#34)

To directly contact Adrian, our local partner in Santa Marta, you can use the form below. You won’t pay more, but it will let him know you’re coming from us.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t hear from our partner within 72 hours, please check your SPAMS first before contacting us.

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

Day trip to Tayrona Park

While some of you will want to sleep inside the park to enjoy it , others may see Tayrona as a good field day of jungle walking and swimming. From our point of view, Tayrona Park isn’t exactly your typical idleness plan. In any case, the effort required to reach the various beaches is more akin to a trek than anything else.

So, for wildlife lovers and those looking for an immersive experience, we recommend a day trip with a local guide to understand the history and unique ecosystem of Tayrona Park.

Contacts

Sierraventur (#34)

To directly contact Adrian, our local partner in Santa Marta, you can use the form below. You won’t pay more, but it will let him know you’re coming from us.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t hear from our partner within 72 hours, please check your SPAMS first before contacting us.

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta

Day trip to Taganga

20 years ago, Taganga was a quiet, authentic fishing village. Today, it’s a two-faced place.where excess has led to the loss of part of its identity.

It wouldtake a great deal of work to regulate tourism and festivals to restore Taganga to its former tranquility. But for the moment, Taganga is above all a beach that congests very easily and a village where there are problems of insecurity at night.

On the other hand, it’s the ideal spot for scuba diving in the waters of Tayrona Park

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta
credit: camilo ocampo

Day trip to Cienaga

Cienaga is a village just 15 minutes from Santa Marta. It is one of Colombia’s heritage villages, and deserves a half-day visit to discover its history and architecture. Cienaga is also one of the villages that inspired Gabriel García Marquez to write “Macondo and Magic Realism”.

To understand all this, there’s nothing like a local guide, because without knowledge, the village can seem dead and uninteresting, whereas it’s full of treasures that only a guide can help you discover.

Contacts

Asoguitour Cienaga (#33)

To contact our local partner you can use the form below. You won’t pay more, but it will let them know you’re coming from us.

IMPORTANT: Send your request at least 3 days before your travel date! Otherwise they won’t be able to comply with your request.

Visit Santa Marta travel guide: best things to do in Santa Marta
credit: samuel ioannidis

Day trip to Nueva Venecia

Another great day out around Santa Marta is to visit the Cienaga Grande and its villages on stilts: Nueva Venecia and Buenavista.

The more adventurous among you will manage to find a lanchero to take you around, and will find a way to visit the pile-dwelling villages on the spot by asking the locals.

For those looking for a more conventional way of supporting a community-based tourism project that benefits as many people as possible, our partner offers day tours departing from Cienaga with a local guide. A great way to discover the Cienaga and the amphibian culture of the local people. Admittedly, this represents a budget, but it’s well worth it from our point of view.

Our local partners’ tour includes:

  • Full-day immersion (7h) with a certified local guide
  • Lunch and snacks.
  • Visit to the villages of Buenavista and Nueva Venecia
  • Visit to part of the Cienaga and wildlife observation
  • Meeting with a troupe of local dancers
  • Meet the builder of the floating houses
  • Boat transport from the village of Cienaga

Contacts

Asoguitour Cienaga (#33)

To contact our local partner you can use the form below. You won’t pay more, but it will let them know you’re coming from us.

IMPORTANT: Send your request at least 3 days before your travel date! Otherwise they won’t be able to comply with your request.

Where to eat in Santa Marta

ALEGRIA
A friendly little French-inspired café and bakery. Perfect for breakfast when you want a change from eggs and arepas. Not far from the parque de los novios.
Calle 19#4-01, Santa Marta

OUZO
This is a great restaurant in Santa Marta, serving Mediterranean cuisine. It’s not the cheapest, but the food is very good and the setting is nice. It’s always full, especially in the evening, so don’t hesitate to make a reservation.
Cra. 3 #19-29, Santa Marta

AGUA DE RÍO
This is a very nice place, with a modern, well-kept decor. The dishes are good, with a different touch and in the healthy tendece with fresh and local products. We loved it. Breakfast is also available.
Carrera 2 #16 – 47, Santa Marta

Where to stay in Santa Marta

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Casa Mia Hotels

Hotel

Casa Mia Hotels

Double room : $300.000 to $350.000 COP

This is the hotel where we stayed during our stay in Santa Marta. We recommend staying on the top floor, where the rooms are brighter. Nice decor, good service, and conveniently located right in the historic center.

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Hotel Cactus

Hotel

Hotel Cactus

Double room : $300.000 to $350.000 COP

A truly sublime hotel for those who want to enjoy one of the best hotels in Santa Marta, especially the loft room on the roof with direct access to the pool and views of the Sierra Nevada…

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Catedral Plaza Hotel

Hotel

Catedral Plaza Hotel

Double room : $250.000 to $300.000 COP

Just for the rooftop swimming pool with a view of the Cathedral… a top-of-the-range hotel with meticulous attention to detail, but with attractive rates depending on the time of year. Treat yourself and enjoy a sunset over the rooftops of Santa Marta.

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Casa de Isabella Hotel

Hotel

Casa de Isabella Hotel

Double room : $250.000 to $300.000 COP/Double room : $300.000 to $350.000 COP

A beautiful hotel in a superb colonial house, with huge rooms and a rooftop with a small pool and a view… all at a very affordable price! We understand why readers recommend it.

Santa Marta, the best hotels

La Guaca Hostel

Hostal

La Guaca Hostel

Dormitory : $0 to $25.000/Double room : $0 to $100.000 COP

A hostal recommended by our readers, super welcoming, great atmosphere and with a lovely patio for cooling off. A little out of the way, it’s a 20-minute walk from the historic center and the Mercado Publico, but it’s not too bad and the price is right.

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Republica Hostel

Hostal

Republica Hostel

Dormitory : $0 to $25.000/Double room : $100.000 to $150.000 COP

A new concept in the center of Santa Marta, all new and beautiful, with a particularly well-appointed decor and, of course, the swimming pool to match. Dormitories and double rooms.

Santa Marta, the best hotels

Masaya Hostal

Hostal

Masaya Hostal

Dormitory : $25.000 to $50.000/Double room : $100.000 to $150.000 COP

Opened in Bogotá by a group of French friends, Masaya’s success is such that they have opened the same concept in San Agustin and Santa Marta. The setting is ideal, a magnificent colonial house with swimming pool and rooftop.

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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