Santa Marta is a large city on the Caribbean coast with a population of around 500,000. It is mainly known as being the gateway to Colombia’s Northern Coastline and other destinations such as the Tayrona National Park. Santa Marta is often skipped by visitors to this area and isn’t highly spoken of amongst travellers. When I did spend a night I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time exploring. It is definitely worth spending a night in Santa Marta on your way in or out of this region.
How to get here?
From Cartagena – the most cost-effective way to travel from Cartagena to Santa Marta is by bus. The bus terminal is quite far from town so you need to taxi which costs around 25000 COP. Agree the price with the taxi driver before you get in so they don’t try to overcharge you at the end. The bus to Cartagena cost 30000 COP. There are few different companies that run buses to Santa Marta so you can ask around and try to get the best price. I went with Brasilia and the ride was comfortable and timely.
From Medellin or Bogota – Flying with budget airlines within Colombia can be very cheap so if you are coming to this area from a big city check the flights with Latam or Viva Air. As far as carbon emissions go flying is not a great choice so if you have the time, travelling by bus is a good option. An awesome blog post about flights and offsetting your emissions can be found here: https://www.ontheluce.com/carbon-offsetting-flights/
What to do?
Second-Hand Clothing at the Markets – I absolutely loved rummaging through all the little stalls selling used clothing. I found some absolute gems at a bargain price. This is worth checking out but can take a few hours and I would recommend avoiding in the middle of the day when it is too hot.
Drinks by the seaside for sunset. – Santa Marta gets spectacular sunsets as the coast faces the sun. There are plenty of venues along the waterfront to get a nice cold beer as the day ends.
Museo del Oro Tairona – Gold museum – Although it is named the Gold Museum, it is about more than just gold. This museum is a great place to learn about the history of Colombia including the indigenous people that were here before the Spanish arrived.
Where to stay?
Dreamer Hostel – Dreamer is a great hostel out of the city centre. It is perfect if you just need somewhere to stop overnight. The pool is a very nice way to escape the heat and there are plenty of hammocks to relax in. It is close to the Buena Vista mall where you can pick up anything you need at Exito and get cash at the ATM. It is just three blocks back from the main road where you can get buses to any of the below destinations. Ask the staff for advice on getting around and they are happy to help.
La Brisa Loca – The vibe of this hostel will depend greatly on the day of the week. Thursday to Saturday they have a rooftop party with live music or a DJ set.
I stayed midweek and it was very calm and the rooftop was a great place to relax.
Where to eat?
Bistro Veg – I LOVED this restaurant so much I went 2 days in a row. They have a quite varied menu including burritos, risotto, gnocchi, Peruvian rice and burgers.
Ikaro Cafe – You can find great coffee here which is grown in the region and roasted on-site. The breakfast was delicious, I would love to try more of the menu including a warm vegan brownie with ice cream! This is also a great place to spend a few hours catching up on computer time.
Get plenty of cash at the ATM downtown or at Buena Vista Mall before you leave. Nowhere along the coast has an ATM and you will need cash for food, transport and activities. Some hostels will take a card payment for a 5% fee.
The North of Colombia is an incredible place. The dense jungle with abundant wildlife, the pristine beaches and rivers and wonderful people make this a must-do destination in Colombia. Check out THIS POST for all you need to know about this amazing region.1