Where to stay in Santa Marta, Colombia
I would recommend staying in the historic center. This way, you’ll be close to the liveliest streets and the city’s main attractions. You can explore the available accommodations in Santa Marta’s historic center here.
If you’re looking for a hostel, I recommend Masaya Hostel or Tunido. I’ve stayed at both and was delighted with both places. The first one has a livelier atmosphere and features a pool. The second is more modest and has a cozier, family-like atmosphere.
If you’re looking to stay in a hotel, take a look at the Boutique Hotel Casa Carolina.
Some travelers prefer to stay outside the city, particularly in El Rodadero or Taganga. El Rodadero is a more touristy and modern area with beaches, shops, shopping centers, restaurants, and more. In El Rodadero, I would recommend Del Mar Hotel.
Lastly, there’s Taganga, a village near Santa Marta that’s particularly popular among backpackers and diving enthusiasts. In Taganga, I recommend staying at Hostal Palohe.
For more detailed information on this topic, be sure to check out my article on where to stay in Santa Marta.
Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
The best things to do in Santa Marta include strolling through the historic downtown, visiting beaches, and taking excursions to the surrounding areas.I’ll provide a detailed explanation of each below.
1. Historical Center of Santa Marta
Exploring the historical center through a leisurely walk allows you to uncover the rich history of this charming city. There are several must-visit places:
Rodrigo de Bastidas Monument
The sculpture of Santa Marta’s founder, Rodrigo de Bastidas, was inaugurated in 1928, situated atop the ruins of San Vicente Fort. It was later moved to a prominent location in front of Bolivar Park, right along the waterfront. You’ll have no trouble spotting it as you walk near the harbor. It was created by the Spanish sculptor José Lafita Díaz.
In Santa Marta’s Bolivar Park, you’ll come across the statue of the liberator, Simón Bolívar. This square didn’t always carry this name. Initially, it was known as the Plaza de Armas. At the beginning of the republic, it took on the name Plaza de la Constitución. Finally, due to its proximity to the Customs House, where Simón Bolívar once stayed, it became known as Bolivar Park.
Two must-see monuments in this square are the Four Faces Fountain and the previously mentioned Equestrian Statue of Simón Bolívar, a creation by sculptor Leone Tommasi donated by the Government of Venezuela.
Santa Marta Cathedral
Located in a square right in the heart of the historic center, you can explore the Santa Marta Cathedral, one of the city’s most significant religious buildings. It features a Renaissance style and was constructed in the 1760s. For a period of 12 years, it housed the remains of Simón Bolívar. Since 1953, the resting place of Rodrigo de Bastidas has been here. The square where it stands is typically lively, and in the surrounding area, you’ll find numerous restaurants and street vendors.
Boyfriend/Girlfriend Park – a lively spot
Parque de los Novios is among the best things to do in Santa Marta, thanks to its lively ambiance. It serves as a culinary and tourist focal point in the city. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll always find locals and tourists having a great time at one of the terraces. Within the park, you’ll come across the statue of Francisco de Paula Santander and the bust of the two-time Colombian president, Manuel Murillo Toro.
Carrera 3, Santa Marta (Colombia)
Another must-visit spot if you’re in search of restaurants and a vibrant atmosphere is Carrera 3 Street. It’s a delightful pedestrian alley lined with numerous cafes and restaurants. I recommend Lulo Cafe Bar for breakfast and brunch, and Lamart Santa Marta for lunch and dinner. During the daytime, it’s a lively and colorful place with painted facades and banners. In the evening, it exudes a pleasant atmosphere with twinkling lights and street musicians.
2. Stroll at sunset in Rodrigo de Bastidas Promenade Park
When I think of Santa Marta, Colombia, I instantly recall the stunning sunset we witnessed on our first day in the city. We had just arrived from Cartagena de Indias on a bus and opted for a downtown stroll. We arrived at Rodrigo de Bastidas Promenade Park just minutes before sunset. After getting there, we bought something to drink and eat, sat by the seafront, and stayed there until the sun disappeared.
Many other locals were also along the promenade, witnessing the moment. I remember how some children couldn’t stop playing and splashing in the water. A cruise ship had sounded its horn, signaling its departure to everyone present. The sky was painted in shades of pink and orange. It was a truly spectacular moment.
Taking a sunset stroll in Rodrigo de Bastidas Promenade Park is one of the most beautiful things to do in Santa Marta, so don’t miss it. There’s also a small beach here where you can cool off. For a city beach, the water was surprisingly clean. It amazed me! I recommend ending your evening at the Marina, where you can enjoy a drink at one of its bars while you finish watching the sunset.
3. Enjoy an afternoon in Taganga
Taganga is a charming fishing village located approximately 5 kilometers from the heart of Santa Marta, which has grown into a prominent tourist hub in the city and a haven for backpackers. You’ll find plenty of hostels, numerous restaurants, vibrant nightlife venues, and diving schools. Besides the village’s appeal, the surroundings of Taganga are pure beauty.
You can hike up to the viewpoint to savor the views or take a boat ride to Playa Grande or Playa Cristal. By the way, Taganga also offers a lovely sunset view. I recommend watching it from the TNT Mirador. It’s the terrace of an accommodation where you can enjoy a drink and take a dip in the pool with a view.
To reach Taganga from Santa Marta, you have two options: you can either take a taxi, which costs between 10,000 to 15,000 pesos, or you can opt for the local bus, which costs 2,000 pesos. The bus can be boarded on Carrera 5.
Important: While it’s possible to walk from Taganga to Playa Grande, there have been reports of robberies along the path. Therefore, I do not recommend taking the risk. It’s safer to take a boat directly from Taganga Beach.
4. Day trip to Tayrona National Park
Many travelers come to this city primarily to explore Tayrona National Natural Park, one of Colombia’s most renowned destinations. It’s a small paradise situated approximately 15 kilometers from the heart of Santa Marta. When you venture into this park, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush jungle, pristine beaches, and stunning spots like Cabo San Juan.
It’s important to note that the park is accessible only on foot. Once you’ve paid the entrance fee and entered the park, you’re free to stay as long as you like. However, be aware that you cannot exit the park and re-enter on the following day using the same ticket. If you plan to spend more than one day exploring Tayrona, you’ll need to arrange accommodation inside the park.
Keep in mind that Tayrona Park is closed to tourists during certain periods of the year for environmental reasons. It’s essential to check the dates before your trip.
In our case, we opted to stay outside the park, quite close to the entrance, and took advantage of a full-day visit to Tayrona. We entered in the morning through the Zaino entrance (there are different entry points), embarked on a trek to Cabo de San Juan, enjoyed a swim, had lunch, and then made our way back.
If you’d like to stay close to the Zaino entrance, check out the following hotels:
Tayrona National Park entrance fee
The entrance fee to Tayrona National Park varies depending on the season:
- High Season (June 15 – July 15 / December 15 – January 30 / Holy Week / long weekends): 68,000 COP (approximately $13.50 or $16.00 USD).
- Low Season (all other dates): 57,500 COP (approximately $11.50 or $13.50 USD).
- Organized tour to Tayrona: $31.50 or $35.50 USD (includes hotel pickup and drop-off, Spanish-speaking guide, and park entrance).
- Tour to Cristal Beach: $33.40 or $37.70 USD (includes hotel pickup and drop-off, transportation by bus and boat, Spanish-speaking guide, and park entrance).
5. Day trip to Minca: one of the best things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia
Another one of the most popular excursions from Santa Marta is Minca. It’s an area with lush vegetation in the Sierra Nevada where tourists come in search of nature, peace, and disconnection.
This destination also offers a wide range of activities. You can visit the La Victoria coffee farm or, if you prefer, a cocoa farm. Don’t miss the Marinka waterfall, Pozo Azul, and the incredible sunsets. If you’re into bird watching, Minca is also a great spot for that.
I recommend reading my Minca travel guide to discover how to get there, what to visit, and where to stay. We spent a couple of nights at Casas Viejas by Masaya, a beautiful accommodation tucked away in the mountains. From there, we visited all the must-see places in Minca.
6. Take a free tour of the historic center
If you want to discover all the charms of the city with a local guide, I recommend booking a tour of Santa Marta. Thanks to this guided visit, you can delve into the city’s history. The tour starts at Parque de los Novios, one of the best things to do in Santa Marta.
From there, you’ll visit the city’s most beautiful murals and explore the Monument to Rodrigo Bastidas, Gabriel García Márquez Library, City Hall, 12th Street, the Basilica Cathedral, Correo Alley, and Colonial Street. You can also take a look at this panoramic tour of Santa Marta.
7. Nearby activities in Santa Marta: Trekking to the Lost City
The Lost City is one of Colombia’s most enigmatic sites. It’s an ancient settlement of the Tairona culture hidden deep within the Sierra Nevada jungle. Constructed in the 8th century, it was abandoned during the Spanish conquest and remained hidden until its rediscovery in the 1970s. Today, it stands as one of the country’s most significant archaeological sites.
Initially, we had doubts about whether to embark on the trek due to the time and effort it required. However, we ultimately decided to go for it, and I can confidently say it has been one of my best travel experiences to date. We did the 4-day trek, and although some sections were challenging, we had an incredible time. I highly recommend it!
8. Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
The Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is a hacienda founded by Francisco De Godoy y Cortesia in 1608. It holds significant historical importance as it was the place where Simón Bolívar spent his final days before his passing on December 17, 1830. Within the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, you’ll also find a hacienda dedicated to the production of honey, panela (unrefined whole cane sugar), and rum.
Make sure not to miss the botanical garden and the art gallery. If you prefer, you can take a guided tour, during which you’ll learn about the history of the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino and the final moments of Simón Bolívar at the hacienda.
9. Scuba diving in Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta is a popular destination for scuba diving, thanks to its calm and transparent waters, perfect for divers of all levels. Moreover, it’s one of the most budget-friendly places to get certified. You can go diving in the surroundings of Santa Marta, Taganga, and Tayrona National Park. It’s common to encounter large schools of colorful fish, coral reefs, turtles, and, if you’re lucky, dolphins.
While strolling through the city center, we noticed several dive schools. Some of the dive schools with excellent reviews are Ocean Lovers Taganga, Reef Shepherd, Caribe Colombiano Diving, and Reto Müller. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced diver, Santa Marta offers an exceptional underwater experience.
10. Explore El Rodadero
El Rodadero is a popular choice among many tourists for their stay. It’s a beachfront neighborhood located about 5 kilometers from the center of Santa Marta. Here, you’ll encounter numerous restaurants, bars, hotels, and resorts. There are also plenty of options for nightlife and shopping. While El Rodadero Beach is decent, it can get quite crowded. If you prefer a quieter beach experience, you can take a water taxi from El Rodadero to reach other, more tranquil beaches.
11. Best beaches in Santa Marta
If you’re arriving in Santa Marta with a craving for the beach, you’ll have several options to choose from. Some are within the city itself, while others are a bit farther away but more beautiful.
If you’d rather stay close to the city center, you can take a dip at Playa la Bahía, which is right next to the historic center of Santa Marta. We visited for a swim a few afternoons, and it didn’t disappoint, considering it’s a city beach. From there, if you walk along the Bahía Pier and cross the harbor, you can reach Playa los Cocos, extending to Punta San Fernando, where you can also make a quick visit to Castillo de San Fernando.
Other popular beaches located within the city include Playa Rodadero, Playa Inca Inca, Playa del Amor, and, most notably, Playa Blanca.
Playa Blanca boasts the clearest waters and whitest sands you’ll find near Santa Marta, Colombia. It’s an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, savoring fried fish, and, overall, unwinding and relishing a beautiful beach day. To get to Playa Blanca, you can take a boat from Rodadero.
Tips for visiting Santa Marta, Colombia
In addition to the best things to do in Santa Marta, I also want to give you several tips to make your visit to the city as enjoyable as possible:
How to get around in Santa Marta
If you plan to visit a location that’s a bit further away and not within walking distance, you have a couple of options for transportation. You can take the bus, which costs 2,000 pesos per trip, or opt for a taxi. If your budget allows, the latter choice is more convenient and faster. When it comes to visiting places like Minca or Tayrona, you can either book organized tours that include transportation or choose to use a taxi or the local bus (starting from 10,000 pesos).
To get from the airport to the city center, you can also choose between taking a bus or a taxi (around 30,000 pesos). Another option is to pre-book your airport transfers in advance.
Where to eat in Santa Marta
If you’re looking to dine on a budget, you can enjoy meals at local restaurants where the daily menu costs between 8,000 to 12,000 pesos. This menu typically includes a beverage, soup, and a main course consisting of rice, patacones (fried plantains), salad, vegetables, and a choice of meat or fish (you can also opt for eggs).
Santa Marta also offers a diverse range of restaurants serving various cuisines. Most of these can be found along Carrera 3 and near Parque de los Novios.
One of my personal favorites is El Mexican, renowned for its delicious nachos. Ouzo Restaurant is an excellent choice for pizza lovers, and Lulo Cafe Bar is a must-visit for breakfast. For a taste of delightful local cuisine, head over to LamArt. If you’re in the mood for ice cream, Gnam Gelateria offers the best in town.
Don’t miss the opportunity to grab a drink at the marina, as it’s one of the best things to do in Santa Marta. Right by the harbor, you’ll find Caribbean Team restaurant. Within the same area, there’s a place called Ofelia Cafe, serving delicious fruit juices and empanadillas (small turnovers). My partner and I used to come here almost daily to enjoy a drink while watching the sunset.
Safety in Santa Marta
Like many places worldwide, it’s important to exercise caution with your belongings. During the daytime, the city is generally bustling and feels relatively safe. However, it’s worth noting that certain areas may have a different vibe at night. For this reason, I recommend walking along the main streets where you see more people if you’re out at night.
Remember that while it’s not mandatory, getting international health insurance for Colombia is highly advisable if you don’t have medical coverage in the country. You can book it here with a 5% discount.
Other things to do in Santa Marta and surroundings
Apart from the places I’ve already mentioned (Tayrona, Lost City, and Minca), Santa Marta serves as the starting point for exploring many other destinations. Some of them can be visited on a day trip. One of these places is Palomino, a destination we also explored. Other places you can visit include Buritaca, Ciénaga, and La Guajira.
Map of Santa Marta, Colombia
In the following map, I’ve marked all the things to do in Santa Marta and its surroundings. I’ve also indicated the recommended hotels, along with their respective links to Booking.
Don’t miss my Colombia travel guide for all the information about the country.
I hope this article about the best things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia, has been very helpful in planning your visit to the city. If you have any doubts or questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. Enjoy your trip!