Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting (Hero)

Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting? 12 Great Reasons to Go

Is Santa Marta worth visiting? This amazing city on the Caribbean coast is the perfect base to explore the incredible diversity of the Sierra Nevada. From Tayrona National Park to the Lost City Trek, here are 12 great reasons why you must visit Santa Marta.

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Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting?

I would strongly recommend putting Santa Marta right at the top of your list when planning a trip to this incredible country.

 

The town is full of character and set within a really unique natural environment which includes perfect beaches, dense jungle, ancient history, endangered wildlife and snow capped mountains.

 

It’s also a great base to use for two of the best activities in Colombia – Tayrona National Park and the Lost City Trek.

 

I have visited Colombia many times and Santa Marta has long been my preferred destination for an escape to the coast.

Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting (Hero)

10 Great Reasons To Visit Santa Marta

1. Swim in the amazing beaches of Tayrona

  • Cost: Foreign visitors have to pay 68,500 COP (US$17.50) to enter the park with buses (US$3) or taxis (US$20) that can take you to the entrance.
  • Timing: The park is open from 8:00 AM to 5.00 PM
  • When: Even though they limit the number of visitors, it can get quite busy during the holidays in December or early January. Tayrona is closed to visitors the first half of February, the first half of June and the second half of October.

Tayrona National Park covers 150km of largely untouched beautiful forest, coast and sea.

 

The most popular beaches, Piscina and Cabo San Juan, can be found at the end of an hour’s trek through the jungle. The beach sits between dense palm tree forest and crystal clear turquoise sea with perfect soft white sand.

 

It is a great place to relax, sip a beer and enjoy the moment.

 

There are no motorized vehicles allowed into the park and it really feels like an adventure as you head up and down rocks through the trees before you step out onto the sand of some beautiful beaches.

TOP TIP: You can stay overnight in Tayrona, sleeping in a tent or a hammock on the beach. In the evening it is pretty warm and there are mosquitos but the amazing view in the morning makes it worth it.

Many people head home late in the afternoon, so it is more peaceful between 6 PM and 10.00 AM in the morning. You can also get a speedboat to Taganga at the end of the day if you don’t fancy the walk back to the entrance of the park.

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta (Colombia)

2. Enjoy delicious seafood with coconut rice

Santa Marta has some delicious lunch options with freshly caught seafood, always highly recommended.

 

A typical lunch will have mojarra, snapper or snook fried in some subtle spices with a touch of lemon. This will be served on rice with salad and some fried plantain.

 

On the coast they love some slightly sweetened rice which compliments the fish perfectly and is the perfect beach snack.

 

Here are some more of my favourite dishes:

 

  • Cazuela de mariscos (seafood casserole) or a fish stew – this stew is thick and tasty with fish, yucca, plantain, onion, cilantro and whatever else the chef opts to throw in. This is hearty and filling and a great hangover cure.
  • Cazuela – a more upmarket alternative which is popular in some of the best restaurants in town. It can include octopus, snail, shrimp, palm heart with cream and seasoning. Rich and full of flavor, it is a real experience.
  • Empanadas – delicious mini pastries that can be filled with cheese, meat, chicken or fish 

Try this Santa Marta street food your if you want to learn more!

3. Trek through the jungle to an ancient lost wonder

  • Cost: $500-600 depending on how many days
  • Duration: 4-6 day options

Santa Marta is the starting point for the incredible Lost City Trek.

 

The ancient city of Teyuna was founded 800 AD, making it over 650 years older than the far more famous Machu Picchu in Peru.

 

The city was the capital of the Tairona people with 169 flat terraces built high atop of a mountain surrounded by dense forest.

 

To reach the city you have to trek for  5 days –  up and down hills, through thick jungle, and crossing rivers before you reach this ancient wonder that was lost for centuries.

 

Once you climb the 1,200 steps you reach the city with incredible views down towards the coast.

 

The trek is challenging but varied and you’ll meet many indigenous communities along the way.

 

The Lost City really feels like an adventure and when you sit, sweaty and exhausted, in the home of a great historic civilization overlooking the jungle it feels magical.

TOP TIP: I always recommend booking tours in person when in South America. Online prices are always inflated. It's better to visit tour companies and see if they have any deals on. For reference, Baquainos have the best reputation. Waiwa are also a great option and use guides from the indigenous communities.

Views from the Lost City, Santa Marta (Colombia)

4. Sip cocktails at Bar Burukuka overlooking the bay

Santa Marta sits on the Caribbean coast, so you already know the sunsets are going to be amazing.

 

Most nights you’ll be treated to rich gold and orange skies fading to purple as the sun sets beyond the horizon.

 

There are lots of great spots to enjoy the sunset, I had an amazing view from my private pool above the suite at the Hotel Casa Isabella.

 

Another popular option is Bar Burukuka which overlooks Rodadero Beach.

 

The place has good cocktails and fresh seafood with a perfect view as the sun begins to set. The sun sets around 6pm all year, so get a good spot for about 5pm, order some drinks and relax.

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5. Support Union Magdalena and visit the Valderrama statue at the stadium

Football is huge all over Colombia and Santa Marta is no different.

 

Union Magdalena is one of the country’s great historic clubs with a history that dates back to the 1950s and they won their first and only league title in 1968.

 

They have generally bounced between the top and second division, producing some of the country’s greatest players. Carlos Valderrama was the 2-time South American footballer of the year is perhaps Colombia’s most celebrated footballer, leading the side to 3 World Cups in the 1990s.

 

Union Magdalena play at the newly constructed 16,000 all seater Sierra Nevada stadium just outside of the city.

 

You can buy tickets online at warena.co at the stadium an hour before kickoff or at Super Giro sales points.

 

Attendances fluctuate depending how well the team is doing but there will always be a decent size group of hardcore fans singing all game. Remember to bring some insect repellent and sunscreen for afternoon kick offs.

Santa Marta, Colombia

6. Dive into waterfalls high up in the mountains of the Sierra Navada

Colombia’s Sierra Nevada is such a unique environment with snow-capped peaks overlooking tropical beaches.

 

It’s a rich and diverse environment perfect for exploring.

 

One of the best ways to do this is by visiting a small town just 35 minutes from Santa Marta. Minca has a very different feel with cooler weather and a slow, relaxing pace.

 

There are dozens of nice hotels and hostels surrounding the town with incredible views down the valley of the Sierra Nevada towards the coast.

 

From the town you can enjoy a number of full and half day activities.

 

These can include getting a guided tour of a working farm and swimming natural pools alongside the waterfalls.

 

It is a very safe, relaxing break from the heat and intensity of the city. It is easily accessible but offers a completely different experience.

Try this coffee, chocolate and waterfalls tour if you want to visit from Santa Marta for the day:

7. Spot local wildlife including monkeys, jaguars, iguanas and colorful frogs

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the world’s tallest coastal mountain with a dramatically varied landscape.

 

The region has everything from dry montane forests, to pristine beaches and snow capped peaks. This amazing environment provides the perfect habitat for a huge range of animal species.

 

There are 70 species of birds, 5 species of harlequin toad and 17 amphibian species only found in this region.

 

There are jaguars, peccaries, tapirs, howler monkeys and many insects. It is one of the most important regions in the world in terms of endemic species.

 

As you wander through Parque Tayrona you will hear and see monkeys up in the trees. It is a great place to connect with nature and encounter rare, endangered wildlife.

See how you can spend a month travelling through Colombia with this epic one month itinerary:

 

 

8. Go fishing with the locals In Tanganga

Around 15 minutes from Santa Marta is the fishing village of Taganga.

 

It was once quiet and sleepy but has become much more lively over the last 10 years with many hostels and bars opening.

 

This has made it more of a backpackers destination, with all of the good and bad associated with that.

 

Despite the rise in tourism it continues to be a beautiful spot along the coast, retaining a fair amount of charm.

 

You can go on fishing trips from this spot with locals and spend the afternoon drinking some beers and attempting to catch yourself something for dinner.

 

Check out Taganga Viajes y Turismo if you’re interested.

Taganga Coast Line (Colombia)

9. Take A Sunset Boat Cruise in Taganga Bay

  • Cost: from $39
  • Timings: 2 – 3 hours

If fishing isn’t your thing, then a sunset boat cruise in the bay certainly is.

 

Picture this: you sailing on the Caribbean Sea with a bunch of new friends you met at the hostel.

 

With your camera in hand, you capture the stunning sight of the sun dipping below the horizon, painting the sky over Santa Marta with vibrant hues.

 

And to add the perfect soundtrack to your adventure, simply connect to the boats onboard Bluetooth speaker and play your favorite tunes, making every moment on this tour truly unforgettable.

10. Stay At The Dreamer, One Of The Best Hostels In Colombia

The Dreamer Hostel is one of my favourite hostels in all South America.

 

The staff and set-up of this hostel make it the such a great place to meet other travellers, easily relax during the day and socialise at night.

 

The dorms surround a large pool and outhouse that has a bar, pool table and chillout space upstairs. There are also loads of bean bags and hammocks surrounding the pool so it’s a great place to nurse a hangover during the day.

 

The Dreamer is also great party hostel as they have something going on every night from salsa lessons to pool competitions. Most people then end up at the bar enjoying drinks before heading in to town. 

 

They also host local DJ’s every Saturday for some epic pool parties.

The Dreamer, Santa Marta (Colombia)
The pool at 'The Dreamer' Hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia

11. Drink rum and party with the fun loving costeños

Partying in Santa Marta is a lot of fun and you’ll find a great mix of backpackers and locals.

 

The liveliest nights are Thursday, Friday and Saturday while Sunday is often pretty good too, with people not quite ready to give up on the weekend.

 

I recommend starting at La Brisa Loca is in the centre of town.

 

The rooftop bar and dancefloor are huge, and the ocean breeze keeps you cool while you dance the night away.

 

If you want to carry on into the night, then take a taxi to El Mirador Club which looks out onto the bay.

 

Then finally, in Rodadero you can party on the beach until the sun comes up.

The rooftop at La Brisa Loca, Santa Marta (Colombia)
chill out area on the rooftop at La Brisa Loca, Santa Marta (Colombia)

12. Spend A Day or Two Tubing In Palamino

Palomino is a quite town around 70km away north of Santa Marta.

 

Palomino started as an off-the-beaten track town that has grown popular in recent years with backpackers.

 

Travellers come here for a few days to enjoy tubing along the jungle rivers or to wander along the endless stretches of empty beach.

 

Tubing is a fun activity that starts in the jungle foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and ends on the beach in the Caribbean Sea.

 

The beach, with its white sands fringed with huge palms trees is empty most of the time and you can enjoy peaceful walks up and down it without coming across another person.

 

You can visit for the day but I highly recommend staying for 2-3 days to enjoy this beautiful town!

Palomino is one of my favourite beaches in South America, for more, head to the list post below:

 

 

Joe on the beach in Palomino (Colombia)

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When Is The Best Time To Visit Santa Marta?

When it comes to planning your adventure in Santa Marta, here are some suggestions:

 

  • High SeasonJanuary-March and July-August are some of the best months where Colombia enjoys the best weather. With sunny days and warm temperatures, these months offer ideal conditions for being by the beach.

 

  • Low Season – Try to avoid visiting during the rainy season from April-June and October-December as it will be raining a lot on the Caribbean Coast.

 

  • Shoulder Seasons – Additionally, the shoulder seasons of March and September can also have good conditions, blending warm weather with fewer crowds, ideal for backpackers looking for the best deals on tours and accommodation.
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Where To Stay In Santa Marta?

I’ve already listed two great hostels in Santa Marta above. 


Here’s a short summary of them and more:

 

 

  • The Dreamer – outside of the many town but one of the nicest and most social.

 

  • La Brisa Loca – in the middle of town and the best party hostel around.

 

  • La Brisa Tranquilla – sister hostel to La Brisa Loca, this hostel is located right next to Tayrona National Park and is right on the beach. 

 

  • Rio Hostel Buritaca – this hostel is in between Santa Marta and Palomino so it’s a little far out. But definitely worth checking out if you are looking for something a bit different!

 

Tayrona National Park (Santa Marta, Colombia)

Santa Marta FAQ’s

Is Santa Marta Or Cartagena Better?

It depends on what you like doing. 

 

If you prefer a more relaxed beach vibe and backpacker scene, then Santa Marta might be the perfect choice for you.

 

Also the two main treks, Tayrona and the Lost City are must’s for any adventure enthusiasts.

 

On the other hand, if you are drawn to the rich history and beautiful architecture of a colonial city, then Cartagena is the place to be. 

 

I personally prefer Santa Marta as there’s so much more to do here and Cartagena is hot as hell!

However, if you have the time, make sure you visit Cartagena too:

 

 

Yes, it is absolutely safe to walk around Santa Marta.

 

This vibrant city is filled with friendly locals, bustling markets, and stunning beaches.

 

By taking simple precautions like avoiding isolated areas at night and keeping an eye on your belongings, you can explore all that Santa Marta has to offer with confidence.

 

Taganga is slightly more sketchy. But again, as long as you take the right precautions you’ll be fine. 

Yes, Santa Marta is definitely cheaper than Cartagena!

 

If you’re looking to save some money travelling whilst still enjoying a beautiful beach destination, Santa Marta is the perfect choice.

 

With lower prices on accommodation, food, and activities, you can make your travel budget go a lot further in Santa Marta compared to Cartagena.

 

Cartagena is a more touristy destination so everything is a bit more expensive here.

You can easily spend 48 hours in Bogota. Most travellers tend to do this anyway as there’s much more to see in places like Medellin and on the Caribbean Coast.

 

If I was to spend 2 days in Bogota, I would follow this itinerary:

 

  • Day 1 – Visit the Gold Museum / Take the funicular up to Monserrate
  • Day 2 – Graffiti tour / Salsa in the evening

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