Santa Marta

Travel Guide South America Colombia Santa Marta

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Introduction

Santa Marta

Santa Marta

© Steve-Kay

Santa Marta is the capital of the Magdalena department in the north of Colombia and has around 400,000 inhabitants. Santa Marta an important commercial port and tourist destination. Every day, there are cargo ships coming and going and the action is very much visible. From the beach, the view of the Caribbean Sea is more or less to the west (beautiful sunsets) with a huge rock of an island jutting up out of the water to make a somewhat dramatic effect. Off to the right is the port snug behind another even bigger rock. This is a decent beach if you like beaches that are right in town with lots of people, vendors, and noise. Vendors are rather aggressive if you are on the beach.

Aside from the old center, the main attractions of Santa Marta are its two resort-like suburbs El Rodadero, to the south, and Taganga, to the north. El Rodadero has several high-end hotels and private "clubs" that cater mostly to wealthy Colombians, whereas Taganga used to be a fishing village and is very popular with (mostly foreign) backpackers. Taganga has many scuba-diving agencies.

There is a high season and low season. High season is December through April, with its peak from mid-December to late January (due to school and university vacations).

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Sights and Activities

Ciudad Perdida

The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) is the main attraction of the area, along with Tayrona National Park. Buritaca-200 or Lost City is one of the more of 250 ancient towns of the four groups of natives found in the northern and southeastern sides of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in the Magdalena department. This site was discovered in 1976 by a team of archaeologists of Colombian Anthropology Institute, guided by Gilberto Cadavid and Luisa Fernanda Herrera, and almost completely restored. It is possible to reach it from Santa Marta, through a car trip of 2.5 hours and a walk of 4, 5 or 6 days (round trip): it is possible to book the trek with a tour operator.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Museo del Oro, Calle 14 No.2-67 (on plaza Bolivar). Displays a collection of precolumbian pottery, a nice collection of gold and a scale model of Ciudad Perdida. Free entrance.
  • Simon Bolivar's place of death (Take a bus for COP$1,400 or taxi for COP$5,000). Beautiful and very interesting gardens, lots of iguanas, study the map before getting any further. The guide will tell you only about the buildings and the history of the "Libertador". COP$12,000
  • Scuba diving. Nearby coral reefs provide good possibilities for scuba diving. All the scuba diving operators are at Taganga, so you'll need to go there to shop around (prices are very different from one to another). You can follow the PADI course (3-4 days), or just go for a 1-day dive (no licence required).
  • Jet ski. On the beaches, you can usually rent a jet ski in increments of 10 minutes. If you are not comfortable operating one, you can usually ask for a ride around. Life jackets are provided.
  • Birdwatching. Birdwatching at the El Dorado bird reserve above Minca ProAves.
  • La Catedral Basílica de Santa Marta - This is the oldest cathedral in South America and contains the first grave of Simon Bolivar and also the tomb of the Spaniard who founded the city- Rodrigo de Bastidas. There is a bell tower & an interior lined with religious paintings & statues Address: Cl 5 and Cl. 17, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia, Phone: +57 315 6782845, Price: free
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  • Casa de Madame Agustine - Circa-1745 mansion "a jewel of Colonial architecture" with an interior courtyard, a beautifully tiled staircase and exterior balconies. A building with a storied past, now home to an archaeological museum & information center. Address: Cl. 17, Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia, Hours: Monday - Friday from 8:00am-12:00 and 2:00pm-6:00pm
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Getting There

By Plane

Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) has flights to/from Bogota, Bucaramanga and Medellin. The airport is located along the beach, 20 minutes south of town, but much closer to most of the beach resorts and 10 minutes from El Rodadero (main beach). If you get in from abroad check if baggage is unloaded in Bogota even if airlines promise they´ll send the baggage directly to Santa Marta.

A taxi to the centro historico is around COP$25,000 (no prepaid or metered taxis available).

By Bus

The bus station (Terminal de Transporte). edit is all the way out of town on the main highway. To get there, you can catch a bus/colectivo with the sign "UCC TRANSPORTE" at carrera 1. The ride will take some 45 minutes and cost about COP$2,000. If carrying a big backpack, you might be rejected by some colectivo drivers, just wait for the big buses. With the taxi the trip takes around half hours and costs COP$15,000. In the bus terminal, you can get free WiFi at the tourist office.

Bus rides are available:

  • to/from Cartagena : COP$20,000, 3½ hours.
  • to/from Barranquilla : COP$10,000, 2 hours.
  • to/from Medellín : COP$108,000, 15 hours.
  • to/from Bucaramanga : COP$60,000, 9 hours.
  • to/from Bogotá : COP$80,000, 16 hours.
  • to/from Riohacha : COP$15,000, 2½ hours.
  • to/from Taganga : COP$1,400, 15 minutes with minibus or taxi for COP$10,000.

For more comfortable road travel across northern Colombia, a few companies offer air conditioned van services between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with stops in Barranquilla en route. Cochetur seems to be the most reputable of these. Price is COP$50,000 per person between the main two stops and they will pick you up and drop you off at your desired location in each city. Note: you will likely share the van with 6-8 people including the driver. Tipping did not appear to be expected but a thousand or two goes a long way here.

If you're heading to the Coffee Region, a cheaper option is to catch a Berlinastur bus to Honda (COP$70, 12+ hours, departure at 2:00pm), and right after that another bus to Pereira (COP$30, 6hours). You'll need to wait for an hour or so in the middle of the night in Honda, but you can stay at Berlinastur office during that time.

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Getting Around

Streets are numbered the beach can be considered "Carrera 1" or 1st St., and the first street is usually "Carrera 1A" or 1A St. The next street after the first row of buildings is Carrera 2 or 2nd St. Calles are streets running from north to south. Unlike bigger cities in Colombia, taxis do not run on a meter. payments range from COP$3500 for a "lift" (usually a ride no more than 10 minutes) to upwards of COP$20,000, depending on where you go. If you meet someone who 'knows' a taxi driver, this can be a good opportunity to negotiate a price to your next checkpoint in Colombia. Some drivers will take you as far as Barranquilla, although you have to negotiate.

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Eat

There are a lot of eating options. They seem to be good at roasting and grilling chicken. They do a good job of grilling beef tough but flavorful. Seafood is plentiful and relatively inexpensive lots of shrimp and seafood cocktail vendors. Most varieties of fruit are available even what is more common to cold climates. At night street vendors sell all types of snacks pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, shakes, kabobs, rice in milk with coco, fried stuffed doughy things, etc. Coffee, hot chocolate, and both hot cinnamon and lemon is omni-present.

  • Restaurante El Españolete, Calle 13 no 2-45. Excellent Spanish food. Specialized in paellas, tapas and grilled meat. The owner, Toni, is from Valencia, Spain, and he can cook the real paella at a very reasonable price (less than US$15 per person). His wife, Alexa, is Colombian and her smothies are the best (she uses fresh passion fruit, mango, and other varieties of tropical fruits). They are both really nice and provide their customers with helpful tips to visit the best places in Santa Marta. Lunch menu is about $5. The restaurant is housed in a colonial building and it is even haunted by a ghost!
  • La Tasca - Tapas Bar, Calle 18 No 2- 72. Run by a Spaniard, this small and cosy restaurant offers an excellent selection of typical spanish tapas at a fair price. It is a real experience for the palate of both locals and tourists.
  • Agave Azul - Sabores de Mexico, Calle 14 No 3-74, ☎ +57 5 431 6121. Open Tu-F for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner only. Happy Hour Margaritas 2-for-1 from 5-7PM everyday.. Very good Mexican food prepared by fabulous New York trained chef Michael McMurdo. With a range from burritos to steaks to seafood this very elegant food will blow your mind but not break the bank. With lunch menu for US$4 and dinner menu from US$8-13.
  • Merkabar / Welcome Restaurant, Calle 10 No 2-11. Good combination of local and gringo food. Good breakfasts, cheap filling lunches, and their famous "sopa del mar", soup overflowing with seafood. Their fruit juices are excellent. Gilberto, one of the brothers that owns and runs Merkabar, speaks English and is friendly and helpful with tourist needs.
  • Ben & Josep´s bar & restaurant, Carrera 1 # 18-67. (Dutch owner) On the beach road in front of the Park Hotel. The very best steak (filet mignon) in Santa Marta. Fine dining for a reasonable price.
  • Restaurante El Escorial. A good restaurant is in the middle of the block behind the beach on 11th street.
  • Restaurante y Pescadería Manuel, Carrera 1A # 26-167, ☎ +57 5-4231449. Very nice seafood.
  • Restaurante El Santo, Calle 21 - 2a 52, ☎ +57 5-423-6170. One of the few places in Santa Marta with good tender Argentinan meat and nice wine. Argentinan and Islandic owner. Very nice and welcoming.
  • Tim's Gourmet Coffee Shop, Cra 1A 23-57 (50 m from the entrance of the marina in downtown Santa Marta.), ☎ +57 5 431 5446, e-mail: timscoffee@tayronadevelopments.ca. Opens at 7:15am everyday. Tim's Owls Den Pub open until 10:00pm weekdays. 2:00am Friday & Saturday. 2-for-1 cocktails.. You'll get free Wi-Fi while you're having a fresh coffee made by beans direct from the organic growers on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, Western Canadian/German pasteries and European style breakfasts daily until 2PM. Crepes and deli sandwiches all day.

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Drink

1 Seko Bar, Calle 19 4-11, Santa Marta. Good music, cocktails, excellent prices, slightly insane. Very popular.
Santo Domingo, Calle 17 No. 3 - 70 near the cathedral.. The best place to party in Santa Marta. The owners are super nice, they will personally attend. The owners are two Spanish. That women more beautiful and rumba, to good music and really nice atmosphere.I always found it a good show. Thanks Elena and Kike.

  • Crab's Bar, Calle 18 No. 3-69 (between Carr 3 & 4). a fun rock n' roll bar. The Colombian owner (who is a spitting image of Neil Young) used to own a large rock club in Bogotá, but he sold it to settle down here. Every evening he VJs videos of all the great classic rock bands. Friendly staff, great vibe, nice decor.

Burukuka. A trendy nightclub on the way towards El Rodadero. Burukuka sits on top of a hill overlooking the sea, with a great terrace. It's a high-end place, so dress appropriately. Also serves food. Vía al Edificio Cascadas del Rodadero, just out of town, to the south.

  • Juan Valdez Cafe, Calle 14 (next to the Gold Museum). One of the surprisingly few excellent coffee options in town. Even many good restaurants don't have a good coffee machine and/or use good coffee beans.

The drink of choice is, of course, beer. Because Santa Marta can get brutally hot during the summer (upwards of 35 °C), it is a good idea to constantly have a bottle of water with you. During the evenings, when it gets cooler, beer and friends is often an excellent combination. It would be good idea to take a couple of "Stubbie Coolers" (Australian vernacular for an item which keeps the beer in your bottle cooler or longer) as the heat will have you drinking warm beer by the time you are at the end of your drink.

Soft drinks can be found at nearly every restaurant - sometimes you can even pick it up in glass bottles. They are cheap: a drink usually costs no more than COP$2,000.

Ask about Ben´s Bar on the Beach. Barrio Samario, La Puerta, and El Garage.

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Sleep

  • La Brisa Loca Backpackers, Calle 14 N3-58 (carrera 3) (between Plaza San Francisco and Parque Bolivar), ☎ +57 -318-303-3666. Owned by two Californian brothers and built in an 80-year-old, neo-republican mansion and restored to recover its genuine colonial Caribbean feel. The large, high ceiling manor, with its eleven dorms and suites houses up to 60 people and provides beverages for many more. With pool, full size bar, hammock room, nightly meals, Wi-Fi, free internet and much more. Prices starting at COP$20,000 for a dorm with fan.
  • Hotel Miramar, Calle 10C No 1c-70, ☎ +57-5-423-3276. Classic South American backpacker's hotel. Rooms are quite basic and sometimes it's hot, but the staff is great, Wi-Fi very fast and free, defacto tourist information office for surrounding area (Tayrona, Lost City, etc.) Also has a really friendly restaurant, and offers safe boxes for backpacks when going on tours. They also have a location in Taganga at Calle 17 No. 2-36. Dorm COP$350,000; twin room shared bath COP$80-90,,000; double room shared bath COP$100,000.
  • Candela & Chocolate Hostel, Calle 12 No 3-01, ☎ +57-5-421-0977, e-mail: amigos@candelaychocolate.com. Fairly new and clean hostel right on the corner with a locked security gate, ring the bell to get someone to help you. Rooms are spacious and well ventilated with lockable chests for your belongings. Free Wi-Fi. Two blocks away from the main plaza. Dorms for COP$18,000, including breakfast.
  • Hotel Nueva Granada. Calle 12 No 3- 17, Historic Centre of Santa Marta. Nice and small, with pool and jacuzzi, bar, comfortable and clean double and multiple rooms with air- conditioning or ventilators, unlimited internet access, and free breakfast. The staff is very kind and helpful. from USD33.
  • Hotel Betoma, Calle 8 No 1- 58, Rodadero. Cute hotel with all comforts, which has been managed by its owners for more than 40 years and it is famous for its warm and helpful staff. It offers comfortable standard roooms with air- conditioning, and suites with kitchenette and living room from COP$110,000 per night with breakfast. All rooms have a bacony with sea view.
  • Casa Familiar (Also on Calle 10, 1 block up from Miramar, on other side of street.). Private, mild mannered and friendly staff. Rooms are small and basic. Single from COP$20,000. Also has dorm rooms for COP$15,000.
  • Hotel Palma Blanca (20 Street No 1b-69, next to a calm beach in the cheerful tourist town of Rodadero in Santa Marta.), ☎ +57 (5) 4221975. Check-in: 3:00pm, check-out: 1:00pm. Private,comfortable, friendly and attentive staff, and a great swimming pool. All rooms have air- conditioning and wireless internet access. single COP$110,000, double or twin COP$130,000, triple COP$180,000, quad COP$230,000.
  • Finca Barlovento Guesthouse. At a beach right next to the Tayrona Park.
  • Cabanas Los Angeles. These cosy beach cabanas right next to the Tayrona Park are a great place for travelers who are looking for privacy and who don't want to spend too much on accommodation within the Tayrona National Park.
  • El Kool Koala Backpackers (Calle 13 No 3- 139, only 3 blocks from the beach of Taganga in Santa Marta.), ☎ +57 5 421 9196. Run by an Australian with 20 years travel experience who speaks fluent Spanish in the best Aussie accent and his energetic local best mate. Really cruisy place, outdoor setup for cooking, chilling, or drinking the night away. Dormitories from COP$18,000.
  • Hostal SolyMar, Carrera 2 No 19-06, ☎ +57-5-431-0208. This is an immaculately clean hotel, which is a change from a lot of the places in Santa Marta. The immediate area is probably the best in Santa Marta, as opposed to the sketchier Calle 10 barrio. The colonial rooms are recommended, with very tall ceilings and fan for COP$30,000 for a private room (single). The staff is incredibly friendly.
  • Hotel Imperial Caribe (also known as the Hotel Villa del Mar), Calle 17 No. 3-96 (between Carr 3 & 4), ☎ +57 5 421-1556, +57 5 421-4556, e-mail: jhon_angarita@hotmail.com. Nice rooms, friendly staff. Singles with fan for COP$30,000. Doubles, Triples, A/C more. Free Wi-Fi in lobby.
  • Sun City, calle 18-3#28. Less crowded. This place offers comfort at low price. Run by a nice family that really cares. A place to get off the Gringo Trail a bit. privates from USD12-22.
  • Aluna Hostel calle 21 Carrera 5-72 , is one of the newest hostels in Santa Marta and is the perfect place for backpackers looking for a comfortable, quiet and safe hostel.
  • Cabin Tayrona Park ((Tayrona Park accommodation)), at one of the calmest beaches of the Tayrona National Park. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Private,comfortable, friendly local staff, and within the Park Double and triple rooms with private or shared bathroom from USD35 per night, restaurant service available.
  • Hotel Minca (Newly refurbished hotel and restaurant), Minca (Opposite the police station.). The hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders attract around 40 species of birds to the garden. Double COP$125,0000, single COP$80,000.
  • Hotel Sierra's Sound (Your home in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta (Minca hotel and restaurant)), Minca (Next to the river.). Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Air- conditioned rooms from USD25 per person. It offers a calm and totally natural atmosphere and one of the best restaurants of Santa Marta.
  • Hotel Boutique Don Pepe, Cl 16 # 1c – 92 Barrio Centro, ☎ +57 5 4210215, e-mail: reservas@hotelboutiquedonpepe.com. Small hotel with 12 rooms, restaurant, spa and rooftop jacuzzi.
  • El Hostal de Jackie, Calle 21 # 3-40 (between Carrera 3 and 4), Centro Historico (Take a public bus (blue colour) from the airport to Calle 22), ☎ +573017090344, e-mail: reservas@elhostaldejackie.com. Backpacker Hostel with dormitories and private rooms. Kind and helpful staff. Each bed has its own fan (can be noisy at night) in 12-bed dorm. Small but nice swimming pool on the ground floor. Terrace bar with satellite TV and a hammock on the top floor. Wifi and 2 computers with internet. Kitchen available. Close to the beach (5 minutes walking). Laundry service. Checkout 11:00pm from COP$21,000 in low season (COP$28,000 in high season).
  • Rodadero Apartments (RSMA), Carrera 1A 5 - 93 El Rodadero, ☎ +57 3159260883, e-mail: info@rodaderosantamartaapartamentos.com. Check-in: 3:00Ppm, check-out: 11:30am. Apartments for rent day - season, near Tayrona Park and Taganga. 2 rooms with air conditioning, bathroom, LED cable TV, beach view terrace, free WiFi, pool, private parking, airport shuttle, local tours & snorkeling. start from USD65/night.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are easy to find in any city or town. Expect rates to run about $1,250-2,500 (around $US 0.50-1.00) per hour, depending on how much competition there is (i.e., cheap in Bogotá, expensive in the middle of nowhere). Quality of connections varies enormous and tends to better in populated places and tourist areas. Wifi is getting more and more popular in some hotels, restaurants and bars, but don't count on it and be careful regarding your privacy.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Colombia is: 57. To make an international call from Colombia, the code is: 005.

Using your own phone and SIM card is expensive so if you are planning to do quite a few calls, buy a phone or just a SIM card. It's simple enough to get a SIM card and even an unlocked phone at the international airport in Bogotá, although there is, of course, a price hike. They're not hard to find in any city either, just ask your hotel or hostel staff where to go. Topping up is also easy, and can be done pretty much on any street corner. The carriers you'll most likely see are Claro, Tigo, and Movistar. Claro is the most expensive (by a little bit), but has the widest coverage in the country, if you expect to get off the beaten path.

Post

4-72 is the unusual name of Colombia's postal service. They have post offices throughout the country, which are open usually from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturday mornings as well. That doesn't apply to all offices though, only the larger ones in the big cities. But for example along the Caribbean coast, offices tend to close between noon and 2:00pm. But even at the ones that are officially open all day long, it might be difficult to get anything done during those hours. For domestic services, sending letters and postcards is mostly reliable but takes days, for international services don't hold your breath. Eventually, a postcard or letter might arrive in the country of destination but it's almost not worth it. For parcels, you are better off using companies like FedEx, TNT, DHL or UPS.

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Accommodation in Santa Marta

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This is version 13. Last edited at 9:43 on May 2, 18 by Utrecht. 8 articles link to this page.

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