Santa Marta is a chilled port city with a beautiful esplanade and marina as well as many historic buildings and plazas. It is Colombia’s oldest city with an interesting past involving numerous pirate attacks, the Tayrona Indigenous people and it’s position as an important trade route throughout Colombia and the world. It is more authentic then Catagena and not as touristy, although there are still hawkers along the beach. We loved it and spent almost a week here as there is lots to keep you entertained in and around Santa Marta.
It is very, very hot here and as a result this place comes to life in the evenings when the cool ocean breeze picks up and the blazing sun has gone to bed. This was our favourite time of day, leaving the cool air con of our hotel at around 5pm and staying out late into the evening. It does have a few dodgy characters lingering around but as everyone else is on the streets we never felt unsafe.
Our accomodation – Hotel Miami – was located on Calle 17 which is the best place to stay. We were three blocks to the beach and one block to the walking street Carrera 3 which has all the restaurants and bars as well as the beautiful plaza where we enjoyed many a beer or cafe tinto from one of the many street vendors.
We loved to stroll around the walking streets taking in the party vibe with loads of restaurants and bars. Our favourite restaurant, Carribean Wings (Calle 17) had the best wings (obviously) but also did menu lunches for 9,900cop which included soup, choice of beef, fish and chicken for main and never ending juice. So tasty and popular with tourists and locals.
Our nightly routine also involved walks along the esplande to witness the sunsets over the scenic Isla el Morro with its lighthouse, as well as see the twinkling lights of the marina and port. We discovered how refreshing the lemonada drinks are from the street vendors (2,000 cop) and how tasty they are when you add some Colombian rum!
During the day check out the free museum, Museo del Oro, which is housed in an stunning colonial mansion, one of the oldest in Santa Marta. With so much beauty here it is a real shame that there is lots of litter on the streets and on the beach. There are bins everywhere but they are often overflowing and there are street cleaners, but they fight a never ending daily battle. I really hope that the Colombians here start to value their piece of paradise and start to care for it a bit more.
Santa Marta is a great base for visiting the many natural attractions in the area:
Taganga – we are not gonna lie, this was the most polluted beach we have ever come across in South America. What would otherwise be a picturesque fishing town with numerous bays is just one big rubbish dump. Head here if you want to get a boat to clean beaches around the headland or to learn scuba. The beach restaurants here are also a joke, they will rip you off! This place may have once been paradise, but those days are over. I wouldn’t bother coming here until they sort out their horrible pollution issues.
You can also hike around the hills next to Taganga to reach some smaller cleaner bays. But take your own supplies as the vendors in these bays are expensive.
Minca – we stayed here two nights but you can do day trips if you’re short on time. Come for the hikes to waterfalls and rock pools (Pozo Azul and Cascadas de Marinka) and stay for the chilled hippy vibe and small town feel. We stayed at Hotel Brisas de Minca and it was a short walk over the birdge to the bars and restaurants. The Lazy Cat restaurant was a highlight and Donde Raul is perfect for a drink overlooking the river.
Lost city trek (Cuidad Perdida) – this is a 4 or 5 day jungle trek into the national park ending at the pre Columbian archeological site of the Tayrona people. At 700,000 cop per person, we decided to give this one a miss. Reason being it is extremely overpriced and you don’t get your value for money. $300 per person is A LOT of money here in Colombia and the tour companies have a monopoly on the price. It is so hot here and 5 days in the jungle is 5 too many!
Tayrona National Park – is about 45 minutes by bus (7,000 cop) and boasts stunning beaches (there is only a couple that are safe for swimming) and some ruins similar to the Cuidad Perdida. It costs 42,000cop to enter the park and the most popular sleeping option is camping or hammocks. We didn’t think this place was that great. Firstly they need to use some of the pricey entrance fee to sort out the entry procedure. It was madness. There is no signage and so you line up for a ticket before being told you need get out of the line to watch a information video (50 odd people crammed around a small screen in Spanish with English subtitles) then you get a small ticket and you can line up again. They only had 3 windows open to buy your entry ticket and this process took about 40 minutes.
You then can walk 5km into the park or get a collectivo (3,000 cop) then its another 11/2 hours walking to the last beach, Cabo San Juan, which was packed. If your like us and prefer your beaches quiet, then this isn’t the place for you. We had a swim at the quiter inlet La Piscina and enjoyed a baked treat at the Panderia. The views were very nice and the jungle is pristine but… it was super hot and sweaty, it is overpriced to get in and also once in there (can of beer 4,000, can of coke 3,000) and its full of tourists. We are so glad we just went for the day and in hindsight should have just gone to Los Angeles for some quiet beach time instead (10 minutes or so north of Tayrona).