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Santa Marta

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Santa Marta

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Santa Marta is a city in the Magdalena Department of Colombia's Costa Norte.


Plaza de Bolívar: Banco de la República and Café Juan Valdez

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 was originally 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).

Get in

The Simón Bolívar airport (same name as the one in Caracas, Venezuela) has non-stop flights from Bogotá and Medellín. It is located along the beach, 20 min south of town, but much closer to most of the beach resorts and only 10 min 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.

The bus station is all the way out of town on the main highway (15,000 pesos to the beach in taxi, some charge tourists 10,000. To avoid this, you should fix the price before you get into the taxi;-). Mini-bus 1200 Pesos. Bus rides are available from:

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 50,000 pesos 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.

There are also exclusive private transfers by taxireservation which don't cost a lot more if you are more than one person and if you don't want to wait until the busses have picked up or dropped off anyone else.

Get 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 3500 pesos for a "lift" (usually a ride no more than 10 minutes) to upwards of 20,000 pesos, 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.


Plaza Santander
  • 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 1,000 COP or taxi for 4,000 COP). 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". Entrance 12,000 COP.


  • Mountain Biking, hiking and canyoning adventures in the pristine Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Tayrona National Parks can be organised by the only professional mountain biking operator in the local area.Elemento Outdoor Adventure have a growing reputation by providing high quality mountain bikes & equipment, they have established tours for all skill levels and abilities from 1 day tours to 7 day tailor made expeditions exploring some of the least visited, most beautiful locations. There is a distinct focus on very high quality food and breathtaking accommodation options. They also have friendly, bilingual guides who are first aid trained, carry first aid kits on all trips, and all clients are fully covered by medical insurance incase of injury.
  • The nearby coral reefs provides 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). Reto Muller is an excellent freelance instructor who can give an economic price for courses or fun dives [email protected] 3017379698
  • 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. You will find that the further away you get from the population centres, the cleaner the beaches are. It is little known fact that Bahia Concha which is just inside Tayrona National Park has no entrance fee instead of the 35000 charged at the main entrances.Los Angeles and Costeño beaches just to the east of Tayrona are great if you want to escape the hordes at the weekend and stay somewhere a bit nicer than the delapidated and overpriced options inside the Park. That said, the actual beaches themselves inside Tayrona are truly spectacular, some of the most beautiful in the world, and well worth a visit.
  • Minca is a small village 650m above Santa Marta reached in a 6000 peso colectivo via a 45 min bumpy mountain road from "Estacion de Minca" en Calle 11 con 12 en el mercado publico de Santa Marta. The village centre itself is a quaint friendly little mountain town with not much to offer other than a few nice new restaurants and pool halls in the centre. It is only when you explore to it's very hilly edges you will discover the real magic of Minca in some truly spectacular hostels, fincas and places to chill by the river or with a beer and a panoramic vistas to the sea far below.
    • Oscar's Place, an Eco Farm down the valley sits on a prominent ridge with jawdropping vistas, a pool on the ridge and open air but rustically luxurious sleeping quarters surrounded by flowers and fruit trees. 15,000peso Hammocks, 25,000 dorm to 40,000 pp privates are available, call Oscar on 3135344500 to organise a stay at his place. There is no publicity, no signs and it's not easy to find, a real hidden gem!
    • Casa Loma Hostal perched on a steep hill above Minca similarly has spectacular views from even higher and offers more economic accommodation with a backpacker vibe, great food, cold beers and good music await to reward you for the steep climb up. They also have a really interesting Tayrona ceremonial stone circle above the hostal which serves as a campsite. Hamocks 12,000, Dorms 20,000, privates from 65,000 to 80,000 per room. Call Jay or Steph on 3138086134 to organise a stay.
    • Luz's Restaurant in Minca, has no sign but is run by such a charming Colombian couple. It is the orange painted place across the road from the Iglesia with just a menu on the wall. You can get a BIG plate of chicken, beef or pork with fries and super tasty salad with jugo for 11,000 peso. Unbelievable value.
  • Neotropical Spanish School at Casa Scania: small size Spanish School focused on quality, 8 USD/hour with one student per teacher,6 USD per person in small groups.Course material,hot and cold drinks included.Study visits to Cartagena, Tayrona etc available. Casa Scania Calle 21 3-88 (between Carrera 3 and 4) Central Santa Marta. For more info see homepage:Neotropical For reservations: [email protected]
  • Academia Latina, professional language school in Santa Marta (Taganga). Learn Spanish with excellent skilled teachers in a inspiring environment. Good prices for private classes! Volunteering programs available (free of charge) and family stay. Free grammar list and after school activities, like salsa lessons. See [12]
  • Take private Spanish lessons with a native speaker teacher, if you do not want to follow stern schedules that keep you from enjoying what Santa Marta has to offer to their visitors, then this is a perfect option to learn in an Spanish immersion environment. See [13]
  • Birdwatching at the world famous El Dorado, a bird reserve brimming with natural treasures. It is one of the most important bird reserves in the world and also harbours many rare amphibians and plants. The elegant wooden cabins command an amazing view of the ocean above Minca ProAves.


Santa Marta is famous for its beach sellers. someone can go to the beach 365 days a year, there are always people wandering up and down the beach selling anything. The beaches in the northern suburb El Rodadero have aggressive sellers, take this as an opportunity to haggle. Usually aim for 2000-3000 Pesos below the price asked.

If you are planning to go to Tayrona and need to buy snorkeling gear, you'll be disappointed to see only a couple of very basic chinese packs, the same in all the shops. If you decide to buy them, the cheapest prices are in a kitchenware shop at calle 15 with carrera 3 (15COP for the "good" one).


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 $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 phone 431 6121. 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 $4.00 and dinner menu from $8.00 to $13.00. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner only. Happy Hour Margaritas 2X1 from 5-7 everyday.
  • 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, Santa Marta. 5-4231449. Very nice seafood.
  • Restaurante El Santo Calle 21 - 2a 52 Centro Histórico, Santa Marta 5-423-6170 One of the few places in SM with good tender Argentinan meat and nice wine. Argentinan and Islandic owner. Very nice and welcoming.Check them out at Facebook:

Street Food:

  • Excellent seafood soup from a man at the corner of 13th st. and 4th Carr (diagonally opposite the small church.. next to sunglasses vendors. You'll see huge pots of soup). Very cheap and delicious, but only in mornings. Sells out by noon.
  • There is a man who has been sitting on 14th street between 3rd and 4th carrera (behind the beach) selling shrimp cocktail at a reasonable price for 23 years.
  • There is another man who has been sitting on 22th street on 1st carrera (in front of the beach) selling a delicious shrimp cocktail at a reasonable price and he is very reliable and well known in the city.


Outdoor cafeteria at the Airport

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 - 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 VJ's videos of all the great classic rock bands. Friendly staff, great vibe, nice décor. Calle 18 No. 3-69 (between Carr 3 & 4).

Seko Bar - A cool new bar at the walking street of Santa Marta's centro historico. Cold beers and economic cocktails. Music without vallenato. Play free pool while sipping techno sluts. Coffee and iced coffee drinks available. Propably the only place in town where you can find single malt Scotch whiskey. Good place to start and end you evening. Open everyday save occaisional sundays.

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. [14].

The drink of choice is, of course, beer. Because Santa Marta can get brutally hot during the summer (upwards of 35 C/95F), 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 2,000 COP.

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


  • Drop Bear Hostel, Carrera 21 Calle 20 Numero 36, Barrio Jardin, (57)-(320 4635 419) (), [1]. Want to stay in an ex Cartel house?The Australian run Drop Bear Hostel is located in the most infamous cartel house of Santa Marta and in the most exclusive suburb, El Jardin. Come see the secrets of the house, hidden rooms, secret coded tiles, caletas (hiding spaces) and underground tunnels!The Drop Bear Hostel is perfectly placed for travellers, close to the city centre, musuems and transport to Tayrona, Taganga and Minca. We can also organise Lost City Treks and Scuba Licences and tours to La Guajira.We have dorms from $22000COP and privates from $40000, massive pool, giant kitchen, fast wifi, indoor stadium cinema and outside poolside cinema as well as the original cartel bar. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will make you feel right at home. Checkout our facebook page or
  • Casa de Isabella, Carrera 2 N19-20, +57 (5) 431-2082, [2]. Casa de Isabella combines old Colombian style and charm with modern luxury. Situated less than two blocks from the Santa Marta Marina and three blocks from its picturesque cathedral, you can easily enjoy all of the cities attractions within a short walk. Isabella has rooms with iPod docking stations and free Wi-Fi. Rooms are also equipped with flat-screen cable TV and include private bathrooms with toiletries. Some suites and rooms have exposed red-brick walls and arches, canopy beds and bathrooms with decorated tiles and bathtubs. There are mosaic tile floors and a rooftop swimming pool with sun loungers. With 10 available rooms, you are guaranteed world-class service from the attentive and thoughtful staff.
  • La Brisa Loca Backpackers, Calle 14 N3-58 (carrera 3), (57)-(318-303-3666), [3]. With a much more central location than the tenth street hostels, it is situated directly between Plaza San Francisco and Parque Bolivar. Owned by two Californian brothers and built in an 80 year-old, neo-republican mansion and restored to recover its genuine colonial Caribbean feel , this is one hostel where you won’t feel like you’re still backpacking. While bringing comfort and convenience to your stay, it also imparts history and style. 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, wifi, free internet and much more. This is actually the trendiest backpackers place at the moment (2012) in Santa Marta, expect to find dozens of english-speaking travelers around. Prices starting at 20,000 COP for a dorm with fan.
  • Hotel Miramar, Calle 10C No 1c-70, (57-5)-(423-3276). Classic South American Backpacker´s Hotel. With classic hostal visitors! 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.). Currently being improved, 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) Ask for Miller for private tours (desert etc.) and great tips! Next door restaurant also worth spending some time (as the owner says: fucking delicious!) Prices starting from COP 30,000 (as of March 1 2013)).
  • Candela & Chocolate Hostel, Calle 12 No 3-01, (57-5)-(421-0977) (), [4]. 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 wifi. Only two blocks away from the main plaza. Dorms for 18,000 COP, including breakfast.

  • Hotel Nueva Granada [15] 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 from 33 USD, as well as unlimited internet access and breakfast for free. The staff is very kind and helpful.

  • Hotel Betoma [16] Calle 8 No 1- 58, Rodadero, Santa Marta. 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 110-000 pesos 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 for $20,000 and up. Also has dorm rooms for $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)310-723-7114, [5]. checkin: 3 p.m; checkout: 1 p.m. Private,comfortable, friendly and attentive staff, and a great swimming pool. All rooms have air- conditioning and wireless internet access. Rooms from 45 USD and up. Also available with alimentation.
  • Finca Barlovento Guesthouse [17] Right next to the Tayrona National Park in Santa Marta. This beautiful Finca located at a beach right next to the Tayrona Park is a marvellous experience for ecotourists and Nature lovers....
  • Cabanas Los Angeles [18]. 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.), 421 9196, [6]. * <sleep name="Hostal SolyMar" alt="" address="Carrera 2 No 19-06" directions="" phone="(57-5)-(431-0208)" email="" fax="" url="" checkin="" checkout="" price="">Only 5-years-old, 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 30,000 for a private room (single). The staff is incredibly friendly. Dormitories from 18'000 pesos. An awesome place to chill with locals and travellers. Run by a manic Australian with 20 years travel experience who speaks fluent Spanish in the best Aussie accent and his energetic local best mate. Really cruisy place, awesome outdoor setup for cooking, chilling, or drinking the night away.theres alot of places to stay in taganga but none of them have an ambient like el kool koala....
  • Hotel Imperial Caribe ((also known as the Hotel Villa del Mar)), Calle 17 No. 3-96 (between Carr 3 & 4), 421-1556 / 421-4556 (). Nice rooms, friendly staff. Singles with fan for 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 (privates for 25'000 up, dorms 16'000). Run by a nice family that really cares. A place to get off the Gringo Trail a bit... see [19]
  • Aluna Hostel calle 21 Carrera 5-72 , Santa Marta, is one of the newest hostels in Santa Marta and is the perfect place for backpackers looking for a comfortable, quiet and safe hostel. The hostel welcomes you with Irish hospitality and friendly people, just four blocks to the beach!Check out their homepage:
  • Cabin Tayrona Park ((Tayrona Park accomodation)), "at, [7]. checkin: 12 p.m; checkout: 12 p.m. Private,comfortable, friendly local staff, and within the paradisical Tayrona Park! Double and triple rooms with private or shared bathroom from 35 USD per night, restaurant service available.
  • Hotel Sierra's Sound (Your home in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta (Minca hotel and restaurant)), Minca (Next to the river.), [8]. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. Air- conditioned rooms from 25 USD per person. It offers a calm and totally natural atmosphere and one of the best restaurants of Santa Marta.
  • Hotel Minca (Newly refurbished hotel and restaurant), Minca (Opposite the police station.), [9]. The hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders attract around 40 species of birds to the garden. Double COP 125,0000, single 80,000.
  • Casa Scania (Apartments for rent by day,week or month), Santa Marta Downtown (Calle 21 3-88 Centro), 3148295292 (), [10]. Independent, safe, clean and calm. Wifi and Cable TV Apartments with kitchen and jacuzzi 40 usd/day, without jacuzzi 30 usd/day.
  • Caribe Chill Out Hotel Boutique, [11]. Caribe Chill Out is a family run, eco-friendly boutique hotel just outside of Santa Marta. With only two rooms & gourmet cooking, it is the perfect getaway.

Get out

The bus station is quite far away the city center. To get there, you can catch a bus/colectivo with a sign saying "UCC TRANSPORTE", at carrera 1. The ride will take some 45 minutes. If carrying a big backpack, you might be rejected by some colectivo drivers, just wait for the big buses.

In the bus terminal, you can get free wifi at the tourist office.

From the bus station you'll find 2 main possibilities for going south: via Medellín or via Bogotá. The first is controlled by a couple of companies that fix very high prices.

If you're heading to the Coffee Region, a cheaper option is to catch a Berlinastur bus to Honda (70COP, 12+ hours, departure at 14pm), and right after that another bus to Pereira (30COP, 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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