Welcome to this Santa Marta, Colombia travel guide!
Whilst looking for some of the best places to visit in Colombia, Santa Marta should come somewhere near the top of your list.
Located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Santa Marta offers a rustic experience that’s not over-commercialized like close by Cartagena.
Table of Contents
Things to do in Santa Marta
Welcome to Santa Marta: home to a major port and many of Colombia’s best beaches! Let’s see what we can get up to here.
Arriving from Medellin I found one of the great things about Santa Marta is that you can relax and spend a few days here getting to know the surrounding towns and the famous Tayrona national park.
Is Santa Marta worth visiting?
Located on Colombia’s warm and tropical northern coast, Santa Marta is arguably one of the most popular destinations of all here.
Its stretch of Caribbean waters and world-class beaches make it one of the best for lounging around.
Tayrona National Park is one of the best to see in the region.
You will find that Santa Marta is also great to use as a base camp to explore some awesome nearby trips, such as to Minca, The Guajira Desert as well as the legendary 4 day hike to The Lost City.
Is Santa Marta safe?
Out of all of the cities that lie across Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Santa Marta is by far the safest.
There are much lower rates of violence and kidnapping here, with the majority of incidents reported involving petty crime and theft.
As you are planning a trip to Colombia the best ways to avoid being a target are to dress down and not bring expensive jewelry or visible cameras with you, and to also avoid going out alone late at night.
After arriving in Santa Marta you’ll find that the best areas to stay in are near the marina, Rodadero, or in the close-by fishing town of Taganga.
Things to do in Santa Marta
Let’s take a look at this list of things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia.
My starting point is usually the Centro Histórico as it is the most central place for you to be able to get to the rest of the attractions.
No trip to Santa Marta would be complete without a healthy dose of the Centro Histórico. You may have heard of a place called Parque de Los novios which is the focal point of all the action.
In the Centro Histórico, you’ll find some of the best restaurants, bars, and coffee shops Santa Marta has to offer. If you can choose a decent hostel in Santa Marta and you’re set to go!
Despite being deceivingly quiet during the day, the nighttime is when all the action starts. Whether it’s a trip to the Bob Marley bar or a bite to eat at the Hemmingway bar you’ll find something here that you like.
I arrived at Rodeado Beach one Sunday afternoon in December and had never seen so many people on a beach.
Rodeado Beach offers a wide stretch of sand and calm waters that you can bathe in. However, it is very famous with many Colombian holiday goers, especially on holiday weekends so expect it to be busy.
The atmosphere is lively and if you can find a space to park yourself the sunset is a delight to watch.
I’ve been on the search for the best Colombian beaches I can find over the last few years and this is one of the most popular out of them all.
A must for anyone looking for things to do in Santa Marta. I have returned back to Santa Marta on numerous times to visit the park.
As one of Colombia’s popular tourist attractions, expect to have a special time here, even if you only get the chance to visit for one day.
Get the bus to Tayrona park from the market in Santa Marta. Read about the park and check the latest prices on the Tayrona Park website.
If you’re not impressed with the number of people on Rodeado Beach, Bahía Concha makes a great nearby alternative with fewer bodies.
You can get there by boat from the Rodeado or from Taganga if you are looking for a more tranquil beach experience.
Many of the beaches in Santa Marta are only accessible by boat, there are alternative ways, however, it’s always faster to travel by small boat.
Palomino is a hippy paradise in La Guajira region of the country. Outside of the accommodating locals, this rustic location is popular with backpackers looking to escape the bigger cities.
There are various things to do in Palomino with the main two attractions been the beach (perfect for surfing) and the river. River tubing includes a rustic motorcycle ride and a hike up in the mountains.
Free Walking Tour
You’ll be glad to know there are free walking tours in Santa Marta. Stay at Viajero hostel which offers rooms for a very reasonable price.
You’ll find that some hostels here also have free walking tours which usually leave twice daily.
Viajero hostel also has a rooftop bar area with music and party nights. Get breakfast here and enjoy morning panoramic views of Santa Marta. Equipped with a swimming pool, just ask at reception about the tours.
Mercado de Artisañias
Unlike the craft markets I’ve seen in other cities in Colombia and backpacking South America the market here in Santa Marta is hidden and if you’re not aware of it could be seen as a shady place to enter.
Although that’s not the case it’s just the way it looks from the outside, definitely try to enter as you’ll find some great gifts at bargain prices.
You may have already heard about Minca, and I can confirm that it is one of those locations you cannot afford to miss whilst in Santa Marta.
Located just 45 minutes from the Centro Histórico you can take a bus from the market area for $7000COP.
Minca is a tiny village with a big story and is known as one of the most ecological places to visit in Colombia.
Have you been to Colombia’s coffee region already? If not, you can tap into the coffee culture here to learn about the local methods.
Aside from the Coffee and Cacao tours to do, you can visit waterfalls known as Pozas and even lay yourself in Colombia’s largest hammock.
Minca has been popularized recently by a place called Casa Elemento which you can get to via moto-taxi from the village center.
Taganga is one of my favorite towns in Colombia. Once known as a sleepy fisherman’s village the town is becoming popular with tourists.
In Taganga you can have some great diving and snorkeling experiences as well as find some quaint beaches.
The food is great here and everything is within walking distance. To get here from Santa Marta, take one of the blue buses that say Taganga.
💡Smart Travel Tip
Taganga is around 15 minutes from the Centro Histórico and the views are impressive so it’s worth a day trip if you’re short on time.
Santa Marta Travel Tips
See these travel tips for Santa Marta to ensure you have the best stay whether you’re on vacation, backpacking, or traveling with friends.
⤵️ Dan’s Travel Tips For Santa Marta:
- From the Santa Marta Airport you can take a bus to Centro Histórico and El Rodadero. Perfect for most budget backpackers because it just cost COP 2.000 and it’s a long(ish) way.
- Credit and debit cards are widely accepted but not in all restaurants. So, keep cash and small bills for these cases.
- The poverty and inequality in Santa Marta are notorious. You’ll always see someone asking for money or selling something on the beaches, on the streets, and in the restaurants.
- A typical dish consists of fish, coconut rice, patacón, and salad. A delicious option for lunch that can cost around US$6.
- Be sure to check the bill before paying in the restaurants. It’s common that the waiter adds a 10% tip onto your bill by default.
- I recommend learning some basic Spanish phrases before traveling. It helps a lot, but know that the Spanish on the Caribbean Coast is pronounced different to cities such as Medellín or Bogotá.
- The Centro Histórico is perfect to explore on foot. If arriving from El Rodadero or vice versa, take a bus. The buses are fast and cheap.
Be sure to visit Guachaca (the Costeño Beach area). It’s by far one of the best beaches in the region because it’s private, big, there aren’t any beach hawkers, and you can practice surfing.
You’ll need to book at least one night in a hostel there. Just 1 hour by bus from El Mercado in Santa Marta.
Map of Santa Marta, Colombia
See this map of Guatavita to get a better idea of the surrounding area:
Remember to carry some comfy walking shoes and practice your Spanish to be able to pick up any inside knowledge from locals.
Got Travel Insurance for Santa Marta?
Designed by travelers, for travelers, World Nomads covers more than 150 adventure sports and activities so you can explore your boundaries.
Best time to visit Santa Marta?
January until April is considered the dry season of Santa Marta, with average temperatures of 80-83°F, highs of 88°F, and lows of 75-78°F.
Rainfall is very low, with between 0-0.5 inches falling throughout each of these months. The wet season runs from May until late December.
Average temperatures here range from 82-84°F, highs of a similar 88°F and also lows of 76-79°F.
Rainfall can really range between months during this period, with 2-3 inches falling within each month between May and August, and up to 5 inches for September, October and November.
Things to do in Santa Marta
This guide should have given you a good few ideas of what to do in Santa Marta. With surrounding areas and closeby regions like Riohacha you’ll find different kinds of activities and things of interest.
Not to mention the number of day trips that you can do to places like Minca or Buritaca in order to get a bit further off the beaten track.
From having read this guide, you will hopefully be inspired to see new places in Colombia.
See my Colombia travel guide to read even more destinations, plus get a solid idea of how much backpacking Colombia will cost, the best time to visit, safety, and events and festivals.
📌 Like this article? Pin it…
💬 Leave a nice comment or let’s start a conversation below!
“Dear friend! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, book a hostel or sign up for a tour, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Your support means a lot and helps me to keep traveling and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”