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 extremely 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 and low season. High season is December through April, with its peak from mid-December to late January (due to school and university vacations). In the low season the sun burns less due to more clouds.
- 1 Simón Bolívar airport (SMR IATA) (It is on the beach, 20 min south of town, but closer to most of the beach resorts and 10 min from the main beach El Rodadero). Has non-stop flights from Bogotá, Medellín-Cordova, Bucaramanga, Pereira and Cali. 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. Inside the airport is an ATM of the bank BBVA. There's also a few restaurants located at the airport.
- A public bus departs frequently in front of the Santa Marta airport. It goes to the main street of Playa El Rodadero and to the city centre to Carrera 4 and 5 (August 2021). The price is COP$2,400 (April 2023) and can be paid inside the bus. You can exit the bus anywhere, there are no bus stops. For the way back from Santa Marta to the airport the bus goes on Carrera 1, then Calle 22 and then Carrera 4 (August 2021).
- A taxi to the centro historico is around COP$33,000 (January 2022, no prepaid or metered taxis available).
For better flying times or a better fare you may also want to consider flying to nearby Barranquilla. From there you can take a bus to Santa Marta. For international flights, there can be big savings when arriving in Medellin, Bogota or Cali and then taking a separate flight to Santa Marta.
2 Intercity bus station (Terminal de Transporte).
It's is all the way out of town on the main highway. To the city centre, take a bus that goes into the direction of Taganga, departing right on the highway (without crossing the street). The ride costs COP$2,300 (Mar 2023) and will take some 45 minutes to Carrera 5. 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 an hour. In the bus terminal, you can get free WiFi at the tourist office.
If you want to stay in El Rodadero and come from the direction of Barranquilla, you can exit the intercity bus near El Rodadero and then take a bus or taxi to your accommodation. There is a direct city bus between the Terminal and El Rodadero, even though it takes some time as the bus goes through the centre of Santa Marta first.
For the way from Santa Marta centre to the Terminal de Transporte you can catch a bus/colectivo with the sign "UCC TRANSPORTE" at carrera 1.
Buses are available:
- from Cartagena: 3½ hours
- from Barranquilla: 2 hours
- from Medellín: 15 hours
- from Bucaramanga: 9 hours, COP$60,000 (Copetran, Brasilia) (Feb 2016)
- from Bogotá: 16 hours
- from Riohacha: 2½ hours
- from Taganga: COP$2,000 (Sept 2021) with minibus or taxi for COP$10,000 (Aug 2016)
- from Cúcuta: 14 hours, COP$120,000-140,000 (Mar 2023)
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. They will pick you up and drop you off at your desired location in each city. 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.
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 east to west.
Moovit covers the area for finding connections. As there are no bus stops, buses can be entered and exited anywhere. The price is COP$2,000 (Nov 2021) and is paid to the driver when entering the bus.
Unlike bigger cities in Colombia, taxis do not run on a meter. Payments start at COP$6,000 (August 2021) for a "lift" (usually a ride no more 10 minutes).
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.
- 1 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.
- 2 Simon Bolivar's place of death. The official name is Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. 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". The entry fee is COP$23,000 (Sept 2021).
- You can go to the 1 beach near the port. Nearby is the 2 Playa de Bahia. A bit more south you find the 3 Playa los cocos. All of them have crystal clear water. If being in El Rodadero, you can go to the 4 Playa El Rodadero. And you can go to the beach directly at the airport. Watching airplanes arriving and departing while swimming in the sea.
- 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.
- Spanish School, Calle 21 3-88 Centro, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Neotropical Spanish School at Casa Scania is a small size Spanish School focused on quality giving classes in downtown Santa Marta and Barranquilla, USD8/hour with one student per teacher, USD6 per person in small groups.Course material, hot and cold drinks included. Casa Scania Calle 21 3-88 (between Carrera 3 and 4) Central Santa Marta. For more info see homepage. USD8.
- 5 Adrenaline Addicts, Carrera 21, Calle 20-36, ☏ . 9AM-6PM. They offer motorcycle rentals, lessons, and motorcycle tours spanning 1-7 days. Run by a pair of young Americans, new business with nice new bikes. Rentals around US$30/day, Tours under US$100/day, all inclusive, varies by tour. Run from Drop Bear Hostel.
- Mamancana is a private game reserve where you can do wallclimbing and canopying.
In the historical center the minimarkets have a rather small amount of products. On Carrera 5/Calle 20 there is the 3 big supermarket Exito. Also the Olimpica supermarkets have a big variety of products. Medium sized supermarkets are D1 and Ara.
Santa Marta is famous for its beach sellers. Since beaches are open 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.
Postcard stamps can be bought at the post office at Calle 22/Carrera 2 (COP$2,900 for Europe). No stamps are sold at the Deprisa post office (Carrera 3).
Carrera 5th is a big shopping promenade, with stores accompanied by street stalls and vendors. Some streets are pedestrian-friendly, such as Carrera 3 between Calle 15 and 20.
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.
- In front of the big Exito supermarket you find Colombian style 1 grilled cut sausages and meat skewers. They are for COP$3,000 (Sept 2021) each and are served during the day and in the evening.
- 2 A big variety of street food. It's from 17:30 to midnight in Carrera 6 / Calle 16. You find:
- hamburgers from COP$8,000 (Sept 2021)
- pretty big slices of pizza for COP$3–4,000 (Sept 2021)
- mixed meat skewers for COP$4,000 (Sept 2021)
- special Colombian style hot dogs for COP$3-7,000 (Sept 2021)
- Colombian snacks for COP$1,500 (Sept 2021)
- and more.
- Excellent seafood soup from a man at the corner of 13th st. and 4th Carr (diagonally opposite the small church, next to the sunglasses vendors; you'll see huge pots of soup). Very cheap and delicious, but only in mornings. Sells out by noon. (updated June 2010)
- 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. (updated June 2010)
- There is another man who has been sitting on 22nd 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. (updated June 2010)
East of the center
- 3 BrosFy. It serves during the day and in the evening. It's near the hostel Avenia. They have hot dogs, salchipapas from COP$5,000 (Sept 2021), Hamburgers from COP$7,000(Sept 2021), Picadas from COP$7,000 (Sept 2021) and more.
- At the Rodadero Beach you can also find good-tasting 4 street food. It's on Calle 12 between Carrera 2 and the beach. They serve during the day until 17:00. (updated Sept 2021)
- 5 Panadería y restaurante Baraca. You can try a local simple restaurant in Calle 11 / Carrera 3. The main dish, a soup and a drink is for COP$8,000 altogether (Nov 2021). The baked goods are also tasty and very affordable. Open Monday to Saturday until 20:00, Sunday until 13:00.
At Shopping Buena Vista
- 6 Restaraurant Las delicias. right next to Shopping Buena Vista. The good local menu of soup, main dish and drink is for COP$8,000 (Sept 2021).
- 7 Restaurant and Panadería La Especial. in El Rodadero near the Casa Mart Hostel. The nice tasting main dish plus soup and drink is for COP$10,000 (Oct 2021) until 3pm. After that time the dishes are bigger and for COP$15,000 (Oct 2021). Right next of the restaurant is the bakery. In the evening it also serves a big slice of pizza for COP$4,000 (Oct 2021), hot dog, salchipapas, ranchipapas, burgers from COP$7,000 (Sept 2021) and more Colombian fast food.
Other local simple restaurants in the historical center of Santa Marta and around La Especial in El Rodadero have a main dish from COP$10,000-12,000 (August 2021). In the center of El Rodadero it's from COP12,000-15,000 (August 2021)
- 8 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.
- 9 The Great Manuel (Restaurante y Pescadería Manuel), Carrera 1A # 26-158, ☏ . Very nice seafood.
- 10 La Canoa, Cl. 14 #4 - 80. The restaurant is located in the Masaya hotel at the very top. Beautiful setting. Family atmosphere. Very quiet to rest.
- 11 Restaurante LamArt, Cra. 3 #16-30. Artistic gastronomy. Delicious food, great starters and awesome fish. Super cool spot.
- 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. His wife, Alexa, is Colombian and her smoothies 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. The restaurant is housed in a colonial building and it is even haunted by a ghost!
- 12 Andrés Santa Marta, Cl. 16 #3-112.
- 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.
- 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.
Because Santa Marta can get brutally hot during the summer (upwards of 35°C/95°F), 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.
Ask about Ben´s Bar on the Beach. Barrio Samario, La Puerta, and El Garage.
- 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.
Hostels with dorms are available in the historical center, throughout the city and at the El Rodadero Beach. There are also accomodations in nearby Taganga, Minca or inside the Tayrona National Park. Santa Marta is quite hot, you may want to choose an accommodation with air conditioning.
- 1 Hostal Casamart. This is the hostel at the Rodadero Beach. With A/C, a pool, nice-styled bunk-beds and 5min walking to the beach. A dorm is for COP$26,000 (Nov 2021)
- 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 and free breakfast. The staff is very kind and helpful. Fan/air-conditioned: single COP$50,000/65,000, double COP$85,000/100,000, triple COP$105,000/120,000, bed in 6-bed A/C dorm COP$35,000.
- 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.
- [formerly dead link] Hostal SolyMar, Carrera 2 No 19-06, ☏ . 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), ☏ , , email@example.com. Nice rooms, friendly staff. Singles with fan for COP$30,000. Doubles, Triples, A/C more. Free Wi-Fi in lobby.
- Hotel Boutique Don Pepe, Cl 16 # 1c – 92 Barrio Centro, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Small hotel with 12 rooms, restaurant, spa and rooftop jacuzzi.
- 2 Rodadero Apartments (RSMA), Carrera 1A 5 - 93 El Rodadero, ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 3PM, 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.
- Hotel Palma Blanca (20 Street No 1b-69, next to a calm beach in the cheerful tourist town of Rodadero in Santa Marta), ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 1PM. 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.
Like in other Colombian cities avoid traveling alone, with visible expensive electronics, esp. in public areas or at night.
There's a new walking path "Sendero Peatonal Ziruma-Rodadero" from the outskirts of the downtown area to Rodadero and the beaches there. While they cover a beautiful scenery often hard to admire by bus or car, it has long and desolate stretches and goes through some poor and unsafe barrios. There's very little police presence along the different paths. Do not use these paths alone as a tourist to get to or from Rodadero. Tourists have been mugged at gunpoint on those walkways in broad daylight. Take the cheap blue buses, or a taxi.
Matters regarding your visa or visa-free stay are handled by the immigration office in Cl. 19 #8 - 68.
Both hostels and private rooms are available:
in the north-east:
- Taganga – 5 km. A backpacker and hippie haven in a one-time peaceful little fishing village.
in the south-east:
- Minca – 20 km. With pleasant temperatures. It's 580m above sea level towards the mountain top Cerro Kennedy.
in the east:
- Tayrona National Park – 35 km. An unspoilt natural paradise of jungle, birds, ocean, and absolutely gorgeous beaches.
- In the south of the national park along the Highway 90 are Las Tinajas (20 km), Calabazo (25 km), El Zaino (38 km) and Los Naranjos (41 km) which don't require the entrance fee.
- Guachaca – 50km. Behind the Tayrona National Park. You can have a bath at one of the river beaches. You can also hike along the river.
- Buritaca – 55 km. Also at a river.
- Palomino – 80km
- Cabo de la Vela – 340 km. An adjacent small fishing village in the desert. It's more comfortable to do an overnight stop in Riohacha and go from there.
in the south-west:
- Cartagena – 230 km. The Heroic City, Capital of the Bolívar department is Colombia's tourist city par excellence
in the north-west:
- San Andrés – Colombia's Caribbean island. There are direct flights from Santa Marta.
Destinations for a tour or trip are:
- Ciudad Perdida — Santa Marta is besides Taganga the main jumping off point for the famous trek, and you should be able to arrange a trek on short notice with any of the hostels or tour companies.