Most reviews of Santa Marta tend to be negative and for me personally, this was far from my favourite place in Colombia. Santa Marta could be beautiful with its colonial buildings and seaside location, however the crime rate is still high which makes it feel a little unsafe, especially when the sun goes down. It is also incredibly windy. I would suggest shorts rather than skirts for this town unless you are looking for a Marilyn moment. That being said, it is the perfect jump off point for the stunning Tayrona National Natural Park, the mountains of Minca and to begin The Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City Hike). It is also perfectly position to travel south along to coast, to get the bus from Santa Marta to the beautiful town of Cartagena.
The bus station is ‘Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta’ and it is a 30 minute drive from the centre. You can catch a taxi or a minibus which leave from Calle 16, Carrera 1, at all times of the day. The most popular bus operators are:
- Expreso Brasillia
- Rapido Ochoa
Santa Marta is very well connected to the rest of Colombia with buses running to and from: Medellin (16 hours), Bogota (17 hours), Cali (25 hours), San Gill (14 hours) and Bucaramanga (10 hours), Cartagena (5-6 hours) and many more! To book, head to the station or book online with busbud.
Shuttle | Mini Bus
If you would prefer to take a shuttle rather than a bus from Cartagena (4 hours) to Santa Marta, book with Berlinastur Shuttle Service (not the same as Berlinas del Fonce). Berlinas have their own bus terminal in the Marbella neighbourhood which is around a 15 minute taxi ride (COP $7,000-10,000 | £2 / $3) from Cartagena's old town.
Simply ask the taxi drive for for 'Berlinas Marbella'. The shuttles depart every 40 minutes and you can buy your ticket at the office before you board. The mini buses are comfortable, quicker than the public buses from Cartagena to Santa Marta and come with AC, although they are a little more expensive. Expect to pay around COL$40.000 (€11 / $14 per person).
Santa Marta is served by the Simon Bolivar Airport (or Santa Marta airport, SMR). It is popular to catch flights from Medellin, Bogota and Cali to Santa Marta, mainly because these internal flights are relatively cheap and the bus journeys are long!
The centre of Santa Marta is 30 minutes from the airport and very easy to get to. When you exit the airport take a right and head out of the car park. You will see a petrol station in front of you to the left and the bus stop is on your right, your side of the road. It should cost you no more than COL$1,000 (€0.28 / $0.32) and you give this to the drivers assistant as you leave the bus. Make sure they know you want to get to the centre of Santa Marta and they will let you know when to exit. I find it comforting to have Maps.me up during the journey as it tracks your location offline and you will see where you are in relation to where you want to go.
Go Travel and Talk TOP TIP: If you can’t find a cheap flight to Santa Marta and don’t want to do a long bus journey, try flying into Barranquilla and then catching a 1 hour bus to Santa Marta. Also, if you are booking with VIVA Colombia, make sure you tick and pay for checked bags online. It is significantly more expensive when you have to pay at the airport!
Santa Marta --> Barranquilla
- If you are going to Barranquilla (2 hours) you can get a minibus/van to pick you up from your hostel in Santa Marta, which will cost around COL$25,000-50,000 (€7-14 / $8-16).
Santa Marta --> Cartagena
- Go to the Berlinastur Office in Santa Marta: Cra. 18 #23-4 which is a short taxi ride around from the centre (a taxi should cost you COL $6000; €2 / $3).
- The journey time from Santa Marta to Cartagena in a shuttle bus is around 4 hours and will cost you COL $40,000 (€11 / $12 per person).
If you are heading to Taganga or Tayrona National Natural Park, head to Calle 16, Carrera 1 where the minibuses leave from every 30 minutes. Cost is between COL$3-5,000 (€1-1.50 / $1-2).
Once you are in the centre of Santa Marta there is no need for any mode of transport, everywhere is walkable.
If you did need to go further or if you are out at night, take a taxi or a mototaxi (motorbike). Taxis are an easy and inexpensive way to get around Santa Marta's surrounding areas, such as the airport and the Fishing village of Taganga (you can even get a taxi from Santa Marta to Minca!)
- Taxi's can be flagged down on the street. Make sure it is a licensed taxi and ask the driver to turn the meter on before you get in. If you are unsure, call a taxi service and have them come and pick you up. They will give you a code (clave) to confirm with the driver.
- Taxis in Santa Marta do not have meters so make sure you confirm the price in advance.
There are lots of private buses that ply the streets of Santa Marta. The bus routes are posted in the front windows. All you need to do to flag down a bus is to wave your hand out as they drive down the street. To get off the bus, just look for the red buttons inside. The average cost of a bus journey is COL$2,400 (€0.80 / $0.80).
Head to Parque de los Novios, a beautiful central plaza that offers the perfect spot to people watch in the sunshine. There are plenty of quirky bars and restaurants nearby serving delicious local food as well as vegetarian delights. Head to Calle 20.
Museo del Oro: Swing by the Gold Museum which houses incredible pieces from the region's history. It can be found on Carrera 2, Parque Simon Bolivar. It is nowhere near as impressive as the one in Bogota, but it is still interesting with plenty of information in English and Spanish.
Don't miss Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a stunning hacienda (or Quinta) where Simon Bolivar lived out his days. Simon Bolivar is considered as one of the most important figures in South America's struggle for independence and he holds huge significance for the people of Colombia. You will often find main plazas and squares named after him. There is now a small museum onsite to learn about his place in history. You will find the estate in the tourist district of Mamatoco.
Santa Marta is a seaside town and there is indeed a beach, aptly named Santa Marta Beach. But, sadly it is not particularly beautiful and in no comparison to the beaches in Tayrona National Natural Park or Cartagena. Santa Marta beach is often over run with street vendors desperate to part you from your cash. Santa Marta beach is also incredibly windy. There are definitely better beaches in Colombia, but if you are not particular, then Santa Marta beach has everything you need. Make sure you keep an eye on your valuables and do not leave your stuff unattended.
You can visit Tayrona National park on a day trip from Santa Marta or I HIGHLY recommend staying overnight at one of the many camps within the park. Catch a bus from Santa Marta, Calle 11, Carrera 11, going to Tayrona National Park. which takes 1 hour and costs COL$5,000 (€1.40 / $1.60).
The bus will drop you off at the entrance of the park where you will need to buy a ticket, you will need take your passport with you. You need to walk for 1 hour inside of the park in order to reach the camp of Canaveral or another hour of walking to reach the infamous camp of Cabo San Juan, which is right on the beachfront and one of the only places safe to swim. If you don’t want to walk you can take a shuttle for COL$2,000 (€0.60 / $0.70).
Dreamers Hostel offers a little slice of heaven just outside the centre of Santa Marta (15 minutes drive). This hostel has it all. Easy access to Tayrona National Natural Park (organised shuttle bus to and from the park), a swimming pool, all you can eat breakfast (massive bonus), super comfy beds, BBQ, amazing staff and a cool bar with a pool table. It is the perfect place to either unwind and relax or drink and dance with your fellow travelers. It also has its own on-site tour operator for excursions outside of Santa Marta (La Ciudad Perdida, Minca, diving in Taganga).
Cost: COL$35,000 (€10.08/$11.53) for mixed 10 bed dorm.
El Hostal de Jackie is a great hostel in the centre of Santa Marta. It has a swimming pool, a large roof terrace, shared kitchen facilities, breakfast included and sociable bar. Walking distance to the beach and landmarks such as the cathedral and Museo del Ora, El Hostal de Jackie is a great budget choice. Dormitories. A bed in a mixed bed dormitory cost as little as COL$26,000 (€7.50 / $8.50).
- Ceviche (shrimp/fish in lime juice) is a must, as is the super fresh fruit! But be aware, with the high heat, seafood goes off quickly ~ leaving travelers with bouts of food poisoning.
- If you want to try something a little safer, try some Santa Marta banana bread - try it! The one I had was incredible! You will find these being sold by the streets vendors.
- Don't miss out on Arroz de Coco (Coconut rice).
Vegan / Vegetarian Food:
- Lulo Cafe Bar is a big hit with vegetarians, with delicious arepas and wraps on offer as well as tasty cocktails.
- Or head to the main plaza, there is a collection of lovely little cafes there selling beautiful Budda Bowls full of fresh veg!