Santa Marta, a Colombian Coastal Town

Beachgoers at Santa Marta
••• Getty Images/Andrew Bain

Santa Marta, on Colombia's Caribbean coast, is one of the more popular places in Colombia to visit with a beautiful harbor and coastal views.

While it may not be the most beautiful city in Colombia (Cartagena likely holds that crown) it is a great hub to travel between other cities on the Colombian coast. 

Things to Do in This Coastal Town

Taganga was once a fishing village just on the outskirts of Santa Marta but it has slowly transitioned into a beach town with mostly foreigners.

There are plenty of opportunities to scuba, make plans for Ciudad Perdida or head to Playa Grande. El Rodadero is one of Colombia's most fashionable beach resorts, and wealthy Colombians often come to this suburb of Santa Marta for a beach holiday.

Other natural landmarks that are a must see include La Sierra Nevada De Santa MartaParque Tayrona, and Playas Cristal, Neguanje, and Arrecifes with their fantastic beaches.

La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a hacienda built in the 17th century, was home to Simón Bolívar during the last years of his life. A museum on the grounds houses art donated by many of the countries he helped liberate.

Building on the Cathedral was started early in Santa Marta's history, but not completed until the end of the 18th century.

Ciudad Perdida, the "Lost City," the home of the Tayrona Indians was built on the lush slopes of the Santa Marta mountains between the 11th and 14th centuries.

Thought to be larger than Machu Picchu, it was found, and robbed, in the 1970's by grave robbers.

A Golden History

The Spanish chose Santa Marta for their first settlement because of gold. The local Tairona indigenous communities were known for their goldsmithing work, much of which is on display in Bogotá at the Museo del Oro.

Now, the Tairona Heritage Studies Centre is devoted to the study of the indigenous groups which inhabit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Founded in 1525 by Roger de Bastidas, Santa Marta is ideally located for visits to the Santa Marta mountain range, second in height only to the Andes running through Colombia and two national parks. While it doesn't have some of the tourism infrastructures of Cartagena down the coast, it has warm, clean beaches, many in Tayrona Park.

Getting and Staying There

Santa Marta has a year-round tropical climate. It is hot during the day, but the evening sea breezes are cool and make sunsets and nightlife particularly appealing.

By Air: Daily flights to and from Bogotá and other Colombian cities use El Rodadero airport outside the city on the route to Barranquilla. If you have pre-booked a resort it may be worth looking into pick-up if you don't feel comfortable negotiating for a taxi when you arrive.

By Land: Air-conditioned buses run daily to Bogotá and other cities, plus local runs to nearby communities, and Tayrona park. Be aware that while cities don't look a great distance apart that doesn't mean it's a quick travel time. Santa Marta is 16 hours from Bogota, 3.5 hours from Cartagena and 2 hours from Barranquilla.

By Water: Cruise ships make this a port of call, and in addition to the commercial port, there is also a marina and berthing facilities at Irotama Resort Golf and Marina. Be aware that Santa Marta has a long history of smuggling.