The touristed old town is no more hazardous than any other city in the first world, but venturing off the beaten path to the city’s outskirts puts you at risk of being robbed. When wandering at night, especially in isolated areas of the city, use extreme caution. Locals are generally kind and helpful. Street sellers might be vexing, but a simple “No quiero nada” in Spanish can put them at bay.
Possession of illicit narcotics can result in criminal prosecution in Colombia. Tourists are being duped into purchasing illicit substances as part of a hoax. If you try to buy, the “police” (the rest of the con gang) will appear in a minute, haul you off to the next ATM, and demand that you withdraw exorbitant sums to pay “fines” or even abduct you.
Watch out for the “money-changing-magicians”
Those street merchants will give you a very favorable exchange rate. After you’ve counted the money, you’ll see that a tiny bit is missing, and after you protest, he’ll put exactly that amount back on top. They’ll take some large notes from the bottom in the same move. Most individuals will not count their money again after thinking they received a good bargain but were actually ripped off.
Dodgy tours to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca
The trips available to explore Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca might be disappointing. For about $50.000, you’ll be given a trip that “includes” either snorkeling or aquarium admission plus a supper at Playa Blanca. Once on the vacation, you discover that you must pay an additional $15.000 for the aquarium or snorkeling. To minimize conflicts, ensure that the tour guide on the boat is informed of what is covered by the person who sold the tour.
Going inside the marina and ignoring the “sales” guys outside is the best method to arrange a tour. They are paid a commission on sales and have no obligation to you. Once inside, request Elizabeth (known lovingly as La negra Liz”). She owns multiple boats, will give you the greatest deal, and most importantly, she will keep her word. For $700.000, you may charter your own tiny boat or reserve a seat for $75.000. Inquire about the itinerary ahead of time. Her firm, in instance, has a “resort” on the Rosario Islands. The resort is clean and attractive, with delicious meals at a fair price. Unfortunately, their beach access is restricted and underwhelming. Her boats will insist on transporting you there, but you can refuse. The greatest beach is by far Playa Blanca, however it might be overpowering with residents attempting to sell you their wares.
Baru Island and private villas operated by major hotels are more affluent locations (Santa Clara, Santa Teresa). Most enable you to spend the day at the beach. Each tour boat has its own agenda.
Taking a long distance bus
If you intend to take a bus to Santa Marta from the bus station, it is best to approach the ticket booths and purchase your tickets there. Otherwise, be aware that there is usually a bus service with a link in Barranquilla, where you will have to change buses and pay a second fee to Santa Marta, even if you have previously paid it in a previous vehicle and even if you were assured that this was a direct bus to Santa Marta. If you have this type of connection in Barranquilla, make sure you keep your tickets (even if they are collected shortly after departure) and that the guy who will meet you in a bus and guide you to another bus during a connection was clearly notified by a bus driver that you have already paid your fare to Santa Marta.