Santa Marta is a Colombian city. It is the seat of the department of Magdalena and the third-biggest city in Colombia’s Caribbean Region, after Barranquilla and Cartagena. It was the first Spanish colony in Colombia, founded on July 29, 1525, by the Spanish conqueror Rodrigo de Bastidas, and is the oldest surviving city in Colombia, as well as the second oldest in South America. As a result of its location on the same-named bay, this city is a popular tourist attraction.
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Santa Marta | Introduction
Tourism in Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a major business port as well as a popular tourist attraction. Every day, cargo ships arrive and go, and the movement is highly obvious. The view of the Caribbean Sea from the beach is more or less to the west (great sunsets), with a massive rock of an island thrusting out out of the ocean to create a rather dramatic impression. The port lies out to the right, tucked behind an even larger rock. This is a good beach if you enjoy beaches that are close to town and have a lot of people, merchants, and noise. When you’re on the beach, vendors may be rather pushy.
Apart from the historic center, the primary draws of Santa Marta are its two resort-like neighborhoods, El Rodadero to the south and Taganga to the north. El Rodadero boasts many high-end hotels and private “clubs” that cater mostly to rich Colombians, but Taganga was historically a fishing community and is very popular with (mainly international) backpackers. Taganga boasts a plethora of scuba diving companies.
There are two seasons: high and low. The high season lasts from December to April, with a peak from mid-December to late January (due to school and university vacations).
Geography of Santa Marta
Santa Marta is situated in the province of Magdalena on the Caribbean Sea’s Santa Marta Bay. It is 992 kilometers from Bogotá and 93 kilometers from Barranquilla. The Caribbean borders it on the north and west, while the municipalities of Aracataca and Ciénaga border it on the south.
Economy of Santa Marta
The economy of Santa Marta is built on tourism, commerce, port operations, fishing, and agriculture, in that order. Bananas, coffee, cocoa, and cassava are the principal agricultural crops.
How To Travel To Santa Marta
Get In - By plane
Nonstop flights from Bogotá and Medelln arrive at Simón Bolvar International Airport. It’s on the beach, 20 minutes south of town, but considerably closer to most beach resorts and only 10 minutes from El Rodadero (main beach). If you arrive from another country, check to see if your luggage is unloaded in Bogota, even if the airline promises to transport it immediately to Santa Marta.
A cab to the Centro Historico will cost you roughly COP 25 000. (no prepaid or metered taxis available).
Get In - By bus
The bus terminal (Terminal de Transporte). is on the major route all the way out of town. To get there, take a bus/colectivo marked “UCC TRANSPORTE” from Carrera 1. The journey will take around 45 minutes and will cost approximately 2000 COP. If you have a large rucksack, you may be refused by some colectivo drivers; simply wait for the large buses. The cab ride takes around half an hour and costs 15,000 pesos. The tourist bureau in the bus terminal offers free WiFi.
Bus rides are available:
- to/from Cartagena : 20,000 CO / 3.5 hours
- to/from Barranquilla : 10,000 COP 2 hours
- to/from Medellín : 108,000 COP / 15 hours
- to/from Bucaramanga : 60,000 COP / 9 hours (Copetran, Brasilia) (feb 2016)
- to/from Bogotá : 80,000 COP / 16 hours
- to/from Riohacha : 15,000 COP / 2.5 hours
- to/from Taganga : 1,400 COP / 15 min with minibus or taxi for 10000 COP
A few firms provide air-conditioned van services between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with stops at Barranquilla along the way, providing more pleasant road travel in northern Colombia. Cochetur appears to be the most trustworthy of these. The price between the major two destinations is 50,000 pesos per person, and they will pick you up and put you off at your selected spot in each city. Please keep in mind that you will most likely be sharing the van with 6-8 other passengers, including the driver. Tipping did not appear to be expected, but a thousand or two dollars goes a long way in this town.
If you’re going to the Coffee Region, taking a Berlinastur bus to Honda (70COP, 12+ hours, departure at 2PM) and then another bus to Pereira is a cheaper alternative (30COP, 6hours). You’ll have to wait in Honda for about an hour in the middle of the night, but you may stay at the Berlinastur office during that time.
How To Get Around In Santa Marta
Streets are labeled with numbers. The seashore is known as “Carrera 1” or 1st St., while the first street is known as “Carrera 1A” or 1A St. Carrera 2 or 2nd St is the next street following the first row of buildings. Calles are streets that run north to south. Taxis in Colombia are not metered, unlike in larger cities. Payments range from 3500 pesos for a “lift” (often a 10-minute trip) to upwards of 20,000 pesos, depending on where you travel. If you encounter someone who ‘knows’ a cab driver, you may be able to negotiate a fare to your next Colombian checkpoint. Some drivers will take you as far as Barranquilla, but you must bargain.
Prices in Santa Marta
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.80|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$8.50|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$9.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$18.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$4.70|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$1.70|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$0.90|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$4.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$2.35|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.07|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$1.60|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$1.60|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$56.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M.)||1||$43.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$75.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.65|
Sights & Landmarks in Santa Marta
- 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.
- Simon Bolivar’s place of death (Take a bus for 1,400 COP or taxi for 5,000 COP). 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”. Entrance 12,000 COP.
Things to do in Santa Marta
- 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, e-mail: [email protected]. The Neotropical Spanish School at Casa Scania is a small size Spanish School focused on quality giving classes in downtown Santa Marta and Barranquilla, 8 USD/hour with one student per teacher, 6 USD 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. 8 USD.
- Adrenaline Addicts, Carrera 21, Calle 20-36, . 09:00 – 18:00. 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.
Food & Restaurants In Santa Marta
There are several dining opportunities. They appear to be proficient at roasting and grilling poultry. They perform an excellent job of cooking tough yet tasty steak. Seafood is plentiful and reasonably priced, with several shrimp and seafood cocktail sellers. Most fruit kinds are accessible, even those more frequent in cold climes. Street vendors provide a variety of refreshments at night, including pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, shakes, kabobs, rice in milk with coco, fried filled doughy items, and so on. Coffee, hot chocolate, and both hot cinnamon and lemon are all available.
- 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 (less than $15 per person). His wife, Alexa, is Colombian and her smothies 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. Lunch menu is about $5. The restaurant is housed in a colonial building and it is even haunted by a ghost!
- La Tasca – Tapas Bar, Calle 18 No 2- 72. Run by a spaniard, this small and cosy restaurant offers an excellent selection of typical spanish tapas at a fair price. It is a real experience for the palate of both locals and tourists.
- Agave Azul – Sabores de Mexico, Calle 14 No 3-74, 431 6121. Open Tu-F for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner only. Happy Hour Margaritas 2X1 from 5-7 everyday.. Very good Mexican food prepared by fabulous New York trained chef Michael McMurdo. With a range from burritos to steaks to seafood this very elegant food will blow your mind but not break the bank. With lunch menu for $4 and dinner menu from $8 to $13.
- 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.
- Ben & Josep´s bar & restaurant, Carrera 1 # 18-67. (Dutch owner) On the beach road in front of the Park Hotel. The very best steak (filet mignon)in Santa Marta. Fine dining for a reasonable price.
- Restaurante El Escorial. A good restaurant is in the middle of the block behind the beach on 11th street
- Restaurante y Pescadería Manuel, Carrera 1A # 26-167, . Very nice seafood.
- Restaurante El Santo, Calle 21 – 2a 52, . One of the few places in SM with good tender Argentinan meat and nice wine. Argentinan and Islandic owner. Very nice and welcoming.
- Tim’s Gourmet Coffee Shop, Cra 1A 23-57 (only 50 m from the entrance of the Marina in downtown Santa Marta.), , e-mail: [email protected]. Opens at 7.15AM everyday. Tim’s Owls Den Pub open until 10PM weekdays. 2AM Friday & Saturday. 2 X 1 cocktails.. You´ll get free Wi-Fi while you´re having a Fresh coffee made by beans direct from the organic growers on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada,Western Canadian/German pasteries and European style breakfasts daily until 2PM. Crepes and Deli Sandwiches all day.
- Excellent seafood soup from a man at the corner of 13th st. and 4th Carr (diagonally opposite the small church.. next to sunglasses vendors. You’ll see huge pots of soup). Very cheap and delicious, but only in mornings. Sells out by noon.
- 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.
- There is another man who has been sitting on 22th 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.
Coffe & Drink In Santa Marta
Beer is, of course, the preferred beverage. Because Santa Marta may get quite hot in the summer (up to 35 C/95F), it is a good idea to have a bottle of water with you at all times. When it turns colder in the evenings, beer and company are generally a wonderful mix. It’s a good idea to bring a pair of “Stubbie Coolers” (Australian slang for an item that keeps the beer in your bottle colder or longer) because the heat will have you sipping warm beer by the conclusion of your drink.
Soft drinks are available in almost every restaurant, and they are occasionally sold in glass bottles. They are inexpensive: a drink often costs little more than 2,000 COP.
Shopping In Santa Marta
Santa Marta is well-known for its beach vendors. Because beaches are accessible 365 days a year, there are always individuals selling anything on the beach. The beaches of El Rodadero, a northern neighborhood, contain pushy salesmen. Take this as an opportunity to bargain – normally aim for 2000-3000 Pesos less than the asking price.
If you’re going to Tayrona and need snorkeling equipment, you’ll be disappointed to see only a few of extremely basic Chinese packs, which are the same in all the shops. If you decide to buy them, the best deals may be found at a cookware store on Calle 15 and Carrera 3. (15COP for the “good” one).
Postal stamps may be purchased at the post office on Calle 22/Carrera 2. (COP 2900 for Europe). The Depris post office (Carrera 3) indicated in Lonely Planet guidebook does not sell stamps.
Carrera 5th is a large shopping promenade featuring businesses, street kiosks, and vendors. A large supermarket is located on the corner of Calle 20. (Exito). Carrera 3 between Calle 15 and 20 is a pedestrian-friendly roadway.
Nightlife In Santa Marta
- Seko Bar, Calle 19 4-11, Santa Marta. Good music, cocktails, excellent prices, slightly insane. Very popular.
- 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. The owners are two Spanish. That women more beautiful and rumba, to good music and really nice atmosphere.I always found it a good show. Thanks Elena and Kike.
- 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 VJ’s 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.