Best 6 things to do in Santa Marta

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Santa Marta is traditionally a fishing village that has developed into a great destination in recent years. This is because if you travel in the north of Colombia you will most likely pass through Santa Marta. You can do many activities in Santa Marta. It is above all a nice place to experience the daily life of Colombia.

Do you want to know more about things to do in Santa Marta? Then you are on the right page. In this article you can read what the 6 best activities are, where to stay, we share our favorite restaurants and more Santa Marta tips.

santa marta sunset

Things to do in Santa Marta?

Travelers often visit Santa Marta very briefly, as they travel from this city to other destinations in the north. Santa Marta is less visited than other popular destinations in the north. The big advantage of this is that it is less touristy. Read below our 6 recommended activities to do in Santa Marta, Colombia. The activities are divided between Santa Marta and Taganga, this is a small village next to Santa Marta.

Tip: Use the map below to see where the best things in Santa Marta are located. Click on the top right corner to enlarge the map. If you click on the star symbol next to the title, you can save this map to your Google Maps account. You can show or hide different categories on the map. You can use this map to navigate when you are in Santa Marta.

#1 The Lost City trek

In every country, they have a hike that is different from the other. For example, in Peru, you have the hike to Machu Picchu and in Colombia, you have the hike to Ciudad Perdida also called The Lost City.

The Lost City is located in the middle of the jungle of Sierra Nevada and can only be reached by a multi-day hike. During The Lost City trek you visit indigenous communities and enjoy beautiful nature.

When you arrive at The Lost City, the guide will give you a tour of the complex. It is built around 800 AD and is 650 years older than Machu Picchu.

You can do the trekking tour in 4, 5, or 6 days. The route is the same, so the difference is in the intensity. The fewer days, the more miles you have to walk. In total, the hike is 28 miles.

We didn’t do The Lost City trek because we didn’t have enough time for it. During our trip, we spoke to several travelers who were all very positive about this trip. If you have the chance, it is highly recommended. There are several organizations where you can book the hike. We recommend this hike because it is run by GetYourGuide. We always book all our tours with GetYourGuide and are very satisfied with this.

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#2 Go out in the evening and pool with the locals

Santa Marta and Taganga are nice destinations to go out and enjoy a drink in the evening. The big benefit of the two locations is that it is less touristy and more visited by the Colombians, therefore parties are more authentic.

On the main road between Taganga and Santa Marta are a couple of accommodations with rooftop bars. From these bars, you have a beautiful view, especially during sunset. On our trip many travelers mentioned to visit Hostal La Brisa Loca Santa Marta. Great parties are organized here, the atmosphere is cozy and it has all the ingredients for a fun evening.

If you like to play a game of pool then it is nice to visit one of the local pool centers. The locals who are playing enjoy playing against you. Be ready to lose a couple of games because the locals are fanatical at this!

Where to stay in Santa Marta

Option 1 location and comfort: Del Mar Hotel
Del Mar hotel is located just south of Santa Marta and has neat rooms. The hotel has many nice eateries close by and the beach is a few minutes walk away. Breakfast is very good which is included.
Check prices and availability for Del Mar Hotel here.

Option 2 Great value for money: Alko Hotel Cotona
Alko Hotel Cotona is located in the historic center. This hotel is recommended for travelers who want everything within walking distance and a lot of luxury for not that much money. The rooms are good, this is a perfect place to discover Santa Marta.
Check prices and availability for Alko Hotel Cotona here.

#3 Visit Tayrona National Park

In Colombia, you will find several national parks to visit, of which Tayrona National Park is the most beautiful one. This is the most visited park in Colombia because the jungle of Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean coast come together in this park. The unique thing is that the park has mountains and sandy beaches that are close to each other.

The best thing to do is to hike in this park. The hikes are varied because of the landscape you cross. One moment you are walking between the rocks and the next moment on the beach.

Tayrona National Park can be visited as a day trip from Santa Marta or you can choose to stay for 1 or 2 nights in the park. We’ve detailed all the benefits of a day trip or staying in the park in our article about Tayrona National Park.

How to get to Tayrona National Park from Santa Marta: from the bus station in Santa Marta you can take a bus to Tayrona. This costs 8000 pesos ($2.10) per person. Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.

Tayrona National Park

#4 Get your dive certificate

Santa Marta and Taganga are one of the cheapest places in the world to get your diving license. The diving schools are certified and well regarded. During the course, the diving schools provide transport to Tayrona National Park. Here the diving lessons are given on one of the islands of the national park. For more information, visit Dive and Adventure at Santa Marta and Poseidon Dive Center in Taganga.

#5 Visit Minca

Minca is about a 45-minute drive from Santa Marta and is a popular destination among travelers. This is due to its location. Minca is located in the mountains of Sierra Nevada, which makes it a bit cooler than other destinations in the north, which is pleasant. Hiking is one of the best activities to do in Minca due to the mountains and the jungle.

You can visit Minca as a day trip from Santa Marta. During this day you can visit several waterfalls and a coffee plantation. We recommend staying several days in Minca because 1 day is simply too short.

If you don’t have much time, it is worth visiting Minca as a day trip by following a tour. With this tour, you will visit all the highlights in Minca. Read more information via the link.

#6 Go snorkeling and watch fishermen work

In Santa Marta and Taganga, if you enjoy snorkeling, you can book a snorkeling excursion at the accommodation where you are staying. During this excursion, you will be taken to the coast in front of Taganga to go snorkeling.

The snorkeling conditions are fine but certainly not awesome. If you’re used to subtropical snorkeling, this snorkeling excursion will disappoint. If you don’t have a frame of reference, it’s a fun activity. If you are in a doubt, skip the activity to avoid disappointment. After snorkeling you will be taken to one of the nearby beaches, you can choose which beach you want to visit. We chose a deserted beach where a few fishermen were sitting.

Around 5 o’clock when the sun starts to set, it is a spectacle to watch the fishermen pull in the nets and bring in the fish. It’s wonderful to see a profession that has existed for so long from so close.

santa marta fishermen

How many days should I stay in Santa Marta?

In general, 2 nights are enough to see the best things in Santa Marta. If you’re going to do The Lost City trek, it’s recommended to stay one night before the trek and one night when you return.

Where to stay in Santa Marta?

There are several options for staying in Santa Marta. You can stay in Santa Marta itself, the nice thing about this is that you are close to all the sights. You can also stay in one of the accommodations located between Santa Marta and Taganga. From this accommodation, you have a beautiful view of the sea.

Below you can see our two favorite accommodations. Both are good value for money. Keep in mind that due to their popularity, they are fully booked quickly, so make your reservation on time.

Location and comfort:
Del Mar Hotel

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Del Mar hotel is located just south of Santa Marta and has neat rooms. The hotel has many nice eateries close by and the beach is a few minutes walk away. Breakfast is very good which is included.

Great value for money:
Alko Hotel Cotona

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Alko Hotel Cotona is located in the historic center. This hotel is recommended for travelers who want everything within walking distance and a lot of luxury for not that much money. The rooms are good, this is a perfect place to discover Santa Marta.

Where to eat in Santa Marta

Our favorite place to eat is Lulo. This is a Caribbean/Latin American restaurant that is nice to eat. You can have a great lunch or dinner here. It costs between $6 and $16 depending on what you order. In the afternoon we recommend taking one of the paninis with a fresh smoothie. In the evening you can try the arepas and the richly filled wraps with a mojito.

Restaurante Lamart is just like Lulo a Caribbean / Latin American-oriented restaurant. This place is recommended for travelers who like to eat dishes that are heavier on the stomach. The portions you get here are large. You have eaten here for $6 to $20, depending on what you order. Our recommendation is the salmon with potatoes from the oven with a salad. It is a nice small-scale place where you can sit comfortably. Lulo and Restaurante Lamart are located next to each other so you can see which of the two appeals to you more on the spot.

If you’re looking for a nice place to have breakfast, Ikaro Cafe is a must. This is a Vietnamese-oriented restaurant where you can eat well. The small pancakes with fruit are delicious. Also, this is a barista where you can enjoy good coffee. For +/- $10 you have eaten well here.

How to get to Santa Marta

Santa Marta is one of the easiest destinations to get to in northern Colombia. Santa Marta is an important location from which to travel to other destinations. The best way to reach Santa Marta is by plane or bus.

Depending on where you depart from, the bus or plane is preferred. When it is long-distance and it is possible to use a night bus, this is the best option. The advantage is that you travel at night, so you don’t have to book accommodation and you save time because you don’t have to travel during the day. We recommend Bolivariano, Expreso Palmira, Velotax Expreso Brasilia and Ochoa, which we used during our trip.

If you’re staying in Minca, Tayrona, Cartagena, or Palomino, it’s best to take the shuttle bus to Santa Marta. At the accommodation you can arrange to reserve a place for a shuttle bus, we used MarSol.

If the option for a night bus is not available, you can use the normal bus or the plane. The advantage of the plane is that it is faster, but more expensive.

All public transport tickets can be found here at Bookaway. We used Bookaway to book all our bus tickets. They are easy to use and book, we have had good experiences with them.

If you travel to Colombia by plane and you are looking for a car to rent, you can rent it through Rentalcars. We use Rentalcars when we want to travel by car to discover new destinations. They’re easy to use and book with.

Best period to travel to Santa Marta

You can visit Santa Marta all year round because the weather is always nice. Santa Marta has a tropical rainforest climate.

The best time to travel to Santa Marta is when it rains the least, which is between June and September. The average temperature in Santa Marta is 25°C over the year.

The warmest month is September with an average of 31℃ and December is the coolest month with an average of 23℃.

Tip: Keep in mind that during the US and Europe school holidays in July and August, it will be busier than usual, causing prices to rise.

What to do in Santa Marta FAQ

1. Santa Marta vs Taganga, where should I stay?

It is often difficult for travelers to decide whether they want to stay in Santa Marta or Taganga. In principle, it doesn’t matter a lot because both places are 10 minutes away from each other. Taganga is smaller, if you prefer to stay in a smaller-scale place then Taganga is recommended. Santa Marta has more to offer and here you can do more things, in this case, we recommend Santa Marta.

Our advice is to stay in Santa Marta, you have more facilities nearby and there is more to do. You can easily visit Taganga by bus from Santa Marta.

Next destination

We hope you enjoyed our article and were able to do all the fun things in Santa Marta. If you follow our Colombia itinerary your next destination is San Gil. San Gil is the best destination in Colombia to do (extreme)activities. Rafting, great hikes, beautiful villages are waiting for you to be discovered! Read everything you need to know in our article on San Gil: things to do San Gil.

If you do not follow our itinerary, you can travel from Santa Marta to many destinations, namely to Palomino, Minca, Tayrona National Park, Cartagena, and Medellin.

Palomino is a small village on the coast where you can enjoy the beach. Minca is located in the mountains of Santa Marta where you can make hikes. Tayrona National Park is the most beautiful national park in Colombia to visit. Cartagena is the most popular city ​​in the north because of the historic center. Medellin is the city that has developed in recent years as one of the best cities to visit in South America.

What do you think of Santa Marta? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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