Santa Marta Quick Guide
Although Casa Carolina is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the day, you will probably want to go out and explore Santa Marta! There are many tours and activities in Santa Marta, we have compiled our favourite things to see and do.
Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia, and is Colombia’s oldest surviving city, the second oldest in South America, dating from 1525. Friendly and charming, Santa Marta is fringed by stunning beaches and the picturesque mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Ancient ruins take cover in the lush tropical forests of Tayrona National Park, where rich vegetation tumbles onto white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Snorkel along vibrant reefs in the morning, enjoy exotic fusion cuisine – incorporating the flavours of Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe – by night, and party to the early hours in Santa Marta’s various bars and discos in and around Parque de los Novios
Casa Carolina’s quick guide: The most popular things to see and do in Santa Marta
Santa Marta is the oldest remaining city in Colombia, founded in 1525. It has a beautiful cathedral built in 1766 and the Magdalena University which was founded in 1871. The city centre boasts colonial and republican architecture. The sea front is a great place to catch up with the locals and is lively day and night. The promenade stretches some 700m from the small working port at the north to the international marina at the south, completed in 2011. Enjoy an evening cocktail here and watch the sun set over the Caribbean.
Sports and Alternative Ideas
Colombia is known to speak the ‘cleanest’ Castillano of all the Spanish-speaking countries. Let us know if you are interested in language classes. We can also organise cooking courses, salsa classes, or anything else you can think of. Sports available in and around Santa Marta include horse riding, scuba diving, surfing, mountain biking, hiking and climbing, paragliding, and a multitude of other activities. Please just let us know in advance and we will be happy to help out.
A beautifully unspoilt and calm bay with a long white sandy beach and few visitors. Only 30 minutes from Santa Marta by car this is a great place to unwind for an afternoon. There is a small entrance fee to get access to the beach ($3/person, $14/carload). Despite it’s more secluded location, fresh fish lunches, camping and refreshments are all available at very reasonable prices.
Mamancana Natural Reserve
A wildlife reserve and a venue for practising extreme sports such as paragliding, downhill mountain biking and rock climbing. 30 minutes from Santa Marta by taxi and slightly up into the hills.
40 minutes from Santa Marta, Minca rises 660 metres above sea level into the Sierra Nevada mountains, and offers a precious escape from the tropical heat. It makes an ideal day trip from Santa Marta with a trek through the rainforest and plenty of options for lunch. You can swim at the base of a raging waterfall and take a tour of an organic, hydroelectric coffee farm that’s been operating continuously for almost two centuries.
Las Fiestas del Mar
(The Festival of the Sea) is an annual celebration during the midyear vacation period with its beauty pageants, parades and parties in the city. The Festival’s slogan is “Santa Marta, la magia de tenerlo todo” (“Santa Marta, the magic of having it all”). Christmas and Easter are busy times in Santa Marta when both Colombians and visitors flock to the coast. It’s a great time to feel the buzz, but the beaches are inevitably a bit busier. Dia de Brujitas 31 Oct – Halloween in Santa Marta! Día de las Velitas – 8 Dec – the night of candles, has a long tradition
A 10 minute car (or 25 minutes public bus) ride to the North lies the pretty little fishing village of Taganga with its small bars and beach restaurants, with great views towards the Sierra Nevada. Popular with packpackers it’s well worth a trip for its pleasant pebble beach, scuba-diving tours, or for some locally caught fresh fish. From Taganda a larger sandy beach, Playa Grande, is accessible by a 20 minute coastal walk or a 5 minute boat ride.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
The last home of Simon Bolivar, built in the 17th Century is just 10 minutes from Santa Marta with the house/museum, garden and art gallery open to the public. The botanical gardens are fantastic and tours by local students are available in many languages. Well worth a visit.
The birthplace of Garcia Marquez, just an hour and a half south of Santa Marta you can visit his home village, which now features a museum to his honour, and several monuments to characters from his ‘imaginary town’ Macondo.
Isla de Salamanca
90 minutes from Santa Marta and just before Barranquilla, Isla de Salamanca offers an exquisite visit to totally unspoilt and almost unvisited mangrove swamps. Visit by foot or with a guided gondola tour, the peace and quite and nature are unforgettable. The return taxi costs 200,000 pesos with a private punt tour for 120,000 pesos.
Santa Marta has a growing number of museums, thanks in part to the University of Magdalena. Museo de Oro Tairona. Here the origins of the Tairona are explained and some of their artifacts shown. The Museo del Oro is now at its permanent home in the newly renovated and spectacular Casa de la Aduana, Carrera 2 con Calle 14. Entry is free. Museo de Arte. Three galleries of regional and national artists, Carrera 2 16-44. Museo Etnográfico de la Universidad del Magdalena (MEUM). A history of the peple of Santa Marta and the Sierra Nevada from when the city was founded, including the effects of armed conflicts on the indigenous nations of the mountains. Carrera 1, corner of Calle 22.
A 10 minute car ride (or 20 minutes bus) to the South you will find Rodadero with a vast choice of larger nightclubs which are packed with Colombian tourists in the peak season. As the sun sets, this calm white sandy bay gives way to live Vallanato musicians, street food and drinks, and a party atmosphere with entire families dancing into the small hours – all days of the week. From Rodadero a 15 minute boat ride takes you to Playa Blanca, offering crystalline waters and more white sand. Rodadero has a small children’s water-park, aquarium and water museum.
A majestic waterfall emerging in the middle of the rain forest with dozens of natural swimming pools and jumping rocks. Located close to Costeño Beach with its Surf Camp and Eco-lodge. An hour by taxi or bus plus a short walk.
Tayrona National Park and the Sierra Nevada
One of the best-known attractions in Colombia, 40 minutes north of Santa Marta, it is the country’s most important ecological reserve. Tayrona offers everything from camping zones at $10 a night to highly luxurious beach houses. Tayrona’s virgin beaches and tropical forests are completely unspoiled and truly world class. The park also has its own archeological site, Pueblito (also known as Cahirama); one of the 200 pre-Columbian cities discovered near Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Tours to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) and around the Sierra Nevada (5700m peak, world’s highest ocean mountains) are also possible.