Why I love Santa Marta
As the owner of Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina, and family man in Santa Marta, I always get asked what I love about Santa Marta. In this blog post I will go over some of the main reasons why I love Santa Marta so much.
Santa Marta is on the north coast of Colombia. It hugs the Caribbean Sea making it a picturesque location. Santa Marta is the oldest surviving city in Latin America today, dating back to July 29, 1525 the days of Spanish Conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas. Santa Marta is the Colombia’s third largest coastal. Along with its amazing beaches the city is bordered by the breathtaking and unique mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Range (the highest coastal range in the world, with snow and Caribbean sea around 10km apart!).
Up until about 10 years ago, guerilla and illegal drug activity would shy tourists away from Santa Marta. The Colombian government has cracked down on crime and has remodelled the old city. Improvements on city parks and streets have not only attracted tourists, but also business owners. New restaurants, hotels and discos have emerged which makes Santa Marta a great place after hours. Five years ago Santa Marta’s historic centre had very little to offer visitors, but today there is a wide array of things to do and see.
One of my favorite spots is Parque de Los Novios (Sweetheart’s Park). It is a hot spot for locals and foreigners to gather and socialize. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, Parque de los Novios is decorated with flowers and trees, couples stroll along and hang out on the park benches; a sight somewhat out of an old Sinatra song. I also love to stroll along the International Marina’s walkway.
With a new hip bar, Miko’s, numerous good restaurants, as well as a modern gym with sunset views, it’s a great place to hang out. And at the other end of the beach from the Marina is Santa Marta’s port. From the roof of Casa Carolina I can spend ages fascinated by the boats coming and going. Santa Marta port is one of Colombia’s most important. With imports of grains, wheats and cars. And exports of tropical flowers, exotic fruits and vegetable oils. The port gives character to Santa Marta and it’s amazing to see it coexists a stone’s throw from such beautiful preserved beaches with no noticeable side effects.
Another reason I love Santa Marta is the food. Who doesn’t love food? There is a variety of great gourmet restaurants in the city with a beautiful blend of Colombian-Caribbean and European tastes with such fresh and exotic ingredients abundant in the surrounding hills. New restaurants appear each month and vie for a position in the top ten (of 158 restaurants in this small town!).
Back to the fresh ingredients, in the outdoor markets, “El Mercado” you see Santa Marta as it has always been. Merchants and locals lively debates and negotiations over any number of tropical fruits and odd-looking vegetables which don’t even have names in English. I am sure there are at least ten fruits which I had never seen or heard of before coming to Santa Marta, which I now enjoy daily in fresh shakes.
Of course the main attraction in Santa Marta is Parque Tayrona. A national park on the ocean with lagoons and bays for swimming. There’s nothing like relaxing in one of the Cabañas or Ecohabs for an overnight stay. I believe Tayrona holds some of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches anywhere in the world.
Indeed many of our guests at Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina have commented that Santa Marta’s beaches beat anything they have seen elsewhere in the Caribbean, in Thailand, in Indonesia, or anywhere. Off season you can easily find a beach entirely empty and the local authorities keep them clean and safe. With a private boat trip from Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina you are guaranteed your own private white beach with crystal waters year round. One of the reasons we decided to buy a boat was to make the most of these deserted beaches on our doorstep, in many cases only reachable by sea.
And of course, skirting Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada, the Lost City trek (Ciudad Perdida) takes hikers to altitudes of 2,000 metres and more, crossing paths with Indigenous Wiwa and Cogi, whose lives have remained unchanged for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is a fascinating and unique place to experience untouched civilizations predating Spanish colonialism. Not to mention the nature of the Sierra Nevada with waterfalls, rivers, huge colourful parrots, monkeys, lizards up to 2 metres long.
Landing in Santa Marta airport you see the snow-topped peaks at nearly 6,000 metres of altitude poking out of lush green tropical jungles. Disembarking the plane, visitors are greeted by white beaches and 30 degree heat. Needless to say Santa Marta offers a diversity found in few other places.
Last but not least, the people of Santa Marta make this place very special. Whether this is in my daily work with our employees at Casa Carolina, or with suppliers, guests, people in the street, Santa Marta enjoys some of the kindest, most fun, and happiest people I’ve ever met in my life. They have a charm about them that rubs off and sticks.
From the guy selling fruit at the market to the friendly and informal local policemen, I’m always treated with a smile and a warmness that I just can’t describe. Even a visit to see our bank manager is a hilarious experience! When you visit Santa Marta you’ll understand what I mean.
Santa Marta has come a long way from what it was just a few years ago. The city continues to grow and attracts more tourists each day. Hot during the day but cool and breezy in the evening makes it delightful.
With new businesses and tourist attractions springing up all the time, Santa Marta should be on everyone’s list to visit when passing through Colombia. Come to stay at Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina soon to enjoy this unspoilt holiday destination!