Things to do in Santa Marta Colombia | Tips for the city and surroundings!

by Deborah Durrfeld
things to do in Santa Marta Colombia

What to do in Santa Marta Colombia? You can spend a nice day in Santa Marta, but you mainly use the city as a base for a trip to the Tayrona National Park, the mountain village of Minca, the surrounding beaches and the La Ciudad Perdida tour/trek. In this article I’m sharing my personal tips with the best things to do in the center of Santa Marta Colombia and the most beautiful places in the surroundings for day trips or multi-day joruneys.

Welcome to Santa Marta!

Santa Marta, located on the Caribbean Sea, at the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is the capital of the Magdalena department and one of the oldest cities in Colombia. The city was founded at the beginning of the 16th century by the Spanish. Because of its strategic location at the sea, it has always been an important trading and harbour city in Colombia. Nowadays it’s a popular tourist destination, because of surrounding highlights such as La Ciudad Perida, the lost city of the Tayrona and the Tayrona National Park.

Things to do in Santa Marta Colombia city

1. Discover the colonial center

The colonial center of Santa Marta is worth a visit. It’s nice to walk through the old colonial streets with the many coloured houses and observe daily life. The architecture is beautiful, it reminds me to the outskirts of Havana, only in a more luxurious way. You will also find some very cool streetart.

2. Stroll along the seaside | What to do in Santa Marta town

Santa Marta is hot (actually extremely hot) most of the year and local people are looking for a cool spot along the coast. Even though the beaches are not particularly beautiful, taking a walk along the coast and observing local life is a good thing. Street-vendors sell their goods, fishermen are working, and in the weekend many locals enjoy the beach with a lunch or bbq.

3. Make a stop at the Parque de los Novios

Parque de los Novios (the park of the lovers) is a lovely square. Have a drink at one of the terraces or choose a bench and have a chat with the locals. Salsa lessons are often given on weekends.

One of the best things to do in Santa Marta Colombia after a day full of activities, is to have a lovely dinner with drinks in a good restaurant. Check out the list with my favorite restaurants and lunchrooms in Santa Marta Colombia.

4. Visit the Gold Museum – Museo del Oro

A small but interesting museum is the Museo del oro. Especially when you are interested in pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Tayrona indigenous people. The museum explains about this civilization, their way of living and their habitat, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. You will find many gold and pieces of art. If you are planning to do the trekking to la Ciudad Perdida, or visit the Tayrona NP, the museum is highly recommended. Lots of background information can be found, including a model of the magical lost city.

Are you interested in history and archaeology? Thousands of years ago, the southern part of Colombia was home to a mysterious civilization. This civilization built several burial mounds in which they placed beautiful statues. In this article I’m taking you to the mysterious statues and tombs of San Agustín, Colombia.

5. Visit La Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino | What to do in Santa Marta

Anyone who has read anything about the history of Colombia and Latin America has come across the name Simon Bolivar. Simon Bolivar is the independence fighter, who liberated many parts of Latin America. He therefore played a very important role in the history of the Latin American continent. You will find him throughout South America, as a statue on a central square. And many cities have a street or square named after him. In Santa Marta he spent his last days in Quinta San Pedro de Alejandrino.

Nowadays you can visit this old villa, nowadays a museum with a botanical garden. It is one of the things to do in Santa Marta Colombia, if you are interested in history and want to step into the former world of this independence hero. Quinta San Pedro de Alejandrino is located 4 km outside the colonial center. It is best to go by local bus or taxi.

What to do in Santa Marta Colombia | day trips and tours in the surroundings

1. Tayrona National Park

Do you want to go on a lovely day trip and hike from Santa Marta? Then make sure to visit the Tayrona National Park. This park is located on the coast in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and is the former home of the Tayrona Indians. Especially the combination of beaches, viewpoints and rainforest makes it a unique place. Along the way you will encounter small indigenous settlements, with remains of huts, burial mounds and ceremonial places. A perfect Santa Marta day trip and hike is the route to Cabo San Juan and back (2 hours one way). Playa La Piscinita and Cabo San Juan are great beaches for swimming and relaxing. The walks are doable, but the heat and high humidity can make it difficult at times! If you don’t feel like walking, you can also take a horseback ride.

Things to do in Santa Marta surroundings | Tayrona NP and La ciudad perdida tour and trek

Spend the night in Tayrona NP

Keep in mind that this park is one of the most popular places in Colombia. It is best to spend one night in the park, so that you can avoid the day crowds a bit. Accommodation options in the park are generally simple (think of tent or hammock). If you want to spend the night more comfortably, look at the Ecohabs, small houses (around Arrecife and Cañavaral. Quetzal Dorado Eco-Lodge and Cabaña Barlovento are a 5-minute drive from the main entrance and are both a good starting point for visiting the park.

The Tayrona National Park is closed annually in February. In this period the NP is spiritually cleaned by the local population.

2. Minca

Minca is a small village in the hills of the Sierra Nevada and one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. It is also an ideal destination to cool down, from hot and sweaty Santa Marta. In Minca you can take nice walks, go mountain biking, bird watching or just enjoy the sunsets from your hammock.

One of the best places to stay, is Minca Ecohabs. You will be sleeping in small bungalows in the middle of the rainforest, with amazing views that reach to the coast and the city of Santa Marta. Minca is 15 km outside the center of Santa Marta but the road is bumpy and winding.

If you plan to make the trip to la Ciudad Perdida, ask your tour operator to pick you up in Minca.

4. Santa Marta Colombia beaches – Palomino

Palomino is one of the most beautiful beaches around Santa Marta Colombia. And it is more quiet here than on other beaches in the area! You can enjoy the beach, but also go on trips to the flamingo reserves Flamencos Rosas and la Playa Camarones or visit the waterfalls in la Quebrada de Valencia. In the evening you will find live music in many places and there are artists, selling pretty handmade products and jewelry. Make sure you get a room in Makao or Ecosirena.

Santa Marta Colombia beaches Palomino

Do you want to read more about destinations in Colombia? This is an article with the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia, including the best time to visit and 25 travel tips for national parks, cities, lovely villages, archaeology, adventurous tours and cultural experiences.

5. La Ciudad Perdida tour Colombia

The hike to La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, is a once in a lifetime experience. This lost city of the Tayrona, a Pre-Columbian culture, is located in the middle of the jungle of the Sierra Nevada. The only way to reach this place, is by foot, through the jungle, for four days. You will be hiking for two full days to reach this mysterious city and afterwards you will have to return the exact same way back.

The highlight of the La ciudad perdida tour is your visit to the archaeological site. There is not much left, but you will be amazed by the colors, mystery and peace, as you won’t find many fellow visitors here. But not only the destination is worth it, the landscape, lush vegetation and isolated indigenous communities along the way, will make every day of this trip unforgettable.

Things to do in Santa Marta surrounings | La ciudad perdida tour and trek

Where do you sleep during La Ciudad Perdida tour?

The campsites, run by local people, are convenient. You will either spend the night in hammocks or in bunkbeds, with mosquito nets. There are cold showers and meals are prepared by your team of guides.

How difficult is the hike? | La Ciudad Perdida tour

For a long time the city wasn’t accessible due to the insecurity and civil war in Colombia. Nowadays it’s one of the most popular treks of the country. That being said, this hike is not for everyone. You need to have a good physical condition, as the walks are 7 to 8 hour every day, and the humidity is intense. Besides that, a lot of adventure is involved, you will be crossing rivers and climb steep mountains.  I won’t lie if I say that there are moments, that you just want to quit and go home. But that’s exactly what makes this trip so unique and rewarding. If you like hiking, adventure and history, this is a hike not to miss.

Intererested in reading more about Colombia? This is an article with the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia, including the best time to visit. Or check out the Colombia blog page with city guides and things to do in Bogotá and Medellín. Tips for lovely towns such as Salento, Mompox and Villa de Leyva. But also the Tatacoa desert and Valle de Cocora. Interested in archaeology? Read more about the mysterious San Agustín statues.

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

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