Things to do in Santa Marta

Things to do in  Santa Marta

Doorway to Tayrona

Often overlooked by travelers rushing to reach the Jurassic Park-like landscapes of Tayrona National Park and the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida), Santa Marta is a colonial coastal gem that’s much more than a stop-off. As the oldest surviving city in Colombia, it’s a paradise for history buffs. Santa Marta’s historic center is among the best things to do, closely followed by visiting Quints de San Pedro Alejandrino—the final home of former president Simon Bolivar—and the sandy shores of Playa Blanca.

Top 13 attractions in Santa Marta

Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

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Deep within the Sierra Nevada, the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida is an indigenous archaeological site accessible only via a challenging multi-day trek through the surrounding jungle. Prepare to wade through waterfalls and climb more than 1,000 stone steps to reach the secluded ruins, where you’re rewarded with panoramic views.More

Tayrona National Park (Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona)

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Ruins, reefs, mangroves, and beaches make up the 37,000-acre Tayrona National Park, one of Colombia’s most popular ecotourism destinations. Visit to hike along the coast, relax on the beaches, snorkel among the coral reefs, or simply disconnect from daily life.More

Crystal Beach (Playa Cristal)

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Part of Tayrona National Park, Crystal Beach (Playa Cristal is a white-sand haven that provides ideal conditions for swimming and snorkeling. Marine life off Crystal Beach (Playa Cristal includes sea turtles, dolphins, and several species of fish. Even without spotting one of these creatures, the coral and sponges of the reef provide colorful underwater scenes.More

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park

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Just off the coast of northern Colombia, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park is home to a wealth of endangered flora and fauna as well as the world’s highest coastal peak. Dominated by mountains and popular among hikers, this UNESCO-recognized national park is home to bird reserves, archaeological ruins, and indigenous villages.More

Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

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The final resting place of South American liberator Simón Bolívar, the 17th-century Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is now a historical landmark, museum, gallery, and botanical garden containing over 200 works of contemporary South American art. See where Bolívar took his last breath, marvel over antique artefacts, wander the expansive gardens, and admire artworks from the countries that Bolívar liberated.More

El Rodadero

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Backed by luxury high-rise hotels and popular among Colombian travelers, El Rodadero is a lively, local alternative to the internationally popular Playa Blanca.More

Tayrona Gold Museum (Museo del Oro Tairona)

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Housed in the restored 16th-century former Customs House—itself one of the oldest buildings in the Americas—the Tayrona Gold Museum (Museo del Oro Tairona) offers an insight into the region’s history. Admire a vast collection of pre-Columbian gold and pottery, while learning about the indigenous Tairona people.More

Santa Marta Historic Center (Centro Historico de Santa Marta)

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Sandwiched between picturesque beaches and lush mountains, Santa Marta is both the oldest surviving city in Colombia and a gateway to Tayrona National Park. Explore the UNESCO-recognized historic center on foot, making time to visit highlights such as the 18th century cathedral, Tayrona Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Tairona), and Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino.More
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Marine World Aquarium (Mundo Marino Acuario)

Marine World Aquarium (Mundo Marino Acuario)

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With more than 200 species on display, Santa Marta’s Marine World Aquarium (Mundo Marino Acuario) is a must for nature lovers of all ages. Discover sharks, turtles, starfish, octopuses, seabirds, and more, while learning about conservation efforts in the region.More

Playa Blanca

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Backed by verdant mountains and lined with swaying palms, Playa Blanca is a tropical paradise situated just outside of Santa Marta. Go for a swim in the calm waters, enjoy a fresh seafood lunch, and relax under a thatched roof palapa for a quieter alternative to El Rodadero Beach.More

Carlos El Pibe Valderrama Statue

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Renowned for his soccer skills and outgoing personality, former Colombian football player Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama is immortalized by the 22-foot (7-meter) bronze statue of him in his hometown of Santa Marta, outside the Estadio Eduardo Santos. Nicknamed “El Pibe” (or “the Kid”) for his curly blond head of hair, he was one of the most recognizable figures in football worldwide, and one of the few Colombian players to ever join Major League Soccer in the United States.More

Taganga

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A small Colombian fishing village-turned-beach hangout, laidback Taganga is a hub for party-loving backpackers and scuba divers alike. Use Taganga as an affordable jumping-off point for exploration of Tayrona National Park, Ciudad Perdida, or mountainous Minca, before returning to admire the sunset from one of Taganga’s many beach bars.More
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Nabusimake

Nabusimake

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At the heart of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Nabusimake—the spiritual home of the Arhuaco people—is a secluded indigenous village which few outsiders get to experience. Known for virgin landscapes and wattle-and-daub homes, this sacred settlement is mostly closed off to the outside world.More
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All about Santa Marta

When to visit

Many travelers use Santa Marta as a jumping-off point for Tayrona National Park or the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) hike, but the coastal town has ample charm. It’s best explored between January and March, when temperatures are warm and the chance of downpours is low. For the best hotel deals, visit in July, when you’ll also encounter the annual Fiesta del Mar (Festival of the Sea)—which involves a range of water sports and a traditional Latin American beauty pageant.

Getting around

Santa Marta’s small size means it’s easy to explore on foot. If you want to travel further afield, a taxi is the best option—just make sure you agree on a price before you start your journey, as most of the taxis aren’t metered and a lack of communication can result in an expensive surprise when you arrive at your destination.

Traveler tips

Located just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Santa Marta is the unmissable mountain village of Minca, where locals flock to enjoy a break from the humidity of the tropical coast. In this magical pueblo, you’ll find organic coffee plantations, lush hiking trails, waterfalls, and an abundance of hummingbirds. It’s a haven for nature lovers and boasts some of Colombia’s best vistas.

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People Also Ask

What is Santa Marta known for?

Santa Marta is best known as a jumping-off point for Tayrona National Park, the Lost City trek, and the mountain village of Minca. It’s also famous for being one of the oldest Spanish settlements in Colombia—this colonial history is best reflected in its whitewashed cathedral.

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What language is spoken in Santa Marta?

Spanish is the primary language spoken in Santa Marta, like the rest of Colombia and the majority of South America. The Colombian accent is considered easy to understand, even for those who are new to the language. English is also widely spoken here due to Santa Marta’s popularity with travelers.

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How many days do you need in Santa Marta?

If you plan on using Santa Marta as a base for exploring Tayrona National Park and Minca, put aside at least four days on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Then, in addition to day trips, you’ll have time to admire the colonial architecture and relax on the beach of nearby Taganga.

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Can you swim in Santa Marta?

Most of the beaches in the vicinity of Santa Marta are great for swimming and snorkeling—top picks in Tayrona National Park include Playa Cristal, Playa Cinto, and Bahia Concha. Beaches conveniently close to the center include Santa Marta and El Rodadero, whose calm waters are safe for swimming.

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Is Santa Marta safe for tourists?

Yes. Santa Marta is generally a safe place for tourists to visit. Just like with most cities and towns, there are reports of pickpocketing, so stay vigilant and secure your valuables, tucking them out of sight. Avoid more rural areas after dark.

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Is Santa Marta worth visiting?

Yes. As the first Spanish settlement in Colombia and one of the oldest colonial cities in Latin America, Santa Marta is worth visiting. As well as being a convenient launchpad for Minca, the Lost City trek, and Tayrona National Park, it also boasts colonial architecture and nearby beaches.

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Frequently Asked Questions
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