If you are backpacking around Colombia it is important to know the best way to get from A to B. In this guide I’m going to share with you the different ways you can travel from Medellín to Santa Marta (or travel from Santa Marta to Medellín).
I normally split these posts into 3 categories, the cheapest way the mid-budget way and the no expenses spared way. However, prices fluctuate in Colombia so this changes from day to day.
Traveling by Air
This is actually the best and cheapest option normally! Having traveled both by bus and by plane I can 100% say fly if you can. Over Christmas and during peak times airfares go up so it may be cheaper to get the bus. In my experience booking a few weeks in advance, it was at least $10 cheaper to fly.
There are 2 airports in Medellin. A small one close to the south bus terminal and a large international one in Reonegro. Most flights go from the international airport but do check.
Be sure to check for the best flights on Skyscanner.
Be aware of the direct flights if they are with Viva Colombia. They are very strict on printing out boarding passes and luggage. If you book with them read the fine print and don’t break the rules, otherwise, it is likely to cost you a lot more than the airfare. If you want to take more than 5kg hand luggage you will need to pay extra. So take this into account.
Getting to the airport
The airport in Medellin is an hour away. A colectivo will cost around $15mil COP and you can catch it from San Diego shopping center. They normally park at the petrol station. A private taxi is more like $70. To get to the airport in Santa Marta is super easy and really cheap. You can get on one of the blue colectivos for the bargain cost of $1200COP. Take a collectivo from the Carrera 1 (seafront) to the airport. If you are coming from the airport then just wait outside the airport until you see one of the blue buses.
The flight is really quick, under 45 minutes. If you are not checking in luggage you just need to be there an hour before boarding and you will walk right out of the airport at the other side. It should take around 3 hours max in total.
The bus is by far the easiest way to go. However it isn’t much cheaper, it is often more expensive, and it takes a LONG time. They may tell you 15 hours, but that would be a lie! I was on the bus for at least 20 hours and this is pretty normal. That’s a long time to be on a bus!
Do you need to book the bus from Medellin to Santa Marta?
To take the bus I would strongly recommend booking the bus! Especially if you are planning to travel on one of the night buses. I didn’t book and ended up stranded overnight, the bus station closes at 10 pm so it’s not possible to sleep there! Book your ticket on Busbud (you MUST print off your ticket). Or go to the bus station and pre-book the bus at least 24 hours before.
Getting to the bus station
This is really easy. In Santa Marta just head to the market area and ask for a bus that goes to the bus terminal. This will cost $1200 COP or a taxi should be $5mil COP.
The bus will stop right outside the bus terminal. If you just find your way out onto the main road you can take a bus into town. Just ask the driver if you are unsure.
The Santa Marta bus drops off and picks up from the North Terminal (Terminal Norte) you can take a colectivo there (just find one that says Terminal Norte) or a taxi from Laureles should be around $6Mi COP.
If you don’t know Medellin and your Spanish isn’t great I would get a taxi and the colectivos can be confusing!
Why Get the Bus?
Even though taking the bus taken a ridiculous amount of time, and isn’t that much different in cost I often prefer the bus.
If I have luggage it’s just so much easier to sling my bag on a bus and sit there for a day than have to deal with packing my bag, weighing it and dealing with the whole airport security stress.
So if you aren’t in any rush and you hate airports as much as me then the bus is a good option. They are comfortable, the food is better and cheaper (well that’s if you are lucky and the driver lets the guys who board the bus to sell food on) and there are no hidden costs!
By Private Transfer
Does anyone even do this? Honestly, I really wouldn’t recommend it. But if you want someone to organize everything for you and money is no object then speak to my friends at Colombian Buddy. They can organize an English or Spanish speaking driver who can drive you around Colombia.
A bit about travel in Colombia
It is no secret that Colombia is emerging out of decades of civil war. During this time it was extremely unsafe to travel by road anywhere. For that reason, Colombia’s infrastructure for traveling between cities isn’t great. Even though the geographical distance may not look far, for the most part, you have to go over and around the mountains on single track roads. It can be slow going!
However, as the roads are now considered safe and as more people are traveling the government is investing in the countries roads. Within the next decade, bus journeys will get quicker and it will be much easier to travel. For example, a new tunnel due to be completed at the end of 2018 connecting Medellin and San Jose airport will half the drive time.
I hope this is helpful if you are backpacking in Colombia be sure to check out my other guides!