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What to Do in Santa Marta Colombia

You must see the beautiful Santa Marta Colombia beaches when traveling along the Caribbean Coast. If you have limited time and are wondering what to do in Santa Marta, you’ve come to the right place. I’m sharing the top things to do in Santa Marta Colombia to maximize your vacation.

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours, and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress. 
Best Santa Marta ToursClick here to check out the top Santa Marta tours
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Best Santa Marta Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Santa Marta

About Santa Marta

Colombian tourists vacation in Cartagena, while the locals go to Santa Marta. Santa Marta has two sides: the upmarket beach resorts lining the coast and the historic center where locals and backpackers seek adventure. At its heart, Santa Marta is a bustling port city with beautiful beaches, mouthwatering cuisine, and exciting outdoor adventures.

Best Area to Stay in Santa Marta

Where you stay depends on what kind of vacation you are looking for. If you want a Santa Marta beach holiday, look along the coast between the airport and the Historic Centre.

However, if you are a backpacker with limited time in Santa Marta, consider the Centro Historico area. Spending one or two days here will give you plenty of time to explore. There is a beach in the center, but there isn’t much to do compared to other Colombian beaches.

Public Transport in Santa Marta

If you stay in the historic center, you can access all the city’s top sights on foot. Take the blue colectivos (local Santa Marta buses) to travel outside Santa Marta. They’re straightforward to use, even if your Spanish is poor.

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

All of the buses in Santa Marta have a fixed price. Flag one down (they will stop anywhere), give the driver your money, and sit down. It’s that easy! If unsure, tell the driver your destination name to confirm you’re on the right bus. You can follow the route on Google Maps or ask a local to tell you where to get off.

Need Transportation in Colombia?

I highly recommend booking Colombia transportation with GottoGo. You can search for buses, shuttles, ferries, and flights on their website—I love their customer service. I know them personally from my time living in Guatemala, and they genuinely care for their customers. If a delay occurs and you miss your bus, call them for help.

If you book through GottoGo, you will pay more than at the bus station, but it’s worth it for the ease and security. Click here to search for transportation in Colombia.

Taking the Bus to Santa Marta Airport

Walk towards the seafront and take a bus on Carrera 1c that says “Airporto.” It will drop you outside the terminal after 30-45 minutes.

Taking the Bus to Santa Marta Bus Terminal

Take a bus from Carrera 5 that says “Terminal de Transporte” on the front. Many buses pass the terminal, so you can try flagging down any bus to ask. It’s generally a 30-minute ride but varies with traffic.

Taking the Bus From Santa Marta to Taganga

To get to Taganga, head from Carrera 5 and look for a bus that says “Taganga.” It usually takes 30-40 minutes.

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

How to Get From Santa Marta to Tayrona (and Santa Marta to Palomino)

You must go to the market to get to Parque Tayrona, Palomino, or any of the small towns along the coast that are in that direction from Santa Marta. Look for the white buses with green writing and someone shouting Tayrona. If you can’t see them, then stop and ask a local, “¿Dónde está el autobús a Tayrona?” Tell the driver where you want to go, as the price varies.

How to Get From Santa Marta to Minca

You can find the bus to Minca near the Tayrona bus. There will be someone on the street shouting, “Minca.” Just go and tell him you would like to go there. Chances are he will speak English. This isn’t so much a bus as a large 4×4. Your bag will be strapped to the top, and you must wait until the colectivo is full before it departs.

Things to Do in Santa Marta Colombia

There are many Santa Marta things to do, regardless of your budget or interests. The town’s natural beauty and vibrant artistic community are perfect for a day of exploration.

Walk Through Old Town

Touring Santa Marta on foot will probably take you 20-30 minutes! Start at Parque Bolivia and walk along the seafront. When you get to the end, turn around and walk back. Cross over the road and head back into town, passing through Parque de Los Novios to the cathedral.

24 hours in Santa Marta

Stroll Down Carrera 5

Carrera 5 is the main shopping street in Santa Marta. If you need to buy supplies, this is the best place to find them. There is also a shopping mall not far from the main town. Although the mall is slightly calmer than Carrera 5, expect higher prices.

Try Exotic Fruits at the Market

Fresh produce markets in Colombia are a real treat for the senses. I have never been to a country with so many varieties of fruit! One of my favorite things to do in Santa Marta is visiting the market and exploring the fruit stalls. No trip to Colombia is complete without trying some weird and wonderful local fruits.

Visit a Museums

If you’re unsure what to do in Santa Marta, consider visiting one of the city’s impressive museums:

Museo del Oro: The Gold Museum focuses on items found in Santa Marta and the surrounding region. If you have done the Lost City Trek, you will find many items displayed here that were found on that route. The best part is it’s FREE!

Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: Visit the hacienda where Simón Bolívar (who has a Parque in almost every Ciudad in Colombia) spent his final days. Built in the 1700s, it is one of the most important buildings in Santa Marta and also has a beautiful garden. The cost is $21mil COP, which includes a guide.

Take the Bus to Taganga

Taganga is a small fishing town. There is a beach—however, due to all the boats, it isn’t great for swimming or sunbathing. Taganga is fantastic for diving, eating fish, and partying! The bus only takes 30 minutes and costs $1600mil. Taganga is well worth a visit if you have the time.

You can also take the boat from here to Parque Tayrona.

Spend a Day at Santa Marta Colombia Beaches

I love Colombia, so it pains me to say this, but the beaches aren’t great. Sure, there are some lovely beaches. However, if you have traveled extensively, don’t be surprised if you are underwhelmed. To spend the day relaxing on the beach, I suggest traveling a few hours down the coast to Palomino to spend the day relaxing on the beach.

If you prefer to stay local, these are the best Santa Marta beach Colombia picks.

  • El Rodadero: This is the main Santa Marta beach. Be warned, it gets crowded!
  • Playa Blanca: Accessible by boat and an excellent day trip.
  • Playa Grande: To get here, take the bus to Taganga and follow the nature trail. It is about a 10-minute walk and has stunning views.
  • Playa Salguero: Located next to El Rodadero, it offers a calmer, less hectic experience with picture-perfect sunsets.
Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

Santa Marta Hotels

Depending on your budget and where you want to be in Santa Marta, I recommend the following hotels.

Rua Hostels

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

This is my favorite budget hotel in Santa Marta. It includes breakfast, AC, and many areas to relax. You will also find a rooftop bar, kitchen, and swimming pool. I spent a few nights there following the Lost City Trek, sunbathing and drinking cocktails. One big bonus is that it’s only a few meters from Carrera 1, where you can take the bus to the airport.

They speak English here.

Hotel Nueva Granda

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

The night I returned from Lost City, I needed a room in a nice place, so I splurged on Hotel Nueva Granda. It was only $80mil per night, including breakfast. But considering I usually spend $15mil on a bed in a dorm, this was blowing the budget for me!

They have a great breakfast buffet, swimming pool, and hammocks! The lack of hot water was the only thing that let this place down for me. After four days in the jungle, I wanted a hot shower and cold AC. I got the AC, but the shower was the usual Santa Marta cold water. If you need hot water, confirm the situation before booking accommodations.

They speak English here.

Arbore Hostel

The best thing about this hostel is its location near the cathedral and delicious street food vendors. There isn’t much space in the dorm and little communal space, but they have plugs, a light in the bed, and free coffee in the morning! If you want breakfast, you must book it before you arrive.

They don’t speak English here.

Believer Hostel

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

I stayed here because it is very close to the market. They let me store my big backpack here for a few days while I went to Punta Gallinas. I liked that I could check in early to store my bags securely. I was also able to check out at 4 a.m. with no problem. They were accommodating, and the rooms were spacious.

They didn’t speak English here, but understood my “Spanglish” well!

Coco Bahia

Colombian Adventures | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta

I liked the vibe here. The location is good, and they offer a cheap laundry service. Breakfast and coffee are not included, but they have a small pool, a kitchen, and a rooftop communal area. The internet is pretty good, and the rooms are clean.

They speak some English here but mainly Spanish.

This place is quite far out of town but close to the airport. It isn’t on the beach but a short walk, or they have transport to drop you off as it is also close to the main road, so you can easily catch a bus from the historic center or airport. A bonus is that they have a pool and a rooftop area for sunbathing. It’s only private rooms, but great value!

Where to Eat in Santa Marta

I suggest walking around the street food stalls near the cathedral and Carrera 5. If you are looking for a restaurant, there is an excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant called Maharaja that I highly recommend. They offer a great value menu del dia, and the owner is friendly. He also speaks English and was helpful.

My other recommendation in Santa Marta is Restaurante Welcome on Calle 10c. Some locals told me to eat there. The food is excellent, and the restaurant is packed with Colombians, which is always a good sign!

Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?

The Insurance companies I recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing

Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single-trip cover, annual multi-trip cover, and long-term travel cover. Safety Wing is great value, with monthly coverage starting at $45.08. It’s super easy to use, and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.

Read my full travel insurance post here, where I go into detail about all companies. 

What to Pack for Santa Marta

How much you pack depends on how long you are traveling. I try to do trips like this with just hand luggage, meaning I carefully choose my clothes! Santa Marta is great for shopping, so you can always pick up anything.

If you are just visiting Santa Marta, here are some of my must-have travel items.

  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Three shirts: A white one, another plain one, and something a bit fancier for evenings.
  • A dress: Make sure it’s lightweight.
  • A pair of leggings: Stick with quick-drying, as it gets scorching along the coast.
  • A lightweight jumper: You will need this if you go to Minca, as it gets pretty cold in the mornings and evenings.

Check out my full packing list for Colombia’s Caribbean Coast here.

Quick Tip: View my full Colombia packing guide here including a downloadable checklist. And check out my Colombia Essentials shopping list here.

Santa Marta Travel Guide Planning

🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Santa Marta?

Yes! I have created a whole packing guide to Colombia which you can read here and you can also check out my packing list for Colombia on Amazon here.

🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in Santa Marta?

I strongly recommend using GottoGo. You can book almost all transport in the major tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.

🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in Santa Marta?

I recommend either Viator or GetYour Guide. They have a lot of options!

👩‍⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?

I recommend using Heymondo for a great value policy. The app also offers you 24/7 Dr Chat. For Digital Nomads check out SafetyWing digital nomad insurance.

I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here

✈️ Any flight recommendations?

WayAWay offers you cheap flights with cashback. You can use this code CLAIRE22 to get 10% off. Otherwise Skyscanner or Expedia are my go-to flight searching platforms.

📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?

I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.

With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.

🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?

The 3 best platforms that I normally use are Booking.comHotels.com, and Expedia They offer great deals and multiple options. I always check all three to be sure of the best deals.

🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?

I do have a complete list of the best packing and luggage products that I recommend, you can check the list here. I’m currently traveling with this suitcase and this backpack. 

What to Do in Santa Marta Colombia: Final Thoughts

I hope this guide to things to do in Santa Marta Colombia is helpful if you are backpacking. From visiting a Santa Marta beach to touring the local museums, there are many fun Santa Marta things to do. Don’t forget to check out my other Colombia guides! You can also follow my one-week, two-week, and three-week itineraries for the Colombian Coast.

Things to do in Santa Marta | How to spend 24 hours in Santa Marta