The Best Things to Do in Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta, located along the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, is a beach town with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of nature to explore. Many travelers come here to escape from the hustle and bustle of Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin and hit the beach, check out the national park, and see the jungle! Check out the best things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia and start planning your trip.

things to do in santa marta colombia

Santa Marta Trip Overview:

  • Nights: 2-4
  • PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 2-4
  • Currency: Colombian Peso
  • Language: Spanish

SEE ALSO: The Best Things to Do in Salento, Colombia for a 2-Day Trip

How to Get to Santa Marta, Colombia

The easiest way to get to Santa Marta is to fly into Simon Bolivar International Airport (SMR). They have direct flights from Bogota, Cali and Medellin. Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Cartagena. If you are coming from there, you can take a bus to Santa Marta (about a 5 hour ride).

Best Time of Year to Visit Santa Marta, Colombia

The best time to visit Santa Marta is in dry season: December – April, and June – September. Temperature-wise, it’s pretty hot in Santa Marta year-round.

Getting Around Santa Marta

If you are staying in the central area, most bars and restaurants and sites are walking distance. Otherwise, Uber and taxis are prevalent and make for an easy way to get around the area.

Where to Stay in Santa Marta

I recommend staying in the historic center of Santa Marta to be in the middle of all the action, and walking-distance to bars and restaurants.

Budget: Masaya Santa Marta. We stayed in a private room here and loved it! They have a rooftop bar area with a pool table, swimming pool, and great views.

Mid-Range: El Cactus Luxury Apartments. Great reviews and located in the heart of Santa Marta historic district

Best Things To Do in Santa Marta, Colombia

Let’s get to it! Here are some of the best things to do in Santa Marta so you can start planning your trip:

Tayrona National Park

best things to do in santa marta colombia

One of the most popular things to do in Santa Marta, and the catalyst for why some travelers go to this region of Colombia, is to check out Tayrona National Park. This park is known for its lush tropical jungle vibes and beautiful beaches (only a few of which you are actually able to swim in).

Actually getting to Tayrona National Park can be a bit challenging. It’s a 1-hour drive from Santa Marta to the main entrance, called Zaino Entrance. You can take a bus, take an arranged shuttle from your hostel, or if you aren’t on a budget, can take an Uber. Plan to get to the entrance right when they open at 7am (or a little earlier, to beat the line) and buy your ticket (about $23 USD). You must have your passport to buy your ticket! You are only able to enter the park from 7am – 12pm, and must exit by 5pm.

Once you buy your ticket, you hop on a quick shuttle to the trailhead entrance and then walk about 2.5 hours until you reach the beaches. And yes, you will need to walk all of this way back at the end of the day to exit!

Based on this, it is a very rushed day trip from Santa Marta. Some people arrange to stay the night inside the park/nearby, but accommodations are very much “roughing it”.

Note that the park is closed on the following dates each year for maintenance:

  • February 1 – 15
  • June 1- 15
  • October 19 – November 2

Take a Guided Tour from Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park

If all of this sounds overwhelming for you to plan (I get it!) then you could also join an organized day trip to Tayrona National Park instead. That way you can sit back, relax, and not have to worry about any of the logistics! Here are two great options:

If you find that you want to visit Tayrona National Park but don’t have time, there is an alternative! You can visit Bahia Concha beach instead (this is what I did!). More info below:

Bahia Concha

bahia concha santa marta

My favorite thing to do in Santa Marta, Colombia is to visit Bahia Concha. This beach is technically part of Tayrona National Park, located right on the southwestern border of the park closest to the city of Santa Marta. It is accessed separately from the rest of the national park, so it can sometimes be overlooked when people talk about Tayrona National Park. But it shouldn’t be! Bahia Concha beach is beautiful, and is the most easily-accessible beach within the national park. It’s a great alternative to visiting the main section of Tayrona National Park if you are on a budget or have time constraints.

How to Get to Bahia Concha

The easiest way to get from Santa Marta to Bahia Concha is to use a taxi or Uber (alternatively, you could also take the local bus).

It’s about a 40 minute ride from Santa Marta to Bahia Concha, and is super easy to find a taxi to take you there. It will likely cost around 30,000 COP (about $8 USD) one-way. The hard part is finding a taxi to get back afterwards. I highly recommend arranging with your taxi driver to pick you back up after a certain amount of time. This is what we did and it worked perfectly! We asked the driver to come back in 3 hours to take us back to Santa Marta, and he was there right on time.

The taxi driver will drop you off at the entrance. It costs 5,000 COP to enter (about $1.50 USD).

Another option for getting there – you can take this day trip to Bahia Concha on a sailboat! It leaves from Santa Marta, and includes lunch, snorkeling equipment and paddleboards. Sounds like fun!

When to Go to Bahia Concha

best things to do in santa marta colombia

There is a daily cap of 2,000 visitors for Bahia Concha Beach, and during the summer it’s only open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is a good thing, so that on the other days of the week the employees can do maintenance and restoration to keep it nice & pristine for visitors! The park opens at 8am. I recommend getting there in the morning, but no need to stress about getting there right when it opens. We arrived around 10am on a Friday in July and had no problem getting in.

Tips for Bahia Concha

  • Once you arrive and pay the entrance fee, it’s about a 20-minute walk along a dirt path to get to the beach. If you don’t feel like walking, there are people on motorbikes willing to drive you to the beach for a few bucks. (We did this for the walk back!)
  • Bring cash to the beach. There are vendors selling coconut water, drinks, and snacks. You can also pay to rent a little “cabana” shade tarp if you want.
  • Walk a little from the entrance, around the bend, to the cove. This part of the beach is way more secluded, peaceful and pristine
  • The water is really calm and great for swimming!

Trek to the Lost City

Source: GetYourGuide

One of the most popular things to do when visiting Santa Marta, if you have the time for it, is to do the multi-day trek to the Lost City. If you like the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, Peru, then this type of adventure may be for you! The Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, precedes the Inca civilization by around 650 years. You can reach the Lost City by doing a 4-day trek through the jungle. I highly recommend booking a guided trek like this one that includes all of your meals, accommodations and entrance ticket, as well as a knowledgable guide so you can learn the history behind what you are looking at!

Visit Minca

If you want to experience some of the surrounding mountains and jungle, but don’t want to commit to a multi-day trek to the Lost City, consider heading to Minca instead! The small town of Minca is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains just a 45-minute drive from Santa Marta. Spend the day exploring the lush jungle environment, waterfalls, epic views, and Colombian coffee farms!

You could hire a taxi to take you around for the day, OR opt for a guided day trip. This one includes lunch, a coffee plantation tour, and a nature walk to a waterfall.

Hang Out Around Parque de los Novios

One of the best spots for people watching in the heart of Santa Marta is Parque de los Novios. There is an actual park, but the streets surrounding it are an attraction in itself. It’s bustling at night, with different nightclubs, restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from. And lots of street food vendors! Spend time meandering around here and enjoy the local culture and cuisine.

best things to do in santa marta

If you’re wandering around here in the daytime, you’re also super close to Carrera 3, which is a picturesque pedestrian street with colorful colonial houses. Spend some time soaking in the colorful views on this street, and pop into any restaurants that pique your interest! One of my favorites was actually a vegetarian spot called Ikaro Cafe. It was so good that I went there twice (and I’m not even vegetarian!). The food is so fresh and healthy.

Stroll Along the Paseo el Camellón

santa marta itinerary

One of the best things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia is to stroll along the waterfront promenade called the Paseo el Camellón. This palm tree-lined walkway goes from Santa Marta’s old port to it’s new marina. It’s super scenic and would be great any time of day, but especially at sunset!

Check Out the Santa Marta Cathedral

santa marta cathedral

You can’t miss the beautiful, white Santa Marta Cathedral when wandering around Santa Marta. This cathedral is actually the first one to ever be constructed in continental America (in 1531)! Because of this, it’s considered to be the “Mother of Colombian churches” and seeing it is definitely one of the best things to do in Santa Marta! Another fun fact: The remains of Simon Bolivar, one of the most important leaders of Latin America, were located in this church for about 30 years (before relocating to his home country of Venezuela). However, his heart and entrails remain in this cathedral!

It’s definitely worth it to pop inside this cathedral and soak in the ornate decor and admire the history of this landmark.

What to Pack for your Santa Marta Trip

Besides the obvious essentials, don’t leave home without:


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