Founded in 1525, Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia and is one of the oldest surviving cities in South America.
Not having the best reputation, Santa Marta is mostly known for being the place where Simon Bolivar died. It is also a nice jumping off point if you are looking to do the Lost City Trek (4-6 days) or to head to Tayrona National Park (a 30-minute bus ride from the city).
Personally, I enjoyed walking around Santa Marta more than I did Cartagena, Colombia. While touristy, Santa Marta does not even begin to compare with its more popular neighbour located 3-hours to the west.
Santa Marta is quite lively at night and ‘calle 19’ is full of bars, restaurants and live street music.
While Santa Marta’s beaches are better than Cartagena’s, they are not all that impressive. It is more known as a port city and there is a large harbour located a few streets from the city centre.
SO, you’re better off venturing into Tayrona or heading to Taganga if you’re looking for some quality beach time!
Santa Marta has a population of around 500,000 but the city is very spread out. The downtown core is concise and easy to navigate and it really only takes an afternoon to explore.
The Cathedral in Santa Marta bears a striking resemblance to the one in Leon, Nicaragua and it is located directly in the centre of the downtown core. From here, you can reach the Plaza de Bolivar along with the beach/water in 2 to 3 minutes walking.
I stayed a day and a half in Santa Marta and was pleasantly surprised! I prefer this city to Cartagena as it feels more authentic and less like a tourist gimmick. The climate is slightly less humid and cools down nicely at night. Furthermore, as I mentioned before, Santa Marta is a perfect jumping off point to other destinations in the area. (Taganga, Tayrona, Rodadero, Minca, Guajira)
A few stories were circulating regarding the safety of Santa Marta, but I didn’t feel unsafe during the day. However, it may be wise to proceed with a little more caution in this area.
Ultimately, Santa Marta is good for a day or two. Hostels can be found for around $30,000 pesos ($15 cdn) and an average meal is about $15,000 to $20,000. Many tourists skip by Santa Marta but I think it is a destination worth checking out!