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White sand beaches and blue opal ocean are not the only reasons to visit this coastal marvel in Colombia. It’s South America-meets-the Caribbean, which makes for a truly unique cultural experience. Oh, and did we tell you that there’s an ancient lost city ruin nearby? In a jungle? Sign us up.
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.
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.
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.
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....More
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....More
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....More
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....More
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....More
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....More
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