One Day in Santa Marta Itinerary – Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

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There are many different opinions about Santa Marta, Colombia. Some like the city, others not so much. But one thing is for sure – for many, the town on the Caribbean coast is an integral part of their Colombia travel itinerary.

Whether as a starting point for some of the country’s best getaways or as a destination in its own right, it’s worth spending at least one day in Santa Marta. So, in this Santa Marta itinerary, we would like to introduce you to the best things to do in Santa Marta in one day.

We will also have a look at the best places to visit near Santa Marta. This way, you will have a complete travel experience in one of the most beautiful regions of the country.

Santa Marta Facts

  • The capital of the department of Magdalena
  • 550.000 inhabitants live here
  • Located on the Caribbean coast
  • It is a popular transition point between hiking, Minca, and Tayrona


Where to stay in Santa Marta: Akela Gaira Hotel (cozy hotel in El Rodadero) or Distrito Hostel (central Hostel in Santa Marta)

The most popular activities & tours in Santa Marta

Santa Marta Sunset Sailing Tour

Ciudad Perdida Multi-Day Trek

Visit Tayrona National Park

Minca Coffee and Cocoa-Tour

Santa Marta Food Tour

Santa Marta Guided City Tour

Getting there: Make sure to check for the best flight deals on Flight comparison-Sites like SkyscannerBustickets for South America can be found at Busbud.

Transport On-Site: On foot, bus, or taxi

Need travel insurance? Well-insured with one of the world’s most popular travel insurers for travelers: AXA Travel.

Santa Marta Must-Have: Colombia Travel Guide

One Day in Santa Marta Itinerary

Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

quinta de san pedro, sights in santa marta
Museobolivariano, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Hours Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: High season: 09.30 am – 5.30 pm, Low season: 09.30 am – 4.30 pm

Entrance Fee Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: 23.000 COP (ca. 5 €/$ 5.50)

History buffs should not miss this Santa Marta sight. After all, this building is where the freedom fighter Simón Bolívar spent his last days. Even today, a clock and his bed inside the building commemorate the time of his death.

However, art lovers will also get their money’s worth here, for the Altar de la Patria houses the Museum of Contemporary Art of Santa Marta.

Likewise, the colonial building and its garden are well worth visiting. Plan some time for your visit (2-3 hours) to discover all the different aspects of the museum.

Extra info: If you are interested in history and art, you should definitely visit the museum – although compared to Western museums, renovation and better maintenance of some parts would perhaps be a good idea.

El Centro Historico – Santa Marta’s Old Town

centro historico old town santa marta pink house with plants
Walking through the old town of Santa Marta, you can discover some picturesque buildings.

Santa Marta’s main attraction is its old town. Walk around and discover street art, colorful colonial architecture mixed with Caribbean flair, and delicious Colombian cuisine.

Stroll through Santa Marta’s alleyways to discover quaint, colorful houses. If you want to learn more about the old town’s different sights, you can also join a guided tour.

Santa Marta Cathedral

Cathedral of Santa Marta, white building, one day in santa marta

Opening hours Cathedral: Mon-Sat: 11:30 am – 1 pm & 4 pm – 6 pm; Sun: 6:30 am – 1 pm & 4 pm – 6 pm.

Entrance Fee Cathedral: free of charge

The white cathedral of Santa Marta visibly stands out from the cityscape. But the church is not only imposing but also of great historical importance for the city’s locals.

In the 19th century, one of the most influential personalities in the history of South America was buried here, the independence fighter Simón Bolívar – even though his body only spent a few years here until it was returned to his native Venezuela.

Not only for religious visitors, it is worth a short visit and a glimpse inside. Let the mystical atmosphere of the interior work its magic on you.

Extra info: The cathedral is often called “the oldest church in South America.” However, this refers to the church that stood here before. The cathedral was only constructed later.

Parque de los Novios

Parque de los novios in Santa Marta Colombia, white building
Felipe Restrepo Acosta, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening Hours Parque de los Novios: 24 hours

Entrance Fee Parque de los Novios: free of charge

Parque de los Novios (“the park of couples”) is considered one of the most popular parks in the city. With its location in the city center, the park, also often called Santander Park, is a popular meeting place for locals.

Throughout its history, there used to be a lake here, which later was converted into a marketplace after it dried up.

Today, the small park is home to two monuments to influential politicians and a selection of restaurants and cafes.

Plaza Simón Bolívar Park

parque simon bolivar in santa marta in a day

Opening Hours Parque Simon Bolivar: 24 hours

Entrance Fee Parque Simon Bolivar: free of charge

No one can travel through South America without hearing at least once about the independence fighter Simón Bolívar. This important personality played an essential role in the South American countries’ war of independence against Spain. Before dying in 1830, he spent his last days in Santa Marta.

With its statues, monuments, and shaded areas, this popular square invites residents and visitors to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the tranquility of this place.

Museo del Oro Tairona

Opening Hours Gold Museum: Tue – Sat: 09 am – 5 pm; Sun: 10 am – 3 pm; Mon: closed

Entrance Fee Gold Museum: free of charge

Gold mining is an essential theme in South America’s history. The museum offers almost 600 exhibits to help visitors learn more about gold and the Tairona period.

In this regard, even the museum building was not chosen by chance. The former customs building from the 18th century is part of the history of the region.

The City Beach

playa santa marta city beach, swimming, things to do in Santa Marta itinerary

One thing in advance: you definitely won’t find a paradisiacal Caribbean beach in Santa Marta. However, the city beach of Santa Marta is certainly sufficient for a little dip on a hot day.

Join the locals who come here, especially in the late afternoon hours when the sun is less intense on the skin.

Extra tip: The beautiful beaches you see when you google “Santa Marta beach” or similar usually show the beaches in Tayrona National Park or the city beaches of El Rodadero and Taganga (more on that later).

The Malecón Bastidas in Santa Marta

malecon santa marta, santa marta letters on the coast, boardwalk

The Malecón (the beach promenade) of Santa Marta is arguably the most visited sight of the city. Enjoy a long walk with sea views.

Don’t forget to take a picture of the Santa Marta letters during your walk. These letters can be found in every Colombian city, so if you are on a trip to Colombia, you can create a whole collection of these photos.

It is also worth coming to the Malecón in the evening to enjoy the beautiful sunset with locals and other visitors. The Caribbean Sea is simply most beautiful when bathed in a romantic yellow-orange glow from the setting sun.

Day Trips from Santa Marta + Multi-Day Trips

For many, Santa Marta is primarily a starting point for (day) trips in the surrounding area. So let’s take a quick look together to see the best things to see near Santa Marta.

Visiting Playa Grande

Playa Grande in Taganga, beach surrounded with dry mountains, Santa Marta
HectorPertuz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you walk through the tourist streets of Santa Marta or El Rodadero, you will meet at least one vendor who wants to sell you a trip to Playa Grande. After all, this is one of the most popular beaches in the area.

But don’t worry, you can easily reach the beach by yourself without a tour. You can do so by public transportation, a boat ride, or a 40-minute walk from the neighboring town of Taganga.

The beach may not be a dream beach either, but the village, surrounded by high mountains, offers a nice contrast to the blue water of the beach.

Extra tip: It can get crowded. Especially on weekends, during the high season, and on holidays, you should try to get here as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

El Rodadero

playa el rodadero, beach, santa marta
The wide sandy beach of El Rodadero

El Rodadero is a small municipality located about 15-minute drive from Santa Marta. The small town is known in the region as a tourist resort and is mainly visited by local tourists.

The beach here is quite a bit nicer than the city beach of Santa Marta and offers stalls with cocktails, restaurants, and more.

We spent almost three weeks in El Rodadero, and yes, the beach is definitely nicer than the one in Santa Marta. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t have much in common with the typical Caribbean beaches you find on the islands or in Yucatán.

Nevertheless, El Rodadero is very well suited for a beach trip. There is a large selection of restaurants (unfortunately, many are fast food restaurants).

Extra tip: For delicious coffee, ice cream, and cake, be sure to visit the Italian ice cream café Sublime.


Playa Taganga, beach, Santa Marta

Just north of Santa Marta, you’ll find another excellent city for day trips: Taganga. You might remember me mentioning Playa Grande, near Taganga, earlier. However, there are even more things to see in Taganga.

Taganga is a fantastic spot for a chill beach day—whether you fancy swimming, soaking up the sun, or indulging in beachside cocktails.

Among domestic tourists, Taganga is famous for its diving and snorkeling opportunities. A host of diving schools are ready to help you explore the sea. But I must be honest—if you’ve experienced snorkeling or diving in other tropical locales, the marine life here may not be the most impressive you’ve seen.

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park in Colombia, Beach Coast, Palomino Day Trip
Tayrona National Park is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country

Travel Time from Santa Marta: approx. 1 – 1½ hours

Entrance Fee: 62.000 COP (ca. 13,50 €/$ 15) + 6.000 COP (ca. 1,50 €/$ 1.50) Insurance per Day

Tayrona National Park is probably the most popular destination in the region, if not in the whole country. It’s worth the trip to the Northern coast just to visit the park. With beautiful Caribbean beaches and picturesque nature, you can expect a fantastic experience.

You can easily visit the Tayrona National Park from Santa Marta on your own – whether as a day trip or a multi-day hike. Likewise, you can visit the park on a guided tour. This is primarily a good option if you want to reach more remote parts of the park.

We spent two days in Tayrona and enjoyed the beaches in the morning, and after the day trippers had left. And if “sleeping in a hammock on the beach” is on your bucket list, Tayrona might be the perfect place to check it off finally.


finca las viejas in minca santa marta colombia
We spent a wonderful weekend in this finca in Minca

Travel Time from Santa Marta: approx. 45 Minutes

Travel Cost: 18.000 COP (ca. 4 €/$ 4.50) Return Trip by Colectivo

If you like hiking and being surrounded by nature, Minca is an absolute mandatory stop for your Colombia itinerary. Minca is a great place to cool off from the heat of the coast. The highest coastal mountain range in the world combines pure nature with an alternative backpacker atmosphere.

Besides hiking in the countryside and visiting a Colombian coffee farm, I also recommend spending at least one night in a Finca (We loved Masaya Casas Viejas) just outside Minca town to enjoy even more tranquility in a relaxed atmosphere.


Sunset at Palomino beach
The beautiful beach of Palomino

Travel Time from Santa Marta: 1½ – 2 hours

Travel Cost: from 13.000 COP (ca. 3 €/$ 3)

If I had to pick a favorite place for our Colombia trip, it would definitely be Palomino. We expected a small backpacker party place (not really our thing) and were surprised by a super laid-back coastal town surrounded by beautiful nature.

Palomino is perfect to chill out, surf, take long walks on the beach, or lay in a hammock with a good book or coffee.

You can easily reach Palomino by bus or colectivo from Santa Marta to spend a few relaxing days here.

Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City Trek

ciudad perdida ruins hike lost city in the jungle of colombia
View of the ruins of the Lost City in the middle of the jungle of Colombia

Hiking Time: 4-5 Days

Tour Price: ca. 350 €/ $ 380

Tour Reservation: In Santa Marta on-site or online, e.g., at GetYourGuide

The Ciudad Perdida is considered one of the most popular hikes in Colombia. This is a 4 or 5-day hike ( arguably the most popular option is 4 days) where you visit the Ciudad Perdida (in English: Lost City) in the jungle of Colombia.

Ciudad Perdida is also often referred to as the Machu Picchu of Colombia and is popular mainly for its remoteness. The hike will take you through the jungle with a (small) group, through breathtaking nature, far away from the region’s cities.

Due to legal restrictions, you can only participate in the hike with a professional guide. The tour is suitable for almost all fitness levels but can get a bit strenuous at times.

The most important thing is: don’t forget mosquito repellent and sunscreen! Trust me; you will need it.

Marinka Waterfalls

marinka wasserfall in Minca, Kolumbien, tagesausflug von Santa Marta, mädchen im Wasserpool

Entrance Fee Marinka Waterfalls: 10.000 COP (ca. 2 €/ $ 2.5)

Travel Time from Santa Marta: Option Hike: 45 minutes to Minca + 1-hour hike; Option moto-taxi: 45 minutes to Minca + approx. 10 minutes moto-taxi + 15 minutes hike.

Travel Cost: 18.000 COP (ca. 4 €/$ 4.3) Return Trip by Colectivo; Optional: 10.000 COP (ca. 2 €/ $2.50) for moto-taxi (per journey)

If you would like to visit the beautiful countryside of Minca but have limited time, a day trip to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region, the Marinka Waterfalls, is worthwhile.

Be sure to schedule some time for your visit. Besides cooling off and dipping your toes in the cool waters of the two waterfalls, you’ll want to have some time to take in the picturesque scenery of this place – and maybe snap a photo or two from the hammock net.

The idyllic waterfalls are located about 4 km from the center of Minca and can be reached on foot (about a 1-hour hike through the beautiful nature of Minca) or by moto-taxi (+ a short subsequent walk of about 15 minutes).

Extra tip: If you have a bit more time, it is worth combining your visit to Marinka Waterfalls with other scenic places nearby.

Where to stay in Santa Marta

The best Hotel in Santa Marta

Akela Gaira Hotel

This hotel is located right in the middle of the nature of El Rodadero – even if you are a few minutes’ drive outside of Santa Marta (we honestly found El Rodadero even better for a stay).

The hotel offers a garden where you can cool off from Santa Marta’s hot temperatures in the shade and a terrace and an outdoor pool.

Check more info, prices, and availability of Akela Gaira Hotel

The best Budget accommodation in Santa Marta

Distrito Hostel

Distrito Hostel in Santa Marta is one of the most popular accommodations for budget travelers. Thanks to its location, you can quickly reach the city’s attractions and explore at your leisure.

Another plus is that you can quickly get in touch with other travelers in the common areas, such as the shared kitchen.

Check more info, prices, and availability of Distrito Hotel

The right accommodation is not included?

>>Check all accommodations in Santa Marta at

Is a visit to Santa Marta worth it?

Important note: Before I share our impression of Santa Marta with you, I just wanted to quickly remind you that this is our personal opinion. Other travelers might not share this opinion (100%). Therefore, it is always worthwhile to form your own opinion on-site.

I’ll be honest with you. Santa Marta didn’t really convince us. Actually, we had planned to spend a whole month in the city, and in the end, we switched to the neighboring El Rodadero (which wasn’t quite the real deal for us either, to be completely honest).

Santa Marta is quite nice to spend a day exploring the city’s sights. But that’s about it.

BUT Santa Marta, with its central location, is simply the perfect starting point for excursions in the region (like Tayrona, Minca, or the hike to Ciudad Perdida). Therefore, many people can’t avoid spending a few days in the city. So I wrote this article to help you make the most of your stay in Santa Marta.

Is Santa Marta safe?

I wouldn’t call Santa Marta particularly dangerous, but in contrast to other Colombian cities, we had a bit of an uneasy feeling in some areas of the city.

The historic center is considered relatively safe, especially during the day. So you can walk around on your own and explore the sights.

At night, however, I would probably recommend taking a taxi if you are alone or outside the main streets of the center.

How to get to Santa Marta

As a popular tourist destination in Colombia, Santa Marta generally has good connections to other parts of the country.

Getting from Cartagena de Indias to Santa Marta

Journey Duration: approx. 5 hours

Journey Cost: from 35.000 COP (ca. 7,50 €/$8.30) 

You can easily get to Santa Marta from Cartagena de Indias. Daily bus connections leave several times a day to Santa Marta. You can choose between different providers and, therefore, between different price ranges.

Getting from Palomino to Santa Marta

Journey Duration: 1½ – 2 hours

Journey Cost: from 13.000 COP (ca. 3 €/$ 3)

Those traveling to Santa Marta from the coastal village of Palomino have an easy route ahead of them. Buses and vans (colectivos) run several times a day. You can hop right into one of the vans, which leave Palomino as soon as they are full.

Another option is to wait on the side of the road until a bus comes by to give you a ride.

If the whole thing takes too long, you can also take a taxi. Expect to pay around €35-40 per ride.

Getting from Medellín or Bogotá to Santa Marta

Journey Duration: approx. 1 hours flight or from 15 hours bus journey

Journey Cost: from 130.000 COP (ca. 30 €/$ 31) 

If you are traveling from more distant places in Colombia or even from abroad, you will probably arrive by plane. Santa Marta has an airport with flights arriving several times a day from the capital, Bogotá, and Medellín.

If the flight is too pricey, or you want to help the environment by reducing your CO2 footprint (or you are just looking for adventure), you can also travel by bus. However, be prepared for a long drive, as Medellín is about 15 hours (and 150,000 COP) and Bogotá 16 hours drive (and 130,000 COP) from Santa Marta.

Santa Marta Transport – How to get around

Most of the things to see in Santa Marta are located in the city center. You can easily walk around here. The bus station is also reachable within a relatively short walk (about 10-15 minutes) and is therefore feasible even with some luggage.

Otherwise, you can also take a taxi to get from A to B. Many taxi drivers drive according to the official taxi fare (ask for the price chart every official cab driver has in their car, in case you are unsure).

If you want to visit places of interest outside Santa Marta, such as El Rodadero, Minca, or Tayrona National Park, you can use the official buses, colectivos (vans), or taxis as well.

Where is Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta colombia map
Source: Google Maps

Santa Marta is located on the Colombian Caribbean coast on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The city is located about 1,000 km from the capital, Bogotá, 800 km from the city of Medellín, and 220 km from Cartagena de Indias.

FAQs about Visiting Santa Marta, Colombia

How many days to spend in Santa Marta?

Theoretically, you only need one day to explore the main attractions of Santa Marta. It is worth staying a little longer if you have planned day trips or a visit to Tayrona or Minca.

Is the tap water in Santa Marta drinkable?

Unlike in some major Colombian cities such as Medellín and Bogotá, the tap water in Santa Marta is not potable. Therefore, drink only filtered or bottled water.

What is the climate in Santa Marta, Colombia, like?

The climate in Santa Marta is warm all year round, with an average annual temperature of 28°C (82,5°F) and more than 215 days of sunshine.

How much tip to give in Santa Marta, Colombia?

In Santa Marta and the rest of Colombia, it is customary to leave about a 10 % tip for good service. In some restaurants, the 10 % is already included in the bill.

Does Santa Marta have an Airport?

The Colombian city of Santa Marta has its own airport, the Aeropuerto Internacional Simón Bolívar. It has connections to various destinations, especially Bogotá and Medellín.

Do they speak English in Santa Marta?

In Santa Marta, Colombia, the primary language spoken is Spanish. In some touristy places like hotels or restaurants, you will probably find people that speak English as well.


About the AuthorVicki

Hi, we are Vicki & Eduardo, an international travel couple on a mission to help you save money for priceless travel experience. Follow us through the miracles of this world and you will be rewarded with a bunch of practical travel tips.

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