I have a rental business near Santa Marta. Every time someone stays at my apartments, I have this urge of bombarding them with photos and recommendations… Truth is, I want them to experience the city like I have. So this post was inspired by those who’ve stayed at my apartment before. And I’m hoping this will help future tourists organize their schedules to sight see my favorite town in the world.
Keep in mind, Santa Marta is a town by the beach but there is also Rodadero. Which is a smaller town, 5 minutes away from Santa Marta. Sometimes we (Samarians) will refer to either town as Santa Marta so make sure to clarify if you’re asking for directions.
Below are some of my favorite beaches and outdoor places to visit near or in Santa Marta.
Taganga is known as a small fishermen town. It is very common to see lots of boats parked on the shore and it’s perfect for stunning photos. Taganga is one of those places where you go knowing you are going to have fun. It’s the norm to find live musicians, great food, great drinks and lots of new friends. There’s plenty of outdoor activities and water sports to pick from. I recommend stand up paddle board here since the water is the calmest. Just make sure to check for wind and stay close to the shore.
This beach is only 15 minutes away from downtown SMR. It is very easy to get to since there are buses going this route all day long. You can either take a $1,500 COP bus, a $15,000 COP taxi, or drive yourself if you have a car.
Taganga has tons of hostels and dance floors! If you are going to go dancing or drinking it’s best to stay there on Fridays or Saturdays to avoid driving back.
MUST DO: Stop! Stop at the overlook point on the way to Taganga. It is the perfect spot for great shots. I recommend going in the afternoon or right before sunset. You can get some of the prettiest shots from there. You can also purchase souvenirs from local artists there.
You should be prepared to watch some of the most breathtaking sunsets here! Just grab a chair, a lemonade, some of your favorite peeps and enjoy.
2. TAYRONA PARK
Tayrona park is one of my favorite destinations in Santa Marta. Almost the main reason why I visit often. You can pick from a variety of tours to go on since there are over ten beaches to pick from. Some of the best beaches are Playa Cristal, Neguanje, Bahia Concha, Cabo San Juan, Arenilla, La Piscinita, and Arrecife. You can also hike to an indigenous people reservoir called El Pueblito, which is about a 4 hour hike from the main parking lot.
To get there you can either book a tour, at least a day in advance, or go on a bus from downtown SMR. Usually, tours are around $50,000 for colombians and $100,000 for internationals. Rates are different because there’s an extra fee at the park for internationals. You can take a bus from “El Mercado,” the market in downtown SMR, and get dropped of at the park for $15,000 or less. Then, pay the entry fee at the park and take a $4,000 bus to the parking lot where you’ll start your hike. On the way back, you can bargain with local drivers and get them to drive you from the parking lot to Santa Marta for as low as $15,000.
I have to say my top pick is the Cabo San Juan tour. This one requires a 1.5 to 2.5 hour walk depending on your pace. It usually takes me 1.5 hours on the way there and 2 hours on the way back. But it is definitely worth it.
If you feel adventurous or want to stay longer, you can either sleep in hammocks in a hut overlooking the ocean or rent tents for the night. Prices range between $15,000 COP to $25,000 COP. Just make sure to secure a spot as soon as you arrive at the beach! You can find lunch at the restaurant starting at $18,000 COP but make sure to order ahead of time. There is only one restaurant and tons of people wanting to eat! Or if you’re like me, you can skip lunch, snack a lot, and enjoy extra time at the beach.
If you choose to take the Cabo San Juan hike, you will walk through four beaches before arriving at your destination. If you choose not to take a tour, don’t worry. There is only one way to get there and it’s very easy to find the trail. Just remember, it is recommended not to bathe in any of them except Cabo and La Piscinita. The reason why… all of them have strong currents and it is not smart to swim.
The way is full of landscapes! You’ll see and walk through mountains, rivers, and different beaches. You’ll meet indigenous people along the way as they sell coconut water and orange juice. Keep in mind indigenous kids love candy and hate photos. Also, make sure to drink plenty of liquids and bring some fruits because you might encounter monkeys or wildlife.
Overall, Cabo San Juan is a breath taking destination. The hike will leave you speechless, as you will walk in the middle of the jungle and some of the most exotic beaches you’ll ever see. I’ve been there twice in three weeks and will be heading back soon!
MUST DO: Keep walking! Say what? Yes dude keep walking!
5 minutes away from this view is my favorite spot from the whole trip. Follow the path after you reach the hut and take the first right. There is a small hill, climb it and keep going. The path is narrow but once you reach the rocks by the water, you’ll be completely in awe of the view. I’m not going to spoil the whole thing but you can see everything from there. Here’s a teaser.
3. QUEBRADA VALENCIA
Santa Marta is a town where you really can find it all. Due to the fact that it is located North of Colombia, it overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the Andes start here. So you will see mountains overlooking the Atlantic. As a result, there are all kinds of weather within a 2 hour radius.
Quebrada Valencia is a waterfall an hour away from downtown Santa Marta. Where you will find natural swimming holes created by the currents.
This is one of those “best kept secrets” of Samarians. Usually, you can either drive yourself or take the same bus you’d take to go to Tayrona for less than $15,000 COP and get dropped off there. If you drive, you’ll pay $3,000 in parking and $16,000 in tolls. Finding the main entrance is a bit tricky. After you pass Tayrona Park, pay attention to the stores on the right side of the road. There will be one with a sign reading “Quebrada Valencia” and a small parking lot in front. You can park or be dropped of there.
Once you arrive, you’ll go on a 20 minute to 30 minute walk next to a river. If you have water shoes, wear them. Since you’ll be walking on water half of the time. If not, wear comfy shoes but not your brand new kicks. Make sure to look around and enjoy the sounds of the water running and birds chirping. You will encounter varieties of butterflies, wild flowers, and even wild pigs in your hike. You can buy plantains with cheese from friendly local vendors, as well as, coffee, crafts and arepas.
At the waterfall, you should try to climb it. It looks hard but you’ll get the hang of it pretty easy. Also, take the right side. It has a less steep way but you can’t see it from the bottom.
Most importantly, take time to take it all in. Make stops and look around. This place has the power of making you forget the noise in your head. There’s plenty to experience. From seeing some of the tallest trees in your life, or hearing the sound of the river flowing and birds singing. This is one of my top climbing destinations.
MUST DO: cliff diving!! Yes… You can do it there! Follow the local kids. Climb all the way to the top of the waterfall and you will pass a couple of pools. The top one is deep enough for cliff diving. You’ll see a tiny path to climb and just jump! If you don’t know where. Wait for a local kid to show you.
Mamancana is a private game reserve located in the mountains near Rodadero. It is a 15 minute drive from downtown Rodadero or 25 minutes from Santa Marta. Here, you can do all kinds of adventure sports like canopy, rock climbing or paragliding.
During my last visit I finally decided to do the canopy course and rock climbing. I was afraid at first but the guides were very patient and really love what they do. I climbed to the top of the canopy course and chickened out after I saw everyone do it.
I could see the tour guide was a bit disappointed I didn’t do it. And we started walking down. He kept telling me how he hoped next time I would do it, as I made up excuses not to do it this time. You know, because I’m afraid of heights, and I like to be in control, and what if physics don’t work today?
When we got down, I saw everyone who had already done it, and even though some didn’t go as smooth as others, they all were so happy. Some were still getting down by rock climbing. And I was so jealous!
At this point, I felt a rush of adrenaline in my whole body, and a voice telling me “dude, just do it.” So I grabbed the equipment and started walking, almost running up the mountain one more time. The guide immediately followed me and walked fast too. He was so excited, and started telling me, he loved his job and being able to teach people his favorite thing to do.
We got to the top, and he explained how to do it one more time. “The key is just gripping gently and letting your own weight take you, ” he said. Anyways, I let go of gripping hard and did it!
See, I think I have a hard time, letting go of control. I want to make the ride extra smooth and be in control the whole way. But then, that’s not how things work. Sometimes, if you just let go, things happen the way they need to.
So my ride may not have been as smooth as others before me… but I did it! And I was so proud of myself for not letting fear control me. And so thankful for such an encouraging and patient guide.
This was the highlight of my trip! I encourage everyone to do it now!
Additionally, You can take the “Vikings Tour”, in which you will go up to the top of the mountains in a buggy and watch the prettiest of sunsets. The drivers are always excited to drive through the course as it’s bumpy and fast and they love photography. They also love the view and enjoy their work. Making the ride even funner!
Also, if you are just trying to relax you could just lay by the pool all day and order great lemonades. Mamancana has two beautiful pools and lots of cozy beds and hammocks around them.
To book a day here just go to their website and the team will contact you.
MUST DO: Try their specials during lunch. They had me hooked on their tamarindo dishes!
This is actually a local’s hidden gem. It is a small town 45 minutes away from Santa Marta. The town is known because it actually has the second largest lagoon in Latin America. You can take tours for $10,000 and see exotic wildlife. If you get lucky, you may see manatees.
Downtown Ciénaga is known for its very old houses. There is a beautiful plaza right in the middle, where music videos have been shot. Take time to watch some Iguanas here as well.
Finally, every January, they host a Festival called “El Caiman”. Where every neighborhood and business will do a “comparsa.” They will dance through the streets all day for 3 days and crown a King and Queen on the last day. If you come around that time, make sure to go. Entry to the parades are completely free. Just be ready to dance, laugh, and see pretty costumes all day.
On the way to Cienaga, there is a hot spring spot open to the public. To get there, you just need to take a bus or a car to Cienaga and take a right when you see the sign saying, “VOLCAN.” It means volcano. The drive from there is about 7 minutes. It is best to go really early in the morning as the temperature rises around noon at the beach. I recommend this place to everyone who wants a skin cleanse. One dip, and your skin will feel like that of a baby.
The entry is $10,000-$15,000 depending on the season. There is a shower and a dressing area for you to change afterwards. Additionally, they offer massages.
MUST DO: My favorite thing to eat here… POTATO CHIPS. Yeah… In the heart of the city, you will find an older guy with a small cart full of potato chips. He makes them from scratch ad they are the best I’ve ever tried. I would drive 45 minutes, just to have them!
6. DOWNTOWN SMR
The local government and local artists started recovering downtown Santa Marta a couple of years ago. Recently, I visited for the first time in six years, and I was stunned by how much it has changed.
You will see a small historic town. With huge, colorful, colonial homes and old streets. It’s about a 15 street block radius full of color, history and architecture. Additionally, you will find coffee shops, ice cream shops, restaurants, bars, and museums.
The highlight of my last trip was visiting “Parque de los Novios.” We went right before golden hour and took stunning shots. There’s alleys full of painted walls, a small plaza for couples to go on dates too.
Or just grab a bunch of friends and go have coffee. Visit Ikaro Café. They have all kinds of coffee, it’s organic and support local indigenous tribes with every purchase. Not to mention, they have the cutest decorations and a wall full of native plants. It’s the perfect place to bring your laptop and do your blogging work, to have a date, or catch up with a friend.
MUST DO: Downtown SMR, by Bolivar Square, you will find a small ice cream shop called “Delicrem.” Get some of the best ice cream in town and then explore the colorful streets of the city.
There’s other places I did not include in this review like Minca, Rodadero, Inka Inka Beach, Costeño Beach, La quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, and some of my favorite restaurants. But if you need recommendations on how to get there, let me know.
Hope this helps when planning your next trip to SMR. It is my favorite town to go on vacation. Or for bookings contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or +57-319-580-0178.