23 Best Things to Do in Santa Marta, Colombia: Live the Dream

There are few things to do in Santa Marta, and travelers can quickly get bored. However, its unique location will allow you access to many beautiful places and activities.

You will be delighted if you like the beach, scuba diving, snorkeling, mountains, hiking, birds, or beautiful sunsets.

I have traveled on the Caribbean coast for several months and have stayed in Santa Marta about ten times. My last stays were dedicated to finding the best experiences and activities in and around Santa Marta.

Thanks to this article, you will be able to:

  • Quickly find the experiences that interest you.
  • Decide how long you want to stay.
  • Contact directly the local partners we recommend based on our experience – by the way, here you’ll find all our favorite activities in Colombia.

Ready to plan your dream trip?

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Things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia: my top 7 tips

Playa Cinto Santa Marta

I know your time is valuable.

Read this section to learn the best things to do in Santa Marta quickly. It will make a big difference in your trip.

🏖️ The beaches in Santa Marta’s old town and El Rodadero neighborhood are far from being the most pleasant. Playa Blanca, Bahia Concha, and Playa Cristal are much better options. I had a big crush on Playa Cinto.

🎉 The nightlife in Santa Marta is pretty fantastic on weekends. Head to Rodadero if you want to party in the big Colombian nightclubs. You can also stay in the historic center and hit the bars. I love the rooftop of La Brisa Loca.

🤿 The village of Taganga is next to Santa Marta. It’s the perfect place if you’re looking for a cheap way to get PADI scuba diving certifications. 

👋 4 indigenous communities live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Some villages welcome tourists to discover their culture and lifestyle. It was a very educational experience that I will not forget.   

🐦The area around Santa Marta is a paradise for bird lovers. The El Dorado reserve is a symbolic place in the area. 

⛰️ The famous Ciudad Perdida or Lost City is hidden in the Sierra Nevada National Park. You can plan a unique 4-day trek to discover this sacred place. Fanny’s local agency has all the necessary authorizations to organize this experience.

🏜️ Adventurers in search of endless spaces will love La Guajira. The town of Riohacha is the best starting point to explore this famous desert. It is only a 3-hour drive from Santa Marta. Beatrice’s agency offers tours and a cultural experience that will remain engraved in your memory.

👉 Want to know everything about Santa Marta? Learn where are the best places, and avoid tourist traps and beginner’s mistakes? Nothing could be easier. I put it all together in our guide to Santa Marta.

What to do in Santa Marta, Colombia

Although Santa Marta is one of the oldest city in South America, there is not much to see. Half a day is enough to visit it.

I like to plan a day at the beach when I am there.

There are different options. Let’s see which ones.

1# Santa Marta Beaches

Santa Marta is a coastal city. Most travelers think they only have to walk a few meters to enjoy the beautiful white-sand beaches.

This is not true.

The beaches in the town center are polluted (because of the nearby port).

The first decent beaches are in the south.

Tips from the experts: 

  • Go during the week, especially if it’s high season. It will be less crowded.
  • Boat trips are hectic during the windy season (December – April).

A – Go to the Rodadero Beach, Santa Marta

Rodadero beaches in Santa Marta
Rodadero Beach

El Rodadero is a recent neighborhood with large buildings, long beaches, lots of sun loungers, and street vendors.  It is usually very crowded. I’m not fond of it very much.

How to get there: 20 min by cab from the historic center

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B – Go to Playa Blanca, Santa Marta

Playa Blanca Santa MARTA
Credit: Rocktomaz

Do not mistake this beach for Playa Blanca in the Rosario Islands. 

This beach is accessible by boat from El Rodadero. Some travelers recommend the agency Taximarino.

The environment is pleasant. The beach is located in a bay, between the hills. On the other hand, it is crowded. You don’t go there to be in a quiet environment.

The excursions usually offer to make a stop at the aquarium and then go to Playa Blanca. There you will find everything you need to eat, drink and take shelter from the sun.

  • How to get there: 5 min by boat from El Rodadero. Taximarino boats leave every half hour until 2 pm.
  • Duration: 4 – 6 hours
  • Price: $ $.

C – Go to Playa Inca Inca, Santa Marta

Playa de Inca Inca Santa Marta (1)
Credit: federicouribephoto

Inca Inca is a little-known beach in Santa Marta. The place is nice, but the beach is not paradisiacal (stones, pieces of wood).

I advise you to walk there from El Rodadero, you will have a nice view, and the swimming will be more enjoyable!

  • How to get there: 30 min walk up and down!
  • Duration: 2 – 3 hours

D- Stay in Pozos Colorados, Santa Marta

Pozos Colorados
Credit: Neorady

Located near the airport, Pozos Colorados is an area similar to El Rodadero but quieter. You’ll find fewer street vendors, and the beach is nicer.

Insider’s tip: There is a good hotel if you want to rest the last night before your flight → Casa Verano Hotel.

  • How to get there: 30 min by cab from the historic center.

E- Go to Bahía Concha, Tayrona

Bahia Concha Santa Marta

It is a long bay with turquoise water and a lovely sandy beach. At the entrance, you will find some restaurants with music and parasols. If you want to be in a quiet place, walk a few minutes to the right.

I liked this beach in Santa Marta. On the other hand, it takes a little time to go there.

Insider’s tip: Go early to find the few spaces under the trees.

  • How to get there: The easiest way is to take a cab to the entrance (50 min) and walk 20 minutes to the beach.
  • Price: The entrance to this beach costs about 5.000 COP.
  • Tour: There are excursions from Rodadero, or you can go by sailboat.

F –  Go to Playa Cristal, Tayrona

Playa Cristal Santa Marta

It is one of the most famous beaches in Colombia and is located in Tayrona National Park. It is only accessible by sea.

Isolated among the dense vegetation of the national park, it is a small and pleasant site.

The problem is that it is too crowded (especially in the high season).

Expert advice: Choose the excursion Playa Cinto + Playa Cristal.

  • How to get there: Go to Taganga (15 min) and leave with the local company Chez Boaz. 40 minutes by boat (one way).
  • Duration: 9h30 AM – 4 PM
  • Price: $$.

G – Secret thing to do in Santa marta: Playa Cinto, Tayrona

Playa Cinto

This is my favorite beach in Santa Marta. Most locals don’t go there because there are no restaurants or music.

So it is quiet. Bliss.

There are some very nice reefs. Don’t forget to ask the agency to lend you a mask and snorkel.

Insider’s tip: Bring water and a picnic lunch.

  • How to get there: Playa Cinto is a 10-minute boat ride from Playa Cristal. Choose the tour Playa Cinto + Playa Cristal from Taganga with the company Chez Boaz.
  • Duration: 9h30 AM – 4 PM
  • Price: $$.

H – Go to Cabo San Juan, Tayrona

Playa Cabo San Juan beach Tayrona
Playa Cabo San Juan

It’s the most beautiful beach in Tayrona Park. Typically, travelers enter through the main park entrance, El Zaino, and sleep one night at Cabo San Juan.

If you can’t/don’t want to walk, there are boat trips from Taganga. I’m not too fond of this option as you will be in Cabo San Juan at its busiest time.

Insider’s tip: Sleeping 2 nights in Tayrona National Park is better.

  • How to get there: 1h15 by boat from Taganga
  • Duration: 9h30 AM – 4 PM
  • Price: $$.

I – Go to Playa Grande, Taganga

Playa Grande Taganga (1)
Credit: Emilyengberg

This is the beach of Taganga. It is similar to Playa Blanca.

Lots of people and little space to put the towel because of the restaurants.

In short, I wouldn’t say I like it.

  • How to get there: Taxi to Taganga (15 min) + 15 min walking from the village.
  • Duration: Half-day

2# Museums and colonial houses to visit in Santa Marta

Casa de Quinta San Pedro (1)
Credit: watchworld_photography

On a cultural level, there are few places to visit in Santa Marta.

Start with a visit to the Tairona gold museum (free; closed on Mondays). This colonial building brings together 4 mini-exhibitions on the Caribbean region. You will discover the history and indigenous culture in the Magdalena and the Sierra Nevada. And a chronology on the famous Simon Bolivar, the liberator of 6 nations.

Once you have the history in mind, take a cab to visit the house where Bolivar spent his last days. This impressive hacienda is called La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino ($; daily).

3# Where to party in Santa Marta, Colombia

Rooftop Brisa Loca
Credit: La Terraza

Santa Marta’s nightlife is great on weekends. Head to Rodadero if you want to party in the big Colombian nightclubs or stay in downtown Santa Marta (near Parque de Los Novios) for a bar crawl.

Going out in the city’s historic center:

  • Crab’s Bar: The best place for Rock and Blues music in Santa Marta. | 6.000 COP for a national beer.
  • La Puerta: Nightclub with a mix of locals and foreigners. Salsa music.
  • La Azotea: Nightclub with a rooftop | Crossover music. Good cocktails. Higher prices : Entrance: 10.000 COP.
  • La Bodeguita Pirata: A small bar with a friendly staff. Good cocktails. | Reasonable prices.
  • Festival shots: A great variety of “shots” for a fun and intoxicating night out at reasonable prices.
  • Brisa Loca: This hostel organizes rooftop parties every weekend. It is a great place to dance and spend an unforgettable night in Santa Marta. Caribbean music. Standard prices : Entrance: 10.000 COP after 11 pm.

4# Diving in Santa Marta, Colombia

Diving Taganga
Credit: Poseidon Dive Center

Taganga is a tiny fishing village located between Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park. Due to mass tourism, this once peaceful place has become a bit dangerous at night (drug and security issues).

I am not a big fan of the vibe at night.

Nevertheless, I stayed there for over a week during my first trip to Colombia. 

There are a lot of very inexpensive dive centers in Santa Marta and Taganga. They organize excursions in the Tayrona’s reserve to observe colorful reefs and marine life. You can’t go when the park is closed (you will go somewhere else).

Day trips from Santa Marta, Colombia

There is not much to do in Santa Marta itself. However, there are plenty of things to do outside the city. Here are 7-day trip ideas.

5# Discover Minca in 1 day from Santa Marta

View of the sierra Nevada Minca (2) (1)

Minca is a hidden village in the Sierra Nevada. Numerous eco-lodges have been built in the surrounding area. Most of them offer a spectacular view of the mountains and the sea.

If you don’t have much time, Joe offers a tour that will give you a good overview of the area: a walk in the Sierra, waterfalls, a coffee tour, an explanation about cocoa, and homemade lunch.

The tour starts in Minca.

  • How to get there: 30 min by cab or bus
  • Duration of tour: 9h30 – 17h00
  • Price: $$.
  • Tour: Book now

6# The Reserve Taironaka

Taironaka is a nature reserve where terraces dating back to the Tairona era have been found. The region has restored them so travelers can take a step back in time. You will also have access to the museum that gathers more than 300 objects related to the Tairona culture.

In addition, the reserve offers different types of activities, such as tubing or ecological hikes. It’s a fun and unusual thing to do in Santa Marta.

Do not hesitate to sleep on-site if you want to take your time. There are different rooms at an affordable price.

  • How to get there: Bus to Don Diego river (1h30) + 10 min by boat.
  • Duration: All-day
  • Price: $$.

7# Spend the day on a sailboat

Sailboat Santa Marta Bahia Concha

Do you remember Bahía Concha (see beaches section)?

For even more fun, you can go by sailboat. Luis organizes departures from Santa Marta. It is a pleasant experience that allows you to discover sailing life on a boat.

Once you arrive at Bahia Concha (1.5 hours), Luis will serve you a delicious lunch with fresh fish. Then, enjoy the beach before returning to Santa Marta in the late afternoon.

It’s a chill activity to do in Santa Marta.

Please note: Tayrona Park is closed 3 times a year. In these cases, you will go somewhere else.

  • How to get there: La Marina de Santa Marta, near the historic city center.
  • Duration: 11 AM – 6 PM
  • Price: $$.
  • Tour: Book now

8# Cocoa experience in Santa Marta

Everyone talks about Colombian coffee. But did you know that cacao is also an important product for the country?

A few kilometers from Buritaca (1h15) is a cacao plantation. You will learn how these famous seeds of intense flavor are cultivated and transformed into cacao.

This experience combines a tubing excursion or a visit to the Taironaka reserve.

  • How to get there: Tour from Santa Marta.
  • Duration: 6am – 5pm
  • Price: $$$.
  • Agency: Magic Tour

9# Tubing is a fun thing to do in Santa Marta

I love tubing. It consists of going down a river on a giant inner tube. It is a quiet and effortless activity to do in Santa Marta. You have to let yourself go with the stream and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Sierra Nevada.

There are 3 rivers where you can go tubing: BuritacaSan Diego, or Palomino.

It is up to you if you prefer to rent a buoy on your own or decide to go with Magic Tour from Santa Marta.

  • How to get there: Take a bus to Riohacha and stop at the river of your choice.
  • Duration: All-day
  • Price: $

10# Birdwatching in the Sierra Nevada

It is not in Santa Marta where you will be able to go birdwatching. However, the Sierra Nevada is right next door. The diversity of its fauna and flora is incredible. For example, it has almost 7% of the world’s bird species.

If you want to do this activity from Santa Marta, you’d better set your alarm clock. You will have the best opportunity to observe them at dawn.

Magic Tour offers a 3-hour visit with a guide, transportation, breakfast, and binoculars.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta
  • Duration: 5 AM – 10 AM
  • Price: $$.

11# E-bike in Minca

E-BIKE Minca (1)

This is the ideal activity for adventurers who don’t want to get too tired. Rent Bike Santa Marta will pick you up in Santa Marta and take you to Minca. From there, you get on an E-bike and explore the most famous places in the area (Marinka waterfalls, Pozo Azul waterfalls, La Victoria coffee farm).

Insider’s tip: There are usually many people at the Minca waterfalls on weekends.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta
  • Duration: 8 AM – 5 PM
  • Price: $$$
  • Tour: Book now

12# Discover los pueblos palafitos

Nueva Venecia and Buenavista are surprising towns. The colorful wooden houses are built on pilotis in the middle of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta.

The boat is the only means of transportation.

It is an isolated place and quite tricky to reach from Santa Marta. Magic Tour offers a one-day excursion, but it is necessary to have at least 4 travelers to do it.

This experience allows you to discover the landscape of La Ciénaga and meet people who live in a very different way from what we are used to seeing.

If you feel adventurous, you can try to go on your own and sleep in Nueva Venecia. However, it is better if you are 2 people to split the transportation costs.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta
  • Duration: 5h30 AM – 3 PM
  • Price: $$$$

Multi-day trips from Santa Marta, Colombia

You already know the activities you can easily do in Santa Marta. But it would be a shame not to explore the other places on the east coast of the Caribbean. 

Let’s look at the hikes and other expeditions not to be missed.

13# The Ciudad Perdida, a multi-day trek to do from Santa Marta

This is the most famous hike in Colombia.

For 4 or 5 days, you will trek with your guide through the Sierra Nevada to reach the famous terraces of the Lost City.

This trek is very well organized and is a good option for travelers who want to discover the joys (and tears) of multi-day tours.

I did this experience with our local partner. Read the following article to learn more about the Ciudad Perdida.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta
  • Duration: 4 or 5 days
  • Price: $$$$

👉 Discover Fanny’s local agency; One of the 5 agencies authorized to organize this multi-day trek.

14# Plan a trip to the La Guajira Desert

Credit: Beatrice

Everyone talks about the Tatacoa desert. The truth is that I like the Guajira desert better.

Aboard a jeep, you will cross arid expanses to discover lunar landscapes composed of cactus, dunes, and mangroves.

There are many agencies, and some are far from excellent. Our favorite partner is based in Riohacha. You can decide to go by bus (3h) or ask them to organize private transport from Santa Marta (departure around 4 am).

They offer different plans:

  • Classic tour: 3 days, with Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas.
  • Cultural tour: 4 days. You will have more time to discover the Wayuu culture.
  • Macuira tour: 4 days. It is a hidden national park in Guajira.
  • Kitesurfing: 4 days. There are excellent conditions for kitesurfing in Cabo de la Vela.

Read the following article to plan a trip to the La Guajira desert.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta or Riohacha
  • Duration: 3 or 4 days
  • Price: $$$$

👉 Contact Beatrice to include this beautiful adventure in your trip to Colombia!

15# Visit Tayrona National Park

trail to Playa brava calabazo Tayrona

Tayrona Park is located in the Sierra Nevada. It is a relatively easy destination to visit. The few trails in the park lead to the different beautiful beaches, and you can reserve your hammock or tent in several places. The landscapes are beautiful, and it is enjoyable to jump into the sea after a hike.

Yes, you can sleep inside the park. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

I always recommend travelers to stay 3 days, making the loop from Calabazo – Punta Brava – Cabo San Juan – El Zaino. 

Note: Swimming is not allowed on all beaches.

Insider’s tip: Instead of staying in Santa Marta, book a hotel near Tayrona. The area is charming.

  • How to get there: Bus from Santa Marta (1 hour)
  • Duration: 1, 2, or 3 days.
  • Price: $$.

16# Explore Colombia’s Caribbean Coast by motorcycle

Colombia riders
Credit: Colombian riders

Colombian Riders are motorcycle lovers. Their excursions allow you to visit places difficult to access, with qualified guides and motorcycles in excellent condition.

It is up to you whether you prefer to venture into the Sierra Nevada or head to the Guajira desert.

Their plans are adapted to your level of experience and physical condition.

  • How to get there: Departure from Santa Marta (1 hour)
  • Duration: 1 – 7 days
  • Website: Colombian Riders

17# Relax on a paradisiacal beach

Cayena Beach Villa
Credit: Cayena Beach Villa

Between Tayrona and Buritaca, there are beautiful ecolodges built along the beach. It is one of the best places to spend 1 or 2 nights with your toes in the sand under the palm trees.

There are 3 areas that I like:

 Playa Los Naranjos. It is the closest beach to the entrance of Tayrona Park. You will find amazing hotels with quality service and delicious meals.

 Playa Guachaca. You will find more affordable hotels with some restaurants. If you go there, you can take some surfing lessons.

→ Playa Buritaca. The same atmosphere as Guachaca, with different types of accommodations. It is a good option if you plan to go to Palomino to spend the day.

18# Watch the Sunrise from Cerro Kennedy

Cerro Kennedy Sierra Nevada Minca
Cerro Kennedy

Cerro Kennedy is a little-known hike that allows hikers to enjoy splendid sunrise and a panoramic view of the snow-capped peaks.

It is an activity that can be done in 2 days, starting from Minca. Sleep in Casas Viejas and start early the next day. Part of the route can be done by motorcycle to save time.

At night, sleep at the hotel el Ramo. You will see the sign on the road. Count on 4 – 6 hours of hiking before arriving.

The next day, leave at 4 a.m. to reach Cerro Kennedy before sunrise.

  • Duration: 2 days
  • Tour: The trail is easy to follow but a bit complicated to organize from Santa Marta. You can book this tour to save time.

19# Bird watching in El Dorado

El Dorado Reserve (1)
Credit: El Dorado

Above Minca, a famous bird reserve called “Cuchilla de San Lorenzo,” travelers can stay at El Dorado. A true paradise for professional ornithologists and beginners.

  • How to get there: It takes about 3 hours to get there by private transport from Santa Marta. The road can be in bad condition due to heavy rains.
  • Price: $$$$

20# Cultural exchange

HD-Aruhaco-experience-indigenous

Currently, there are 4 indigenous communities descended from the Tairona. They are the Koguis, the Arhuacos, the Wiwas, and the Kankuamos.

There are about 30,000 of them grouped in different villages of the Sierra Nevada. Some of these communities welcome travelers to visit them (and even spend the night).

It is a great way to immerse yourself in their culture and learn from their wisdom about nature.

Best events when visiting Santa Marta, Colombia

Depending on the time of year you’ll visit Santa Marta, there may be notable events in the city or its surroundings. Discover it in this section.

21# Festival Nacional del Caimán Cienaguero

Located only 1 hour south of Santa Marta, the town of Ciénaga has organized this festival every year in January since the mid-20th century. The legend says that one of the daughters of a village family was eaten by a Caiman after having slipped into the Ciénaga while washing her feet. The girl would have never been found.

For its part, the caiman was killed and then brought back to the girl’s family home surrounded by two rows of dancers. Since then, the Festival Nacional del Caimán has been organized. Parades and parties take place all over the city.

22# El festival Jaguar

This event takes place at the beginning of January in the village of Palomino, located 2 hours east of Santa Marta. El Festival Jaguar aims to raise awareness of sustainable, environmental, and social development through musical and sensory experiences.

El Jaguar was also created as a tool for peace in this conflict zone by allowing Caribbean and Colombian artists to express themselves and have visibility on an international scale.

22# Fiesta del Mar

The Fiestas del Mar takes place annually at the end of July in Santa Marta. It was created to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the city.

This festival is mainly centered on the practice of water sports while keeping a festive, musical, and dancing atmosphere in the whole city.

Where to stay in Santa Marta

Don Pepe Santa Marta
Don Pepe

Depending on the atmosphere you are looking for and your budget, there are different places where you can book your hotel in Santa Marta.

🏠 First-time travelers should choose accommodations in the historic center, around the Parque de Los Novios. However, the beach is not attractive, and the city is not safe after 9 pm. Therefore, use a cab to get around after that time.

🏖️ People looking for beachfront resorts and a festive atmosphere will enjoy Rodadero beach. On the other hand, there are a lot of tourists and street vendors, and the area lacks charm.

✈️ Travelers looking for a quieter place to stay than Rodadero, on a beautiful beach and close to the airport, will find their happiness in the area of playa Pozos Colorados. Keep in mind that you will need a car or cab to get around and that the site itself does not have much appeal.

Need help finding suitable accommodation in Santa Marta?

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I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.