Things To Do in Santa Marta To Spend Awesome Holidays

Things To Do in Santa Marta To Spend Awesome Holidays

What are the best things to do in Santa Marta? How to decide among the different tours and activities?

It’s complicated to make choices if you’ve never been to a place before.

Although Santa Marta is quite boring, the surroundings are astonishing and offer many activities like diving, birdwatching, and hiking.

I traveled several months on the Caribbean coast and I wrote down this post to help you to organize your stay in this city. Find out my favorite things to do in Santa Marta and the Sierra Nevada!

Things to do in Santa Marta: What you must know

Where: Santa Marta is a costal Caribbean town close to Taryona and Minca.

How to get there: Direct buses or door to door shuttles leave from Cartagena (5-6 hours). There is also an airport at 25 min from the historic center.

Beaches in Santa Marta:

  • Many visitors stay in massive resorts in the Rodadero district. The beach is nice but crowded with tourists and street sellers.
  • The old city center is next to the trading port. You don’t want to swim there.
  • Fortunately, there are lovely secluded beaches like Bahia concha and playa Cinto.

Nightlife in Santa Marta: It’s quite fun on the weekends. Head to Rodadero if you want to party in large Colombian nightclubs or hang out in the center to go from bar to bar. I love the Brisa Loca’s rooftop.

Is Santa Marta safe: You must be careful in Santa Marta. It’s fine to stroll nearby Parque de Los Novios and Rodadero during the day. However, the city becomes super dodgy at night. Take taxis.

Day trips from Santa Marta:

Hiking in the Sierra Nevada:

Multi-day expedition: Being on the Caribbean coast is an excellent occasion to explore the La Guajira desert. You can start this trip from Santa Marta.

Consult our guide on Santa Marta to know, in a few clicks, the best accommodations and activities.

Read our Santa Marta travel guide

Where to travel after Santa Marta

Where to stay? What to do? How to get there? Find easily the answers HERE

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Table of contents: Things to do in Santa Marta

  1. Things to do in the city of Santa Marta
  2. Things to do outside of Santa Marta
  3. Get our free Colombia guidebook
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Activities Around Santa Marta

Things To Do In the city of Santa Marta

The beaches in town aren’t pleasant, and the city center is small. In less than 2 hours, you should be able to visit the most “interesting” sights.

There is not much to do (+)

  • Admire the Cathedral in Santa Marta
  • Visit the Golden museum
  • Explore La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. Simon Bolivar spent his last days in this famous Finca. 4 km away from the center of Santa Marta

Then, at night, travelers like to have a few drinks at Parque de Los Novios before heading to various nightclubs.

The nightlife in Santa Marta is a lot cheaper than Cartagena. Almost none of the bars/clubs ask for a cover.

However, be careful when you walk outside Parque de Los Novios. Streets are dodgy and quite unsafe at night. We give many safety tips in this post.

1# Going out in the old town of Santa Marta

Santa Marta doesn’t have a “Zona Rosa” but most of the bars & restaurants are located in the same area, near El Parque de Los Novios.

Best bars in Santa Marta: (+)

  • Crab’s Bar: The best place for rock and blues in Santa Marta | Pool tables | 6 000 COP for a National Beer
  • La Puerta: Nightclub with a mix of locals and foreigners |Salsa music | cheap
  • La Azotea: Nightclub with a rooftop | Crossover music |Good Cocktails | Higher prices | Cover: 10 000 COP
  • La Bodeguita Pirata: Small bars with a friendly staff | Good Cocktails | Fair prices
  • Festival shots: A large variety of shots to spend a fun and tipsy night |Shots | Good prices
  • Brisa Loca: This hostel organizes rooftop parties every weekend. It’s a great place to dance and have an unforgettable night in Santa Marta | Caribbean Music | Normal Prices | Cover: 10 000 COP after 11 pm

There is also a bunch of other bars around Parque de Los Novios. Don’t hesitate to check them out. And read this post from Nomadichustle to get more details about the nightlife in Santa Marta.

There are also many tasty restaurant options in the old city center. The two main spots to enjoy a delicious meal are Parque de Los Novios and the street ” Callejón del Correo “

Best restaurants in Santa Marta (+)

  • Ouzo | Mediterranean food and pizza | Go early or make a reservation |Romantic |Parque de Los Novios| $$$
  • Radio Burger | Delicious burgers & cool staff | Fast | Parque de Los Novios | $$
  • Caribbean Team | Good meals and music & Lovely view | Food to share | La Marina | $$
  • Donde Chucho | Great Seafood | Parque de Los Novios | $$
  • Lulo Cafe Bar | Correct vegetarian food, stuffed arepa & great smoothies | Callejon del Correo” | $$
  • Absurdo Grill | Pork lover | Parque de Los Novios | $$

2# Going out in Rodadero

I never stayed in Rodadero, so I can’t give my personal opinion about it. I’ve just passed by a few times. From what I’ve seen, it’s a mix of hotel resorts – Like Boca Grande in Cartagena.

Best nightclubs in Rodadero (+)

  • Bar Jamaica: A quiet place where you can drink a cocktail or smoke a
    hookah while listening to reggae music
  • La Escollera: An old nightclub surrounded by water | Colombian music
  • Burukuka: The best restaurant in Santa Marta with a fantastic view of the coast | DJ on weekends | Expensive

3# Going out in Taganga

Taganga is a little fishing village located 10 min away by cab from Santa Marta. Well-known for its many cheap dive centers, it’s also a place of debauchery at night – Lots of drugs.

Be careful, don’t wander alone in the alleys or on the beach at night. I’ve heard many robbery stories.

The Mirador is the most famous club in Taganga. There is a great view of the open sea. It’s only worth it if there is a 3-day weekend or during the high season. We give you the best months to visit Colombia in this post.

Yes, staying in Santa Marta is boring

As I said previously, there are not many things to do in Santa Marta. Also, the romantic atmosphere is more vibrating in Cartagena’s old center. We tell you how to travel from Santa Marta to Cartagena.

So what is Santa Marta famous for? Why are there so many foreigners?

It’s because the East Caribbean coast is fantastic and rich in biodiversity and landscapes. And, Santa Marta is an excellent spot to organize your day trips, especially if you’re running out of time.

Now, let’s discover your different options.

Read our Santa Marta travel guide

Things to do outside of Santa Marta

The Sierra Nevada is the second highest coastal range in the world. It means that on a clear day, you will see the white snow peaks while drinking your margarita on the beach.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

And, that’s not all. Between the white sand beach and the snow-capped summits, there is vast tropical rainforest hosting thousands of species of birds, monkeys, frogs, and plants.

The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta is a vast playground for explorers and nature lovers.

Let’s see the activities you can organize from Santa Marta.

1# Hiking 1, 2 or 3 days in Tayrona National Park

Things to do Santa Marta

The National Park of Tayrona is a vast protected area of 150 square km on the Caribbean coast. There are two enters to get in. Calabazo and Zaino.

I love this park.

Visiting Tayrona is an excellent way to explore a rainforest and spot animals for days without a guide. The trails are well marked, and the hikes are easy. Plus, the visitors don’t have to carry a heavy backpack filled with bottles of water and foods because there are campings nestled along the coast.

And, at the end of the excursions, gorgeous beaches like Cabo San Juan, La Piscina, or Playa Brava are a fantastic reward. Particularly when you’re all dirty and sweating.

Pros and Cons Tayrona Park (+)

The + + +

  • Easy Hikes
  • Gorgeous beaches
  • Monkeys and birds
  • Camping and restaurants inside the park

The – – –

  • It’s crowded during long weekends and holidays
  • The park entrance is a bit expensive if you decide only to stay 1 day

Don’t book a tour if you decide to hike in Tayrona National Park. You don’t need it. And the tour will only last one day. It’s not enough for enjoying the experience. Besides, it’s one of the easiest things to do from Santa Marta.

Read our Tayrona Travel guide

2# Lying on beautiful white sandy beaches

Things to do Santa Marta

Most tourists met on the same crowded beach called Rodadero. Fortunately, you can do things differently and head to the secluded beaches of Tayrona. Read our post about the best Santa Marta beaches to get even more information.

Bahia Concha is beautiful bay easily reachable and it’s an excellent thing to do in Santa Marta. Ask any taxi to drive you to the park entrance (50 min) then walk 30 min to arrive at the beach.

Tips & Price Bahia Concha (+)

Tips: Get there early to find one of the rare shady spots on the right side of the beach. Otherwise, act genuinely like a Colombian and book a tent with some plastic chairs.

Price: The ticket entrance costs around 5 000 COP and the taxi should cost around 130 000 COP round trip. Don’t forget to tell him when he should come back to pick you up.

Alternative: Avoid the hassles and get there on a sailboat. Lunch and snorkeling equipment included | $$ | 7 hours

Enjoy Bahia Concha (Thu – Sunday) on a stunning sailboat

Another option (my favorite) is to leave early to Taganga and book a tour to explore Playa Cristal and Playa Cinto. Both beaches are surrounded by mountains, thick vegetation, and colorful corals.

Although Playa Cristal is a beautiful spot, the beach is a bit spoiled by restaurants and loud music. Don’t expect a quiet haven of peace. Fortunately, it’s the case of Playa Cinto!

It’s my favorite day trip from Santa Marta.

Tips about Playa Cinto (+)

Company: Show up at Taganga around 9 am and look for the company “Chez Boaz”. They’re the best.

Duration: It takes 1 hour to get to Playa Cinto. You will come back at 5 pm.

Tips: There is no restaurant or shop in Playa Cinto. Bring bottles of water and sandwiches with you. The sea is rougher from December to April. Ask to stop at Playa Cristal on the way back.

Colombia Insider: We like to include this activity in our itineraries

3# La Ciudad Perdida, a 4-day hike in the Sierra

Things to do Santa Marta

The Tairona were indigenous who lived on the Caribbean coast of Colombia hundreds of years before the colonization by the Spaniards. And, to escape the conquistadores, many of them went deeply in the Sierra Nevada. Nowadays, the Kogi, Wiwa, Arthuacos, and Karkuamo people are their direct descendants.

For the indigenous, Mother Earth is a goddess, also known as Pachamama, who needs to be loved and protected. And, they consider the mountains of the Sierra Nevada as sacred.

Therefore, you can’t wander as you want. You need a bunch of permissions, a certified guide and pay a few taxes to the local communities.

Fortunately, 5 local travel agencies are authorized to organize a multi-day hike through the national park to discover the Ciudad Perdida, a secret gem hidden in the Sierra Nevada.

Before you book, find out if this Lost City Trek is for you.

Pros and Cons Cidudad Perdida (+)

The + + +

  • An original experience in the jungle.
  • The view from the lost city.
  • Learn about an indigenous culture.
  • It’s an “easy” 4-day trek.

The – – –

  • Some travelers don’t like to deal with hot and humid weather. Or the occasional heavy rains.
  • The trails will be muddy and slippery.
  • The ruins are “just” terraces.
  • Bugs and mosquitos

Don’t hope to find ruins like in Mexico or Peru. You will be disappointed.

This hike through the Sierra Nevada is more of an experience, a challenge, an adventure. You will live between 4 and 6 days in the jungle, sleep in bed camps, eat local meals like tamales, listen to birds, cross rivers, and kill hundreds of mosquitos.

The 5 certified companies are Guías Y Baquianos, Magic Tour, ExpoTour, Wiwa Tours, Turcol Travel.

Tips about the Lost City (+)

Organization: Although there are many visitors doing it, you will only hike with your group. You still have this pleasant alone-in-the-world feeling. The size might vary from 5 to 20 people.

Difficulty: The trail isn’t technical – except for the thousand stairs at the end. However, you will cover nearly 19 km a day. You need to be in good shape if you want to enjoy the experience.

Duration: Most people are doing it in 4 days.

Weather: Be ready to be soaked every afternoon, especially during the rainy season. The Sierra Nevada is warm and humid.


  • Avoid the high season (Dec – Jan & July – Aug) to get a better experience.
  • Keep your spare clothing dry.
  • On the way back, you can ask the agency to let you at Tayrona.

Find out if you’ll like the Trek to the Lost City.

#4 A 2-day hike to Cerro Kennedy

Things to do Santa Marta

The town of Minca is in the Sierra Nevada, but it’s not part of the national park. Therefore, travelers can chase waterfalls, visit an 100 years old coffee farm, look for colorful birds, or hike in the mountains around without annoying indigenous communities.

Cerro Kennedy is an off the beaten path trip that allows hikers to admire an astonishing sunrise and a clear view of the snowy peaks.

Pros and Cons Cerro Kennedy (+)

The + + +

  • You can do it without a guide
  • Beautiful view of the snow peaks
  • You cross a bird reserve

The – – –

  • If it’s cloudy when you wake up, you won’t be able to admire the view. Fortunately, it’s not often the case.
  • You follow a dirt road all along this hike

If you plan to do it on your own, you must stay in Minca the previous night.

The path is easy to follow and you can stay in the hotel El Ramo. Wake up at 4 am the following morning and hike the last hour with a flashlight to reach the military base camp of Cerro Kennedy.

Download just in case.

Tips about Cerro Kennedy (+)

Do it on your own: Take a moto-taxi early in the morning and ask him to drive you the “Y”. Once at the intersection, take the path on your left. There should be a sign “San Lorenzo reserve”. Hike 4-5 hours till reaching the Hotel “El Ramo”. You will spend the night there. The rooms are very basic. They serve 3 meals per day. Wake up at 4 am the following morning and hike the last hour with a flashlight to reach the military base camp of Cerro Kennedy.

Tips: It’s best to hike early in the morning to avoid the rainy afternoons.

Use the services of a local agency: It will be a bit complicated to organize everything if you don’t speak a bit of Spanish. Fortunately, River Adventure is an excellent company that can take care of it! The meeting point is in Minca, and Santa Marta is only 40 min away by taxi.

Book the 2 Days/1 night trip with River Adventure

Another option (even better) is to add a rappelling experience to this epic adventure. There is a lot of walking in this activity. Do it if you’re in good shape.

Book the 3 Days / 2 nights trip with River adventure

Read our Minca travel guide

Cerro Kennedy Sierra Nevada Minca
Cerro Kennedy

5# Birdwatching in the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo

Things to do Santa Marta

Colombia is a paradise for bird lovers. The country is the 2nd most biodiverse country in the world – more than 1880 species of birds! – and more than 50% of Colombia is covered by forest.

It’s a giant playground for hide-and-seek 😉

Did you hear about the Global Big Day?

Once a year, all the bird lovers are invited to spot a maximum of bird species in one day. And for the 2nd time in a row, it’s Colombia, and its impressive community of ornithologists, that reported the highest number of species.

Sierra Nevada is one of the best areas for birdwatching. There are 635 species recorded. It’s 6% of all the species of birds on earth.

Above Minca, there is a famous bird reserve called The Cuchilla de San Lorenzo and travelers can stay in El Dorado – It’s the paradise for bird seekers.

If you’re just curious and want to observe birds for a few hours with a local guide, you can speak with jungle joe in Minca.

It’s the best thing to do around Santa Marta for animal lovers.

Pros and Cons Birdwatching (+)

The + + +

  • 6% of all the species of birds on earth
  • El Dorado is an excellent accommodation
  • An Awesome birding community

The – – –

  • One day won’t be enough
  • The weather is unpredictable – Rainforest

Read our Minca travel guide

6# Santa Marta is a cheap place for diving

Things to do Santa Marta

Don’t want to spend most of your time being moist in the Sierra Nevada?

Don’t worry. There are other activities around Santa Marta without involving long hikes, bugs, and river crossing.

Taganga is a small fishing town nestled between Santa Marta and Tayrona. Because of mass tourism, the place became unsafe at night (drug and security issues).

I’m not a big fan of the vibe there.

Still, I stayed there for over a week during my first trip to Colombia because it’s also one of the cheapest places in the world for diving. The Dive centers are all over the place and organize tours in the submarine reserve of Tayrona.

The Pros and Cons diving (+)

The + + +

  • Cheap
  • Playa Grande is a nice beach
  • PADI certified Companies
  • Beach town vibes

The – – –

  • There are too many backpackers
  • Safety issues at night

The dives in Taganga aren’t like in the Philippines or Egypte, but it’s still pleasant, especially if it’s your first time and you wanna pass your Open Water Diver Certification.

For obvious security reasons, book your tours with a certified company.

Tips diving in Taganga (+)

Santa Marta or Taganga: There are excellent dive centers in both places. It can be pleasant to stay in Taganga if you decide to pass your open water though.

Where: You usually dive in the Tayrona reserve. You won’t be able to do it when the national park is closed. Don’t worry, there are still colorful fishes and corals in the other areas.

Tips: There are more visibility from May to November.

Add this diving experience to your Colombia itinerary (Free cancelation)

Dive near Taganga

  Credit: @purplemawa

7# Multi-day trip to the La Guajira desert

Things to do Santa Marta

La Guajira is the most significant desert in Colombia, and for hundreds of years, the Wayuu have been living in this harsh environment.

The desert, located in the north of the Caribbean Coast and isolated from any major cities, offers gorgeous landscapes made of sands, yellowish rocks, cactus, and a glittering blue ocean.

Pro and Cons La Guajira (+)

The + + +

  • Experience off the beaten path
  • Gorgeous landscapes, starry nights and sunsets
  • Learn about the Wayuu culture

The – – –

  • Lack of tourism infrastructure
  • The long journey in a jeep

The most common trip in La Guajira is to travel to the northernmost point of South America, Punta Gallinas.

The easiest way is to organize this tour is from Riohacha. However, it’s a thing you can do from Santa Marta if you’re on a tight schedule with your Colombia itinerary.

Tips about La Guajira (+)

  • Most of them are for 3 days / 2 nights
  • You will sleep 1 night in Cabo de la Vela and 1 night in Punta Gallinas
  • You’re spending many hours per day in a jeep
  • You won’t interact much with the Indigenous Wayuu
  • You’ll sleep in a hammock

We like to add this Guajira trip to our Colombia itineraries

If you think that La Guajira should be one of the highlights of your itinerary, you might want to devote more time to visit it.

Take a direct bus from Santa Marta to Riohacha then plan various activities and tours to learn about the Wayuu culture and explore the desert.

Read our La Guajira travel guide

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Best things to do SANTA MARTA (1)
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