Do you want to visit the Caribbean coast and know where to stay in Santa Marta?
It is an excellent question to ask yourself because, depending on your plans, the answer will be different.
Santa Marta comprises different areas, including a modern district, a historic center, and a coastal village.
I stayed in Santa Marta many times (at least 8-9 times), and I had time to discover the different atmospheres of the city.
Thanks to this article, you will discover the advantages and disadvantages of each neighborhood. It will allow you to decide where to stay quickly.
👉 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.
Where To stay in Santa Marta: Map
Santa Marta’s historic center: Colonial houses and restaurants
Santa Marta, the oldest city in Colombia, founded in 1525, is better known for its beautiful historic center. This is a tourist place that gathers the main colonial buildings and museums. It’s also very close to the bay. You can take walks, see areas of interest, eat at fancy restaurants, and enjoy the nightlife.
This area features colonial streets adorned by fully renovated old houses, so just being there is like going back 400 years. The city is related to the Tairona indigenous culture and the fact that Simon Bolivar –the liberator of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Bolivia, and Ecuador– died in the town in 1830. His place of death was Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a museum located 5 km from the historic center.
Advantages of staying in the historic center of Santa Marta
- The museums and places of interest are within walking distance or are very near. The shore borders the center, and you can easily access the beaches — although I don’t recommend swimming there.
- You may visit Parque Bolivar and the Santa Marta cathedral, two must-see places in town.
- The hotel offer is extensive, and prices are affordable, cheaper than in El Rodadero. You can also stay at luxury hotels.
- The area still conserves the city’s architectural heritage, so you can submerge in the colonial atmosphere and get to know people during your nightlife plans.
- Transportation and access to other parts of the city –such as El Rodadero, Taganga, and the airport– is easy.
- Watch the sunset from the Santa Marta Marina.
Disadvantages of staying in the historic center of Santa Marta
- I highly recommend staying in this area because it’s near the sea and there’s plenty of action at night. However, I warn you to take care if you plan to walk at night because this is not the safest place in town. It would be best if you also avoided lonely streets at night. During the day, the city is safe.
Things to do in the historic center of Santa Marta
- You can visit museums, such as the Santa Marta Gold Museum (where you can go a bit deeper into the Tairona culture), casa de la Aduana, the International Marina (with standards similar to those in Monaco), and the Cathedral, as well as monuments, for instance, the one dedicated to the city founder, Rodrigo de Bastidas.
- You may also want to wait and see the beautiful sunsets from the beach, near the historic center.
- Carrera 3 is a small, narrow pedestrian street full of cafes and restaurants that you can enjoy.
- Parque Simon Bolivar (the town’s main square) and Parque de Los Novios are great places for walking.
Best Santa Marta hotels in the historic center
- Best hotel: Casa Carolina
- Best hostel: Masaya
- Best boutique hotel: El Cactus Boutique
- Best luxury hotel: Hotel boutique Don Pepe
- Best apartment: Grand Marina
El Rodadero: the modern beach area in Santa Marta
El Rodadero is an area similar to Miami’s South Beach or Mexico’s Cancun that consists of a long beach full of hotels of different prices and levels of luxury, palm trees, and sand. All this stands between the ocean and the foothill of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
This place is located 5 km south of the historic center and just 15 minutes away from the airport, which is also located on the shore, south of El Rodadero.
This city within the city has become a very touristic and commercial area, full of restaurants, shops, cafes, bars, and plenty of nightlife to offer. El Rodadero is also ideal for business travelers. If you plan to stay during your “workation” experience, you’ll have all the services, facilities, and fast Internet connection of a modern city.
Advantages of staying in El Rodadero, Santa Marta
- The gastronomic offer is abundant.
- It is the place to go if you want to party at night.
- It is a relatively safe area, although you should take some precautions, like in any city in the world.
- You have direct access to the beach. One piece of advice: always ask for prices before buying anything on the beach (beers, refreshments, shrimp cocktails, etc.)
Disadvantages of staying in El Rodadero, Santa Marta
- It’s not the place for peace and quiet. It can get very noisy at night.
- There are too many vendors, mainly on El Rodadero beach, so you must be careful not to embark on goods or services (such as massages or braids) that you don’t want.
Things to do in El Rodadero, Santa Marta
- Walking along the beach while having a drink is a good plan.
- Plenty of water sports, such as kayaking, scuba diving, and kitesurfing, are available.
- Nightlife and parties are everywhere almost every day… and night!
- You can take a boat trip around the bay.
- You may also see a manatee, sea turtles, dolphins, and sea lions at the Acuario y Museo del Mar. This aquarium is an advocate of marine conservation.
Best Santa Marta hotels in El Rodadero
- Best hotel: Del Mar Hotel
- Best boutique hotel: Hotel Mandalas House by DOT Boutique
- Best budget hotel: Casa Linda
- Best apartment to stay with your family: Palanoa
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Bello Horizonte: Quiet beaches for families
The Bello Horizonte beach stands between the airport and El Rodadero, and it’s part of a classy neighborhood that features several luxury hotels with outdoor swimming pools.
This place is ideal for tourists or business travelers who want to escape the noise of areas such as El Rodadero without sacrificing beaches, nice restaurants, bars, and cafes— although there are not as many as in the former.
This place hosts Hotel Irotama, one of the most well-known and traditional in Santa Marta, and the Mercure Santa Marta Emile. The neighborhood is also the safest in town.
Advantages of staying in Bello Horizonte, Santa Marta
- It’s close to the airport (between 5 and 10 minutes away).
- It has free access to the beach, which is kept cleaner than in Santa Marta and El Rodadero.
- It’s a very safe neighborhood.
- It is quiet, with not as many vendors as on other beaches.
Disadvantages of staying in Bello Horizonte, Santa Marta
- The gastronomic offer is more limited than that in El Rodadero or the historic center of Santa Marta.
- Accommodation tends to be more expensive, on average, than in other city areas.
Things to do in Bello Horizonte, Santa Marta
- Watching the sunset while having a beer or a cocktail is a must.
- You may rent a jet ski to enjoy the place rarely crowded with boats or other jet skis.
- It’s possible to stay in a cabin at Mamancana natural reserve, a privately owned area that offers rustic luxury accommodation and high cuisine for couples, families, or corporate events.
Best Santa Marta hotels in Bello Horizonte
Pozos Colorados: An exclusive, quiet, and safe area
This neighborhood includes Plenomar, Aeromar, and Bello Horizonte. It sits 3 km south of El Rodadero. It started to pick up as a tourist destination thanks to the oil company Ecopetrol which built one of its venues there.
It’s well-known for its beautiful beaches and water sports, and because it has become where many all-inclusive hotels are located, it is ideal for family stays. Pozos Colorados is a safe place.
The sea in the area of Aeromar also features tall waves, which are ideal for surfers. The beaches at Pozos Colorados extend between headlands Punta Gloria and Punta Brava.
Advantages of staying in Pozos Colorados, Santa Marta
- It is a quiet and safe area.
- It’s located very near the airport.
- Ideal for family and business trips.
Disadvantages of staying in Pozos Colorados, Santa Marta
- You need a car to move around since public transportation is scarce.
- The area doesn’t offer many restaurants and bars, and the few existing ones open late in the morning and close at around 6 p.m.
- Also, should you need to do some shopping, the only nearby mall is Zazue Plaza, and you need a car to get there.
Things to do in Pozos Colorados, Santa Marta
- You can enjoy Playa Cabo Tortuga, one of the best beaches in Santa Marta.
- The place is meant for relaxation and quiet, so reading a book, walking along the beach, or watching the sunset will suffice.
Best Santa Marta hotels in Pozos Colorados
- Best boutique hotel: Casa Verano beach hotel (for adults, only)
- Best apartment: Samaria
- Best hostel: Playa del Ritmo
Taganga: Scuba diving, budget lodging, and relaxation
This district includes the fishers’ village of Taganga, a place inhabited by merely 3,000 people, located 7 km north of downtown Santa Marta.
Taganga is a beautiful bay with tranquil waters where you can practice water sports. Its beaches, such as Playa Grande or other private-like beaches ideal for romantic plans, are better than Santa Marta or El Rodadero. The best beaches in the area are in Tayrona National Park.
Taganga offers scuba diving courses and certificates, and staying there is not as expensive as in Santa Marta. The food options are broad, for many restaurants and bars are run by foreign people that decided to stay. Despite a fairly active nightlife, it is far less noisy than El Rodadero.
Advantages of staying in Taganga
- It offers a variety of affordable accommodation options.
- It presents a relaxed and quiet atmosphere, more for people who enjoy a conversation than just partying.
- It’s a great place to learn and practice water sports.
Disadvantages of staying in Taganga
- It is not a safe place to hang around at night.
- I don’t recommend partying in Santa Marta until late and then going to your hotel in Taganga because of the distance and having to hire a taxi.
Things to do in Taganga
- Learning and practicing scuba diving and snorkeling. And getting a certificate for it!!!
- Watching the sunset from the Babaganoush bar is a great experience. The bar overlooks the bay from above the village.
- Hiring a boat to take you to any of the several nearby ‘private’ beaches if you’re in a romantic plan.
Best hotels in Taganga
- Best hostels: Hostal Aurora y Cielo Hostel
- Best aparthotel: Svahns ApartHotel
- Best budget hotel: White Taganga
Decide where to stay in Santa Marta, Colombia
Depending on the stay you want to enjoy, there will be neighborhoods in Santa Marta that are more appropriate.
You should read our analysis of the best hotels in Santa Marta.
Where to stay in Santa Marta for a bachelor party
El Rodadero and the historic city center offer the most options for this kind of wild party, which include bars, swimming pools, and restaurants.
Where to stay in Santa Marta for partying and meeting people
Places like La Brisa Loca specialize in parties on the rooftop; this hotel bar is located in the historic center and operates in a 100-year-old house. Another option to meet people and have fun is the discos in El Rodadero.
The Masaya hostel is conveniently located about 400 meters from the beach and features a swimming pool and a bar on the rooftop, ideal for parties.
Where to stay in Santa Marta for water activities
The village of Taganga is ideal for diving and snorkeling. There are several schools where you can learn to dive and obtain a certificate. Besides, Taganga offers beautiful and –still– colorful coral reefs where you can appreciate the marine life typical of these waters.
For keen surfers, Aeromar features tall waves. You can also rent jet skis in Bello Horizonte.
Where is the best Santa Marta beach area
All the places in Santa Marta offer beaches. However, you should take into account that, for example, beaches in El Rodadero don’t have white sand, and they can be very crowded, especially on weekends and during high season (mid-year and end of the year).
👉 Read our analysis of the best beach resorts in Santa Marta.
But you can go to Pozos Colorados, where the beaches are sandy and white. There, you won’t find street vendors or big crowds. They are also safe for you and your family or friends.
Taganga has a lovely beach surrounded by hills, and you can easily access Tayrona beaches by boat.
Where are the safest Santa Marta Districts
Without a doubt, Pozos Colorados and Bello Horizonte are the safest beaches in the area of Santa Marta. They are located in exclusive neighborhoods where authorities take care of visitors and tourists in a more dedicated fashion.
These areas offer nice hotels and don’t have the busy nightlife of places such as the historic center and El Rodadero, and for this reason, you can also feel safer.
Where to stay in Santa Marta if you plan to visit Tayrona National Park
I recommend staying at the hotels at the park entrance so that you can start hiking early in the park. We offer you a list of the best 10 hotels and hostels next to Tayrona park.
If you can’t stay at any of those hotels the night before, it’s best to spend the night somewhere in the historical center, given the public transportation options and its closest location to the park.
Where to stay in Santa Marta if you plan to go to Ciudad Perdida
All plans to visit Ciudad Perdida (or the Lost City), north of Parque Tayrona, are booked ahead of time and include pick up and transportation from Santa Marta. The agencies are located in the historic center, and you’ll have to arrive at least the night before the tour.
👉 Speak with our favorite local agency to plan your adventure to la Ciudad Perdida
Where to stay in Santa Marta to be near the airport
Pozos Colorados and Bello Horizonte are near the Simón Bolívar national airport, just a 10-minute drive. Additionally, these areas offer great hotels, restaurants, and a few bars, which make it perfect for the business traveler who doesn’t want to stay too far from the air terminal.
Where to stay in Santa Marta if you’re a first-time visitor
The ideal hotel should be located in the historic center because it offers easy, walking-distance access to the monuments, museums, beaches, and other places of interest.
Also, because the nightlife in the center is busy, you can meet other visitors and absorb the overall feeling of the culture in beautiful Santa Marta.
Bottom Line: Where to stay in Santa Marta
Most travelers visit Santa Marta to discover the Sierra Nevada and its surroundings. The historical center area will be ideal for resting and eating well. If you want to take advantage of the low diving prices, then the relaxed atmosphere on the beach in Taganga should suit you. Finally, travelers who only want to spend a few days on the beach in a modern and comfortable hotel should choose between El Rodadero and Pozos Colorados.