Santa Marta, Colombia
Sitting on Colombia’s northern shore is Santa Marta, the country’s first Spanish settlement. It was founded in 1525 and is its oldest city still standing.
Glorious beaches and reefs separate the city and its surroundings from the Caribbean Sea to the north and west; water enthusiasts will want to spare some time for swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling, or any combination of the three. Looking inland reveals the equally attractive landscapes provided by the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range and its foothills.
While the city is often used as a base for exploring nearby sites and attractions – particularly the outstanding Tayrona National Park and the neighbouring beach town of Rodadero – today’s Santa Marta has plenty of appeal of its own. From the flourishing downtown district to the fascinating museums, there is something here to delight any traveller. The bars, restaurants, and nightlife are particularly enjoyable in Santa Marta.
Recognising the opportunities for fun and adventure that await visitors here, many cruise lines feature itineraries that incorporate a stop in Santa Marta. The port welcomes vessels from Windstar Cruises, Swan Hellenic, Silversea, and Princess Cruises, just to name a few.
Ships pull in at the Port of Santa Marta on the city’s northern edge. The centre of town is less than 2 kilometres away and a shuttle service is typically provided to take passengers into the city.
The port is designed to mainly facilitate containers, so there aren’t any amenities for passengers. You should head straight into town where facilities will be available.
How to Get Around
Santa Marta feels like little more than a small town. As such, walking is often the ideal way to get around, particularly in the historic district where the architecture and sites are best explored on foot.
If you choose to venture further out, the local bus service runs quite frequently and is relatively inexpensive. Taxis are also plentiful and affordable; just ensure you negotiate a fare before heading off.
Travel times from the port:
It is a 12 minute journey to the Gold Museum
It is a 22 minute journey to Downtown Santa Marta.
It is a 4 minute journey to the Gold Museum
It is an 8 minute journey to Downtown Santa Marta
It is a 19 minute journey to Rodadero
It is a 20 minute journey to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
It is a 30 minute journey to Tayrona National Park.
Weather – The weather in Santa Marta is consistently hot throughout the year, with average temperatures typically remaining between 27 and 29 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is reasonably common from May to November, but other months experience very few showers. Pleasant sea breezes help make the heat more manageable, but you should still aim to have water handy at all times.
Currency – Santa Marta’s currency is the Colombian peso. Banknotes come in $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000 denominations. Coins commonly come in $50, $100, $200, $500 and $1,000 denominations. There is also a $20 coin, but these are rarely used.
Time Zone – Clocks in Santa Marta run on Colombia Time (COT), putting the city 5 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UCT).
Beaches – Much of Santa Marta’s popularity as a vacation destination is owed to its location on a spectacular shore. Santa Marta’s main beach is a thriving hub full of locals, visitors, vendors with small stores, and a fun seaside atmosphere. There are numerous fantastic scuba diving and reef snorkelling sites within reach for travellers in Santa Marta.
Downtown Santa Marta – Newly renovated and more charming than ever, Santa Marta’s downtown area meshes republican and colonial architecture to create a charming city centre. The Parque de Los Novios here is particularly pleasant; it’s a prime people-watching place surrounded by high-quality cafés, bars and restaurants.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino – This historic site has become a fitting tribute to Colombia’s liberator, Simón Bolívar, who spent his last days here. Attentive tour guides help ensure a moving experience for guests, while the adjoining gardens and art museum make this an even more appealing site to visit.
Gold Museum – Known locally as Museo del Oro, this wonderfully restored building is packed with interesting exhibits and information about gold, the region’s history, and Colombia’s indigenous culture. Artefacts and displays are accompanied by signage in both Spanish and English.
Tayrona National Park – If your schedule permits it, a trip to Tayrona National Park is an exciting and rewarding experience well worth your time. Full of beautiful beaches and gorgeous natural scenery, this expansive park is a nature lover’s paradise – particularly for those who enjoy hiking.