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The 9 Best Things To Do In Santa Marta – The Gateway To Northern Colombia


by Libby Bloomfield



Welcome to Santa Marta, the vibrant coastal city and gateway to Northern Colombia. Nestled between the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains and the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea, Santa Marta is a destination that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural experiences. Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, adventure seeker, or food enthusiast, Santa Marta has something to offer for everyone.


Santa Marta is known for its stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, and diverse ecosystems. From the world-renowned Tayrona National Natural Park to the remote and mysterious Lost City, there are endless opportunities to explore and immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of Colombia’s northern coast.


Beyond its natural wonders, Santa Marta also boasts a rich history that dates back to pre-Columbian times. The city’s historic center, with its colonial architecture and charming streets, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that tells the story of Santa Marta’s past. Wander through the cobblestone streets, visit the historic landmarks, and discover the unique blend of indigenous, African, and European influences that have shaped the city’s identity.


Furthermore, Santa Marta is a culinary paradise, offering a tantalizing array of flavors and dishes. From fresh seafood straight from the Caribbean waters to savory local specialties, the city’s vibrant food scene is sure to satisfy even the most discerning palate.


In this article, we will explore the nine best things to do in Santa Marta, taking you on a journey through the city’s natural wonders, historical gems, and culinary delights. So pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure in Santa Marta, Colombia.


Explore Tayrona National Natural Park

Located just a short drive from Santa Marta, Tayrona National Natural Park is a true paradise for nature lovers. Spanning over 58,000 acres, this protected area is home to pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.


One of the highlights of Tayrona National Natural Park is its stunning beaches. From the powdery white sands of Cabo San Juan to the secluded beauty of Playa Cristal, there are numerous idyllic spots where you can relax, swim, and soak up the sun. The crystal-clear turquoise waters are perfect for snorkeling, allowing you to discover a vibrant underwater world teeming with colorful coral reefs and tropical fish.


For those who love hiking, Tayrona offers a network of trails that wind through the park, offering breathtaking views and the opportunity to spot wildlife. Take a hike to the famous Ciudad Perdida (Lost City), an archaeological site that predates Machu Picchu by several centuries. The multi-day trek through dense jungles and rugged terrain is both challenging and rewarding, culminating in the awe-inspiring sight of ancient terraces and stone structures nestled in the mountains.


While exploring Tayrona, keep an eye out for the park’s diverse wildlife. You may spot howler monkeys swinging through the trees, colorful toucans perched on branches, or even the elusive jaguar prowling in the undergrowth. Birdwatchers will delight in the opportunity to see rare species such as the Santa Marta parakeet and the Santa Marta antbird.


It’s important to note that the park has limited accommodation options, ranging from beachfront campsites to eco-lodges nestled in the jungle. If you’re looking for a unique and immersive experience, consider spending a night under the stars in a hammock or a rustic cabin.


Exploring Tayrona National Natural Park is a must-do when visiting Santa Marta. With its breathtaking landscapes, stunning beaches, and abundant wildlife, this natural treasure will leave you in awe of Colombia’s natural beauty.


Visit the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

Embark on a journey back in time and discover the ancient marvels of the Lost City, also known as Ciudad Perdida. Located deep in the heart of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountains, this archaeological site is a testament to the advanced civilization of the Tayrona people who once thrived in the region.


The trek to the Lost City is a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience. The multi-day hike takes you through dense jungles, across rivers, and up steep terrains, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Along the way, you’ll encounter local indigenous communities, learn about their rich cultural heritage, and gain insights into their way of life.


Reaching the Lost City itself is a truly awe-inspiring moment. The site consists of a complex network of terraces, stone structures, and ceremonial plazas, which are believed to have been built between the 11th and 14th centuries. As you explore the ancient ruins, you’ll feel a sense of wonder and reverence for the civilization that once inhabited this mystical place.


It’s important to note that visiting the Lost City requires a guided tour, as the site is not open to the public. This not only ensures your safety but also allows you to learn about the history and significance of the site from knowledgeable guides who can provide valuable insights into the Tayrona culture.


While the physical demands of the trek can be challenging, the experience of visiting the Lost City is truly one-of-a-kind. It offers a unique opportunity to connect with Colombia’s indigenous roots, immerse yourself in nature, and witness the architectural wonders of a lost civilization.


Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a history enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of ancient civilizations, a visit to the Lost City should be on your Santa Marta itinerary.


Relax at Playa Blanca

If you’re in need of some rest and relaxation, look no further than Playa Blanca. This pristine beach, located just a short boat ride away from Santa Marta, offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.


Picture yourself lounging on soft white sands, with the gentle Caribbean waves lapping at your feet and the warm sun kissing your skin. Playa Blanca is known for its calm and clear turquoise waters, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or simply floating blissfully in the sea.


Surrounded by lush palm trees and a backdrop of rolling hills, Playa Blanca offers a picture-perfect setting for relaxation. There are hammocks and beach chairs available for rent, allowing you to unwind and soak in the serene atmosphere. Whether you’re seeking solitude or enjoying the company of friends and family, Playa Blanca has the space and tranquility you need to recharge.


In addition to its beautiful beach, Playa Blanca also has a vibrant and lively beachside scene. You’ll find small restaurants and beach bars serving up delicious local dishes and refreshing cocktails. Indulge in some fresh seafood, like the famous coconut rice with fried fish or ceviche, and savor the flavors of the Caribbean.


For those who want to explore beyond the beach, you can take a short hike to the nearby Aviario Nacional de Colombia, one of the largest aviaries in the Americas. Here, you can observe over 2,000 birds, including rare and exotic species, in a natural and protected habitat.


Whether you’re looking to unwind, enjoy water activities, or simply bask in the beauty of nature, Playa Blanca is the perfect destination. So grab your towel, sunscreen, and a good book, and get ready to experience pure relaxation on the shores of this stunning beach.


Discover the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Prepare to be awe-struck by the majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range. Rising abruptly from the Caribbean coast, this natural wonder is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.


The Sierra Nevada is blessed with a diverse range of ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to snow-capped peaks. Explore its lush trails and hike through dense forests teeming with exotic wildlife, including hummingbirds, toucans, and elusive jaguars. Along the way, you’ll encounter cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear rivers, and breathtaking panoramic views of the coast.


If you’re up for a more challenging adventure, consider climbing to the summit of Pico Colón, the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada. Standing at an impressive 5,775 meters (18,947 feet), reaching the summit requires physical fitness and acclimatization, but the reward is an unparalleled sense of achievement and a panoramic view that stretches from the Caribbean Sea to the snow-capped peaks.


For those seeking a more laid-back experience, visit one of the indigenous communities that call the Sierra Nevada home. The region is inhabited by several indigenous tribes, including the Kogi, Wiwa, and Arhuaco people, who have preserved their ancestral traditions and way of life. Immerse yourself in their culture, learn about their spiritual beliefs, and gain insights into their sustainable and harmonious relationship with the natural world.


A visit to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is not only an opportunity for adventure and exploration but also a chance to connect with nature on a profound level. Whether you’re hiking to a hidden waterfall, camping under a starlit sky, or simply taking in the breathtaking landscapes, the Sierra Nevada will leave a lasting impression on your soul.


As you explore this magnificent mountain range, remember to respect the environment and the indigenous communities. Leave no trace, follow responsible travel practices, and be mindful of the cultural significance of the region.


Embark on a journey to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and discover the unparalleled beauty and natural wonders that await you.


Take a Dip in the Minca Waterfalls

Escape the heat and refresh yourself in the cool cascades of the Minca Waterfalls. Located in the lush mountains surrounding Santa Marta, these hidden gems offer a serene and rejuvenating oasis amidst nature’s beauty.


To reach the Minca Waterfalls, you’ll embark on a scenic trek through the tropical rainforest. As you hike along lush trails, you’ll be surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, with colorful birds fluttering through the trees and the soothing sound of water flowing in the distance.


Finally, you’ll arrive at the waterfalls, where you can take a dip in the refreshing pools below. The cool, clear waters provide a perfect respite from the tropical heat, allowing you to relax and unwind in this natural paradise. Swim beneath the cascades, embrace the invigorating spray, and let the water massage your cares away.


While enjoying the waterfalls, take a moment to appreciate the surrounding scenery. The lush greenery and the tranquil ambiance create a peaceful atmosphere, making it an ideal spot for meditation or simply reconnecting with nature.


After enjoying the waterfalls, you can continue your exploration of Minca, a charming mountain village known for its coffee plantations and panoramic views. Visit a local coffee farm, where you can learn about the coffee-making process, from bean to cup, and even taste freshly brewed Colombian coffee.


Additionally, Minca is a haven for birdwatchers, with numerous endemic and migratory bird species inhabiting the area. Consider joining a birdwatching tour, guided by knowledgeable locals who can help you spot toucans, parrots, and other feathered wonders.


A visit to the Minca Waterfalls is an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s serenity and enjoy a refreshing and memorable experience. So pack your swimsuit, towel, and sense of adventure, and prepare to be enchanted by the beauty of these hidden waterfalls.


Experience the Charm of Santa Marta’s Historic Center

Step back in time and immerse yourself in the rich history and vibrant culture of Santa Marta’s historic center. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this charming neighborhood is a testament to the city’s colonial past and a treasure trove of architectural gems, bustling markets, and lively plazas.


As you stroll through the narrow streets lined with colorful colonial buildings, you’ll be transported to another era. Admire the intricate balconies, beautiful facades, and ornate doorways that showcase the architectural styles of the Spanish colonial period. The historic center is home to several noteworthy landmarks, including the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Marta, the oldest surviving cathedral in Colombia, and the Casa de la Aduana, a historic customs house turned museum.


One of the highlights of the historic center is the vibrant local market, where you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and flavors of Colombian culture. Explore the stalls filled with fresh fruits, exotic spices, and handicrafts, and engage with friendly vendors who are eager to share stories and traditions. Indulge in local delicacies like arepas, empanadas, and tropical fruits, and discover the rich culinary heritage of the region.


Plaza de Bolivar, the main square in the historic center, is a bustling hub of activity. Here, you can relax on a bench and people-watch, witness live performances of traditional music and dance, or simply soak in the vibrant atmosphere. Admire the statue of Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator, and learn about his significant contributions to the region’s history.


As you explore the historic center, don’t forget to visit the Museo del Oro, a museum dedicated to the indigenous cultures of the region and their connection to gold. Marvel at the intricate gold artifacts and learn about the rich cultural heritage of the Tayrona civilization.


Whether you’re a history lover, architecture enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the charm of a well-preserved historic district, the historic center of Santa Marta is a must-visit. Immerse yourself in the allure of the past, discover the vibrant present, and create lasting memories in this captivating neighborhood.


Discover the Beauty of Taganga Bay

Nestled along the scenic coastline of Santa Marta, Taganga Bay is a picturesque fishing village that offers a blend of natural beauty, vibrant marine life, and a bohemian atmosphere. With its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and laid-back charm, it is a must-visit destination for beach lovers and scuba diving enthusiasts.


Taganga Bay is famous for its stunning beaches, which are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling. The golden sands provide a comfortable spot to relax and soak up the Caribbean sun, while the calm waters offer a chance to cool off and enjoy a refreshing swim. Grab a beach chair, sip a cold drink, and take in the breathtaking views of the turquoise bay.


For those seeking a more adventurous experience, Taganga is renowned for its incredible scuba diving opportunities. The bay is home to vibrant coral reefs teeming with a kaleidoscope of tropical fish, making it a paradise for underwater enthusiasts. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, there are dive shops in the village offering equipment rentals and guided dives to help you explore the spectacular underwater world.


Beyond its natural beauty, Taganga boasts a bohemian atmosphere that attracts artists, musicians, and free spirits from around the world. The village is dotted with trendy cafes, beachside bars, and local restaurants serving fresh seafood. Enjoy a delicious Colombian meal, sip on a cocktail, and embrace the laid-back vibe of Taganga.


For a unique experience, consider taking a boat tour from Taganga Bay to explore the nearby Tayrona National Natural Park or the secluded beaches of Bahia Concha. These tours allow you to discover hidden coves, snorkel in pristine waters, and admire the rugged beauty of the Colombian coastline.


Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or a taste of bohemian charm, Taganga Bay has it all. Immerse yourself in the beauty of its beaches, embrace the vibrant underwater ecosystem, and connect with the free-spirited atmosphere of this enchanting fishing village.


Enjoy a Colombian Coffee Tour

Colombia is renowned for its exceptional coffee, and Santa Marta provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of this beloved beverage. Embark on a Colombian coffee tour and discover the fascinating journey from bean to cup, while indulging in the rich flavors and aromas of this national treasure.


Start your coffee tour by visiting one of the many coffee farms surrounding Santa Marta. Here, you’ll learn about the cultivation, harvesting, and processing of coffee beans. Walk through the lush plantations, surrounded by rows of coffee bushes laden with ripe cherries. Engage with local farmers who will share their passion for coffee and reveal the secrets behind producing the perfect cup.


During the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in the coffee-making process. From hand-picking the ripest beans to roasting and grinding, you’ll experience the artistry and precision involved in crafting a delicious brew. Learn about the different flavor profiles and characteristics of Colombian coffee, and sharpen your senses as you savor a tasting session of freshly brewed cups.


Additionally, you’ll gain insight into the social and economic impact of the coffee industry on local communities. Discover how coffee cultivation has shaped the region’s history, and learn about the efforts toward sustainable farming practices and fair trade initiatives that support the well-being of farmers.


For a more interactive experience, you can also participate in a coffee-making workshop. Under the guidance of skilled baristas, you’ll learn how to brew the perfect cup of coffee using different methods, including pour-over, French press, and espresso machines. Put your newfound knowledge to the test and impress your friends with your barista skills.


A Colombian coffee tour is not only a delightful sensory experience but also an educational and cultural journey. It provides a deeper appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the coffee farmers and highlights Colombia’s prominent position in the world of specialty coffee.


So, whether you’re a coffee aficionado or simply enjoy a good cup of joe, don’t miss the opportunity to engage in a Colombian coffee tour in Santa Marta and discover the magic of this beloved beverage.


Indulge in Delicious Seafood at the Local Markets

If you’re a seafood lover, Santa Marta is a culinary paradise that will tantalize your taste buds. Immerse yourself in the vibrant flavors of the sea by indulging in the freshest seafood at the local markets, where you’ll find an array of delectable dishes that showcase the region’s bountiful coastal treasures.


One of the best places to experience Santa Marta’s seafood scene is at the bustling Mercado de Mariscos, the city’s seafood market. Here, you’ll find a vibrant and lively atmosphere with vendors showcasing an impressive selection of fresh catches from the Caribbean Sea. From shrimp and crab to fish and lobster, the variety is astounding.


Indulge in traditional Colombian seafood dishes such as ceviche, a refreshing and zesty dish made with marinated fish or shrimp, mixed with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice. The vibrant flavors and tangy acidity of the lime will transport your taste buds to coastal bliss.


Another popular dish is cazuela de mariscos, a hearty seafood stew made with a medley of shrimp, fish, clams, squid, and mussels, cooked in a flavorful broth infused with herbs and spices. Each spoonful is a burst of flavors and textures that will leave you craving for more.


For a unique seafood experience, try pargo rojo frito (fried red snapper), a beloved local specialty. The fish is crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside, perfectly complemented by tangy sauces and served with sides such as coconut rice or fried plantains.


As you wander through the market, don’t miss the chance to interact with the friendly vendors, who are more than happy to share their culinary knowledge and recommendations. They can guide you in choosing the freshest catch and offer cooking tips to enhance your seafood feast.


If you prefer a sit-down dining experience, Santa Marta also boasts numerous seafood restaurants along its scenic coastline. Dine al fresco with stunning ocean views and enjoy a feast of flavors, with dishes ranging from grilled octopus to seafood paella.


Indulging in delicious seafood at the local markets is not just a meal; it’s a celebration of the coastal region’s culinary heritage. So, prepare your taste buds for an unforgettable seafood extravaganza and let the flavors of the sea transport you to a world of gastronomic delight.



Santa Marta, the gateway to Northern Colombia, offers a captivating blend of natural wonders, rich history, and cultural experiences. From the breathtaking landscapes of Tayrona National Natural Park to the ancient ruins of the Lost City, there are endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.


The region’s diverse ecosystems, from the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains to the pristine beaches of Taganga Bay and Playa Blanca, provide a playground for nature enthusiasts. Whether you’re hiking through lush rainforests, diving into vibrant coral reefs, or simply relaxing on the golden sands, Santa Marta’s natural beauty will leave you in awe.


Immerse yourself in the history and charm of Santa Marta’s historic center, where you can wander through colonial streets, visit historic landmarks, and experience the vibrant local markets. The city’s bohemian vibe, coupled with its culinary delights and traditional coffee-making traditions, adds another layer of enchantment to your journey.


As your adventure comes to an end, don’t forget to indulge in the tantalizing flavors of the sea at the local seafood markets. The fresh catches and traditional dishes will leave a lasting impression on your taste buds, showcasing the coastal region’s culinary expertise and love for seafood.


Santa Marta invites you to embark on a journey of discovery, immersing yourself in its natural beauty, embracing its rich history, and savoring its vibrant culture. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a taste of Colombian hospitality, Santa Marta is a destination that will truly captivate your heart and soul.


So pack your bags, explore the wonders of Santa Marta, and create memories that will last a lifetime in this enchanting corner of Colombia.