14 Fun Things to Do in Santa Marta, Colombia
I compiled this list of fun things to do in Santa Marta after living there for 6 weeks. It gives a short review of each item and (where applicable) links to detailed reviews. It also has information on accommodation and how to get a visa extension in Santa Marta.
After living in Medellin for six weeks I decided to move to get back into the tropics where I belong. Also, Medellin was a bit too big of a city for my liking. I passed through Cartagena and ended up in Santa Marta.
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14 Fun Things to do in Santa Marta
1. Stroll Along the Foreshore
The first thing on this list of fun things to do in Santa Marta is to take a stroll along the foreshore. There are many establishments you can stop for a drink or some food. Also, lots of vendors to sell you snacks, souvenirs, marijuana, and cocaine if you are so inclined. You can check out the beach (I would not swim in it) and have a drink at the bar on the jetty. The beach gets much quieter past the mariner.
2. Wander Through Old Town
From the foreshore cut inland though Bolivar Park and you will be in Santa Marta’s old town. Not quite as impressive as Cartagena’s old town, but still nice to walk around. Sit in one of the plazas and people watch.
Taganga, which was once a quiet little fishing town, now has more of a hippy backpacker vibe to it. It also turns into a bit of a party spot on the weekends. I’m not a hippy backpacker or a party goer, but I chose to live in Taganga anyway. It meant could go snorkeling and hiking every day if I wanted. Also, still only a short bus ride from the center of Santa Marta. My apartment was a little out of the village so I was able to hide out during the busy times.
4. Go to the Beach
Santa Marta is right on the Caribean Coast so there are a quite a few beaches to choose from. There are several not far from the city, some in Taganga, and even more in Tayrona. As a general rule, the further from the city center you get, the cleaner the beaches are. The best ones are in Tayrona.
5. Visit the Museums
Number 5 on this list of fun things to do in Santa Marta is to check out the museums. There is the national museum which is free (pictured) and next to that is a gold museum. I never went to the gold museum because I did the one in Bogota. There is also the rather impressive looking library. All three of these are in old town, across from Bolivar Park.
6. Ciudad Perdida
I didn’t actually do this, but Cuidad Perdida (The Lost City) is a famous archeological site in Colombia. Archeologists believe it to be around 650 years older the Machu Pichu. To get there is a 4 to 6-day hike which you must do with an authorized tour company.
7. La Quinta de San Pedro de Alejandrino
La Quinta de San Pedro de Alejandrino is Simon Bolivar’s place of death. In the 17th century, it produced honey, rum, and panela. Nowadays it is a tourist attraction. Inside the compound, there is a hacienda, an art museum, and a botanical garden.
8. Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is a must-see for nature lovers in the area. Many people come straight here and don’t even bother with the rest of Santa Marta. You can hike, camp, snorkel, chill at the beach, rent a hammock or eco-hab, go diving, see Pueblito Archeological Place, go wildlife spotting, etc.
I went for a day hike and snorkel. It was a good day, although I lost my goggles and belt somewhere along the way.
9. Chill on the Beach in Palomino
I went to Palomino as a day trip. It took over two hours to get there from Santa Marta, and for me, it was a “nothing special beach”. No snorkeling or surfing. Great for those that want to sunbathe while listening to the calming ocean sounds. The other big draw of Palomino is to go tubing down the river. Another thing that doesn’t interest me.
To be fair, my disappointing time was my own fault. I knew what was going to be there and for some reason, I went anyway. I guess the catch-line I kept reading about “the river meeting the ocean” sucked me in. It wasn’t that I disliked Palomino. It was still good to explore and I had a good lunch, but I don’t think it was worth the journey from Santa Marta.
For those people that like beach resorts and/or yoga, I recommend spending a few days here.
10. Go Hiking in Minca
Coming in at number 10 on this list of things to do in Santa Marta is to go hiking in Minca. Minca is a small mountain town a 45-minute van ride from Santa Marta. When I went I did a short hike to Pozo Azul, a waterfall. Another longer one (6 hour round trip) is up Los Pinos. Minca itself is a cute little town and if you don’t like hiking it is still worth the visit.
11. Hike to Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is a popular beach, a little too popular for me, but hiking there is epic. There are a couple of secluded beaches along the way and at the end, you can get a good feed at one of the at the beach.
12. Snorkel in Bahia Concha
Less than an hour away from the center of Santa Marta is Bahia Concha, which is a beach. It is part of Tayrona National Park but far away from the main entrance so it only costs 5,000COP instead of 48,500COP. I enjoyed the snorkeling there. Like all beaches in Santa Marta, you can rent a shelter and have a fresh fish lunch if you want.
13. Swim in the Waterfalls at Paso Del Mango
Paso Del Mango is a traditional village near the town of Bonda, which is a 40-minute bus ride from Santa Marta. The village itself didn’t do much for me, but hiking to the waterfall at the end was nice. The waterfall is Pozo Del Azul. It was refreshing to take a dip after the 2-hour hike in, and you can jump into it from the rocks above.
I admit that this one is a bit of a cop-out. Partying in Santa Marta isn’t any better or worse than the rest of Colombia. I added it so the list wouldn’t be “13”.
You can drink aguardiente or rum and dance the night away any day of the week. Or if you feel like releasing the hippy in you, head to Taganga and smoke with the locals on the beach.
Getting a Tourist Visa Extention in Santa Marta
Go to the migration office, which has moved as of the 30th of May 2017. It is now closer to the old town, about 4 blocks east of the big Exito supermarket in town. Follow Calle 19.
The address is: Avenida Del Ferrocarril. Calle 19 # 8 – 68, Esquina, Barrio Centro.
Opening times: Monday to Friday, 0800 – 1200, 1400 – 1700.
Take your passport and photocopies of your passport photo page and entry stamp. They also ask for where you are staying and your contact number. Although you don’t need any actual proof. I took my proof of exit and extra passport photos but I didn’t need them. They took my photo and fingerprints in there.
The cost was 92,000COP. The lady did ask me whether I wanted to pay with cash or card. I said cash and she gave a frustrated look, so then I said I also had a card which cheered her up a lot. I guess it means they can accept cash but they much prefer card.
The whole thing was very easy. I went there right at 2 pm when they re-opened after lunch. I was the only “customer” for the whole time I was there, which was less than 30 minutes.
It will help if you can speak a little Spanish.
Accommodation in Santa Marta
Whilst doing all these fun things to do in Santa Marta I stayed in Taganga. I rented a place of Airbnb to start with but soon after rented straight from a local. She is a very helpful and friendly girl that manages a few different places in Taganga and Santa Marta. I recommend her.
Of course, if you prefer to pay more you can go through Airbnb.
Here’s a video slideshow of some pictures taken in Santa Marta.
Got anything to add to this list of fun things to do in Santa Marta? Let us know them (or anything else you want to say) in the comments.