Santa Marta, Colombia, is one of the oldest cities in the Americas and is well-known for its whitewashed cathedral, which outshines the historic center’s colonial buildings.
Plus, you can find plenty of beaches in Colombia’s top beach destination and catch rays at the drop of a hat. So, while there’s an endless list of things to do in Santa Marta, here’s our pick of the nine best trip ideas.
Explore Tayrona National Natural Park
Santa Marta’s Tayrona National Park is undoubtedly a tourist draw. And for good reason!
Teeming with wildlife, camping spots and forest trails, this remote paradise offers a castaway feel. Dense jungle sits right behind the coastal stretch. Take a walk through it, and aside from twittering birds and sloths hanging from trees, you’ll find monkeys playing and busy leaf cutter ants. Tayrona Park makes for a perfect day trip from the city, which is a convenient public bus ride away.
Are you keen to feed your adventurous side?
Enjoy horse riding or stay overnight. Sleeping in a hammock or a tent at Cabo San Juan will surely thrill you, as will the vistas from one of the many jaw-dropping viewpoints.
Backpackers, divers, and party animals also love nearby Taganga, a former fishing village turned tourist hotspot. To get here, jump on a 50-minute minivan ride from Santa Marta to Taganga. And there’s no shortage of hostels and restaurants providing creature comforts.
Relax on Playa Blanca in Santa Marta
Before trekking the national park, settle in and lounge on Playa Blanca. Situated remotely, Playa Blanca has a low-key atmosphere. Get here via a quick boat ride from Rodadero Beach, which costs only a few dollars. Despite its secluded location, a few restaurants dot the beach and offer ice-cold beer and fried fish.
Are you looking for adventure? Snorkeling is fantastic here but beware of the sea urchins. You can also hike to the viewpoint or enjoy a bouncy ride on an inflatable banana boat.
Dive into Art and Historic Architecture at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
Are you into art, history, and architecture? If so, you’ll love the 17th-century hacienda, one of the must-see things to do in Santa Marta. Revolutionary hero and former president Simón Bolívar spent his last days here in the 19th century. Today, the architectural landmark is an art museum full of art from the countries he liberated in South America.
Hike to Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City
Let’s get this right off the bat. At two and a half hours from the Lost City Trek entrance, it’s not the closest thing to do in Santa Marta. However, most tour operators use the port city as their starting point.
On par with Peru’s Machu Picchu, this indigenous citadel predates the Inca by about 650 years and was abandoned when the Spanish conquered the area. It’s less popular than Peru’s flagship archaeological site due to the physical effort required to get here.
The four to five-day Lost City Trek through the deep coastal jungle is worth the sweat, muddy river crossings, and steep slog through tropical vegetation. However, not exactly one of the best things to do in Santa Marta with kids unless they are pretty hardy and can handle the strenuous trek.
Yet, if you manage to set foot up here, you’ll be rewarded with stairs, stone terraces, and walkways only accessible on foot. And soaking up the intriguing views of jungle-swathed hill scapes is pure bliss.
Join the Beach Party at El Rodadero
Are you up for a kick-ass beach party?
El Rodadero, a 15-minute drive south of Santa Marta’s city center, is the place to be. It bursts at the seams in the summer months. Colombians come to relax by the beach during the day and booze and dance to live music once twilight falls—and long after.
Have a Cup of Organic Coffee in Minca
Any coffee lover wondering what to do in Santa Marta must add Minca to their itinerary. Half an hour from Santa Marta, the small Sierra Nevada village is an enchanting place to sip a cup of joe. Surrounded by mountains, this lovely little hamlet offers coffee tours to La Victoria, Colombia’s oldest coffee farm.
Stay overnight, and you’ll fall asleep to bird calls and the gushing Marinka Falls. You’ll feel worlds away from all the Santa Marta tourism.
Admire Marvelous Views of Pico Cristóbal Colón
Rising 5,730 meters (18,799 feet) above sea level, Pico Cristóbal Colón is Colombia’s highest mountain. It’s named after the great explorer Christopher Columbus and is part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain range.
Replete with tropical woodlands, alpine lakes, and sparkling glaciers, this mountain range is home to indigenous people and is rarely explored by tourists.
To visit, you must schedule a tour with a licensed adventure company. Choose one that collaborates with local tribes to ensure ethical hikes through this sacred region.
Stroll or Cycle Along the Historic City Center
Whether you’re a history buff or an architecture enthusiast, the historic center of Santa Marta (Centro Historico) is a must-do on your vacation. Not just because Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia. The colorful colonial architecture and crumbling brick homes tell the tale of one of South America’s oldest cities.
Nearby is Parque de Los Novios, where you can find plenty of shade, monuments, and some of the best restaurants in Santa Marta.
Dive into Local Santa Marta Life at Parque San Miguel
The tree-shaded Parque San Miguel offers a glimpse into local life on the city’s outskirts. Residents come here in the evenings to sit back and chat. You can lose love handles in an outdoor Zumba class, participate in a weekly basketball game, or watch and join men competing in chess tournaments.
Next door is a cemetery, where flower scents waft through the air thanks to plant vendors offering their goods.
And if you still have time for more things to do in Santa Marta, Colombia, after all this, the Tayrona Gold Museum, with its gilded pottery, isn’t very far.
Santa Marta is pretty safe to visit. However, always take precautions. Avoid firing up your cell phone, never keep anything in your pockets (particularly when you’re using public transportation), and always keep a firm grip on your belongings.
You can reach Santa Marta by bus or plane. The airport is a 25-minute taxi ride away, and the bus terminal is on the outskirts of the city (10 minutes by cab from downtown).
Oh yes, especially at the weekend. Parque de Los Novios is Santa Marta’s center of nightlife, with restaurants and bars lining the cozy square.