Santa Marta is the second oldest surviving European city in South America, founded in 1525. It’s also the place where the liberator Simón Bolívar died, at La Quinta de San Pedro. With that kind of history, you would think it would have a lot to show for. It doesn’t have much to see, but it’s enjoyable enough to visit for a day and a great base for trips to nearby Tayrona National Park. It’s also the base for many trips into La Guajira and Ciudad Perdida.
Transfer from Cartagena or Barranquilla
I took a transfer from Cartagena to Santa Marta at a cost of COP$42,000 with MarSol. It was a very easy door-to-door service that was booked in advance by my hotel. The trip took just over four hours. I’ve also done a transfer from Barranquilla for COP$21,000.
Simón Bolívar International Airport is a good 25 minute drive from the city center. A taxi should cost about COP$20,000-25,000. It’s a very small airport with two gates. Most flights are to Bogotá, but it’s possible to get to cities like Medellín and Cali.
The city center is very flat, compact, and easy to get around on foot. You won’t need to see much outside the small historic center. It’s also safe. There is a beach in the bay of Santa Marta but I wouldn’t swim there. There was a lot of garbage on the beach and the port is very close.
Where to Stay
For hotels, there are several in the historic city center. Many people also choose to stay at the upscale suburb of El Rodadero or the backpacker haven of Taganga.
Hotel del Parque
For my first trip we had booked a room at the Hotel Miami, but on arrival, they informed us that they had given our room away. They transferred us nearby to the Hotel del Parque, a small boutique hotel with just a few rooms. It turned out to be for the better. The host, Felipe, was very helpful and went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable. He speaks excellent English and was also able to help us with advice on tours and taxis. It cost COP$280,000 for 2 nights in a double room (as of October 2014). Also, Hotel Miami sent breakfast to us every morning because it was included in their room rate while Hotel del Parque did not offer breakfast.
La Casa del Piano
On my second trip with my girlfriend Marisol, we stayed at La Casa del Piano. It’s a boutique hotel for COP$190,000 a night (as of December 2014). It was excellent. The rooms were very comfortable and the staff was great. It had a rooftop pool and terrace. A personalized breakfast was included every morning. It’s definitely worth the price of the room.