Santa Marta was founded in 1525 and is the second oldest surviving European settlement in South America. It really lacks as far as historic buildings, but it has potential and is a nice place to explore for an hour or two. Most of the interesting spots are within a few blocks of each other in the historic city center. Everything you need is between the blocks of Calle 14 and Calle 22 from north to south, and from the seaside to Carrera 5. It’s not a very big area at all.
The main plaza, Parque de Bolívar, is a long stretch of trees and shrubs. One end has the obligatory statue of liberator Simón Bolívar and a large plaza containing government buildings such as the Alcaldía (City Hall).
The Museo del Oro Tairona (Tairona Gold Museum) also sits on the square in the historic Casa de la Aduana (Customs House). It’s a great museum with a good explanation of the history of Santa Marta and a timeline of the life of Simón Bolívar. Admission is free.
At the other end of the plaza is a monument dedicated to Rodrigo de Bastidas, the Spanish founder of Santa Marta.
The monument sits along a seaside promenade, the malecón, with a small but dirty beach. There are street vendors, statues of the indigenous Tairona people, and a marina.
A couple blocks east of Parque de Bolívar are two whitewashed churches. One is the Iglesia de San Francisco to the northeast.
The other, to the southeast is the Catedral de Santa Marta, which also contains the remains of Rodrigo de Bastidas. It was built in 1765. The plaza around the cathedral has a few beautiful colonial buildings.
About a block south of Parque de Bolívar is one of the most historic buildings, the well-preserved post office.
A very popular place to be at night is Parque de Los Novios. It has a few monuments in the middle, but the main attraction is the restaurants with outdoor seating, many under large trees. A couple of the streets leading to the plaza are pedestrianized and also have restaurants, bars, and cafés with outdoor seating. It’s a great place to be in the evening.
Finally, if you’re into shopping, there is the Centro Artesenal where you can find all kinds of arts, handmade crafts, jewelry, and souvenirs of Colombia.