(Re-edited and updated December 2018)

Santa Marta is a spectacularly unspectacular place, perfect to those who don’t suffer from FOMO but are very well able to observe and enjoy the small things of truly Colombian life.

Good morning, Santa Marta! The coffee lady is pushing her cart on Calle 19; who needs Starbucks, anyways?!

In Colombia, people were incredibly nice everywhere. But in a small town like Santa Marta, you can take a closer look – and as you take this close look, you spot all these invisible threads that are connecting these people and hold them together – and that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Getting from Cartagena to Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Parque Tayrona by the marsol bus company is a very good option because it’s a convenient door to door service.
As I already stated in the Cartagena-chapter, it is not worth it to walk all the way to the marsol station to save one or two bucks. Just get them downtown at one of the travel agents.

Leaving Santa Marta

We came to Santa Marta for various reasons. First of all, I wanted to spend more time in a beach destination. Well, Santa Marta has a city beach, but it’s really not great – and located irritatingly close to the harbor.

But Santa Marta is a gateway to the beach in Rodadero and that’s pretty nice.
You can get there in 20 minutes by cab or bus and have a truly pleasant vacation-experience.

The beach of Rodadero….

….where the hawkers make sure that you look good in a Bikini.

Then, hiking tours to the mystic Ciudad Perdida hidden somewhere deep in the Sierra Nevada start at Santa Marta. And the city is also a hub to other fantastic places along the Caribbean coast – just 45 minutes from Minca, an hour from Parque Tayrona, and two hours from Palomino – all reachable by local buses.

You get to Taganga in about ten minutes. From there, you can access the Parque Tayrona in about 40 minutes by boat. Don’t even bother to take the boat from Taganga to the next bay, the Playa Grande: That is literally the worst beach I had to suffer on.

That was the other reason why we picked Santa Marta as our alternative Caribbean destination after Cartagena.

Staying at Santa Marta

The other day at a party, I overheard a girl saying: “You know, when travelling, I also enjoy just being at a place”.

I’ve found that quite eye-opening: Just being. No racing through cute alleys full of historic buildings, no waiting in line at museums, no pushing on boats and squeezing in vans – just being at a place.

And being is what you can do all day long in places like Santa Marta; in places with a good locals-traveller-ratio: Some foreigners so that people don’t stare at you with their mouth open as if the circus got into town. But few enough so that life goes on undisturbed by their presence.

Two locals vs. one traveller – desirable ratio.

That gives you the chance to blend in as an alien. And when you’re respectful and well-behaved, you might even befriend people, and that’s very enriching. I travel to meet, greet and learn.

Yes, if you insist, you can visit some landmarks such as the Tairona Gold Museum. Or La Quinta de Bolívar, the house where the Venezuela-born freedom fighter used to live, located just a stone throw away from the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the place where this South American hero died at only 47 from tuberculosis. Finally, there is also the Museo Bolivariano de Arte Contemporáneo, the Museum of Contemporary Art in the vicinity. These places are about five miles from the center, in Santa Marta’s eastern outskirts, close to the Universidad del Magdalena.

Look: Real Colombians running errands.

But actually, this is not what Santa Marta is all about. It’s about the unspectacular yet pretty side streets. It’s about the lovely squares where you won’t awe at impressive statues, but observe how Colombians pursue their daily tasks or meet up after the day’s work is done. It’s about strolling along the promenade or checking out the big shopping streets. ¡Es la vida!

Carrera 3 by day…

…and by night.

Nonetheless, there is a small neighborhood that could be called hip and trendy: It’s the Carrera 3. Here, you’ll find stylish restaurants and bars designed mainly for visitors and young local crowds from the University nearby. Also, some of Santa Marta’s coolest street art can be admired in this area.

Making advertisements for the local bars and restaurants into street art….

…and transforming the next corner into an open-air gallery.

Actually, it’s a good place in particular if you are longing for some fresh, healthy – and meat-free – food: All the restaurants have at least a couple of valid vegetarian or even vegan choices and prepare wonderful juices, shakes, and smoothies from fresh fruits.

At night, this street is a bit more animated than the bars around the Parque de los Novios.

The restaurant and bar scene around the Parque de los Novios is less trendy than those along Carrera 3 – however, very pleasant.

Best place to sleep:

Staying somewhere around the Parque de los Novios is your best option – you reach every point of interest within minutes. And even if not, there are cabs waiting in front of the big supermarket ‘Éxito’ on Carrera 5 that bring you where you wanna go for a couple of pesos.

We stayed at the rather quirky Hotel del Parque which is rather a guest house. The owner was shockingly unprofessional but very kind. However, they don’t offer it on hotel sites anymore – and I do understand why.

Best place to eat:

First the healthy part…

….followed by the yummy part of breakfast served at Lulo.

Like I mentioned above, many of the restaurants on Carrera 3 are catering to the health-conscious crowd by serving light, fresh snacks. The café and bar Lulo is the personable one – due to the service and since it’s not pretentious at all. They have a variety of fantastic breakfast options with lots of vegetarian alternatives. Refreshing natural fruit juices and smoothies full of vitamins and excellent coffee. In comparison to traditional Colombian restaurants, they are not exactly cheap, but you actually get what you pay for: Good food.

Lulo Café Bar de Jugos
Carrera 3 16-34
Callejon del Correo
Santa Marta,
Phone: + 57 – 5 – 423 27 25

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Colombia? 
Then go to the main post and take your pick!

If you choose to pin this post, please use these pictures: