During your stay in Santa Marta you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of the city’s most iconic attractions. The Tairona Gold Museum is one of them. Housed in the impressive Casa de la Aduana, in front of the Bolívar Park, this historic building of the 16th century is of great cultural and architectural interest. One of the reasons that makes it so special is the fact that over the years this building has survived big fires, various conquests and pirate attacks. The museum exhibits a large collection of archaeological pieces from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains which highlight the cultural heritage of the indigenous communities of the region. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and the entrance is free.
Another attraction that can be of your interest is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino where Colombia’s liberator, Simón Bolívar, spent his last days in 1830. In the area around the old residence you can visit the botanical garden, the sugar cane mill and the museum of contemporary art. The Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is located approximately 5 kilometres away from the city centre. The space is open daily from 09:00 to 17:30.
Of course, Santa Marta’s historic centre doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s characterised by picturesque little streets and colonial style buildings. Among the main attractions we recommend you to visit is the Santa Marta’s Cathedral, the Bolívar Park and the Santander Plaza, places that invite you to explore every corner of them. In the afternoon hours it’s worth taking a stroll along the Malecón de Bastidas by the sea and enjoying the beautiful sunset. You can choose to end your night with a traditional dish or a tropical cocktail in one of the various restaurants and bars around the famous Parque de los Novios.
Due to its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, Santa Marta’s gastronomy is characterised mainly by fish and seafood. Among other local dishes, here you’ll try cayeye (plantain puré with local cheese), chipi chipi (local shellfish), cazuela de mariscos (seafood soup cooked in coconut milk) and carimañolas (cassava pastries stuffed with cheese and meat or chicken). Make sure you taste some of these foods, they’re delicious!
Tayrona National Natural Park
The Tayrona Park is located about 34 kilometres away from Santa Marta and makes part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as its lowest zone. This protected park of 12,000 terrestrial hectares and 3,000 marine hectares is one the most biodiverse and beautiful not only in Colombia but also in all South America. Its abundancy in flora and fauna attracts hundreds of nature and ecotourism friends every day. The Tayrona Park is perfect for bird watching with more than 350 species that inhabit this place, among others, the white eagle, macaws and curassows. Also, it features pristine beaches, crystalline waters and coral reefs.
In the park you’ll have the opportunity to engage with different activities. For example, you can walk for hours in the nature, swim in tropical beaches, get to know the indigenous culture and enjoy the beautiful scenery, where the dense jungle meets the clear waters of the Caribbean.
To get to the Tayrona Park you can take the local bus from the central station of Santa Marta, with shuttle service every half an hour, from 06:30 to 18:00 every day. For more convenience, you can get a taxi or a private car, however, the cost would be much higher. Keep in mind that the park is open from 08:00 to 17:00.
There are two main entrances to the park, each one leading to different beaches. The choice of the entrance point normally depends on the time you have available and your mood for exploration and hiking. You can visit the biggest part of the park within a day, however, the time you’ll spend in each beach will be limited if you want to see as many beaches as possible. For a day trip to the park is recommended to enter from the entrance El Zaino, so you can visit some of the most famous beaches, including the Playa Arrecife, Piscina, Cabo San Juan and Nudista. From the entrance Calabazo you can reach the archaeological village of Pueblito and then continue until the Playa Brava beach. The entrance ticket has different prices according to the season.
If you want to spend more than one day in the park and take your time to enjoy the nature and the beautiful landscape, you can stay in one of the most organised beaches, such as the Playa Arrecife or Cabo San Juan. Don’t expect to find luxury suites, but there are camping tents or hammocks on the beach available for rent.
The park requires you to stock up on basic equipment, as the distances are pretty long, the weather can be unpredictable and there are limited places where you can buy things. We recommend you to bring comfortable clothes, boots for hiking, a light raincoat, mosquito repellent, sun block, swimming suit and cash. The best season to visit the park is from November to April, as during these months it rains rarely.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all of the beaches are ideal for swimming due to the strong currents. Pay attention to those beaches where swimming is not allowed. Also, sometimes the park closes the doors to the public for short periods every year for recovery. Before your visit check with us the closing dates. Lastly, even if it’s not mandatory, it’s recommended to get vaccinated against yellow fever at least 10 days prior to your visit.
Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)
Santa Marta is the starting point for a fascinating trek to the archaeological wonder of the Lost City of Teyuna, where the pre-Columbian tribe of the Tairona used to live. The duration of the tour can take from 4 to 6 days and trekking is the only way to reach the site by land, as there is no access by any means of ground transportation. You’ll also need to be accompanied by a local guide for the duration of the trek. Overnight accommodation and food services are offered in small camps with hammocks or single beds with a mosquito net.
Ciudad Perdida is hidden deep in the jungle of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The trek is quite challenging and requires good physical condition. Be prepared to pass through rivers, jungle, steep ascents and 1,200 steps that lead to the lost city. On the way you’ll also meet the descendants of the Tairona indigenous group, known as the Koguis and Arhuacos.
As soon as you arrive to Ciudad Perdida, you’ll face its ruins dating back to 800 AD, about 650 years older than Peru’s Machu Picchu. The ruins consist of about 170 stone terraces carved on a mountain, with numerous little plazas and connecting streets. It’s possible that Ciudad Perdida was the political and economic centre for the Tairona people and that it played an important role in trade thanks to its location on the banks of the Buritaca river. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 people lived once in the region, who were forced to abandon it during the Spanish conquest.
It’s said that in the ‘70s a couple of guaqueros (mineral hunters) were found accidentally in front of the ruins of Ciudad Perdida, covered in moss, soil and roots, while they were exploring ancient settlements in the region. Few years later and after some rumours about illegal treasure trade, a team of archaeologists arrived at the area and started the excavations for the restoration of the lost city.
Just 14 kilometres away from Santa Marta and on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada you’ll find the peaceful small village of Minca. Minca is famous for the beautiful mountain landscape, the impressive waterfalls, the rich biodiversity, the organic coffee and cocoa plantations and the stunning sunsets. Recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Biosphere Reserve since 1980, it’s definitely the perfect place for those seeking to connect with nature.
There are plenty of outdoor activities that you can practise here. For example, you can follow the mountain trails and set out on an exciting hike, go on a coffee or chocolate tour to a family farm, go bird watching, or visit the natural spa created by the waterfalls of Marinka and Pozo Azul.
You can get to Minca by taxi or the local bus, which you can take from Santa Marta’s Public Market. The journey to Minca normally takes about half an hour, however, on weekends or public holidays it might take longer.