The best of Santa Marta and around

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta
Santa Marta

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. 

Tairona Gold Museum, Santa Marta
Casa de la Aduana, Santa Marta

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. 

San Francisco Church, Santa Marta
Old town, Santa Marta
Old city of Santa Marta

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!

Traditional dish from Santa Marta
Gastronomic offer in Santa Marta
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. 

Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta
Tayrona National Natural Park, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

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. 

Cabo San Juan, Tayrona Park

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.

Ciudad Perdida, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

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. 

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

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. 

Minca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Minca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Cartagena: the city of magical realism

Colonial Cartagena

Cartagena is an exceptional destination where you can transport in time by wandering its well-preserved historic centre. You’ll find yourself in the city’s colonial heart, walking around a place that still preserves in its streets plenty of stories that have marked Colombia’s past. 

Walled City, Cartagena
Walled city, Cartagena
Historic Centre, Cartagena
Cartagena’s historic centre
Historic Centre & Getsemaní

In the historic centre you can visit the Museum of Gold. Here you’ll find a great collection of precious pieces, shells, gold and ceramic objects from the Zenú indigenous community. The culture of Zenú was one of the most prominent that was developed in this part of the country in the pre-Columbian times, from 200 BC until 1600 AD. 

Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena
Museum of Gold, Cartagena

Additionally, it’s worth visiting the impressive Palace of Inquisition, a place of great importance during the Spanish colonisation. This is one of the city’s finest buildings, as it preserves its colonial architecture with its baroque style entrance and its long wooden balconies in the façade. Today it houses the Historical Museum of Cartagena de Indias.

As you enter the old town of Cartagena from the east, you’ll come across the famous monument of India Catalina, a tribute to an indigenous woman who served as interpreter for the Spanish in the time of conquest. Continue your tour by visiting some of the oldest religious temples of the city, including Cartagena’s Cathedral Santa Catalina de Alejandría, the San Pedro Claver Church & Convent and the Church of Santo Domingo. Take some time to rest in some of the best plazas in the city. The Plaza of Santo Domingo in the historic centre or Getsemaní’s Plaza de Santísima Trinidad are always filled with energy, music and life. The bohemian neighbourhood of Getsemaní is characterised by its vibrant streets, colourful buildings, creative street art and an exciting nightlife scene. 

Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
India Catalina, Cartagena
Monument of India Catalina, Cartagena
Old City, Cartagena
Part of the walled city, Cartagena
Food & Drink

The food scene in Cartagena reflects indigenous, African and European influences. Make a stop in one of the traditional restaurants in the historic centre or in Getsemaní to try the delicious Caribbean cuisine. Fish and seafood are prevalent in this region due to its proximity to the sea. Taste some of the most typical dishes, such as the sancocho de pescado (fish soup), coctel de camarón (prawn cocktail), arroz con chipi chipi (a type of local shellfish) and mote de queso (yam soup with cheese and coconut). Also, in various spots throughout the city you’ll find several exotic fruit sellers – among those the palenqueras – and street food like empanadas, arepas de huevo (corn dough with an egg inside), papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes), carimañolas (cassava pastries stuffed with meat and cheese) and cocadas (coconut based sweets).

Caribbean Food
Gastronomic offer in Cartagena
Colombian Fruits
Tropical fruits, Cartagena
Tropical fruits of Colombia
Street Art, Cartagena
Street art, Cartagena

By the end of the day, get immersed in the magical sunset from the walls surrounding the old town and view the sun vanishing into the Caribbean waters. Try to get here as early as possible to find a good spot. You can also enjoy the sunset from one of the wall corners where the famous Café del Mar is located – make sure you ask for a tropical cocktail! Sooner or later you’ll realise that the music and dance are always present in the life of the costeños – as the people from the coast are called. One of the most iconic bars in Cartagena is the Café Havana where you can enjoy your drink dancing in the rhythms of salsa, cumbia or champeta.

Old City, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas

One of the most iconic attractions in Cartagena is the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, built in 1657 on the hill of San Lázaro. Once you’re in, explore the ramparts and underground passages, learn about its long history and enjoy the stunning view over Cartagena from the viewpoints. The castle is just a 10-minute drive from the historic centre and is open daily from 08:00 to 19:00 (except the last Sunday of each month that is open until 17:00). We recommend you take a taxi to the castle and avoid going on foot, as the surrounding area is not the safest. Also, try to get here early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the strong sun and midday heat. 

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena
Castle of San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena

To experience the modern side of Cartagena you can visit the district of Bocagrande, located about three kilometres away from the city centre. In Bocagrande you’ll find contemporary tall buildings, luxury hotel brands, casinos, shopping malls, high-end restaurants as well as a long coastline with sandy beaches. There’s a big architectural difference between Cartagena’s historic centre and Bocagrande that doesn’t go unnoticed – perfect for an alternative plan to the classic stroll in the walled city.

Bocagrande, Cartagena
Bocagrande, Cartagena
Beyond Cartagena

If you feel like escaping from the city and the heat and want to relax on a Caribbean beach, go on a day trip to one of the beautiful islands just off the coast of Cartagena. You can take a boat from the pier (Muelle de la Bodeguita) and in less than two hours you’ll find yourself in front of an exotic beach enjoying a coconut cocktail. The most popular are the Islas del Rosario and the Isla Barú.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

The archipelago of Rosario consists of 27 small islands and is located southwest from Cartagena. The biggest of the islands and one of the most popular is Isla Grande, where you can not only enjoy the fantastic beaches but also explore the amazing natural environment. If you’re looking for something more exclusive and tranquil, the Isla del Pirata is one of the smallest of the archipelago and is ideal for enjoying the nature without distractions.  

The Isla Barú, which you can reach by land, is well-organised with restaurants, bars and accommodation places to spend the night. Its most famous beach is Playa Blanca with white sand, palm trees and blue waters. To extend your holiday and spend a night in the island is a great idea, as you’ll be able to appreciate the beach without the noise of the crowds, who normally go back to Cartagena by 5pm. When the night comes you’ll have the chance to swim or go in a kayak among bioluminescent plankton that glow in the dark.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

As of the menu in the islands, the typical dish is fried fish that comes with coconut rice and patacones (fried pieces of plantain). Give it a try, it’s delicious!

Caribbean food
Fried fish with coconut rice and patacones

In these islands are found the best beaches of the area around Cartagena. Like in many Caribbean islands, be prepared to come across not only idyllic beaches with crystalline waters, coral reefs and palm trees but also forests of mangroves and lush vegetation.

Rosario Islands, Caribbean
Rosario islands, Caribbean

After all, there are not enough words to describe the beauty of Cartagena. You just need to witness it with your own eyes!

Historic Centre, Cartagena
Old Town, Cartagena
Historic centre, Cartagena
City Hall, Cartagena
Cartagena’s City Hall
Old City, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena
Getsemaní, Cartagena