Travel Guide Santa Marta - The Oldest City From Colombia

Santa Marta lies between the snow capped Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean sea. Founded July 29, 1525 it is the oldest remaining city in Colombia. Its warm climate, beaches, unspoiled colonial architecture and nearby nature reserves make this coastal city an interesting destination.

The charming city center with historic colonial architecture, romantic alleys, churches and plazas captures the enchantment of Santa Marta. The city is famous for being the final resting place of Simon Bolívar who passed away in 1830 at the hacienda Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino.

Santa Marta is ideally located for visits to two of Colombia’s highlights: Tayrona Natural Park and the Sierra Nevada mountain range with archaeological site Ciudad Perdida.

At 34 kilometer northeast of Santa Marta, the tropical jungle meets the sea in the paradisiacal Tayrona Natural Park. Tayrona offers an unforgettable experience with the most stunning beaches of Colombia and indigenous groups that still live in the park.

The snow-capped Sierra Nevada, reaching an altitude of 5700 meters (18700 ft), is the world’s tallest seaside mountain range. High in the Sierra Nevada the indigenous Kogui and Arhuaco people with their profound wisdom still live today. Built by the Tayrona Indians and discovered in 1975, Ciudad Perdida, the "Lost City" is a place shrouded in mystery. It stands out as the most important archaeological finding in Colombia, hidden in the dense jungle of this mountain paradise.

Where To Stay

Centro – the historic city centre with its colonial and republican architecture is an attractive area with artfully restored boutique hotels and the convenience of the cities antiquities on the doorstep.

El Rodadero – this upscale sector, ten minutes from the historical center of Santa Marta, is one of the most popular vacation destinations of Colombians together with Cartagena and San Andrés. Long beaches, the widest variety of restaurants and many shops can be found here, surrounded by enchanting hotels and high rise apartments.

Pozos Colorados - located between El Rodadero and Bello Horizonte, this sector has long beaches with some top-end hotels.

Bello Horizonte – a sector with less crowded beaches and a calm atmosphere. Luxury hotels and resorts are located here. It is the closest sector to the airport.

Getting there and around

Air - Simón Bolívar airport is located five minutes from the hotels in Bello Horizonte and Pozos Colorados, ten minutes from El Rodadero and twenty minutes from the city centre of Santa Marta. The airport has direct flights from Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Medellín with Avianca, Aires, Copa Airlines and EasyFly.

Bus – air conditioned minibuses (Transportes MarSol amongst the others) run between Santa Marta, Cartagena and Barranquilla. It takes about 2 hours to travel to Barranquilla and it’s a 4-hour ride to Cartagena.

Taxi - you can hail taxis from the street, but be sure to negotiate a price before getting in since the taxis in Santa Marta do not have meters.

Things to do and places to visit

Historic city center – explore Santa Marta’s historic center on foot. Spots you can’t miss are La Casa de la Aduana (Customs House) with a fine collection of gold and pottery from the Tayronas, the whitewashed Cathedral, Plaza San Francisco and colonial jewel Casa de Madame Agustine. After the sights have been seen, head to café-lined Parque de los Novios to absorb laid back Caribbean life.

Sierra Nevada – nothing compares to exploring the Sierra Nevada by bicycle. Pedal through picturesque peaks and valleys, alongside whitewater waterfalls and indigenous mountain towns. The bicycle tours of Sierra Nevada Bike Tours are fully supported bicycle tours for one, two or three days in the Sierra Nevada. Telephone: (57) 3112165419

Ciudad Perdida - tucked away in the virgin tropical forest of the Sierra Nevada, Ciudad Perdida is reached by hiking trails and crossing rivers. Along the path white dressed indigenous Kogui people, descendants of the people who built the Lost City, live in little villages of round thatched huts. The guided trip to the ruins of the great Tayrona empire with their stone-ringed terraces takes five/six days of hiking. It is not an easy trek but definitely worth it.

Parque Tayrona – known for its golden beaches and crystal-clear waters fringed by an exuberant jungle, Parque Tayrona is a nature reserve with some of Colombia’s loveliest beaches. Enjoy its virgin beaches and coves, snorkel in the La Piscina lagoon and sway in a hammock at Cabo San Juan. If all the swimming and trekking in the sand hasn’t tired you walk up to the Tayrona ruins of Pueblito.

Taganga – enjoy the sea breeze in this fishing village located in a pretty bay enclosed by mountains. Its surrounding waters are perfect to do some diving. We recommend Aquantis Dive Center for good dive trips. Calle 18 No. 1 – 39, Taganga; +57 (5) 4219344.


Around 435,000 inhabitants


Santa Marta has a tropical climate with an average temperature of 28ºC (82ºF).