(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!

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  1. Santa Marta looks like Fun! I haven't been to Colombia and have never heard of this place. But the food and beach looks very inviting!

  2. I have been to Santa Marta, and it is indeed the only place where I did nothing besides strolling on the streets, chatting with locals and eating loads of food, I mean A LOT. Santa Marta was such a relief after Cartagena where every 2 minutes someone will try to sell you some tour or something or just good ol' catcalling.

  3. Never been to Colombia. That lady pushing a cart of coffee is so unique! You won't have to struggle looking for you morning fix, if you can spot them in the road. Good thing they have health conscious snacks too. Travel and still stay fit :)

  4. Looks like a unique place to spend some time and really get to know. And the food looks fantastic!!!

  5. The food photos look so delicious and really healthy. I love how colorful it is everywhere and it sounds like you were able to pack a lot into your trip. Great job exploring, looks like a wonderful travel

  6. This is a detailed blog about Santa Marta. I hope I can visit it someday and use your travel guide in exploring it!

  7. love the food and street pics. The place sounds exotic and your blog post does complete justice to it.

  8. Colombia has been at the top of our bucket list ever since our last trip to South America, we didn't make it there. But I didn't know about Santa Marta. Looks like our kind of place to explore, so will be sure to include it in our itinerary!

  9. Love the street art here. Santa Marta looks like a place I would really enjoy exploring

  10. This is really incredible :) It makes me want to jump into the photos right now.

  11. I love places where I can be all by myself. Santa Marta seems like my kind of place. The streets and food look inviting.

  12. What a incredible place. I want to just make a trip here now. Love the graffiti walls and the colourful lanes of Santa Marta.

  13. Santa Marta looks like a quirky place to witness different culture and beautiful beaches. I loved the wall art and how colorful bars and cafes exteriors are with all those advertisements. I am adding this place to my list when I visit Colombia.

  14. Are the snacks from the beach made of coconut meat? Looks familiar! And oh I love small town like this. I always had the best travel moments in non-touristy small town. If you want to learn about the culture, nothing beats small charming villages.

  15. just from the food photos alone I would go here ... i think i could be perfectly happy "just being" <3

  16. I visited Santa Marta back in 2013 - was there for less than a day before I decided to move on to Cartagena. There was just something about the place I didn't get. Which is weird, as so many people (both tourists and locals) had raved about it to me! Perhaps if I go back I'll use your guide as a base and maybe enjoy the town a little more?

  17. I absolutely loved this post as it brought me back to my trip to Santa Marta, Barranquilla, and Minca a few years back. I still here the guy working on the bus screaming "SANTA MARTA, SANTA MARTA". What a place to be :)

  18. Love your little guide to Santa Marta! The food looks amazing

  19. Looks like a great place to just exist for a while and enjoy. The food looks delicious too.

  20. Seems like a really local place not totally rundown by tourists. And definitely agree with that quote about just being in a place. I think traveling without rushing from site to site with a mindful attitude makes a trip perfect.

  21. I love how honest your post is! Sometimes not so exciting experiences are as important as the amazing ones! That is also why travel bloggers are so important! 🙂

  22. Being at a place and feeling it rather than crazy exploring sometimes makes me feel like am wasting my time but I still love doing it. After reading this post I won't feel guilty anymore, thanks for sharing. Have heard so much about Santa Marta and love how different it looks from the places I have been to.

  23. I have never been to Colombia but Santa Marta looks quite warming and welcoming. Always love the places not so crowded with people. This place to feel.

  24. I want so badly to visit Colombia - I have friends that go every year to medellin. They tell me that most tourist min. Stay is months at a time. Because it just so easy in Colombia. The food looks amazing. What a beautiful trip I must say.

  25. This looks like alot of fun :) I have been searching for more on Colombiaaaa so this great.

  26. Lovely guide! Santa Marta looks pretty cool to visit plus the food I'd love to eat that delicious breakfast of yours. I'll probably visit that particular restaurant Lulo for sure.


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