Santa Marta’s city center is worth a visit. Avenida Rodrigo de Bastides runs parallel to the beach and is Santa Marta’s main strip – busy from dawn to dusk, and even late into the evening.
Five kilometers south of city center is a small little resort town called el Rodadero, popular with those looking for quieter beaches . There are shuttle buses that go between the center and el Rodadero every few minutes.
For those interested in history and religion, Santa Marta doesn’t disappoint.
Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: (tel: 433 0589):
This sugarcane plantation that had its own mill and distillery was one of many similar plantations, with the exception that Simon Bolivar, the liberator of five countries from the Spanish, died here. Owned by Joaquin de Mier, Spaniard and Colombian liberation supporter, he invited Bolivar to stay with him while Bolivar was preparing for his trip back to Europe. Bolivar supposedly died of tuberculosis, but recent investigations have led historians to believe he might have died of arsenic poisoning. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/7690928/Simon-Bolivar-died-of-arsenic-poisoning.html
Located in Mamatoco, 4 kilometers from the city center, this is a popular stop for history buffs. Take the Mamatoco bus from the waterfront for the 20 minute trip to the hacienda. Visiting hours are from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; call to make sure it’s open before going.
Claiming to be Colombia’s oldest church, the Cathedral is located in the city center. The town’s founder’s ashes are here (Rodrigo de Bastidas). Simon Bolivar’s remains were housed here until 1842 when they were returned to Caracas, Venezuela, his birthplace.
Acuario and Museo del Mar:
Just northwest of the Rodadero, this acquarium has been around for 40 years. With natural pools made from sea water, it houses sharks, dolphins, turtles, seals and other fauna. There’s also a dolphin show and opportunities to swim with the dolphins. The museum is more of an eclectic assortment of stuff than a cohesive collection.
Villages, Towns, National Parks and Day Trips around Santa Marta:
Many don’t have the time, or energy, to make the trek up the Sierra Nevada to the Lost City. Tayronaca is a little jewel just 60 kilometers outside of Santa Marta on the road to la Guajira. This natural reserve conserves the original constructions of the Tayrona Indians (restored) in its exuberant natural surroundings. Today it continues to be a place of importance with the Kogui Indians, descendants of the Tayrona Indians, as they celebrate sacred ceremonies and festivals in Tayronaca.
Take a bus from Santa Marta’s plaza heading for la Guajira. Get off on kilometer 57 Rioacha and follow the signs to Tayronaca.
A village of 500 inhabitants, Minca is an ecological paradise in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This has become a little getaway for Colombians who need fresh air. It’s also a hub of artists, artesans, sculptors and painters. It’s worth a day trip. Take a pick up truck from Santa Marta’s market for a 40 minute, bumpy ride up to this picturesque village.
Taganga is located in a horseshoe shaped bay northeast of Santa Marta. This charming fishing village has managed to retain its original charm as well as some of the prettiest beaches in the vicinity. Playa Grande is a twenty minute walk from town center, and is as close to a Gilligan’s Island paradise as you can get (with the exception of the oodles of tourists and not just seven mindless wanderers).
It’s also a popular scuba diving spot and relatively inexpensive. Dive schools do trips as well as certification courses. Calipso Dive Center, Centro de Buceo Poseidon, and Centro de Buceo Tayrona.
Parque Nacional Tayrona (Tayrona National Park):
Just 34 kilometers from Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s most interesting, and breathtaking, natural parks. In 1969, 15,000 hectares of land, and 4,500 hectares of sea were declared a national park and protected land by the Colombian government. Because not only is it home to endangered species and exquisite wildlife, but also to some of Colombia’s most interesting archeological ruins, Chairama – a pre-Hispanic village that was, at one time, one of the Tayrona Indians’ biggest settlements.
Tayrona is a sanctuary of flora and fauna, home to mangroves, corals, seagrass beds, thorny bushes, dry vegetation, rain and cloud forests … all bordered by white-sand beaches and turquoise waters from the Caribbean. (Some of Colombia’s most photographed and pristine beaches are in Parque Tayrona.)
There are over 100 species of mammals in the park including howling monkeys, ocelots, and deer; 300 species of birds including the condor, lone and white eagle (a bird watcher’s paradise); 31 species of reptiles; 15 amphibians; 202 sponges; and a whopping 1,000 marine species.
Today, its (human) inhabitants are meztizos – a mix between Spanish/European and Indigenous people – who make their living fishing and from tourism.
Where to go:
The eastern part of the park is the most popular with tourists. El Zaino, 34 kilometers from Santa Marta, is the gateway to Tayrona. Just a few kilometers in, you’ll find Canaveral, a camping site that has cabins, a restaurant, and archeological museum.
Do not go swimming in Canaveral with young children and inexperienced swimmers, as the currents can sweep swimmers away from land.
Arrecifes: 45 minutes from Canaveral, you can stay in Arrecifes in inexpensive cabins, camping, or under-cover hammocks. Again, swimming here is dangerous.
La Piscina: Just 20 minutes from Arrecifes is a popular swimming spot with tranquil waters, relatively safe for swimming and snorkeling.
Cabo San Juan: 20 minutes from la Piscina is a wonderful swimmer’s paradise. It’s got beautiful beaches and calm waters.
- Diving in The Neguanje Cave, Aguja Island or Concha Bay
- Hiking (stay on the paths)
- Bird watching
- Horseback riding
- Visiting archeological ruins and Chairama
- Beaches, beaches, beaches (Playa Castilletes, Playa Cristal (Playa del Muerto), Playa Arrecifes)
- Chairama Archeological Museum
- Concha Bay
- Cape San Juan de Guia
Park Entry Fees:
- Foreigners: $21.000
- Nationals: $7.100
- Children: $3.600
The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida):
Step into the past, discover lost civilizations. Feel “nostalgia for a world you never knew.” Motorcycle Diaries
Colombia’s The Lost City is one of the largest pre-Columbian cities discovered in the Americas and touted as the “door to the past” in the mountains. It was discovered in 1975 by tomb raiders (nighthawks or black archeologists). The confirmation of the find was made by the Anthropological Institute of Bogota in 1976.
Also known as Teyuna, The Lost City is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the land of snow and indigenous people and the highest tropical mountain in the world, its peak reaching 5,775 meters into the clouds.
On the edges of the River Buritaca, the hike to The Lost City (Teyuna) is one walking through forests of exuberant flora and fauna, crossing rivers, hanging bridges and waterfalls.
Built between the 8th and 1between the 8th and 14th centuries, The Lost City is an architectural jewel with over 250 terraces distributed in eight neighborhoods. The different sectors of the city are communicated by a network of stone roads and ladders, on the side, that guaranteed access to the cultivations on the outside of the city. It is estimated anywhere from 1500 to 3000 people lived here, making it the Tayronas’ most important urban center.
Getting There and Away:
The round-trip trek is about 47 kilometers, leaving from the village of Machete. (There are four and five day hike options, though this is the typical schedule for a five-day hike).
Day 1: three hours, 7.6 kilometers, to Camp Adan
Day 2: four hours, 7.3 kilometers, to Camp Mumake
Day 3: five hours, 7.4 kilometers, to camp El Paraiso (at the gates of the Lost City, just a kilometer away)
Day 4: Exploring The Lost City … then hike back to Mumake, 9.4 kilometers
Day 5: eight hours, 14. 9 kilometers, back to Machete.
No traveler is permitted to go to the Lost City without an authorized company. All of the authorized companies have come to a set price for the trek that can last anywhere from four to six days – so shorter isn’t cheaper. The company price includes food, transportation to Machete, accommodation (hammocks), porters, guides, and all the necessary permits. The guides generally don’t speak English, so book in advance is you want an English-speaking guide.
And this hike isn’t easy (three days UPHILL). There are many steep sections, and you’re walking in a tropical jungle, so the humidity and heat can affect the most conditioned traveler. We recommend any traveler choosing to go on this hike do so in good physical condition with appropriate gear.
Good hiking boots
If you have good water shoes (Chacos, Tevas) with a solid grip, it’s a good option for river crossings as well. (And safer than crossing barefoot).
Layers – for hiking in the heat but protecting you from the sun and rain
Insect repellent … and re-apply after every river, creek, waterfall crossing.
Tweezers – for ticks.
Sunscreen, sun glasses, sun hat (tropical sun!)
Toilet paper and hand sanitizer
A book or deck of cards – to pass some of the time in camp.
Spending money – beer and sodas are sold at the camps, and the farther from civilization, the more expensive. But worth it.
Lots of socks and extra shirts to change into.
Long pants and long-sleeved shirt (to help protect you from mosquitoes in the evening)
Your camera (with a waterproof case) – all electronic equipment should have a waterproof case.
The ICANH (Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia e Historia): http://www.icanh.gov.co/index.php?idcategoria=1237