Santa Marta – known for its colonial architecture- is the first Spanish settlement of Colombia. Santa Marta is a small city located on the northwest side of Colombia about 4 hours (driving) from Cartagena and an hour flight from Medellín. If you are visiting Cartagena and interested exploring smaller areas of Colombia, I do recommend a visit to Santa Marta. Although, I was only in Santa Marta for about 48 hours (2 nights) I am extremely satisfied with what I was able to accomplish.
- From Cartagena – Your best and cheapest option is to take a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The trip takes about 3-4 hours for a total cost of 65,000 pesos when traveling with Berlinastur. You don’t need to purchase tickets in advance. However, you can if you want. There is a bus that leaves almost at every hour of the day. There is about a 30 minute layover in Barranquilla, where you can get off the bus, stretch your legs, use the bathroom, and purchase snacks if you’d like. (FYI: all Berlinastur bus terminals charge you 1,000 pesos to use the bathroom). Berlinastur offers air conditioner and wifi on board. Overall, it was a smooth ride.
- You can take a flight from Cartagena to Santa Marta. However, there are no direct flights. It would take roughly the same amount of time if not more to take a non-direct flight from to Santa Marta as taking a bus. I highly recommend ground transportation.
- From Medellín – The fastest way to travel to Santa Marta would be taking a direct flight from MDE to SMR (usually 1 hour & 10 minutes). Flights range between $50 to $200 depending on the airline and the season. You can book flights through LATAM, Avianca, and Viva Air.
- You can take ground transportation if you would like. However, Medellín to Santa Marta is about 520 miles which is a little hours 14 hours on a direct shot on route 45.
Where to Stay
You have the option of staying in the center of Santa Marta which is what most tourists opt to do or you can stay in the outskirts of Santa Marta, which is what my mom and I decided to do. Only reason for this was because of the location of our hotel. We were highly recommended to stay at Irotama Resort – located about 15 minutes from the center of Santa Marta. If you decide to stay at this resort, I recommend staying in El Lago tower. It is the newest tower at the resort with a beautiful entrance. We were instantly greeted by the hotel staff and offered a welcome drink from the bar.
Irotama Resort also offers villas and bungalows. The concept is super cute. However, you don’t get the same view as if you were you stay in El Lago tower. There are three pools, one of which is a kids pool, and access to the beach. I spent most of my time in the pool located on the 3rd floor. There were less kids there and cute pool side seating.
Our stay included a buffet style breakfast from their Coco Bar Cafeteria. There are other food options on the premise, such as Luruaco, Chiaro di Luna, Barra Viva, La Carreta, and more. I enjoyed their food.
They basically served the same options everyday in Coco Bar Cafeteria. A variety of fruits, arepas with different types of cheese, meat options, pan de queso, smoothies, and cereal just to name a few.
Irotama Resort has their own taxi drivers which is what we used to get to the center of Santa Marta. This service was not included in our stay. We had to pay 20,000 pesos each way.
Food and Drinks
Donde Chucho – is a well known seafood restaurant in Santa Marta with two locations, one is located in el Parque de los Novios and the second one is in the main city of Santa Marta. I ordered Langosta al Ajillo (grilled lobster) with a side of French fries for $65,000 pesos. This dish was absolutely delicious and well cooked. One of the best lobsters I have ever indulged in. The service was great and it was super busy so keep that in mind. Reservations are not required, but I do recommend it if you for sure want to dine here.
Restaurante LamArt – also known for their seafood menu, is located near Los Parques de Los Novios. Here I ordered Pulpo a la Gallera (grilled octopus on top of mashed potatoes) as an appetizer for 29,000 pesos, and Pasta Negra con Camarones y Calamares (black pasta with shrimp, calamari, and muscles) as the main meal for 38,000 pesos. Both items on the menu were delicious. I am a huge seafood lover, and octopus is definitely in my top 3! This restaurant’s octopus was delicious.
Holguer Pizza – Italian restaurant with a super chill ambiance. Entering this restaurant made me feel like I was stepping into Italy with the decor and the overall vibe to the place. I ordered a Napolitana Pizza for 18,400 pesos. If you are in the mood for some pizza, I would highly recommend this place. The service was great and the pizza was delicious.
Gnam Gelateria – if you are a fan of ice cream or even if you are not, this is a must! I tried their arequipe gelato and it was delicious. They have a variety of flavors and a beautiful mural of a young girl right outside the ice cream shop. You won’t miss it! If you like to add fruits to your ice cream, and other toppings, they have that option as well.
Oficina – is a must for drinks. They have happy hour all night – two drinks for 20,000 pesos. Drinks include but are not limited to, margaritas, gin tonic, mojitos, Cuba libre, and piña coladas. I was unable to find their website. However, it is located in the Parque de los Novios before you reach Holguer Pizza. If you’ve reached Holguer Pizza you’ve gone too far.
What to Do
Aside from enjoying the resort amenities, there was a lot of time spent walking around el Parque de los Novios and exploring a little further out to the beachfront. My mom and I decided not to partake in the many excursions offered from Santa Marta because we really wanted to just relax on this leg of our two week Colombia trip. If you are interested in further exploring Santa Marta and doing excursions, here are the top 3 must do activities:
- Tayrona National Park – known for its rich biodiversity, is about a 30 minute drive from Santa Marta. This National Park offers palm-shaped coves, coastal lagoons and rainforest.
- Playa Blanca – if you are looking to experience a beach day while in Santa Marta, Playa Blanca is where you must go. This beach is only located about 15 minutes from the center of Santa Marta. You can take a car, bus or taxi.
- Minca – considered one of Colombia’s hidden gems, is about a 40 minute drive from Santa Marta. If you have a car you can drive or you can simply take a taxi. Taxi’s leave Santa Marta frequently throughout the day. Take a day trip to Minca and hike up Los Pinos or take a dip in Pozo Azul. If you consider yourself a nature lover and adventurous traveler, Minca is for you.
Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting?
In my honest opinion, Santa Marta is worth visiting. I never heard of it before and I am glad my mother made sure to add it to our Colombia tour. Santa Martha is small town with a variety of things to do specially in the surrounding area. The food was absolutely delicious and the overall feel of the location was super welcoming and calming. It was a nice break from the life in Medellín and Cartagena.