Colombia: Outside the Cartagena-San Andrés axis, the city of Santa Marta is not yet on the Brazilian itinerary, but it has a lot to offer

With a large flow of foreign tourists, Santa Marta is about 5 hours by bus from Cartagena and serves as a base for those who want to discover the northern coast of Colombia. The city has a small historic center, nothing compared to the beautiful walled city of Cartagena de Indias, but it does have its charm. After the sun goes down, Plaza de los Novios and its surroundings are filled with tourists in search of cold drinks washed down with Caribbean music and lots of relaxation.

If the plan is to visit paradisiacal beaches, don't waste time with the urban beaches of the city, a little dirty due to the proximity to the local port. The best thing is to go to Rodadero, a beach popular with Colombians, or Playa Grande, in Taganga, a small fishing village north of the city, both 30 minutes from downtown.

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After a night in Santa Marta, it is recommended to leave the heaviest suitcase at the hotel, which usually has a deposit for this, and take only the essentials to explore nature outside the city.

About an hour from Santa Marta is the Tayrona Park, an immense nature reserve with beaches that look like images manipulated in photoshop. Tourists willing to pave the way for about an hour and a half into the park have simple accommodation options, with hammocks or camping. It's worth spending at least one night in the park to rest from hiking and check out a star-studded sky, courtesy of the dim lighting.

Tayrona Park – Photo: Cedric Converset

For the less adventurous, there is the option of spending the day at a beach accessible by car, such as Bahia Concha, which is less than an hour from Santa Marta and has a wide strip of sand crowned by a lazy blue-green sea, almost without waves.

A little further north of Tayrona is the small village of palomino, still flourishing in local tourism. Dirt streets take you from the highway to the beach, on a path populated by hostels and small restaurants owned by local families. Although very rustic, the place has party hostels, such as The Dreamer, a branch of the hostel based in Santa Marta, and some resorts whose daily rates can cost a small fortune.

An unmissable walk in Palomino is the hike up the mountain, taking a not-so-comfortable giant buoy, but which will serve as transport down the river on a slow walk in the midst of virgin nature. If the hike is done in the morning, before 8, there are many chances to see the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the distance.

And speaking of hiking up the mountain, those who like trekking cannot miss the Lost City, a magical place in the middle of the same mountain range. Many call this tour the Caribbean Machu Picchu, requiring a 3-day hike to reach the sacred site of the ancient Tayrona tribe.

Lost City – Photo: via Turismo Colombia

To get to know the northernmost point of South America, you can extend the trip to Punta Gallinas, a very small village of the Wayúu tribe, the majority of the population of the department of La Guajira. With a strategic stop to spend the afternoon and night in Cabo de la Vela, the trip continues the next day by boat or car to the final destination.

The 4×4s cut through the desert, leaving behind orange dust and dry cactus, and it is often necessary to pay a kind of food toll for the hungry and abandoned residents of the region, one of the poorest in Colombia. There, electricity is provided by gasoline generators and it is not uncommon to have only a few hours of light in the early evening. All this trouble is worth it for the paradisiacal landscapes that mix desert, dunes and an indecisive sea between green and blue, in addition to the beautiful color of the dresses and bags of the Wayúu indians. Getting to know this region is also a way to improve the income of these people.

Punta Gallinas – Photo: Gabriela Motta

Best time to visit Santa Marta

Those who wanted to see these Caribbean shows will be pleased to know that in addition to being cheap, the region has year-round sunshine, rainfall is low and during the months of September and October. There are direct flights from Bogotá and Cartagena to Santa Marta and door-to-door transfers from Cartagena and Barranquilla. Come on?

» Church built in canyon attracts attention of tourists in Colombia
» Colombia: discover the main tourist destinations in the country
» Cartagena: Colombian destination for sun and beach
» Itineraries for backpacking in South America
» Cheapest hostels to travel in South America


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