How to get to Santa Marta
- The bus station is ‘Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta’, and it is a 30-minute drive from the center.
- Santa Marta is well connected to the rest of Colombia with buses running to and from: Medellin (15 hours), Bogota (17 hours), Cali (1 day), Bucaramanga (10 hours), Cartagena (5 hours) and Barranquilla (2 hours).
- Cartagena (4 hours) to Santa Marta – $60.000
- Barranquilla (1.5 hours) to Santa Marta – $30.000
The shuttle is more comfortable and quicker than the public buses and they drop you off near the city center.
- Santa Marta has the small but modern Simon Bolivar Airport with frequent routes from Medellin, Bogota, and Cali to Santa Marta. Prices vary substantially depending on the season and schedule, although is common to find low fares to travel to Santa Marta.
- If you can’t find a cheap flight to Santa Marta and want to avoid long bus journeys, try flying into Barranquilla and then catching a shuttle to Santa Marta.
- The center is 30 minutes from the airport and very easy to get to. Taxis will charge $30.000 and bus fare is $2.500.
Santa Marta offers choices for all budgets, from excellent hostels and boutique hotels to occasional jaw-dropping accommodations in la Sierra Nevada or exclusive resort areas in the northern part of the city. Book ahead around major religious holidays and festivals like Easter and Christmas.
- Backpacker hostels: Widely available and often quite good, especially in the City Center.
- Budget hotels: Simple and functional accommodations, often family-run and mostly catering to Colombians. Mostly found in the City Center and Rodadero.
- Midrange hotels: Some international chains have opened and Santa Marta and appeal mostly to the Colombian business crowd or family groups.
- Top-end hotels: Colonial boutique hotels and seaside resorts are rapidly growing.
- Camping: a growing number of campsites welcome tent-toting tourists, particularly in Parque Tayrona.
- Backpacker tourism is booming in Colombia. All hostels have dorm beds for around COP$25,000 to COP$50,000, and most have a few private rooms for COP$65,000 to COP$120,000.
- Also sometimes called residencias, hospedajes or posadas, hotels generally suggest places of a higher standard, or at least higher prices. Cheaper accommodations are usually clustered around the less touristic areas of the city center, Rodadero and other residential areas of the city. If you speak Spanish and wish to avoid the gringo trail, a budget private room with hot water, air-con and cable TV goes for between COP$45,000 and COP$75,000 – cheaper than a hostel.
- Midrange hotels are rare in Santa Marta. Prices tend to jump rapidly from budget cheapies to three- and four-star hotels, with little in between.
- There are a handful of package-style resorts in Santa Marta, mostly frequented by Colombians, rather than foreign package tourists, and are usually excellent value.
- Most conventional5 star hotels are in the City Center and south touristic corridor (Bello Horizonte and Airport areas)
Luxury eco hotels
- Luxury eco hotels and glamping are growing in Santa Marta and usually offer full wellness packages.
- Most of these trending eco hotels are in the Tayrona, Naranjos and Northern Sierra region.
Recent regulations exempt from taxes some travel-oriented services (the 19% IVA tax on accommodations, for example). Although foreign travelers that stay in Colombia for less than 60 days shouldn’t have to pay accommodation tax, some hotels charge it. In such case, VAT returns are possible at the National Department of Taxes and Customs (DIAN) airport offices, before leaving the country.
Santa Marta is a backpacking friendly destination with multiple budget-friendly places to stay, allowing you to save money for experiences. Backpackers traditionally used Santa Marta as base point for Tayrona or Lost City treks. However, the city’s growing popularity and diversity has les travelers to extend their travel itineraries and add a few extra days to enjoy Santa Marta fully. Theres is also a wide volunteering network, which has many backpackers staying at hostels or working at coffee shops and tour operators.
Solo female travelers
Solo female travel is becoming more common in Colombia and Santa Marta is one of the main destinations. Santa Marta’s touristic spots are relatively safe but, as you should do in other destinations, precautions must be taken, so always check with locals or share your plans at hotel for guidance. Avoid flashing your cell phone if you’re in solitary places, like in most places in all Latin America and be aware of pickpocketing. There are a very few female dorms, so check your accommodation in advanced in case that’s your preference.
Like other Colombian cities, Santa Marta’s streets have been laid out on a grid plan.
- Streets running north–south are called Carreras (Cra, Cr or K)
- Streets running east–west are called Calles (Cll, Cl or C).
- Diagonal streets (Diagonales – east–west or Transversales – north – south) compliment main road systems.
- Streets are numbered and the numerical system of addresses is used.
- Each address consists of a series of numbers: i.e., Calle 6 No 12-35 (which means that it’s the building on Calle 6, 35m from the corner of Carrera 12 toward Carrera 13).
Colombia Lonely Planet Guide. Ed.1 Pg. 325
|Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day)||January 1|
|Los Reyes Magos (Epiphany)||January 6*|
|San José (St Joseph)||March 19*|
|Jueves Santo & Viernes Santo (Maundy Thursday and Good Friday). The following Monday is also a holiday.||March/April (Easter)|
|Día del Trabajo (Labor Day)||May 1|
|La Ascensión del Señor (Ascension)||May*|
|Corpus Cristi (Corpus Christi)||May/June*|
|Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sacred Heart)||June*|
|San Pedro y San Pablo (St Peter and St Paul)||June 29*|
|Día de la Independencia (Independence Day)||July 20|
|Batalla de Boyacá (Battle of Boyacá)||August 7|
|La Asunción de Nuestra Señora (Assumption)||August 15*|
|Día de la Raza (Discovery of America)||October 12*|
|Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day)||November 1*|
|Independencia de Cartagena (Independence of Cartagena)||November 11*|
|Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception)||December 8|
|Navidad (Christmas Day)||December 25|
Covid-19, Medication, and healthcare services
Colombia’s Ministry of Health announced, effective December 14, 2021, new entry requirements for all travelers 18 years and older arriving to Colombia by air.
- Vaccinated non-resident foreign travelers must present proof they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 for at least 14 days prior to travel.
- If less than 14 days have elapsed or if the vaccination scheme is not complete, the traveler must present a PCR test with a negative result taken within 72 hours of boarding.
- Unvaccinated non-resident foreign travelers will not be allowed to enter Colombia.
- The proof of vaccination must be presented either in paper format or digitally. The certification must include the individual’s full name, date of vaccination, name of the vaccine administered, and the number of doses administered.
- All travelers must complete the online Check-Mig form (found at https://apps.migracioncolombia.gov.co/pre-registro/public/preregistro.jsf) between 72 hours and 1 hour prior to arrival in, or departure from, Colombia. Carry a print-out of the form and be ready to show the electronic version on your mobile device at Colombian immigration.
Covid-19 related regulations are constantly changing. Therefore, follow these recommendations:
- Monitor the Colombian Health Ministry website for the latest guidance regarding testing requirements.
- Check COVID-19 Country Specific Information pages for updated information on COVID-19 related to the availability of testing.
Make sure you have:
- Health insurance, and insurer contact and care provider numbers at hand.
- Documentation regarding any special health condition, in case of an emergency.
- Prescription, if you are taking medicine.
- Although compulsory vaccinations are not required to enter Colombia, it is recommended to have current vaccinations, including Covid-19, rubella, and yellow fever.
Travel with children
- Few foreigners travel with children in Colombia, but family trips are growing in popularity.
- Almost all attractions in Colombia offer discounted admission for children.
- Baby-changing facilities are not standard in public toilets and are rare in men’s facilities.
- Breastfeeding in public remains controversial in some sectors of Colombian society although education programs are seeing attitudes slowly changing.
- Compared to some Latin American countries, homosexuality is well tolerated in Colombia (it was declared legal by the government in 1981), especially in Santa Marta.
- There is a substantial, though discreet, LGBTIQ+ scene and nightlife in Santa Marta but discretion is advised when it comes to public displays of affection.
- Apps like Grindr for men are popular.
- For LBGTIQ+ specific listings see the website www.guiagaycolombia.com
- Santa Marta is rapidly improving accessibility alternatives but remains a challenging destination for travelers with disabilities outside the main urban area.
- New modern infrastructure like the City Center and Rodadero promenades (Camellones) are designed under universal standards and are set to become major attractions.
- Many restaurants and hotels are installing ramps for visitors with impaired mobility and large chain hotels are more likely to have accessible rooms – usually just a couple – and public areas. Larger shopping malls also usually have ramps and elevators.
- The integrated public-transport system (SETP) has very few accessible stations and vehicles and overcrowding can make travel difficult and unpleasant. Most taxis are small hatchback vehicles that are not particularly easy to get in or out of and often have little space for wheelchairs or other bulky items.
Colombia suffered from internal armed conflict for over 50 years. As a result, the country has labeled with stereotypes of widespread violence and drugs. However, on 24 November 2016, Colombia’s President Santos signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement to end the internal armed conflict. This peace agreement comes after four years of negotiations.
Colombia has made significant improvements in security over the past decades and is much safer to visit today than it was several years ago, but it still has its dangers like everywhere else. Accordingly, you should consider the following measures:
- Street crime is the main problem for travelers in major cities, including Sata Marta. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence. Be vigilant, particularly if you are in public places used by foreigners, or near official buildings.
- Avoid deprived areas of cities.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Use caution when walking or driving in areas with less police presence.
- Don’t carry large amounts of money or wear valuable watches or jewelry.
- Avoid using your mobile phone in the street.
- Where possible use pre booked taxis or official operators.
- Don’t leave drinks unattended in public or accept drinks or food from strangers.
- Do not invite strangers into your lodging or residence.
- Monitor the local security situation.
- Avoid drugs.
- Check ATMs for tampering and avoid using ATMs on deserted streets or at night.
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