Santa Marta – A Complete Guide
Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s top tourist destinations. It is frequently used a base to explore the Tayrona Natural Park, visit nearby towns like Minca, Taganga or Palomino, or do the 4-day Lost City hike. However, this time we will cover exclusively some interesting things to do and see within Santa Marta itself, leaving all the other natural/adventure activities for another post.
What to see and do:
Walk through history at the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino
Our first stop was the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a historic national landmark, famous for being the place where the independence hero Simon Bolivar spent his last days. The entry ticket costs $15.000 pesos ($5 dollars) for Colombians and $21.000 pesos ($7 dollars) for foreigners. There are three main things to see here:
First, the beautiful yellow hacienda or estate where Simon Bolivar lived. Here you can to see his bedroom and other spaces and get a glimpse of how he lived here 200 years ago. Besides, you can also learn a little bit about other significant characters of the Colombian independence campaign.
A short walk from the hacienda is the lush botanical garden, where you can wander below the shade of huge, old trees and palms and listen to the song of birds and the relaxing sound of the wind on all the leaves around you.
And just next to the botanical garden is the monument to Simon Bolivar to honor his memory and his vital role in Colombia’s fight for independence. The Quinta is a beautiful, calm and quiet place. When we were there at around 8:30 a.m. there was a group of some 30 people doing yoga under the shade of a tree just by this monument. It’s also a popular wedding site in Santa Marta.
Stroll around the beautiful city center
One thing we love to do is to simply walk around without a set course and let ourselves be surprised by what we find. Santa Marta’s historic city center is perfect for that, especially the streets around the Parque de los Novios square.
Here you’ll find vibrant, colorful houses in all sizes and shapes that are total eye candy.
One thing that surprised us was all the amazing street art we saw that we somehow didn’t expect to find in Santa Marta. This one clearly takes the trophy as the most amazing one we saw.
Admire Tayrona Goldworks
A good option for spending the hottest hours of the day is visiting the Tayrona Gold Musem, located right on Plaza Bolívar square.
Here you can see an impressive collection of Tayrona goldworks that will leave you in awe of the skills this people had to create beautiful works of art in gold. The entrance is free.
Visit South America’s oldest church
This renaissance-style cathedral was built during the 1760’s and is the first catholic temple built in South America. It housed Simon Bolivar’s body from 1830 to 1842, and since 1953 it houses the remains of Rodrigo de Bastidas, the Spanish conqueror that founded the city in 1525.
Chill at Parque de los Novios
This square might as well be the heart of Santa Marta’s historic city center. During the early morning there’s not much movement around here, but as the day moves on and the restaurants and bars around it begin to open, the square starts to come to life. During the night it’s probably the busiest place in the city center where you will find abundant options to eat, drink or party.
Where to Stay
Casa Verde Hotel (@casaverdesantamarta)
There are a lot of hotels to choose from in Santa Marta’s historic center, but the one we absolutely recommend is Casa Verde, and here’s why:
First of all, the hotel is just beautiful. It is located in a renovated republican house from the 1920’s. It’s inner shaded courtyard and pool are a green oasis of tranquility in the middle of Santa Marta’s buzzing city center, perfect for resting and cooling down during the hottest hours of the day after walking out in the sun.
The hotel’s location makes it ideal to explore the historic city center by foot. It is just one block away from the cathedral and three blocks away from the Parque de los Novios Square and all the restaurants, bars and cafés around it. The bay and the marina are no more than a 15-minute walk away.
The staff is warm and friendly, and will definitely make you feel at home! Breakfasts are delicious and are so enjoyable in the hotel’s charming courtyard.
The rooms are beautifully decorated, with the upper level rooms having great views towards the cathedral and the hotel’s inner courtyard. Prices range from around $65 dollars for the double rooms in the first floor to around $115 dollars for the suites in the upper level.
To check room availability and make your reservation via Booking.com, click on the following link:
Where to eat & drink
Burgers and Beer at Porthos Pub (@porthospub)
If you are a fan of the burgers + beer + rock combo, then Porthos Pub is the place to go in Santa Marta. Originally from Barranquilla, where it has won the title of the “best burger in town”, Porthos Pub opened up in Santa Marta in September 2018, with an amazing location in the city center’s liveliest street, just steps away from the Parque de los Novios square.
Our recommended burgers are two: first, the sweet costeña, featuring sweet caramelized onions and grilled costeño cheese (aside from the beef patty and veggies), this burger won the Burger Master competition a couple of years ago as the best burger in Barranquilla and one of the best in Colombia. The second one is the smoky burger, which has smoked pulled pork rib and crunchy bacon.
Porthos is also famous for its ribs, so you might want to give those a try too! Also, every day until 8:00 pm they have special prices for one-liter jugs of beer!
See the sun go down at Sunset Santa Marta (@sunsetsantamarta)
Watching a beautiful sunset is always special. Watch it with a jug of sangria and some tasty appetizers in a privileged viewpoint and it gets even better! Santa Marta is famous for its sunsets and for being “America’s most beautiful bay”, so watching the sun go down into the sea here is a must. There is no better place for that than Sunset Santa Marta, an open air bar by the marina. It has 360° views towards the bay and the marina and has the best seats in town to see the sun as it sinks into the Caribbean Sea.
Our recommended appetizers are the tuna ceviche with orange juice, avocado and mango, and the octopus croquettes. They were both seriously mouthwatering and the sangria was so delicious too! One thing we liked about this place is that despite its fantastic location, the prices are quite reasonable: the ceviche cost about $28.000 pesos ($9 dollars) and a Club Colombia beer $7.000 pesos (~$2.30 dollars).
Have an unforgettable meal at Rocoto (@rocotosaboresunicos)
If you are a foodie like us, then Rocoto is a must in your visit to Santa Marta. Chef/owner Fabián Rodríguez started out as a Peruvian cuisine restaurant and has accomplished great fame and recognition, but he has an ambitious goal in mind: he wants to apply all the cooking skills and techniques that he has learned around the world to create innovative and creative dishes with local ingredients from Colombia, and more specifically from the Magdalena department.
In this way, he wants to shift towards a more “local” cuisine that highlights and showcases the regional ingredients and flavors. Of course, he can’t throw away his reputation as a Peruvian cuisine restaurant from one day to another, so he is slowly introducing new dishes into the menu for a subtler “transformation”.
Fabián kindly invited us to his restaurant to try some of his new dishes in a six-course dinner that we will never forget. He welcomed us like old friends, personally cooked some of the dishes we ate, and shared his story, passion, plans and goals with us.
Each dish we tried was a fantastic mix and contrast of flavors that we would have never imagined together. Not only that, each dish was as beautiful as it was tasty, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since Fabián is also an excellent food photographer and painter.
This is probably the most expensive restaurant in Santa Marta, but it might as well be the best one too. Let us assure you that if you truly enjoy food, it will be an unforgettable gastronomic experience.
Disclaimer: since we would be having a six-course dinner, we were served smaller portions of each dish so we would be able to eat them all. Therefore, the dishes are normally larger than what you see in our pics. Don’t think that this is one of those fancy restaurants where dishes are super expensive but you only get tiny portions of food.