Santa Marta & Tayrona
Introduction to Santa Marta & Tayrona
Santa Marta holds an unrivalled architectural heritage, but most of all, it offers the perfect starting point for your trip to the tremendously beautiful Tayrona National Park. Besides being the oldest city in Colombia, it is also the resting place of Simon Bolivar who passed away in Santa Marta in 1830. Especially the waterfront which includes a small beach and boulevard, Santander Park and Bolivar Square are pleasant places to stroll around. Just as Cartagena, Santa Marta´s climate is hot, but the sea breeze makes it pleasant to just sip from a fresh fruit juice or cocktail in one of the various open-air cafes.
Tayrona is located on Colombia’s northern Caribbean Coast and covers 46 sq. miles (120 sq.km) on land and an additional 11.5 sq.miles (30 sq.km) underwater but much of the park still isn’t easily accessible. The National Park gets its name from the Tayrona Indians, one of South America’s greatest pre-Columbian civilizations. This area was a major trading center for the Tayrona, whose population once exceeded a million. A long string of beaches stretch for around 5 miles (8km) from the entrance of the National Park, bounded by Cañaveral to the east and ending with the famous Cabo San Juan to the west.
What not to miss in Santa Marta & Tayrona
Santa Marta Historical Center
The historical center of Santa Marta hides a rich history, stunning architecture and interesting places like old houses, manicured parks and colonial plazas. In the past the center of Santa Marta witnessed important chapters in the local and national history of Colombia.
Tayrona Gold Museum
The Tayrona Gold Museum is located in an old building known as the Casa de la Aduana (Customs House). This Museum is a branch of Bogotá’s famous Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and visitors can see in the museum’s galleries objects made of gold, pottery and stone by the region’s inhabitants before the time of Columbus.
San Pedro Alejandrino Hacienda
The San Pedro Alejandrino Hacienda was the final home of the Liberator Simon Bolivar before he died in 1830. In this magnificent colonial hacienda, you will not only learn about Simon Bolivar’s life and death but also about daily life in Colombia during the 18th and 19th Century.
Beaches of El Rodadero
Located 3.1 miles (5km) from the center of Santa Marta, you will find the famous El Rodadero. An iconic place of Santa Marta visited by many national and foreign tourists. At El Rodadero you will find a number of restaurants and bars, where you will feel the Caribbean atmosphere and the warmth of the Colombian people.
Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is located on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and the protected area covers some 12,000 hectares of land and 3,000 hectares of sea. Beautiful bays, unspoiled beaches, colorful coral reefs, lush vegetation, vibrant mangroves and huge mountains make Tayrona a joy to explore. You can walk to Arrecifes through the tropical jungle of Tayrona before hiking to La Piscina, a natural pool where you can bathe in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
Located just outside of Santa Marta, Taganga is a small fishing village. Taganga is perhaps most famous for its impressive views of the Caribbean and surrounding mountains. You can enjoy walking around the town or unwinding on the beaches such as Playa Grande, Bonito Gordo and Bahia Cocha. Taganga is also a great scuba diving and snorkeling spot.
What you need to know
When to go
In general all year round is good to visit Santa Marta and the Tayrona National Park. The days are slightly hot but the evening sea breezes and the balmy Caribbean nights will make up for it. The temperature varies between 77°F (25°C) and 86°F (30°C), depending on the location and elevation. The summertime of June, July, August and September are the months that most people choose to visit Colombia and therefore is when Santa Marta and Tayrona are the busiest. There are two rainy seasons from May to June and from September to November, with the heaviest rainfall in the last two months of the monsoon, not usually all-day deluges but a few hours of rain everyday which make Santa Marta quite enchanting and newly washed each day.
Every year between July and August, the Sea Festival takes place in Santa Marta and is where visitors can enjoy and learn more about the Colombian Caribbean culture. There are different activities like music concerts, parades on the streets and the famous parade of boats sailing around Santa Marta bay and gastronomic festival.
How to get there
The Simón Bolívar airport is less than 10 miles (16km) south of the Santa Marta and has non-stop flights to and from Bogota and Medellin.
Santa Marta’s bus terminal is on the southeastern outskirts of the city with several daily connections to Bogotá (18 hours), Cartagena (4 hours) and Medellin (15 hours).
To reach the Tayrona National Park you can take a bus from Santa Marta and ask the bus driver to drop you off at the National Park entrance. It is about a 1 hour journey and one that can’t be missed. You can also take the bus to the closer town of Calabozo which is another entrance to the Tayrona National Park.
Where to stay
With Colombia’s growth in tourism, Santa Marta has experienced a real boom in accommodation offerings from comfortable B&Bs to luxurious and boutique hotels, so you’ll have plenty of choice.
Unlike bigger cities in Colombia, taxis in Santa Marta generally do not run on a meter with payments range from a set price for a “lift” (usually a ride no more than 10 minutes) to higher prices depending on where you want to go. If you meet someone who ‘knows’ a taxi driver, this can be a good opportunity to negotiate a price to where you want to visit while staying in Santa Marta.
In the Tayrona National Park, Castilletes, the first point reached after entering from El Zaíno, offers peaceful camping with sea views. Cañaveral has some luxurious accommodation offerings and Arrecifes is mainly popular with families and those wanting to have some peace and quiet. Cabo San Juan del Guía is the most popular spot with budget travelers.