Santa Marta is a city on the northern coast of Colombia that is famous for being the first Spanish settlement in Colombia as well as Colombia’s oldest city that is still operational. That being said, if you are stopping in Santa Marta, there is a high probability you are using it as a landing pad for the Lost City Trek. If so, check out our full guide on the Lost City Trek here.
Santa Marta is home to great restaurants, it’s near amazing beaches, and it is rich with history. There is plenty to see and eat in one day in Santa Marta!
If you are coming from or heading to Cartagena after Santa Marta, check out our guide on how to spend one day in Cartagena here.
Where to Stay in Santa Marta
When visiting Santa Marta, you will have a wide variety of choices for such a small city as far as accommodation. I would recommend staying in the central “downtown” area so that you are walking distance to most restaurants. If you’re looking for a good beach right outside your door, I would recommend staying in Rodadero – the beach at Santa Marta is one of the worst we’ve seen,covered in broken glass and garbage, with shipping containers clouding the view. It is not the type of beach you would want to bring a cooler and beach chair for relaxation. Don’t worry; there are many more appealing beaches nearby.
Casa Mia is where we stayed during our time in Santa Marta and we absolutely loved it. The staff were incredibly friendly, our room was very spacious, well decorated, and clean, and the complimentary breakfast was phenomenal. The best part was the small but incredibly inviting rooftop pool – we spent a lot of time up there, especially enjoying sunset.
What You Should See in One Day in Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a big shipping port city and the beach is bad to the point of dangerous – we took a couple minute walk on the beach and I saw multiple pieces of glass buried in the sand. That being said, if you’re looking for a beach there are a couple beaches a short taxi ride away that are worth seeing.
Our favorite aspect of Santa Marta was the food – we were able to find really great restaurants while we were there that we still salivate at the thought of. With one day in Santa Marta, you will be able to check out a couple of awesome restaurants you won’t want to miss.
Santa Marta felt safe in our experience but we have heard stories of pick-pockets targeting tourists. Definitely keep your wits about you and keep track of your belongings at all times.
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Taganga and Playa Grande
In our haste to find a better beach, we had the option of the commercialized Rodadero or a closer ride over to Taganga. Taganga is a small beach town with restaurants and a nicer vibe than Santa Marta. However, it’s still not a beach you would envision when you think carribean.
From Taganga you can take a boat over to Playa Grande, which is a much nicer beach to relax at. We were able to hire a private boat (nothing luxurious but it’s a quick ride) for 14,000 COP (~$4.50 USD) roundtrip to and from Playa Grande. The person put us in contact with a woman at Playa Grande who owned a restaurant and took care of us for the day, renting us beach chairs, supplying us with drinks, and welcoming us to her restaurant when it was time for lunch.
If you want to go to Playa Grande, I would dedicate half the day for the trip. Between the taxi and the boat ride, you’ll want to spend some quality time on the beach. We had lunch at one of the restaurants at Playa Grande and it was okay – nothing to call home about. We actually took the bus back from Taganga to Santa Marta that was very efficient and simple to use but we did have a native Colombian with us who we happened to make friends with to help show us the way.
Check out this video for a snippet of us exploring Taganga and Playa Grande.
Parque Nacional Tayrona
If all you want from your time in Santa Marta is the most picturesque beach you could imagine, you should definitely head to Tayrona. Home to a number of seemingly untouched beaches, Tayrona is an outdoor paradise.
We didn’t have a chance to explore the beaches in Tayrona but a lot of our friends were able to make the trip. One thing to be aware of is that some of the best beaches in the park are fairly remote and you may have to hike for several hours to reach your destination.
For more information on Parque Nacional Tayrona, click here.
Wander Through the Historic City Center
We did a lot of walking through the city and there is interesting architecture tucked away all over the city. There are also some really cool plazas, churches, and streets full of restaurants that are best when found on accident. Make sure to explore during the day for safety, but otherwise just wander and see what you find.
As a starting point, you could check out Parque de Los Novios – we enjoyed the square. It’s lively with bars and restaurants and people always milling about. From there, you are well located to wander around the historic center.
Bonus: The Lost City Trek (La Ciudad Perdida)
To trek to the Lost City, you need at least 4 days, that’s why we added this as a bonus. However, the Lost City Trek was one of the coolest things we have ever done and all of the tours will pick you up from Santa Marta, making it the perfect jumping off point.
If you are interested in the Lost City Trek and want more information, check out our guide here.
Restaurants to Visit in One Day in Santa Marta
We liked Ikaro Café so much that we actually went there twice! It’s a vegetarian restaurant that sources all organic local food with a wonderful ambiance and an incredible selection of menu options. If you happen to stay at Casa Mia, it’s about a 5 minute walk away. With just one day in Santa Marta, you have to stop by Ikaro Café!
We would recommend coming for either lunch or dinner, and grab a seat next to the pond – it’s such a comfortable and charming spot. Just writing about it makes me want to go back!
We happened upon Entre Cuates, which is actually on the same street as Casa Mia, and we were in for a treat. The atmosphere is charming with colorful walls and there are tables in the back that have swings as chairs – obviously we enjoyed those too much, it made us feel like kids again.
The food was incredible, they gave us a free margarita each for writing a review on Trip Advisor, and also they were running a promotion where we got 30% off for using a Visa credit card. Never in my life have I gotten a discount at a restaurant for using a credit card; it’s safe to say I was ecstatic. We loved Entre Cuates and would definitely recommend it if you’re craving Mexican food.
Bars to Visit in One Day in Santa Marta
We spent our time in Santa Marta either preparing or recovering from the Lost City Trek, so bar hopping wasn’t exactly on the itinerary, but we still managed to check out two spots we would recommend checking out.
We loved Parque de Los Novios and one of the best ways to people watch over the park is from the rooftop of Hemingway Bar. We spent one afternoon up on the rooftop relaxing in the sun drinking Aquila, the cheapest national beer in Colombia. I can’t speak for the atmosphere at night, but during the day it was a relaxing spot to have a drink.
The name gives it away; this bar is a great place to get craft beers and some pub grub style food. We ate here as well but the food wasn’t anything to call home about. However, we enjoyed the beers and the ambiance. We arrived late afternoon and by the time we left the place was filling up quickly. I could imagine it being a good place to go to at night; we also walked by another day and saw that they had a live band.
In just one day in Santa Marta, there are restaurants, bars, and options for beautiful beaches a short ride away. It’s a great place to spend a couple days before and after the Lost City Trek, which was our experience in Santa Marta.