Santa Marta Colombia is a small town in the northern coast of Colombia and I can confidently most people will not enjoy their time here. Yet it is still an essential stop for most backpackers and one that most adventure seeking travelers will stop at.
The town itself is used by most backpackers as a launching point to get to the beautiful Tayrona National Park, the lush paradise of Minca or to start their trek towards the Lost City.
Not only can you go to some amazing hikes in the nearby mountains but you can get probably the best and cheapest scuba diving in the world at Taganga Beach.
Getting to Santa Marta
You have a handful of options on how to get to Santa Marta but only two options truly seem viable and worthwhile to me.
Cartagena to Santa Marta
Depending where you are coming from the easiest way would be via bus, which is normally the fastest and cheapest way to travel around Colombia. We ended up getting a shuttle through our hostel in Cartagena with a company called Marsol.
The shuttle is a hostel to hostel transfer which is probably the best option for most budget travelers who want an easy option without any bells or whistles. The total cost was around $20 but you might get a different price depending on what hostel you are located at. This will definitely be a tourist option and you will not necessarily see any locals unlike the other bus options in town.
The entire shuttle took us around 5 hours but depending on when you are picked up or dropped off it could take longer or shorter. The bus will pick you up at your hostel at a designated time and pick up other travelers along the way. Our shuttle then stopped back at the main Marsol bus depot where we switch shuttles and where told to buy snacks and water before departing.
I HIGHLY recommend to buy some snacks since we did not stop again until Barranquillas and that was even barely a stop. Besides that quick pit stop we went non-stop to Santa Marta. Lastly for those of you who have never travelled on a shuttle or mini bus abroad, get ready for some tight quarters and I mean tight!
Now let me tell you about what the ride was actually like, because no shuttle or mini bus experience abroad ever goes to plan.
The ride of a lifetime but felt like my last ride
I still clearly remember my first drive into Santa Marta and the almost immediate WTF moment asking why I even decided to come to this town. Our original drive here was already miserable to say the least and not the “hostel to hostel” transfer we where sold. But that is part of the adventure when backpacking across foreign countries, sometimes things will not go to plan and you just have to roll with the punches.
Our hostel in Cartagena sold us a shuttle transfer that would take us to our hostel for the next few days in Santa Marta but instead got shoved into this tiny mini bus with a group of other backpackers. Lets just say the space between these seats could barely fit my backpack let alone my legs. The drive in total took us just under 5 hours with a few stops along the way for drinks and snacks.
The highlight of the drive came when local military police decided to stop our bus right as we came into town. This was the first time I ever came in contact with foreign military and it wouldn’t be the last during this trip. The men where armed and boarded the bus which proceeded to asks for everyone’s passport. After collecting all foreigners passport they left for what felt like an eternity and then they let us go on our way.
Our driver dropped a few other backpackers before unloading us in the middle of a square late at night. He pointed down an alley and said we couldn’t miss the sign to our hostel, lets just say we did miss the sign to the hostel.
There are no words for what was going through my mind at this time and just how much I regretted even thinking of coming here. We did eventually find our hostel but this night will be one of those nights that you will never forget.
Flying to Santa Marta
The other and probably easier yet still time consuming way to get to Santa Marta would be to fly to the Simon Bolivar International Airport. We used this airport on our way out of Santa Marta to catch a flight out to Medellin.
Now the main thing I need to say about the Simon Bolivar International Airport is just how nice it actually was. We where pleasantly surprised to see a very modern airport right on the beachside of the city. The airport is about 30-45 minutes by taxi from the center of Santa Marta and I highly recommend to schedule a ride with your hostel.
Most of the countries airlines have multiple flights a day out of the airport to most popular destinations of Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin. The only thing it keep in mind is just how far your hostel is from the airport since with flight delays across the country a bus ride might actually be faster.
Should you visit Santa Marta
While Santa Marta might not be the hot thing to do in Colombia it is still a great launching point for all the amazing attractions in the surrounding region. It is still my go to location to setup base camp while exploring this northern region of Colombia.
While the above story might sound crazy it is just part of travelling across Colombia and parts of South America. Besides that moment I truthfully don’t think I ever felt in danger or regretting my trip. Part of the adventure is the thrill of finding your way through a new country and making friends along the way.
Stay tuned for things to do and where to eat in Santa Marta Colombia!
Have you been to Santa Marta Colombia? Any favorite places to go? Any tips you would like to share!
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