Santa Marta, Colombia – a day to spare before starting the Lost City trek?

This humble, inconspicuous, hardworking town in northern Colombia is one of the oldest colonial cities in the Americas. Santa Marta was founded in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas – the man credited with discovering Panama – and it is now the oldest continually inhabited colonial city in Colombia, and the second oldest in South America (the oldest is Cumaná in Venezuela).

Santa Marta receives its fair share of tourists, but most aren’t here to see the city itself, they are merely using it as a base while exploring nearby Tayrona National Park, or are spending a night in town before starting the trek to la Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City, in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park.

But Santa Marta has its own charm, and it comes without the pretentiousness of Cartagena.

Plaza de la Catedral, Santa Marta

The centre of the historical part of town. The plaza is only one block from Carrera 3, where are all the trekking agencies are situated.

San Fransisco Convent, Santa Marta, Colombia

Convent of San Fransisco. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Parque de los Novios, Santa Marta

Once a market square, now a trendy plaza lined with bars and restaurants. It’s a great place to celebrate following a successful completion of la Ciudad Perdida trek.

Paseo de Bastidas, Santa Marta

Paseo de Bastidas, Santa Marta, Colombia

Paseo de Bastidas. Photo credit: Benjamin White

A sandy beach on the Caribbean Sea. What could be better? Perhaps being located a little further away from a busy shipping port?

Plenty of people swim here though, so the water can’t be that bad. And it’s quite pretty at sunset.

Paseo de Bastidas, Santa Marta, Colombia

Plazoleta Rodrigo de Bastidas. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Practical Information and how to reach Santa Marta:

Santa Marta is an easy 3.5-hour bus ride from Cartagena. The long distance bus terminal is located on the outskirts of town, but some intercity buses pass quite close to the historic centre on their route. Ask the bus driver as to the best place to alight. More transport info here.

More on Colombia:

Southern Colombia:

San Agustín – cartoonish statues that protect the dead? 

Popayán – the illustrious White City that delivered 17 Colombian presidents

Central Colombia:

The salt mines of Zipaquirá – ever seen a salt cathedral?

Bogotá – gold, graffiti. and Botero

La Candelaria Street Art – world famous graffiti in downtown Bogotá

Barichara – sleepy colonial town where they eat fat-bottomed ants

Villa de Leyva – Casa de Antonio Ricaurte, El Fósil, and a colossal public square

Northern Colombia:

La Ciudad Perdida – four day hike to the Lost City of the Tayrona priests

More on South America:


Perito Moreno Glacier – colossal ice wall

El Chaltén – meringue-like glaciers and jagged peaks


Iguazu Falls – greatest cascades on Earth

Ihla Grande – home to Brazil’s most beautiful beach


The Moai Quarry archaeological site, Easter Island

Mount Villarrica – trek to the top of an active volcano

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