You are currently viewing Colombia: Visiting Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

Located along the Caribbean Sea, the beach town of Santa Marta retains its authentic charm. It’s a must for those who want to immerse themselves in Colombian culture before setting off to discover the famous Tayrona National Park nearby, which I highly recommend following my trip there.

Santa Marta is one of the best places in the Americas to get lots of free nights in a nice hotel thanks to the increased deal on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card.

But the region is also more accessible than ever thanks to flight deals that Flytrippers now spots often in the $300 roundtrip to Colombia!

Here’s what you need to know about this city and its incredible national park.


Visiting Santa Marta

Santa Marta is located on Colombia’s northern coast, on the famous Caribbean Sea.

Location of Santa Marta, Colombia (image credit: Google Maps)


Founded in 1525 by Spanish colonizers, Santa Marta is Colombia’s very first city. It has a population of around 500,000 (~ 30% less than Winnipeg).

Santa Marta has 3 main parts. The city itself is full of hotels and is a typical seaside tourist destination. El Rodadero, to the south, is the more artificial resort district. Taganga, to the north, is more of a smaller beach town destination, popular with backpackers and travelers alike.

Taganga, Colombia (photo credit: Chema Photo)


In addition to its historical importance, Santa Marta has amazing beaches such as Playa Blanca, El Rodadero, and Playa de Taganga, where the sunset is magnificent since most of the beaches face west. You can expect to see plenty of vendors, as the town is renowned for this.

With its cactus-covered hills, rich marine life, warm climate, historic center filled with colorful colonial buildings, and lively nightlife, Santa Marta has it all.

We’re also home to the world’s highest coastal mountain (5800 m), the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Santa Marta, Colombia (photo credit: Alejandro Ortiz)


It’s a popular destination, even if it’s sometimes underestimated or overlooked in comparison with the famous Cartagena, also located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. What’s more, the cost of living is a little cheaper! You can easily combine both destinations!

I had the opportunity to visit Santa Marta in December 2023, and I loved it!

As I did, you can rent a paddleboat or even a large flamingo-shaped buoy for cheap at El Rodadero and contemplate the shoreline from the water.

I also recommend this cruise at sunset on a large sailboat (warning, it moves a lot at sea!).

Boat tour in Santa Marta, Colombia (photo credit: Viator)


While you’re here, take a stroll through Simón Bolívar Park and shop at the public market. You can go scuba diving in Taganga, go out for an evening of fun on the Malecón, or visit the Cathedral, the Gold Museum, and the Museum of Simón Bolívar’s place of death.

There really is a whole range of activities offered in Santa Marta.

But above all, sample delicious Colombian cuisine in local restaurants, starting with arepas and ceviches. You can also enjoy other cuisines from around the world. I had my best pizza in Colombia at Via Roma by the sea.

Close to Santa Marta, you’ll find other destinations that are equally captivating.

The most courageous travelers embark on a multi-day hike in the region to reach the famous Lost City (ruins that predate Machu Picchu and that are more difficult to access).

Less than an hour’s drive away, the village of Minca is renowned for its many waterfalls and rivers in the heart of the mountains.

Last but not least, Santa Marta is the gateway to Tayrona National Park, and that’s by far its main attraction!


Visiting Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park boasts unique biodiversity in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia (photo credit: Chema Photo)


It covers an area of 30 km of coastline and 150 km². You won’t be able to explore it all in a single day!

Warning! Every year, the park closes for a few weeks:

  • February 1st to 15th
  • June 1st to 15th
  • October 19th to November 2nd

This way, the indigenous populations of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta can carry out their sacred rituals and nature can catch its breath.

Park entrance fees for foreigners vary throughout the year:

  • Low season: 73,500 COP (~ C$26)
  • High season: 87,000 COP (~ C$31)

To this, you must add 6,000 COP (~ C$2) per day for insurance (mandatory).

The most popular hike starts at the park’s main entrance at El Zaino and leads to Cabo San Juan, the park’s most popular beach.

Cabo San Juan del Guia, Colombia (photo credit: Nate Landy)


This hike takes between 2 and 3 hours one way, so double the time to get back to your starting point. To give you an idea, I did this hike in 5 hours.

My recommendation! It's long but the hike is easy. If you've only got one day to spend in the park, it's the itinerary to choose from.

Along the way, you’ll be dazzled by a forest of tall palms, tropical landscapes, white sandy beaches, and breathtaking panoramic views.

You may also see some archaeological remains of the ancient Tayrona civilizations and, if you’re lucky, some exotic animals.

Cabo San Juan Beach has its charm but is often overrun by travelers. I prefer the beaches of Arrecifes for the view and La Piscina for swimming.

Playa Arrecifes, Colombia (photo credit: Christian Holzinger


In the park, you can also snorkel, dive, or ride a horse if you’re tired of walking.

You can buy drinks along the way, and you’ll find a few restaurants towards the finish near Cabo San Juan.

There I ate mojarra, a fried saltwater fish, which is a very popular local dish. It was really good.


How to get to Santa Marta and Tayrona

Here are the transport logistics.


Santa Marta

You can buy flights from Canada to Santa Marta (SMR), but there are no direct flights and it’s sometimes going to be more expensive than with the self-transfer tip (always compare, as for all destinations).

For example, if you take advantage of a frequent deal to Bogotá (BOG) in the $300s roundtrip, you can add a separate flight to Santa Marta for as little as $55 roundtrip.

Bogotá-Santa Marta roundtrip price (image credit: Kiwi)


If you’re exploring multiple destinations, flights from the country’s other major cities are quite affordable:

If you want alternative airports that may be cheaper, there’s Barranquilla (BAQ) and Cartagena (CTG).

You can then take the bus:

It’s also possible to take a cab or private transfer at a higher price of course, but if you’re traveling with other people the difference can be negligible.

Andrew, one of the co-founders of Flytrippers, got a one-way rental car from Barranquilla, and the extra charge for the one-way wasn’t that much. His trip with his girlfriend was to Cartagena, but it seems pretty reasonable to Santa Marta too, according to a very quick search on (formerly

Finally, it’s possible to get to Santa Marta by boat from certain Caribbean islands or other cities on the coast.



From Santa Marta, you then have the option of taking a bus or private transfer to Tayrona National Park.

Shared local buses to Tayrona cost $3 and take 45 minutes. They leave about every 30 minutes from Calle 11 & Carrera 11 in Santa Marta’s central market.

By car, it takes about 37 minutes to drive from Santa Marta to Tayrona (34 km).


Where to stay in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a great spot if you have Marriott points:

AC Hotel Santa Marta (photo credit: Marriott)


The AC Hotel Santa Marta is a beautiful and recent hotel across the street from the waterfront, within walking distance of the beach and all the attractions.

It costs 8,400 Marriott points per night (42,000 for 5 nights). That’s just 4,200 points per person per night with a companion! It’s not as cheap as Marriott hotels in Southeast Asia of course, but that’s not bad at all for the Americas! 

The current increased welcome bonus on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card gives you 71,000 points (or 142,000 points if your companion takes advantage of it too). It ends on May 6.

AC Hotel Santa Marta price (image credit: Marriott)


The cash price is C$635 ($127/night for 5 nights) so using points can give you great value!

The hotel has an epic pool deck, and modern rooms, many of which have a great view.

Here are a few other examples of accommodation:

Distrito Hostel (image credit: Hostelworld)


Where to stay near Tayrona

You can also choose accommodation even closer to the national park:

Finca del Tayrona La Gordita (image credit: Hostelworld)


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If you’re visiting Colombia, you won’t want to miss the pretty town of Santa Marta and the incredible Tayrona Natural Park that surrounds it. On the agenda: culture, hiking, and swimming in turquoise waters.


What would you like to know about Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park in Colombia? Tell us in the comments below.


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Featured image: Tayrona National Park, Colombia (photo credit: Azzedine Rouichir)

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