As Colombia rids its cities and towns of crime, beautiful areas are being restored to the perfect getaway destinations they once were. One such place is Santa Marta, where beaches meet mountains and ancient history meets recent renovations. A combination of honeymooners and backpackers mesh with old school Colombian culture to create a unique vibe.
Travelers searching for a blend of beaches, mountains and jungles should look into a Colombia weekend escape to Santa Marta. Much of the city is bordered by the beautiful Caribbean Ocean while the other edge lies within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range. At the beach, visitors enjoy snorkeling, diving and boating in the pristine waters while hiking aficionados can indulge in treks near lush mangrove forests and mountainous trails.
Santa Marta is South America’s oldest surviving city, nestled along the Caribbean coast and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It was formally discovered and developed by Rodrigo de Batidas, one of the Spanish conquistadors, in 1525.
One of Santa Marta’s claims to fame is Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the hacienda where Simon Bolivar died. These days, visitors can explore the historical sanctuary, stunning gardens and exhibits that pay homage to Bolivar.
Although Santa Marta wasn’t settled by Europeans until the 1600s, indigenous people called this area their home during the first century. Believed to be settled around 800 BCE, hundreds of years before the more famous Machu Picchu, the ancient city is now referred to as Teyuna. It’s more commonly called The Lost City because it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1970s. The once-populated center of ancient civilization is located within the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Getting there and getting around
If you’re traveling from your school in Colombia, you can likely catch a bus or minivan to Santa Marta. The route may be a bit bumpy but it will be worth it once you’re seeing fish swim in and out of colorful coral reefs. Depending on how far away you live, you may need to take a bus into Barranquilla followed by a shorter ride to Santa Marta. Teachers who live close to Bogota can hop on a flight from the capital to the coastal city any day of the week.
Once you’re there, you will need taxis to visit most places of interest. In the downtown area where there are bars and restaurants, it’s easy to travel by foot. However, some of the best beaches and treks are located a bit outside of the city. It’s best to confirm the price before you get in the cab because the drivers don’t use meters. What a perfect chance to practice your Spanish!
There are many hostels in the city center, including some that are especially popular with backpackers. If you’re trying to stretch your teaching salary out to allow for more weekend trips, consider forgoing some of the accommodation comforts that you’re used to and embrace the budget travel lifestyle.
Santa Marta attractions
People who are fascinated by The Lost City and have a week off from school should lace up their sneakers and embark on the 6-day hike into the mountains. Although it’s not a particularly arduous ascent, you should be prepared to spend a week in the wilderness. The jungle creates a beautiful backdrop as you wind through the mountainous terrain and if you’re lucky, you can take a dip in the Buritaca River.
Beach bums must visit Tanganga, which is only a 10-minute taxi ride away from Santa Marta, to experience a relaxing day in the sun. There are a few smaller beaches near the city, but here you can get your SCUBA certification for relatively cheap. There are restaurants along the beach and places to rent gear for watersports.
Right along Santa Marta Bay you’ll find the recently renovated Parque de los Novios. As the name suggests, there are quite a few couples strolling down the paths. However, it’s also the perfect place to find a bit of peace within the bustling Santa Marta. Plus, there are restaurants and bars throughout the park, as well as live music on the weekends. In these local eateries, you’ll find food that melds flavors from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean that will tantalize your taste buds.
Tayrona National Park is perhaps the most popular destination for those who visit Santa Marta, and Colombia in general. Within the park you’ll find ancient ruins amid mangrove forests, awe-inspiring beaches and hundreds of animal species. Because the park stretches from the shores of Tanganga to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the landscape is quite varied. Beaches along the northern coast turn into rainforests in the south and deserts toward the west. The park’s busy season runs from November to February, so it might be best to schedule your Santa Marta getaway for the off-season.
One of the best aspects of teaching English abroad is having the freedom to travel around your new home on the weekends. Take advantage of your location and explore the enticing landscapes of Santa Marta.
Words by Christine Hayes.