Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona:

3 days in the Colombian Caribbean

Eduardo do Valle

Leonardo Felippi

With beautiful beaches and lush nature, Santa Marta, the oldest city in Colombia, enchants all types of travelers


Day 1 – Santa Marta


10h - Art and patriotism

Santa Marta’s patriotic pride can be seen at the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the old sugar farm where military leader Simón Bolívar spent his final days in 1830. Transformed into a museum in 1891, the locale contains two exhibition rooms, an outdoor theater and a botanic garden with over 300 species. The main attraction is the historic section, with its yellow buildings, home to preserved pieces of furniture, personal objects and even a supposed strand of Bolívar’s hair.

13h - To the center

Bars and restaurants make Parque de los Novios the center of social life in the city. On a hidden corner, Donde Chucho serves light options, such as a seafood salad. From there, you can proceed on foot to the Plaza de la Catedral, home to the first church in Colombia. It was built in 1528, three years after the founding of Santa Marta, the oldest city in the country. A few blocks further is Parque Simón Bolívar, where locals take afternoon naps on the grass and skateboarders try out new moves. Right nearby, the Museo del Oro contains part of the legacy left behind by local indigenous civilizations in a colonial house. Through the gold ornaments and ceramic pieces, you can learn about the Tayronas and Nahuanges, a brief but well-preserved register of the region before Spanish reign.



18h - Under the Caribbean sun

Watching the sun set on the Atlantic Ocean is one of the privileges on this trip. At the Marina Internacional de Santa Marta, tourists and photographers compete for the best angle. The lively soundtrack there comes from the bar Caribbean Team, which is known to get crowded even before the late afternoon. Elaborate drinks and tasty burgers invite customers to extend their stay there. But the night in Santa Marta is just getting started: for many, the marina is just one stop before returning to the center to enjoy the music, dancing and food at such spots as La Brisa Loca, a rooftop bar where they play cumbia until late night hours.


Day 2 – Parque Tayrona


9h - Trail into the past

With 19,000 hectares and 53 miles [85 km] of shore, Parque Tayrona is an activity for more than just one day. Still, anyone who gets up early has the chance at a nearly complete itinerary, with beaches, nature and archaeology. Starting at Calabazos, one of three of the park’s entrances, the trail of moderate difficulty leads to Pueblito, an ancient indigenous commercial center. Some Kogi families, descendants of the original Tayronas, still live there. The locale was occupied from the year 300 to 1530, shortly after the arrival of the Spaniards. In the clearing which opens up in the middle of the native forest, there are still a dozen bohíos, original habitations made of straw and wood that are used in rituals to this day. On request from the indians, incidentally, Parque Tayrona closes for one month each year for preservation – purification ceremonies are held among the ancestral habitations in the park.



12h - A Caribbean Babel

Campsites, hammocks and a few individual rooms make the beach of Cabo San Juan del Guía a strategic base. It is also there that you’ll find the park’s tourist services, including scuba diving agencies. The private beach feel is broken by the circulation of visitors who compete for spots on the sand and play international soccer matches on the makeshift field. There is no shortage of seafood options at the only restaurant there, which has the same name as the beach. Tourists from such distinct places as Paraguay, Israel and Russia converse in a chorus of indefinite language, a Caribbean Babel where it’s easy to make new friends.

16h - Well-deserved rest    

Unlike the bustling Cabo San Juan, the other beaches of Tayrona are more peaceful, almost deserted. The first is La Piscina, a stretch of sand protected by a barrier of rocks and coral. After walking for another 40 minutes, you come to Arrecifes, home to many lodging options but where swimming is prohibited. All along the trail, nature is lush with several bird and monkey species circulating in the canopies of the ancient trees. The environment changes as you proceed, with palm trees giving way to mangroves. The last stop before the way out is Cañaveral, home to Ecohab Santa Marta, a luxurious hotel inspired by Tayrona bohíos. After so much moving around, there’s nothing better than a massage session at the hotel’s spa as night falls on the beach.


Day 3 – Taganga and El Rodadero


9h - Getaway to Taganga

It doesn’t take long to get from Santa Marta to neighboring beaches. Less than 30 minutes in between the hills of the dry woods and you’ll see Taganga, a small fishing village with colorful houses next to the blue ocean waters. Once a hippie haven, these days it welcomes young people from the region’s hostels. It’s also where excursions set out to the coral reefs, which can be explored in a single morning. Still, most speedboats there run to the private Playa Grande. With crystal-clear waters as far as the eye can see, going for a swim is impossible to resist. Dozens of vendors rent chairs and beach umbrellas, serving fish, fruit juice and cocktails from early morning until nightfall.



13h - The hectic El Rodadero

While simplicity is the trademark at Taganga, the beach at El Rodadero is home to a complete infrastructure. On the sand, countless vendors offer everything from refreshments to massages. The food also takes on innovative proposals, like the cuisine at the restaurant Di Vino which fuses Italy with the Caribbean. There is heavy circulation all throughout the locale, which drives some visitors to seek refuge at neighboring Playa Branca, more exclusive and paradisiacal. 

18h - A can’t-miss view

In the late afternoon, certain beaches in the center of El Rodadero close, fueling the migration to the beachside bars and kiosks. But it is atop a neighboring hill, at the restaurant Burukuka, that nightfall is itself an activity, accompanied by cocktails like the Blue Hawaii (made with rum, Curaçao and pineapple juice) or the classic Margaritas. The almost panoramic view from the terrace is lit by the setting sun, which paints the restless bay – and the entire region – with the orange shades that are so characteristic of the Caribbean. 


LATAM has direct flights to Santa Marta departing from Bogota and Medellin.


Special thanks to: Hotel Mercure Santa Marta Emile, Panamericana de Viajes & Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia.