What Is Santa Marta, Colombia, Like Today?
Santa Marta’s downtown has undergone a restoration effort that has revived its Spanish-colonial parks, churches, and homes to their former glory.
New elements have been introduced. Plus, the city now boasts an attractive seafront park, excellent seafood restaurants, cafés, boutique hotels, and even a cruise-ship port.
All these upgrades attracted interest from around the world, and tasteful condo projects have sprouted up all along this coast, offering an impressive diversity of beach living options.
Santa Marta offers excellent diving, sandy beaches, calm waters, an upbeat and energetic culture, and a collection of diverse and attractive living options.
While Cartagena is where the world comes to visit… Santa Marta is a place to settle in.
And thanks to the continued strength of the U.S. dollar versus the Colombian peso, dollar holders enjoy a serious buying advantage right now.
A Little Bit Of History
Columbus visited Santa Marta on his second voyage to the New World in 1499, officially founded in 1525.
It was here that one of Columbus’ crewmen documented the wealth and riches of the local indigenous people, giving rise to the myth of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
Today, remnants of Santa Marta’s historical past can still be seen and enjoyed. The city is working hard to refurbish and preserve historical buildings as well as add new development…
Our Expert’s View
Live And Invest Oversea’s Latin America Correspondent, Lee Harrison, has spent significant time in Santa Marta. He says, “When I first visited Santa Marta in 2010, it was definitely a work in progress. The formerly seedy downtown was undergoing restoration, bringing the old colonial homes, parks, and churches back to their original splendor. Leading-edge investors were prowling the city.”
When we refer to “Santa Marta,” we’re talking about the Santa Marta metro area, which extends 13 miles from Taganga in the north to the airport in the south. This stretch of Caribbean coast is home to an amazing diversity of beachside destinations.
Let’s take a look at them from north to south, starting with Taganga…
Firstly, Taganga is a small village surrounded by tall mountains that sits on an expansive, sparkling, deep-blue bay.
The beach is long and unspoiled and is bordered by a new boardwalk.
Secondly, Taganga’s bay is ideal for diving and snorkeling, and you will find several dive shops and excursions available.
Santa Marta City
Santa Marta (the city itself) contains the original historic center and the cruise-ship port. This is the part that underwent the dramatic restoration. Santa Marta also hosts a few inland neighborhoods, such as Bavaria, that would be great for full-time living away from the tourist traffic.
Santa Marta’s Historic Center
If you’ve visited colonial cities in Latin America in the past, the city center of Santa Marta will feel familiar. It consists of blocks of whitewashed colonial structures, including its cathedral, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen on three continents.
With its proximity to the mountains, Santa Marta’s climate is slightly cooler than Cartagena’s, and afternoon rainstorms are a regular occurrence between May and November.
Main points of interest in the city center include Parque Simón Bolívar, an expansive tree-covered plaza that opens up directly to the city’s main beach area. Some of the best restaurants and shopping are in this area and around Parque de los Novios, a peaceful hideout right in the middle of the city. The best nightlife is along Calle 19, one of the narrow city streets that empties into Parque de los Novios.
While Cartagena is overrun with street vendors, Santa Marta is calmer by miles. This is because most of this city’s visitors are Colombians, and street vendors target tourists. You also don’t see the party buses that roam the streets of Cartagena at every hour of every day. Santa Marta has not fallen victim to these… at least not yet.
El Rodadero lies about 10 minutes south of Santa Marta. It’s been the main draw in the area for years, as people sought to avoid the once-seedy historic center.
The beaches are far longer, wider, and better kept than Santa Marta’s, creating a giant crescent-shaped shoreline that’s several miles long. Rodadero offers a small-town feel that you don’t find in the city.
On the oceanfront, Rodadero boasts a fine sandy beach lined with palm trees along the warm, calm waters.
The palm-shaded boardwalk is filled with people walking and patronizing the kiosks, which sell everything from fresh-made pizza to fresh-squeezed fruit juice.
Weekend nights turn into an impromptu beach party, with families turning out by the hundreds to enjoy (and dance to) the local music of wandering music groups.
We think of El Rodadero as the family destination within the Santa Marta area.
It’s bustling with people enjoying the beach, markets, shops, and boardwalk. Also, it maintains a safe, friendly, and laid-back feel…
The Southern Sector
The southern sector consists of neighborhoods Rodadero Sur, Playa Salguero, Pozos Colorados, and Bello Horizonte. It lies south of Santa Marta and El Rodadero, but before the airport. These areas feature quiet, well-tended, and more exclusive beaches than you’ll see in Santa Marta or El Rodadero. They’re also the site of quite a few new, upscale condo buildings.
This southern sector is the current direction of expansion in the Santa Marta market, where you’ll find most of the new construction and preconstruction deals. The condo projects here are generally high-end, of large size, with nice finishings and amenities. The southern sector is long on natural beauty. Bello Horizonte has the widest beach in the area, and most of the beaches along this stretch are frequented only by the neighboring residents, with little to no tourism. It’s peaceful.
Lee says, “When I came here as a foreigntraveler, I found the southern sector a bit dull compared to the party atmosphere in El Rodadero or even Santa Marta Centro. But now I understand its attraction for those who want to escape the bustle of Medellín orBogotá(or El Rodadero, for that matter).”
Those looking for a colonial Caribbean city with less bustle and more bargains…then Santa Marta could be right for you.