If you’re a water lover like me, your first impression of moving to Medellín, Colombia may have gone something like this…
“The mountains are beautiful, but where’s the closest beach?”
Luckily every single location in Colombia is accessible by a quick hour (or less) plane ride—inexpensively on Avianca Airlines or VivaColombia airlines.
My mother is an even bigger beach fanatic, so, when my parents visited my home in Medellín, we made plans to go to the beach for a few days. Our destination was Santa Marta—a city located on the Caribbean Sea in the northern department of Magdalena. Santa Marta was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia and is also known for being a busy port. While the city is small, the surrounding area offers beaches, hikes, scuba diving, snorkeling, and other adventures and activities perfect for any vacation style.
While there are many hostels, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts closer to Santa Marta city, we opted to stay in the Zuana Resort as part of a time-share exchange. This resort offered both hotel and condo-style rooms overlooking multiple pools and its own private beach. It was exactly what the doctor ordered after being in the mountains for over a year. We spent our days by the pool and beach and then ventured into the historic downtown for dinner.
Only a short cab ride away, the city of Santa Marta is perfect to explore in the late afternoon on foot. The city center is quaint, featuring narrow roads, old Spanish architecture, and squares surrounded by restaurants—from pizza joints to trendy burger bars to more upscale Italian and Mediterranean food. As we finished dinner, more and more bars began to open their doors. We didn’t stay to join in the evening entertainment, because we had plans to get to Parque Tayrona the next morning…
Tayrona is a national park of approximately 12 square miles, located about 20 miles from Santa Marta. Here, lush green jungle meets the Caribbean, giving way to hidden beaches—some of which are only accessible by boat.
As you hike into the park, you’ll come across beaches of various sizes, restaurants, and even small hotels and lodging areas. The hike is relatively flat, and much of it has been turned into a boarded walkway making it an enjoyable walk for all ages and athletic ability. If you prefer, you can explore the park on horseback. The flora, fauna, and ocean scenery are absolutely breathtaking—and the mix of jungle noises and crashing waves relaxing—so many park visitors opt to stay the night.
The EcoHabs—little huts perched overlooking a secluded beach of Tayrona—are one option. Each hut has a view of the ocean, a terrace with hammocks, private room, and bathroom… and there’s an onsite restaurant and spa.
Another popular day trip from Santa Marta is the fishing village of Taganga, located only a 10-minute taxi ride away. This town is a favorite of backpackers as it has many dive shops and cheap bars and restaurants. Here you can also get your diving certificate. The many fishing boats on the ocean make Taganga a great spot for spectacular sunset views while you sip a cold beer and savor freshly caught fish at the beachside restaurants.
For those seeking real adventure and a hardcore hiking experience, look no farther than the Lost City hike. Think Inca Trail without the tourists. The ruins are different to what you’ll see at Machu Picchu, but many go just for the hike itself—you’ll cross rivers and streams and often come across indigenous people living deep in the jungle (a true Indiana Jones experience).
When you need a break from big-city life in Colombia, Santa Marta is a quick and inexpensive flight from Medellín or Bogotá.
Be warned: One weekend won’t be enough.