Colombia’s sunshine coast: Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

By Erin Hancock


Colombia’s north is full of sunny coasts, beautiful beaches and lots of places for travelers to visit. Santa Marta is a popular destination for those wanting the white beach, sip drinks and take it easy kind of vacation. Not too far from the city is Tayrona National Park and transport to get there leaves every hour from the bus terminal in Santa Marta. When you arrive at the park gates, you’ll do a short hike. Once you get into the park, you can relax on the beach, do more hiking or set up camp for the night.

Parque Nacional Tayrona

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The weather seems to always be perfect (we visited in February) so it’s ideal for enjoying the beach and a cold beer. Hiking is a little warm if you’re not used to the hot climate, but you can take your time. It’s not a strenuous hike to get to the campsites (mostly level ground, no major hills).

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Cabo San Juan is probably the best campsite in the park. You cannot book your hammock or tent site ahead of time, but if you hike into the park early in the morning and then wait in line when they open reservations in the early afternoon, you’ll probably get yourself a spot. If you don’t like lines, book at one of the other sites at the front gate of the park and then just go to Cabo San Juan to enjoy the beach and the restaurant as you wish.

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The waves can be very rough at some of the beaches. Respect the “no swimming” signs. Too many people die every year because they think they can handle the waves. Stick to the designated swimming beaches. There are enough so you get variety without putting yourself at risk.

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If you want to get some freshly-baked bread (especially the cheese or the chocolate bread), be sure to go to La Panadería, a little family-run spot with a great view of the above lagoon. They have coffee and tea too, along with eggs and arepa (a sort of rice pancake). You can locate it between the Arricefes Beach (no swimming allowed there) and the Finca Don Pedro Campground shown below. Bread is also delivered fresh to your towel on the beach at Cabo San Juan so rest assured you will get all the carbs you want with little effort.

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If you party too hard, you can always hire a horse to exit the park instead of having to hike out. There is no cell phone reception….so people are social.

Santa Marta

This city is fun day and night. It’s the friendliest city I visited in Colombia by far. People know what customer service is here and they are great at it.

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The Masaya Hostel is an unbelievable place to stay. It’s downtown. The views are great. Be sure to catch a sunset in the rooftop pool and don’t forget your mojito (2 for 1 specials somehow perfectly aligned with the sunset ,which was a bonus). The rooms are nice and the price is less than a typical hotel, but on the high end compared to some hostels. You won’t regret it though. Plus you are not out of the city in the boonies by the other resorts, but rather near the town square (Parque de los novios).

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There is a great reggae bar in the Parque de los novios (which translates to “Boyfriend’s Park”) that obviously has pleasing music, good drinks and a great view of what’s happening in the heart of Santa Marta’s downtown after dark. Marley Caffee Bar is not to be missed.

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The eating options are plentiful. You can get salchipapas, a Latin American favorite consisting of sliced hot dogs on fries (with some type of mayo sauce) almost anywhere. However, I was more inclined to the somewhat ‘hipster’ places like the vegetarian restaurant and the 60’s inspired burger joint. The pic on the top left was taken in the Ikaro Cafe which has wonderful coffees, great fresh shakes, lots of vegetarian and vegan options as well as sweets. The prices are a little higher, but the quality and flavor kept up coming back (4 times in 2 days). The picture on the top right is in Radio Burger. This place has good burgers including fish and veggie options, as well as adorable decor. Their records and old radios provide lots to look at. Both of these restaurants can be found right around Parque de los novios as well.

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Whether you’re looking for some relaxation, good eats, great customer service, beaches or nightlife, Santa Marta has it all.



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