How I Fell in Love with a Small Colombian Coastal Town

How I Fell in Love with a Small Colombian Coastal Town

March 12, 2021

Story submitted by traveller Leslie

Santa Marta is a city in Northern Colombia with great things to offer, but it was not easy for us to find its charm immediately. I visited Santa Marta in March 2020, and the main reason for this trip was to visit the Tayrona Park. I also took a few days to do my open water scuba diving coursewhich I have always wanted to do and I absolutely loved itI also enjoyed the city nightlife close to Parque de los novios, took a 'chiva tour' and made a quick visit to Minca. Here are my favourite things from the trip, things I learned and things I wish I did differently:

sunset in Colombia

The city’s nightlife 

For my first 3 nights I stayed close to the Marina Santa Marta (Harbour), since I had my scuba diving course from there, so it was very convenient

Once we arrived, we walked around the city and the Harbour, exploring for a few hours. It seemed quiet and rather emptyWe stopped to eat a delicious meal at Parque de los novios, which consisted of rice with coconut, plantain and chicken, and then walked around more in that area since we prefer exploring the city than spending all day at the beach. 

In the evening, we went back to Parque de los novios to have some dinner, and we were surprised with how different the city looked with such a great atmosphere! There was music playing and people dancing in the streets, people selling interesting handmade crafts and souvenirs, and many restaurants and bars had opened since earlier in the day. It wasn’t as hot and with a cool breeze, it was pleasant to spend the evening walking around this lively area. We saw a stunning sunset at the Harbour while enjoying some refreshing drinks.The restaurants and bars in the Harbour are a bit more expensive than in the old town, so we eventually chose to dine at one of the many restaurants close to Parque de los novios, where we could still enjoy the live music, and a delicious and more affordable meal. 

landscape Colombia

Chiva tour

On our third day, after our scuba diving course, we wanted to do something different, so we took a blue bus that took us to 'El Rodadero' Beach in about 15 minutes. Once there, we had delicious fresh fish for lunch and spent some time at the beach. However, it was too crowded and there were many people trying to sell us something, so after a while we decided to look for something else to do. We were about to take a bus to go back, when we suddenly discovered a few colorful buses (chivas) in the parking lot. It seemed like some tourists were getting on, and we wanted to know if we could take part in the tour

It turned out to be a very funny tour and a unique way to get to know the city. This tour made some stops at the main city attractions and cost about 20,000 COPWe felt lucky to have  stumbled onto this tour. It was mostly with other Colombians and in Spanish and my partner doesn't speak Spanish, but it was still so much fun. There are options for English tours that you could find through speaking to someone at your hotel or hostel. 

Scuba diving

diving in Colombia

There are many diving schools offering PADI courses and recreational dives with certified instructors in Spanish and English. I did some research before my trip, and chose the 'Caribe colombiano diving school'. My instructor, Laurent, was very professional and so much fun! He gives courses in French as well

The main diving spots are close to Tayrona Park, so we usually met at the Harbour at 6:45 am. We would get ready and then go to the diving areas with a boat, to start exploring the sea life from thereI appreciated the different varieties of fish, corals and even got to see a small sunken shipIf you think that 6:45 is too early, you can also start later. However, for me it was better that way, since most people start later and it gets busier. I also had more time in the afternoon to relax and explore the city

(By the way, Caribe Colombiano just moved to Cartagena, but do not worry about finding a good school in Santa Marta as there are many other good options! Just make sure to read reviews before choosing the one that’s right for you).

Tayrona Park

beach in Colombia

One of the most beautiful places to visit near Santa Marta is Tayrona Park. This is a gorgeous national park, where you can find yourself in the middle of the jungle, with wild beaches and pure natureFor accommodation I chose a nice cabin at a beautiful hotel in the jungle (Tayrona Paradise). Very close to Tayrona Park, but far from the city and everything else

It was so close to the jungle, that it was a bit hard to find at first. We arrived at night and it felt like an adventure! The place is very beautiful and peaceful, but we had some problems getting around from there. We didn't have a car, and there's only like one bus every hour going in that direction from Santa Marta, so we had to take a taxi to get there. And it's quite far, so paying for a taxi every time you want to go to the city and come back might end up costing a lot. 

Tayrona Park itself was a beautiful experience, where I could observe animals like monkeys, iguanas, ants and even termites. I wish I had stayed longer so I could have seen a lot more. Tip: try to avoid weekends and holidays as they tend to get quite busy and spend more than one day – there is so much to explore here!



moto taxi in Colombia

Minca is located about 20 kms from Santa Marta. We went there by bus (around 7.000 COP) and came back by taxi (60.000 COP). Minca is a very small town full of beautiful nature and a lot of activities. As soon as we arrived, there were some motorbikes (moto-taxis) offering quick and affordable rides to all kinds of beautiful placesThey can take you anywhere, even through the wild jungle roads where the cars can't make it... it feels like a real adventure!  There's a coffee and cacao farm to visit, lots of ecological places to hike around and some beautiful waterfalls and cascades. It was a shame I didn't have enough time to see all of it! Next time, I would stay more than one night.

The moto-taxis took us to Pozo Azul... a beautiful place with two small peaceful water pools. The water is a bit cold but very refreshing! Fortunately it was almost empty when I arrived, so I could spend some quality time swimming and enjoying the water alone. If there are many tourists around and you want to find a quiet spot, you can pass the second pool and keep walking further. After this relaxing time, we enjoyed some fresh grilled fish, right next to the water pools with simple and delicious food and a gorgeous view. After that, we walked back to the town, visited some cacao and coffee shops, and soon it was time to go back to our cabin. Sad to leave, but very happy with the relaxing and beautiful day we had. I will visit Minca again for sure!

This place left a mark on my heart and memory and I can’t wait to go back and explore more of it!

Leslie Romero: A woman who is passionate for traveling and sharing the best from places she has visited in her videos @ Tinto travel. A woman who this year, decided to start her own YouTube channel, take control of her life and commit to her dreams. Happy to help others, motivate them to travel and to learn a bit from other places.

Find Leslie at:

Instagram: @tinto4travel

Youtube Channel:

This post was submitted by a traveller as part of our Trade Your Time for Travel program. Click here to learn how you can earn travel credits towards a future trip with us, just by sharing a memorable travel experience. #tradeyourtimefortravel


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Souvenir: Wholesome stories that stay with you.

After A Year Of Traveling, Here’s My Definitive List Of Cozy Packing Essentials
After A Year Of Traveling, Here’s My Definitive List Of Cozy Packing Essentials

May 31, 2022

A definitive list of packing essentials

Read More

Souvenir Live: Spiritual Awakening with Ky
Souvenir Live: Spiritual Awakening with Ky

February 22, 2022

Join us as we talk with Ky Bernard all about how traveling sparked her spiritual awakening and how she continues to remain grounded in her everyday life.

Read More

What You Need to Pack for Costa Rica
What You Need to Pack for Costa Rica

February 17, 2022

Your must-haves if you're planning on traveling to Costa Rica!

Read More

Save $100 off your first trip.

Your weekly dose of good travel.

Tips for exploring in a way that makes you (and the planet) feel nice, good travel gear + incredible human stories.