Although many would describe Santa Marta as a getaway city in itself, blessed as it is with sandy beaches, vibrant fruit markets, and historical sights, for many travelers Santa Marta serves as a convenient base for exploring the highlights of the Caribbean Coastline. Due to its central location in Magdalena province, Santa Marta is well connected to many of Colombia’s major cities and, best of all, is only an hour away some of northern Colombia’s most beautiful sights. Another bonus is that many of Santa Marta’s hostels offer a secure place to ditch your baggage whilst visiting beaches of the Tyrona National Park, hiking to ancient ruins, partying in Taganga, or drinking coffee on Minca’s coffee plantations.
Tyrona National Park
The Tyrona National park is rightly considered to be one of the gems of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. The 150 square kilometres of the natural area is made up of a mixture of coconut tree-lined beaches, golden sand, mangroves, lush rainforest, and breath-taking coral reefs. All backed by the mist covers Sierra Nevana Mountains. The area was designated a national park in 1964 but indigenous communities have been living between the hills and beaches of Tyrona for centuries.
Things to See & do
Swim, snorkel, sunbathe, walk a little, and drink plenty of coconut water straight from the coconut. That’s a visit to Tyrona National Park in a nutshell. If you can handle the heat then take a hike through palms trees and boulders to the indigenous town of Pueblito and the nearby ancient ruins. La Playa Blanca, La Piscina, and Cabo San Juan de Guia are undoubtedly some of the most mesmerising swimming spots in the park but be careful of the turquoise water. The sea here is known for its strong undercurrents and many an unsuspecting swimmer has been swept away in its tide.
Where to Stay
While it’s possible to visit this Tyrona National Park on a day trip from Santa Marta I would thoroughly recommend spending a few nights soaking up nature and basking on beaches. There are a number places inside the park where you can sling a hammock or pitch a tent for a few dollars or splash out on a wooden eco hut. Most places offer breakfast and dinner too for a reasonable price.
How to get there
Travellers staying in Santa Marta can hop on a mini-bus from the central market. The park’s entrance is less than an hour away. From the park entrance, you have the option of walking about an hour to the beaches or taking a second mini-bus. Another option is to group up with fellow travellers and share a taxi or hop on the daily speed boat from Taganga to Cabo San Lucas.
Around 650 metres above the Caribbean Sea is the peaceful village of Minca which offers a breath of fresh air for travellers coming from Santa Marta. With its cooler climate, coffee and cacao fincas, swimming holes, and waterfalls, Minca is the perfect place to refresh the system and get back to nature. For a long time, Colombia’s military kept visitors away from this tranquil spot but its quickly becoming a tourist hotspot with about a 50/50 split of locals and national and international tourists.
Things to See and do
Visit the Finca’s
Minca is brimming with coffee and cacao plantations, known as fincas. You can brush up your Spanish skills and take a tour of La Candelaria Coffee and Cacao Farm or La Victoria which has been operating since 1892. See how the coffee beans are collected, processed and, of course, taste the finished product.
Dirt roads and forest trails wind their way around the village of Minca and most of them lead to an icy pool of water which stems from sources in the Sierra Nevada. Pozo Azul (Blue Hole) and Las Cascadas de Marinka are both a 1-hour walk from the village centre, but if you feeling lazy then just follow the squeals and splashing and you’ll find your way to the swimming holes below right below the village cafes.
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Los Pinos is a six-hour round trip, there’s a fair amount of uphill on the way but your efforts will be rewarded awesome views and the chance to sit in a gigantic hammock at Casa Elementa. More serious trekkers can head up, up, up, to the Sierra Nevada View Point for a 360-degree view of the Sierra Nevada, Santa Marta, and the Caribbean Coastline.
Top Tip: take a hammock and a blanket and stay to watch the sunrise.
Where to Stay
There are a few options for small guesthouses or campsites, and two hostels, La Case Loma and Casa Elementa. La Casa Loma is closest to the village although it’s still a short uphill hike to this Wi-Fi free spot. Onsite the hostel offers plenty of chill out spaces, vegetarian breakfasts and dinners, and a stunning sunset viewpoint. Travellers get choice of sleeping in wooden cabins, tents or swinging to sleep in a hammock. I personally recommend the latter. Whichever you choose, it’s best to book in advance during peak season.
How to get there
There are no buses to Minca, instead, colectivos (shared taxi’s or jeeps) run continuously from Santa Marta, Calle 11 and Carrera 12, to the centre of the village. The journey takes approximately 1 hour, partly on a dirt track and the last departures are around 6/7 pm.
A quiet fishing village turned tourist hotspot on the outskirts of Santa Marta. Nowadays Taganga is a buzzing hive for international travellers to meet up and party till dawn or gather to watch the sunset. The streets are filled with cheap bars and restaurants serving international cuisine, fresh fruit smoothies, and, of course, alcoholic drinks.
Aside from nightlight Taganga is blessed with natural beauty. The green mountain backdrop and calm beaches are perfect for chilling out with a cool beer or a good book. The small beach in town may be a little disappointing compared to the beaches in Tyrona National Park but fortunately, it’s only a 15-20-minute walk to Playa Grande which boasts sandy beaches and clear waters. Taganga is also a popular place to learn to scuba dive or for newbies to take a cheap dive.
Where to Stay
Taganga may be small but there’s no shortage of hostels in its unpaved streets. Hostel Nevada and La Tortuga Hostel are both comfortable options with swimming pools, onsite bars and rooms with A/C. Casa Mandela and Taganga Paradise Hostel are recommended budget options with free breakfast and Wi-Fi.
How to Get There
Taganga is only 30 minutes from Santa Marta by public bus or shared taxi. As well as a fun weekend getaway spot the town is a convenient stopping point before visiting Tyrona National Park or trekking to the Lost City.
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