The sultry beach town of Santa Marta, east of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is the oldest city in South America. It’s a hidden gem, and though it may lack Cartagena’s picture-perfect cobbled streetscapes, it makes up for it with a laidback vibe, sunny waterfront, and historical richness. In recent years it has witnessed a resurgence with a spruced-up colonial quarter, sparkling new marina, and flocks of tourists eager to sunbathe in the upscale El Rodadero resort or explore the gorgeous scenery of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona.
Things to Do
Recently revamped Plaza de Bolivar and Parque Santander is where you will find the Museo del Oro and the luminous Cathedral, the oldest on the continent. Be sure to visit Bolivar’s last residence, Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, and spend an afternoon at the brash, modern beach resort El Rodadero, where the country’s wealthy come to play in a high-rise playground overlooking the sea.
Restaurants and Dining
For some of the city’s best seafood try the lovely courtyard restaurant Donde Chucho, in front of Parque Santander. Or try the French eatery Basiliea, also in the laidback town center. For sheer romance, indulge in a sunset dinner in the clifftop Burukuka, near El Rodadero.
Sunrise could have you scuba diving in the nearby Taganga bay, rich with marine life and isolated beaches. Further up the coast is Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a protected jungle and gorgeous coastline running up to what is the tallest coastal mountain range in the world, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is ideal for hiking. The truly adventurous can take the 6-day hike to Colombia’s version of Macchu Pichu, known as Ciudad Perdida.
There is no better way to end the day than on the city’s expansive waterfront, which often frames a perfect sunset. Locals flock here to enjoy the sand, surf, and ice cream. On weekends live salsa bands can frequently be heard playing along the Avenida Rodrigo de Bastidas.