Our guide-book says this about Santa Marta (photos): “The city’s glory days are long past, faded away under newer concrete buildings and a somewhat seedy reputation. That said, Santa Marta is not without its charms.” This town of 400,000 sits on the Caribbean coast near the border with Venezuela. It attracts Colombian families looking for a weekend beach escape. They come to Santa Marta and to El Rodadero just to the west. Santa Marta sits on a part of the coastline that juts out to the north giving it a west-facing beach.
To contrast the positives to the negatives, in many areas the streets are broken with big holes in places and standing water. Many of the sidewalks are broken and dirty. There is a relatively new plaza just across from the beach that you can see is already starting to show neglect. The waterfront plaza has big holes that have been dug for some long forgotten reason and dirty standing water in what was apparently intended to be a fountain. On the other hand, about three blocks in from the beach, there is a pedestrian street with a few very nice restaurants and bars. Past the front doors of many of the old buildings, the insides have been restored or rebuilt to be very nice. It just makes you think about what elements have to be in place for a community to maintain itself.
Most international travelers use Santa Marta as a staging point for either Cuidad Perdida or Parque Tayrona. Cuidad Perdida is the “lost city” high in the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, one of the largest pre-Colombian towns ever discovered with its origin dating to the 7th century. The only way to see it is to take a 6 day backpacking trip. At times in the past it was considered dangerous but now Colombian military keep a watch on the trail and various tour providers arrange the trip. It’s not something you do on your own. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona sits along the Caribbean coast to the east of Santa Marta and encompasses shoreline and sea for about 35 km of coastline.
Our visit to Santa Marta was very low-key since I came down with a cold just after we arrived and didn’t really feel like getting out and about much. So we settled for just milling around town and checking out El Rodadero.
Our next objective was to get to Medellin. Since Colombia is actually a large country, travel times by bus can be quite long. The trip from Cartagena to Medellin is 13 hours, 16 hours from Santa Marta to Medellin. Although Colombia is pretty safe for travel, I’m not crazy about overnight bus trips or arriving in a city for the first time too late at night. So even from Cartagena, the trip would put us arriving in Medellin kind of late. So we decided to fly from Santa Marta to Medellin. We were able to book a mid-day flight with Avianca for a little over $100 each. Flight time is about 1 hour.
The airport is about 18km south of town. From the center of town we were able to hop a bus that would take us there for about $1 each. About 2/3 of the way the bus stopped and the driver got out and examined the right rear tire and apparently didn’t like what he saw so we all had to get off the bus. We only had to wait about 2 minutes for another bus that was able to take everyone the rest of the way. We got checked in and once the time came, boarded and had a very nice flight to Medellin. The airport in Medellin is about 40km out of the city. Once again, there’s a bus that goes into central Medellin. We got the bus with only a short wait and took the 40 minute ride. Once there, we got a taxi to make the relatively short trip to our hotel. Next, we’ll give you our impressions of Medellin.