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As Colombia’s premier beach destination, Santa Marta has plenty of fun things on offer to keep travelers busy. Our top picks? Trekking to lesser-known ruins, discovering sea life while scuba diving and tucking into lobster and ceviche from street-food stalls. Read on for our list of the best things to see and do in Santa Marta.
Ceviche, fresh fruit and lobster are all widely available from the ubiquitous street-food stalls at Santa Marta Market. There are more than 500 vendors selling food and other goods, such as gifts and clothing, for pennies on the dollar. Fancy a sit-down meal? Head to the ocean promenade known as Avenida Bastidas for an outdoor dining experience with ocean views.
You can’t get far in Colombia without learning about Simón Bolívar. The revolutionary figure is famous for liberating the nation and is commemorated with various parks and statues across the country. Santa Marta is particularly important in Bolívar’s story, as he lived and spent his final days here in his grand hacienda mentioned above. With its landscaped gardens and ocean views, this peaceful park lies in the heart of the city and is a favorite meeting spot for locals.
Learn about Colombia’s diverse marine life at the Rodadero Sea Aquarium and Museum, established by Captain Francisco Ospina Navia in 1966. The park is home to tropical fish, dolphins, sea turtles and sharks, 98 percent of which are native to the area. The aquarium is accessible by boat from Playa El Rodadero, one of Santa Marta’s best stretches of sand.
Parque del Agua opened in 2020. It was designed by urban regeneration architect Alejandro Arizmendi and offers sporting courts and climbing walls, a skate park and splash areas where kids can run in and out of fountains to cool off. The park is great for evening visits when the fountain lights up and the ice-cream parlor is in full swing.
Named for the famous explorer Christopher Columbus, this mountain is Colombia’s highest, rising 18,799ft (5,730m) into the sky. The peak is part of the mystical Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta range, home to indigenous communities and barely visited by tourists. You’ll need to book a tour through a licensed adventure company to visit. Choose one that works with local tribes to provide ethical treks in this sacred region, where you’ll find tropical forests, sparkling alpine lakes and glaciers.
Experience a slice of local Santa Marta life at Parque San Miguel on the outskirts of town; this is where city residents come to hang out in the evenings. Watch older men take part in heated chess tournaments, catch a weekly basketball game or join an energetic Zumba class in this tree-shaded park. There are also several flower stands for people visiting the cemetery next door, which was relocated to the area in 1789.
Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.