Santa Marta has the honour of being the oldest Spanish city in Colombia. The area was initially chosen because its nearby bay was deemed sufficiently safe, however, eventually more convinient passages were established to the colonial routes heading southwards and so people gravitated towards Cartagena, leaving Santa Marta behind and developing Cartagena into the important, beautiful port it is today. It’s true that because of this, Santa Marta lacks the architectural draw of Cartagena, but it also imbues the city with a sense of being undiscovered.
Indeed, mass international tourism has more or less escaped Santa Marta and, as such, it retains its laid-back, quiet atmosphere. Moreover, it still boasts plenty of points of interest for the traveler, such as the small historic center which houses Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino – the final resting place of Simon Bolivar. Other places of interest include the Customs House, where you’ll find a fine collection of gold and pottery from the Tayronas; the impressive San Francisco Church; the Museum of the Sea and the aquarium found at El Rodadero.
The main draw of Santa Marta is undoubtedly the ease of access to several nearby places of interest. The two most important of these are Tayrona National Park and Sierra Nevada (where you’ll also find the Lost City). As if demonstrating Colombia’s immense diversity in a microcosm, the peaks of Sierra Nevada are permantly snow-capped, yet they rest only a short distance from the Colombian Caribbean coast at Tayrona National Park. Both regions are accessible on day-trips, although the tourist is recommended to seek accommodation for both trips in order to maximise their experience.