Practical Information

Practical guide for the traveler visiting Santa Marta

Maximize your experience in Santa Marta with our recommendations and travel tips: enjoy, explore, get to know and live unforgettable and safe moments in this charming Caribbean city. Your perfect trip is waiting for you!

High Season:

  • December – January
  • Easter
  • June – August
  • October – Recess Week

Lines and crowds of people at beaches and tourist destinations, especially on holidays.

A good period to attend concerts, spontaneous cultural events and festivals in tourist areas of the city.

Medium Season: Time between low and high season.

  • May
  • November

Good promotions for these months in lodging and tours.

There are not as many people at tourist destinations and attractions as in high season.

Low Season:

  • February
  • March – April (except Easter week)
  • September
  • October (except recess week)

Special offers on travel, tours and lodging.

There are not as many crowds at tourist destinations and attractions.

Bringing money and goods to Colombia

In addition to their personal belongings, each visitor is entitled to bring money and goods to Colombia. Whether or not they are tax exempt will depend on the following conditions:

Maximum of US$10,000 or equivalent in any other currency.

Items for family or personal use in non-commercial quantities up to US$1,500.

Items for household, sporting, artistic, professional or work-related use of the traveler, up to a maximum of 3 items of each type, with a value of up to US$2,500.


The Colombian peso (COP$) is the unit of currency in Colombia.

Banknotes in circulation are as follows: COP$2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 and $100,000.

And the coins are $100, $200, $500, and $1000. The $50 coins are rarely used.

Currency exchange is limited in the city, so use ATM cards (the conversion rate will not vary much).

Debit and credit cards can be used almost everywhere except for some rural areas. Visa and MasterCard are accepted in many places.

ATMs are available and usually accept foreign cards (check transaction fees).

ATM withdrawal limits range from $400,000 to $600,000 per transaction, but vary.

If you must use an ATM at night, try to use one inside a shopping mall or at a tourist attraction.

Carry enough cash for payments in rural areas or outdoor activities.

Passport is required for any banking transaction. You will also have to put your fingerprint.

VAT refund

All foreign tourists are entitled to a VAT refund on products purchased, such as local handicrafts, toys, linens, household appliances, footwear, leather goods, jewelry, emeralds, etc.

International Transfers

The main options are Efecty and Western Union for international transfers. Transfers with bank intervention require a lot of paperwork and are time consuming.

Always carry a photo ID and the numbered password that will be given to the sender when you are at the receiving end.

Both services have offices in major cities and small towns.


Bargaining is limited to informal trade, street vendors and local markets.

Cabs have customary fixed fares, but are generally not metered, so it is possible to negotiate on certain long-distance services.


Local regulations establish that the service charge must be previously authorized by the customers. In high/mid season, waiters in restaurants usually ask if they can add the 10% service charge to the bill.

Low Budget: Less than $100,000

  • Shared dormitory: COP $30,000 – $50,000
  • Lunch (corrientazo): $10.000 – $15.000
  • Bus fare: $2,300
  • Beer: $3.500

Average Budget: $100,000 – $250,000

  • Double bedroom in a mid-range hotel: $70,000 – $200,000
  • Main course in tourist and mid-range restaurants: $25.000 – $40.000
  • Short cab ride: $8,000 – $10,000
  • Cab to airport: $35.000 – $45.000

Ato Budget: More than $250,000

  • Double room in a 4/5 star hotel: $250.000 – $800.000
  • A la carte meal with wine for two people: + $250.000
  • Private tours: $350.000 – $800.000
  • One-day boat rental: $1.000.000 – $3.000.000

Air travel with pets:

After arriving in Colombia and completing the DIAN form, registering the entry of the pet, the traveler must go to the ICA Health Office at the airport with the following documentation:

  • Health certificate signed by a veterinarian within the last eight days.
  • Current vaccination certificate.
  • Veterinary certificate guaranteeing that the animal has not shown symptoms of rabies in the 48 hours prior to shipment.
  • For local flights: internal travel certificate and vaccination certificate issued by a veterinarian.


  • Most hotels and restaurants offer Wi-Fi.
  • Internet is limited in rural areas; download the necessary information to ensure availability.

Mobile Phones

  • Buy a Colombian SIM to have mobile data almost anywhere in Colombia (COP $10,000 + data plan).
  • Local SIM cards can be used in unlocked international phones.
  • The main operators are Claro, Movistar and Tigo.

Opening hours

Opening hours are standard throughout the year:

  • Banks: 8:30 am – 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm; Except Saturdays from 8:00 am – 12:00 pm
  • Restaurants: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm / until midnight on weekends
  • Coffees: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
  • Nightclubs: 9:00 pm – 2:30 am
  • Stores: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm

Spanish language

  • As in any other Latin American country, English is not widely spoken in Colombia.
  • The best restaurants, tour operators and accommodations may have English-speaking customer service in major tourist areas.
  • As the Lonely Planet guides mention, in the countryside and off the beaten tourist track, you will need to master some basic phrases to get around and enhance your experience.
  • The efforts to speak Spanish are appreciated by the locals and are a good way to connect with them.


  • Greet – To shake hands and say hello, good morning, good afternoon or good night to strangers.
  • Introductions – When people of the opposite sex or two women introduce themselves, it is customary to exchange a kiss on the right cheek. The men shake hands.
  • Use usted (you) with formal company; use tu (you) with friends and children.
  • Ask for help – Say excuse me to get attention; use permission when you want to make your way or pass in a crowded space.

Important Numbers

From outside Colombia, dial your international access code, the country code for Colombia (57) and then the number.

  • Colombia country number 57
  • International access code 00
  • Directory Assistance 113
  • Ambulance, fire and police 123

List of documents:

  • Carry a passport valid for at least 6 months prior to your arrival date.
  • Check if your insurance covers all planned activities and the northern coastal region.
  • Purchase extreme sports insurance.
  • It is recommended to have a yellow fever certificate.
  • Inform your credit or debit card company that you will be traveling to avoid pre-emptive blocking.
  • Review the COVID-19 regulations.


Essential elements:

  • Sunscreen.
  • Rain poncho.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • All-terrain/hiking footwear.
  • A small waterproof daypack.
  • Flashlight.
  • Combination padlock.
  • Medical kit.
  • Universal power adapter.

What to wear:

  • Santa Marta is very casual and you will find few dress restrictions.
  • Standard social norms apply when referring to high-end restaurants and religious sites, among others.
  • Wear elegant shoes and clothes if you plan to dine well or dance the night away at a fancy or high-end nightclub.

Reservation advice:

  • Do not make reservations with close connections to Santa Marta.
  • Most international flights arrive via Bogota, Medellin and Cali; you will need to book an extra flight to get to Santa Marta.
  • Barranquilla and Cartagena airports are also international. To transfer to Santa Marta, you can choose one of the following options (from Barranquilla / from Cartagena).
  • Bus: COP $20.000 / COP $40.000
  • Door to door van service: COP $60.000 / COP $100.000
  • Cab / Private driver: COP $350.000 / COP $600.000
  • Car rental: one-day rentals range from low rates ($180,000) and may include additional charges when the drop-off destination is not the same as the pick-up location.
  • Always check flight prices when departing from Santa Marta.
  • Local flight prices do not vary much when compared to inter-city bus ticket prices.
  • Book early, the most popular activities, such as the Lost City hike, and the best-rated accommodations fill up quickly in high season.

Bus transportation:

The bus station is the ‘Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta’ and is about 25 minutes from downtown.

Santa Marta is very well connected to the rest of Colombia with constant mobility of buses going to and from:

  • Medellín (15 hours)
  • Bogotá (17 hours)
  • Cali (1 day)
  • Bucaramanga (10 hours)
  • Cartagena (5 hours)
  • Barranquilla (2 hours)

Transportation in Minavan:

If you are in a city near Santa Marta, you can take a minivan, which is a faster means of transportation than the bus and the best of all is that you are dropped off at the door of your accommodation or in the center of the city.

  • Cartagena (4 hours) to Santa Marta – COP $140.000
  • Barranquilla (1.5 hours) to Santa Marta – COP $60.000


Santa Marta is served by the small but modern Simon Bolivar airport with frequent flights from Medellin, Bogota and Cali to Santa Marta. Prices vary significantly according to season and schedule, although it is common to find low fares to Santa Marta.

If you can’t find a cheap flight to Santa Marta and want to avoid long bus rides, try flying to Barranquilla and then taking transportation to Santa Marta.

The city center is 35 minutes from the airport and is easily accessible. Cabs charge $35,000 and bus fares are $2,500.

Santa Marta offers lodging options for all budgets, budget hostels, apartments, excellent hotels, ecotourism lodges in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta or the Tayrona Park, cabins or farms in exclusive areas of the city.

Book your accommodation in Santa Marta in advance during peak holiday seasons, religious festivities or cultural events.

Hostels: There is a great availability of this type of lodging in Santa Marta, usually the stay in these establishments is shared. Backpacker and group tourism is booming in Santa Marta. Hostels commonly have shared rooms costing around COP $35,000 to COP $50,000 per person and some have private dormitories for COP $80,000 to COP $150,000.

Hotels: Hotels in Santa Marta are generally lodging establishments with better facilities and amenities than a hostel, are categorized with stars according to the quality of services and generally offer private and family rooms.

The cheapest hotels tend to be clustered in the less touristy areas of the city, where a private room with air conditioning and cable TV costs between COP $120,000 and COP $180,000.

Medium category hotels: Some international hotel chains have opened in Santa Marta these establishments, generally 3 – 4 stars and attract mainly business travelers or family groups.

High-end hotels: There is a large influx of luxury hotels and resorts with swimming pools at the foot of the Caribbean Sea.

Most of the 5-star hotels are in the best tourist areas of the city and in the southern tourist corridor (Bello Horizonte and Airport areas).

Resorts: There are a few package resorts in Santa Marta, mainly frequented by Colombians and are usually excellent value for money.

Eco Luxury Hotels: Luxury Eco Hotels and glampings are growing in Santa Marta and usually, they offer complete wellness and comfort packages.

Most of these eco-hotels are located in the Tayrona Park, Los Naranjos and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Camping areas: If you are a traveler who likes adventure, Tayrona Park is a great destination with many places to camp.

VAT exemption

Recent regulations exempt some traveler-oriented services from taxes (19% VAT on accommodation, for example). Although foreign travelers staying in Colombia for less than 60 days should not pay the lodging tax, some hotels do charge it. In such a case, it is possible to refund the VAT before leaving the country at the airport offices of the National Tax and Customs Directorate (DIAN).

Santa Marta is an ideal destination for backpackers, as it has many inexpensive lodging options that will allow you to save money to enjoy other experiences. Santa Marta is traditionally used by backpackers as a waypoint for the Tayrona and the Lost City hikes.

However, the growing popularity and diversity of the city has led travelers to expand their itineraries and add a few extra days to fully enjoy Santa Marta.

There is also an extensive volunteer network, with many backpackers staying in hostels or working in cafes and tour operators.

In this destination you will find a great variety of typical dishes, and among the most important we can mention the carimañolas of meat or cheese, the arepas de huevo which are a type of tortillas that are filled with raw egg and accompanied with spicy chili.

Dishes based on seafood are part of the typical menu of the coast that you cannot miss, accompanied by rice with coconut and green guineo or plantain patacones.

As in most of the country, it is customary to accompany any dish with refreshing fruit juices and a rich coffee. typical sweets such as cocadas and enyucados are a very important part of the gastronomic identity of the region.

In Santa Marta you can enjoy a wide variety of restaurants, but you should definitely visit the BK del Rodadero restaurant, where the gastronomic experience is combined with wonderful views of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea.

Vallenato is a traditional musical genre that emerged from the fusion of cultural expressions of northern Colombia: songs of the cowboys of the Magdalena Grande, songs of the African slaves and rhythms of traditional dances of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Santa Marta has a mainly dry tropical climate, with an average annual temperature of 27 ºC (81ºF). Average temperatures do not vary much throughout the year; however, the city has a distinct dry and rainy season. February is the driest month and October the rainiest, both with an average temperature of 28 ºC (82ºF).

  • North-south oriented streets are called Carreras (Cra, Cr or Kr).
  • East-west oriented streets are called Calles (Cll, Cl or C).
  • Diagonal streets (Diagonales: east – west or Transversales: north – south) complement the main street system.
  • Streets are numbered and the numerical address system is used.
  • Each address consists of a series of numbers, p. e.g. Calle 6 No 12-35 (meaning the building on Calle 6, 35 meters from the corner of Carrera 12 towards Carrera 13).

The following dates are considered holidays in Colombia.

New Year

January 1

The Magi

January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6* January 6

San Jose

March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19* March 19

Maundy Thursday & Good Friday. The following Monday is also a holiday.


Labor Day

May 1

The Ascension of the Lord


Corpus Christi

May/June* May/June

Sacred Heart of Jesus


St. Peter and St. Paul

June 29* June 29* June 29* June 29

Independence Day

July 20

Battle of Boyacá

August 7

The Assumption of Our Lady

August 15

Columbus Day

October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12* October 12

All Saints

November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1* November 1

Independence of Cartagena

November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11* November 11

Immaculate Conception

December 8


December 25

It is no longer unusual to see more and more women traveling alone in Colombia and Santa Marta is one of the main destinations.

Tourist sites in Santa Marta are relatively safe, however, as you should do in other destinations, precautions should be taken, so always check with locals or share your plans at the hotel for guidance.

Avoid showing your cell phone if you are in lonely places, as in most places throughout Latin America, and be on the lookout for pickpockets.

There are very few women’s residence halls, so check your accommodation in advance if that is your preference.

  • Very few foreigners travel with children in Colombia, but family travel is gaining popularity.
  • Almost all attractions in Colombia offer discounted admission for children.
  • Baby changing facilities are not standard for public restrooms and are rare in men’s restrooms.
  • Breastfeeding in public remains controversial in some sectors of Colombian society, although educational programs are noticing that attitudes are slowly changing.
  • Compared to some Latin American countries, homosexuality is well tolerated in Colombia (it was declared legal by the government in 1981), especially in Santa Marta.
  • There is a considerable LGBTIQ+ nightlife scene in Santa Marta, but it is discreet, and discretion is advised with public displays of affection.

Colombia suffered from an internal armed conflict for more than 50 years. As a result, the country was labeled with stereotypes of widespread violence and drugs. However, on November 24, 2016, Colombian President Santos signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas to end the internal armed conflict. The peace agreement is the result of four years of negotiation.

Colombia has greatly improved its security in recent decades and is now much safer to visit than it was several years ago, but, as everywhere, it still has its dangers. Therefore, you should consider the following measures:

  • Street crime is the main problem for travelers in major cities, including Santa Marta. Robberies and pickpockets can get violent. Be vigilant, especially if you are in a public place frequented by tourists or near official buildings.
  • Avoid lonely areas of the city.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Use caution when walking or driving in areas where there is little police presence.
  • Do not carry large amounts of money, or wear expensive watches or jewelry.
  • Avoid using your cell phone on the street.
  • Whenever possible, make reservations in advance for cabs or official operators.
  • Do not leave your drinks alone in public places, nor accept drinks or food from strangers.
  • Do not invite strangers to your lodging or residence.
  • Monitor the local security situation.
  • Avoid drugs.
  • Check that the ATM has not been modified or compromised and avoid using ATMs on lonely streets or at night.

Although Santa Marta is steadily improving its accessibility, it can still be a challenging destination for people with disabilities outside the main urban area.

However, new modern infrastructure, such as the Camellones in downtown and Rodadero, are designed to universal standards and are expected to become major tourist attractions.

Many restaurants and hotels are installing ramps for people with mobility disabilities and, in general, large chain hotels have more accessible rooms.

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