While most people flock to larger destinations, like Cartagena, Colombia has several smaller cities that have a much more laid-back vibe. Santa Marta is a coastal city in Colombia, known for its beautiful beaches and natural landscape.
While traveling last year, instead of visiting a more touristy destination, we chose to explore this city instead. Planning a visit to Santa Marta is one of the top things to do in Colombia, especially for a visit to Tayrona National Park. It’s a popular destination for digital nomads, but also a great place for anyone looking for relaxation and adventure.
The cost of living in Santa Marta is 73% lower than in cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, according to International Living, so you can also expect a more affordable getaway.
Close proximity to the ocean means you’ll also have your pick of delicious seafood. There are a ton of restaurants offering everything from local dishes to international cuisine. Personally, I ate well the entire trip and never ate a dull meal.
Although South American beaches don’t have the best standing with travelers, as many aren’t ideal for water activities, that all changes once you arrive in Santa Marta. From wildlife to adventurous excursions, beaches in Santa Marta have a little bit of everything.
Here are some of the most beautiful beaches in Santa Marta, Colombia.
Located in the Tayrona National Park, Playa Blanca is a stunning beach with crystal clear water, white sand, and lush greenery. Tayrona National Park is massive, so there will be several beaches in this round-up located in the park.
Playa Blanca is one of the most popular beaches in the area, so it can get crowded during peak season. Otherwise, this beach is a tranquil escape that local families and tourists alike love.
It’s a good idea to get here early to secure your spot on the beach. Shaded tents line part of the beach and are available for rent. Small huts along the beach sell fresh fish, fruit, drinks, and other small beach essentials. Jet skis, ziplining, and other adventure activities are also up for the daring.
The best advice for Playa Blanca is to prepare for a relaxing beach day with fresh food and your beverage of choice!
Playa Blanca is only accessible by boat. To get there, you’ll first have to take a taxi to Rodadero Beach. From there, walk to the far right – where the boats are – and get a round-trip boat ride to Playa Blanca. The boat ride is about 15 minutes and costs 12,000 COP ($2.50).
Another beach located within the Tayrona National Park, Cabo San Juan Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the region for its stunning views, clear waters, and unique rock formations.
This beach is characterized by big boulders surrounding two bays that calm the current for a perfect swim. Between the lush green landscape and the beautiful sea, you’ll think you’re in another time period. As one of the most popular beaches in Tayrona, this beach can get crowded but it also has some perks that less populated beaches lack.
Because so many visitors come to this beach, there are several vendor stalls selling snacks and beverages – yes, even beer. Unlike other Colombia beaches, which have a reputation for relentless beach vendors, you won’t have to worry about that here. There’s also a restaurant for those looking for a bigger meal at a reasonable price.
A camping ground and hammocks are also available for those seeking an overnight park adventure. We decided to only spend the day here, so you’ll want to have a game plan well before sunset. The only way to get out of the park is to walk back or catch a ride via boat.
Another bonus is the (semi-) easy access to hitch a ride back toward the central part of Santa Marta. The journey to get to Tayrona by taxi is about an hour from central Santa Marta and, after several hours of hiking and beaching, making the journey back to the park entrance was not an option.
Instead of scrambling back through the jungle, we negotiated our way onto one of several small boats that would get us back to Taganga. Fair warning: this is one heck of a choppy adventure that lasts about 45 minutes. It was the scariest, most thrilling, and magical thing I’ve probably done in my life.
After arriving in Taganga, several taxis are available to take you to your final destination. That said, the sunsets at Taganga Beach are out of this world, so be sure to stick around for a beer on the beach as locals play soccer while you’re serenaded by local musicians. It’s the dreamiest way to end the day.
You’ll have to pay the entry fee for Tayrona National Park to access the beach, but it’s so worth it. During high season, the rate for non-Colombians is 64,500 pesos while the low season rate for foreigners is $54,500.
The high season in Colombia is between June to July and December to February.
Once inside the park, you can take a bus for $XXX pesos (highly recommended) or walk 50 minutes to the starting point of the park’s walking trails. At the dropoff point, you can choose between hiking through the park, which is what we did, or seeing the scenery by horse.
A few folks in our crew chose to ride horses, and it took them 30 minutes or so to make it to La Piscina Beach, which is another 30-40 minute walk from Cabo San Juan.
Those of us who walked, on the other hand, took about a little more than 2 hours to get to La Piscina before continuing to Cabo San Juan. Granted, I was traveling with several content creators so we took our time exploring nature and trying to avoid ammo from mischievous monkeys.
You can also get here much quicker by booking a sailing day to the beach. Third-party apps like Viator have several activities available to reserve a boat trip that takes you there from the main marina. I would recommend a sailing day to Bahia Concha because it’s a much more beautiful beach to spend the day, but this option is available.
For those seeking a slower pace, Playa Cristal is the perfect beach for you. Located within the Tayrona National Park, Playa Cristal is a secluded beach with crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, and plenty of marine life.
Formerly known as Playa del Muerto (Beach of the Dead), this beach is particularly special for local indigenous people because it was once used as a sacred burial site. The name was eventually changed, likely to make it more appealing to tourists.
Aside from the chill atmosphere, Playa Cristal is an amazing place for snorkeling. Swim with the fishes – literally – and enjoy exploring the coral reef for the day.
Day trips to Playa Cristal typically depart from either Santa Marta or Taganga. These done-for-you beach tours usually include snorkel equipment, a seafood lunch, and round-trip transfers for your convenience. They may also include a stop at Playa 7 Olas before transferring to a boat that takes you directly to the beach, without the adventurous walk through Parque Tayrona.
Taganga is a small fishing village located just outside of Santa Marta and home to Playa Grande. The beach is characterized by calm waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. While Playa Grande may not be the most picturesque beach in Santa Marta, the vibes at this beach are some of the best you’ll find.
The beach can get busy on the weekends, but for a mid-week afternoon sunset, it’s absolutely perfect. This area used to be a go-to party destination for backpackers, but it’s not as lively as it once was.
Our crew arrived at the beach shortly before sunset and decided to hang around to watch the sun go down. Coming into the beach inlet from Tayrona by boat is hands-down my favorite part of this experience.
The beach is the main attraction here so we grabbed a few drinks from a nearby market and found a spot along the beach to relax after the day at Tayrona. Not long after our arrival, locals began playing soccer on the beach. A local musician serenaded us and other passersby. As the sun lit up the sky with shades of orange and red, we hung out until the evening and negotiated rides with standing taxis to take us back to our Airbnb.
Getting to Taganga is easy by bus, taxi, or Uber, and takes about 10 minutes to get over the hill from Santa Marta. The taxi rides are around $3-4. You can catch a bus from the market in downtown Santa Marta if you’re heading over during the day.
Taxis hang around the beach’s main strip, so getting a ride back should also be fairly easy (don’t forget to pack a little pocket change!).
Rodadero Beach is located in the heart of Santa Marta. It has calm waters, golden sand, and plenty of restaurants and bars nearby. Tall residential towers make this beach feel closer to that of something in Miami but with a Colombian touch.
This area has a wide range of nearby hotels, resorts, and tourist activities to get into. Vendors line the beach to sell food and beverage options; prices vary so shop around. Water sports like diving, sailing, and paddle boarding are some of the top water sports available.
This beach is great for people-watching although its waters are not as dazzling as others on the list. Because it’s a beach in the city proper, be mindful that you’ll likely deal with more beach vendors and a much busier beach.
As the most touristy beach on the list, this isn’t the best place for relaxation. You will definitely have to keep your head on a swivel and watch your belongings. However, it’s great when you might be limited on time or just want to take a quick walk from your accommodations.
Accessing Rodadero Beach is simple by bus or taxi. If you’re staying nearby, it may also only be a short walk away. Traveling by bus costs around 1,600 COP (~ $0.36) and depends on the duration of the journey. Taxi is a quicker and easier way to get there, although the starting rate is 10,000 COP, or $2.22.
Bahia Concha is another beach located within Tayrona National Park. Its calm waters, gorgeous views, and peaceful atmosphere make it one of the beaches Santa Marta has to offer. It was undeniably one of the dreamiest beaches I’ve ever been to and the perfect way to spend a relaxing day in the sun (or shade).
On our last day in Santa Marta, we booked a sailboat tour that started at Marina Santa Marta. It was a public tour, so after waiting for everyone to board the boat, we set sail to Bahia Concha. The ride was epic – the waves even more – so those with motion sickness should plan ahead or skip this activity.
As you sail toward the shore, it can feel (almost) like you’re pulling up to your very own private beach. There are usually a few other boats on the beach, while most visitors arrive by private car or taxi.
Similar to other beaches, there are also vendors here, however, not as many as those closer to the city center. Order a fresh fruit beverage and enjoy it while sunbathing or sitting in the shade.
Bahia Concha is perfect for sun lovers as well as those who actively avoid it. Unlike many beaches, trees line the shore of Bahia Concha, providing plenty of space to find the right spot for your crew.
Because its ecosystem is fragile, daily visitor limits are restricted to 2,000 per day. Bahia Concha is only open to the public on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Access Bahia Concha by private car or how we got there – by sailboat. By car or boat, the commute from Santa Marta to Bahia Concha is about 30 minutes. For budget-conscious travelers or those who want a more local experience, you can also take a taxi or public bus.
Santa Marta sailboat tours are easily booked by visiting attraction-booking sites like Viator and typically costs $50-60 USD. Although it’s a group tour, with 25 passengers max, the fresh grilled fish lunch and friendly staff make it feel as though you chartered a private boat. If you’re looking for a great way to spend the day, this is definitely the way to go. Once at the beach, you’ll have time to swim, snorkel or hang out on the beach, before returning to Santa Marta in the late afternoon.
Overall, Santa Marta is home to a variety of stunning beaches, each with their own unique charm and beauty. While not all are made equal, each of the recommended beaches has a vibe to suit most preferences. There are a few tips that are helpful to know when planning your beach days in Colombia.
Make sure to bring some cash with you, no matter which beach you decide to visit. Most vendors you’ll encounter along the way won’t take cards, so you’ll want to make sure you have what you need for snacks, taxis, and other similar costs.
Always pack a snack (or two) in case you need it. There’s nothing worse than hunger pains you can’t shake because you’re in a remote area with little or no food options. Whether it’s a bag of nuts, chips, or a granola bar, there will come a time during your trip when it’s all you’ve got.
Don’t forget your sunscreen! It may be tempting to soak in the beautiful rays of Colombia’s sunshine, but protecting your skin is still important. You’ll be much closer to the equator, depending on where you’re traveling from, and the sun is particularly strong here.
Insurance is mandatory (at some beaches). For beaches located inside Tayrona National Park, you’ll be required to purchase medical insurance, even if you already have travel insurance. Thankfully, it’s pretty inexpensive at only 5,000 Colombian pesos (or $1.11). This fee is paid at the park entrance, but it’s something to keep in mind when planning for cash expenses.
Planning a trip to Colombia soon and looking for firsthand picks of things to do, where to stay, and places to eat? Below are several other resources to help you navigate Santa Marta and other parts of Colombia with ease.