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Located on the northern coast of Colombia, Santa Marta is a vital port that also serves as a tourist destination. Its beaches are known for offering fantastic views of the Caribbean Sea and access to a string of small islands. As the borders with Panama and Venezuela are within reachable distance, visiting more South American countries than just Colombia is possible.
Who to Book With
There are three car hire companies currently operating in Santa Marta, all of which are located slightly north of the town centre. Car Rental Barranquilla, Localiz Rent a Car and Best Western Atlantis Suites offer services here. Making an online booking before arrival in Colombia generally brings down the cost of car hire.
Best Time to Go
While other parts of Colombia may have specific advice for the best time to visit, Santa Marta's location on the Caribbean coast means that the town enjoys a pleasant climate regardless of the month. Generally, the dry season is experienced from December to March and then from July to August. In this town, car rental and hotel rates shouldn't change depending on the time of year.
Need to Know Essentials
Whenever collecting a hire vehicle, the following must be shown upon arrival:
- International Driving Permit alongside a United Kingdom driver’s licence
- Passport or other form of valid photo identification
- The same credit card that was used to make the reservation
- Confirmation of the reservation, such as a print-out
As a busy port city that is popular with tourists and offers beaches, Santa Marta is notorious for its traffic – especially on weekends when Colombians from around the north of the country flee their own towns and cities for the sands. Streets are numbered and run from north to south, with 1st Street and 2nd Street the closest to the beach. Parking a vehicle safely is well-advised here.
Our Guide to Colombia contains more detailed driving information.
For a tourist town, public transport is limited and restricted to just buses and taxis. Foreign tourists are generally not advised to use the buses and taxis, which can be expensive as they are unmetered, making car hire more essential than in many other destinations.
Santa Marta is without its own internal rail system. The National Railways of Colombia has been liquidated since the 1990s, so train travel between Colombian cities is not possible at the time of writing.
There are private bus companies that offer transport around Santa Marta, while a few entrepreneurs offer transport in minibuses, known as busetas. Typical fares are around £0.40 per person but foreign tourists are at risk of drawing attention to themselves when using public transport.
Taxis are arguably the safest form of public transport but tourists must still be cautious when using them and should rely on drivers which are recommended by their hotel or a Colombian friend they trust. Taxis are usually painted yellow and are unmetered. A typical minimum fare stands at around £1.25.
Situated on the northern Caribbean Sea coast, Santa Marta is an ideally located tourist destination from where trips to a small set of islands are possible. Those with a reliable hire vehicle can also take advantage of the destination's close proximity to Panama and Venezuela, as well as domestic highlights, including the capital Bogota.
Baranquilla – Heading 2 hours west of Santa Marta along the A90 leads tourists to Baranquilla, one of the highlights of northern Colombia. Unique Caribbean Sea views are offered as visitors venture over a vast bridge connecting the two cities, while jungle-like, mountainous terrain is also witnessed on this drive.
Bogota – Although the trip south to the Colombian capital may take an astonishing 15 hours, it is worthwhile as many regard the journey as the best way to see the best Colombia has to offer in terms of natural beauty. Plenty of stop-offs can be made in small towns along the way – the perfect way to meet authentic Colombians and practice your Spanish skills!
Venezuela – The border shared with Colombia's eastern neighbour can be reached in just a few hours. Although the Venezuelan capital Caracas takes much more time to reach than the border, the nearest town of note, Maracaibo, makes for a closer alternative. Those that head east and then slightly north to Punto Fijo can head off to the independent island of Aruba.