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Exploring Santa Marta. Pandemic-Inclusive

Santiago is a colombian getting to know his country a bit better, wanting to share Colombia's wonders with the world.

A must-visit city

Santa Marta, located on the caribbean coast of Colombia, offers a perfect touristical destination for all ages. Starting with beautiful beaches, a nice aquarium, lovely sunsets, peaceful walks, night life and even a snowy mountain near the beach, Santa Marta is a place where you would love to stay. Forever.

Geographical location of Santa Marta.

Geographical location of Santa Marta.

Where?

I have traveled several times to Santa Marta (SMA) since I was little, and the last time I went, I had to see how different it was while going through a pandemic.

First, Santa Marta is located up north in Colombia, near the last department (territorial organization, similar to a province or state) La Guajira, and being the capital of Magdalena, another department. Santa Marta was founded in 1525, and was used as an important port for spanish conquerors, until the city was victim of pirates, who ultimately destroyed the city and made the attention migrate to other famous cities like Cartagena.

The city presents different important sectors, with high turistical presence and with a good infrastructure to make the city more appealing for visitors. Besides, the not very modern urban transportation, connects these different sectors precisely, making it a non-expensive destination for Colombian and international tourists. Also, intra-departamental transportation comes in handy when looking to visit different destinations like Parque Tayrona, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (both in Magdalena) or even Palomino and Buritaca, located up north in La Guajira.

Everytime I've traveled there, I've been able to stay in the sector called Pozos Colorados, near to the airport and containing most of the cities 3+ star hotels and luxurious private apartments, which means beaches are not that crowded. Nonetheless, the options for hotel are not limited, and in sectors like El Rodadero or in Santa Marta (city's center and where most natives live) you can find cheap options, as well as hostals and Airbnbs.

What?

To pack

Of course, when going to the beach, you need to carry sunscreen. Obviously you can buy it in any local supermarket, but I know people who like theirs sunscreen better. Friendly reminder: apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before exposure, and don't forget to apply again after swimming. On the same page, remember sun glasses and hats/caps, to have better protection.

When going out, you can go in flip flops (except for long-walks, mentioned later) and you should remember hydration as always. On the beach, I recommend to carry a bag (preferably water proof), to store all your belongings and protect them from strong winds, sand, water and, sometimes, from anyone who would like to take a free iPhone from the sand.

Finally, and motivated by my own experiences, I recommend you to pack hydrating lotion (if you don't want to buy it there). Either for sunburns, or for diaper-rash from walking with wet clothing, lotion can save your life. Of course these pandemic days, you have to pack your face mask. USE YOUR FACE MASK.

To do

Depending on your companions, your preferences and your budget, some plans might have to be adjusted.

First, and simpler: BEACH. No matter the sector, if you have the opportunity, go to the beach. I recommend Pozos Colorados' beach more because it is lonelier, cleaner and, to me, more beautiful than the ones of El Rodadero (a lot more people) and Santa Marta. If you're not staying there, you can take a bus that goes to the airport for $2.000 pesos, almost 50 cents, and ask the driver to leave you in Pozos Colorados. Normally, entrance is free. With Covid-19 restrictions, you can use the beach in certain time frames, not able to do it normally at mid-day, but being able to enter with your mask, and after a little sprinkle of alcohol.

If you are not amused enough with the weather, the sun, the wind and the sea, you should find different natives trying to sell some amusement options for tourists. Jet-skis ($50-70.000 pesos, $15-25 dollars for 20 minutes), inflatable banana ($15-20.000 pesos, $5-7 dollars each person) or little surfboard for kids (you can buy them as well as inflatable floaters) are amongst the options for amusement. Always bargain and never accept first offers.

Santa Marta's sunset, from an apartment in Pozos Colorados.

Santa Marta's sunset, from an apartment in Pozos Colorados.

What?

If you're tired from the beach experience, you can go to Santa Marta's Aquarium, located in El Rodadero. I went as a kid and it was awesome, so I recommend attending with kids. That may take up to 3 hours, so you could go before lunch, and eat in the area and walk on the afternoon. You should find many local artisans selling bracelets, hand woven bags ("mochilas") and many other souvenirs from Santa Marta. Due to Covid, remember to wear your mask, not to touch many things and to keep social distancing.

Besides this, you can take a bus to Santa Marta, and it should leave you near the pier (now closed due to the pandemic), where you can find more artisans and more cultural manifestations. A couple blocks away, you should find El Parque de los Novios (Couple's Park). The least atractive part is the actual park, but its surrounding streets show the city's best restaurants, bars and some hostels, specially for foreigners to go. Eating full meals in these restaurants could cost from $30-70.000 pesos, which represent $10-30 dollars. Also, I recommend going at night because the sky tends to be blue, the weather is fresh and you can go cocktailing in nice spots. During the pandemic, the mayor's office decided that these places had to shut at 7 pm and general curfew at 8 pm, so probably you won't be able to enjoy a beautiful night, but it would be a beautiful afternoon. Remember to use your mask.

Regarding historical visits, you can go to La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, an old farm from the 17th century, where Simón Bolívar (martyr who fought the Spanish for independence) lived his last days and died. Also you can visit the Museo del Oro Tairona Casa de la Aduana, which contains some of Santa Marta's history and culture to appreciate.

Finally, you can go to Parque Tayrona, by bus, but that will be on another article, so keep tuned!

Me having a lovely dinner at El Parque de Los Novios.

Me having a lovely dinner at El Parque de Los Novios.

What?

To eat

Colombian food is a blast, and one of the best cuisines comes from the caribbean. The usage of coconut, fruits, and several varieties of seafood, combine to create delicious dishes, available of course in Santa Marta.

When eating seafood, probably you'll get Donde Chucho as a recommendation, and don't get me wrong, the place is nice and the food is good, but it's overpriced. Nonetheless, if you have some tens of dollars to spare, you can find the restaurant either in El Rodadero or better, in one of the corners in El Parque de los Novios. Regardless of the restaurant, you must try a shrimp cocktail, fried plantains and seafood rice, hoping that it is full with rice.

Also, even though it's not very glamorous, you can find people that sell lunch on the beach. Complete lunchs. For around $7-12 dollars, you should be able to find a plate with rice (white or coconut rice), cold salad, fried plantain and, most importantly, fried fish. You can choose the fish normally, and I recommend mojarra, with lots of lemon. During the pandemic I was not very into eating outside of the apartment, and I'm not quite sure that they are allowed to sell these lunches but, if you're visiting after these times, 100% recommended.

Continuing with the beach, throughout the day you should find several people selling food: churros, coal-cooked corn, ice cream, mango and even shrimp cocktail. The thing here is, it's sold in the beach. For example, the corn or the mango don't have much problem, but being sold shrimp cocktail from someone on the beach, with almost 30°C temperature and without knowing its procedence, is not very hygenic. In short words, you might get sick, so be careful.

Shrimp cocktail and margarita in a friends' night at Santa Marta.

Shrimp cocktail and margarita in a friends' night at Santa Marta.

Finally, you should have these considerations in mind:

  • Always ask on your reception or to someone you trust how much should the taxi driver charge you, they can overcharge and you would never know.
  • As everywhere, check your belongings and don't go through lonely darks alleys carrying a $1000 camera or your iPhone.
  • Apply the first advice with tours as well, being foreign should not be a disadvantage.
  • Carry small bills ($2000, $5000 pesos). They come in handy for buses and ice creams, for example.
  • Keep in mind curfews, Covid restrictions and, please, always wear a mask.

But most importantly, HAVE FUN. Enjoy your visit and, if the feeling is too strong, you might as well stay. Why not?

Don't forget to comment your opinions, i'll read it and take it into account for future articles!

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