If the 5 hour bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta has you feeling deflated then don’t worry, you won’t need to do much in Santa Marta. For this reason, this place comes with a key Tip: stay in a great hostel! We picked Drop Bear, purely because from my Australia trip previously, I loved the Drop Bear myth and knew an Aussie themed hostel would be a hoot! Choosing this place was one of those Eureka moments when you’re travelling and realise you’ve just made an absolutely great decision! We arrived at dusk, sun setting over a huge back yard pool and bar, grabbed a Club Colombia (I don’t even like beer that much but South American beer is growing on me) and explored the hostel. Now this place requires exploring. Turns it out Drop Bear is actually an old Cartel mansion. Who knew! Second tick in the absolutely great decision box! Walking around this hostel actually felt like you’d just landed back in the 1980s and were creeping around a drug lords labyrinth. The luggage storage room was in the basement a.k.a the old money stash place, and there is still an original telephone on the wall in reception… At the end of a marble hallway, of course. I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed in such a colossal hostel built in an old mansion, but I’ll sure be trying to do it again.
Anyway, before this turns into a hostel Tip, let’s talk about Santa Marta. Many travellers had told us they disliked Santa Marta as a result of its industrial outskirts and urban sprawl however, I was in disagreement. A short taxi ride to the old historic centre put this small city on par with a sleepy Spanish holiday destination and in no time we were exploring cobbled streets, flood lit squares and devouring delicious food and drink in one of the many quaint but incredibly modern restaurants. We chose Mexican, but if vegan, hippie, vegetarian, falafel and plantain crisps is more your thing, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. We had soon circled the square, as it were, but with nothing much more to see, it was time to head back to Cartel HQ for a good long snooze… Something you can’t do back in bustling Cartagena!
Other hostels we heard great things about include Messiah and Dreamers. Most of these boutique hostels are all based 10 minutes out-of-town in residential districts but have pools to spend the day back, and gigantic hammocks to rock you into a sense of serious relaxation. Plus, a taxi shouldn’t cost you much more than 5000 Colombian Pesos ($2 USD) so not to worry if you want to head more central!
Finally, the beach in Santa Marta isn’t great… we went to explore but ended up grabbing a Fro-Yo and heading back to the hostel pool. I know the beach is a more rustic way to spend the day, but chances are if you’ve made it all the way to Santa Marta, you’ll be using it as a base to visit the Tyrona National Park where the beaches are much more idyllic, so save yourself. I used my time by the pool in Santa Marta to start reading Gabriel García Márquez, a celebrated novelist from Cartagena, in an attempt to feel the colours of Colombia in an alternative way! This is another Tip of mine!
Overall chilling in Santa Marta for a couple of nights gets a 7/10 from me. I wouldn’t take the negative outlook of travel guides on this city too seriously: instead go there and form your own opinion! Oh and if you didn’t get my point already, stay at Drop Bear for a virtual Cartel throwback experience.