Colombia: Santa Marta and Crystal Beach
After a few days in Cartagena, we were more comfortable navigating Colombia and my conversational Spanish was improving. We looked forward to our trip to explore the Northern Coast of Colombia. On to the next adventure!
Santa Marta is a popular destination for travelers and a great stepping off point for trips to Parque Tayrona. Later in the week we would spend a night in the park.
We stayed in Rodadero, which is in Santa Marta, but is its own separate community. We booked a MarSal bus from Cartagena. Remember to ask your bus driver to drop you in Rodadero at the bus office instead of going into the main part of Santa Marta.
We stayed in the beautiful Calle 11 hostel. From the street you arrive at a huge white painted door with a buzzer. Once inside you pass tiny white lights hanging in tress before emerging to a beautiful white castle. I cannot say enough good things about this lovely hostel and the fantastic staff. You feel like you are staying in paradise here! It is just a short walk to the beach too.
Rodadero is very safe to walk around a night. This area has a hip feel – there are a number of restaurants and shops within walking distance. You will often see horse carriages clattering by on the streets at night, which gives Rodadero a romantic feel. This area is where many Colombians and South Americas have vacation homes or come to relax.
Rodadero is a short 10 minute taxi drive to the main section of Santa Marta, but we spent most of our time on day trips or enjoying Rodadero itself.
We booked a day trip to Crystal Beach for snorkeling and lunch. Crystal beach is inside Parque Tayrona although at an opposite side to the camping and accommodations.
Tayrona is about a 45 minute bus ride to the park entrance, where you will have to be registered by passport or ID. The park tracks people coming and going, which is good to ensure everyone is safe. It is COP 45,000 a person to enter the park. From here it was about a 30 minute ride to where we boarded boats to the private beach.
Crystal beach is boat access only and is a pretty little place to visit. The visibility for snorkeling was not great, so if you are an avid snorkeler I would recommend checking out Rosario islands near Cartagena – we heard these were better. We still enjoyed looking at all the fist that came right up to check us out!
We had lunch at a small restaurant on the beach before walking down the shoreline. They gave us several hours to relax before the boats return to the bus. The beach was lovely, but we were anxious to get back and continue exploring Rodadero.
Overall, another beautiful area of Colombia that was well worth the visit. Rodadero is known for the best beaches on the northern coast of Colombia. Most Colombia beaches are rockier, not like the “traditional” Caribbean beaches. Santa Marta (Rodadero) certainly felt like more of a vacation city and had the relaxed feeling to go along with it. Although all of Colombia seemed to have a more relaxed, slow pace to life then we have back home – which is refreshing!
- Rodadero had less English then Cartagena: learn some Spanish, as very few people speak English in Colombia. I crammed for about 6 months using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. If you try to speak some Spanish, most people were very willing to help out.
- In Rodadero we stayed at Calle 11 hostel
- We booked all hostels through: www.booking.com
- Rodadero has many grocery stores and banks, so a good area to stock up. The smaller towns like Santa Veronica, had no banks and only road side “grocery stores.”
- I get asked about safety a lot: we had no problems in Colombia, walked around at night, and are visible foreigners. We googled cities in advance, stuck to safer areas, and asked hostel owners for recommendations on walking around. We were careful and aware, but still walked a lot and explored. Colombia has improved the political climate/safety issues significantly in the last 10 years.
- We found Rodadero VERY safe, but there have been occasional reports of robberies in Santa Marta central. If you are concerned, stay in Rodadero.
- To enter Parque Tayrona, it’s advertised to have proof of a yellow fever vaccine. We were never asked for this, but it’s still a good idea since you are technically in a jungle.
- Crystal Beach was lovely, but I might suggest there are equally as nice beaches in Rodadero. If this is your only excursion to Parque Tayrona, I would 100% go! Buy your own mask and snorkel at a shop in Rodadero (for the same price as renting) and do your own thing.
Read about our other adventures in Colombia: