How to Get from Cartagena to Santa Marta: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back
Are you looking for a seamless journey from the vibrant streets of Cartagena to the enchanting coastal beauty of Santa Marta? I’ve got you covered! As a seasoned traveler with a passion for adventure, I’ve explored these destinations extensively and can guide you with firsthand insights.
In this post, you’ll discover:
- The best transportation options from Cartagena to Santa Marta.
- Insider tips on maximizing your travel experience.
- Hidden gems and must-visit attractions in Santa Marta.
- Why this coastal paradise should be on your travel radar.
Join me on this guide to learn how to make your Cartagena to Santa Marta journey unforgettable.
Where is Santa Marta?
Santa Marta is a beautiful coastal city hugging the shores of the Caribbean Sea in northern Colombia. Think of it as a hidden gem waiting for you to explore. Now, you might be wondering, “Why Santa Marta?” Well, this city has a fascinating mix of history, nature, and culture that’s worth discovering.
Imagine strolling along beaches, hiking in national parks, and soaking in the laid-back vibe of a place that’s been around for ages. In fact, Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia. That means you’re stepping into a slice of Colombian history when you visit.
But there’s more to Santa Marta than just history. The city’s got this unique blend of native traditions, Spanish colonial influence, and a touch of modern Colombian flavor. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, try delicious food, and take in the breathtaking scenery of the Caribbean coast.
So, if you’re looking for a vacation spot that offers history, natural beauty, and a friendly atmosphere, Santa Marta might just be the answer. Ready to explore it?
How Far is Cartagena to Santa Marta?
Getting from Cartagena to Santa Marta is easier than you might think. The two cities are relatively close, separated by a mere 240 kilometers (about 150 miles). So, if you’re up for an adventure, you can journey from one city to the other in around 5 hours by bus or roughly 4.5 hours by car.
Now, let’s talk about the road that connects these two vibrant destinations. It’s not just a stretch of asphalt; it’s a picturesque route that follows the coast for most of the journey. You’ll be treated to stunning views along the way. One particularly enchanting part of the trip is the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, a unique wetland area where the road weaves between two expansive bodies of water. On one side, you’ll spot tiny villages nestled amid the natural beauty. As you gaze out the window, you might find yourself captivated by the local life that thrives far from the tourist crowds. Picture kids playing football or chasing chickens—a charming glimpse into the rich tapestry of Colombian culture.
On your journey, you’ll also pass through Barranquilla, Colombia’s fourth-largest city and the largest on the coast. Here’s a tip: all buses and minibuses make a stop in Barranquilla to pick up more passengers. While this might be a slight inconvenience, it’s all part of the adventure.
So, with this insight into the distance and the scenic beauty that awaits, are you feeling ready to start your journey from Cartagena to Santa Marta? It’s a road trip you won’t soon forget.
How to Get From Cartagena to Santa Marta – 3 Best Options
#1 – Bus (Cheapest Option)
Choosing the bus as your mode of transport from Cartagena to Santa Marta is a savvy move, especially if you’re looking for an economical yet enriching journey. From Cartagena, you’ll board a comfy bus that’s set to traverse the scenic route to Santa Marta. Brace yourself for approximately 5 hours of travel, which might sound like a long time, but it’s all part of the adventure. The road between these cities is not just a thoroughfare; it’s a picturesque path that offers you glimpses of local life, far removed from tourist hotspots.
One of the unique aspects of taking the bus in Colombia is the local touch. You’ll make a stop in Barranquilla, Colombia’s largest coastal city. Here, buses usually pause to welcome more passengers. While this can extend your journey a bit, it’s an opportunity to observe the hustle and bustle and perhaps even engage in a bit of people-watching. Remember, it’s not uncommon in Colombia to negotiate bus ticket prices. If you and a fellow traveler are embarking on this journey together, you can often bargain for a lower fare when you collect multiple price offers.
In Colombia, several bus companies operate on this route, including Colibertador, Expreso Brasilia, Copetran, Berlinas, and Unitransco. Don’t worry if you’re uncertain about where to find them; once you’re at the bus station, local individuals—often vocal and eager—will guide you to the right company. These men work for the bus companies and can even help you secure a discount if you’re up for some friendly bargaining.
One of the beautiful aspects of taking the local bus is the chance to meet locals who are making the same journey. If you’re a traveler who enjoys mingling with the people of the place you’re visiting, this option offers a unique opportunity for cultural exchange.
The bus service typically runs from 5:00 AM for the initial departure and continues until 10:00 PM for the final one. Buses start their journey at Terminal de Transportes in Cartagena and reach their destination at Terminal Santa Marta.
If you’re traveling on a budget, the bus is your best friend. Prices for this journey start at an affordable CA$21, making it one of the most cost-effective ways to reach Santa Marta. So, if you’re ready for an enriching and budget-friendly adventure, the bus is a solid choice.
#2 – Private Transfer / Shuttle (Easiest Option)
For those seeking a more convenient and personalized travel experience from Cartagena to Santa Marta, a private transfer or shuttle is a fantastic choice. Private transfers and shuttles offer a comfortable and hassle-free journey. When you opt for this option, you can expect a more relaxed and flexible travel experience. You won’t have to worry about the minor inconveniences that can come with taking public transportation, like crowded buses or multiple stops.
Since this route is in high demand, private minivan and minibus services have emerged to provide a smoother journey. These services are less of a hassle, but they come at a slightly higher price. While it’s a convenient option, you’re more likely to share your journey with fellow tourists rather than locals.
Two companies offer shuttle minibus services on this route, namely Berlinastur and Marsol. Marsol is the more upmarket choice and provides free hotel pick-up and drop-off services in selected neighborhoods in both Cartagena and Santa Marta. Some of their vans do make a stop in Barranquilla, extending the journey to 5.5 hours instead of the direct 4-hour service. If you prefer not to use the pick-up and drop-off service, you can board and disembark at Marsol’s own bus station. Keep in mind that while door-to-door service is convenient, it adds time to your overall journey due to multiple passenger drop-offs. You should book your Marsol ticket one day in advance, and you can often do this directly at your hostel.
Berlinastur is a more budget-friendly option. Their minivans pick up and drop off passengers at their own bus station, where you can purchase tickets on the spot. This setup is quite similar to the local bus service, with the main difference being the size of the buses. Berlinastur’s Marbella station in Cartagena is situated to the east of the city center. In Santa Marta, their station is located just off Rodadero beach, which you can easily reach by local buses from the city center. They also have another drop-off station outside Santa Marta, at the Mamatoco roundabout, from where you can connect to a bus heading downtown or to the Tayrona National Park.
If you’re looking for the best of both worlds in terms of convenience and budget, consider taking a smaller shuttle bus, typically accommodating around 15 passengers. These shuttles are slightly more expensive than the larger buses but offer significantly more convenience. With this option, you won’t need to travel all the way to the main bus terminal outside the city, saving both time and money on taxi rides. Factoring in these cost savings, the price is virtually the same as the larger buses, making it a compelling choice. The shuttle journey from Cartagena to Santa Marta is around 4 hours. You can book directly at the Berlinas bus terminal in town.
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#3 – By Car (Most Flexible Option)
For those who enjoy the flexibility and freedom of the open road, traveling by car from Cartagena to Santa Marta is a fantastic option. You can set your schedule, make stops at interesting places along the way, and explore at your own pace.
The road from Cartagena to Santa Marta is not just a means of transportation; it’s an experience in itself. The journey takes you through captivating landscapes, offering picturesque views of the Colombian coast and the Caribbean Sea. You’ll find different routes to take, with the most common one following the coast. This route provides numerous opportunities to enjoy stunning ocean views, and you can also visit charming coastal towns along the way.
Traveling with a group of friends or family members can make the car option more economical. You can split the cost of fuel and any rental fees, making it a budget-friendly choice for groups. The drive typically takes between 4 to 6 hours, depending on traffic and stops. It’s important to plan your journey, ensure your vehicle is in good condition, and have a reliable GPS or map to guide you along the way.
Along the route, there are various points of interest, such as Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, a wetland area with a unique charm, and Barranquilla, Colombia’s fourth-largest city, where you can take a break and explore a bit. While traveling by car provides flexibility and the opportunity to share costs with companions, you’ll need to consider expenses like fuel, tolls, and, if applicable, rental fees. These costs should be factored into your budget.
If you have your own vehicle, you’re all set to start this scenic road trip. However, if you need to rent a car, you’ll want to make reservations in advance to ensure availability. Traveling by car can be an enriching experience, especially if you value independence and enjoy exploring at your own pace. It’s an excellent choice for groups and provides a chance to take in the stunning coastal views.
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How to Get to Santa Marta from the Cartagena Airport
Traveling from the Cartagena Airport to Santa Marta offers various options to suit your needs, whether you’re on a budget or seeking more convenience. Let’s break down the choices:
Airport Taxi: The simplest method is grabbing a taxi at the Cartagena Airport. Look for official taxi stands inside. It’s a hassle-free option, especially if you have plenty of luggage. Keep in mind it might cost a bit more than other choices.
Shared Shuttles: Multiple companies provide shared shuttle services from the airport to Santa Marta. These shared vans or minibuses are more budget-friendly than private taxis. They offer the convenience of door-to-door service, and you might make new travel buddies along the way.
Private Transfer: For a cozier and tailored journey, consider arranging a private transfer in advance. This option works well if you’re traveling with a group or have specific timing preferences. While it’s pricier than shared shuttles, you’ll have the vehicle to yourself or your group.
Bus to the Bus Terminal: If you’re a budget-conscious traveler looking to save, take a bus from the airport to the Cartagena bus terminal, and then catch a bus to Santa Marta from there. It’s the most economical choice but involves more transfers and takes some time.
Rental Car: Renting a car at the Cartagena Airport gives you the freedom to explore on your own terms, ideal for multiple destinations. Just be aware that driving in Colombia can be a bit challenging, especially if you’re not familiar with local roads and traffic.
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, so consider your budget, travel preferences, and group size when deciding how to make the journey from the Cartagena Airport to Santa Marta. Your choice should align with your travel style and needs.
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How to Get to Santa Marta from the Cartagena Bus Station
Getting from the Cartagena bus station to Santa Marta offers you a range of travel options. Your journey can be budget-friendly, convenient, or personalized to suit your preferences.
Budget-Friendly Bus: If you’re looking for an economical adventure, hopping on a bus is a fantastic choice. The bus ride lasts about 5 hours, with a stop in Barranquilla. This layover lets you soak in the local ambiance.
Convenient Private Transfer: For those who prefer comfort and convenience, a private transfer or shuttle might be more your style. While it comes at a slightly higher cost, it’s a smoother way to travel. Berlinastur and Marsol are two companies that offer shuttle services, each with its unique perks.
Flight Consideration: Unfortunately, flying from Cartagena to Santa Marta isn’t as appealing anymore. There are currently no direct flights between the two cities, which means you’d have to deal with layovers and the hassle of airports. This might not be the most time-efficient or cost-effective choice.
So, whether you’re all about budget savings, convenience, or personalized service, you’ve got options to get from the Cartagena bus station to Santa Marta. The choice is yours, and it depends on what kind of journey you’re after.
When is the Best Time to Visit Santa Marta?
Planning the perfect trip to Santa Marta means choosing the best time to visit. So, when’s the ideal time to explore this coastal gem?
Well, Santa Marta enjoys a tropical climate, characterized by distinct dry and rainy seasons.
Dry Season (December to March): These months are like the golden ticket. Expect sunny skies and a whole lot of beach weather. It’s the peak season, so plan ahead for accommodations and brace for some crowds.
Shoulder Seasons (April to June and September to November): If you prefer a quieter adventure with reasonable prices, these shoulder seasons are your friends. Weather’s still fine, and it’s not too crowded.
Rainy Season (July to August and October to November): Rain can be a damper during these periods, but you’ll also find greener landscapes and better deals on lodging. Not a bad trade-off.
So, the best time for your Santa Marta escapade depends on your style. Sunshine seekers should aim for the dry season, but budget-conscious travelers might enjoy the shoulder seasons or even the rainy spells, which still offer their own unique charm. It’s all about what suits you best!
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Is a Weekend Trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta Enough?
Is a weekend trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta enough to soak in the beauty of this coastal paradise? It’s a common question, and the answer depends on what you’re looking to experience during your visit.
A weekend getaway can give you a taste of Santa Marta’s charm. You’ll have enough time to explore some of its highlights, like Tayrona National Park and the stunning beaches. However, keep in mind that Santa Marta has much more to offer, from its rich history and vibrant culture to hidden gems off the beaten path.
To make the most of a weekend trip, it’s essential to plan your itinerary wisely. Prioritize the attractions and activities that interest you the most, and consider a mix of relaxation and exploration.
If you have the flexibility, extending your stay to a few more days allows you to delve deeper into Santa Marta’s culture and surroundings. This way, you won’t feel rushed and can savor the region’s unique experiences, from hiking through the Sierra Nevada to enjoying the local cuisine.
In the end, whether a weekend is enough depends on your preferences. It can be a fantastic introduction to Santa Marta, but if you want a more comprehensive experience, consider staying longer to uncover all the treasures this coastal gem has to offer.
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Is it Easy to Get from Cartagena to Santa Marta?
Is it easy to travel from Cartagena to Santa Marta? The short answer is yes, it’s relatively straightforward. Let’s dive into why:
- Multiple Transportation Options
- Well-Defined Routes
- Tourist Services
- Frequent Connections
- English Language
That said, it’s still essential to plan your trip in advance. Check schedules, book tickets if possible, and consider the most convenient mode of transportation based on your needs. With a bit of preparation, getting from Cartagena to Santa Marta can be a smooth and hassle-free experience.
🔗 Related: Finding the Best Beach in Cartagena Colombia
What to do in Santa Marta?
Santa Marta offers a wealth of activities and experiences to enjoy during your visit. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or someone who loves to relax on the beach, Santa Marta has something for you. Here are some fantastic things to do in Santa Marta:
1. Tayrona National Park: Explore the stunning landscapes of Tayrona National Park, where rainforests meet the Caribbean Sea. Hike through the park’s trails, relax on pristine beaches, and admire the indigenous culture.
2. Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City): Embark on a challenging trek to Ciudad Perdida, an ancient archaeological site nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains. This hike offers a glimpse into the region’s indigenous history and breathtaking views.
3. Taganga: Visit the laid-back fishing village of Taganga for a more relaxed atmosphere. Enjoy beach time, go scuba diving, or indulge in fresh seafood at the local restaurants.
4. Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: Dive into history by exploring this historic estate. It’s the site where Simon Bolivar spent his last days, and you can discover the museum, gardens, and art exhibits.
5. La Sierra Nevada: Embark on a multi-day trek into the Sierra Nevada mountains, home to indigenous communities and rich biodiversity. Immerse yourself in the local culture and learn about their way of life.
6. Beach Hopping: Santa Marta boasts an array of beautiful beaches. Spend your days sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying water sports at Rodadero Beach, Playa Blanca, and more.
7. Minca: Head to Minca, a picturesque mountain village known for its coffee farms, waterfalls, and birdwatching. It’s a peaceful retreat from the coastal bustle.
8. Nightlife: In the evenings, explore Santa Marta’s vibrant nightlife scene. You’ll find bars, clubs, and restaurants offering a taste of local culture and cuisine.
9. Arrecifes: If you love snorkeling, Arrecifes is a must-visit spot. Its coral reefs teem with marine life, making it a fantastic place to explore underwater.
10. Try Local Cuisine: Don’t miss the opportunity to savor Colombian dishes and fresh seafood at local restaurants. Try the renowned ceviche or enjoy a typical Colombian breakfast with arepas.
Santa Marta’s diverse attractions offer something for every type of traveler, making it an excellent destination for those seeking both adventure and relaxation.
Is Santa Marta Worth Visiting?
So, is Santa Marta worth visiting? Absolutely! With its breathtaking natural landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, Santa Marta offers a unique blend of experiences for all types of travelers. Whether you’re seeking adventure in Tayrona National Park, exploring Ciudad Perdida’s ancient wonders, or simply unwinding on pristine beaches, Santa Marta has something special in store for you.
In the end, Santa Marta is a gem on Colombia’s Caribbean coast that should not be missed. You’ll have the opportunity to create unforgettable memories and immerse yourself in the beauty and charm of this coastal paradise. So, let’s start this journey and discover why Santa Marta is worth every moment of your visit! Have any questions or want to share your Santa Marta experiences? Feel free to leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!