Santa Marta Travel Reports:

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Parque Tayrona, Colombia

I chose to purchase this ticket from Avianca and paid approximately $215,000 COP for a one way to Santa Marta. If you are trying to use any credit card not issued from a Colombian bank, you will need to visit an actual Avianca office here in Medellin as the website charges a heavy fee to use foreign issued credit cards via their online booking system. However, you can still research prices and availability online before purchasing your ticket at a local office. My reasoning for the one way purchase vs. round trip (ida y vuelta) is because I was operating under an open time frame without set plans. It is surely beneficial to purchase your round trip ticket if you have the chance as I learned the hard way when I chose to take a bus trip back to Medellin due to the excessive increase in a one way ticket from Santa Marta to Medellin at the time of my return 16 days later. The punishment was 17 hours on a bus vs. 1 hour and 30 minutes by plane on the direct route.


WHERE: Medellin(MDE) to Santa Marta(SMR)

WHEN:  June 2010

MODE: Flight from Jose Maria Cordova in Rio Negro ($215,000 COP/One Way/Avianca )

PLACES VISITED: Santa Marta, Playa Rodadero, Playa Blanca, Manaure, Cabo de La Vela, Parque Tayrona


The flight was the 10:40 a.m. flight that arrives at 12:13 p.m. in Santa Marta. It is a smaller Fokker 50(propeller) plane. I am normally hesitant to fly by small plane due to some rougher rides in the past, but this was a very smooth ride the whole way to Santa Marta with spectacular views the entire time. The views of the Aburra Valley upon take off are quite spectacular as the lush green terrain below is spotted with roads and farm homes (fincas) along the countryside outside of Medellin. Some of these fincas are working farms growing such items as flowers, fruits, berries and other tropical botanicals that grow well in the rich, fertile land in the state of Antioquia. If you sit on the left side of the plane in the window seat (west side), you will also get to see the Cauca River for most of the ride as the route to Santa Marta follows it closely. The Cauca River merges with the mighty Magdalena in the northern state of Bolivar where the terrain is dotted heavily with a convergence of small lakes, inlets, and rivers that make up the wetlands of the region. If you pay close attention, you can see some of the gold extraction companies dredging the river as the scarring of the land it visible from the air. At the end of the ride to Santa Marta, you will pass directly over the Cienega Grande de Santa Marta.

  • There are plenty of cafes and shops at the airport should you need to buy something you forgot and/or have a meal before you fly out of Medellin.
  • There are approximately 20 flights to Santa Marta from Medellin that leave every hour starting as early as 6:00 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. at night. At the time of my flight, only two nonstop routes existed (10:30 a.m. / 8:30 p.m.)
  • List of Avianca Offices in Medellin


The small airport in Santa Marta is right beside the Atlantic Ocean and the pilot will fly out over the ocean for a few miles before turning around for the approach to the airport. The climate is normally warm/hot as well as humid upon arrival, so you will need to adjust your clothing coming from a much cooler Medellin. There are many taxis available to take you to your hotel of choice and the one way ride is approximately 22,000 COP or $12 USD (Rodadero Area/*Santa Marta proper may be more). The round trip is just a few dollars more if you plan on picking someone else up at the airport later.


There is surely a long list of things that you can do in Santa Marta, but Tayrona Park is definitely the big draw for the area. We chose to relax at the beaches close to Rodadero the first few days, and then planned separate trips to Cabo de La Vela as well as Parque Tayrona.



We chose to head directly to Rodadero Beach after checking into the lovely cabana at Villas del Palmar. We stayed in the #2 “Sapo Cabana”. The road into Rodadero is less than spectatcular as it is the major artery into the Rodadero sector of town. There is a lot of traffic on this road most of the day and evening and the conditions are normally chaotic, dusty, hot and humid. Crossing the road can be quite an adventure if you are making your way up/down the avenue on foot. Rodadero Beach has several access points and private tents (carpas) can be rented for about $25,000 COP per day. The water at Rodadero Beach is not as clear as other beaches in the region as it is connected to several small river inlets that bring sediment into the bay. This beach is also heavily occupied during the high season and it tends to get quite trashy by the end of the day. A common complaint is the high number of vendors that will pester you most of the day for things such as food, beer, lunch, snacks, massages, souvenirs as well as trips to other areas including the adjacent beach of Playa Blanca (White Beach) and Tayrona Park. We chose to snack throughout the day and had a more formal dinner later in the evening. The overall experience at Playa Rodadero was average.

PHOTOS of Rodadero Beach:

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This beach is located just around the corner from Rodadero Beach on the north side and requires an approximate 15 minute ride in a small boat (lancha). The normal price is $20,000 COP per person, but we negotiated it down to $30,000 COP for two people. We left around 10:00 a.m. so that we could be sure to secure a sun tent (carpa) at Playa Blanca as they tend to fill up throughout the day as more and more boats arrive with tourists and beach goers. The beach is only accessible to the public by boat and it is a medium/small sized beach with much clearer water play in. There are a few places that serve food for lunch and you will have to tolerate the beach vendors once again. The overall experience at Playa Blanca was better than average when compared to Playa Rodadero considering the cleaner conditions of Playa Blanca.

PHOTOS of Playa Blanca:

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We decided that it was time to get out of town and chose to visit Cabo de La Vela in the northern region of La Guajira. I have wanted to visit the area for the last several years. We spoke to a few different agencies first, but ultimately decided to rent a car and drive. This was ultimately the right decision for us as the group tours tend to run on a schedule that does not allow for you to spend much time once you arrive. We rented a small 4 door Hyundai from National Rent a Car and decided to setup the first thing the next morning.

  • TIP: The tour guides that offer the Cabo de La Vela trip have a great service. However, if you are going to take the time to see this amazing spot, you want the ability to stay for a few days and let Cabo really sink in. In fact, I am already planning a return trip where I would like to stay a few weeks and learn how to kite board. Also, the small busses that most of the guides are not made for comfort. If you are tall and/or large like myself, you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable seat for the duration of the guided tour. Check the guide’s vehicle if you do decide to utilize one of their services to Cabo de La Vela.


Excited about the trip, I woke up around 6 a.m. and began to get ready for the drive to Cabo de La Vela. We finally left the cabana around 8:00 a.m. and headed north toward Riohacha. After about 20 minutes and one toll booth (peaje), we began to ascend into the western side of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The climate begins to cool and the terrain turns into a lush green tropical postcard filled with small fincas, tiendas and hotel/hostel options dotting the roadside. We passed the entrance to Parque Tayrona about 30 minutes into the trip and continued northward until the road once again comes into contact with the ocean. This is also where El Sapo & Brians have their finca development that I will talk more about later in this report. The hotel/resort Mendihuaca is also located in this area. You will pass several plantain plantations along the way as you slowly work your way around the northern side of the Sierra Nevada. The terrain begins to become less steep as the majestic mountainside slowly gives way to rolling plains with massive hardwoods dotting the landscape. About an hour into the trip, you come into the tiny town of Palomino where you begin to see street vendors selling cheaper, higher grade Venezuelan gas for about 50% less than what you normally pay in places like Medellin and Santa Marta. I began to think of the $4.25 a gallon price I paid to fill up the tank in Santa Marta as vendors walk out into the town to greet me as I drive into town.

  • TIP: Only fill the tank to ¼ in Santa Marta before leaving for this trip. Fill the car full of gas once you get to Palimino with much cheaper Venezuelan gas.
  • Every town has a series of road humps to be aware of as you drive into and out of the small towns that exist between Santa Marta and Riohacha.
  • TIP: You will pass through a total of 4 toll areas (peaje) before reaching Cabo  de La Vela. It is best to pulse enough cash to pay the toll fees and sustain you for your few days while in CDLV. The toll fees were $7000 COP (x3) & $3500 (Uribia) each way. Tolls exist at Neguanje, Altopino, Ebanal & Uribia. *Our hotel did not take credit cards at the time of our visit.


It takes approximately 3 hours to get to Riohacha from Santa Marta, depending on how many times you stop for things, views and/or photo opportunities. By the time you reach Riohacha, the terrain is once again much like Santa Marta, yet the humidity is much less and the air is drier here. You will pass Carrefour on the right as you come into town. This is a good place to stop and buy the things that you may have forgotten to bring for this trip. It is also a good place to stretch the legs, grab a bite and use the restroom. A short time after Careffour, the roads forks and there are two options to take. One option continues to take you north along the Carribean coast and the other takes to Cuatro Vias. We chose to make a cutback east for Cuatro Vias in order to stay on the nicest freeway. It takes approximately one hour to get to Cuatro Vias as you begin to enter the interior zones of La Guajira. It is here that you will begin to notice the indigenous Wayuu people as they wait by the roadside for public transportation and/or walk and ride bikes along the highway. There are Wayuu vendors that also sell items such as handmade bracelets (pulsera), carry all bags (mochilas) and honey (miel) depending on the season. You will also begin to take notice of the numerous goats (chivos) that exist in the La Guajira region. These goats belong to the Wayuu people and serve as an important food source for the indigenous of the region.

  • Nice beaches exist in/outside of Riohacha. We did not visit any of these beaches, but will upon a return visit.


Cuatro Villas actually appears to be a small town on the map we used, but in fact is just a four way intersection with lots of vendors selling everything from trinkets and food to Venezuelan smuggled cheap gas (good quality by the way). We proceeded to turn left and head north to the next juncture of Uribia which also happens to be the turnoff to Manaure where you can visit a working sea salt manufacturing plant.  This leg was approximately forty five minutes driving the speed limit.

The next juncture is Uribia. This is another four way intersection and marks the place where you can continue north (dirt road) to Cabo de La Vela or turn left (west) and drive a short distance to visit the sea salt plant in Manaure. *The town of Uribia is actually a mile or two after taking a right(east) at this same intersection. We decided to first visit the sea salt plant and the town of Manaure before continuing on to Cabo de La Vela.


The road into Manaure once again takes you through Wayuu country desert terrain. The road appeared recently paved with asphalt and the drive takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Arriving into the city of Manaure is less than spectacular. The dry and dusty city is in poor condition and there are some rather large potholes you will want to make sure and avoid as you make your way through the downtown part of city. Weaving your way through the streets, the people greet you in a friendly manner and are helpful pointing the way to the sea salt plant which is just a half of a mile outside the city center located right on the sea.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the sea salt plant, we were greeted by a small pack of indigenous young boys who were eager to charge us to watch the car while we toured the plant. These little guys looked pretty dry and dusty and we were all too happy to spare some water for our new security guards. They assured us that the care would be well guarded and tussled amongst one another which ones would get paid and which would not.


There is a gate that you walk through to enter the plant. No bags, purses or backpacks are allowed as I guess pilfering of the salt has been a problem in the past. You have the choice of paying a small fee for a guided tour (in Spanish) or walking the area on your own. The tour lasted about 20-30 minutes and our self guided expedition through the salt mountains lasted about the same.  There are several large cone shaped piles of salt in a small area. A black conveyor belt stands out against the white background of the salt and a small rail line juts out into the dusty blue sea as a transport mechanism for the salt that is loaded on shipping boats for export.

  • The wind is strong in this area. Be careful to secure your hat.
  • The sun is very strong here as well. Sun block is advised here and from this point forward in La Guajira.
  • We overheard one of the tour guides explaining how there are actually 3 grades of salt that are manufactured at the plant. The more Spanish you know, the more information you will come away with if that is a prerogative.


The salt mines that the processing plant actually derives feedstock from are located on the southern part of the town on the opposite side of the sea salt plant. The mines which are owned by the local indigenous Wayuu are plotted out into small square sections and each family has ownership to their own small mine.

  • We did not actually take time to visit this area as it was getting late in the day and we wanted to make sure to have enough time to arrive to Cabo de La Vela and secure accommodations.

PHOTOS of Sea Salt Processing in Manaure:

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CABO DE LA VELA / FINAL LEG (Dirt/Gravel Road):

Leaving Manaure behind, we set out on our next destination to Cabo de La Vela. Working our way out of town and back down to the four way intersection of Uribia, we grabbed a quick bite from a roadside vendor and proceeded to enter the dirt road that goes all the way north to Punta Gallinas. At this point I was a little concerned about the amount of time it would take to travel this final leg as our Hyundai definitely stood out as other four wheel drive SUV’s and big trucks passed us like we were standing still.

  • Driving cautiously, it takes about 1.5 hours to get to the turn off point which redirects you via a large sign to Cabo de La Vela. You will turn off the road left and begin another dirt/sand road to the final destination which takes another 30 minutes or so (no signs).
  • TIP: It is a good idea to roll up your driver’s side window as trucks coming the other way can fling rocks and debris into your car. A rock to the head at 60 miles an hour will ruin your trip!
  • There were military personel posted along the way and they were glad to ask for some of our water as we stopped to ask and make sure we were going the right way. We were glad to see them and had no issues sharing our water.
  • NOTE: There is plenty of food and water in Cabo de La Vela. No need to stock up on supplies to last beyond your arrival unless you so choose.

The trip from the turnoff at the big wood sign can be precarious. There are no marked signs and sometimes the road forks off into several different directions. We managed to stay on the main part of the road and it seems like all roads converged into the same route upon arrival. It seems that travelers create new roads/paths when old roads become too wet/muddy/etc. Once you spot the beautiful blue/green sea, you will need to continue north about another 10 minutes or so until you reach Cabo de La Vela. You will see a considerable amount of buildings (stick huts/houses) that line the beach off to the left. There are several roads that can take you into town. We were immediately greeted by Wayuu women dressed in typical manta fashion offering us their creative hand weaved products including bracelets and hand bags (mochilas). The Wayuu are quiet and gentle people who don’t make much small talk.

Turnoff sign for Cabo de La Vela, Colombia

Turnoff sign for Cabo de La Vela, Colombia


Where to Stay in Cabo de La Vela, Colombia:

We arrived into Cabo de La Vela around 6:30 p.m. The town is nothing to speak about in terms of architecture as most of the structures are made from two main materials, concrete block and wood. A lot of the roofs are palm thatch and I suspect the small wood pieces they use for exterior walls are gathered from the brushy countryside. The landscape is wild, nothing but cactuses and green low-growing trees, called “Trupio”, the only vegetation that seems to survive in this hot, very dry land.

The majority of the small motels around the town offer hammocks to sleep in. There are, however, beds that can be found as well. We traveled a kilometer or two down the road and checked into Hotel Rancheria Jareena. The price we paid per night was $100,000 COP for two people, or $50,000 COP per person. This hotel sits just 30 yards from the ocean and has approximately 8-10 cabins in total. There is a kitchen and small restaurant where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had our own cabin and private bathroom.

  • Hammocks can be had for as low as $10,000 COP per night in some locations.
  • TIP: Unless you have a cabin that has ample access to nightly breezes, the rooms can get uncomfortably hot and sleeping is difficult. After the first night, we chose to use hammocks on the open patio of our cabin. Also, forget about water pressure. Showering can be difficult with only a small stream of water. We requested and received a 5 gallon bucket that we then used to dip water out of with a small plastic bowl. This method was far more efficient, but the tradeoff was the amount of time that it took to keep the bucket full at all times. Sometimes we had to wait 10-15 minutes to leave the cabin in order to fill up the bucket after showering.

Where to eat in Cabo de La Vela, Colombia:

Most of the small motels that offer hammocks and beds have some type of food service. There are also a few places to eat in town where the menu ranges from sandwiches, hamburgers, fish and pasta. Prices are reasonable based on the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere and all food and mercantile items have to be imported into town.

What to do in Cabo de La Vela, Colombia:

1)      Relax – This place oozes relaxed vibes and it is very laid back. The stars at night are magnificent and you can clearly see the Milky Way in all its majesty.

2)      Swim/Snorkel – There are two great options for swimming/snorkeling. The ocean that the city sits on appears to be confined in an open bay. This makes for no waves or light waves and warm water as the bay also appears to be shallow. The downside to the bay is some of the beach areas are also roads. On the other side of the town (10-15 minutes away), Pan de Azucar can be found where an amazing bright orange beach exists with surf that makes for great fun in the sun. Although the beach is small, the crowds are virtually non-existent. In fact, there were never more than 25 people at any given time while we visited the beach over a 3 days period at various times.

3)      Kite Board – The prevailing winds in the area and calm bay waters make for near perfect kite-boarding conditions. There is a designated area of the beach and bay that is utilized for most of this activity. The downside is that it is kind of expensive unless you already know how to kite-board and have your own equipment. Lessons were $90,000 COP per hour and basic board, kite and harness systems were available for $60,000 COP per hour.

4)      Explore – There are some great places to explore around the Pan de Azucar beach. On the south side of the beach, you can find additional secluded beaches as well as volcanic areas that create “mars-like” settings against the emerald blue ocean. Marine wildlife is everywhere and several different species of crabs call this area home. There are also interesting birds including pelicans in the area that share this paradise with their human counterparts. The march to the top of pyramid shaped rock that sits on the northern face of the beach reveals spectacular views of the La Guajira coast to the north as well as the south. To the north one can see the beginning of a wind farm project that will produce electricity for the area one day soon. Views back toward the city across stretch of land that separates the two bodies of water reveals a dry lake bed that is crusted in a frosting of salt. These views are even more spectacular one hour prior to sunset where you can watch the glory of the area transform as the sun goes down over Cabo de La Vela.

5)      Relax – You are in Colombia and life is good!

PHOTOS of Cabo de La Vela (Bayside):

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PHOTOS of Cabo de La Vela (Pacific Side):

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Leaving Cabo de La Vela:

After three nights and three days of superb weather and great fun, we left Cabo de La Vela around 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. The plan was to make it to Riohacha by nightfall and secure a place to stay for the night before returning back to Santa Marta in order to return the rental car. As we began our much begrudged exodus, a Wayuu woman appeared in the road and motioned for us to stop. It seems she was looking for a ride back to her house and we gladly obliged. She explained that she walked these roads and dirt paths everyday back into the Wayuu communities and open land territories. She explained that she was happy to have a ride as the walk would have taken almost two hours.

After arriving in Riohacha around 6:00 p.m., we stopped at a roadside chicken place and had a quick dinner followed by 3 more hours of drive time back to Santa Marta. The ride back from Riohacha was smooth with no problems and only a slight storm as we came into the Sierra Nevada mountain range 45 minutes away from Santa Marta. Shortly after the Mendihuaca resort, we pulled in for the night to our next accommodations, Sapo Seaside Finca & Hotel.

PHOTOS of Sapo’s Place (Ecohab Resort):

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Day 8 – Take a day off to relax and take a trip to the Ocean Mall in Santa Marta to stock up on needed items. Purchase ticket and guide to Parque Tayrona.

  • I used Ecolombia Adventours in Rodadero –  (57) 301-705-5809 / (57) 314-521-8235 / They are located right next to the Santander Bank office and ATM located at Calle 9 No. 1-51 local 2 / Edificio Excalibur.
  • The price for the trip to Parque Tayrona was $50,000 per person at the time (excluding park entrance fee – $35,000 for foreigners). The owners name is Guillermo Valencia Ramirez and he speaks perfect English after living in Miami for many years.


The mini-bus stopped by at my hotel at 9:00 a.m. and picked me up. The ride to the entrance of the park took about 45 minutes including some traffic time getting out of Santa Marta. There was also another wait in line at the park entrance of about 30 minutes. After entering the park, the bus traveled about a half mile before we came to the parking area. The 1.5 hour walk into the park is a small adventure in itself as well as some medium level exercise on the often muddy trails. Horses do a lot of damage to the trail as they haul tourists and supplies in and out of the beach areas. Often times only a small sliver of a trail exists as you try not to walk through the muddy parts created by the horses. A few streams must be crossed as well during this hike into the park. Good foot gear is recommended. I saw a lot of Colombian tourists wearing aqua socks for the hike, which seems less than adequate for the terrain.

  • It takes approximately one hour to get to the ocean at an area known as Arrecifes Beach. From there it takes another 30-45 minutes to reach Cabo San Juan. The trail is marked along the way with wooden sign posts that indicate your progress. There was a time or two when I was unsure of which way to go, but was quickly helped by the many people who are accessing the beach areas daily.
  • There are many places to eat within the park. Prices are range from a little expensive to very affordable. Snack items and empanadas, fresh juice, etc are priced fairly. The main restaurant at Cabo de San Juan was on the high side, but the food looked excellent.
  • TIP: There is a place to lock up your items at Cabo de San Juan. However, you must have your own lock. This is a convenience when accessing the water.
  • TIP: I also found out a boat service left at 10:30 a.m. every morning at Taganga and takes 40 minutes. However, it can be a rough ride if the weather is not optimal. The price was $40,000 one way, but could be had for $70,000 after bargaining for a roundtrip.
  • TIP: If you carry a cell phone into the park, it will have limited connection. However, you might want to pre-pack a sealable plastic bag as it tends to rain in the park at times. Sunblock and a liter of water/gatoraid is also recommended. If you are camping and/or staying overnight, a strong insect repellant is advisable.


Arriving into Arrecifes you walk into a camping community with tents dotting the landscape just a few yards from the beautiful beach. The air is thick with humidity and the beach is wide and filled with an lush green overgrowth that creates a spectacular scene. Walking out onto the beach, you hang a left and continue walking down the beach for about 200 yards before crossing a stream that is created by the ocean filling a small inlet. There are a few places to jump into the water and swim past this point including small, protected beach areas and other larger areas including “la piscina” (the pool). La Piscina has actually been protected with an artificial reef that keeps strong currents and large waves at bay. *There are juice stands available for those who are thirsty by this time.


Not stopping, we pressed on and soon encountered signs affirming our position en route to Cabo de San Juan. The trail varies from nice and wide, to small and cramped, hindered by granite boulders. After approximately 40 more minutes of walking, you are welcomed into the Cabo de San Juan sector with a view of the small tent city that sits in a small clearing just a few yards from the gorgeous waters of the Caribbean Pacific. Just around the corner, a structure appears that is sitting on a pile of boulders. At first, I thought this was a restaurant, but it soon became clear that it was full of hammocks for weary travelers and sun soaked tourists. The breezes and views in the structure are truly worth the hike into the park. This area comprises two cupped out bays that sit side by side, divided by the hammock house and small rock peninsula that juts out into the sea. Massive boulders lay in piles in and among this area. The area is very unique in appearance and far superior to the beaches of Santa Marta or Rodadero.

If you keep walking (east), you will come upon another stretch of beach that continues on for about 100 more yards. Just past this beach is another beach (nude beach), that stretches for about 200 yards and was almost completely void of people the day we arrived. Either way, you can be sure to find an amazing spot to relax, sun bathe, swim or snorkel in this Colombian paradise!

  • We only had about 2.5 hours to spend in the park due to the fact that the group was to gather at 3:00 p.m. at Cabo San Juan for the walk out of the park.
  • Cabins, tents and hammocks exist for rent. However, the quality of your tent may not be exactly what is optimal for this area. Due to the heat and humidity, a tent that has ample airways is recommended. I have already located the tent at REI that I am going to bring with me next time we visit the park.
  • The walk back is the exact same route that you take into the park.
  • TIP: There is a real nice shower area at the parking lot area at the end of your hike out of the park. Many people hang around the refreshment stand drinking their juices, water sweating after the long hike out of the park. If you walk just around the corner, you will find a real nice open shower area that will allow you to rinse off and cool off for the ride back to Santa Marta, etc.

The next day, we left Santa Marta for the bus terminal and proceeded to take a 17 hour ride back to Medellin. A round trip ticket airline is recommended if you know your schedule and itinerary beforehand. *We bought one way tickets because we did not have a set itinerary, and were amazed at the fact that the prices more than doubled for the one way flight back to Medellin. Live and learn. I hope this report helps with your travels to the areas described above. Email me or visit our forums section of for questions and/or suggestion that you may have to add to this journey.

PHOTOS of Cabo de San Juan, Colombia

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The End

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