Because I have the luxury of time, I do what a lot of backpackers do. I wait until I get to a city to research and ask around for things to do. I spent my first day wandering around Santa Marta. The city has several parks, the malecon, and statues that you can visit. Parque de los Novios and Parque Simon Bolivar are two of the popular parks. In the first you will find a lot of restaurants and the latter you will find a lot of locals selling ice cream, coffee (tinto), and fruit.
Once I had a feel for the city, I pulled up google and entered the classic sentence of “things to do in” (Santa Marta). One of the main attractions was La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. A brief description told me this was where Simon Bolivar spent his last days and that you could now tour the grounds which included a garden and an art museum. With my limited Spanish and my phone in hand, I went to Carrerra 4 and asked two women if there was a bus to La Quinta. The response I caught was that I needed to cross the street, take one of the blue buses with a sign that said it was going to Mamatoco. So I crossed the street. “Bus a Mamatoco?” I said to the first person I saw. He immediately waved down one of the passing buses (with Mamatoca on the sign) and off I went. Tell the driver you want La Quinta and they will let you know when to get off. Unbeknownst to me it was a holiday so the bus cost 1500 COP each way instead of 1400 (just over .50 USD). Very inexpensive.
The cost to enter for foreigners is about 20.000 COP which includes a free guide in English or Spanish (tips always welcome). There are also signs in both Spanish and English in most areas. While basic, I enjoyed the art museum on the grounds as it had some nice pieces.
You can also visit the Museo del Oro Tairona (Gold Museum) in Santa Marta, just next to Juan Valdez Cafe, in the Plaza de Parque Simon Bolivar. It is free to enter and has a lot of artifacts and information about the region. A lot of the signs are in English but there are some areas with only Spanish signs. As of February 2017, it is closed on Monday’s. A bonus is that some of the rooms have air conditioning!
So you’ve toured the malecón, visited La Quinta and the Museo del Oro and you are looking for different activities to do around Santa Marta. You can take a nice half day kayak tour near Rodadero with Paddle Santa Marta. We met at Playa del Ritmo Hostel at 9:30am and set off in our kayaks. The first thing I learned was how to properly hold the paddle. I always just paddled. But one of our guides advised me to raise my arms, and make a box shape. I needed to hold the paddle further out than I would have guessed. The sea was fairly calm but definitely load up on the sunscreen! We kayaked to a quiet beach with a cute little cut out in the rock to shade us while we had our picnic lunch that was part of the tour. There was plenty of time to swim in the playa and chat with the other kayakers on the tour. We kayaked back to the hostel, stopping to admire the views and swim some more along the way. It was a great way to spend part of the day.