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Santa Marta: Discover The Oldest City in Colombia


Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a destination that captivates history, culture, and nature enthusiasts alike. Credit: Luis Ospino/Colombia One

Santa Marta, officially known as the Tourist, Cultural, and Historic District of Santa Marta, is a gem on the northern coast of Colombia. Founded on July 29, 1525, by Spanish explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas, this city has the honor of being the oldest in Colombia, a title that attests to its deep historical and cultural legacy.

Located on the shores of the bay of the same name, Santa Marta is a destination that captivates visitors with its blend of history, natural beauty, and Caribbean hospitality.

A Meeting Place Between the Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean Sea

Santa Marta’s geography is unique and dazzling. Situated between the majestic Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea, the city offers a diversity of landscapes that few places can match.

The city’s average elevation is only about 2 meters above sea level, but its municipality includes altitudes of up to 5,775 meters at Pico Cristobal Colon, the highest mountain in Colombia. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which surrounds the city, is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, and its majesty provides a stunning backdrop for the city and its surroundings.

Santa Marta
Pico Cristobal Colon at Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Credit: Colombia One

One of the city’s iconic landmarks is Morro Island, a sacred place for indigenous communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Standing at approximately 65 meters in height, this islet was formed due to the erosion of the mountains that extend into the sea. Throughout history, Morro played a significant role in defending the city against pirate attacks, as it housed Fort Morro.

Cultural and Historical Riches

Santa Marta not only offers stunning natural beauty but is also a treasure trove of history and culture. The city is known as the place where the great liberator, Simon Bolívar, spent his final days and ultimately passed away at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino in 1830.

This 17th-century estate is an important historical and cultural site that attracts visitors from around the world. In the Basilica Cathedral of Santa Marta, built in the 1760s, rest the remains of Rodrigo de Bastidas, the city’s founder, and in a small urn, the heart and entrails of Simon Bolivar.

Tourism in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is also a quintessential tourist destination. It is known as “The Pearl of America,” a title bestowed by Father Antonio Julian in the 18th century. Its current tourism promotion slogan is “The magic of having it all.”

The city offers a wide variety of beaches and historical attractions, but one of the standout treasures is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which hosts the famous archaeological site of Ciudad Perdida, located between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level.

Santa Marta
Taganga beach with fishing boats. Credit: ColombiaOne/Luis Ospino

To the north of the city, behind the Pescaito hills, lies the picturesque beach of Taganga, which also serves as the starting point for Tayrona National Natural Park, a forest reserve with stunning natural beauty that spans from sea level to 900 meters above sea level.

Santa Marta is a destination that captivates history, culture, and nature enthusiasts alike. Its golden beaches, rich historical heritage, and position on the spectacular Caribbean coast make this city a must-visit destination in Colombia. Santa Marta, with its unparalleled charm, awaits you with open arms to explore its beauty and uncover its history.

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