Colombia's Oldest City

Santa Marta bears the distinction of being the oldest remaining Colombian city. Founded in 1525, Santa Marta is a popular destination for travelers due to its history, colonial architecture, and proximity to both the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and a variety of beautiful beaches. Indeed, the historical wonders of this city are a real attraction for many interested travelers; since Santa Maria was both a base of operations for Spanish conquerors seeking to invade the rest of the country, as well as a stronghold against marauding pirates, the city is rich in the leftover artifacts of innumerable conflicts. Located on the northern border of the country, Santa Marta lies at the foot of the mountain range, just before the edge of the Caribbean. Temperatures in Santa Marta can be quite tropical, sometimes getting as hot as 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the peak of the day, however that rapidly changes as one ascends towards the snowy peaks of the nearby mountain range. Regardless, the climate at the beach is typically quite mild, as the mountain range protects Santa Maria from most all violent storms.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is directly inland from Santa Maria, is truly a unique wonder in itself. It is the highest coastal mountain range in the world, and has snow-capped peaks which reach a lofty 18,700 feet. This range towers over the coast line, and are famous for the stratified micro ecosystems which each host a very diverse plant and animal community. On the foothills of the mountain lie the montane forests, an ecosystem which is even further subdivided by variations in yearly rainfall, which can differ quite a bit depending on which face of the mountain it lies. Further up, around 3000 feet in elevation, lies the cloudforests, a dense and misty ecosystem famous for tree-dwelling monkeys, sloths, and unusual lichen species. Even further, above 10,000 feet of elevation, lie the montane grasslands, which are occupied by marshes and acid bogs. This ecosystem is less populated by animal species, but visitors who venture this far up the mountain report that it is incomparable to any other place on Earth. Finally, above 15,000 feet, permanent snow caps the landscape. Indeed, the Sierra Nevada mountain range has an unusually diverse cluster of unique ecosystems to share with the interested and adventurous traveler.

Santa Maria is usually the busiest around Easter and between December 15 and January 15, when most of the Colombian natives flock to this coastal retreat to vacation. Therefore, travelers seeking a less congested visit would do well to schedule their vacation around these dates. However, Santa Maria does hold an enormous festival during the tourist season, which is world-renown for a number of unique events, including a spectacular jet-ski show. Once in Santa Maria however, there is always plenty to do. The beaches are always a favorite, and offer something for everyone: very well-developed beaches immediately adjacent to resorts and hotels, as well as secluded areas for those who endeavor to seek them out. Cruise ships are a regular sight just offshore, and the city has much to offer visiting vacationers, from a brand new marina scheduled to be completed in 2011, to a collection of colonial forts, to a vibrant night-life district.

Visitors to Santa Maria should not miss:

  • Tayrona National Natural Park- Called the most important preserve in the country, this park is home to both rainforests and virgin beaches. It also displays its own archeological dig, exploring one of the hundreds of prehistoric towns located around Santa Maria.
  • Quebrada Valencia- This impressive waterfall bursting from the thickness of the surrounding jungle has reportedly made visitors fall to their knees weeping due to its incomparable beauty.
  • Tanganga- This quiet, nearby fishing town is bordered by beautiful beaches, and is a popular destination for avid scuba divers.