Santa Marta: The Oldest City in Colombia

We arrived in Santa Marta, only to spend a quick two days preparing for our expedition to San Lorenzo. Santa Marta is a small beach city, located two hours North of Baranquilla and four from Cartagena. It is the oldest city in Colombia due to its convenient locality, on the northeastern coast, for shipping. It has since become a popular destination for backpackers and ex-pats who have opened restaurants and hostels to accommodate the millennials who wants to explore Colombia’s vast wilderness. These destinations are becoming quite touristy, including the hip backpacking mountain town of Minca and the coastal national park - Tayrona where the beaches are lovely, the water is blue, and the forest is full of animals.

Santa Marta is hot. Chris and I mostly drank jugo, and ate food. The Copa America tournament has been going on (until their loss to Chile a few nights ago) and so the streets are filled with yellow jerseys and loud plastic horns that sound throughout the night whenever Colombia scores a goal. On second night in town, we met with Beto Rueda, professor at the University of Magdalena, and his wife Camila. They are both young, extremely kind, and a beautiful couple. We grabbed some drinks and food and discussed work and Colombia in my broken Spanish. Luckily, Chris is fluent in Spanish and served as a sort of translator for me these first few weeks.

During the first few days we met with Beto Rueda, the professor I will be collaborating with at the Universidad de Magdalena, and parques nacionales employee named Rebeca Franke. The entire meeting was in Spanish, so I think I got about maybe 15% of what was happening. But what I did find out is that I may become a Colombian park ranger for a month (um what?). But that will be a story for another day…Santa Marta served as our base in between field excursions and I am pretty sure we sampled 45% of the Airbnb’s in the region.

Santa Marta Favorites

There is a place in Santa Marta called “Parque de los novios”. It is a small square with benches, trees, and open areas to sit.  It is surrounded by trendy restaurants and bars. We spent one night eating at a place called Ouzo, I wasn’t that impressed despite its reputation. However, my favorite thing were the street performers. There was a band of older men, one very tiny Colombian man, with a permanent frown etched into his face, played the accordion, while another older, skinny afro-Colombian played the drums. The singer was the youngest by 10 years. I recorded a crummy video and donated $ 2,000 pesos. Then the break dancers came to our side of the park. These young men, probably 18 or so, had a choreographed set that they had performed around the park throughout the night. They were incredible. Literally, one guy was bouncing on the cement, upside down, legs in the air, on his hand and then would pop down and bounce on his shoulder, and then back up to his hand… on CEMENT! How do you do that!? There were back flips and synced moves, I was super into it, $10,000 pesos.

My favorite thing we did in Santa Marta was go to La Puerta. La Puerta is a dive bar, known for its champeta (Colombian style of music and dance, similar to reggaton). We met up with Beto and his wife Camila, who looked lovely as always, while I wore my tattered jean shorts, dirty keds, and a gray tank top (really killing it with the whole dirty hippie vibe). I promptly ordered a mojito, because hey why not? Everyone else stuck with the local beers- Aguila (Ah-gee-lah, I have the hardest time remembering this pronunciation or Club Colombia). After my mojito, I immediately started swaying to the rhythms of the DJ. Camila and I were definitely having more fun than the boys and I got to be like, “yeah, I’m with her”. Because my Spanish is not the best, I find that my best way of communicating with people is through dancing. Well, OK, this is when people think I am Colombian. Camila even said I looked Colombian as long as I didn’t talk (heard that one before in Cuba too- ultimate gringa accent over here). We ended up dancing at La Puerta until 2 am… success.
We came here to find the ranas!

limonada con menta (my favorite!)

Roaches, now I just need the rats!

Anna look alike (B. Frye)

A representation of the indigenous cultures (4 groups in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) in downtown Santa Marta


street art + gato


Para las arepas

Chris KILLIN it in my clothes (he was incredibly unprepared for this trip :) )

Despues de la Puerta, I still don't look good in yellow

Lastly, there is a café called Lulo, it seems to be run by an ex-pat, although I am not sure where she is from since we only spoke to her in Spanish. Lulo (also a type of fruit) has the BEST jugos in town. Be sure to try the limonada con menta, my personal favorite because it is incredibly refreshing. We ate here three times. I got two arepa salad meals, one sandwhich, the patacones (fried plantain chips), and many jugos. I mean the jugo is only $4-5,000 pesos which is less than $2 USD- mas jugo por favor!

Arepas + Limonada con menta at Lulo


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