Previously, I told you about the Caribbean cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla. Today, I want to tell you about two more Caribbean cities in Colombia worth visiting: Santa Marta and Riohacha, both of which lie on the eastern end of the Colombian Caribbean coast.
Santa Marta is the oldest founded city in Colombia1, and it is famous for both its historic importance as well as its natural beauty and ecological richness. Santa Marta, like Cartagena is a very popular tourist destination and offers you the chance to see, experience, and explore many unique sites and attractions.
The most popular reason to travel to Santa Marta is for its ecotourism options, including the spectacular beaches within and around the city. While not exactly within the limits of the city, the most famous tourist site near Santa Marta is Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, a national park that offers you the chance to explore some of the most beautiful beaches in the area as well as observe up close and personal unique plant and animal species that inhabit the area. To get here, you can catch a bus or taxi from Santa Marta proper and in a matter of 20-30 minutes, you can be exploring this Caribbean jewel. Other popular beach areas in and around Santa Marta include Bahía Concha, Rodadero, and the beaches near downtown Santa Marta.
In addition to the beaches and natural parks, Santa Marta offers you the chance to explore la Quinta de San Pedro de Alejandrino—the place where South American liberator Simón Bolívar spent his final days, and the Museo Bolivariano de Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Bolivarian Museum of Art). The Quinta de San Pedro de Alejandrino is a 17th century sugar cane plantation where Simón Bolivar arrived in the late 1800s to spend his last days. Here, you can learn about the history of the region, as well as the story of how and why Simón Bolívar arrived here. After learning a bit of Colombian history, you can also explore the Contemporary Bolivarian Museum of Art that houses a unique collection of local, national, and international pieces of art on the same premises. Likewise, make sure you observe the incredible and diverse community of wildlife that inhabits the grounds of la Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, especially the impressive iguanas.
About 2.5 hours north of Santa Marta is the smaller, but just as worthy of a visit, city of Riohacha. Riohacha is the capital of the Colombian department La Guajira—often called the Wild Wild West of Colombia. And, while Riohacha can seem a bit far from other larger Colombian cities, it is worth the trip. In Riohacha, you can see some striking examples of indigenous handicrafts made by the Wayuu indigenous group that lives in La Guajira as well as take advantage of the unique culinary offers in La Guajira by trying local dishes like fried goat meat, lobster, and chirrinchi (indigenous moonshine). Also, make sure to walk along la Primera—the principal street in the city centre where you will find artisans exhibiting and selling their handicrafts and also take a dip in the ocean as you get to know the beaches of Riohacha.
20 minutes north and south of Riohacha, you will also find a host of extraordinary beaches and wildlife sanctuaries. Twenty minutes south, you can explore the community of Camarones where you can discover the Parque Natural los Flamencos/Santuario de Flora y Fauna los Flamencos—a natural park famous for the flocks of flamingos that feed on the shrimp in the area. Twenty minutes north of Riohacha you can find the small beach community of Mayapo, which is privy to an amazing and gorgeous beach.
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- La Guajira: A truly off the beaten track destination in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Main Cities on the Colombian Caribbean Coast Part I (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Places to visit in La Guajira, Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)