Set beautifully between the Caribbean Sea and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains, Santa Marta has stolen my heart. I have spent weeks in the region, traveling, exploring, and working on this blog and other projects. I can comfortably say that Santa Marta is a close contestant to becoming one of the best destinations in Colombia, and South America, for full-time travelers and digital nomads.
Colombia is quickly becoming the new destination for digital nomads seeking sea, sun, relaxed lifestyle and affordable cost of living. Until now, Medellin held the title of the best city in Colombia to live as a digital nomad. Yet with year-round sun, a great variety of beaches, and a relaxed Costa vibe – Santa Marta is becoming a very close contender, and I completely understand why.
I absolutely love Santa Marta. In fact, I have spent around three weeks there in total during my coast trip. I have travelled along the whole Caribbean coast of Colombia, and Santa Marta became my resting and working post.
Santa Marta has it all. And with the improving infrastructure and growing number of hostels catering for digital nomads, it is definitely a town to consider when looking for your temporary home.
So how Santa Marta compares to Medellin as a digital nomads hub?
Santa Marta is a medium-sized town in which you will find everything you would expect to find in a town, yet it conserves the relaxed coastal feel. With close proximity to some of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia, great treks in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and reasonable living costs, I personally, prefer Santa Marta over Medellin. There is a relaxed and slightly bohemian feel to the city. Nothing beats walking barefoot on the beach in the morning and enjoying the street art and the ever-present music and hot vibe of the town in the evening.
If you are a digital nomad, the biggest problem about Santa Marta could be actually getting some work done. There is so much to do in the area, and you might find it hard to focus on work. I, however, found myself to be much more productive when surrounded by nature and endless opportunities to spend my free time outdoors. I love working on hostel patios with a view or overlooking the sea (Rincon del Mar is the best for that, but there is plenty of working spaces with the view in Santa Marta as well).
If you are wondering whether you should choose Medellin or Santa Marta as your home, it all depends on your personal preferences. Santa Marta is much hotter and humid in comparison to Medellin and, of course, much less modern. Given its a coastal town, you will still have to deal with gringo tax on top of your purchases, huggle for the price and deal with street vendors.
Medellin is a modern, contemporary city. Santa Marta, however, has a charm that, for me, no other modern city in Colombia can compete with. It feels familiar, friendly, exciting and loud. You can buy almuerzo (lunch) on the street, freshly made lemonade and coconut water. Eat in great restaurants in Parque de los Novios, take a boat trip to Playa Cristal and a weekend trip to Minca. Even the tourists seem to be friendlier and warmer here. It’s also very easy to make friends in Santa Marta.
People seem to be much more relaxed but also open, upfront and friendly. I have made most of my friendships in Santa Marta, got the most work done and had the most fun!
I think it is obvious how much I love this city, so obviously, my opinion is biased. And what’s funny is that I am writing this post while in Medellin. And I’m sitting here longing for sun, sea and cold shower after a hot sticky day.
Santa Marta in a Nutshell
Santa Marta is a city on the coast of the Caribbean Sea in the north of Colombia, department of Magdalena. Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia. Yet in contrary to Cartagena, Santa Marta have been largely destroyed by pirate attacks, and there are only a few architectural remnants of its furthest past. Yet, the historic part of Santa Marta consists of charming republican and colonial architecture.
Santa Marta Climate doesn’t vary much throughout the year. The dry season lasts from December to April when the rainfall is less frequent, and the climate is meant to be dryer. The wet season lasts from May to November; however, this is precisely when I stayed in Santa Marta, and I would definitely not call it a rainy season. You will get few more overcast days when the humidity can get pretty disturbing, but overall, I enjoyed glorious hot and sunny days the majority of the time.
Santa Marta is a very popular holiday destination for Colombians, which is probably why the prices didn’t soar as high as in Cartagena. Santa Marta’s economy is based mainly on tourism. The town boasts exciting things to do, day trips, a great variety of restaurants and exciting parties. Streets are filled with shops, vendors and street food stalls. But the prices are much lower than, for example, in Cartagena, and there is much more of a local feel to the city. It’s touristic, but friendly at the same time.
Santa Marta is a safe city. I would not recommend wandering in the middle of the night, after a party. But I have walked around the main parts of Santa Marta, including the municipal market and, of course, Rodadero and never felt unsafe. Tourists are a very important part of the city and its wellbeing, you will be well looked after.
There is a good infrastructure and public transport within the city. Taxis are readily available and affordable, and there are frequent busses running between Rodadero, Taganga and other parts of the town. It is easy to travel from Santa Marta to places like Palomino, Riohacha, Minca or Cartagena.
Santa Marta boasts an International Simón Bolívar Airport airport from which you can also take national flights to nearly all parts of Colombia. Santa Marta is both a great starting point for your Caribbean travels as well as an excellent base for digital nomads.
Here is why Santa Marta is a great Digital nomad hub
Work-Life Balance / 101 ways to plug out
After spending few hours in front of the computer, there is nothing better than simply walking out of the house to enjoy the rest of your day without wondering what to do and where to go. All you need for the relaxed evening and entertainment is at your doorstep. Nothing is too far in Santa Marta.
You can take an evening walk by the beach or the Marina and admire one of the best sunsets. Fancy a good healthy meal? No problem. There are more and more great restaurants opening around Parque de Los Novios in Santa Marta historic centre.
Tired of listening only to your thoughts and click of the mouse? Why not grab a cocktail and immerse yourself in Latin music and street entertainment. Fancy a peaceful meal with a view? I highly recommend the 7 Mares restaurant in the Marina. Or you can just take a stroll around the town and soak up its warm climate and vibrant atmosphere.
Once you are ready to fully enjoy your day and totally plug out, Santa Marta’s surroundings have heaps of activities on offer. There are many beautiful beaches, towns and villages within close proximity that you can’t miss!
The closest, easily accessible and most popular are Playa Blanca, Playa Cristal and Taganga. You can access all of them by bus, taxi, or boat, which will make a great day out.
You can also take a day trip to Minca. Or even better – stay in Minca for the weekend, hike in the mountains, and participate in the Cacao ceremony. Actually you could easily spend a week in Minca, specially in Casas Viejas hostel where the views are to die for and the internet speed is great!
If you want to enjoy some of the most incredible beaches in Colombia – Tayrona National Park is only an hour bus ride away. You can also visit some of its beaches by boat for a day trip.
And once you have explored all the nearby attractions, you will be able to take a 2 or 3 days trip to La Guajira to visit Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas, or spend a couple of days in Palomino, the hippiest beach town in Colombia.
With so many ways to switch off, you might find it hard to come back to your desk. But there are great hostels and coworking spaces in Santa Marta where you will be able to work without distractions for a very affordable price.
Santa Marta has great co-living and co-working options
In the last 4 to 5 years, Santa Marta’s co-working scene has grown significantly. More and more hostels are creating dedicated working spaces. One of the best ones is Flamingo co-living and Co-working, where I have spent ten days and loved it. It’s a beautiful, friendly and well thought through concept and hostel. It has spacious co-working space as well as private rooms and hot desks for rent. The internet is super fast, and if you like working and admiring the views – the roof terrace is also a great place to get some work done.
After hours, you don’t even need to leave the hostel to have some fun. There is a great rooftop bar and restaurant, and during the weekend, the next-door La Brisa Loca offers the best parties in town. There is a good mixture of nomad residents and temporary travellers in the hostel, and it is easy to make connections and friends.
Another excellent option for digital nomads is the Distrito Hostel. This is a new hostel and only just started making a name in town. Distrito was like a home away from home for me. With the most friendly staff and owners (and of course Yoda the cat!), excellent air conditioning rooms, as well as a dedicated working station – I, got a lot of work done while staying in the Distrito hostel. I have also made great friends and had a lot of fun. If you are looking for a more low key working area in a friendly environment 5 minutes away from the beach – Distrito is your place!
Their private rooms are air-conditioned, comfy, and offer some of the best beds I slept in! As far as I know, they are considering extending the property with potentially a small pool or jacuzzi on the roof – so check them out before you travel!
The Viajero Hostel in Santa Marta doesn’t need to be advertised. Viajero is one of the best hostel chains in Colombia and South America, offers fantastic accommodation, and is very much dedicated to digital nomads. With a swimming pool and great food provided on-site, as well as heaps of entertainment options – you will want to stay forever.
If working from a Cafe is your thing, there is plenty of nice cafes to choose from, especially around Parque de Los Novios. Particularly cute, offering a great coffee and a range of vegetarian dishes is Ikaro Cafe. Recommended!
The array of restaurants and bars offering a variety of great dishes is growing as we speak. In Santa Marta, you will find all types of food and restaurants you might need. Italian, Greek, Sushi and Indian – just to mention few. There are quite a few vegetarian and vegan establishments as well. I had some of the best pizza in Santa Marta.
When I didn’t fancy spending too much money, I could just grab a local lunch of fish and coconut rice from a local vendor or market. A lunch like this would consist of soup followed by a main dish and a drink well under 20,000 Pesos.
I liked spending the morning in Ikaro Cafe, where I could get a great vegetarian breakfast and a green smoothie. I have actually never had bad food in Santa Marta. Tourism is massive here, and providing the best quality products and service generates a livelihood for many locals. You will be well looked after and very well fed.
Some of my favourite restaurants include:
Ouzo and Litlle Ouzo are just great! The food is delicious and reasonably priced for the quality. They have fantastic pizza, and I highly recommend their Greek potatoes!
Ikaro Cafe has made a name for itself and is very popular among the local ex-pats and travellers. It’s a vegan and vegetarian cafe and restaurant serving probably the best coffee in town and a great variety of smoothies and healthy juices. I really enjoyed my green omelette breakfast there, but you can also have a great lunch and spend a day working in a colourful and friendly environment.
SMR Burger House have burgers to die for! The only problem you will have is which burger to choose from! The service is excellent as well!
Gnam Gelateria has the best ice cream in town! I am not a massive ice cream person (i know, don’t judge lol), but the ice cream I had there was divine!
Unfortunately, I have not managed to eat in Soul Food restaurant, but it has been very highly recommended to me. I will definitely eat there on my return to Santa Marta.
Los 7 Mares is beautifully set above the Santa Marta Marina. The views are great, and the restaurant is very nice with excellent service. I liked their fish stew with coconut rice so much that when I found them in Palomino, I ordered the same dish! Great cocktails too. Mind you, this establishment is on the pricier side. But worth visiting at least once.
It’s easy to stay fit and healthy in Santa Marta.
With the hot and sunny weather and beach close by, it’s easy and cheap to stay healthy and fit in a town like Santa Marta. A morning or afternoon swim or a run along the promenade is not going to cost you a thing. But there are also few pretty good gyms in town where you can get the sweat out. The average price for a monthly membership ranges between €20/$24 and €25/$30
Fish and seafood are ever-presents as well as a myriad of fresh juices, smoothies, and coconut water straight from the fruit for extra hydration. The food you will eat along the whole coast of Colombia is fresh, organic and natural. Something that we need to pay a premium price in Western countries comes as a default in Colombia.
Yes, Colombian cuisine is pretty carb-heavy. And after following Keto pescatarian diet for months, I was petrified at first. I have actually not only lost weight in Colombia but feel stronger and fitter. Sea, sun and fresh organic food do miracles.
Santa Marta is very affordable
Santa Marta is still one of the most affordable towns in Colombia. You can spend as little or as much as you want, but you can easily eat three meals per day for under 50,000 Pesos (€11/$10). Of course, once you add some cocktails, delicious fresh fruit smoothies or some beer, you will have to be prepared to spend more – yet even then, prices are very reasonable.
You won’t have to spend much money on transportation as Santa Marta is very walkable and the local bus charges 2,000 Pesos one way. Taxis are also pretty affordable.
Your spending will obviously go up as you start enjoying Santa Marta’s surroundings and start taking day trips. But yet again, it’s up to you how much or how little you will be prepared to spend.
The good thing (at least for me) is that Santa Marta is a coastal and turist town. With that, you can haggle and often, a gringo tax is added as a default. The perk of it is that you can get nearly everything cheaper than you think, sometimes even bus rides. In the restaurants and bars, the prices will be set, but there is a lot of offers like a meal of the day for lunch or never-ending 2 for 1 on cocktails.
So what are the costs of living in Santa Marta as a digital Nomad?
In average a single person will spend between €800/$950 and €1200/$1400 depending on how lavish your lifestyle is. And talking about lavish – you could spend much more than that if you stayed in fancy hotel in Marina and ate steak every day.
Here is the breakdown:
I have stayed in both Flamingo and Distrito in private rooms and paid €90 (420,000 COP) for a week (Distrito) and €190 (900mil COP) (10 days Flamingo). Which on a monthly basis would come to under €550 in Flamingo and under €400/$475 in Distrito. With Flamingo, you are getting a restaurant on-site and breakfast was also included in my rent, so I saved money there. I could say that without the meals or breakfast on-site, a monthly stay in a hostel’s private room in Santa Marta would vary between €400/$475 and €500/$590. If you chose a dorm room stay, this price could go down all the way to €300/$350 per month or less.
Mind you, many hostels offer a discounted price for a long term stay – it’s worth asking.
Food / Eating Out
The great thing about staying in a coworking hostel is that you will have an on-site kitchen and will be able to cook your own meals. Yet eating out in Santa Marta is very affordable, so I ended up cooking only a few times. And mostly because I missed my own food.
You can have breakfast in town for as little as 2,000 COP for an empanada or 10,000 for an excellent breakfast in one of the best coffee shops.
The cheapest lunch you could get around the market area would probably start at around 15,000 COP. A good lunch around Parque de Los Novios would cost between 20,000 all the way to 40,000 COP.
The same goes for dinner. You can grab a burger, hotdog or other street food for under 10,000 or less or have a fancy steak or lobster meal for 50,000 or even 60,000 COP. Overall, if you cooked or had breakfast in a hostel, ordered reasonably priced lunch or dinner and treated yourself to a fancy meal a few times a month – the overall cost of meals/eating out in Santa Marta would come to around €250/$300 per month.
For reference, a bottle or can of local beer is around 4,000 or 5,000 COP, a cocktail between 15,000 to 25,000 and a bottle of wine starts from 25,000 COP.
This can easily be as little as 10 bucks a month if you walk around. And there is not much more to say about this 🙂
Here, once again, you can spend as little or as much as you’d like. One weekend trip a month (Minca, Tayrona Park, Palomino or Buritaca) could cost you between €50/$57 and €100/$115. A boat trip to Playa Blanca or Playa Cristal is around 100,000 COP (€25/$30), including lunch. Occasional party and night out could cost you anything between 20,000 COP all the way to 100,000 COP. On average, and if you don’t go too heavy on entertainment, you could have a pretty good time for under €200/$230 a month.
In totals, you could have a pretty comfortable lifestyle, enjoy coworking space, stay in a private room and live a relaxed, happy life in Santa Marta for under €1000/$1200 a month. If you’d decide to stay in a dorm and save money on fancy dining out – €800/$950 would do as well.
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No place or town is perfect. And the same goes for Santa Marta. Among many pros of living close to the beach and in a smaller vibrant town there are some cons of living in a coastal town that are specific to Colombia. Here are some of the downfalls of living in Santa Marta as a digital nomad or slow traveller:
- Santa Marta is hot and humid. This type of weather is not for everyone. I have spent a couple of years living in Malta, and their hot and humid summers were killing me. But Santa Marta climate was quite bearable for me. There are days in Santa Marta when you will just sweat, puff and huff a lot. But on the majority of the days and throughout the whole year, you will enjoy glorious sunny days and often lovely evening breeze to accompany your evening walks and shenanigans.
- No hot showers unless you stay in a fancy hotel. This is true along the whole Caribbean coast of Colombia. To be honest with you, I did not miss hot showers, even once. But it can be a deal-breaker for some.
- Local beaches are not the greatest. Yet they are definitely nicer than those in Bocagrande Cartagena. But with Tayrona National Park, Palomino, Costeno or Buritaka just around the corner, I didn’t mind a morning swim in Santa Marta at all. In your free time, you can hop on a boat, and in no time, you will find yourself on the paradise beach of Tayrona or Playa Blanca. And for reference, Rodadero and Pozos Colorados are pretty decent beaches.
- Santa Marta is touristy. You will have to deal with street vendors and drinks and ice-cream sellers on the beach. You will be invited to every restaurant you will pass by and handed in the menu the moment you will look in their direction. However, it is not nearly as bad as it is in Cartagena and not much different to towns like Palomino. If you are not interested, just politely say ‘No Gracias’, you will not be bothered more.
It helps to understand, especially these days when the business is significantly slower, that every customer is like gold for those establishments and sellers. You are not obligated to buy anything, but you are definitely bound to be friendly and respectful. My opinion, at least.
I adore Santa Marta, can you tell? And I miss it too. On my return to Colombia, I will definitely spend a chunk of time in Santa Marta.
Many visitors stay for a day or two just before they head to discover the rest of the coast. It’s a big shame as the town has so much to offer. I guarantee you, especially if you are a beach bum like me, that if you spare some more time to this town, you will not be disappointed and will not want to live!
And my prediction is that in just few years, Santa Marta will be one of the best destinations for digital nomads not only in Colombia and South America but also in the world. Watch this space 🙂
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