To get to Taganga Beach in Colombia you have pass through the city of Santa Marta. despite the good things we’d heard about Santa Marta (coastal location, laid back vibe, South America’s second oldest surviving colonial city), we found it hot and dusty, mostly un-colonial and wholly uninspiring (if you disagree you’re welcome to do your best to change our minds in the comments section, below).e skipped it.
Skipping Santa Marta (mostly)
One of the things we value most about our peripatetic lives is the freedom we have to stay or go as we choose so, after a disappointing and pricey lunch and a visit to the (closed) cathedral in Santa Marta, we moved on to nearby Taganga Beach.
We did ultimately discover a fantastic budget breakfast place in Santa Marta. It’s called Merka Welcome Restaurant and it’s on Calle 10C No. 2-1. For 5,000 COP (about US$2) we got huge plates of eggs. Another 4,000 COP (about US$1.50) got us an enormous pitcher of amazing fresh fruit juice. The only weak point, literally, was the coffee.
This simple restaurant (fans, mismatched tables and chairs) is famous for well-priced seafood dishes as well so we returned one night for dinner and Carlos, the night-time waiter, assured us that the food was “fucking good”. He was right and we feasted on huge plates of tasty, fresh fish for 15,000 COP (about US$6). Carlos hugged Eric when we left.
Do not confuse Merka Welcome Restaurant with a place in Santa Marta called Welcome Restaurant. It’s much more expensive. And you should probably skip the place called Pizza Vomito. We did.
Taganga Beach bums
Though Taganga is less than 3 miles (5 km) from Santa Marta it seemed like another world. The drive there, up and over the undulating coastline, felt a very small bit like driving along the Amalfi coast with impossible drops, blue water below and buildings clinging to hillsides.
The beach town of Taganga itself, however, feels nothing like the Amalfi coast. Beach front eateries, people selling handicrafts from blankets, and hostels and hotels in all shapes and sizes give Taganga the look of a burgeoning traveler ghetto which is it, but it still, thankfully, attracts Colombian travelers, especially on weekends. Taganga was a must-visit years ago then fell into disarray but new construction and lots of travelers gave Taganga a comeback vibe when we were there.
A budget hotel find on Taganga Beach
After checking out a lot of different accommodations we made a real budget hotel find in Casa D’mer hotel. Located right on the beach at the far end of the waterfront, this hotel has clean, spacious private double rooms with fans and good mattresses for 70,000 COP (about US$27) including free coffee, free ice water, great staff, and use of a small but satisfying plunge pool. The furnished roof deck has great sea views.
Eating in Taganga Beach
Fish-based meals can be had from simple vendors on the beach in Taganga for around 10,000 COP (about US$4) and there are an increasing number of international eateries in town too. Intifada Cafe serves up great falafel, if you can stomach the anti-Israel propaganda on the walls, and Pacahamama is an actual French restaurant with an actual French chef.
What to do in Taganga Beach
A shop called Casa Amarilla has tailors who will make you a custom swimsuit in 24 hours and another shop in town was cleverly incorporating bright, handmade, traditional mulas (or molas) made by the Kuna people into modern handbags, shoes and more.
The curved bay and beach in Taganga itself is nothing spectacular. The water is murky and the shoreline is cluttered with fishing boats. But a 20 minute walk along a trail that takes you up and over a bluff delivers you to Long Beach with snack shacks, chairs and umbrellas for hire and a much more inviting beach and clear water. Add in cold beer for 3,000 COP (about US$1.50) and you’ve got yourself a nice day. Water taxis make the short trip to and from Taganga too.
One warning: muggings, sometimes with machetes, are an increasing problem in Taganga, so be aware. However, we liked it in Taganga so much that we used it as a base for a long day trip to Tayrona National Park.
Colombia driving and road trip travel tip
Despite their generally dismal condition, many roads in Colombia have tolls. These tolls are particularly frequent and costly in northern Colombia. We paid more than US$25 in tolls just to drive the 145 miles (233km) from Cartagena to Santa Marta. You have been warned.
Here’s more about travel in Colombia
I agree. Santa Marta is an overnight–or a skippable–town. When I was there, however, the fanciest wedding I’ve ever gawked at (along with half the town), was taking place at the main church. There were fireworks, a light show, a live choir, garlands of flowers everywhere. There were celebrities all gowned up. When the bride finally appeared, she was just this ordinary young woman–very sweet and unaffected. I asked a local who was getting married, and she said, “I don’t know. Someone famous.” Without the wedding, Santa Marta is a nonstarter.
I hear lots of great things about this part of Colombia. I will be there in a month’s time, so I can’t wait to see it for myself!