For most people, the words “Colombian Caribbean” conjure up images of Cartagena, Colombia’s famous walled city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. And I’ll admit that Cartagena is an absolute “must see” if you go to Colombia.
But if you want to have a great time on the Caribbean seashore, there’s a real treasure just 110 miles further up the coast—Santa Marta.
It doesn’t share Cartagena’s world-famous image. But it has just about everything else you’d want when looking for a seaside vacation home or a place to invest in Colombia.
Santa Marta is Colombia’s oldest city, lying where the desert meets the Caribbean. The area referred to as “Santa Marta” usually refers to the region bounded by Taganga—five minutes north of the city—to El Rodadero, which is about 10 minutes south. Due to the city’s orientation, most of Santa Marta’s coastline is actually facing westward, so even though you’re on the Atlantic, you’ll be treated to a dazzling nightly spectacle as the sun sinks into the sea.
The first remarkable aspect of the area that I noticed was the lack of humidity, thanks to the prevailing wind that comes from the surrounding desert. And with Santa Marta’s heat, you’ll appreciate the fact that it’s at least dry.
For many years, the main draw in the area has been the suburb of El Rodadero, which has a character that’s hard to describe. On the oceanfront, it offers a fine sandy beach lined with palm trees on warm, calm waters. Stately yachts bob in the sea. The brick boardwalk is anything but glitzy. Instead, it’s shaded with palms, filled with people walking, patronizing the occasional kiosk selling everything from fresh-made pizza to fresh-squeezed fruit juice. It’s what I’d call “unpretentious Caribbean”.
But once you’re off the beachfront road, El Rodadero is another story. You’ll find open-air markets, shops, restaurants of all types, and residential sectors. People are bustling about while Latino music plays in the background. In other words, rather “un-Caribbean”.
Weekend nights turn into an impromptu beach party, with families turning out by the hundreds to enjoy the local music of traveling bands. Vendors supply them with pizza, shish-kabob, and snow cones. It’s fun to watch and be a part of it all.
The beach and town are great…but it’s the property values that will really get your attention in El Rodadero. I found an older apartment less than two blocks from the beach, with three bedrooms (and old-fashioned wide molding around the doors) for only $55,000. You could see the ocean from the balcony. A large, 12th-floor apartment right on the beach was going for only $126,000.
And there’s more to Santa Marta than El Rodadero. There are huge opportunities right now in Centro, particularly near the new waterfront. And I also visited a number of new luxury highrises just south of El Rodadero, not far from the airport. I look at these in detail in the current issue of International Living magazine.
Santa Marta is full of opportunity right now. I think the low prices are a result of Colombia’s lingering negative image, and are sure to rise once the mainstream learns of the value. For today though, Santa Marta will bring you a lot Caribbean fun for your money.