When you choose a place to retire (or vacation, or simply to relocate), you usually choose an area that has either mountains or beach, depending on your preferences. The mountains offer hiking and outdoor activities, while the beach offers a relaxing lifestyle with plenty of sun and sand. In Santa Marta, you don’t have to choose – you have both! Santa Marta is South America’s second-oldest surviving city (Colombia’s oldest city) and it sits on the Caribbean Sea and also borders the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s not as popular a destination for expats as some of the other cities in Colombia, but that can be a good thing.
About Santa Marta
Santa Marta gets its fair share of tourists thanks to its proximity to the Tayrona National Park and the multi-day guided treks to the Lost City (Teyuna) archaeological site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. The Park itself is full of mangrove forests, perfect for hiking through. There are also reefs off of the shore in this city where tourists will come to snorkel.
This city was founded in 1525, and it is the fourth largest urban city in the Caribbean region of Colombia. As old as it is, it makes sense that there are ancient ruins about. The indigenous people who lived there before the Spanish conquistadors landed in the area formed centers with stone pathways, terraces, and protected waterways.
Santa Marta today is a major port city and its economy is based largely on tourism, fishing, and agriculture. The Simon Bolivar International Airport is conveniently nearby for those who’d wish to live in a city from where they could easily travel. The airport is only 10 miles from the city center.
As for weather, you’d have to love heat to be comfortable in Santa Marta. Temperatures can range from the low 60’s to 100 degrees any time of year. The rainfall is heaviest from June to October, but humidity is relatively high all year-round as well.
Why Santa Marta Appeals to Expats
Aside from the gorgeous beach and mountain scenery, Santa Marta offers a comfortable lifestyle for the price. Depending on where you’re coming from, it’s likely that this city is more than affordable compared to your current city. The cost of living is about 70 percent lower than that of coastal cities in Florida, such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale, and it is 80 percent cheaper than Boston. You can pay about $450 USD per month for an apartment in the city or you can pay $1,000 to live in the ritzier area of El Rodadero, right on the beach. Either way, you can live a cushy lifestyle for less than $1,500 per month.
Santa Marta is also home to numerous shops, both upscale malls and local boutiques, banks, pharmacies, grocery store chains, medical care, etc. As an expat, this is a city in which you can find everything you need, as long as you can live with the heat!
The lifestyle of Santa Marta is generally active. It’s a place where you can ride a bicycle around the streets and hike into the mountains and the park. There’s fresh, local seafood available at the docks, and even if you choose to eat in restaurants, you can still eat healthy since everything is locally sourced.
Things to Do
Santa Marta is known for having the only Island Global Yachting club in South America. Those who wish to dock a yacht there can do so and enjoy that yacht to its fullest extent. This is a big seller for those who want to spend their free time out on the water.
Just as there are ancient ruins in the forests, there are sunken ships to explore in the sea. Santa Marta is a great area for scuba diving for those who wish to explore these types of ruins. The rest of what it has to offer includes eco-parks, the Tayrona National Park with its mangrove forests, snorkeling, and a lively nightlife along the coast. Colombian cities, in general, are known for their nightlife, and Santa Marta is no exception.
Finally, Santa Marta hosts several cultural festivals and events all year long. Some of those include the International Theatre Festival held in September and the Cumbia folklore dance presentations that take place any time of year.
The most expat-friendly neighborhood is El Rodadero along the beach. If you prefer a quieter life away from the nightlife, or if you simply prefer a lower cost of living, the nearby neighborhood of Jardin is also a great option – as long as you don’t mind traveling 15 minutes to get to the beach.