Do you wonder if Santa Marta is safe for solo female travellers? In 2023, I travelled to Santa Marta, Columbia’s oldest city and this is how my experience was.
Introduction about Santa Marta
Santa Marta is famous for many different reasons. Firstly, it is the oldest city in Colombia, being founded in 1525. Secondly, Santa Marta is the home town of Carlos Vives, a well-known Colombian singer. You probably know him as he collaborated with Shakira on the song La Bicicleta. Thirdly, Santa Marta is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Caribbean Colombian coast, being the rival of Cartagena de Indias.
As Santa Marta is quite a hotspot on Colombia’s tourist attractions map, some of you naturally wonder if Santa Marta is safe for solo female travellers. Based on my experience as a solo female in Santa Marta, let’s find out how safe the city is.
Another useful blog post if you decide to travel to the Caribbean Colombian Coast:
Safety in Colombia is still a hot topic
Before we dive into this blog post’s topic: is Santa Marta safe for solo female travellers? I want to discuss something I often came across during my time in Colombia. While I navigated the country, I realised that safety is a hot topic in Colombian culture. When you get to the country, you will notice that it is one of the top topics people use to start a conversation.
After exchanging with the locals, I have been told that talking about safety is so engrained in Colombian culture due to the country’s drug war history when Colombia was not safe to be around.
Nowadays, things have changed and Colombia has overcome most of the hurdles. The country is not drug-free, but it has become way safer than it was in the 70s, the 80s and the 90s.
I was surprised to meet so many foreign travellers in Colombia in 2023. The country is rapidly becoming a hot spot for tourism in South America.
So is Santa Marta safe for solo female travellers? In short, yes, it is, with some caveats I write about in this blog post.
Did I feel safe while staying in Santa Marta?
Overall, I felt quite safe in Santa Marta, including when I was out after dark. The city is still busy after dark, many street vendors sell their products in the evening (because during the day it is too hot). You will also notice plenty of tourists wandering around the city centre.
Supermarkets and corner stores tend to stay open until late. There are also bakeries open, so there is still plenty to do and see after dark in case you might find being out and about during the day too much because of the heat.
Still, I would say to stay in the touristy spots, don’t venture too much outside the populated streets and do not stay out until it’s way too late, to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations.
Areas I stayed in Santa Marta and felt safe
As I mentioned previously, Santa Marta was pretty safe day and night.
Yet, I would say the beach, including the promenade area, can come across as more crowded. It is also where most of the tourist agencies and other tourist services have their offices, so expect more people to approach you because they are trying to sell their products. Here is also where I experienced a few stares, but nothing too excessive for South American standards.
I found Parque Bolivar to be tricky to enjoy during the day because some of the people who are homeless or poor come here to beg for money or food.
On the other hand, the historic city centre of Santa Marta was pretty easy to navigate. It was way easier than the other 2 places I already mentioned. My hostel was located on what seemed to be a safe street (Calle 19) which was safe after dark. La Casa del Sombrero is located on a safe street in Santa Marta, very close to major touristy spots.
My little incident in Parque Bolivar. Did I feel unsafe afterwards?
I already mentioned Parque Bolivar as being one of the rough spots in Santa Marta. It is also the only place in Colombia where I was asked if I wanted to buy cocaine. Obviously, I said no, and moved on. But, just to know it can happen.
What you can do if it happens to you too? Try to refuse politely and leave. You also need to make sure that the person does not follow you (luckily, I was not followed).
I have to say that after the incident I continued in Santa Marta for a few more days and did not feel unsafe. I did walk around the area a few times afterwards but never met the seller again.
The moral of the story is that this can happen to everyone and yes, I still believe that Santa Marta is safe for solo female travellers. My advice is to stay calm, refuse politely and leave while making sure you are not being followed.
Dealing with stares as a solo female traveller in Santa Marta. How bad is it?
Dealing with stares in Santa Marta as a solo female traveller is not that bad. Yes, they can occur, mostly around the promenade area, but people are usually harmless.
I can say that most stares are not malicious. In most cases, people are simply curious about you and how you end up in their city. Other times, people try to sell you something.
Is Tayrona National Park safe to visit for solo female travellers?
Tayrona National Park felt even safer than Santa Marta. Since it is a protected area, not everyone accesses the park. The majority of the people there are either tourists or vendors who are (I assume) licensed to sell their products inside the park.
The park has a security checkpoint where everyone’s entry tickets get checked, making the place safe for solo female travellers.
If you visit the park with a booked tour (as I did), you will be able to leave your stuff in a safe place (inside the bus), although it was safe for me to leave my stuff on the beach when I entered the water.
You will keep your things with you the rest of the time as you explore Tayrona. Therefore, my advice is to only bring the essentials since you will have to carry everything with you for the entire day (unless you want to leave some of them inside the bus).
There is no Uber in Santa Marta. Are local taxi companies safe to use?
Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s few cities where Uber is unavailable. Therefore, you will need to rely on local taxis if you prefer a more private way of transportation within the city. The city also has local buses that will take you to places around Santa Marta.
I did not use local buses in Santa Marta. Yet, I used local taxis when I travelled to the bus terminal. Local taxis are yellow.
I found the local taxis in Santa Marta to be safe and reliable. My only trip to the bus terminal was smooth and affordable.
Tip: The price is usually negotiated at the beginning of the ride. To make sure you’re paying a fair price, always check how much your ride would be with a local. The hostel/hotel staff can usually provide this information. I was lucky because my taxi driver quoted me the amount I was told by my hostel receptionist, so no further negotiations were necessary. But if you feel you are overcharged you may well negotiate the price. In this case, it is more useful if you speak Spanish because not many taxi drivers speak English.
Using the bus terminal in Santa Marta. How safe it was?
Unlike other times, I did not spend much time at the Santa Marta bus terminal. But it felt quite safe. I did not notice any differences between this terminal and any of the other bus terminals in Colombia.
It has a few shops, offices to buy your bus tickets and other common facilities you will likely find in these places like bathrooms etc.
Speaking Spanish increases your chances of staying safe in Santa Marta
Most Colombians are chatty people. They like sharing tips and insights with the tourists (if tourists speak Spanish). I got so many safety tips from locals while travelling in Colombia that I lost count of it.
Most people will let you know if you are about to turn into a dodgy street or worse if someone follows you. But you need to speak Spanish because most people in Colombia do not speak English at all.
Speaking Spanish will help you stay safe in Santa Marta, and also increase your chances of communicating better with the locals.
More tips on how to stay safe in Santa Marta as a solo female traveller
I have more tips on what I always do to stay safe when travelling to what’s being considered unsafe countries for solo female travellers. These tips can be applied to Santa Marta too.
Some of them might be extreme for some of you out there. You don’t have to follow all of it. Yet, what I know is that they kept me safe and sound in the past years travelling as a solo female traveller. And they worked perfectly well for me while I was in Santa Marta.
There you have them:
Do not wear expensive jewellery on the street, or in crowded places.
Do not show off your phone too much: if you want to check the map, you should usually go into a store or restaurant. Don’t worry, people won’t say anything to you. I did this all the time in Santa Marta and pretty much all over Colombia.
Make sure you always walk with the day bag in front (especially if locals do it). That’s when you know a place is not that safe.
Double-check you’ve zipped your bag.
Don’t wear revealing clothes to stop unwanted attention (especially if you are by yourself). Yet, I noticed that people tend to look less if you are with someone else.
This might read extreme too, but if you can, wear a regular watch to check the time. Sometimes, smartwatches can feel way too tempting.
Never go out by yourself at night in a foreign country unless you know the place well or you go with someone you trust.
Always listen to your gut feeling. If it tells you to leave, do so.
I’ve travelled mostly by myself for the past 10y+ and have never been assaulted, robbed or harassed. I won’t say it never happened simply because I followed the advice above, but I think most of the rules I listed above contributed to staying safe all these years.
Is it safe to go to the beach in Santa Marta?
Overall, going to the beach in Santa Marta is safe. Yet, you should pay attention to some of the things I mention below:
Don’t bring valuables with you. Ideally, if you are on your own, you will only bring your towel.
If you can, go to the beach with a group of friends. This way you can look after each other’s stuff.
Don’t leave valuable things unattended on the beach.
If you go to the beach in Tayrona, especially with a booked tour, you won’t have any of these worries. You can leave your things on the beach, you would still keep an eye on it, but it is way safer than in Santa Marta. I went to the beach in Tayrona National Park on an organised trip and did not have to worry about my belongings.
From what I noticed, beaches in Santa Marta are mostly used by locals. I did not find them very hygienic, which explains the lack of tourists. To swim in Santa Marta, I recommend you go to Rodadero or Tayrona National Park which has some gorgeous fine sand and blue water beaches.
Keep an eye on the government website for news regarding safety in Colombia
It is always advisable to keep an eye on the government website for any news regarding a country you intend to travel to. The UK government does a pretty good job of keeping their website updated.
Nevertheless, always take everything the UK government publishes online with a pinch of salt. I feel that these websites exaggerate sometimes and things aren’t actually as bad as they are being presented online.
In conclusion, is Santa Marta safe for solo female travellers?
Santa Marta can be a safe destination for solo female travellers if you take basic safety measures as I suggested above. First-time female travellers might find it a bit too much, but seasoned female travellers will be able to navigate it without major issues.
I felt safe in Santa Marta, more than I felt in other places I travelled to in Colombia. I would not say Santa Marta is danger-free, but it is definitely easier to navigate for solo female travellers than other places in Colombia.