Santa Marta is world famous for the beauty of its geography including the Sierra Nevada Mountains – the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Where the mountains sweep down to the sea, Tayrona National Park can be found. Covering an area of 37,000 acres, the landscape varies from white sandy beaches to semi-tropical rainforest and is home to over 100 species of mammals, 200 species of birds and 50 species of reptiles. The Paujil, a breed of hen, is indigenous to the park, as is the majestic condor that nests in the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Monkeys can often be seen along the fringes of the beaches.
For guests who choose the full-day tour option, begin by exploring the park together with a local guide, walking along natural pathways through the semi tropical jungle towards the beaches. Depending on the condition of the sea, it may also be possible to take a swim. Continuing by tour coach along the coastal road, arrive at the Don Diego River, which was the setting for the film The Mission. An easy 20-minute walk takes you to the Tayronaka ruins where you will enjoy a delicious, traditional lunch of local Sancocho – a hearty soup with meat and local vegetables such as yucca, green banana and potato.
Colombia is home to approximately 26 different indigenous groups, and this is a unique opportunity to explore the remains of the Tayronaka terraced settlements built between 800 and 1600 AD. Your local guide will explain their construction and lifestyle of the Tayrona people. Though the Tayrona people no longer exist, members of another indigenous group, the Kogi, are believed to be their direct descendants, and will be on hand to demonstrate some of their traditional life skills. Before your return drive, step inside the small, one-room history museum and reconstructed round-house.
Alternatively, a half-day tour option is also available for guests who wish to take in the historical highlights of Santa Marta. Visit the small Gold Museum that houses some interesting gold and pottery objects from the local indigenous cultures. From here continue to Colombia’s oldest church. Built in the 17th century, its simple but beautiful interior is dominated by an Italian marble alter, a fine barrel roof and chandeliers. After a brief stop for refreshments at the lovely Parque Santander, drive to the revered La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. Set in beautiful grounds, this hacienda was built in the 17th century and once produced rum, sugarcane and honey. More importantly, it was where Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Colombia, spent his final days and died in 1830. Visit the house and grounds, and not miss the statue of Bolivar that offers a puzzling trick of the eye.