If you’re travelling the Caribbean coast of Colombia, then there’s a good chance that you’ll have to make the journey from Cartagena to Santa Marta.
The city of Santa Marta sees a lot of visitors, but that’s really due to its strategic location as the access point to many of northern Colombia’s best attractions - such as Tayrona National Park, the natural paradise of Minca, or the famous Lost City Trek, or the most northerly point in South America - rather than the city itself. However, most of us end up spending a night or two there anyway.
For travellers, there are three main options (updated April 2019) to travel from Cartagena to Santa Marta with public transport, and we’ve detailed the costs, logistics, and benefits of each below to make things clear and simple for your own journey.
It’s important to note however that both Santa Marta Bus Terminal and Cartagena Bus Terminal are located outside the historic city centres and main traveller hubs. This isn’t a big issue, but does mean that a taxi ride is necessary to/from your hostel. We have also shared costs and tips on the taxi rides below, based on our experiences.
Once you’ve worked out the best option for you to get from Cartagena to Santa Marta, then take a look our our Santa Marta guide for travellers next.
Cartagena Bus Terminal to Santa Marta
Cartagena's bus station is about 8 miles from Getsemani and the Walled City, and you have two options to reach it.
The easiest is to take a taxi. This should cost around 20,000-25,00 COP (£4.7-£6 / $6-$7.5) and takes 45 minutes, depending on traffic. Before getting in the taxi however, we recommend confirming how much the ride will cost to avoid an expensive surprise at the end. Note that many taxis in Colombia do not have meters (or do and simply refuse to use them).
It is also possible (and cheaper) to take a bus from by the India Catalina monument or Avenida Santander (look for a green and white bus with a "Terminal des Transportes" sign). The trip takes around an hour and tickets cost only $1,800 per person.
The best option is however to just go for the taxi as you’ve got a quite a long day of bus travel ahead of you.
Once at Cartagena’s Bus Terminal, you will have no shortage of gentlemen coming direct to you to try and make sure you go on their bus or to help you buy a ticket, even if it isn't the cheapest or the next departure. So we always recommend that you go straight to the ticket booths to buy your tickets.
There are a number of companies with services from Cartagena to Santa Marta with a few departures every hour, including Colibertador, Expreso Brasilia, Copetran, Berlinas, and Unitransco. There's no need to buy a ticket in advance (unless you're unlucky and arrive on the peak Colombian holiday season in December - February when everyone is leaving the city and heading to the beach!) and you’ll never really have to wait more than 30 or 40 minutes for the next service to depart.
We each paid 28,000 COP (£6.6 / $8.6) in February 2019 and remember that, in Colombia, it's always worth trying to get a slight discount on the first price mentioned on any bus company. Note that you may be provided with two separate tickets once you’ve paid; one for the Cartagena - Barranquilla section, and one for the Baranquilla - Santa Marta section. Don’t worry though as it will be on the same bus and you won’t have to change.
Unfortunately Cartagena to Santa Marta bus route is not done by the nippy little minivans more common in the south of Colombia, but in older buses that have seen better days. They always have a stop in Barranquilla bus terminal too to give the driver a break and pick up more passengers - if anyone tells you differently when you’re looking for tickets at the terminal then be very very sceptical!
We’ve now done this route a few times, and it’s relatively hassle-free but the taxi ride to the bus terminal is a pain and will take longer if traffic is bad.
When you arrive at Santa Marta Bus Terminal, it’s a 10-minute taxi ride for 7,000 COP to your hostel in the downtown area or on the city outskirts (many of the best ones like The Dreamer aren’t in the city centre).
Cost | 28,000 COP (£6.6 / $8.6) plus taxis
Time | 5-6 hours (plus taxis)
Book | Just turn up at the bus station
Shuttle Bus Cartagena to Santa Marta
A slightly more expensive option, but the most convenient for a lot of travellers travelling from Cartagena to Santa Marta. This journey is done in 12-20 person minubuses or minivans by two companies who offer a slightly different type of shuttle:
The Berlinas bus from Cartegena to Santa Marta is the cheapest shuttle option.
Berlinas has its own private bus terminal in the Marbella neighbourhood, which is a 15-minute 7,000-10,000 COP (£1.6-£2.3 / $2-$3) taxi ride from old town Cartagena depending on traffic. Simply ask for ‘Berlinas Marbella’ or ‘Berlinas para Santa Marta’.
There are departures every 40 minutes, and you simply purchase your ticket at the office and go on the next one.
This journey does involve a stop in Barranquilla and you will be dropped off at Santa Marta Bus Terminal or Berlinas’ nearby office, from where you should take a taxi to your hostel. From our perspective, this route is actually a timesaver in comparison to Marsol’s hostel drop-off service (see below).
Cost | 40,000 COP (£9.5 / $12) plus taxis
Time | 5-6 hours (plus taxis)
Where | Berlinas Marbella Station in Cartagena is at Cra. 18 #57 (off Calle 46bB, but can also be found easily on Google Maps.
Book | Just turn up and buy your ticket
It’s a door-to-door pick up and drop-off, which has a lot of upside. However, the downside of this type of shuttle is that everyone else on the bus also has to get picked up and dropped off at their hostel! So if you’re amongst the first picked up and amongst the last dropped off, you’ll have at least an extra hour added to your journey.
This is very much a tourist service, rather than a public transport option, but is a very convenient option to get to Santa Marta. However, once the cost of taxis are factored in on the two alternative options, this actually ends up costing around the same for a solo traveller as travelling with Berlinas.
Cost | 55,000 COP (£13 / $17)
Time | 5-6 hours, depatures every hour.
Book | Reserve via your hostel the night before or at agencies - most hostels offering a shuttle service will actually be booking your with Marsol.
Tip | Marsol also stole our pictures for their adverts in Colombia, so they’re shitebags in our view.
So there you have the best options on how to travel by bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta! If you do this journey yourself, please do let us know your experiences and and updates on prices in the comments.
If you’re still in planning mode, than head over to find out the best things to do in Santa Marta in our guide, make a booking at one of our recommended hostels in the city such as The Dreamer, Masaya, or La Guaca Hostel, or find out exactly what a trip to Tayrona involves