6 National parks near Santa Marta

In this article we show you all the National Natural Parks near Santa Marta, so you know all the options you have on your next trip.

Published -0001-11-30 00:00:00

Colombia has many incredible places to visit, magical spaces with a lot of biodiversity. However, of all there is to see, we will focus on Santa Marta, a city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia whose privileged location makes it a great hub for visiting gorgeous national parks. If we include those of the neighboring and mystical ‘La Guajira’ they are up to six parks. This information will let you find more places around Santa Marta to visit on your next trip.

Natural Parks in Santa Marta

1. Tayrona National Park

The Tayrona National Park, with its variety of beaches and breathtaking sceneries created by the mixture of the coastline and the forest that cover all the natural reserve, make it the second most visited National Park in Colombia. Not only the beauty of the park does not go unnoticed in Colombia but internationally, Tayrona National Park has been nominated for the Travel Awards as South America’s leading tourist attraction for the past 5 years in a row!

When planning your trip to the park, please note that it is closed three times a year as part of spiritual cleansing ceremonies led by the indigenous people; of which the entity in charge of the National Parks of Colombia also takes advantage to carry out ecological restoration processes. 

Tayrona National Park covers a protected area of 15,000 hectares. To get there, depending on the beach you want to visit, there are several entrances by ground, from which we highlight these three:

  • The Palangana - Neguanje Road, is about 12 kilometers from Santa Marta, and through which you get to Playa Cristal.

  • The second one is 34 kilometers from the city, it is called ‘El Zaino’ and is considered the main entrance to the Park since it is the point from where you can get to ‘Cabo San Juan del Guía’, the most popular beach of Tayrona.

  • The third one is the way that leads you to Bahía Concha a great place for snorkeling.

Entrance fees can vary depending on the nationality of the visitor and the season of the year, you can get them on the official website of the Tayrona National Park.

Some of the most famous beaches of Tayrona park are

  • Cabo San Juan del Guía

  • Playa Cristal (Crystal beach)

  • Bahía Concha (Concha Bay)

  • Cinto

  • La Piscina

  • Gayraca

2. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park

The Sierra Nevada is home to unique flora and fauna and four indigenous peoples: Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo. This mountainous range on the shores of the Caribbean Sea has a variety of ecosystems in which we even find moorlands and glaciers, which would be impossible to find in the tropics if it were not for the height that these mountains reach.

It was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979 and thanks to its great cultural value it has been proposed to become a World Heritage site.

The Sierra Nevada covers a fairly large territory, so there are several destinations in and around the protected area. Some of these spots are:

  • The ‘Lost City’, Teyuna Archaeological Park

  • Minca

  • Cerro Kennedy 

3. Salamanca Island Road Park

Salamanca Island is the only protected area in Colombia to receive the name “Road Park”. The ‘ official website of the National Parks of Colombia ’ explains that this is because you can see the ecosystem composed of mangroves, marshes, and beaches from the road.

This Park, like the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, but it is also an area of importance for the conservation of birds and a RAMSAR site. Its location makes it easily accessible, as it is on the road between Barranquilla and Santa Marta, just over an hour from Santa Marta.

Even though its name can suggest, instead of just one island, the park is formed by small islands that are created by the accumulation of sediments, creating a kind of barrier between the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea. Currently, for its recovery, they have built canals to connect the marsh with the Sea (There was environmental damage caused by the construction of the highway).

The territorial extension of the Salamanca Island Road Park is 56,200 hectares, and it is open to the public for the following activities::

  • Hiking

  • Birdwatching

  • Wild flora and fauna observation 

  • Environmental research

  • Photography and video

4. Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

In the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (Great Swamp of Santa Marta) there are important areas of mangroves, tropical dry forest, and riparian forest (vegetation that grows on the edges of bodies of water). As for animals, birds take all the show because there are a variety of herons, ducks, and hawks, among others, that attract many birdwatchers. You can also see reptiles as caimans.

This lagoon complex has 26,810 hectares and although the protected area is closed to the public, the part of the Ciénaga Grande that can be accessed has become a tourist attraction where you can discover the amphibious culture of the palafitos (villages of stilt houses). In addition, its biological richness makes it excellent for the sighting of aquatic birds, both resident and migratory.

Generally, the palafito villages of the Great Swamp that are visited to live the experience with the community are Nueva Venecia and Buenavista.

On the official website of the National Parks of Colombia , you can find more information about this wildlife sanctuary.

So far we have seen National Parks located in the department of Magdalena, but many tourists take advantage of their stay in Santa Marta to visit Parks in the nearby department of La Guajira, we mention them below.

National Natural Parks in La Guajira

La Guajira is the northernmost department of Colombia (and indeed of South America), located a few hours from Santa Marta. Thanks to its position in the Caribbean and its golden desert it has incredible sunsets that you have to see if you come to Colombia.

5. 'Los Flamencos' Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

To the east of La Guajira, there is a lake area that has become a refuge for flocks of flamingos, tall and graceful birds with pink plumage.

It is located in Riohacha, near the beaches of Camarones and Dibulla, with an area of 7,682 hectares; you can get there by the ‘Troncal del Caribe’ highway from Santa Marta and then take the dirt road either by private or public car.

Although this space has a wide variety of fauna such as anteaters, deer, ocelots, and foxes, what characterizes the Sanctuary is its variety of estuarine and continental birds that make it a key place to enjoy flocks of pink flamingos, and other birds such as herons and gulls; easy to observe there.

6. Macuira National Natural Park

With an area of 25,000 hectares and temperatures of 27°C, the Macuira National Natural Park is an indigenous reserve and an oasis that supports a diversity of flora and fauna in La Guajira. 

Access to this forest is not easy and it is sacred for the Wayuu people, so you must travel with a guide who knows these places. Both this site and some birds are important in the mythology and social order of the Wayuu ethnic group.

Bonus: Tourist attractions in La Guajira that are not National Parks and that you can reach from Santa Marta

Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas:

La Guajira is divided into 3 regions.

  • Southern Guajira

  • Middle Guajira

  • Upper Guajira,

Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas are located in the Upper Guajira. To get there you first go to Riohacha either by plane or bus. It is a long way in 4x4 vehicles because it is a desert area, so the best option is to do it with someone who knows the route.

Some activities and points of interest in Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas are:

Cabo de la Vela

  • Manaure Salt Flats

  • ‘Pilón de azúcar’

  • Cabo de la Vela beaches

Punta Gallinas

  • Jepírachi Wind farm

  • Bahía Portete 

  • Bahía Honda

  • Bahía Hondita

  • Mirador de Caseres

  • Punta Gallinas Lighthouse

  • Dunes of Taroa

  • Pink flamingo sighting

  • Punta Gallinas beaches

  • Cultural exchange with the Wayuu community

As you can see, on your travel to Colombia, Santa Marta is a city from which you go to immerse yourself in the natural and cultural places of the north of the country. If you want to know any of these destinations, contact us to have the pleasure to help you plan your trip.

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