There's an easy answer to this: depends :D .. ok, not that easy.
For purely touristic purposes, Santa Marta is better to be skipped, for my personal preferences it has nothing special to offer, but it is key if you plan certain activities in the area, plus it has an airport with connectivity to the main cities of the country.
Also, I heard, in case this is something that interests you that Santa Marta is a good place to get your scuba diving certificate as it is very cheap and convenient... just saying.
How we "used" Santa Marta
We arrived around 15:00 in the city and went to our accommodation.
We stayed at Puerta Aqua by La Puerta Hostels.
The Hostel is well located close to the center and to the different activities you would like to do.
The staff is very friendly and helpful, we could leave our luggage even over a few days over there which was great.
From the accommodation we went to grab something to eat at Lulo Cafe Bar. The food was good and interesting to try some different kind of Arepas.
As dessert we tried the ice cream from Gnam Gelateria where a lot of their flavors are made with fresh fruit .... a deliciousness ... must try.
As in Cartagena we decided to book a free tour, which was a big disappointment as we learned nothing new and I can't say I saw anything particularly beautiful ... the guide was also a disaster despite the good reviews on GuruWalk.
The real reason why we stayed in Santa Marta was to have a place where we could store our luggage for:
- our 4 days hike to Ciudad Perdida which I will cover completely in a different post
- overnight stay in Tayrona National Park which I will also cover in a separate post
- Flight to Medellin