Santa Marta, founded in 1525, is Colombia's oldest surviving town, but lacks the colonial character that makes Cartagena what it is; making Santa Marta not worth the visit and the beach here is your typical city beach a bit dirty and tacky. However Santa Marta is your access to this northern tip of Colombia and will most likely end up here a couple of times on the way in and out.
Taganga is a small fishing village 5km north east of Santa Marta nestled under the surrounding mountains with old fishing boats lining the beach front. It offers a more relaxed atmosphere than the bigger and busier city ports of Cartagena and Santa Marta. While there is not much to see here, it offers a great opportunity for scuba-diving at cheap prices and a place to chill out in for a couple of days. At first it seems like a nothing town but it defiantly has something that grows on you on (probably the relaxed slow pace of life here) even if you are only here for a couple of days.
If looking for a day on the beach, Playa Grande is the place to visit. Locals will ferry you there by boat, but do not pay for the return trip a head of time, expect to pay about 2,000 pesos each way per person (2010), the boat ride allows for good photo opportunities from the sea of both Taganga and Playa Grande. To mix it up walk back from the beach resting on the way back to soak up the surrounding views. The walk takes about 20 minutes. It is advisable to take something to drink and possibly food; there are restaurants here but they are more expensive. If you elect to eat at the restaurants visit a few and ask for the different prices of the different fish on offer, this is interesting in itself.
Where to Stay
Three main places to stay are:
Casa Felipe: It has friendly staff and is a good place to meet others travelers, plus it is comfortable. The hostel lacks the views of the bay that are on offer Techo Azul and Casa Blanco.
Techo Azul up on the hill just as you enter Taganga offers great views over the bay and town. The beauty about this place is you share a two bedroom apartment so you have your own kitchen lounge to cook and relax in, as well as hammocks on the balcony up top.
Casa Blanco the draw with this place is that it is right on the water and has good rooms with private balconies looking out to sea, but it comes at a high price.
Where to Eat
Restaurants on the water front side of the main street are cheaper than the main gringo hangout, I recommend the pizza. The street vendors offer a great cheap choice of food and are not half bad.
Most buses from Cartagena to Santa Marta stop in Barranquilla and most people have to change buses here, even if you where promised the bus was direct to Santa Marta, roll with it. From Santa Marta a mini-bus (a.k.a vans with no side doors for easy exit and entry) run directly from the bus station to Taganga it takes about 40 minutes and travels in to the centre of town so sit back relax and enjoy the ride through Santa Marta. If the bus drivers refuse to take you because of your larger over filled backpacks offer to pay for 2 spaces in the mini-bus or if you are a well trained haggler you may get a taxi to take you to Taganga for 6000 pesos but defiantly do not pay any more than 8000 pesos. (2008)
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