As Colombia’s oldest city, founded in 1525 by conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta possesses a distinct allure, surrounded by immense natural landscapes, teeming in biodiversity and where the past is cemented in colonial architecture. Indigenous beliefs and a modern way of life co-exist side by side.
Over the past decade, increased security has attracted a wave of foreign and local investment that is transforming this “Pearl of the Caribbean” into an appealing travel destination, as well as a place to call home.
But what does it cost to live in an historical enclave where the sun shines 2,800 hours every year and to have the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta permanently in sight. And if that isn’t enough to lure you here, how about kilometers of palm-strewn beaches at your doorstep? As is to be expected, daily expenses depend on priorities, lifestyle and, most importantly, location.
Monthly rent differs considerably depending on the age of the building, amenities and whether the apartment has a view of the sea. Bellavista, a quiet residential neighborhood lining Los Cocos beach is often considered to be one of the best areas to live. Aside from being the only neighborhood in Santa Marta with its own beach and close proximity to the Marina, historical center, restaurants and bars, good public transport routes also makes this barrio an attractive option. In recent years, several luxury high-rise apartment buildings have been constructed with more “coming soon” transforming Bellavista into one of the more exclusive residential areas. Rent for a sea-facing 2 bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in a 15-year old building starts at $1,3 million pesos per month and can reach up to $2,5 million pesos for a newer building. Administration ranges from $300,000 pesos to $1 million pesos. A similar sized apartment a few blocks away, lacking a sea view, is priced around $800,000 pesos to $1.2 million pesos per month. Apartments in the historical center rent for around $2,5 million pesos plus $550,000 pesos for administration.
A 10-minute drive from the center is El Rodadero, a suburb of Santa Marta, and favorite holiday spot for Colombians. The average rent for an apartment with a sea view here rang- es upwards from $2 million pesos and $1,2 million for older buildings without a beach view. The administration can cost between $250,000 and $700,000 pesos. A few kilometers away, in Taganga, a tiny fishing village popular with backpackers, a 2-bedroom apartment is roughly $800,000 pesos.
So once you’ve found your breezy rental, food and household expenses should be your next priority, and these vary depending on where you shop and what brands you buy. On average, monthly food costs – including miscellaneous products such as cleaning agents and cosmetics – range between $400,000 and $600,000 pesos. If you shop at the main market – El Mercado – there are plenty of bargains, but you’ll need to haggle. Fresh fruit is best bought from street vendors, and from personal experience, I can purchase a half dozen bananas for $1,500 pesos and pay double for a large papaya, pineapple or avocado.
Like other cities in Colombia, monthly utilities depend on your estrato and how long you keep the oven or air conditioner running. Expect to pay between $400,000 pesos to $800,000 pesos for water, electricity, gas, and internet/TV in an estrato six neighborhood. This cost is similar to renting – or owning – an apartment in the historic center. For estrato five, the average monthly cost is $300,000 pesos.
A single bus journey anywhere in the city (including to Taganga, El Rodadero, and airport) costs $1,600 pesos. The minimum taxi fare around town is $6,000 pesos, and from the center to El Rodadero or Taganga $10,000 pesos. As the Simon Bolívar airport is a good 20-minutes west of Santa Marta, taxis charge $30,000 pesos.
Restaurants and nightlife
Dining out can be a costly as many restaurants and bars in the historical center and El Rodadero set their prices for tourists. A pizza or hamburger with some refreshments in a pleasant venue will set you back roughly $60,000 to $90,000 pesos (for two). An evening out in one of the city’s many high-end restaurants – with a bottle of wine – will cost around $300,000. Bars and cafés usually charge $15,000 pesos for a cocktail and $5,000 pesos for beer. Expect to pay for a good cappuccino $4,000 pesos. As you are on the Caribbean there’s no shortage of fixed-priced lunches and most come served with fried fish, coconut rice, patacón, a basic salad and drink. The average for a seafood corrientazo is $12,000 pesos and $25,000 pesos for better quality fish, such as robalo.
As this coastal city is located a stone’s throw away from incredible nature, Santa Marta offers plenty of opportunities for relatively inexpensive outdoor activities such as running, swimming, cycling, hiking, and surfing. A one-day snorkeling or Discovery Dive trip costs $60,000 pesos and $190,000 pesos respectively.
Santa Marta may not have the best public services, water quality or choice of international cultural activities, but it does offer the resident a host of invisible benefits – financially and psychologically. For less than $3,5 million pesos per month, you can have a comfortable and stress-free life in a safe and easy-going neighborhood, where it only takes you 15-minutes to get anywhere. If you depend on a retirement or are an aspiring entrepreneur, your budget will allow for having a few nights out on the town, and with some change for some fun day trips to nearby beaches Palomino, Playa Costeño, Arrecifes, to name a few. The most valuable “extra” of taking the decision to live in Santa Marta (besides having an arepa de huevo for breakfast) is the daily spectacle of watching the sun set over the Caribbean. Priceless.