You can take a city to city bus from the bus terminal but there is another option to get between Cartegena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. A "Puerta a Puerta" or Door to Door is a van (sometimes a car) that will pick you up at your door and take you to your destination. It is $25,000 COP each leg of the trip (Barranquilla to Sta Marta, Cartegena to Barranquilla, for example). I have heard that they will not go to the Barranquilla airport. There are several companies. I only have the cards for two of them:
Barranquilla: 300-844-5514, 095-369-0017, 095-360-4359
Cartegena: 300-844-5513, 6561177, 095-6565486
Santa Marta: 300-844-5516, 095-422-8188, 422-1111
Santa Marta: Cel: 300-816-1601, 315-773-5095, 310-728-8719
Cartegena: Cel: 311-416-1362, 300-660-1884, 317-751-4295
Usually you can ask the hotel/hostel to call and make the reservation for you.
This is considered a safer way to travel but it can take a little longer if you end up being the first one picked up and the last one left off. It can also be a little bit more expensive than taking a bus at the terminal but that may depend on your destination. For example, if you go from Santa Marta to Barranquilla, the price may be the same if you have to take a taxi from the Barranquilla bus station to your destination.
It's easy to get around Santa Marta. It feels like a big small town. You can easily walk around the historic district without needing transportation. Taxis within the city cost COP $4,000 (little over $2 USD) but if you don't have the correct change they may charge more especially during holidays (Holy Week, Christmas, etc.). Busetas, the small buses that look like converted vans are COP $1,200 (under a dollar). In the historic district, you will find the busetas going down Carrera 5 and Carrera 1 (by the bay). Carreras are parallel to the bay and calles are perpendicular to the bay.
To get to San Pedro Alejandrino, you can take a "Mamotoco" buseta on Carrera 5 (between calle 22 and Avenida Ferrocarril or Calle 9) and ask to be dropped off at San Pedro Alejandrino. This is very close to Buenavista, a shopping mall. The Mamotoco busetas are usually a little bigger. You can always ask if they go by your destination before getting on.
To get to Rodadero, take a “Rodadero” buseta on Carrera 5.
To get to Taganga, take a Taganga buseta in the market. It turns at Calle 10 to Carrera 11. I’m not sure where it begins. Ask locals and they will point you in the right direction.
It is difficult to get a map of Santa Marta other than the historic district. It’s best to do a Google search for “Santa Marta Colombia map” and you will find the historic district and the rest of the city.
Being a major tourist destination, Santa Marta is easy enough to get to. Buses to Cartagena leave every hour and it's worth getting a direct one unlike us. We arrived in between departures and jumped on a bus to Baranquilla which took about two hours and cost 10000 COP ($5) each on Unitransco. Once in Baraquilla we were ushered onto a dilapidated old bus that should have never been “sold” as being air-conditioned. It was only 10000 COP ($5) for the two-hour trip but we gladly would have paid more for a nicer (and cooler!) bus. I would certainly wait for a direct bus next time rather than just take the first thing going out.
It was about now that we started to tire of the long bus trips and even the short ones if they were not direct. It was also time to start deciding how we would spend the remainder of our time in Colombia so this all factored in on how we left town. There was no place of interest for us between Santa Marta and Medillin and that was a 15-hour bus trip, something we did to want to do. We looked at Medillin more closely and realized the only reason we were really going there was to go to Santa Fe de Antioquia, another two hours by bus. The more we read about it the less important it sounded and Medillin certainly was one of the pricier places in Colombia so we decided to give it a pass and head further south. This made flying an even more obvious choice so we booked a flight to Armenia on Avianca for 220,000 COP ($110) one-way each. This cut out about 20 hours on a bus so very well worth the price and got us in the heart of the Zona Cafetera quickly.
I asked how much it would be for a taxi to drive Bob and me around Santa Marta for a hour and was told it would be $15.00 This was satisfactory to me. Our taxi driver was named Henrico and he spoke almost no English (and I have very little Spanish). I pointed to the places that I wanted to go on the map. Mostly we went to the Central Square and looked around there and in the Cathedral.
The streets are quite narrow and there was a lot of construction going on. People were riding motorcycles and bicycles and I was glad I wasn't driving to have to avoid all of them.
Leaving the cruise you can find all kind of tours operators offer city tours. we got one group of eight for $20 p/p. We had a tour guide, and we visit the main attractions in the city for three hours.
We got here on a cruise ship. This is a very comfortable way to travel and this particular port is big enough that the cruise ship passengers don't completely overwhelm the facilities.
There is an information desk and also some shopping right at the port.
I took a taxi from Casa Familiar to the terminal in Santa Marta and it was 4000 pesos (August 2008). Brasilia Expresos had a bus to Maicao at 7am for 20 000 pesos. The bus arrived at 7.15 and it was a small comfortable bus. It took four hours to Maicao and I had not even left the bus before men started to call Maracaibo, Maracaibo.
Before going to Venezuela I wanted to change my Colombian pesos for Venezuelan Bolivares and that you can do in an office inside the terminal (It is a better rate here than the money changers have at the border in Paraguachon).
I took a shared taxi to Maracaibo and there was only one other passenger, a woman. The taxi was 23 000 pesos or 40 Bs (August 2008). The other passenger didn’t have to get a stamp in her passport so as I went inside the immigration office on the Colombian side the driver said they were driving on to the Venezuelan side because there were a lot of cars. I was a bit worried about my luggage in the back of the car but as I came walking to the Venezuelan side the car was waiting there and it had already passed the line of cars that were waiting. After leaving the border we were stopped several times, five times I had to show my passport and other times the police only looked in through the window and said we could pass.
About halfway we stopped at a shop (for water and bathroom) and the driver was checking the engine of the car. After that we drove even slower and all other cars (and taxis) passed us. As we reached Maracaibo we went to a gas station and then we stopped along the road to wait for a taxi for the woman who was going to another part of the town. The driver thought I could take a taxi from the same spot but I wanted to go to the terminal as it is not far from the hotel where I stayed. I was dropped only one block from the hotel. The taxi drive from Maicao took more than 3,5 hours.
Buses are leaving for the entrance of Tyrona National Park from Santa Marta market place, in the corner of Calle 11/Carrera 11. They are leaving about every half an hour between 7 - 15. The price is 4000 pesos (August 2008) and it takes a little bit more than an hour. The bus will drop you at the road to Cañaveral. There the military will look at your passport (or the copy of the passport) and search your bag. From there you walk 20 metres up to the place where you pay the entrance fee to the National Park (25 000 pesos for foreigners). There you also take a jeep, or truck, the last 4 - 5 km to the park. The car leaves when there is enough people and it cost 2000 pesos.
Then you have to walk. To Arrecifes it took me 40 minutes, and to Cabo San Juan another 35 minutes. It felt safe to walk the path alone and I was meeting a lot of people (and donkeys) along the way.
In Cartagena I took the bus to the terminal (1100 pesos in August 2008). The bus was not a direct bus as it took 55 minutes from Old Town to the terminal. You can take the bus from Avenida Santander outside the walls or from Monumento Indias Catalina.
At the terminal the company Costeña had a bus for 16 000 pesos leaving 9.45. It was almost an hour left so I asked for other companies and found Berlinare which had a bus at 9.00 for 20 000 pesos. Super cold air was blowing from the air condition in the back and there were only seats in the back left. I don’t like air condition and asked if I could sit at the seat next to the driver where it was not cold. And that was okay.
The sign at the front of the bus said Directo Baranquilla. Baranquilla is halfway between Cartagena and Santa Marta and when we came to the terminal there the sign was changed for Directo Santa Marta. After 20 minutes at the terminal we continued to Santa Marta, which we reached at 13.25.
From the terminal in Santa Marta I took a minibus to the centre of town. I was a bit confused first, before I understood that the buses going in that direction are no longer going along the Playa but are driving along Carrera 5. The minibus was 1000 pesos.
It is very easy to travel between Taganga and Santa Marta with the freequent minibuses. They cost 1000 peso (July 2007) and it takes about 15 minutes from Plaza Bolivar in Santa Marta to Taganga. Sometimes the minibuses goes up the road past Casa Felipe in Taganga, but sometimes they don´t.
When I arrived to Santa Marta bus terminal I took a minibus from there all the way to Taganga. The price was the same but it took about 45 minutes.
Uppdate August 2008: The price is still 1000 pesos, but the buses to Taganga are now passing on Carrera 5, a few blocks from the playa. When you come from Taganga the buses are still going along the playa, past Plaza Bolivar (but the road is a one way street now).
As I was going to change transport several times and cross the border I left the posada in Coro already at 6am. I found a taxi without walking too far, it was 5000 pesos to the bus terminal. At the terminal I decided to take a por puesto (shared taxi) to Maracaibo instead of the bus because it is faster. Not until 7.30 did the car get full so we could leave and about halfway we stopped to eat. The por puesto to Maracaibo was 30 000 Bs and took 3,5 hours.
As we arrived in Maracaibo I was immediately taken to another por puesto that was going to cross the border to Maicao in Colombia. It was also 30 000 Bs and it took 3 hours to Maicao. There were several police checkpoints along the way to the border. As we came to the first police the driver turned around and asked for money. I think he first asked for money from me and one of the man (but I‘m not sure he wanted me to pay as well). I had no intention to pay but only took out my passport from the bag. The man paid 5000 Bs and did so at several occasions. I soon realised he was travelling without a passport (I have later heard that is quite common at this border). Before leaving Venezuela you have to pay the departure tax, which is 37 500 Bs (July 2007). You must also leave the immigration form (if you have one from the airplane) or fill in a new form.
At the Colombian side everything was very quick.
From Maicao I took a bus to Santa Marta. It was leaving half an hour after I had arrived and it took 4,5 hours to Santa Marta. The bus ticket was 20 000 pesos.
Outside the terminal in Santa Marta there are minibuses going to the city centre and Taganga for 1000 pesos. It took 45 minutes to Taganga as the minibus first drove through Santa Marta. It was after 7pm and dark when I arrived to Taganga, but there are a lot of people out at that time who you can ask for direction.
Knowing it takes a very long time to go from Taganga to the terminal in Santa Marta I asked in the reception of Casa Felipe for a taxi. They told me that a taxi to the terminal is 8000 pesos when they call. I didn´t ask the taxidriver and he wanted to have 10 000 pesos as we arrived to the terminal.
At once I entered the terminal in Santa Marta I was met by people who asked me where to go. I went to a company, Transportes La Costena, which had a bus leaving within 10 minutes. The bus was quite small with air-condition (not too cold). There are no seat numbers and I was happy to find an empty seat by the window (on the right side where the sea is). The ticket was 20 000 pesos (July 2007) and the journey took a little more than 4 hours.
The terminal in Cartagena is far outside the city. There are buses going to the city centre for 1500 pesos, but I decided to take a taxi. Outside the terminal where all the taxis are there is a big sign saying how much it cost to go by taxi to different parts of the city. To Getsemani it was 9500 pesos.
The best way to get from the main bus terminal to town is by collectivo (usually a little Toyota Hi-ace driven by a Montoya wannabe). From the center of town, the plaza on the waterfront, it is easy to catch another collectivo over to Taganga. All collectivos cost just 700 pesos.
In busy times, it may be difficult to take on a backpack.
Taganga is a small sleepy fishing comunity located just outside Sta Marta. It's located in a beautiful bay. There are several mini-vans that ply the roads between Sta Marta to Taganga for a few pesos (check the sign on the mini-bus and make sure it says "Taganga" in it or ask a local to point you on the write one). It's really dirt cheap. Alternatively, you can take a taxi :).
Our taxi driver had to be resourceful and that included going around some barriers because there was construction everywhere in the streets