In Colombia's major cities, tourists have a wide range of cuisines to experiment with, from local food to Continental and Asian; in smaller towns, you'll have to do with comida corriente, or the staple food of the region like corn, potatoes and rice. Soups (caldos) are frequently served with lunch and dinner and meats (chicken, pork, beef) and seafood are usually a part of main meals.
Typically, local ingredients include red beans, fried plantains, white rice and arepa, leavened South American bread resembling a tortilla.
Our Santa Marta Restaurant Guide below tells you all about the wonderful food and cuisine to be found in Santa Marta, as well as the best places to find it. Many of the Santa Marta restaurants, cafes and bars are situated amongst the best known Santa Marta shopping spots, perfect for grabbing a quick bite between buying that perfect Santa Marta souvenir. For more information on Colombian food and cuisine take a look at our Colombia Restaurant Guide.
Food & Cuisine in Santa Marta
The Caribbean Sea yields a wide variety of seafood, while meat products come from the Savannah region of Bogota. Some local favourites are coconut rice, egg arepas, casaba (sweet, winter melon), fried plantain and stuffed potatoes.
Seafood and fish varieties are ubiquitous items on the menu, regardless of the type of restaurant you decide to patronise. Santa Marta boasts of a good variety of eateries from upscale Santa Marta restaurants to tiny joints serving Colombian staples for as little as $1.60-$4.20. The neighbourhood of El Rodadero is rather more expensive. Playa Blanca is an enormously popular beach where you can enjoy fresh seafood dishes, along with a fabulous view of the sea.
For a delicious Sunday lunch, try sancocho de gallina, a hearty chicken soup eaten with rice, vegetables and salad. Sancocho, which is basically a meat and vegetable stew, assumes several regional variations. In coastal areas for instance, sancocho is prepared with fish, a must-try for food lovers.
After sunset, the pavements of Avenida Bastidas and its camellón (median) become a long line of colourful street food stalls, hawking their tempting wares. The air is redolent with the aromas of frying cheese arepas and shish kebabs. You'll be spoilt for choice with the variety available: roasted/grilled chicken, the tough but tasty local beef and ever popular fast foods like pizzas, burgers, hot dogs and French fries. There are stalls selling milk shakes, hot drinks like coffee, hot chocolate and more. Shrimp and seafood cocktail vendors do brisk business. Many restaurants too are located on this stretch, from where one can dine while watching the sun sink into the bay. Post dinner, pick up a local dessert from a peddler on the way back, the delicious crema de arroz (rice with milk and coconut).
To get a taste of what locals prefer, try a comida corriente - a set menu that typically features a meat soup, a main course of salad, rice, beans and any one meat (fish, chicken or red meat). The meal usually includes a soft drink. On average, a comida corriente costs just 2,000 pesos (US$1.00 = 2,800 pesos) and can be found all over Colombia.
Beer is widely drunk, an ideal beverage for relaxing with friends in the cool evenings. Since day temperatures can get cruelly high during summer (over 35 °C/95 °F), it's important to always carry a bottle of water around. You can buy soft drinks in virtually all restaurants, sometimes in glass bottles. They're cheap too, at prices as low as 1000 COP for a drink.
At Calle 16 and Carrera 5, you can slake your thirst any time of the day at the innumerable fresh juice stands, which feature a truly amazing variety of tropical fruits that are not often seen in cooler countries.
Santa Marta's nightlife truly rocks, thanks in part to its being a port city. The beach road is lined with the lights of night-clubs where you can dance the night away to live Vallenata music. The city doesn't go to sleep until the early hours of morning; from cafés throbbing with live Cuban music to ever popular discos and ‘action'-packed dance-cum-brothel clubs, it's one big party every evening. Gay bars operate openly in Santa Marta, symbolic of its more tolerant culture as compared to the country's conservative hinterland.
In El Rodadero, it's the done thing to pick up liquor and hit the beach, relaxing and soaking in the balmy atmosphere for endless hours. Adding to the fun are beachside performers who'll belt out popular songs for a small payment.