Medellín and Santa Marta are separated by mountains and 519 miles (835 km), but traveling between them is straightforward with a direct flight. Flight time is just over an hour. There are multiple daily flights on this route, as Santa Marta is a popular gateway to Tayrona National Park.
Going by car is a long trip: 14-15 hours, on mountainous, winding roads in varying condition. Having a local driver who is familiar with the roads is crucial. Renting a car is also a possibility, though we highly recommend a private transfer.
Finally, several bus companies offer daily departures from Medellín to Santa. The journey usually takes around 16 hours with moderate comfort.
Consider this 4-day Tayrona National Park itinerary—you'll arrive in Santa Marta before spending two days hiking to some of the park's most secluded beaches and the Pueblito Ruins.
Duration: 1:15 hours
By far the easiest and most convenient way to get from Medellín to Santa Marta is to fly. Various national and international airlines offer non-stop flights from Jose Maria Cordova International Airport. These will usually get you to your destination in under 90 minutes. The variety of flights scheduled means you can decide the departure time that best suits you.
Keep in mind that this airport is actually located in Rionegro, on the outskirts of Medellín. Any taxi will take you there in 40 minutes to an hour if you are departing from the city center.
There is also a regional airport located within Medellín, the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport. However, there are no direct flights from here to Santa Marta, and the layover in Bogota adds around 3 hours to your journey.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 14-15 hours
Going by road with a private driver is a good option for seeing some of the amazing landscape that Colombia has to offer—but only if you don't mind long overland journeys on winding mountain roads. The Colombian highway cuts through the mountains and is quite a scenic route.
Without long stops, the journey takes 14 hours or more, but you will probably want to take detours to cities like Barrancabermeja, or take a break to take in the views. If you are visiting the country during the rainy season (April to June and September to November), landslides and road closures are a possibility.
Duration: 16-18 hours
Medellín has two bus terminals, one in the north and one in the south. Most buses heading to Santa Marta leave from the north terminal. Several bus companies offer daily service to the coastal city, with routes leaving around every 40 minutes. This gives you flexibility in terms of time.
On long routes like this, bus companies tend to use big buses equipped with AC and bathrooms. Many even have seat screens so passengers can enjoy movies or listen to music.
However, this is probably the least comfortable option, as it takes the longest time and also offers no possibility of taking breaks at will. Buying tickets might prove to be a bit of a challenge if you do not have Spanish language skills or the aid of someone who does.