Santa Marta is South America's oldest European-founded town and the second most important colonial city on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Despite its long history and charming center, it gets a bad rap from many travelers, who rightly cite its unsightly urban sprawl and terrible traffic as reasons not to hang about here. The secret to Santa Marta is to use it for what it does well: hotels, restaurants and bars, and then get out to the slew of superb destinations nearby during the daytime.
That said, following an impressive sprucing up of its colonial heart, Santa Marta has gained a bit more of its own charm, and you might well find yourself spending more time here than you imagined. The climate is hot, but the heat here is drier than in Cartagena, and the evening sea breeze keeps the city cool after dark.