How to get from Cartagena to Santa Marta (bus or shuttle): Colombia transport guide

With Cartagena acting as the main entry point for most visitors to Caribbean Colombia and nearby Santa Marta one of the best hubs from which to explore the jungle, beaches, and national parks of the region, it’s very likely that you’ll find yourself transiting between these coastal cities at some point. Thankfully, it’s neither time consuming nor expensive to get from Cartagena to Santa Marta (or from Santa Marta to Cartagena).

This Colombia transport guide will cover absolutely everything you need to know about travelling from Cartagena to Santa Marta via bus or shuttle, including instructions on getting to the bus terminal, buying tickets, what to expect on the journey, and how to get to your hostel on the other side.

Travelling between other popular destinations in Colombia? Check out all of my Colombia transport guides:

Taking the bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta

Buses operate constantly between Cartagena and Santa Marta, and this is the fractionally cheaper, if less convenient, option for those who just want to save every peso possible. Be sure to check out the following section on taking the shuttle bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta, which is what I’d actually recommend over the bus.

At a glance: bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta
* 28,000COP / $11AUD
* 5-6hrs travel time (+ 1hr getting to & from bus terminal)
* Book directly at the bus terminal or online with BusBud

Step 1: Get to the bus terminal in Cartagena

Public transport to the bus terminal in Cartagena

There is a Transcaribe bus departing from Avenue Santander (which runs along the water) that can take you to the Terminal de Transportes for 2,300COP, but you’ll also need to purchase a travel card for 4,000COP to use the service.

Taxi to the bus terminal in Cartagena 

Cartagena doesn’t have the most straightforward public transport system, so I’d recommend a taxi as the easiest and most practical option for most travellers. A taxi from Cartagena to the bus terminal should cost 15-20,000COP / $6-8AUD), and this pricier taxi ride is why taking the public bus isn’t actually any cheaper than the shuttle.

Even though it’s only 12km to the bus terminal from Getsemani (where I’d recommend staying in Cartagena), traffic is known to absolutely explode in the city at seemingly random times and it’s not uncommon to spend an HOUR getting to the bus terminal. Factor that into your travel time!

Step 2: Buy bus tickets to Santa Marta

There are heaps of bus companies operating the route between Cartagena and Santa Marta (occasionally en route to farther destinations), including Expreso Brasilia, Torcoroma, Copetran, Berlinas, and Marsol.

Thankfully, that also means that buses are running almost constantly throughout the day, so you should never have to wait more than a half hour for the next departure with some company. Expect to pay around 28,000COP / $11AUD for the bus between Cartegena and Santa Marta.

Given the frequency of buses between Cartagena and Santa Marta, there is really no need to buy tickets in advance— the best way to check bus routes and current timetables is the super-handy comparison site BusBud, but it’s also totally fine for this trip to just rock up to the terminal and go from there.

Essential Spanish for buying a bus ticket

  • Me gustaría comprar un boleto a Santa Marta, por favor. | I would like to buy a bus ticket to Santa Marta, please.
  • A qué hora es el próximo bus? | What time is the next bus?
  • A qué hora el bus llegas en Santa Marta? | What time does the bus arrive in Santa Marta?
  • Cuánto cuesta este boleto? | How much does this ticket cost?
  • Es posible pagar con una tarjeta? | Is it possible to pay with a credit card?
  • De donde sale el bus? | Where does the bus depart from?

Step 3: Travel by bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta 

Although bus companies will tell you that the trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta is 4-5hrs, this is Colombia and nothing ever arrives on time, so expect to spend more like 5-6hrs on the bus.

Tardiness aside, Colombian buses are incredibly nice, and you can expect comfortable reclining seats and seat-back TVs playing Spanish films with most companies. The only irritating aspect of bus travel (in all of Latin America, really) is that the aircon will be blasting— make SURE you have some layers with you on the bus or you will not have a good time.

Step 4: Get to your hostel in Santa Marta

The Santa Marta bus terminal is just 10min from the city centre, which means you have a very quick last step before you can finally relax. Depending on your hostel (Dreamer Hostel is outside the city and therefore more expensive to reach), you should be able to grab a quick taxi for 7-15,000COP ($3-6AUD).

Dreamer Hostel is the absolute BEST place to stay in Santa Marta, with great aircon rooms (120,000COP or $45AUD for private), a lovely pool area with heaps of hammocks, a lively onsite restaurant & bar, AND cheap colectivos to Tayrona National Park and Minca departing directly from the hostel. Read more in this post: COMING SOON

Bright yellow buildings Cartagena walled city Colombia
Sultry afternoon in Cartagena, Colombia

Taking a shuttle bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta

The BEST way to get between Cartagena and Santa Marta is on a smaller ~ 15-person shuttle bus, which is only slightly more expensive and yet WAY more convenient than the larger buses, given that you don’t need to travel all the way out to the main bus terminal outside the city. Factoring in the money saved on a taxi, the price is actually identical for these two options, which is even more reason to opt for a shuttle to/from Santa Marta.

At a glance: shuttle bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta
* 40,000COP / $16AUD
* 4hrs travel time (+ 30min getting to & from bus terminal)
* Book directly at the Berlinas bus terminal in town

Step 1: Get to the Berlinas bus terminal in Cartagena

Although there are two companies operating quick shuttles between Cartagena and Santa Marta— Marsol & Berlinastur— the latter seems to be preferred by travellers, so that’s what I opted for.

Berlinastur shuttles depart from the small Berlinastur office in Cartagena, which you can reach for about 5,000COP / $2AUD by asking any taxi driver in the city for either “Berlinas Marbella” or “Berlinas Terminal para Santa Marta“. Depending on your hostel, it’s only a few minutes from the walled city to the Berlinas terminal.

Step 2: Buy bus tickets to Santa Marta

There’s no need to pre-book shuttle tickets— you can just arrive at the Berlinastur office whenever you’re ready to leave Cartagena and purchase a ticket for the next departure to Santa Marta, which is never far away (about every 30min). Tickets are sold directly from a little window, and because this is a dedicated terminal for just the one company, it’s very simple.

The Berlinastur shuttle from Cartagena to Santa Marta costs 40,000COP / $16AUD, which is only slightly more expensive than the bus (11,000COP / $11AUD), but actually cheaper in total thanks to the shorter taxi ride out to the terminal!

Step 3: Travel by bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta

Although it’s still possible your shuttle will be slowed down by traffic or weather conditions, the journey tends to be much quicker than on the large buses and you should arrive to Santa Marta around 4-4.5hrs after your departure from Cartagena.

If possible, try to get a direct shuttle from Cartagena to Santa Marta so you don’t need to transfer buses in Barranquilla. However, it is still worth noting that you’ll be stopping for about 15min in Barranquilla to let passengers off and collect more people regardless of whether your ticket is “direct” or not, so it’s not a huge deal if you need to move into a different bus (it’s all within the same terminal and it’s just the one company, so it’s impossible to stuff up). If you do find yourself transferring in Barranquilla, there’s also a very well-stocked shop where you can grab snacks and cold drinks.

The Berlinastur bus itself was quite nice (a fair step above the cramped shuttle I took from San Gil to Bucaramanga a few weeks previously) and I was completely comfortable on the short trip. I did take motion sickness meds before we left just because I’m a bit more sensitive in smaller vehicles, but either the meds really worked or the ride was fine!

Step 4: Get to your hostel in Santa Marta

Arriving in Santa Marta, you’ll be dropped off at the main bus terminal (about 10min from the city centre) or at the Berlinas office— either way, grab a taxi to your hostel for 7-15,000COP / $3-6AUD. I HIGHLY recommend Dreamer Hostel, which is slightly out of the city but one of my favourite hostels in all of Colombia!

Travelling from Santa Marta to Minca

Minca is one of my absolute favourite places in Colombia, and thankfully also a super easy excursion from Santa Marta (I don’t want to call it a day trip because it deserves WAY more than just 1 day). 

The cheapest way to get to Minca is by colectivo or a shared jeep departing Calle 11-12/Carrera 9 in the middle of Santa Marta (you’ll know you’re in the right place by the Cootrasminca sign). These run pretty much constantly throughout the day and cost just 8,000COP ($3AUD) for the 45min drive into the jungle

Alternatively, you can get a private taxi to Minca for 40-50,000COP ($15-19AUD), which works out to be more or less the same as the shared bus if you can get a few travellers together to split the cost.

If you’re staying at Dreamer Hostel, the staff actually organise shared departures right out front, which you can sign up for at the reception desk. These are the exact same transport as what you’ll find in downtown Santa Marta, just with the convenience of coming to you! We paid 9,000COP and our drive was a little shorter than 40min, since Dreamer is slightly closer to Minca than Santa Marta town.

Read this post for all of the best things to do in Minca: COMING SOON

Girl sitting on hammock by Marinka Waterfall Minca Colombia
Cascada Marinka in Minca, a quick day trip from Santa Marta

Travelling from Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park

Another incredible place and very popular place to visit from Santa Marta is Parque Tayrona, a stunning national park with beautiful Caribbean beaches. 

As with the journey to Minca, you can reach Tayrona National Park by public minibus from Santa Marta (departing Calle 11/Carrera 11 every 30min; 7,000COP / $3AUD), shared minibus from Dreamer Hostel (15,000COP / $6AUD), or private taxi (50-70,000COP / $19AUD). There are quite a few onward steps from the park entrance, so check out the detailed post below for heaps more on visiting Parque Tayrona from Santa Marta.

Check out this super comprehensive guide for more information on Tayrona: COMING SOON

Swimming at Playa Cabo San Juan, Parque Nacional Tayrona

Travelling from Santa Marta to Cartagena

If you’re travelling from Santa Marta to Cartagena, just reverse these directions! All the same prices and instructions still apply.

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