Colombia's Caribbean City Santa Marta
by Lee Harrison
We walked into the small corner bar in Colombia's oldest city, and took a seat at a rustic wooden table. Three ice-cold beers were on their way within seconds. The clay-tile floors and the brightly painted adobe walls in the room maintain the character of the colonial era in the tropics… even though this particular colonial building had been recently-restored.
While we took a break from the Caribbean sunshine, the owners hustled around behind the bar preparing the food for the evening crowds.
This café is one of dozens of new businesses springing up to handle the recent tourist upswing in Santa Marta. Things are changing rapidly here as the city goes through a major renaissance.
Last year the city was under renovation. Today, the largest parks in the historic center—Parque de los Novios and Parque Bolívar—have been completely restored, with new brick pathways winding between green lawns and shady trees. The bright-white statues and gazebos gleamed in the sun as visitors paused to relax and watch the passers-by.
And at the end of Parque Bolívar, you cross the waterfront road (called a malecón) and come to the shores of the Caribbean…and the newly-built, tree-lined waterfront park. It's bustling with people strolling along the boardwalk, watching the kids play in the water or the cruise ships coming and going from the adjacent port.
On the inland side of the malecón, new cafés have sprung up where visitors can stop to enjoy a cold drink under the shade of a wide umbrella.
The new marina—little more than a rumor two years ago—is now hosting a number of sailboats and powerboats, bobbing in their slips. And even more remarkable is the onshore development that the marina has brought to the area, as new condo buildings and businesses sprout like wildflowers on the shoreline.
And the rebirth of Santa Marta is not limited to the waterfront or the city parks. The gentrification is spreading throughout the historic center, as boutique hotels, small restaurants and tasteful condos continue to replace the run-down buildings that the city was known for just a short time ago.
The local property market has come alive as new development races down the coast, and buildings in the historic center undergo renovation.
And interestingly, this market activity is being fueled exclusively by Colombians, with almost no foreign buyers. People from Medellín and Bogotá are buying second homes here in record numbers. Many Colombians living in the U.S. are investing in Santa Marta, too.
We visited three, recently-completed waterfront condo towers overlooking the new marina, and found that there were only two condos left for sale. The asking prices were under $2,100 per square meter in both cases, which is quite reasonable for a new beachfront condo, but at the high end for Santa Marta. (At that price, a large condo of 1,100 square feet would cost around $210,000.)
But just two blocks in from the beach, with a marina view, we found one project with prices starting at just $1,550 per square meter. So their entry-level 61-square-meter unit was going for $94,500. This project is also just two blocks from the historic center, and units here would make a great rental.
At the end of the day, we stopped at the Gran Manuel, a locally-famous, open-air seafood restaurant. Located on Calle 28, their cazuela de camarón (shrimp stew) is the best I've ever had…and I've tried it in at least a half-dozen countries.
The Gran Manuel is a place I never miss when visiting Santa Marta, with its excellent seafood attracting the locals. It's my reminder that despite the rebirth of the city, the old Caribbean character of Santa Marta lives on.
Read Lee's complete Article in International LIving October 2011 Edition