Santa Marta is the stepping-off point for most of northern Colombia and the Caribbean coast. And one of the most popular nearby destinations is Tayrona National Park. With its crystal-clear waters, palm-fringed beaches and beautiful jungle trails, it’s easy to see why. However, it’s also busy, a bit expensive, and especially tricky to pull off if you’re on a tight schedule.
On the far southwestern edge of Tayrona park is a separate cove, unknown to many foreign visitors. Technically, Bahia Concha, Santa Marta, Colombia, is part of Tayrona. But it’s less than half an hour from town and accessed separately from the rest of the park. And while it doesn’t quite offer the same experience as the greater park, Bahia Concha is probably Santa Marta’s best beach outside of Tayrona, and a great alternative for those with budget or time constraints.
Why it’s a Good Alternative to Tayrona
You Can Swim at Bahia Concha
Bahia Concha is a large cove, surrounded on two of its three sides by tall, rocky hills. Opposite the water’s edge, several kilometres of forest separates the bay from the edge of Santa Marta. The water is a calm, radiant turquoise, almost deep enough to dive in right from the shore. The crescent of beige sand stretches a full kilometre from end to end.
In Tayrona there is only one stretch of beach you can actually swim at called La Piscina, and it gets quite crowded.
You Don’t Need to Bring your Passport
To enter Tayrona Park, you need to bring your Passport. And as I mentioned, Bahia Concha is still technically part of Tayrona National Park, though it’s isolated from the surrounding area by hills and accessed from another road entirely.
There are fewer restrictions at Bahia Concha, so unlike in the main park, you are not required to bring your passport with you.
It’s MUCH Cheaper than Tayrona
There is no proper park fee to visit Bahia Concha, but there was, in previous years, a private fee to enter. From what I recall, this was because the road passed through private land or something. Regardless, this fee no longer exists. Instead, you pay a mandatory 4000 Colombian pesos (COP) for medical insurance in case anything goes wrong, which is set up by the Government.
Tayrona Park Costs:
- Bus to Tayrona from Santa Marta: 7,000
- Entrance to Tayrona Park: 56, 000
- Mandatory Insurance: 2,500 /day
- Bus Back to Santa Marta: 7,000
- Total day trip cost: 72,500
Bahia Concha Costs:
- Bus from Santa Marta: 1,800
- Moto taxi or 4×4: 10,000
- Mandatory Insurance: 4,000
- Moto taxi or 4×4 back: 10,000
- Bus Back to Santa Marta: 1,800
- Total Day Trip Cost: 27,600
It’s Less Pushy than Other Beaches
Unlike some of the popular beaches around Santa Marta, the touts here are almost non-existent. You might get asked if you’d like food, maybe water or beer, a beach massage, but they aren’t pushy, and generally leave you alone if you say no. And if you say yes? You’ll get some great food, beer and a beach massage. Bonus!
It’s Not AS Nice
Look, if you’re seeking the postcard-perfect beaches and jungle scenery of Tayrona, this isn’t it. Not quite, at least. The perfectly-hued Caribbean water isn’t quite as perfect as the park, the sand not as velvety, the rock formations simpler.
It’s not some perfectly-preserved paradise; it has a few imperfections. But that’s the beauty of it. And as popular as it is for locals, travellers and weekenders, it doesn’t feel as artificial as some other tourist beaches.
Since our first visit back in early-2018, we’ve read some reviews online stating that things had gone downhill here. People mentioned that the beach was overcrowded, it had become filthy with trash, overpriced, and an almost lawless chaotic place.
Recent Changes to Bahia Concha
All that, apparently, has changed. During the summer of that same year, new regulations were put in place. There is a daily cap of 2000 visitors, and during the summer months (June, July and August), it’s only open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The remaining days, the park is closed for restoration and maintenance.
The beach is also much cleaner and organized as before, so you can kick back under the shade of a low-hanging tree, and relax without too many bothersome hawkers.
Lesser-known as it may be, it still gets crowded, especially on weekends and during the peak months of December and January. Roughly two-thirds of the entire stretch of beach is set up with temporary shade shelters and chairs. This is the same sort of thing you’ll notice on most Colombian beaches. Heading to the far eastern edge, however, you’ll find a long stretch of untouched sand.
The park itself opens at 8 am, but few people arrive earlier than 10 or 11. If you come as close to opening as possible, you’ll have no issues scoring yourself some prime real estate. Each visit, we managed to find perfect spots with shade from overhanging trees. You’ll likely have this spot all to yourself for several hours.
Around midday, however, things start to get busy, and you might find your quiet piece of beach surrounded by families and groups of friends. And really, this is when the heat of the day starts to become overbearing. We prefer to get in early, beat the crowds, and escape back to the city for lunch.
How to Get to Bahia Concha, Santa Marta
From Santa Marta to Bastidas
Unlike the greater Tayrona park, from the centre of town to your feet in the water is less than 45 minutes.
To get to Bahia Concha, assuming you don’t have your own transportation, first, you need to take one of the blue local buses. All of these have a sign in their front window listing their destinations, just find one heading to “BASTIDAS.” The best place to find a bus heading this way is along Calle 22, near the historic centre, or at the local market, northeast of there.
In the centre of town, where most buses are at one end of their route, sometimes they don’t change their sign right away. So even if you don’t see the destination in the window, you can always ask the driver. Tell him you’re headed to “Bastidas para Bahia Concha.”
The bus costs 1800 COP per person, each way, and takes roughly 20 minutes, depending on the bus’s route.
From Bastidas to the Beach
Once you arrive at Bastidas, moto-taxis and shared cars will be there to take you the rest of the way. You shouldn’t have to look hard for this, someone will find you. If, for whatever reason, you aren’t approached, just ask around with the locals there, someone will find you a ride.
From here, whether you take a shared car or a moto-taxi, it’s a fairly strict rate of 10,000 COP per person. Depending on the shared ride, you might be able to bend the cost, but ours wouldn’t budge. This next bit takes around 10 minutes, along a fairly bumpy road, to the park entrance.
After paying, and collecting your insurance wristband, (4,000 COP) it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. There are moto-taxi drivers on this side of the gate as well who will drive you for 5,000 COP, but we figured we could use the exercise to burn off all the arepas we’d been eating.
What to Bring
Like any visit to the beach, you’re going to want to bring a few essentials:
- Maybe a sarong or blanket of sorts
Food options are rather limited at Bahia Concha, and they aren’t cheap, so we recommend bringing some snacks from town. We usually pick up some pastries and cheese, maybe some meat, and have a bit of a picnic.
Many people bring coolers full of beer but understand that no glass is allowed at Bahia Concha. When you enter the main gate, people will check your bag for glass. Cans or plastic bottles only.
What not to Bring
- Plastic Bags
- Glass Bottles
If you’re looking for a quick and affordable escape from Santa Marta, without the resort vibes of Playa Blanca, this is it. You can spend several quiet hours on a pristine Caribbean beach, and be back in town for lunch.
It might not be the impossibly blue waters and Disney movie-esque surroundings of Tayrona Park, but it’s still a stunning place to visit.