Getting from Santa Marta to Tolu by Bus


on: 2022-01-05

by: Lisa Gembrini

Quick Facts

  • Duration

    08 hours 00 minutes

  • Rating

  • Experience

    beaches, snorkeling, seafood

  • Best Price

    USD $ 26

  • Maximum comfort or class


  • Departures

    Multiple departures daily

  • Recommended by

    185 travelers

Price may fluctuate due to seasonal demand and other market-driven and regulatory events.

Options for the bus route from Santa Marta to Tolu

ice cream vendor in Tolu, Colombia

If you're coming from the splendid beach at El Rodadero in Santa Marta or visiting the Quinto de San Pedro Alejandrino where Simón Bolívar spent his last days, go west young packer on this Caribbean coastal route that involves just a couple of hours ride at a time.

We’ve described this route specifically for travelers wanting to bypass Cartagena and go directly between the two best beach towns on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. But even so, the transfer point is in fact Cartagena, so if you change your mind halfway to Tolu, you can!

While most skip over the big industrial port of Barranquilla, it is also on the way from Santa Marta to Tolú, and only a very short trip from Santa Marta. Second only to Río de Janeiro, Barranquilla is South America's largest Carnival capital and offers a splendid festival experience at a much better bargain than Río. It also is a great spot for art deco fans, examples including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the famous Teatro Amira de la Rosa museum and library.

Cartagena is the best transfer point, and itself is to die for, what we call the New Orleans French Quarter on Steroids! Old, full of pirate history, sultry, and exotic. Sit on top of the old town wall at night with a pitcher of coco-limon and enjoy the gentle ocean breezes, visit the old maritime antique stores and the colossal fort Castillo de San Felipe, dance with strangers in the streets, visit the countless museums including the creepy Palace of the Inquisition, and take a boat ride out to the archipelagos around Playa Blanca including an aquarium in the middle of the bay.

However, don't waste your energy on beaches yet. While Barranquilla and Cartagena are terrific, the best of the beach is in store just a couple hours further south from Cartagena where Colombians prefer themselves to vacation, the perfect little twin beach towns of Tolú and Coveñas. You can actually walk the beach in between the two towns and find numerous coves perfect for splashing in the waves and selecting from a multitude of hostels and restaurants at affordable prices.

What are the buses in Colombia like?

Buses in Colombia come in all shapes and sizes and services. In some parts of the country, you come across luxury liners while in other parts all you can find is a chiva (the beloved painted bus with no windows). You can also find on the Caribbean coast smaller vans and private shuttles. If you book a bus online through AndesTransit, expect something more catered to tourist travel, like reserved seats and air conditioning.

How long is the bus ride from Santa Marta to Tolu?

When you exclude any layover time in Cartagena (or Barranquilla), the bus from Santa Marta to Tolu is a journey lasting 7-8 hours, covering 399 kilometers. That allows you to easily get from beginning to end in a single day.

What is the cost of traveling by bus from Santa Marta to Tolu?

You really couldn’t ask for better. Buses on this highly traveled route are a great bargain. Regardless of which bus company you go with or when you go, the standard price for making this journey via bus is USD $26. The price can vary a little, depending on two factors:

When you go

On some days such as Fridays, Sundays, and holidays it gets a little bit more expensive, and even then the fee climbs by one or two dollars at the most.

When you book

Prices do occasionally spike in the market. Again, with such a low baseline price for tickets from Santa Marta to Tolu, it’s highly unlikely that any changing market trends will affect your capacity to afford this trip or not. Still, when you book further in advance, you’ve locked in your rate and you won’t pay more even if prices rise later down the line.

VIP Service

Generally speaking, the majority of buses running from Santa Marta to Tolu run standard services which is where the $26 price rate sits. However, if you want to have a more private drive with fewer strangers, spring for seat on a shared shuttle for $37 that will get you to Cartagena, and then take the bus from there for the last and shorter leg of the journey to Tolu.

What are the bus schedules from Santa Marta to Tolu?

If you’re not picky about where you’re going to be transferring and just interested in bus going west, you will find a lot of buses leaving at all times of the day and night. But specifically to Cartagena, they’re spaced out every 90 minutes to 2 hours starting at 5 in the morning and going until 9 at night. So if you’re wanting to sleep on the bus and get into Tolu in the early morning of the next day, strategize to take one of the last buses of the day out (warning, they sell out fast).

Changes and cancellations do occur. The easiest way to combat this is to frequently check AndesTransit to keep clued up on the current bus times! You can get a day-by-day breakdown of the latest bus schedules simply by clicking the Reserve Now button at the top of this page. We frequently check in with our bus operators and update all changes to schedules, often a long time before such updates would ever be published on the bus operators’ own websites!

Not only this, but we take every customer order personally. We absolutely promise to check and then double-check the schedules before we send you an irreversible ticket. That way if something is changing at the moment (highly unlikely), we reach out to you personally with options to adjust or back out, free of charge.

Where can I book bus tickets from Santa Marta to Tolu?

There are two options here, but simply put, the first one is by far the best.

Option 1: Online

In years gone by, online purchasing has dramatically taken over as the most advantageous way to buy and order just about everything one can think of. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the same applies to booking bus tickets. There are several great perks to this:

-- Firstly, by purchasing your tickets online, you get them much further in advance than you can if you buy them in person. In fact, AndesTransit supports payments globally, so, you can book them before you even get into the country!

-- Secondly, you don’t have to deal with the stress of getting to the destination of the ticket booths, waiting in a potentially (but probably) arduously long queue; which once you finally find yourself at the front of, could continue to be a stressful experience if your linguistic capacities prevent you from adequately explaining what you want.

-- Thirdly, you’ll always get better seats when you book online because you are guaranteed to be buying your ticket before all those suckers who bought their tickets in person! Because of this, your tickets will also be cheaper in that as more tickets are bought, the supply goes down and the demand goes up, and so the rates also go up for all the desperate folks standing in line at the terminal.

By booking online, you will undoubtedly save time, money, and stress. Simply by clicking the Reserve Now button at the top of this page, you can have an afternoon’s feat accomplished out in less than a minute from the comfort of your own couch, bed, or toilet! Or, while waiting at the airport.

In the end, it’s totally your choice and we’re not here to judge or try to change your mind, so if you do want to buy your ticket in person, here’s what you’ll need to do:

Option 2: Buy in Person

Make your way to Santa Marta’s main bus terminal. Be prepared to wait in a long queue. Also, if you can, it’s highly advisable that you buy your ticket at least several days before you’re planning on making the journey to ensure spaces don’t fill up and you get a good seat, preferably next to a window! When you get to the Cartagena terminal, then you’ll need to go through the process again to get a second ticket to Tolu by wandering around the terminal to see which bus companies list Tolu on their ticket windows. These "turnos" are not always that visible because most locals already know which company goes where, so you have to fight your way through the crowds to get up close enough to a window and then take a gander at what’s posted on their window.

What is the best bus from Santa Mart to Tolu?

You’ll notice that after clicking the Reserve Now button above, there are several bus companies to choose from, so how do you know which one is best? We make it easier for you by separating our Best Bets list from the rest of the pack in two separate tabs, but we’ll narrow it down even further by telling you our two best picks:

Unitransco is a trustworthy bus company brand that knows the Caribbean region extremely well. They also offer the lowest price and you get a decent ride. To get from Cartagena to Tolu, there’s really only one choice, but it’s a good one, which is Rapido Ochoa, a bus company admired all over Colombia and with a network of routes that go all the way to Medellin and Bogota.

Things to do in Tolu

Lonely boats on the shore in Tolu, Colombia.

Well, to state the obvious, the whole point of going to Tolu is to do absolutely nothing…except bury yourself in the warm sand underneath a palm tree.

Nonetheless, let’s give you a few activities to make sure you take in the most of the truly sublime corner of the planet.

#1 - Walk the beach to Coveñas

Coveñas is the smaller sister village to the south of Tolu, populated by more wealthy citizens who share a tiny commercial center and pad around the sand paths in flip flops under the trees. It’s really peaceful, but the best thing is the few hours walk along the beach knowing with the sea on your right and the palms on your left there’s no chance of getting lost. The shore is scattered with zillions of little coves and dreamy spots to send home on a postcard, and despite the number of people who visit here, you still can find a good amount of solitude along the way. Don’t worry about bringing an umbrella. The weather is so warm, the worst scenario is you’ll just get a warm rainshower wash you clean.

#2 - Isla Mucura

Visit any number of the agencies down by the pier to arrange a tour out to the idyllic tropical island in the bay, Isla Mucura. There you can have lunch, view marine life, or just go from one beach bar to the next around the circumference of the island before getting back on board to fetch the ocean breezes on your way back to Tolu.

#3 - Snorkeling and Scuba

Tolu has the most beautiful underwater kingdom inviting you to come down underneath the waves for a visit. Several outfitters can guide you to the best places for shallow snorkeling, or deep dive scuba. You’ll get to see rays and sharks and countless colored tropical fish.

#4 - Casa de la Cultura

For a diversion from the sun, sand, and sea, just walk a couple blocks inland from the boardwalk to stop by the Casa de la Cultura de Tolu, which exhibits the regional music, dance, costumes, and history of the pueblo.


Tolu hits the sweet spot of everything you want from a small beach village without being too much, and how great it is you can easily get there from Santa Marta without much effort. Remember you don’t have to transfer in Cartagena. You can take an alternative route from Barranquilla and venture a little southward to Sincelejo (the birthplace of Vallenato music), and then it’s a straight shot west from there only less than an hour to Tolu.

Route Map

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should I bypass Cartagena?
We would never say as a rule to bypass the greatest city of the Caribbean. However, Cartagena can be expensive for lower budget travelers, and the aim of this article is to suggest an alternative itinerary that yields high value at a lesser cost, and so if you don’t want to feel bad about missing Cartagena if you have some other cool places to visit, then this article is for you.
Can I board the bus in Taganga?
Not really. The long-distance buses don’t go up into Taganga, so you would need to either catch a local municipal bus that meanders its way down to the bus terminal in Santa Marta, or easier just get a cab from Taganga to the Santa Marta terminal.
Does the bus from Santa Marta to Tolu stop for bathroom breaks and snacks?
Yes, but keep in mind it’s not a single bus. The bus route here requires connections to get to Tolu, and you can transfer and take a break in Cartagena, but the terminal in Cartagena is too far from the city, so don’t wander off too far.
What are the ticket policies?
It depends on the carrier you choose, but their specific policies can be previewed during checkout or in the summaries printed on your ticket email. For a general overview, see the Ticket Policy page.

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