Simón Bolívar International Airport is the seventh largest airport in Colombia in terms of passengers. And it’s the Santa Marta airport for all flights to the city, with airport code SMR.
We previously provided airport guides for several of the airports in Colombia. And several Medellin Guru readers asked us to also provide a guide to the Santa Marta airport – Simón Bolívar International Airport – as they are planning to go to Santa Marta on vacation.
The above photo from the air of the Santa Marta Airport is by Jeancarlos.
History of Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
Construction of the Santa Marta airport was started in December 1949 by Lineas Aéreas Nacionales (LANSA) with a goal to serve the nearby region.
In its early days the Santa Marta Airport, which is located on the coast, was used to operate by water and land. It was used by seaplanes and also by aircraft that landed on land.
By 1994, this airport had become insufficient to handle the increase of tourism to Santa Marta with the airport handling 1.5 million to 1.7 million passengers per year. So, in early 1995 an airport renovation and expansion project was initiated.
Over the next three years the terminal building was expanded to over double in size so it could serve up to 2.6 million passengers per year. Also, five new baggage carousels were added, the parking lot was expanding and a new air-conditioning system was added.
In addition, five jet bridges were added and a new control tower was built. The renovation and expansion of the Santa Marta Airport was completed in February 2018.
The airport is named in honor of Simón Bolívar, who was a military and political leader that played a leading role in the establishment of Colombia and several other Latin American countries as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule.
More About Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
The passenger terminal at Simón Bolívar International Airport is very easy to navigate, as it’s a relatively small airport. And Wi-Fi is available in the terminal but may not always work in my experience.
The small Santa Marta airport currently only has four places with food: Café OMA, Dogger, Mr. Bono, and Marpikao. So, without a big selection, it’s better to eat something before going to the airport.
Inside the airport terminal there is at least one ATM machine from Bancolombia. And there is currently no currency exchange at the airport. But this may change once regular international flights to Santa Marta start in December 2018.
Also, there are two travel agencies at the airport: Aviatur and OVER. And parking is available at the airport with space for over 150 cars and over 40 motorcycles.
Flight Options from Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
Simón Bolívar International Airport in Santa Marta currently has regular flights from three different airlines with direct flights to and from six different destinations, which will grow to seven destinations by December 2018.
- Avianca – Bogotá, Cali, Medellín
- LATAM – Bogotá, Medellín
- VivaAir – Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Medellín, Miami (starting December 18, 2018), Pereira and San Andrés
Also, Air Panama flew a charter flight to Santa Marta from Panama City in October 2018 with another charter flight planned in November 2018.
In addition, in October 2018, VivaAir (formerly VivaColombia) started using Simón Bolívar International Airport in Santa Marta as one of its hubs in Colombia.
Entering Colombia as a Tourist
Santa Marta is an international airport but it currently doesn’t have regularly scheduled international flights. But this will change in December 2018, when VivaAir starts non-stop flights to Santa Marta from Miami.
We previously provided information about Colombia tourist visas and how to extend a tourist visa. And everyone seems to call this a “tourist visa” but it isn’t really a formal visa. It is just a stamp in your passport by immigration in Colombia.
There are over 90 countries, whose citizens can enter Colombia without a visa and receive a “tourist visa” stamp. The countries include Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States plus over 80 more countries.
If you are a tourist from Canada, you used to have to pay a reciprocity fee of 201,000 pesos – but were exempt from the fee if older than 79 or younger than 14. However this reciprocity fee was eliminated on May 1, 2019.
Exchanging Money at Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
There currently isn’t a currency exchange for exchanging money at the Santa Marta airport. But the fees at a currency exchange can be high as well as the actual exchange rate they offer won’t be great. So, this isn’t the best option for exchanging money.
At the Barranquilla airport there are at least one ATM machine from Bancolombia.
The exchange rate ATM machines provide in Colombia will usually be very close to the actual exchange rate that can be seen on XE. And the rate will be better than the rate found at the currency exchanges at the airport.
There are also other ways for exchanging money, receiving and transferring money in Santa Marta and other cities in Colombia like Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena, which we previously covered.
These include exchange centers in the city (Casas de Cambio), the Zeepod mobile app, money transfer services and money transfers at banks.
Santa Marta Airport Tips
Based on my experience flying over five times to/from Simón Bolívar International Airport in Santa Marta, I have three airport tips for foreigners.
- Plan to arrive early for your departing flight. I like to play it safe, so I would plan to be at the Santa Marta airport at least one hour before domestic flights. Likely you don’t need this much time at the airport to check-in and go through security at the small airport. But you never know when you might run into problems. And when international flights start at the airport, most airlines require you to be at the airport three hours before flights.
- There will usually be taxis at the airport. I have never encountered a problem in finding a taxi at the Santa Marta airport. And I never have experienced a problem with a taxi.
- Foreign tourists can get a refund of Colombia’s value-added tax (VAT) known as the IVA tax that is 19% at the DIAN office at the airport. In the Santa Marta airport there isn’t yet a DIAN office. But when international flights start in Decebmer they will likely be adding a DIAN office. We provide details about how to get the IVA tax refund here.
How to Get to Santa Marta From the Airport – Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR)
Simón Bolívar International Airport is located 8.7 miles (14 km) from Santa Marta. In Santa Marta, the easiest way to get to/from the airport is by using taxis, which are normally easy to find at the airport. But the taxis in Santa Marta don’t have meters.
To make sure you are not surprised at the fare at the destination when in Santa Marta, always make sure to ask the fare to the destination before getting in a taxi. Also, there is rarely much of a line waiting for taxis at the small airport.
The minimum taxi fare in Santa Marta is 6,000 pesos. And the taxi fare from the airport to Santa Marta or the reverse direction is currently fixed at 25,000 pesos. Also, there is a 500-peso addition to the fare for taxis in Santa Marta on the weekends, holidays and at night.
Note that Uber isn’t available in Santa Marta. Also, there is an inexpensive bus service available from the airport terminal to Santa Marta.
Airport Website: http://smr.aerooriente.com.co/
Address: Km 18 Vía Ciénaga, Santa Marta, Colombia
Telephone: +57 (5) 548 1360
Airports in Colombia
We have provided guides to the 10 largest airports in Colombia. The following list of these 10 largest airports in Colombia is in order by passenger traffic:
- El Dorado Airport (BOG) – Bogotá’s International Airport and the largest airport in Colombia.
- José María Córdova (MDE) – Medellín’s International Airport in Rionegro.
- Rafael Núñez Airport (CTG) – Cartagena’s International Airport.
- Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport (CLO) – Cali’s International Airport in Palmira.
- Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) – Barranquilla’s International Airport.
- Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) – San Andrés’ International Airport.
- Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) – Santa Marta’s International Airport.
- Matecaña International Airport (PEI) – Pereira’s International Airport.
- Palonegro Internationa Airport (BGA) – Bucaramanga’s International Airport.
- Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) – Medellín’s domestic airport in the city.
In addition, we looked at how to find cheap international flights to Medellín and Colombia.
Also, we looked at how to find cheap domestic flights in Colombia. And I have flown multiple times from Medellín to Santa Marta for less than $100 roundtrip.
The Bottom Line: Simón Bolívar International Airport in Santa Marta (SMR)
Cartagena is the most visited tourist city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. But Santa Marta is also a popular city for tourists, which is also located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Besides the beaches near Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona (Tayrona National Park) is near Santa Marta and is known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range. It’s a tourist hotspot in Colombia.
Also, Ciudad Perdida located near Santa Marta is the site of an ancient city in Colombia older than Machu Picchu. It’s a challenging but rewarding hike with ancient ruins, jungle and much more.
Many foreign tourists who travel to Santa Marta travel by air. So, several Medellin Guru readers asked for a guide to the Santa Marta airport, which we now have with this article.
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Editors note: updated on May 4, 2019 to add that the reciprocity fee for Canadians entering Colombia has been eliminated on May 1, 2019.