When I decided that I was going to begin my trip in Colombia, I got tipped off my a group I’ve joined on Facebook “Backpacking South America” (Travel Hack: Join the group of Backpacking/Travel for wherever you are going on Facebook before you go. Any doubt you could possibly have about your upcoming trip, resolved) that Tayrona National Park, the main tourist draw of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, was going to be closing on the 28th of January for a month for annual the religious ceremonies of the native tribes that inhabit it (the park is sacred ground for the indigenous people of the area, who you will see frequently whilst in and around Tayrona). Since I was arriving in Colombia just a week before that, I knew that I had to get my butt straight up there so I could enjoy it for a few days before it closed. So after spending the weekend in Bogota, I flew straight up to Santa Marta, the closest big city to Tayrona and the hub for traffic in and out of the park.
Well, it turns out about a thousand other people had the same idea, and I was immediately taken aback by the mass amount of tourists flooding in and out of this protected place, Colombians and foreigners alike. It stirred up some major retro-appreciation in me for walks that I’ve done such as Abel Tasman in the South Island of New Zealand, where I was in equally beautiful of coastal surroundings but had the place all to myself. Still, Tayrona has it’s own unique thing going on and that didn’t make me love it any less. There is a reason it’s only everybody’s must-do’s in Colombia and I’m sure it will be on mine as well. Just don’t expect to be going on some kind of spiritual retreat to”away from it all” because you will be disappointed. Actually, there is no WiFi in the park, which these days constitutes getting “away from it all” and was something I really enjoyed about my 3 days there.
The mini bus from Santa Marta drops you off at the main entrance of the park, “El Zaino”. It takes a little more than an hour to get there from Santa Marta and costs 7,000 pesos (about $2.35). You can start hiking right there from the entrance but most visitors opt to take a mini van to the main trail head to save them some walking (only costs another 3,000 pesos or $1). From the main trail head, there is also the option of going by horse, which might be worthwhile if you have a lot of gear, but otherwise isn’t necessary. It’s only about an hour/hour and a half hike to the main camping areas and relatively easy. I saw people of all ages on the trail.
Within 10 minutes of starting off on the trail mine and the other hiker’s around me’s attention was called by the hoards of monkeys howling overhead. We noticed at least 3 different types of species swinging around in the canopy above us. The rainbow of brightly colored, big jungle butterflies added an extra vibrant touch to the walk and when we finally reached the coast, well, this is what we were walking alongside:
Pretty nice, Right?
So as I mentioned, after about an hour you will come to the first campground, “El Paraiso”. A lot of people come into the park just for the day, I would highly recommend planning to camp in the park for a couple of nights since for me that’s what made the experience so special. And I would also recommend pressing on past the first few campgrounds to the famous “Cabo De San Juan” (see photo below) to set yourself up, the emblematic image of Tayrona National Park. Just trust me this is the place that you want to be, right at the foot of the most beautiful beaches the park has to offer when you roll out of your sleeping bag (or hammock) in the morning.
If you camp in Cabo San Juan, you have on either side of you “La Piscina”, the only beach in Tayrona that is really considered safe for swimming (and also prime snorkeling turf- we saw loads of tropical fish and corals not very far off shore) and the “Playa nudista”(I think you can infer what that means) to the East. If you decide to camp for a few days like I did, you will have plenty of time to wander between the three at your leisure.
Your options for sleeping are: tent or hammock, bring your own or rent from them. To rent from them it is only about 2 dollars more. For example, a tent for the night was 25,000 pesos for the night (or a little more than $8… you’re starting to get it now right? You divide by 3) or 20,000 to set up your own. My hammock was 20,000 a night to rent or 15,000 to bring your own. I had some doubts about sleeping comfortably in a hammock but to my surprise it was lovely and a highlight of the experience for me, sleeping in a “hammock dorm” every night right beside the sea in my own little cradle, waking up to this:
The other benefit about camping in Cabo de San Juan is it’s a SUPER social place. Where as in the other camps the lights go out early- around 9 pm- here they keep them on until midnight. Beer is for sale. Traveler’s from around the world are socializing in the camp restaurant which is left open for chillin throughout the night. If you are a solo travel and you sit down by yourself I assure you within 15 minutes you will have some company. Everybody is mingling here. I made lots of new friends in Cabo who I am planning on seeing again while I am in Colombia. It was a great 3 days!
So to conclude, while it’s as busy as a national park can possibly get, don’t miss Tayrona. There’s a reason why this park gets so much attention and you need to go see it for yourself, like I did! If you have enough time, check out Pueblito during your stay in the park or on the way out (warning: not for the faint of heart/ limbs).