Visiting Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park
We were warned against going to Tayrona. We were told it was difficult to get to, that the hiking was strenuous, and that even the slightest rain would leave us knee deep in mud. We were nervous of even trying, and weren’t sure whether to give up on the park entirely. Would it be worth paying the entry, attempting the journey, attempting the hike, only to be left muddied and disappointed?
Thankfully, everything we had been told about Tayrona was utterly untrue. It ended up being one of my favourite places in all of Colombia.
Getting there & getting in
I’d recommend that you wake up early to hail the local bus out to Tayrona from the nearby city of Santa Marta. Buses leave every half an hour, from the corner of Calle 11 & Carerra 11. We just asked a local and managed to hail down the same bus just a block away from our hostel, so it is worth asking around to see if you can grab a spot along the road. Despite leaving early in the morning, there were no seats available. We sat on the floor, ate some fruit, and chatted to some locals. The journey only takes an hour, and the bus driver will indicate when you need to get off for the entrance to Tayrona. The bus costs around $2.
There were no queues when we approached, though apparently later in the day these can get lengthy. You’ll need to buy an entrance tick to the park, which aren’t cheap. These will set you back around $16.50. While that might seem exorbitant to the tightly-budgeted backpackers amongst us, I thought the ticket was worth the price I initially balked at. From here you can walk to the main park entrance, or take the $1 shuttle, which we opted to do.
Setting out into the sweaty seclusion of the trail, overshadowed by enormous palm leaves that fill the air above you, we were instantly in love. Though others report of large crowds during high season, we hardly saw any passers-by. With the trail mostly to ourselves, my friend and I strolled slowly, enjoyed the thick forest air, and adjusted to the heat. Despite having been in the Colombian Caribbean for weeks at that point, the heat in Tayrona was still a challenge. The hiking itself wasn’t super strenuous, with the exception of a few sets of steps, but we were walking around half dressed by the end, to combat the severity of the sweatiness.
As I say, it isn’t the most difficult hike you’ll take in South America. It isn’t necessarily super easy, and if you aren’t used to hiking it might be tricky, and it is important to bring water. There are locals selling coconuts along the route to drink from if you’re dehydrated along the route. I did most of the hike barefoot, so I would say that there’s no need to wear heavy hiking boots, these will probably just keep you hotter.
Once you’ve set out into the park, the winding wooden path will slowly shift to rough-hewn rock and sandy trails, all guiding you towards the Caribbean sea. After working our way up a steep set of stairs, the view that emerges from the tree line at the top was everything we had hoped from Parque Tayrona.
Glimpses of the golden beaches dip in and out of view, barred by flourishes lining the top of the thick, green treeline. Perched on the rocky path, we could choose to head down to the first beach on the route or to carry on down the trail. This first beach is where many choose to stop, and if you’re more interested in the beach than you are in the hike then this is a great option. It is, however, significantly busier than any other beach in the park. There are spots to get food and drinks here and relax after the start of the hike, should you not wish to continue.
We carried on, and found ourselves totally alone. There were many times en route, through thickets of thick plants and failed efforts to communicate in Spanish with the indigenous communities that inhabit Tayrona (who don’t speak Spanish), that we were curious as to whether we were actually totally lost. We never strayed from the main path marked on the map given to us at the entrance, but the park was so deserted we thought something must have gone awry. Having the jungle paths to ourselves, unimpeded views over the sandy beaches and the thrashing waves, and no signs of the crowds that we had been warned about, our journey through the park seemed too good to believe.
You’ll pass around 6-7 beaches on the standard day hike through the park. These beaches are very unsafe for swimming as the waters are very rough, and the hundreds that have ignored these rules haven’t lived to talk about it. Don’t go swimming, there are plenty of other beaches in the Colombian Caribbean that are ideal for a dip.
Where to stay?
If we had had more time available to us in Santa Marta we would have stayed overnight in Parque Tayrona. There are many options available, ranging from the stringy hammock to the almost glamorous. The most well known amongst the backpacker crowd is Cabo San Juan, where you can get a hammock for the night for $12. Wild camping isn’t permitted.
There is a restaurant along the main route through the park, as well as a panadería, and many locals selling coconuts and bottles of water.
Is it worth it?
Once you’ve become accustomed to the low prices commonplace around Latin America, splashing out on anything can feel like a major blow to the bank account. Yet, despite seeming to be an expensive day out, I forgot about every penny that I had spent on the excursion the minute we passed the park entrance. Tayrona has earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful spots in Colombia, a country home to a seemingly endless list of unbelievably beautiful spots. It might seem like a burden on your budget, but I would still recommend it to any budget backpacker travelling in northern Colombia.
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