Tayrona National Park was never a part of my itinerary. In fact, my Colombian travel plans didn’t solidify until I was about to leave the country. Let’s be real, how could I not change things up when everyone I met along the way became incredibly invested in my journey, constantly giving me suggestions on their favorite-sees & dos?
And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite an incredibly rushed day at Tayrona, I quickly realized why it was one of the most visited National Parks in Colombia. The rich biodiversity, varied scenery, contrasting climates, and incredible landscape are some of the many reasons that this became one of my favorite destinations in the country.
How to Get to Tayrona Park?
From Santa Marta, a roundtrip bus ticket is COP 8000 (as of Aug 2018). The hour-long ride leaves every 15 minutes from Calle 11 con Carerra 11, taking passengers straight to the park entrance.
A ferry ride is another feasible option from Taganga-a traditional fishing village near Santa Marta. The trip costs COP 35,000-45,000 and departs between 9:30-10:30 in the morning. It leaves travelers at Cabo beach, where park rangers collect money for entrance.
How much is Tayrona Park?
Tayrona can become a costly venture compared to other tourist attractions. How much time you have & your overall budget determines the final bill. A night stay, some horseback riding, and fancy dining would be optimal, but a day trip can also do the park justice!
- The park’s mandatory insurance policy costs COP 2500 (>US 1) for a day pass. These were bought just outside the gates and came with a wristband that was shown at the park’s main ticket booth.
- Passports or their photocopy counterparts are needed to buy the ticket, which was COP 42,500 (as of Aug 2018) for foreigners. Major discounts are available for students under 25, regardless of nationality.
- For COP 3000/one way shuttle, we were able to skip a 5 km forest pathway that led to Calabazo (the ‘real entrance/ start of the walking trail’). Seeing that the actual trails span a dozen kilometers or so, we were smart to save the real leg workout for later.
- COP 2-3000 for popsicles
- Waters were COP 3-6000
- Food was > COP 10,000/meal
- Horseback riding costs around COP 25,000
- There is accommodation in the park. Tents (~COP 18,000-25,000) and hammocks (~COP 15,000) can be rented on sight. Note: They may run out fast during high season!
Including the round-trip bus we took from Santa Marta, I spent a total of COP 20,700 (US 20) on essentials. On top of that, a couple of dollars were spent on popsicles to keep my sanity.
Since we visited the park on a weekday, the queue was tiny. We got our tickets in 5 minutes.
Where should I Start?
“Daissy!!” You declare, “I only have a day to explore, where should I start???”.
Trust, I completely understand your frustration. By the time we arrived at the park, it was nearing 10 in the morning. This gave us 7 hours of hiking time, which is very little for a park that spans 57.92 mi².
Nonetheless, we prevailed.
Although there were a few instances of dashes and darts, we were able to capture the main attraction zones.
Unlike most hikers who head straight to Cabo, we decided to tackle 9 Piedras right off the bat. The entryway for this smaller section of the park is to the right of Calabazo.
After wandering about in a lush forest for 15 minutes or so, we arrived at the beach. It was magnificent. A few gigantic rocks lay motionlessly on miles and miles of pure, white sand. Behind those rocks, blue Carribean waters calmly washed the shoreline. There was a slight breeze that cooled the hot summer sky, just enough to dry our already drenched clothes. A few birds chirped in the background, but our ears were mostly filled with the sound of splashing waves.
Aside from us four, there was no one else in this magnificent space. The entire beach became ours to enjoy.
Cabo San Juan
As someone from up north, it is so rare to see emerald green palm trees anywhere-especially growing densely in a forest. It was spetacular. At one point, I felt like I was in the middle of Jurrasic Park, vast wilderness less the danger of man-eating carnivores.
After straddling the beach for a while longer, we decided to head towards the often noted crown jewel of Tayrona- Cabo San Juan.
Cabo San Juan del Guia is a 2-hour jungle hike from the Calabazo entrance. The area offers beautiful scenery and incredible landscape. Google images, (yep, I googled) showed electric blue waters and bright sunny skies. It advertised a place so surreal and magical, that I barely complained during my sweat-inducing, leg-jellying, back-aching, drama-filled mountain-hiking trip.
Although I only had one day to spare before heading to Cartagena, I thought Tayrona’s contrasting environments provided lots to see. The trail was well maintained and offered incredible views of the beaches. When we finally finished climbing these boulders, it was already one in the afternoon. The sun was blazing and winds nowhere to be found.
The most tiresome thing was finding out that the first beach we came across was off limits. Watching the overlapping waves and cool Carribean waters from afar, our sweaty palms/armpits/faces felt that much yuckier.
Always wanting what we can’t have, ain’t it the essence of men.
I highly recommend bringing loooooooooooooots of water and sunscreen for Tayrona. My 1.5 L finished within the first hour and was sweated out way too early into the game. In fact, we quickly realized that there was another hour of jungle trails before our final destination.
Alas, there was a savior within the forests. Just after the elevations and boulders, across the burning sand, into the first shady area, we came across a man who stood by two popsicle-filled coolers. Much of my coconut stick melted before I even took a bite, but damn, it was the most delicious things I’ve had in a long time.
After bidding farewell to the ice-cream man, we continued to bypass palm trees into a deeper part of the jungle. Knowing how extensive Tayrona’s wildlife is, it was a shame we didn’t spot much other than the trained horses and numerous ant colonies. Nonetheless, we did hear troops of monkeys grunting and howling between the branches.
We reached Cabo late into the afternoon. The sky has already clouded over. The once blue heavens struggled to stay uplift and small dots of raindrops began to emerge from above. I mean, all in all, the drizzle did more good than harm for this heated journey, but it was such a shame to see Cabo in a moody grey.
How to get Home from Cabo San Juan??
At 4 in the afternoon, just as Cabo came into view, we were informed that the last bus will head back to Santa Marta at 5 pm.
There is also the option of taking a boat back to Taganga from the Cabo beaches that cost around COP 30,000 (If you do argue the price a bit), but because of budget reasons, we decided to hike the return trail.
Seeing how late it was into the day, there was no one else on the dirt road except for a few horse handlers. The jungle was silent. The once chirpy forest was only accompanied by our tired laughs and slight drizzles.
The road seemed much longer than the way in. By the time we approached the walkways across the boulders, it was nearing 5:30. In the midst of it all, we spotted the ice cream man chilling by the beach. He offered us a few more popsicles before we started chatting up a storm. After learning of our situation, he picked up his coolers and told us to follow along.
He guided us up onto some more stairs before asking whether we’d like to attempt the local route.
Of course, we said yes!
FYI, don’t say yes until you find out what you are getting into.
Right away, he led us away from the staircase to walk on the boulders. I completely misunderstood the situation/underestimated how difficult the task would be.
By this time, the drizzles have turned into small splatters that made the rocks somewhat slippery. Each of us held carefully onto the edges of varying stones, crossing gaps and openings using all four limbs to their best capabilities. At one point, we were 10 meters above the beach-grounds on humongous boulders. The ice-cream man instructed us to cross a 3-meter rock that only provided an inch of footing. I dug my toes and the palm of my feet deep into the space where two boulders overlaid each other, held the smooth surface, and half dragged/ half slid myself across.
It was something.
We arrived at the front gate just when the last bus was about to take off. Despite being completely soaked by the rain, I happily dozed off on my seat, preparing myself for two more nights in Colombia before flying home.