As part of our exploration of Northern Colombia, we had to check out Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. Alex and I had both read quite a bit about the park, and it sounded right up our alley after some of our latest hiking adventures.
We stayed a night in Santa Marta to split up our trip north after our stay in Cartagena. From Santa Marta, we took a local bus from the Casino La Estrella del Mercado for 7.000 COP each. We apparently looked lost enough that a local woman pointed us in the right direction to the buses going to Tayrona. The ride took about an hour, with no A/C, yay South America!
When we first looked into our trip to the park, the first thing we had to decide was if we were going to try to camp inside. The other option was to stay at resort near the park. While we don’t have a ton of luggage, we did have rolling carry-ons which would limit our ability to backpack into the park, plus we dig hot showers (foreshadowing!), so we opted for a resort thing down the street.
Resorts in Colombia are not like resorts in the States, or other countries for that matter. We were without A/C for a good part of our first day and without hot water for our first night, but we powered through in anticipation of our day at the park.
The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast and then went out to the street to hail down one of the big blue buses that had brought us up to Santa Marta that was heading back to Santa Marta (they come about every 10 minutes and will charge you a fare based on where you’re going) and they said it would be 2,000 COP each to get over to the park. We jumped on and were on our way.
One of the first lessons we realized is that cash is king when in or around the park. We didn’t have enough cash to pay for the entrance into the park (54.000 COP each), so we had to go to the token woman who will charge your card so you can get cash back, with a nice little 15% fee on top.
After the entrance fee, we had about 30.000 COP left in cash, thinking we could use a card at restaurants inside the park as someone had told us. Come to find out, that’s not the case. When you get in, there’s a shuttle that takes you the three or so miles to the start of the hike. It costs 3.000 COP each, and totally worth it, otherwise you’ll end up with a very long day.
The hike to get to Cabo San Juan del Guia took us about 1.5 hours, and covers about 3 miles. The beginning getting into the park is a bit hilly, but the paths are incredibly clear, some even with wood paneling and stairs. Once you’re into the park, the path mostly follows along the beautiful beaches, switching between rainforest and beach fauna, with all the wildlife you can imagine.
From Cabo San Juan del Guia, there’s a path that’s more of an incline, and definitely more challenging, that takes you up to Pueblito Chairama, a small local village that’s still inhabited by a few locals, but at one time was home to 2,000+ people. The hike to the archaeological site is about 2 miles, and it took us about 1.25 hours, but I would allocate more time for sure. Once you get to the top, there’s a small stand selling drinks and snacks!
After making it to el Pueblito, we returned to Cabo San Juan to relax and enjoy the water. The current is pretty strong, so most people didn’t go out too far. I could see how it would be fun if you were backpacking to trek all the way out there with your stuff and post up with the other backpackers and then wake up to this amazing view.
But, alas, it was time for us to head back. We started our trek out of the park at around 2:30, giving us ample time to get out before it closed at 5. The going was a bit slow as we were also heading back with the hoards of local families and groups that had also made the trek out to the beach for the day.
We were both so surprised by how many people, young, old, whoever, who made it all the way out there for a day at the beach. When we were talking with some locals later on, they said the park is a national treasure, and it’s a special occasion to be able to make their way out there to enjoy the park and some time at the beach.
We finally make it back to the shuttle that would take us to the entrance of the park at 3:45, having just hit the 10.25 mile mark on our day of hiking. Somehow we managed to scrounge up an extra 2.000 COP to buy a raspberry popsicle to top off our amazing day exploring and adventuring around Tayrona.
Tips for those looking to do the trip: Stay at least a night if you want to really explore and relax, bring lots of cash, bring even more water, be sure to have bug spray and sunblock, pack some healthy snacks and be sure to have your passport as it’s required for entry.