Tayrona National Park is a protected area on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It is approximately 150km square kilometers and is best known for its beaches. The closest city to Tayrona is Santa Marta (34 km) and is often used as the stop off point before and after a visit to Tayrona.
“Beautiful beaches surrounded by lush jungle and other worldly gigantic boulders.”
That is how I can best sum up Tayrona National Park. But there is more, this is different to every other National Park we have been to so far on this trip. How? You can stay the night in Tayrona National Park!!
Beach – check, jungle – check, crazy boulders – check
How to visit from Santa Marta
Most people will arrive at Tayrona from Santa Marta by bus. Don’t be sold on the tourist shuttles that a lot of hostels seem to be selling for 25,000COP (~€7). It is simple, cheap and quick to get the local bus yourself.
The bus departs from the front of the Mercado Publico on Carrera 9 between Calles 11 and 12. The bus will be heading in the direction of Palomina but as soon as the driver or ayudante sees a Gringo he will probably shout “Tayrona, Tayrona” anyway! That’s the good thing about buses in this part of the world, they want you to get on the bus, they wont drive off without you!! These buses leave every 20 minutes from 6am and cost 7,000COP (~€2) per person. We suggest you start your trip early, we caught the bus at 6:40am!
Incredible views await
After about an hour and a half you will arrive at the El Zaino entrance of Tayrona National Park. After getting off the bus, cross the road and join the queue (if there is one!). The entrance fee when we went in March 2018 was 44,500COP(~€12.70) each, but this fee seems to be going up all the time! Alternatively, like us, you can book your ticket ahead of time on http://www.parquetayrona.com.co/ or go to the Aviatur office in Santa Marta (Calle 24). There really is no need to book ahead, we were just prepared because the park had been closed for a month (it normally closes every year during the whole month of February) so we booked our tickets just in case. Also, it meant we got to skip the line when we got in! Once inside the park get the collectivo to the drop off point, it’s only 3,000COP(~€0.85) and saves you a very uninteresting 4km walk!
Where to stay in Tayrona
So if you decided to stay over in the National Park this will be the big decision to make. There are many campsites within Tayrona where you can stay.
Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan Map!
The most popular by far is Cabo San Juan, which is about 1 hour and 30 minute walk from where you get dropped off by the collectivos. There are hammocks and tents here and they also have the famous hammocks located in a cabin overlooking the sea. We didn’t choose to stay in Cabo for a few reasons:
- Its very touristy (nothing wrong with that really, we are all tourists!). We didn’t want to stay somewhere that was going to be really busy (and the National Park was really busy when we were there!)
- The hammocks overlooking the sea don’t have mosquito net, this is important as there are alot of mosquitos and sand flies everywhere!!
- Price – we didn’t even try and stay here but we were talking to people who did try and they were quoted 40,000COP (~€11) EACH for a hammock!
- Food – there wasn’t as much choice in dining options here, just seemed like one, expensive, restaurant!
The cabana behind is where the hammocks are located!
Cabo San Juan beach is unbelievably beautiful, and is definitely the nicest beach in the National Park. It was also thronged with people when we visited during the day – probably the busiest beach we have been on in all our time traveling so far! It would be pretty sweet to wake up at sunrise in the hammocks overlooking the bay though!
The beach is beautiful!
This is probably the number 2 choice for travelers in Tayrona. Arrecifes is about a 50 minute walk from the collectivo drop off point, and 40 minutes to Cabo. There are two main camping sites here; Don Pedro and Yuluka. We came across Yuluka first and we were so impressed that we decided to stay! They had new and modern tents, including mattresses which at the time of writing were still in good shape. We bookedone for 54,000COP (~€15.25) altogether for one night. When we arrived at 9.30am they only had one available (alot of people still hadn’t checked out), so that gives an indication of how busy the Park was (it was a Tuesday!). They also have hammocks available here. It’s not located on the beach like Cabo but Arrecifes beach is about a 5 minute walk away, and La Piscina is about 15 minutes away! There are many different restaurants located 10 minutes away and also a relatively expensive place located on the camp grounds. We chose to stay in Arrecifes due to it not being as busy, the good tent equipment (the hammocks had mosquito nets too), and it was close enough in proximity to walk to all the main beaches.
There are other camping options in Castilletes and Canavaral near the entrance but we wouldn’t recommend these as you are going to be quite far from the main activites. Playa Brava, which is located on the other side of Cabo is another option, something someone staying a couple of days could explore perhaps!
What to do
The main points of interest in Tayrona are the beaches. Each beach has an entertaining, but not exerting, hike through the forest in order to reach it.
Has a lot of sand, so plenty of space for sunbathing. You CANNOT swim here however, the currents are too strong and many visitors have died here in the past as a result. There are many eating options available.
Arrecifes beach – definetly not safe for swimming!
You can swim here! Nice beach with some big boulders in the water, good for jumping off if that’s what you are into! There is a lady selling fresh orange juice and other drinks stationed here. You can also rent some snorkels here if interested. The closest swim able beach to Arrecifes camp grounds.
La Piscina and its giant boulders
Cabo San Juan
The highlight of Tayrona. Double sided bay with impressive rock boulders surrounding it. You can also swim here! There wasn’t much room for sunbathing when we were there however, it was very busy so arrive early! There is an expensive restaurant onsite but there are also vendors that sell bread, arepas (with eggs in them) and empanadas.
Cabo San Juan Beach!
About a 15 minute walk the other side of Cabo. We didn’t make it there but we have read that its normally quiet, but anyone who is there is naked. Go figure!
Again, we didn’t make it here, its quite the trek from Cabo, possibly 1 hour and 30 minutes, so only for those staying abit longer. There are camping options there too and it is supposed to be a nice, secluded beach. It gives us a reason to return!
9 Piedras Trail
You can do this from Canavaral (on the entrance side) and it supposedly has the best views of Tayrona National Park We didn’t have the chance to do it but if anyone has, let us know how it went!
These are ruins from the indigenous group who used to inhabit Tayrona National Park. It is located past Cabo San Juan and takes about 2 hours. We skipped mainy due to the fact we are going to Ciudad Perdida soon, that will be enough ruins for us!
Aoife on some crazy boulders at 7am!
- Arrive early if visiting in high season (Dec – Apr), especially if you want those top hammocks in Cabo San Juan.
- If visiting during the wet season, plan appropriately, I can imagine the paths to each beach get quite muddy!
- Take lots of mosquito repellent!
- Leave your backpack in your hostel in Santa Marta, most hostels will store your stuff for free.
- Bring some snacks. We brought stuff like bread, peanuts, energy bars and cookies. Just make sure you lock them away, or else the ants will get them!
- Don’t overpack, the walk from the entrance to Arrecifes is quite long and there is abit of uphill, to Cabo its even longer!
- Take 2L of water, you can buy some in the park.
- Take enough cash, there are no ATMs!
- Wake up at sunrise and get some alone time on the beaches before everyone else wakes up!
- Enjoy your time with nature!
Get up early and get some moody pictures!
Let us know your thoughts on Tayrona National Park in the comments below!