The gentle rustling of palm leaves mixed with the crash of the ocean waves. A smell of salt in the air. A deliciously refreshing breeze washing over me as I walked the soft, sandy path which separated the jungle from the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean. I reflected on the three days I had spent in the Tayrona National Park, and I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude for the opportunity to explore this marvelous place.
As I travel the world, I make it a priority to explore National Parks. I am at my happiest when I am able to be one with nature. Tayrona National Park, however, is a great mix for people who need some “modern amenities” but who still want to get lost in the pure beauty of nature.
Getting to Tayrona is easy, which probably aids the number of tourists who come here. From Santa Marta, it takes about 45minutes to an hour to arrive, depending on whether you take a public bus (~5000 pesos) or a mini-tourist bus (~10,000 pesos). Upon arrival to the park, you must first watch a welcome video which explains about the ecosystem of the park, and also touches on “Dos” and “Don’ts” while in Tayrona. After watching the video, which plays in Spanish but has English subtitles, you will be given a ticket which then allows you to get in line to buy your entrance ticket. If you’re 26 or under, with a valid student ID and a passport your entrance will be 8000 pesos, but if you’re older, or you don’t have an actual passport and student ID then your entrance fee will be 39,500 pesos. *Note that you need an actual passport or photo copy- a picture on your phone will not qualify because they must make a photo copy of the passport. Being the “viejita” (little old lady) that I am, at 27 years old, my student card didn’t make the cut, but my 19 year old friend didn’t ‘get the discount either because he only had his passport picture on his phone… Be prepared, and reap the benefits of a discount.
After purchasing your entrance ticket, you can either walk 5km along a road to get to the point where the trails actually start, or you can pay 3000 pesos for a mini-bus and save your energy for walking in the park. We opted for the bus, and it was money well spent.
Once in the park, the trails are well maintained, with wooden walkways and handrails leading up and down steep areas. If you have hiking sandals, use them. Even though the path is soft, you will be happier if you have shoes which are stronger than flip flops, especially if you decide to hike up to the ancient indigenous town of Pueblito.
After about an hour of hiking you will come to the first set of accommodations in an area called Arrecifes. There you can find inexpensive lodging with a tent or hammock at half the price of Cabo San Juan. This area has a total chill vibe, but you can’t swim in the ocean here- you must walk up the trail approximately 15-20 minutes to find a swimmable beach.
En route from Arrecifes to Cabo San Juan, you will encounter Restaurant Lilli which is right on the beach, and Panaderia Vere, a bakery, which serves the most delicious chocolate, arrequipe, or guava-queso bread you could ever dream of. At 3000 pesos a loaf they cannot be missed. Do yourself a favor and stop here, take a load off, and sit in the shade of the trees, looking out on the little lake behind the house…you might even happen to see a cayman floating about!
The beach after the Panaderia Vere is swimmable, and also has food options of arepas stuffed with eggs, vegetables, chicken or meat, and cost between 3000-5000 pesos depending on your selection. You can also refresh yourself with fresh squeezed orange juice, or a cup of ceviche, also costing around 5000 pesos. Stick along the coast, and you will sneak up on “La Piscina”, a picture-perfect swimming area with big boulders that you can climb on for fun. Kick back and relax here, or continue on through the jungle trail for another 20-30 minutes to reach Cabo San Juan.
The second accommodation area of Cabo San Juan is breathtakingly beautiful, but is more “resort like” than the laid-back area of Arrecifes. If you arrive in the afternoon, be prepared to wait up to an hour in line to reserve your lodging, and by then the hammocks might be sold out. Tents start at around 25,000 pesos a person for a single, and a hammock will run around 20,000 pesos. If you arrive early enough, ask if you can get a spot at the little hut on the beach. There are only about 12 hammocks there, and two little sleeping areas up top, but the breeze is phenomenal, and the view of sunset or sunrise is worth the extra cost.
The ancient village of Pueblito lies a steep 1.5 hour hike up the mountain from Cabo San Juan. The path is naturally formed by boulders, and at times you must grab on to a rope in order to climb up and over the gigantic rocks in the path. This is where you will be happy you have more than just your flip flops. I wore my hiking sandals, and more than one person commented that they were jealous.
Once up in Pueblito, take a seat, eat a snack, drink some water, and imagine what this village was like thousands of years ago when it was bustling with activity. There are still indigenous people living in the village, and you can see them and their hut houses as you pass by a local stand selling cold drinks. Rather than hiking the boulder path again, take a softer trail back which takes you through the jungle and pops you out on the beaches. It is still about 1-1.5 hours hiking, but it is different and worth checking out. Both routes can be seen on the park’s maps which they give you at the entrance.
During my stay I spent both nights in Cabo San Juan, but if I could go back and do it again I would spend one night in Arrecifes and one night in Cabo San Juan, to experience the different vibes of both places. Cabo is always bustling with people and activity, and each night everyone comes together to eat in the dining hall, which can be nice if you’re looking to meet people. The meals are a bit pricey in comparison to normal (25,000 pesos for a fish dinner, 10,000 pesos for an egg and arepa breakfast) but it makes sense because you’re in the middle of no where. You can always bring your own food to keep your costs down, and definitely bring a lot of water (at least 3 liters), because although they do sell it in the park, it’s 3000 pesos for a small bottle. Indulge in the freshly squeezed juice at least one time during your stay.
When it comes time to leave, you can either retrace your steps and exit the park through the same entrance you came from, or you can take a path out to the road from Pueblito, which you can see on the map. I had a few friends who only spent one night in the park, and they opted to hike out from Cabo San Juan via Pueblito to the road, which allows them to “see it all” in just two days and one night.
I walked back out the same way I came in, stopping to relax and swim along the way. As you leave the park, take it slow. Enjoy it. Make sure to soak in the salty ocean breeze, and to let the sound of the waves and the rustling palm leaves engrain themselves in your memory. Tayrona National Park is exquisite.