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Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park – A jungle on the beach

April 5, 2014 – April 8, 2014

Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Our next stop was the beautiful Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona – Tayrona National Park.  A must see for travelers along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.  Nearly every traveler we have encountered has either been there already or is going there.  This huge 12,000 hectare unspoiled wildlife refuge along the coast offers an escape for the hustle and bustle of the cities with beautiful beaches, jungle hiking, camping, and ancient ruins to explore.  

Tayrona National Park, or just Tayrona as everyone calls it, can be reached cheaply and easily via a bus which we caught at the intersection of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 in Santa Marta.   Almost everywhere in and around Santa Marta people will offer you an invariably expensive trip to Tayrona for COP $20,000 – $80,000 but we found the bus to be simple and easy and cost only COP $7000 per person. 

The one hour bus ride dropped us off on the road just outside the entrance, a short walk up the hill and you reach the small ticket office.  Tayrona costs COP $38,000 per person for foreigners, and considerably less for locals.  A small colectivo van is waiting just inside the entrance to take you to the first stop, and start of the trailhead, in Canaveral for COP $2,000 per person.  Our van waited until it was completely packed with tourists and their large backpacks before departing. 20 minutes later we arrived at the trailhead, already hot, sweaty and ready to begin our hour and a half long hike along the coast to Arrecifes where we would be camping. 

The hike in

Tayrona National Park trailhead
Tayrona National Park trailhead

The scenery along the hike was amazing with lush jungle, and un-crowded beaches for nearly the entire length.   Here on the hike in we spotted our first wildlife.  Hundreds of lizards and iguana of various sizes, dozens of brightly colored and vocal birds,  curious monkeys peeking at us from the trees, and lines of leaf cutter ants crisscrossing the trail.

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This Iguana posed for a picture before bounding away.

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Our first views of the beach were amazing, vast stretches of sand and large round stone outcroppings virtually devoid of any people.

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These monkeys sat in the trees only a couple dozen feet away and lazily watched tourists hike by.

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One of my favorite things to look at in the park was the industrious leaf cutter ants, forming dense highways all over the park diligently taking their green cargo back to their colony.  I found them to be absolutely fascinating and, to Krista’s dismay, could watch them for hours. 

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Highways of Leafcutter ants crisscrossed the trail.

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Arrecifes

Arrecifes, our first stop along the trail offers several places to camp.  All of the campsites consist of two person camping tents, typically packed tight together, some under a makeshift rain cover, some exposed to the elements.  The same tents were present at all the various campsites, however some are closer to the beach than the others.  We choose to camp at Don Pedro which was the farthest from the beach, though only a 5 minute hike away.  The prices were cheaper here and we also liked that it was the only camp we saw where the tents were not erected right next to each other, and the bathrooms were some of the cleanest we saw in the park.  Don Pedro was also not very crowded, with about a dozen or so other travelers, whereas the camps nearer to the beach looked to be very crowded.  We liked Don Pedro and would recommend it to others traveling to Tayrona.

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Don Pedro camp at Arrecifes
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Our home for 3 nights.
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The view from our tent.

The first beaches at Arrecifes are beautiful but you cannot swim here,  the currents are dangerous and many tourists who have ignored the signs have drowned here in the past. 

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A twenty minute walk west of Arrecifes will take you to La Piscina (which means “The Pool”), a calm protected bay where you can swim and snorkel.  Along the way you will pass several small picturesque bays, worth a snap or two.  Also you can pick up a drink or snack along the way at one of the small stands erected along the beach.

La Piscina
La Piscina
La Piscina in the evening
La Piscina in the evening

Cabo San Juan de la Guia

Another 20-30 minute hike beyond La Piscina and you will reach the very popular Cabo San Juan de la Guia.  Definitely worth the hike this place was popular and crowded for good reason, here you will find some of the best looking and most populated beaches in the park.  The campsites are crowded though and packed in tight, and prices are a bit steeper so we still recommend staying at the vastly quieter Don Pedro and just hiking to Cabo San Jaun de la Guia.  

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Showers on the coast

All over the Caribbean coast in Colombia, only cold water showers are available due to the climate.  Though shocking at first we came to love these cold water showers and sometimes found ourselves wishing the water was even colder.  The showers at Don Pedro had the added bonus of views of tropical foliage and coconuts falling from the palm trees, which Krista got to enjoy from the women’s private stalls, while the men had shared showers which were fairly exposed.

Ailments on the beach

On our second day in the park Krista fell ill, we believe it was brought on by brushing her teeth with water from the camp spigot.  We had been using a little water here and there from the faucet in other towns without issue.  It is likely that the water in the park is not as good as the city water.  Bottled water is easy to buy everywhere in the park and not too expensive, therefore stick to bottled water unless you have a good way to filter some.

I fell victim to another danger in the park, an odd red skin disease apparently brought on by exposure to the sun.  Back at home in Seattle I had heard rumors about this.   Wear sunscreen! And re-apply after swimming.

As Krista needed to recover we elected to skip our planned hike to the Pueblito ruins, and instead rented hammocks so Krista could spend the day recovering with water, saltine crackers and Gatorade.  We enjoyed the shade, Krista reading while I jotted down some notes.  Later some traveling monkeys came to Don Pedro to check out the captive tourists from the trees. 

Despite our mild ailments we both loved the park and would definitely go again if we could, and we both recommend it anyone who is traveling in this part of Colombia.   We went during the dry season, and didn’t see a drop of rain, we heard that the simple tent campsites and trails can be miserable in rainy season.