Complete Backpackers’ Guide to Tayrona National Park
Hiking Tayrona National Park was high on my to-do list of ‘Things to Do’ in Colombia. In my mind, I had built up an image of a tropical paradise with virgin beaches, wild beauty, and undiscovered land.
From Cartagena to Tayrona
Right after our short stay in Cartagena, we headed to Tayrona and based ourselves in Santa Marta. From Cartagena to Santa Marta, we took an evening bus which picked us up from our hotel in Getsemani, Cartagena, took about 3.5 hours and dropped us off in front of our hotel in Santa Marta. Total breeze!
After my experience in Cartagena, I was really hoping the most famous National Park of Colombia would not disappoint. That it wouldn’t be overcrowded and filled with tourists, or even worse…with trash.
I was also told it was a tough 2-hour hike which I thought would be a breeze as I enjoy hikes and have done longer treks.
…Boy was I in for a surprise!
And so from Santa Marta, we head off for a 2-day, 1-night stay in Tayrona.
We woke up early morning to take a bus from Santa Marta to the national park for about $6,000 pesos. 1.5 hour later, the bus dropped us off at the entrance of the park where we were kindly obliged to listen to a short brief about the park’s rules, its’ opening/closing time, where we could swim, where we could sleep and the walking time from one beach to the other.
Entrance Fee of Tayrona
Being a resident of Colombia, my entrance fee was only $15,000 pesos.
–Locals and residents of Colombia pay $15,000 for the entrance.
–Students both foreign and international with the appropriate ID pay only $8,000 pesos
–Foreign adults pay $40,000 pesos.
Hiking and other activities in Tayrona
The jungle hike doesn’t actually begin at the entrance of the park. It really starts a 30-minute walk later upon arriving at the parking of the park.
As we knew the hike was going to be intense, we decided to save ourselves the 30 minutes where there would be no beautiful views anyways and took a van that operates the entrance of the park to where the real hike begins.
And so we started to hike at a brisk pace. There were few signs to indicate where to go and so I could see how easy it was to get lost (as friends of mine have previously done while making their way back to the entrance).
Another option instead of hiking is to get a horse. As we were light in luggage, I preferred to hike as it was part of the experience I had imagined and I enjoy a good exercise anyways. In any case, no matter how long you stay, there is no reason to pack so much that you need a horse to carry you or your belongings.
In addition, the horses take a different trail, which might not give you the same beautiful scenery as if you went by foot.
The hike doesn’t go through a thick jungle like you would imagine in Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park.
As the entire trail stays close to shore, forestation is light. There were no bugs and as we moved so fast mosquitoes didn’t have time to bite us.
Canaveral -> Arrecifes -> La Piscina -> El Cabo -> Nudista
You don’t actually walk on Cañaveral, but see it from a distance at the beginning of the hike. And no, it is not allowed to swim in, unfortunately.
After about 1 hour into our hike, we arrived at Arrecifes, a pristine, virgin beach, with amazing dense jungle mountains behind it. Arrecife was so grand, it was bigger than life, and I felt minuscule against its beauty.
So untouched, I thought I had arrived at the island in the Jurassic Park movie and a T-Rex would come out of the wild. Although we were only 1 hour into our hike, we were already a sweaty mess. However, the park supervisors had advised us that swimming in Arrecifes was prohibited as the waves were too rough.
About 30 minutes past Arrecife we arrived at La Piscina, which was a bit closed off from the open ocean hence making it more suitable for taking a dip. The beach itself was not spectacular and we knew we were only 20 minutes away from El Cabo.
So we continued on until we hit our final destination…
Tayrona National Park Lodging
Hammocks could not be reserved in advance and so we booked them upon arrival. Unfortunately, we did not get a spot in El Mirador, as the people who stayed in the hammocks on the campground the night before beat us to the reservation.
Much quieter and isolated then El Cabo. However, you can’t swim and are 20 minutes away from a beach you can bathe in (La Piscina).
This was the most popular place to stay. El Cabo has a restaurant, tents, hammocks and even cabins. The communal bathrooms and showers were clean.
I expected this place to be jam-packed, but when I went end of October 2015, it was almost empty and a real treat.
I’ll skip all the expensive housing options as it didn’t fit my budget and I’m a hippie at heart anyways.
Hammocks were $20,000 and $25,000 in El Mirador. Not so many people opted for tents which cost $50,000 for 2 or $15,000 for space if you brought your own, but bringing your own material is a hassle to carry in the heat.
Food: To bring or not to bring?
Reading beforehand and after speaking to a few people, I was told that food and water inside the park were very expensive and that I should bring my own.
Although it’s true that prices were higher than the standard in Colombia, they were not over-the-top. It was nice that we brought a bottle of water and snacks, however, I didn’t find the prices to be outrageous either.
A beer cost $4,000, lunch started at $15,000. The food was not great but it was not horrible and it’s still better than eating canned tuna.
Evening to Night
The sunset was sublime and we headed up to el mirador to admire the mother nature’s show for half an hour.
Once night fell there was nothing to do but rejoice in the moonlight reflecting on the water, make new friends and drink beer. Not too shabby if you ask me!
Oh yes, and please do not forget mosquito repellent as it was very obvious the next day to see who had brought their repellent and who didn’t.
I wore long loose pants and a long-sleeved shirt as PJs and sprayed my clothes and hair with repellent. All I had exposed were my hands, face, and feet. Even with all the precautions taken, I still found 10 mosquito bites on the little skin I had exposed.
So how was my night sleeping in a hammock? I woke up several times as it wasn’t the most comfortable, got quite cold and woke up early with the sunrise.
As I woke up with the first rays, I took advantage, put my bathing suit on and went straight into the water. It was absolutely lovely.
I brought along with my own breakfast cereal and fruit which was nice and spend the morning soaking up the beauty of Tayrona National Park as everyone had left and there mustn’t have been more than 10 people on the beach.
I think it would have been ideal to spend 3 days and 2 nights so as to be able to make the hike to Pueblito which was a 3-hour walk (+3 hours back) from El Cabo. Doing that hike plus the 2-hour walk back from El Cabo to the entrance of the park was too intense for me. And so it would have been ideal if we had spent an extra day to do it…which now that I think about it, would have given us priority to the hammocks in El Mirador for the second night. Oh well! For next time…
As was my case, for those who don’t have time to go to the Lost City or Ciudad Perdida, Pueblito is a wonderful alternative to see ruins of the local tribe called koguis.
Many of the tourists continued on to Taganga by land or by boat from El Cabo.
Unfortunately, we had to head back to Santa Marta to catch our plane to Bogota the next day. In the terminal of Santa Marta, I grab a local newspaper sitting on an empty seat, and that’s when I see that Tayrona will be closing for the entire month of November! What good timing!
You’re probably wondering what to pack. Most people carried a small individual backpack. No bigger than 50 Liters.
WHAT TO BRING
- Water (for the hike)
- Comfortable shoes for trekking (trekking sandals would be ideal)
- Comfortable clothes
- Bathing suit
- Sandals (for the showers)
- Shampoo and soap
- Sunscreen (unless you like being crispy)
- Snacks, cereal, fruit (but keep it light)
- Flashlight (for those midnight bathroom trips)
- Mosquito repellent (none of that natural organic repellent!)
- Long sleeve shirt and pants + blanket/sweater (repel mosquitoes and stay warm in the hammock at night)
- Book, game or some sort of entertainment for downtime (there’s no wifi and little phone signal)
If you are planning on going there, I wish you a happy journey! And if there’s something you would like to add or share, please leave me a message in the comment box below. I am always happy to read your messages 😉