The Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia and South America’s most famous natural reserves and one of the most popular trips to take from Santa Marta. This beautiful protected area stretches from Santa Marta to the mouth of Rio Piedras and includes both 12,000 hectares of land and 3,000 hectares of sea.
One of my favourite things about this place is that you can get different types of scenery all in one place, from incredible looking beaches to rain forests, to desert looking spots with lots of cacti. This place is also great to spot some wildlife, including monkeys and different types of birds.
In this post, you’ll find some useful info to plan your visit to the Tayrona National Park including:
- Getting to Tayrona Park
- Entrance fee
- Sleeping in the park
- Trails and sights
- What to pack
- Best time to go
Getting to Tayrona National Park
To get to Tayrona National Park it’s best to leave early in the morning, particularly if you are not planning to sleep in the park. You have several options and usually, your hostel can organise this for you. For example, I stayed in Dreamers Hostel and they organised a shuttle bus for us that left at 7:30 am for 15,000 COP.
To get to Tayrona National Park, you can also take a public bus from Santa Marta which takes approximately one hour and runs every 30 minutes between 6 am and 6 pm.
Finally, you can arrange a taxi for up to four people for around 80,000COP.
There are four entrances into Tayrona National Park – El Zaíno (by road), Calabazo (by road), Cabo San Juan (by speedboat) and Palangana (road and boat). The best and most popular one is El Zaíno.
The park’s opening hours are 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, but last entry is at 4:00 pm at el Zaíno entrance and 2:00 pm at the Calabazo entrance.
After buying the tickets, you have two options to get to the trailhead. You can either get a short bus to it for 3,500 COP or walk. I would recommend getting the bus, as it saves you at least one hour.
After you get dropped off at the park entrance, you are asked to watch a video about the park and then queue to buy your ticket. The entrance fee is 48,000 COP for non-Colombian residents. It is important to bring your passport or a copy of it, or they won’t let you purchase a ticket.
Sleeping in the park
Tayrona Park opens at 8:00 am and closes at 5:00 pm. However, you have the option of staying in the park overnight and it’s an amazing experience. You can enjoy the park even without sleeping there, however, if your schedule allows it, I would really recommend it.
There are no hostels in the park, but you can rent a tent or a hammock and these are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a main hammock area with only approximately 15 hammocks on a rock that overlooks the beach, which is unfortunately almost always booked out. The maximum cost to sleep in a hammock in the park is 25,000 COP per night.
You can also rent a campsite space if you go with your own tent for around 35,000 COP per night or you can rent a space with a tent for around 40,000 COP per night.
If you are not travelling on a budget and want a more comfortable accommodation option in the park, you can opt for one of the Ecohabs, located in Canaveral Beach or at El Zaino. These eco-friendly bungalows can host up to four people and are built with local materials, such as native wood and palm leaves and have a restaurant and a spa. The price for these varies from 500,000 to 650,000 COP per night.
Trails and Sights
The hikes and trails in Tayrona National Park aren’t particularly hard or steep, but if for the first 30 minutes you will be walking on wooden platforms, the rest of the trails are muddy and there are some ups and downs. It’s also incredibly hot, so make sure you bring plenty of water with you.
During your walk, you can stop at several viewpoints, to enjoy a view of the beaches from above or simply stop to look at the wildlife- we saw so many monkeys!
It took us approximately 2.5 hours to complete all the trails and get to the very last beach, Cabo San Juan, where we stopped for a couple of hours to swim and relax.
There are some spots and beaches worth seeing along your trail from El Zaino to Cabo San Juan.
Castilletes and Cañaveral are two beaches next to each other located almost at the entrance of the park, but not on the main trail. This means that not a lot of tourists and backpackers stop here, but it’s very popular among local people. In this area, the sea is full of oil and other chemicals and so it is not possible to swim here. However, there are some nice camping areas and it is a nice place to stop and take a couple of pictures.
Arrecife is the bigger beach inside Tayrona National Park, but unfortunately, it is unsafe to swim here as the water is full of reefs and rocks and there are very strong currents. You will find this beach after a 45 minute walk through a wet forest full of rocks and cliffs.
If, by this point, you are wondering if there is a place where you can actually have a relaxing swim in Tayrona National Park, the answer is yes. La Piscina is one of the few beaches in the park where it is allowed to swim and you will find less people than at Cabo San Juan, so I would really recommend a quick stop here. As the name suggests, this place is a natural swimming pool with calm water created by the rocks barrier that surrounds.
Cabo San Juan is definitely the most famous and popular beach in the Tayrona national park. This is the place with the famous viewpoint, from where you can see two beaches as a double mirror, there are palm trees, white sand, Caribbean blue water and it is safe for swimming. This is also the place where most backpackers end their trail and camp.
A 15 minute walk from Cabo San Juan, you can also find Playa Boca del Saco (Nudist beach) and Punta Piedra. It is not safe to swim in these two spots, however, they are the perfect place to stop to escape the crowds for a couple of hours after your swim in Cabo San Juan, as they are very close to each other.
Finally, while most backpackers don’t go past Cabo San Juan, there are a few more spots worth visiting if you have more than one day in the park and are looking for more places where it is allowed to go for a swim. For example, Guachakyta (or Wachakyta). This is a very small beach and there isn’t much marine life, but the landscape is simply stunning.
What to pack
As facilities are limited in the park, make sure you bring everything you need, especially if you are planning to spend the night there. Here are some things it’s good to have with you:
Documents: remember to pack your passport and yellow fever vaccination. While we weren’t asked for our yellow fever vaccination certificate, some people were. Also keep in mind that it is impossible to enter the park without your passport.
Cash: as you can imagine, there is no ATM in the park or close to it, so make sure you have enough cash with you for your entrance fee, food, drinks and other activities in the park.
Clothes: in addition to your swimming gear and flip flops, you should bring some warm clothes for night time as it get pretty cold, especially if you are sleeping on one of the hammocks.
Eco friendly sun screen and mosquito repellent: it is hot and sunny, so you will need these. Just make sure you choose products that don’t contain dangerous chemicals for the wildlife and biodiversity in the area. You can find some tips here.
Toiletries: make sure you pack your bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, solid shampoo or soap bars and any other personal hygiene products. The soap you use might end up in a waterway and end up in the ocean and. This will affect water organism and wildlife with its chemicals. Also, the phosphates in soap can promote harmful algae blooms in lakes and streams, which lower the oxygen levels killing wildlife. To protect our ocean, please choose biodegradable soaps with organic ingredients.
Reusables: before leaving, pack your reusable basics, like a cup, bottle and lunch box, to avoid single-use plastic. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a place to refill our water bottle during our visit, but you never know! You can ask restaurants to put coffee and drinks in your reusable cup instead and food in your lunch box.
Head torch: to find your way to the toilets at night time.
Padlock: if you choose to sleep on the hammock, in Cabo San Juan there are some small lockers where you can leave your stuff over night or during the day if you decide to go for a longer walk.
Best time to go
The weather in Colombia changes from region to region, however Tayrona is a all-year destination. May, July, September, and October are the rainiest months – although the rain is occasional and so it would really affect your trip – while June to July and January to February are the peak season.
With so many backpackers travelling in Colombia, Tayrona National Park is always busy enough. However, in December and January, many local people take their holidays too, and Tayrona is a popular destinations among Colombian people, so these months are usually busier and it might be harder to find accommodation. If you want to avoid the crowds as much as possible, September to November are very good months to go.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the Tayrona Park closes three times a year to allow the eco-systems, flora and fauna to rest and recover, and to allow indigenous people to perform their sacred rituals. These times are:
- From February 1 to February 15
- From June 1 to June 15
- From October 19 to November 2
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