Parque Tayrona – The Secret’s Out
When it comes to a location for amazing weekend trips, you can’t get much better than Barranquilla. With about 20 thousand pesos and a couple of hours, you can get to some of the best tourist destinations in Colombia, like Cartagena and Santa Marta. Santa Marta in turn serves as the jumping off point to one of the most breathtaking beaches in the country – Tayrona Park. Long a hidden gem on the Caribbean, the secret is out and tourists are flocking to see the pristine white sand cabos of this gorgeous national park.
For all the talk about Tayrona, as I was planning my trip I found it a bit difficult to figure out the logistics of a visit. Sure, you get there from Santa Marta and there was mention of hammocks, but how does this place actually work? After combing through travel books and piecing together info from backpacker blogs, my friend and I learned that the classic Tayrona experience starts by entering the park from the east end and hiking in towards the west to reach the various beaches.
We also learned that buses to Tayrona leave from the market area on Calle 11 with Carrera 11 – but that didn’t stop us from having to wander around for a considerable amount of time (thanks to some very confusing street labeling in Santa Marta) until we saw a very gringo-looking group of people duck into an inconspicuous area between some buildings. Here we were able to grab a cheap corriente lunch for about 8,000 before hopping on a collectivo bus for 7000, which dropped us off at the park entrance about an hour later.
This is the part where you learn from my rookie mistakes. When I said the secret is out about Tayrona, I meant it. If you’re traveling there during high season, particularly in December to January when schools are on break, you will not be the only one who thought Tayrona would be a fun getaway! When my friend and I arrived at Tayrona in the afternoon with the intention of staying the night and leaving the next afternoon, we were bummed to learn that the park had reached its tourist quota by 10am that morning. Instead, we had to buy our tickets for the next day, return to Santa Marta for the night, then arrive early the next morning with our entry guaranteed. This is much less likely to happen if you’re traveling in low season, but don’t let your travel plans be thrown off and get to the park as early as you can! And if you have a student ID card, make sure to bring it, as it will knock about 25,000 off the entrance price!
The other thing you need to know about Tayrona: while the main attraction is the beaches, you can’t enjoy them without doing a fair amount of hiking, so make sure you bring good shoes!
When you arrive to the park, you can take another colectivo for a couple thousand pesos to save you the hassle of hoofing it to Cañaveral, from where you have to start hiking to get to the real destinations – the beaches of Arrecifes, La Piscina, and Cabo San Juan. The hike to Arrecifes is beautiful and takes upwards of 45 minutes. Since you can’t swim at Arrecifes, my friend and I chose to continue on to La Piscina, which was another 20 minutes or so. By the time we got to the cove, we were pretty sweaty but the views are just amazing. To save time, we decided to rest for just a short while before heading to Cabo San Juan, which was about another 30 minutes of walking. You’ll recognize this beach as it’s the one whose photos are plastered all over travel guides. This picture-perfect view is the best reward for a long morning of hiking.
There are plenty of options in the park for eating and sleeping, but it wouldn’t hurt to get your sleeping arrangements taken care of first so you can spend the rest of the day relaxing on whichever beach you choose. Even if the park is packed with visitors, it’s easy to see why – this place is stunning and well worth a visit.
For more information, check out the official government site for Parque Tayrona: http://www.parquesnacionales.gov.co/portal/en/ecotourism/caribbean-region/tayrona-national-natural-park/