Do not miss this one of the most idyllic places in Colombia! Perfect, whether you are a full blown hippy, nudist curious or partied out traveller seeking some sun, fun and relaxation.
Picture of Cabo San Juan (de Guía)
Parque Nacional Tairona (also spelt Parque Nacional Tayrona) is home to a series of picturesque, golden sand beaches demarked by good-looking huge round boulders, where you can always find yourself a perfect spot for yourself to do nothing (or anything you’d like) and feel all the stress melt away from you.
The days go fast in this earthly paradise where remembering which beaches you haven’t visited yet, deciding which dish to choose at dinner, and when to return to the outside world become some of the most important daily decisions you have to make.
You can stay as mellow as you want lazing around in the sun, or get active by swimming, climbing coconut trees or going for a hike up to Pueblito – a Tairona archaeology site. It’s an interesting 2 ½ hour climb. On the way, you will encounter caverns under massive boulders and the surprisingly well constructed rocky trail which is one of the trademarks of the Tairona culture. Keep an eye out for the creek ‘where the boulders are born’.
Picture of Pueblito
I have seen some monkeys in the park, but apparently others have also seen perezosos (sloths), squirrels, hummingbirds and sea turtles. There are some gigantic grasshoppers around and butterflies with electric blue wings.
The 34 km bus ride from El Mercado (the markets) in Santa Marta, which is the closest city, to the park entrance at El Zaíno, costs around 3,000 Colombian pesos. Park entrance costs about 22,000 pesos. You can either walk or get a ride for the next 3.6 km. Then you walk for about 45 minutes (or you can hire a donkey) to the first beach and campsite. Nowadays, the most popular (and the most picturesque) campsite is Cabo San Juan (de Guía) further west along the beach. Hammocks are available for hire at campsites.
Basic accommodation (mostly hammocks and some simple rooms), just a few restaurants and shops (at least 2-3 times more expensive than outside) and inconvenient access are both a curse and a blessing for visitors to the park. The end result is that they keep the visitor numbers low despite the natural splendour and the fact your ticket allows unlimited stay in the park. You may, however, exit and re-enter the park within the first 3 days of your first entry.
- Pack light and focus on the essentials such as food, water, sunscreen and basic toiletries
- Bring twice the money you think you might need
- A very strong insect repellent for sandflies
- Extra water in a plastic bag (in addition to a plastic bottle water and some way to keep the plastic bag sealed once it’s been opened, such as tape, a clip, rubber band, etc.)
- Some ‘warm’ clothes or a sleeping bag for it can be cold at night sleeping in a hammock
- A torch (but it’s not recommended to walk beyond the campsite at night because of snakes)
- Alcohol such as rum if you drink. Refill an empty plastic bottle to save weight
- Buy marmalade/jam in squeezable packaging to save weight and volume
- A machete can be handy for opening coconuts which are great to drink on the beach
- A pineapple is cheap and also great for the beach
- Something to pass the time, such as playing cards, books, etc.
- You can buy all the items mentioned above and other supplies either at Olimpica supermarket or El Mercado (the markets). You will find both just before you get on the bus in Santa Marta.
Since you’ve read this far down, I will give you a special tip.
There is another entrance to the park that most people do not know about. For those more adventurous, I would recommend it as an alternative way out of the park instead of taking the same way out, especially if you plan to visit Pueblito anyway.
It is a great way to experience a light version of the more gruelling and expensive La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) trek for free and in half a day. It is a mini La Ciudad Perdida trek in many aspects.
First, you climb to Pueblito. (After your visit of Pueblito), walk straight through and to the other end of Pueblito following the main trail. Soon, you will come to a Y junction. Take the left fork to Calabazo. Taking the right fork takes you down to the farthest beach which is not what you want.
An hour later, you’ll arrive at another junction. Take the right fork this time. Soon you’ll start to climb and see a deserted house. Keep following the trail and you’ll come out of the jungle near the top of the hill. Follow the trail down to the main highway below where you can get the same buses that come past the main park entrance.
Cabo San Juan (de Guía) campsite to Pueblito takes about 2 ½ hours, and Pueblito to the highway should take less than that.