Before I begin to tell you about my amazing day at Parque Tayrona, I must admit that I skipped one stop.
After we left the pleasure hell of the beaches of Cartagena, we made it to Santa Marta, a city by the sea. A little colonial, a little touristy, a little average, but very unpretentious. A healthy mix of good crowds.
And adjacent to the fantastic natural reserve Parque Tayrona.
The Ruthless Drivers of Colombia
We came by bus. Special tourist bus, door to door service. Do these drivers drive smoother than others? ¡Hell no!
I got my driver’s license at the age of 25, practiced the art of driving for two years, never felt very comfortable.
Then I gave away my car, went to Jamaica for a couple of months, and never sat behind a wheel again.
Hence, I’m certainly no driving expert.
But I know for sure: What these people are doing, is not right!
There is for instance the overtaking at blind curves – way up high on serpentines.
Then, we have the overtaking at spots marked with two continuous lines – definitely not there to give the road a fancy touch or make it look slim.
There is also overtaking on the right side of the car. Just to be clear: In Colombia, you are driving on the right side; or at least you’re supposed to do so.
Another cool thing to do is the simultaneous overtaking by two cars at a time. Hence, if you’re lucky, there are four cars side by side – the two cars overtaking the third one and another one in the opposite direction.
All this in a spot with a continuous line.
The advanced plunger does all this at blind curves. And preferably way up high on serpentines.
In a Hurry
If you are in a rush – and Colombians seem to be in a rush as soon as they sit in a car, you just go straight; on a very curved road that is.
Also known as cutting a curve.
Since the trips are long, drivers get bored just driving so they talk on the phone or even type WhatsApp-messages.
Yesterday the cab driver wrote down my phone number with a pen on paper while driving. No, we won’t go on a date, he’ll take me to the airport on my last day.
Well, although the road was very windy and quite bumpy, she did not get sick. She was far too scared.
Never will I sit next to the driver again and see – I think ‘witness’ might be the better word – what he’s doing. I let him – with some help from Him – do his job without watching.
On the Road Again
Anyway, as we finally got to lovely Santa Marta, we spent only one night and continued the next morning to the nearby Parque Tayrona.
The Parque Tayrona – what can I say: Enchanted trails in a lush jungle. Exotic birds, bizarre critters, huge butterflies in bright colors, and curious monkeys. Halfmoon bays with turquoise waters.
To get a foretaste of paradise, just take the local bus to El Zaino, the main entrance to this protected garden Eden on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Taganga, a dull, suburb-ish town about 10 minutes from Santa Marta, is actually already the Parque’s southernmost point. This gives you an idea of how close you already are once you reach lovely Santa Marta.
We had left our big luggage at our guesthouse in Santa Marta and took only a small backpack with us. After all, we spent the Easter weekend further East – no pun intended.
We had planned two stops: One at the Parque Tayrona and the other one at Palomino.
It’s a Walk in the Park
The Parque Tayrona, a national park that stretches more than 20 miles along the Northern Caribbean coast and attracts nature lovers not only because of its impressive flora and fauna but also by reason of many secluded, unspoiled beaches.
Secluded means – once again – hiking. It starts harmless on straight wooden walkways, but this bliss doesn’t last.
Soon you have to climb up and down quite steep stairs and dirt trails and it’s really hot and humid. You are hiking through a really impressive jungle with some rough and mountainous parts to secluded, unspoiled beaches which is very nice, but in the heat and humidity exhausting.
A Foretaste of Paradise
The variety of the flora and fauna is amazing – some of this biodiversity is even endemic to this region. You get to see majestic birds, exotically glittering lizards, huge butterflies in bright colors, and even monkeys.
Coming from El Zaino, the first beach, Playa Cañaveral, looks very inviting – especially after the exhausting hike. But do yourself a favor and take the warning serious: The waves and the undercurrent here are really dangerous. Just clench your teeth and postpone your dip till you reach the following bays – you’ll enjoy it so much!
Yes, it’s a great place, but when we finally reached the beach after only 90 minutes, I was much more exhausted than after our five hours hike in the mountains of Valle Cocora.
Mountains is key here: There, in the coffee region, it had been relatively cool. Here, on the Caribbean coast, it was a frigging hothouse!
So once we got to the first of many beautiful beaches, I took a dip in the crystal clear ocean and simply crashed in the shade of one of the lush trees. Until it was time to make it back.
As always, the way back seemed much easier – also because it was later in the day hence cooler.
What You Need For Your Visit
It’s important that you have your documents with you, i. e. an ID or, even better, your passport. A yellow fever vaccine is not indispensable but recommended.
Don’t forget to use sun protection and take more with you.
Repellent is optional – probably recommended if you spend the night.
Good sneakers or preferably hiking shoes are crucial – this is a national park, a jungle, not an English garden.
Clothing should be sensible and hardwearing and fast-drying.
At least for the first two hours, you should have enough drinking water with you. Again, although this is not an expedition, the climate makes a visit really demanding.
We visited the park only for one day, but to make the most of your visit, I would recommend at least two or three.
As I said, we got into the park at the El Zaino entrance.
However, you can also enter at Calabazo. Then, you’ll have to walk much longer to reach the beaches, but you hike the hills covered by lush rainforest. It’s nice, but really hard – with a capital H.
The easiest way, however, is to come by boat from Taganga. You hop on a boat and after about 40 minutes, they drop you off on one of the beaches.
Of course, you still have to buy an entrance ticket.
Hot to Get There And Around
There is a public bus leaving Santa Marta at the stop next to the Central Market on Calle 10 with Carrera 9 where any cab takes you for as little as US$1,
Here, you have to catch the local public bus towards La Guajira. You can just tell the driver where you want to get off.
We went to the main entrance El Zaino in Cañaveral, but if you are more adventurous, it’s also possible to enter the park at Calabazo.
Best Place to Sleep
As we planned on continuing further east to Palomino the following day, we booked a room at the Recuerdos del Tayrona guest house* right next to the main entrance to spend the night. It also came in handy since we were able to leave everything we didn’t urgently need for our hike in our room.
There are also accommodations right at the park. However, those are either quite rustic – like hammocks, tents, beds without real walls – or pretty expensive. Whereby the open air beds are quite costly, too.
On the other hand, if you spend the night in the park, you have to pay the entrance fee of about 15 $ only once. So you need to do the math yourself according to your interest.
One might think that at night you’d have the chance to get a better look at the wildlife; thus while we hiked back, loud Salsa and Reggaeton were blaring from the campground, so I’m not sure in how far that actually attracts wildlife.
The Recuerdos del Tayrona guest house* is about three minutes walk from the El Zaino entrance. The rooms are rather simple and rustic, but clean and the owners are super friendly and welcoming.
It’s a great place to leave everything you do not urgently need for your visit to the Parque. However, in case they are booked out, here are some more great lodging options*:
Best Place to Eat
To be honest, there aren’t that many options where to eat so that the best place was not difficult to pick – and we picked Restaurante Las Acacias.
However, food was good – and the seating on their terrace next to the river was nice.
It’s located pretty much right across the El Zaino entrance.
What Else There Is To Do
I’m an avid solo-travelling woman. Since solo-travel doesn’t equal solitude, I love to join organized tours here and there. They allow me to meet fellow travellers – for just a short moment or a lifelong friendship.
Therefore, here more great ideas of what to do during your stay in the region. They’ll enable you to explore amazing places in a comfortable and most importantly safe way*:
The Parque Tayrona was only one of many beautiful places I’ve visited in Colombia. To read about the others, go to the main post and take your pick! There you’ll also find valuable general information that will make your trip smoother.
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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in May 2021.