Tayrona National Park is one of the many jewels of Colombia located just 34 kilometers from Santa Marta. A stunning 150 kilometers of land set in Colombia’s northern coastal region of Magdalena. Tayrona was established as a national park in 1969 and is famous for its biodiversity, varied climate, remarkable wildlife, and beautiful beaches. With over 300,000 visitors annually, it is the second most visited national park after the Rosario and San Bernando Corals Natural National Park near Cartagena.
Columbia Map showing Tayrona Park
Many indigenous groups claim Tayrona as sacred ground and they have requested that the park be closed off for ecological, environmental and spiritual healing. They have completely closed the park in 2015 and 2017 for one month each time. The park is not even open to employees of the park, only members of these Indigenous groups, of whom several families live permanently within the park.
Matt, Wayne, and I walked 1.5 miles to the bus stop next to the Mercado Publico in Santa Marta. The bus costs 8k COP each and leaves every 45 minutes or when it is full. We hopped on loaded with water, snacks, and breakfast arrapas, then waited for 30 minutes. Once we were on our way, the bus driver honks his horn, slows a little, and gathers more passengers along the route. Within 45 minutes, we arrived at El Zaino where most of us disembarked.
We walked to the visitor center where we presented our documents (passports) and paid 40k COP each. At the top of the path we took a bus, 5 kilometers to the main entrance, Canavereal for 3000 pesos each. It dropped us off at a muddy parking lot and we headed toward Cabo San Juan de Guia (beach).
Our plan was to walk to Cabo San Juan, 4-hour hike, then to the village of Pueblito a 2-hour hike, then back to Canavereal, 2-hour hike to catch the park bus back to El Zaino, and then the city bus to San Marta. That was the “plan.” Of course, since I lost my phone, we did not have the maps.me app downloaded nor did we have a clear map or understanding of the trails throughout the park. We were given this nebulous map at
Hand held Tayrona Map with little information.
Map at entrance of park.
The first part of the trail was very civilized with a beautiful wood path over the muddiest parts of the rivers.
Super nice wood trail at the beginning of the hike.
Wayne enjoying a leisurely walk down the wooden path.
Keep in mind that we are all in flip flops while others are in tennis shoes, hiking shoes, and crocs. At this point we are pretty happy with our decision. When not on the wood bridges, we walked the edges around the mud puddles. It wasn’t until we were a few hours in that we started to encounter really big mud puddles and were forced to remove our shoes and go into the shin deep slush.
But we did enjoy some beautiful beach views.
Views of beach as we crested over a mountain.
Path separating the beach and the mountains.
We soon came to a small beach called La Piscina that was peppered with large boulders. It was so pretty to see these harsh rocks against the sandy seascape.
La Piscina Beach entrance.
Boulders on the beach.
Opposite the beach are lush green hills and marshes.
Hills across from the beach.
After we passed through La Piscina, we had to cross a river that was mid-thigh deep. Trying not to be “that girl”, I bunched up my Lulu Lemon shorts (which are already short) and followed the boys. Up another muddy trail, still surrounded by a small smattering of other tourists.
Fun muddy trail up the hill.
A lovely beach greeted us at Cabo San Juan. A top the hill is the famous Seafront Cabana with 8 hammocks. Its a cool option to sleep in a thatched roof hut on the rocks overlooking the sea for back packers. It is a first come, first served at a cost of 5,000 to 25,000 COP.
Seafront Cabana up on the hill with 8 hammocks.
After arriving at noon, 3 hours (vs 4) later, we had no idea how to proceed to the village of Pueblito. We asked one lady who informed us it was too late and too dangerous for us to go because the trails would be all wet. Since we didn’t want to return the way we came and were looking for a new way out of the park. So, I asked another lady who told us to leave now before the afternoon rains, and we should be fine. Go with the old adage, keep asking until you get an answer you like. She showed us the trail and we were off.
Signs had indicated our progress on the way to Cabo San Juan so we were not surprised to see signs showing our progress to Pueblito “10% to Pueblito.” However, we were surprised to see the change in terrain.
New terrain changed to a boulder hike.
90 minutes later, we arrived at Pueblito. It is a very small village that is a perfect representation of the Tayrona culture. There are several round huts, made in several different ways, a top stone terraces. We just walked through and carried on our way. Not sure it was worth the extra hike, but it was lovely to see on our way out of the park.
After 30 minutes we realized that we had not seen any signs to El Zaino. Hmmm-strange. Even more perplexing was the fork in the road with no signs of which path to take. We went right which continued to be very muddy path, up and over huge boulders, across small rivers, and down troughs where you had to waddle with one foot on either side of the river. Challenging to say the least, especially since we had already been hiking for 4 hours.
Another hiker crossed our path and told us we were on the way toward Cabo San Juan – YIKES! We wanted to go the opposite direction toward El Zaino. This is not good. It was 230p, the park closes at 5p and it would take us well over 4 hours to back track. Our best bet was to continue on and hope to get a horse or boat out of the park before 5p.
A little after 3p, we arrived at Cabo San Juan where we were able to secure three spaces on a fast panga back to Taganga a small town near Santa Marta. We just had to wait an hour for departure.
Matt took this opportunity to hike up to the hammock Seafront Cabana while Wayne and I crashed on the beach.
Images from Seafront hammock hut looking down.
The panga wrangler told us it was a 10-minute ride to Taganga which did not surprise us as they had three 200-horse power engines. At 4p, everyone on the beach started gathering toward the water’s edge. Three boats were to return almost 75 people.
The boat was so tall that they had to use a ladder to board the passengers. Imagine how difficult it was to hold the ladder and the boat in the surf? Wish I got a photo of this for you!
Our panga had the biggest boat with the most engines and the most passengers. We thought we would beat the other two boats by a long shot! Ha! Our boat driver needed to take lessons as he was horrible. Our driver couldn’t surf the waves, crested over wakes, used 2 instead of 3 engines, and got 4 people sick. And we arrived last almost two hours after we boarded. It was pure misery. Originally, we thought about asking him to give us a ride to Santa Marta, but we could not wait to get off the boat.
Taganga is a quaint town that we would have enjoyed had we not hiked so many miles, been soaking wet, and needed to use the facilities. We managed to hail a cab back to Santa Marta for 12,000 pesos, showered, had a quick dinner and went to bed.
• Hiked 14.2 miles
• Over 35,000 steps
• In 5.5 hours over rocky terrain, across river, & mud.
Great blogs on the park: