colombia tayrona national park cabo de san juan de guia
Colombia

Planning your trip to Tayrona National Park

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona or Tayrona National Natural Park, is one of my most memorable adventures from traveling around Colombia. I’ve gone twice and I’d go again in a heartbeat! This is why I want to share my tips to planning your trip to Tayrona National Park. The national park is popular for its hiking, wildlife, and beautiful beaches. Plus, it is conveniently located close to Santa Marta and easy to get to for a day trip or a longer stay.

It is time to start planning your trip to Tayrona National Park.

The park is so beautiful! If you are planning your trip to Tayrona National Park, relax, because it is really easy. It might seem like a bit of a challenge due to the lack of clear, accurate information. It can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. The reality is you can take the journey nice and easy – you really can’t mess it up. For you planners, don’t stress this one.

Santa Marta

We’ll begin our journey in Santa Marta. You can fly into this coastal city from any of the big Colombian cities. It is not your end destination, but it makes a solid jumping off point for other adventures. If you are coming from one of the bigger cities, keep in mind you can not drink the water here. So, you’ll want to stock up right away.

Image by Makalu from Pixabay

Stay the night, stock up on supplies like water, snacks, and suncreen at Éxito or Carulla (popular, Colombian supermarkets), walk around and visit Parque de Los Novios in the evening for dinner, and plan out your next steps. When I visited there was a little ice cream shop in the corner of the square at Calle 19 and Carrera 2a. They had vegan ice cream and it was delicious! You need to have it!

Sometimes, I just don’t feel like a hostel.  In Santa Marta, I opted for an Airbnb the first time and a hotel the second time around. Honestly, the hotel was more comfortable and cost about the same once split three ways. We stayed at the Hotel Catedral Plaza and it was great.

After a good night’s rest, a delicious breakfast is key to starting a great adventure! I recommend trying Ikaro Café in the historic center. Seriously, when I went back the second time, this is all I was talking about; I couldn’t wait to go back here.

Planning your trip to Tayrona National Park: Decisions, Decisions

Now, you need to make a few decisions about planning your trip to Tayrona National Park. Again, for you planners, there really are no bad options. Just do what makes you feel comfortable. I say this because I’m a planner and on my first trip to Tayrona, I really stressed myself out trying to make sure I had everything covered. This just isn’t necessary; you can relax.

Decision #1: To stay the night or not

You can make a day trip of it or spend the night in one of the camps. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. Do you want to sleep in a hammock, with no electricity and all the stars on the beach or take a hot shower at the end of the day and sit down to a hot meal? No planning necessary, you can rent a hammock when you arrive at camp or decide to grab that boat back to Taganga. So easy!

In the end, I opted for the hot shower, both trips, even though I brought a mosquito net and everything I needed to spend the night. I have zero regrets.

Decision #2: Bus, car, or boat

Bus
  • Are you budget-conscious and happy taking a bus without air-conditioning? Go for it! No real planning necessary.
  • Take the bus to Tayrona. Then, you can hike in, take the boat back to Taganga, and grab a cab back to Santa Marta.
  • The buses to Tayrona do not leave from the main bus terminal. Instead they are near the Public Market at Calle 11 and Carrera 9.
Private Car
  • Do you want a worry-free trip? Then arrange to have a private driver drop you off and pick you up.
Boat
  • Do you want to skip the hike all together and just lounge on the beach? Arrange to take a boat from Taganga, which is super close to Santa Marta.

A few preparations will make things easier

  • The park occasionally closes for extended periods of time – check and make sure the park is open before planning a trip.
  • You’ll want to have your Yellow Fever vaccine and card – you may or may not be asked to show the card at the park entrance.
  • Speaking of the entrance – bring your Passport – they will ask to see it.
  • Take the signs telling you not to swim seriously – they are there for a reason.
  • Everything is paid for in cash – bus/car/boat fare, park entrance fee, shuttle fee, tips – you need plenty of cash.

Planning your trip to Tayrona National Park: Hiking Tayrona

If you are planning your trip to Tayrona National Park and you’ve decided to hike into the park, regardless if you take the bus or a car, the most popular beach, Cabo de San Juan de Guía, is a couple hour hike from the main park entrance called El Zaíno.

At the park entrance you’ll pay an entrance fee that varies depending on the season and then you’ll want to pay an additional small fee to take the shuttle to the trail head. You can hike in and out on the same trail or buy a ticket to take the 45-minute boat ride out to Taganga.

If you arrive to the park early, you’ll be able to make arrangements when you arrive in Cabo de San Juan de Guia to take the boat. If you arrive at the park later, no worries, they’ll make you pay for the ticket at the entrance and provide a receipt that you’ll need to present to the boat guys on the beach. You’ll read blogs telling you that you have to arrive right when the park opens to avoid the lines and this just isn’t the case. On my second trip we arrived around 10:30 and we were basically the only ones there.

The hike goes like this:

Boarded walkways

You’ll think, this is not what I was expecting, but these are some pretty cool walkways – this part is nice and easy, and you can just look around and admire the jungle.

Are you seeing this walkway? The park and trails are so well maintained.
Ocean sounds and smells

Before you see it, you’ll hear and smell the ocean. You know its close and the sounds and smells add to the excitement.

That is gorgeous

Then, you’ll turn a corner and through the giant boulders you’ll be greeted by an incredible view of the blue water below. This is why you are here!

You can’t swim here!

But this first glimpse of the water is just a tease, you can’t swim here. After a short jut by the beach, the trail will take you back through the jungle. Buy some fresh coconut water from a local and drink right from the coconut. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the monkeys swinging through the jungle.

Are we there yet?

I know, I know, this sounds awful, but hiking through the sand really is horrible. Seriously, are we there yet? When you start hiking through huge boulders, the trail winding in between, you’re close, so close, you’re almost there!

Victory!

When you make your last steps into camp and find a spot on the beach, you’ll look around and wish you could stay forever. Take it in, jump in the ocean, and relax! And if you are taking the boat out, find the boat guys on the beach – they’ll come by occasionally yelling – you can’t miss them.

The boat out

Now I’m going to warn you. When you see the boat and realize there is no dock and that you are literally going to be thrown onto the boat, you might get a little worried. The people on the beach will be looking at each other in shock, and you’ll think, “Oh, are we really doing this”? Yes, you are my friend! Do it! Because really at this point, you don’t have a choice.

Your bags will go down under, bring a plastic bag if you want to wrap it up to stay completely dry. Put your phone, money, and passport in a waterproof bag. You, on the other hand, are going to get completely soaked. Maybe bring googles or something, a waterproof camera you can attach to your body. This bumpy 45-minute ride to Taganga will deliver stunning views of where Tayrona meets the ocean. It is so worth it and the only way to end this trip! It makes me smile just thinking about it. This is what you are going to tell people about!

Are you planning yet?

Now that you are ready to start planning the perfect trip to Parque Tayrona or Tayrona National Natural Park, you’ll want to think about the rest of your adventure in Colombia. Check out our highlights to traveling around Colombia to get all the details you need to put together an incredible Colombian itinerary.

And of course, if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TravelHive team and Contact us.

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