Hiking in Tayrona National Park in Colombia
November 15, 2019
by Timi Vincze
In our Colombian tour, we got to the point when we headed to the Caribbean coast. Our first stop was Santa Marta, the oldest city in Colombia.
The city itself is not a big deal but it’s at the ideal location: anyone who wants to discover the coastal area, could get a room here and move around. We wanted to do the Tayrona hike so it was a perfect spot.
Arriving to Santa Marta
We arrived from San Gil by a night bus. That seemed to be the easiest and cheapest option. It was not bad, we could get some sleep and we didn’t lose a day while traveling. We arrived to the Santa Marta bus terminal around 8 am. Turned out, that the terminal is quite far from the center. We weren’t prepared so we just started asking around about any public transport, but all we could find was taxis. (On our way back we went by public bus, so it’s doable.) We took a taxi then, who probably charged double, so be careful. As it was still really early, we couldn’t check in to our hotel, so we went to get breakfast and then took a walk around the center. There are various breakfast places and they are well prepared for tourists. You can find fruit vendors too. We walked around the coast and discovered the beach but it is not that nice during the day. Great spot for sunset though. As we were still a little tired after the night, and it was already very hot, we got a quick burrito lunch then headed back to our room for some siesta. In the evening we watched the sunset from the shore, got some dinner and went to bed early because we wanted to get up in time to avoid the crowds in Tayrona.
Getting to Tayrona National Park
To get to the park, you have to take the bus from the Central Mercado. It’s a little bit hectic, as everyone is selling something, but the bus can be found easily as there are people yelling Tayrona around it. We didn’t get breakfast at our hotel so we got some empanadas at the market.
We didn’t want to enter at the main entrance because we heard that it could be crowded. There are several entrances, we took the one at Calabazo. We were the only ones there and during the hike, we only met with a few other people. This entrance is the one which is closer to Pueblito, the reconstructed indigenous village. Unfortunately, it was closed during that time (2019. October) when we visited. You can still meet with indigenous people who live in the park in small communities. The entrance fee was 114 000 COP (34 USD) for the two of us.
The most important thing is: take enough water! Seriously, it’s very important. The weather is very hot and humid and you will drink a lot. We ran out of water at the end and we had to buy a 0,5-liter bottle for 3500 COP (1 USD) and it was saving our lives. The hike took us around 3 hours one way and 3 hours the way back. We spent 1-1,5 hours at the beach of Cabo San Juan before we headed back. There is a camping and a restaurant on the beach so you can spend a night here if you want. You can rent hammocks too if you want to try sleeping in it. There is a lot to discover so you can easily spend there more time than one day.
The hike itself wasn’t too hard at the beginning but there were some difficult parts. Good hiking shoes are strongly recommended. Nature is beautiful, the whole park is very green and full of plants we have never seen before. We saw a lot of colorful lizards and butterflies. The best part was when we first saw the coast from the mountains, you could hear the sound of the waves as you pass through the last mountain. There are more bays but you cannot swim everywhere because of the huge waves. The water was really pleasant, wasn’t cold at all and it felt really nice after the hike.
For us, the way back seemed more difficult, it felt like we had to go up more times. And we couldn’t really slow down because we had to get out there before dark.
Getting back to the city
We made our way out of the jungle around 5-5.30 pm just in time before sunset. We walked back to the main road to catch a bus back to the city. We waived for the first one we saw which wasn’t the best idea because it was a bigger one going to Bucaramanga. We didn’t fully understand if it would go to the direction of the center or not but we didn’t want to wait for another one, we took it. After 15 minutes the bus was stopped by the police. That meant all of the passengers had to get off and hand over the IDs to the policemen while they checked the bus. We never experienced a police check before in Colombia, so it was a little bit weird but interesting. It was a 10-15 minutes stop, then we continued. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t go to the center, it stopped before the city so we had to get off again. We were surrounded by taxi drivers immediately. We decided to walk a little bit further along the road and we found the little busetas (small bus going around in the city) going toward the city center. So, in the end, everything worked out perfectly, we got back to our hotel safely.
First thing was to hydrate ourselves. After we had enough water in our body again and we washed away the salt and the dust we headed to have a nice dinner. We read some reviews about a place where you can get the best ceviche in town, called Lulo. It is on Carrera 3 which is a small street where you can find other good restaurants as well. There are outdoor lights and music so it’s all very nice. I found Lulo a little bit overpriced compared to other Colombian restaurants but the food and the smoothies were excellent. We really needed that meal and the fruits.
Leaving Santa Marta
We left the city the next day which was Sunday, and it was election day in Colombia. That meant no taxis could be called. First, we wanted
to go by taxi to the bus terminal because of our big bags but we ended up going there by bus. The receptionist gave us the directions but we didn’t manage to get there, we waited at the wrong place. Fortunately, the kind locals told us where we should go to catch it. The correct place is the corner of the Carrera 5-Calle 22. It was a little bit difficult to sit on a small bus with our big backpacks especially when it got crowded but it was definitely cheaper (3600 COP/1USD/2 person) than a taxi.
We headed to Cartagena next. You can book the bus tickets in advance or you can just check the schedule and go to the station where you can always buy tickets.
All in all, it was a really nice experience, I’m glad we did the hike. Even if the city itself wasn’t so interesting, the park was wonderful. I recommend it to everyone who loves nature and not bothered by the humid atmosphere.