Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona (Tayrona National Natural Park) is a large protected area covering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta as they meet the Caribbean coast. The park covers approximately 12 square miles of maritime area in the Caribbean Sea, approximately 58 square miles of land, and is home to an incredibly diverse collection of flora and fauna.
There are a couple of ways to make it to Parque Tayrona while visiting Colombia. If you are in Santa Marta, you can take a taxi to the entrance of the park or hop on a shuttle for less money. We would recommend taking the taxi in order to avoid being stuffed into a passenger van with far too many people. Before getting in a taxi to head to the park entrance, make sure to pack your bag appropriately based on where you plan to be staying in the park. We’ll provide a list of supplies a little later, but let’s first talk about possible accommodations. Tayrona is a primarily undeveloped National Park and you will not find hotels and condos lining the shores. This is purposeful and has served the region well in preserving the natural beauty of the park.
The protected area is one of the most visited parks in all of Colombia and arguably features one of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches in all of South America. Along the coastline of the National Park are several beach areas, but not all of them are safe enough for swimming and one in particular is so breathtaking that it draws most tourists as the final destination on the journey through the park.
The journey to El Cabo San Juan Beach requires a little more work than most visits to the beach, but the payoff is absolutely worth the effort. Once you’ve paid the entrance fee (approx. $20 USD) and listened to the required environmental educational introduction from a park ranger, you’ll begin the journey into the park. It is highly recommended to hop on one of the shuttles or get a taxi to bring you to the beginning of the trail head about a mile and a half up the road. It should cost an additional $1 USD and is totally worth the extra buck. The trail is clearly marked and brings you on a pretty easy mile hike through the jungle before you emerge on the coast with the final mile or so hiking in the sand. It is recommended to take your hiking shoes off when you get to the beach. It can be quite difficult walking through sand with hiking boots, sandals, or pretty much any other shoe. When you first emerge from the jungle portion of the trek, you’ll be very tempted to jump in the water and swim, but under no circumstances should you swim in the first water you see. The riptides are extremely dangerous at the first beach and swimming is forbidden. You’ll get your chance to cool off from the hot and sweaty hike once you arrive at the Cabo San Juan Beach.
There are no hotels in El Cabo San Juan (if you’re not up for roughing it, there are some really nice hotels near the entrance of the park). Instead, you cant rent:
- A tent
- A hammock in the “main” hammock area
- A hammock on the rock over the sea
If you’re able to secure a hammock on the rock over the sea, you won’t be disappointed. However, these sell out fast so get there early. Other things to note before traveling to Parque Tayrona:
Packing List – Keep it light and simple
- 1 pair of sneakers/tennis shoes/hiking boots (you’ll want these for the hike – as long as they’re closed-toe and secure enough to keep you from slipping in the mud you should be fine)
- 1 pair of flip flops (the sand isn’t the softest and can be hot, so basic flip flops can help protect your feet once you’re there)
- Small towel
- Clothes for sleeping in (bring something warm, i.e. socks, long pants, and long sleeves – it gets chilly at night)
- Toiletries (there are cold-water showers at the campsite)
- Toilet paper
- Cash (no ATMs in the park – make sure to bring plenty)
- Water (Bring as much as you are willing to carry – they do sell bottled water at the campsite)
- Mosquito repellent
- Flashlight or headlamp (the flashlight on your phone will work fine too, but you’ll definitely need something with a bright light once it gets dark)
- Something for entertaining yourself (book, Kindle, playing cards, etc.)
- Light snacks – the camping area has a restaurant that sells three meals a day, but it’s a bit pricey so bring some snacks and limit yourself to one or two meals at the restaurant.
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