Happy Travel: Three Blissful Days in Tayrona Park, Colombia

Why Visit Colombia’s Tayrona Park?

This is where Colombian natives go to vacation. It’s a little stretch of tropical paradise along the Caribbean Ocean, filled with palm trees, white sand beaches, sunshine, and laid back attitudes. Within the park, there’s a ton of wildlife (monkeys!) and biodiversity, making the long trek to the famous beaches of El Cabo San Juan extremely worthwhile.

 The beach at the end of the five mile, 90 degree, 90% humidity hike. Ahhh.

The beach at the end of the five mile, 90 degree, 90% humidity hike. Ahhh.

Come to Tayrona National Park area if you’re the adventurous type that wants to relax a bit. It’s not exactly easy to get to this part of Colombia, so it is best suited to the more adventurous backpack who is looking for a beachside getaway. It is a very backpacker friendly region, with plenty of hostel-like accommodations and other young, outgoing travelers.

 To help orient, all the green is Tayrona Park. To the left is Santa Marta. To the right is Guachaca, where my mom & I stayed. 

To help orient, all the green is Tayrona Park. To the left is Santa Marta. To the right is Guachaca, where my mom & I stayed. 

Tayrona National Park Accommodations

 A relaxation hut at the Playa Pikua Lodge in Tayrona. 

A relaxation hut at the Playa Pikua Lodge in Tayrona. 

There are a couple of accommodation options for your stay in Tayrona Park.

  • Hammock (within the park)
    • This might seem like a glamourous option, but I was told by many travelers that getting a full night’s rest in a hammock was almost impossible.
    • No AC & no guarantee your hammock has been cleaned this year (or ever)
    • Best for the most low maintenance or most adventurous of travelers
    • $4 per night
  • Tent (within the park)
    • This seemed like the more comfortable option if you wanted to stay within the park.
    • However, you’d have to supply your own sleeping bag, which might be a challenge for some.
    • Both these and the hammocks are first come, first serve, so there is an element of stress to securing either.
    • $9 for two people per night
 These are the tents inside Tayrona Park. Under the hut is where all of the hammocks are. Just the cold hard facts here people. 

These are the tents inside Tayrona Park. Under the hut is where all of the hammocks are. Just the cold hard facts here people. 

  • Hostel dorm room (outside the park)
    • Costeño Beach Surf Camp: $15
      • Super popular hostel recommended to me by multiple people
      • We hung out here a few times, as it neighbored our ecohab to the left
      • Very fun, young, party atmosphere
    • La Brisa Tranquila: $11
      • This hostel was to the right of our ecohab
      • We spent a lot of time here eating at the cafe, Charlie’s Bar
      • Also full of young backpackers, but had a more chill vibe than Costeno
  • Eco hab (outside the park)
    • Playa Pikua Ecolodge: $84
    • This is where we stayed!
    • So, so cool, minimalist romance vibes, super private and right in between two hostels that have a vibrant traveler scene (noted above).
    • Would 100% recommend for a low-key travel duo (mother/daughter included!).
 The view from inside our ecohab at Playa Pikua, looking out from under the mosquito net on the bed. 

The view from inside our ecohab at Playa Pikua, looking out from under the mosquito net on the bed. 

Pro Tip: Something I didn't realize until halfway through booking my travel; there is only one accommodation provider within Tayrona Park proper. If you’d really like to sleep within the park, rather than just hike in and out for a day like we did, you will need to carry all of your overnight supplies into the park (which is a long & hot affair).

Getting There: Cartagena To Tayrona National Park

This was another tricky aspect of planning our stay in Tayrona: how the heck do we get there? The journey ended up being just about the funniest part of our entire trip.

 Here's Mom and I on the public bus from Santa Marta to Tayrona. Not pictured: A family and their pet chick, Pollito (yes, a baby bird on a bus). 

Here's Mom and I on the public bus from Santa Marta to Tayrona. Not pictured: A family and their pet chick, Pollito (yes, a baby bird on a bus). 

It looked a little something like this:

  • Early morning flight from Medellin to Cartagena ($50, 1 hour)
  • Taxi to the mini-bus depot in Cartagena ($3, 10 minutes)
  • Drive for about 4 hours to Santa Marta ($20, 4 hours)
  • Stay the night at a hostel in Santa Marta to break up the travel ($50)
  • Taxi to the public bus depot in Santa Marta ($2, 5 minutes)
  • In broken Spanish, confirm with the bus driver that they will drop us off at the location indicated on my map
  • Drive for about 1 hour to the dirt road of our eco hab ($4, 1 hour)
  • Anxiously follow along via the offline satellite function on Google Maps, until the driver yells at us that it’s our stop
  • Board moto-taxis (literally just dirt bikes driven by locals) waiting on the side of the road, ride for about a mile on the dirt road to the eco hab ($1, 10 minutes)
 Just your friendly neighborhood mototaxi drivers! They really were quite friendly. And riding a mototaxi is a blast. 

Just your friendly neighborhood mototaxi drivers! They really were quite friendly. And riding a mototaxi is a blast. 

Even with my mom, this was an anxiety inducing bit of travel. We encountered language barriers, dirty, cramped, & overly warm buses, and the need to trust foreign strangers with our lives and possessions.

But all of the foreign strangers came through. In a nutshell, that is what I love so much about traveling. You don't need to know a lot to get around, because there are kind, generous, and compassionate people all over the world ready to help you when you’re feeling lost, scared, or alone.

So for us, we used a combination of taxi, mini bus, public bus, and moto-taxi to get from Cartagena to Tayrona National Park. This was the most cost efficient (and, in my opinion, authentic) way to get to the park.

Total time from Cartagena to Tayrona: 5h 25m for transport,  6h 25m for transport + air travel.

Total cost from Cartagena To Tayrona: $30 for transport, $130 for transport + airfare + hotel.

Things To Do In Tayrona Park

The main event in Tayrona Park is to hike through the park to the famous picturesque beach of El Cabo San Juan. That’s what we did. There is another main trail called El Pueblito that you can read about here, but we walked the ten or so miles in and out to El Cabo San Juan. You can also get here by horseback, which we saw some people doing.

 The picturesque El Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona Park. 

The picturesque El Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona Park. 

This hike is a full day affair. We started our morning with a good breakfast at the hostel next to our ecohab. Then, we donned swimsuits, coverups, & tennis shoes - all comfortable enough that we could spend the whole day walking in. We packed a backpack with towels, food, water, money, sunglasses, sunscreen, & mosquito repellent. These are essential!

Next, we commissioned our moto-taxi friends to give us a ride over to the park entrance. To get into the park, you have to pay an entrance fee: $19 for non-Colombian adults, but only $3 if you’re under 25 and have a student card! Seems too good to be true, but I got away with it.

Pro Tip: Do not forget your passport when you go to enter Tayrona National Park. I do not know why, but they will not let you in without it.

Once you’re in the park, getting to the trailhead is kind of confusing. First, you’re expected to watch a short presentation on the park’s history and preservation. It’s in a small amphitheatre to the right side of the trail after you get your ticket. I’m not sure what happens if you dont attend this, but it seems like they’re keeping tabs on it.

 Make sure to stop here for a little pre-hike presentation by the park rangers. 

Make sure to stop here for a little pre-hike presentation by the park rangers. 

After that, you’ll need to continue walking up the path. This is where it gets confusing, because you walk on a paved road until you reach a point at which a shuttle will take you the rest of the way to where the trail starts. I believe we paid a dollar or two for this shuttle ride. Definitely take the shuttle. Otherwise, you’re just wasting precious daylight.

From where the trail begins, there are maps and plenty of other travelers to guide you along the way. Prepare to sweat a lot and maybe dodge some monkey poo, as we encountered quite a few people who encountered some not-so-friendly primates.

It will all be worth it, I promise.

 On the dusty, hot, sweaty trail to El Cabo San Juan, but absolutely loving it. 

On the dusty, hot, sweaty trail to El Cabo San Juan, but absolutely loving it. 

On your other days in the region, you might:

  • Get some sun on the beautiful white sand beaches
  • Nap in a hammock
  • Read a book and relax
  • Meet other travelers at a hostel cafe
  • Swim in the ocean (outside the park only)
  • Enjoy no wifi or cell reception (!)
 Favorite activity in Tayrona: napping in one of these bad boys. 

Favorite activity in Tayrona: napping in one of these bad boys. 

Happy Travel Tips For Tayrona Park

What to pack

In additional to whatever else you're packing for Colombia, you will want to make sure you have the following for your time in Tayrona:

  • Cash (there are very few ATMs out here)
  • Flashlight or small lamp
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Small bag lock
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit
  • Towel
  • Backpack
  • Book
  • Tennis shoes

When to go

We went in October and it was absolutely blissful. Perfect temperature and amount of people in the park.

What else to read before

Three additional guides that were super helpful to me:

You’re Ready For Tayrona!

There was so little information on the web about Tayrona Park when I went to plan this trip, yet I still managed to have an incredible and (mostly) painless experience during the three days that my mom and I were there.

 The beachfront area of La Brisa Tranquila, where my mom and I hung out a lot. 

The beachfront area of La Brisa Tranquila, where my mom and I hung out a lot. 

My hope is that with my the key learnings from my trip, yours will be all the more blissful and breathtaking, as this majestic corner of the world is intended to be. If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments below.

For more on Colombia, check out some of my other posts:

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