When I was trying to prepare myself to go to Colombia, rather than hone up on my Spanish skills or try to take lessons, I just listened to the Shakira song La Bicicleta on repeat. There’s a line where she says something along the lines of “taking her husband Pique to Tayrona so that he won’t want to go back to Barcelona.” I didn’t understand it at the time (because it’s in Spanish and she talks fast), but after looking up the English lyrics of the song, I finally understood it (ha). I also finally understood what she meant by that line, because despite looking up so many pictures of Tayrona, nothing compared to actually being there. It is one hell of an experience, and one of my favorite nights I have ever had during my travels. The sights were incredible, the swimming was top-notch, and it is just a one-of-a-kind experience overall.
What to Bring:
Bug Spray. Bug Spray. Bug Spray. Sun screen. Sun screen. Sun screen. Bring a towel, a swimsuit, and a lot of water. You don’t need food, as there are restaurants in the park, but some people say it’s a bit pricy. Most meals are under $20,000 pesos, so if you plan on eating solely there, budget for that as well. Beer is $4,000 pesos, and you can buy an assortment of snacks and drinks at the little shop there. Bring toilet paper, but the shop does sell toilet paper. Bring bug spray. They had wi-fi for a few hours while I was there, but other than that, you’ll have no signal and no Internet. Leave your laptop behind, and stay off your phone. No one’s getting to you. Make some friends. Bring good shoes, and a pair of flip flops. I didn’t mind walking barefoot the entire time, but there is horse poop on the trail so you might want to avoid that. Did I mention bug spray yet? I have to give a shoutout to Sammy Soap for hooking me up with some great all-natural bug spray. It was a life-saver for sure.
I’d say 200,000 pesos will be more than enough for a one-night stay, including entrance and getting to and from the park. For every additional night, it’ll just be the cost of your hammock/tent, and any food you end up buying. $50,000 should be enough, but if you bring your own food and your own tent, consider yourself cost-free. Stay a while, why not?
Taxis in Colombia are ultra cheap. A one-way trip for me out of Santa Marta (near Parque de los Novios) cost 40,000 pesos, which is about $15 USD. It will vary, but a taxi will usually be $10-20, which isn’t terrible if you are splitting it with a few people. Catching a bus on the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 is much cheaper, (5000 pesos max) but will take a bit longer and might be cramped. You can also head to Taganga, a sweet little fishing village, and take a boat straight to one of Tayrona’s beaches. It’s a bumpy ride and will be more expensive than the bus, but it will cut your travel and hiking time in half if you are looking to do just a day trip.
The buses and taxis will drop you off at the entrance of the park. People will come up to you trying to sell you things, but pass on all of them. The guys I was with got talked into renting a tent at a certain campsite, which we ended up leaving in favor of Cabo San Juan. If you need water and snacks, now is the time to buy them though. Once you’re set, put on some bug spray and walk to the entrance. It cost $42,000 pesos when I went in October 2016, but a student can get in for $8,000. I had my American student card on me, but they didn’t accept it because they’re kind of assholes and want to squeeze everything possible out of you. Regardless, the entry fee is very much worth it. There’s a shuttle bus that takes you to the “real” entrance, costing about $3,000 pesos (like I said, they squeeze everything out of you). Don’t be dumb, and just pay the $3,000 to save yourself a 1-2 hour, relatively boring, hike to the entrance. You’ll be exhausted by the time you get to start, and it will be very hot.
If you’ve got a lot of stuff, you can pay $20,000 for a horse to take your stuff to the first campsite, Arrecifes. It’s more to go all the way to San Juan, but this is a good option for those with a ton of stuff that they don’t want to lug through the jungle. Also, the horse ride is actually kind of scary. I thought it would be a relaxing stroll through the jungle, but nope. I took it on the way back and feared for my life about 25 times. The path takes you through extremely narrow passes, steep rocky inclines and declines, and if you’re not comfortable with riding a horse, it is pretty nerve-wracking.
Where to Camp:
Arrecifes has all the basics. You’ve got tents and hammocks, a restaurant, and you’re close to a beach. If you want to get in and out of Tayrona quickly, camping at Arrecifes will save you an hour in the morning if you choose it over Cabo San Juan. The hammocks cost 15,000 pesos and the tents are 20,000 pesos.
There are a few more campsites in between here and Cabo San Juan, but I don’t know much about them. Cabo San Juan blew my mind when I first saw it, and I concluded that I was just going to stay there for the night. I paid for a tent, as the hammocks were sold out, and that cost $25,000 pesos. Hammocks are $20,000 pesos. Aside from enjoying the views of Cabo San Juan and relaxing on the beach, there isn’t much to do, so bring some beach reading or games. Socialize with the people there, as you usually have an interesting batch of adventurers. There might not be a lot to do, but everywhere you look is an unreal view. Mountains covered in jungles, Huge rocks protruding from the sea, and the gorgeous beaches of course.
For more on where to camp and all things Tayrona, check out this awesome Tayrona National Park guide.
My own questions I had before going to Tayrona
What if it rains?
They provide tarps for the tents, which they set up for you. Sometimes, they’re pretty ineffective because I spent the night sleeping in a puddle after a massive thunderstorm. The water seeped up through the small futon they provide. The hammocks at Cabo San Juan were covered, and so are all the restaurants.
Where do I put my stuff?
They have lockers all over the park. They’re free, but you just have to put down a deposit which you can get back after you return the key.
Can I bring alcohol?
Technically, no, but no one searched us. I didn’t bring anything along because that would have just weighed me down. They have beer at some places, and the store at Cabo San Juan kept the Aguilas flowing until about 11 PM.
Is it dangerous?
The hike is not. It can be a little tiring, but it shouldn’t be a problem for most people. The most dangerous thing would be swimming in non-swimming areas and getting caught by a strong current. Also climbing rocks and going in places where you aren’t supposed to go. I almost fell while trying to get on a slippery rock to take a cool picture, so don’t underestimate how tricky those things can be.