Colombia is a country full of treasures for tourists to enjoy, one of those treasures is most certainly the idyllic Tayrona National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona or Parque Tayrona). Lying along Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast, this beautiful national park is home to beach after stunning beach, concealed by jungle forest and dramatic hills. Tayrona National Park offers a great change of pace from exploring Colombia’s lively, bustling cities, not to mention it has picture-perfect scenery.
If you’re planning a trip to Tayrona National Park it’s definitely best to be prepared, as this remote paradise isn’t the most straightforward of destinations. Not only do you have to contend with getting to the national park and finding your way around, but there are plenty of other aspects to plan which you may have not even considered. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to Tayrona National Park so that you know exactly how to have a successful trip.
Brief Background to Tayrona National Park
Before we get into the details of how to visit this magical place, it’ll be useful if you know a little more about the park itself. Tayrona National Natural Park, as it is formally known, is one of Colombia’s most popular national parks thanks to its spectacular scenery and incredible biodiversity.
Found on the eastern end of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the park has the impressive mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park as its backdrop. Established in 1964 as a nature park, the park includes 150 square kilometers of land and another 30 square kilometers of marine reserve. Besides its natural bounty, the park and neighboring mountains are home to various indigenous communities and several ruins of past settlements.
The national park has two entrances which you can arrive through, the main is at Zaino, and the other is at Calabazo. You will likely pass Calabazo to reach Zaino, but entering through it puts you quite far from the park’s main sights.
Best Time to Visit Tayrona National Park
Since Tayrona National Park boasts tropical weather year round and continues to grow in popularity, it’s important that you consider when you plan on visiting. Not only do you want to ensure you get great weather while you’re there, you probably also want to avoid contending with crowds of other visitors for camping and beach spots.
The weather at Parque Tayrona is at its best from January through March, with mostly dry skies and milder temperatures. Of course this is also when the park is at its busiest, with high season falling from mid-December to mid-January, but also from mid-June to mid-July. For the ideal mix of dry weather and smaller crowds, February and March are the best time to visit Tayrona National Park.
Now, temperatures in this part of Colombia don’t vary much and neither does the high humidity, but you can expect a lot of rain from mid-August through November which makes it a bad time of year for suntanning on the beach as well as camping.
How Long to Visit Tayrona National Park
Deciding on how long to visit Tayrona National Park can be tricky, but it mostly comes down to what you’re looking to do there. If you just want to do some sightseeing and see what the park has to offer, one day will do. The same goes if you’re just looking to lounge on a beach.
But if you’re after a nice relaxing getaway surrounded by beaches and jungle, you might choose to stay longer. Many people choose to spend 2 or 3 nights in Tayrona National Park, sunbathing on the beach, swimming, and finding new hiking trails to explore.
Entrance to the Tayrona National Park is open from 8am to 5pm. Of course, these times don’t interfere with those already in the park who plan to stay the night.
How Much Does the Entrance Fee to Tayrona National Park Cost
To enter Tayrona National Park, you’ll first need to pay for a park pass. There aren’t time periods associated with the pass, so you will need to buy a new pass each time you enter the park. For foreign nationals who aren’t residents of Colombia, the pass costs 42,000 COP. Costs associated with camping or transport are paid separate to the park pass.
How to Get to Tayrona National Park
Up by the Caribbean Sea, Parque Tayrona is a little removed from the most well-worn tourist spots throughout Colombia. Therefore, the first step in getting there is to make your way to the city of Santa Marta. Santa Marta and the sleepy neighboring town of Taganga are right at the doorstep of Tayrona National Park and act as a gateway to the park, as well as the Lost City of Ciudad Perdida.
To reach Santa Marta, the most direct approach is to fly into the Santa Marta airport on a domestic flight. There isn’t a huge number or variety of flights, so you may need to come through one of the bigger airports at Cartagena or Barranquilla instead. From either Cartagena or Barranquilla, you can take regular buses which make the journey to Santa Marta. Cartagena is about a 5 hour bus ride, while Barranquilla is a little over 1.5 hours away. It’s important to note that the bus stations in Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta are all quite far out from the city center.
Once in Santa Marta or Taganga, you now have a choice of how to get to Tayrona National Park. The simplest way is to hop aboard one of the regular buses which leave from Mercado Publico in Santa Marta and take about an hour. These buses will say Palomino on the front, which is their final stop, but they will stop along the way at the main Zaino park entrance of Parque Tayrona. Making this same trip by taxi will cost a fair bit more but may be worth it if you are in a larger group or to save on time.
A more adventurous way to get to or from Tayrona National Park is to take a speedboat which connects Cabo San Juan, Tayrona’s most popular beach, with the town of Taganga. The ride takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour and can get quite rough depending on the conditions out on the water. Once in Taganga you can easily catch one of the regular minibuses or a taxi to Santa Marta.
Map of Tayrona National Park
The below map of Tayrona National Park is not necessarily the best but it should give you a better understanding of where things are geographically located. Note that Ecohabs is in Cañaveral.
How to Get Around Tayrona National Park
Covering 150 square kilometers of jungle and hillside along the coast, Tayrona National Park is not an entirely easy place to get around. Thankfully though, most of the major tourist spots are located in the park’s eastern end and aren’t terribly hard to get between. A big factor determining on how you get around Tayrona National Park will be which part you’re trying to get to. For different parts of Parque Tayrona, your transport options include shuttle bus, walking, and horseback.
1. Shuttle Bus
The main entrance to the national park is known as the Zaino entrance and is found just off National Route 90. An important thing to know though for those arriving here, is that the entrance is a long way from the park’s beaches and most interesting spots. Thankfully, there is a shuttle bus which costs 3,000 COP and will take you further into the park to the first beach at Cañaveral. If you’d prefer to go by foot, however, you have a 5 km walk to the coast in front of you.
2. On Foot
With the exception of the road that leads from the park entrance to Cañaveral, most places in Parque Tayrona are only able to be reached by dirt trails, beaches, and/or staircases. This means that you’re likely going to have hike up and down the jungle-covered coast on foot to reach Tayrona’s beautiful beaches. While it may not look very far on a map, the hike to Cabo San Juan involves plenty of uphill walking, made even more tiring by the tropical humidity. It can take up to 2 hours to walk from Cañaveral to the beach at San Juan del Guia, so plan accordingly.
3. On Horseback
A very different way to go is to climb into a saddle and take a horseback ride over to Parque Tayrona’s beaches. Just where the shuttle drops people off at Cañaveral, there are horses that you can hire to take you over to Cabo San Juan or reserve to bring you back in the afternoon. If you’re not keen on the long walk, this is another way to go. It should be said that rather than following the coastal route which involves staircases, the horses are guided along trails further inland so you may not get as much of a view.
Where to Stay in Tayrona National Park
Perhaps one of the hardest decisions to make for a visit to Tayrona National Park is where to stay. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by all the options available to you. However, these choices depend on whether you are planning a day trip or plan to spend several days in the park.
1. Staying Inside Tayrona National Park
If you plan to visit the national park for more than one day, you’re going to need to stay in the national park itself. Options for accommodation in Parque Tayrona boil down to staying in one of the park’s hotels, pitching a tent in one of the campgrounds, or spending your nights in a hammock.
Yes, it’s possible to sleep in a hammock overnight if you reserve one early enough. A more private experience which costs roughly the same, is to camp in one of the designated campgrounds by the beach, such as at Cabo San Juan or Arrecifes. When camping, it’s possible either to rent a tent or to bring your own. Otherwise, for a more comfortable stay, there are the hotels in the park.
For those looking to treat themselves during their visit, Ecohotel Yachay Tayrona is the way to go. Sitting on the road inside the Zaino entrance, this hotel has beautiful views of the surrounding jungle and great food courtesy of its gourmet restaurant.
If you’re after a balance of comfort and cost, then you’ll want to consider the Hotel Jasayma Parque Tayrona. This eco lodge is bursting with character and thanks to its staff and surroundings, you’re bound to enjoy your stay here while inside the park.
For a nice beach view in Parque Tayrona, head for Camping Castilletes Parque Tayrona on Castilletes Beach. With clean rooms and a scenic location, not to mention great food, this is a terrific place to base yourself for a days sightseeing.
2. Staying Outside Tayrona National Park
If you only plan to spend the day in Tayrona National Park, then your options go beyond the park, either to the establishments just outside the Zaino park entrance, or back to Taganga and Santa Marta. Staying right outside the park can be quite convenient, since you won’t have far to travel at the end of the day. Similarly, Taganga is just on the edge of the park and can be an affordable place to stay. Santa Marta however is the big city of the area, with plenty of accommodation and facilities to offer travelers.
To wrap yourself up in luxurious surroundings during your visit, stay at Hotel Boutique Don Pepe in the very center of Santa Marta. With beautifully furnished rooms and private terraces, it’ll be easy to unwind here after a long day out exploring.
For exceptional value for money, it’s hard to say no to Hotel Suite Boutique El Cactus. Located in downtown Santa Marta, the rooms in this 4-star hotel are spacious and staff are exceptionally welcoming.
A great choice for backpackers just outside the park is Eco Hostal Yuluka. With dorms and private rooms, there’s plenty to enjoy here including the swimming pool and the in-house restaurant.
For more accommodation options in or near Tayrona National Park check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
Tips for Visiting Tayrona National Park
In order to help you make the most of your trip, here are our tips for visiting Tayrona National Park.
1. Know the Park Rules
As with any national park, there are certain rules visitors to Parque Tayrona are expected to follow. For instance, some beaches have no swimming allowed signs, while swimming at any beach is prohibited after 6pm. It’s also forbidden to bring in alcohol and guards will actually search your bags before you enter to ensure there’s nothing contraband inside. For the full park rules, go here.
2. Arrive Early
The park opens at 8am, so that is the best time to arrive. Come later in the morning and you’ll be met by a line of people trying to enter. Entry into Tayrona National Park can be quite drawn out, as once you buy your passes you have to wait for an orientation/educational video to screen. Then there’s the line for bags to be inspected and only then are you into the park proper. It’s best to arrive at the park early so you don’t lose too much time just getting in.
3. Things to Pack
Whether visiting for the day or staying overnight, you’re going to want to think carefully about what you bring with you. First of all, be sure to bring your passport, as it is necessary for entry. You also need to bring enough cash with you as costs can add up and everything in the park is cash only.
Other essentials for your park visit, are bathing suit, beach towel, sunscreen and hat for your time at the beach. Then you’re probably going to want good walking shoes, especially if you do the long walk/hike from the Zaino park entrance. And don’t forget to bring insect repellent with you to avoid getting stung by mosquitoes.
Speaking of mosquitoes, you may or may not get asked for a yellow fever vaccination certificate when entering Parque Tayrona. Yellow fever is still very much present in these parts of the world, so make sure you get vaccinated before leaving home.
The big thing to pack however is food and water. In the heat, even if you’re not hiking, you need to stay hydrated. Food can be fairly expensive in the park, so it’s worth bringing in food and snacks with you to cut back on costs.
Best Things to Do in Tayrona National Park
Now that you’re prepared to actually head off to Tayrona National Park, it’s time to get to the actual itinerary of your visit. Most of the things to do in Tayrona National Park are beaches to visit and trails through the jungle to hike along. Whether you see all of these sights in a single day or spread them out across your visit is up to you.
1. Cañaveral and the Jungle Walk
However you choose to get there, Cañaveral is where the coastal trail of Parque Tayrona starts. As you go, the path will vary between gentle dirt trails surrounded by vibrant green jungle and staircases built into the hillside covered in boulders. Once you reach the higher points of the trail, you’ll be treated to some superb views of the coast, including over to Punta Castillete. Later parts of the path will take you into unusual beachside thickets and well-worn dusty tracks, all of which keeps the walk interesting.
2. Playa Arrecifes
The first beach you’ll arrive at on the trail is Playa Arrecifes. A long stretch of flat beachfront, Arrecifes beach occasionally has piles of boulders which divide it. You probably won’t see many people at this beach as you’re not allowed to swim here and it’s one of the more exposed beaches since it’s not in a cove. Still, it’s a nice place to walk along, especially with the small lagoon on one side.
3. La Piscina
For those who can’t wait any longer for a swim, La Piscina is where you finally get to splash around. With a name that literally translates as “the pool”, the warm Caribbean waters of La Piscina are ideal for swimmers of all capabilities. Sheltered by rocks further out, the water here is calm and reasonably shallow, in other words perfectly kid-friendly. More so than other beaches, this beach seems to be the go to for locals visiting Parque Tayrona.
4. Cabo San Juan
This is without a doubt Tayrona National Park’s most popular beach and signature photo spot. Shaped like a curved “V”, the two beaches of Cabo San Juan join together at a rocky point. At the top of this point you’ll find a fantastic lookout point as well as a hut full of hammocks. With palm trees gently leaning over the beaches, Cabo San Juan couldn’t look more like a tropical paradise. Since this a beach you’re allowed to swim at, and with park facilities nearby, this is the beach that many tourists choose to base themselves at.
5. Playa Brava
One of the lesser-seen beaches in the national park is Playa Brava, partly because the landscape does such a good job of hiding it. This isolation with deep jungle and hills behind it make the beach one of the park’s most scenic and atmospheric.
Further west along the coast from Cabo San Juan, Playa Brava doesn’t sit on the same coastal trail as the others. Instead, you need to venture deep into the jungle from Cabo San Juan past the huts and ruins of Pueblito before you can find the trail towards Playa Brava. As such, Playa Brava is best reached by those coming through the park’s second entrance at Calabazo and who have more than one day in Tayrona.
6. Bahia Concha
Unlike the other beaches of Tayrona National Park, Bahia Concha is one you can easily reach from Santa Marta. That’s because you can actually drive to it from the city. The other benefit of Bahia Concha is that you don’t need the national park pass to enter. However, the beach here isn’t as nice as some of the park’s other beaches and lacks a bit of the jungle atmosphere found elsewhere.
7. Other Beaches of Tayrona National Park
We’ve really only touched upon a few of the beaches in Parque Tayrona, mainly those that are easy to reach or allow swimming. But there are many others to seek out if you have the time. Playa Cañaveral is a small beach which sits below the Ecohabs Tayrona hotel, while Playa Castilletes has a bit of a wild, remote vibe to it.
Then there are places like Playa Nudista, Tayrona National Park’s nudist beach. Found just up the coast from Cabo San Juan past the next point, this beach doesn’t seem to get many visitors, although it is possible to swim there when lifeguards are present.
Tayrona is a large national park and there are many more beaches off to the west which are really only reachable by boat. But the reward for getting out to these remote beaches is that their isolation also makes them some of the park’s most beautiful beaches. Bahía Chengue, Playa Gairaca, and Playa Cristal fall into this category, with Playa Cristal a nice place to go for a snorkel.
Well there you have it, your guide to visiting Tayrona National Park. With all this information, you should have no problem having a great trip to this fantastic Colombian destination.
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