Tayrona National Park – A Guide for Travelers
Tayrona National Park Guide (Parque Tayrona)
Tayrona National Park (Parque Tayrona) is a place where pristine beaches meet beautiful palm trees in the thick green jungle. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t – this is the reason why any trip to Colombia couldn’t be complete without a day or two at Tayrona National Park.
For me, Tayrona was always at the top of my list of places to check out in Colombia! Being such a tourist attraction, Tayrona National Park can be pricey if not done right. So, in this blog, I will tell you our money saving tips, how to get there, as well as where to stay in Tayrona National Park (at the best beach in Tayrona.)
Our 2 days at Tayrona National Park were perfect! Here is everything we learned along the way that will help you also have a perfect time!
Topics included in the Tayrona National Park Guide are:
- General info on Tayrona
- How to get to Parque Tayrona
- Where to stay in Tayrona National Park (accommodation)
- What to do in Tayrona National Park
- Our tips for visiting
Only about 45 minutes by bus from Santa Marta city center, Tayrona National Park is Colombia’s Carribean paradise.
Visitors come to check out the jungle and hang out at the beautiful beaches. There is accommodation at Tayrona National Park so many people stay overnight to have a chance to really take in its beauty,
The hike and beaches
The overall experience is essentially a gorgeous hike to some really beautiful beaches. You cannot just drive to the beaches, there is a couple of hours of walking involved (or horseback riding) in order to reach the most beautiful beaches.
The hike itself is also the special part though, so take it all in! (Keep reading for more info on what to do in Tayrona National Park)
Tayrona National Park Entrance Fee
It costs foreigners COP 48,000 to enter Parque Tayrona. This is a one-time entrance fee but will cover you for any length of stay at the park.
By local bus – COP 7,000 (cheapest option)
The bus leaves from the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 (see map below for location) in Santa Marta city center.
Getting to where the bus to Tayrona leaves from was easy via a short taxi ride. From Taganga it will cost COP 10,000 and within Santa Marta about COP 5,000 to 12,000.
Bus times are about every half an hour starting at 6am. When we arrived it was easy to find the bus as there was a guy screaming “PARQUE TAYRONA” at the top of his lungs.
The bus journey was 1 hour long to the front gate.
I caught the 7:30 am bus and it was a good time as the park entrance gates open at 8 am and you want as much time as possible on the beach. Don’t go much later as a massive line-up develops at the entrance booth around 10 am!
On my way back I took the same bus, and like before there will be people calling out Santa Marta at the park entrance. The last bus leaves at 6 pm so if you’re not staying overnight be sure to leave enough time to catch the last bus.
If you are staying anywhere between Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona you can catch the same bus along the main road, Calle 30, by just standing on the side of the road and flagging down any bus with a sign “Tayrona” in the front window.
In my opinion, a taxi to the park is a rip-off as it will cost between COP 60,000 and COP 90,000 depending on your negotiation skills.
Go on a tour
If you are very limited on time and can only spend a day in Tayrona National Park, then I would recommend booking an organized day tour that departs form Santa Marta. This way, you waste less time on public transport, standing in line buying tickets, and reading a map to navigate around the tour.
Some of the best beaches in Tayrona are also right next to accommodation options. Below are the options of where to stay in Tayrona National Park, including prices, types of accommodation, and facilities.
Please note, that it is not allowed to bring your own camping gear and camp wherever you please within the National Park, you must stay at one of the places we mention below. That being said, while we were there we saw a few people freedom camping, and while this is cheaper, it could get you into serious trouble if you got caught, not to mention, it is bad for the environment. Keep reading to find out about the cheapest (legal) ways to spend the night in Tayrona National Park.
Cabo San Juan (our recommendation)
Cabo San Juan is where I stayed, and in my opinion, the best beach in Tayrona.
The water here was calm due to the rocks that protect the beach. Many of the beaches in Tayrona National Park are unsafe to swim at because of the strong currents, but Cabo San Juan was perfect for all levels of swimmers!
Where you sleep at Cabo San Juan is only a minute walk from the gorgeous beaches.
Facilities at Cabo San Juan
There are lockers available, for hire which are great for security (especially if you plan on sleeping in a hammock.) Electricity is available between 6pm-10pm.
On-site there is also a restaurant (meals priced between COP 13,000 and 35,000. ) For the best value meal get the rice with vegetables, it was good and it even comes with chips for COP 13,000! Nothing is better than carb-loading after a day of hiking and swimming.
There are ice creams and snacks available to purchase on the beach as well as a bar serving beers. Cabo San Juan is the perfect setup of facilities, accommodation, and beach all in one place!
Accommodation at Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan is a two-hour walk from the main gate so I would recommend staying the night. You can still visit for the day, just be prepared for four hours of walking round trip.
In Cabo San Juan you can choose from a few different types of accommodation: a hammock, tent, or cabin.
I chose a hammock. Hammocks can be rented for COP 25,000 on arrival at Cabo San Juan. You can also reserve a hammock at Cabo San Juan at a booth at the park entrance for COP 28,000. Due to the high demand of hammocks, I recommend reserving one at the front entrance gate so you don’t miss out. The hammocks sell out nearly every night. There is a white tent set up just in front of the entrance that offers bookings. You pay there and they give you a booking confirmation which you present once you arrive at Cabo San Juan.
Tents are the next budget option and cost COP 30,000 per person (two people per tent regardless if you’re a solo traveler.) However, reviews say they are in bad condition, moldy, and really dirty. These can also be booked at the park entrance however they book less quickly than the hammocks and getting one upon arrival should be just fine.
Cabins are another option. They cost COP 200,000 for two people and another COP 50,000 for an extra person. We didn’t see the inside of the cabins, but from the outside, they were extremely small and looked like sheds that were completely falling apart. Definitely not worth the COP 200,000 at all!
Arrecifes (Bukaru & Don Pedro)
Arrecifes is a beach closer to the park entrance than Cabo San Juan. Arrecifes is only a one hour walk from the entrance, however, you CANNOT swim at the beach here due to extremely strong currents.
At Arrecifes beach there are a few different campsites to choose from, two of the most popular are Bukaru and Don Pedro. Accommodation options offered are also a hammock, tent, or cabin. Prices are also more or less the same as Cabo San Juan. However, the quality of the campsite is said to be much nicer, cleaner bathrooms, nicer food, just all around a better facility than Cabo San Juan.
For us, the facility was less of an issue than not being able to swim in the nearest beach, that is why we chose to stay at Cabo San Juan over Arrecifes.
The benefit to staying at Arrecifes is that there are fewer people and it is less of a walk from the entrance (carrying your bags.) It is still walking distance to Cabo San Juan and other beaches. This area provides a more relaxing atmosphere and would be nice for people staying more than one night or looking for a bit more luxury.
Cañaveral & Castilletes
This campsite can be accessed directly by the shuttles in the park. The camping here is half the price of other spots (cabins are only COP 40,000 per person.) There is also an option that is even cheaper if you bring your own tent. The area for tents is huge.
But once again, the sea is very rough here and swimming is not allowed. This campground would be used strictly for sleeping and as a base for exploring the park from. It could be a good option for those staying more than one night as you could spend a few full days exploring from here.
The downside to this campground is that it doesn’t feel remote at all. It is right next to the road and the beginning of the trail where hundreds of people walk by every day.
The facilities are rumored to be good with lots of bathrooms and a decent restaurant.
Parque Tayrona is for those wanting to relax! The hiking in the park is easy and the beaches are beautiful, so for me, it was just about chilling out by the water. If you’re feeling up to it then check out the nudist beach or snorkel in the amazing bay’s – otherwise just sit back and enjoy nature’s beauty!
Some of the beaches that I haven’t already mentioned that are worth a visit are below.
This little beach is located between Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan. Here, there is no accommodation but for anyone planning a day trip this beach is nice place for a swim.
They say this beach gets busy but I went in the morning, I just about had it to myself. The water is really calm here because rocks create a calm bay perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
The wildlife in the bay also makes snorkeling the area very interesting, Sand Sharks, Blow Fish, and even Turtles are just some of the animals that visit this area.
This beach is unknown to most tourists as you have to walk four hours to get there. But, if you are wanting to escape all of the tourists then this beach would be perfect!
Playa Brava could be a good option for a day trip from Cabo San Juan, or a place to spend a night or two.
Playa Brava has a restaurant, toilets and also cabins. Swimming is allowed here although I heard the waves are still a little rough.
The Nudist Beach
Yep, you read that correctly! Tayrona has it’s own nudist beach for anyone who’s had enough of their bathing suit or just didn’t bring one.
This beach is located only 10 minutes from Cabo San Juan by simply following the little sand path at the end of the beach. I didn’t go so I’m not sure what crowd it attracts, I guess you will have to find out for yourself.
- If you are wanting to sleep in a hammock and not a tent (the condition of the tents were bad) it can be wise to book it at the entrance as they can sell out. This can be done before you buy your entrance ticket at a little white tent near the road
- Take snacks! A small bread roll is COP 6,000 in the park, so if you eat a lot this adds up quickly.
- Bring plenty of water, it may be tough carrying it out there but a half liter bottle is COP 3,000 at Cabo San Juan!
- Bring lunch for the first day, especially if you go to Cabo San Juan. The reason for this (other than cost) is that the restaurant is extremely busy for lunch and you can wait hours to eat.
- If it has rained the night before or in the morning be aware that it gets extremely muddy! Don’t wear your best shoes! And, bring rainproof gear in preparation for a storm during the rainy season.
- Bring your passport or a copy of it, this is needed to enter the park!
Thanks for reading! If you have any comments please leave them below!
Traveling more in Colombia? Check out some of our other blogs here:
- San Gil – the adventure capital in inland Colombia
- San Andres Island – one of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean Sea
- Medellin – a city full of history and culture
- Cartagena – colonial buildings with the ocean as the backdrop
- Taganga – a relaxed backpacker beach town
- Guatape – a huge rock to climb that offers a lookout over the most colorful little town
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May 2, 2018