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Tayrona National Park is quickly becoming one of Colombia’s biggest tourist attractions and as it has been growing in popularity, the rules and requirements for visiting are rapidly changing too.
I went to Tayrona National Park back in 2017 and then just visited again recently, and let me tell you, a lot has changed in that short amount of time. Unfortunately, all of the blogs that I read before visiting Tayrona National Park this time around were not updated and the information was old.
So, I’m writing this post to fill you in on the CURRENT situation in Tayrona National Park and what you NEED to know before you go!
Here are 13 things I wish I know before I went to Tayrona National Park!
1. You must buy Tayrona National Park medical insurance
This is a very new thing. Every person who wishes to enter Tayrona National Park is required to buy medical insurance from the park itself. It doesn’t matter if you already have your own medical insurance or not, if you want to go toTayrona National Park you need to also purchase their insurance.
It’s not a big deal though, as it is only 5,000 COP per person per day. So, if you’re spending the night in Tayrona National Park it’ll cost you 10,000 COP.
At the entrance gates (“El Zaino” is the name of the main entrance gate), you will be told to buy this medical insurance and once you’ve purchased it you will be given a wristband. Most commonly, a salesman will come up to you when you’re waiting in line to buy your entrance ticket.
The Tayrona National Park medical insurance must be purchased with cash only.
But what does it cover?
The fee you pay pays for medical support staff on the trail as well as the cost of evacuation should something tragic happen. For the $1.50 USD a day it’s a good safety net to have.
2. You might need to buy your entrance ticket online in advance
To enter Tayrona National Park you must buy an entrance ticket. For foreigners, it costs 53,500 COP per person (as of March 2020.) The only problem is that they keep changing how and where you can buy this entrance ticket.
Back in the day, the only place to purchase your entrance ticket to Tayrona National Park was in person at the entrance gates. Then, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, they enforced a new rule which meant you had no choice but to buy your ticket online in advance.
This was a really annoying and confusing process for international visitors because you didn’t just buy the ticket online with a credit card, you actually had to physically go to a nominated bank and pay for it and then complete the transaction online.
However, after Tayrona National Park was closed during the month of February 2020 (as it is every year), and opened again in March the website to buy your entrance ticket wasn’t working. At this time they switched back to only purchasing your Tayrona National Park entrance tickets in person at the entrance gates. So when we visited, we were able to just buy our ticket at the entrance gate.
As of writing this now, this is still the system they are using. However, I have a feeling it could change again very soon. My best advice is to ask the hotel you’re staying at before entering Tayrona National Park to find out the current rules for you. All hotels in and around Santa Marta should be well informed about Tayrona National Park rules.
3. Tayrona National Park is closed for the entire month of February every year
You cannot visit Tayrona National Park in February. It is completely closed so if you want to go to Tayrona, it’s important you do not plan to come in February.
This closure also means a couple of other things:
1) Tayrona National Park is ridiculously busy the first week of March each year. Tourists wait around for Tayrona National Park to reopen so the first few days it is open, are some of the busiest of the entire year.
2) The last couple of days in January are also busier than normal. People rush into the park to quickly see it before it closes on February 1.
The best way to prevent having to deal with these super busy periods is to plan your visit in advance and not during February, the end of January, or the beginning of March.
Note: There have been rumors that Tayrona National Park will start to close 2-3 months per year. While this hasn’t been implemented yet, it is something to watch out for in the coming years.
4. The line at the entrance gate can be very long
Remember how I said Tayrona National Park is getting popular, well it is and that means the line to get in can be very long. As in, over an hour’s wait.
If you’re visiting during peak times (end of January, beginning of March, or over the Christmas and New Year period) you should really aim to be at the park entrance gates before 7:00 am. The gates officially open at 8 am, but the line will be so long by then you may have to wait for 1-2 hours to get in!
During all other times of the year, I would still recommend getting to Tayrona National Park as early as 7:30 am. The reason for this is that many people in large tour groups visit Tayrona on a day trip from Santa Marta. Most of these groups will show up between 8-10 am, so you need to get there before them!
In order to get to the park early, I personally recommend staying the night before at a hotel or hostel near the park entrance gates. This way, you can either walk to the gates first thing or take a moto-taxi.
Recommended hotels near Tayrona National Park El Zaino entrance gates:
Eco Hostal Yuluka – A budget backpackers only a couple minutes from the park entrance gates. They have a pool, private rooms, and dorms.
Recuerdos del Tayrona – A small budget hotel offering everything from cheap fan rooms all the way up to air-conditioned lodges. They are 300 meters from the park entrance and have a really nice pool.
Costeno Beach Hostel – The best hostel in the area with luxury facilities on a gorgeous beach at an affordable price. It is, however, a 10-minute 12,000 COP motor-taxi ride from Tayrona entrance gates.
Villa Playa Tayrona – Located 2.5 km from the Tayrona entrance gate, this hotel is a complete paradise. In fact, it is so popular it is almost always fully booked. You can’t beat staying here for a night or two if your budget allows.
5. It is totally possible to get a pristine beach all to yourself
I don’t want to scare you by talking so much about how popular Tayrona National Park is and how busy it gets. Yes, it is busy for most of the day, but on my recent visit, Dan and I were able to enjoy the most beautiful beach all to ourselves for nearly 2 hours!
The secret is that you need to stay the night in Tayrona National Park. The majority of people visit Tayrona on a day trip from Santa Marta. These people make the park very busy between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. But if you stay the night, you’re able to enjoy Tayrona during its most peaceful hours.
We got up early after spending the night in a hammock at Cabo San Juan (more on that below) and walked 20 minutes to the beach called La Piscina. This is my personal favorite beach in Tayraon National Park because the water is the calmest.
When we reached La Piscina there was not another person in sight. We had this entire beach to ourselves for nearly two hours. and even then, only a couple of other people arrived. It was so peaceful and a relaxing wat to enjoy the morning before we had to leave Tayrona again.
6. The Best place to stay is Cabo San Juan (and you can book your hammock or tent in advance!)
If you are wanting to spend the night, you have a few options for campsites and basic accommodation within the park. In our where to stay in Tayrona blog we outline all of these options in detail, but to cut to chase, we recommend staying at Cabo San Juan.
This place has the nicest beach and although the facilities are basic, it has everything you’d need from a restaurant to a mini-mart to showers.
You can book cabins at Cabo San Juan on their website in advance. Just be warned, these cabins are very basic and extremely overpriced in my opinion.
For that reason, most people choose to stay in a hammock or tent. However, these too often sell out and they cannot be booked online in advance.
But they can be booked in advance in person. Near the El Zaino entrance gate there is a small Cabo San Juan desk. Here, you can book your hammock or tent before you even enter the park. This can be done first thing in the morning when you arrive, or if you’re staying the night near the park, you can buy it the day before.
This is what we did. After checking into our hotel near the entrance gate we walked to the Cabo San Juan desk. We purchased two hammocks for the following day and this saved us time and hassle the next morning!
7. Keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife!
I truly think that one of the things about Tayrona National Park that doesn’t get highlighted enough is the wildlife. People rave about the jungle, pristine beaches, and overall impressive landscape. But to me, one of the best things about visiting Tayrona is the wildlife you can see!
Last time we visited we saw so many colorful birds it was crazy. We also saw Cotton Top Tamarin monkeys on the first day as well as some larger Capuchin Monkeys on the second day. We heard Howler monkeys but unfortunately didn’t see them.
My best advice is the walk slow, stay away from larger groups of people and listen. You’ll likely hear monkeys and birds long before you see them. Once you hear them, take it slow and keep your eyes open!
8. No plastic bags are allowed in Tayrona National Park
We learned this one the hard way. We were planning on bringing a large 6-liter bag of water with us (water is often sold in sealed bags in Colombia) but were told we couldn’t bring it at the entrance gate.
Apparently, they have a rule against plastic bags in Tayrona National Park altogether. So, be sure not to bring any and make sure your water comes in a jug (plastic bottles are fine, just not bags because they get blown away and become liter.)
We highly recommend bringing 6 liters of water for two people for two days. It is very hot in the park and the water isn’t exactly cheap.
9. The Nudist Beach is not what you’d expect
When we were hanging out in Taganga we often had salesmen come up to us trying to sell us day trips to Tayrona National Park on the boat. One of the first pictures they always showed us to “entice” us to want to go is of the nudist beach with a bunch of naked gringos on it.
Okay, to set the record straight, the Nudist Beach is not what you’d expect.
When we went there was practically nobody there and they weren’t nude. You are also not allowed to swim at this beach which makes it a terrible beach to hang out at in my opinion.
And to top it all off, the Nudist Beach is where all of the boats bringing day-trippers dropping them off and picking them up. I’m not sure about you, but for me personally, if I was going to enjoy a beach in the nude, I wouldn’t want it to be where hundreds of tourists are parading through all day long (including families with children.)
So basically, don’t let the Nudist Beach sales pitch be the reason you go to Tayrona. There are lots of good beaches in Tayrona, but to me, the Nudist Beach isn’t one of them.
10. I don’t recommend a driven day trip from Santa Marta
On a driven day trip from Santa Marta, you must sit in a van for 1 hour, then walk to 2-3 hours, relax for only a couple of hours at the beach before having to walk back and also drive back. It’s a big day that’s mostly spent driving and walking.
Personally, I recommend spending the night in Tayrona National Park or near the entrance gate El Zaino if you can. This way you’ll have a much more relaxed visit and more time to explore and relax.
Tip: For more information on spending the night in or near Tayrona National Park, check out our blog, where to stay in Tayrona National Park.
If you do want to visit Tayrona National Park on a day trip I highly recommend taking the speedboat from Taganga to Cabo San Juan (as opposed to a driven day trip.) This not only cuts off driving time, but it also takes away any mandatory hiking and waiting in line at the entrance gate.
The boat from Taganga (a small village only a 10-minute drive from Santa Marta) will take you directly to Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona. From there you can relax for the entire day, or if you want, go for a hike to another beach such as La Piscina which is only 20 minutes away.
You can book a day trip to Tayrona using the speedboat as your transport online in advance. This particular tour will also pick you up from your hotel and bring you directly to the boat in Taganga so you don’t have to organize anything!
11. Bring your PASSPORT!
As a foreigner, you will need your passport to buy your entrance ticket and/or enter Tayrona National Park. A copy is fine but it must be clear and easy to read.
So, a copy of your passport at the very least or like us just bring your passport in a protective case.
*Tip: If you’re spending the night at Cabo San Juan they have lockers you can use for free to lock up your passport and other valuables, you just need to bring your own little padlock.
12. Cash is king in Tayrona
This is another one we learned the hard way. You need cash if you want to buy practically anything in Tayrona National Park including food, drinks, accommodation (hammocks or tents at Cabo San Juan), medical insurance, water, the collectivo, and pretty much everything else.
There is no ATM near the El Zaino entrance gate so you need to take cash out of an ATM in Santa Marta before heading to Tayrona.
You can, however, pay for the entrance ticket with a credit or debit card. We also did find one restaurant within the park near La Piscina that actually accepted card for payment. But with that said, it is common for the machine not to work so it is best to be prepared with heaps of cash on hand.
*Money-saving tip: BBVA is the name of a bank in Colombia and their ATMs do not charge any fee to withdraw cash. Many other banks charge upwards of 12,000 COP just to withdraw cash, but BBVA does not. Find more tips like this on our Colombia travel guide blog!
13. You are not allowed to swim at most of the beaches
Many visitors to Tayrona National Park don’t know that many beaches prohibit swimming. There are signs posted warning you that swimming is absolutely not allowed at the majority of beaches in Tayrona National Park due to strong waves and currents that have taken many lives.
In fact, at all of the closest beaches to El Zaino entrance gate swimming is not allowed. This is why most people hike to Cabo San Juan, here you can swim in two different bays.
Personally, a beach called La Piscina is my favorite. At a decent pace, you can walk there from the entrance gate in about 1.5 hours. From Cabo San Juan, La Piscina is about a 20-minute walk away.
Before you go…
There you have it, 13 important tips for visiting Tayrona National Park this year. I hope my tips have helped you prepare for your own trip as well as avoid any additional hassle once you’re there.
If you’ve been to Tayrona recently and have any tips to add to this list, please leave them in the comments below so other readers can also benefit. Feel free to also leave any questions for us to try and help you out with!
If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out the rest of our informative Colombia travel blogs. We also have a few favorites listed below for you to check out:
Thanks for reading!
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