Tropical Paradise of Tayrona National Park
On the northern coast of Colombia lies the magical Tayrona National Park. This protected area features forests teaming with wildlife leading down to pristine beaches on the Caribbean sea. The only way to reach many of the most beautiful, palm-fringed sands are the meandering footpaths through jungle and over sea-strewn boulders. With only a little effort you can find your own slice of paradise in Tayrona.
The city of Santa Marta serves as a starting base for many visiting Tayrona. A strip of beach on the Caribbean coast backed by a city centre of colonial architecture sounds appealing on paper, but I found the reality to be very different. Dilapidated buildings, aggressive vendors and some rude locals (I lost count of the amount of times people blocked my path or followed me demanding money) made me eager to escape this place. Having said that, I found it a convenient location to leave my luggage while visiting Tayrona with a smaller bag for hiking through the jungle.
On arrival in Tayrona I jumped in a minibus that took me as far into the park as vehicles can go, cutting out about 4km of tarmacked walking. From there a clearly defined path leads into the jungle, often intersected by armies of leafcutter ants transporting vegetation much larger than themselves so at a first glance I could only see a colourful stream of leaves and petals. In the branches above monkeys leap from tree to tree and stare down quizzically at intruders to their home. In the surrounding undergrowth catch a fleeting glimpse of grazing capybaras. Blue crabs scuttle to hide in their holes on your approach. You may be luckier than most and spot an elusive jaguar, mostly active at dawn and dusk.
This path emerged onto the beautiful Caribbean coastline with waves crashing onto a completely empty beach. The reason this stunning place is deserted soon becomes clear. Signs warn of dangerous riptides and drownings have occurred all too often here. But not too much further along the aptly named La Piscina is more than suitable for swimming. Food stalls sell arepas, a flatbread with cheese, and freshly squeezed juices to make this the perfect stop for a long lunch break teamed with a refreshing dip. I continued walking to El Cabo de San Juan, passing accommodation options ranging from a hammock under the stars to luxurious ecohabs. Here I rented a tent for 50 000COP and relaxed under a palm tree admiring the clear blue waters. As the sun set people started appearing from their own secluded spots to congregate at the beach side restaurant. Prices were a little higher than usual as everything is brought in by mule, but the basic meals are appetizing and filling.
After the restaurant lights were switched off, whispers died down to nothing and the sounds of the jungle and crashing waves filled the air. Tayrona may not be a silent retreat of relaxation but it certainly is my idea of a tropical paradise.
How to get there?
Catch the bus from Calle 11 and Carrera 11 in Santa Marta for 6000COP, this takes about an hour and drops you off opposite the main entrance to Tayrona. Pay the entrance fee of 37 500 COP at the cabin. A minibus will take you further into the park for 2000 COP.
Where to stay?
Hammocks range from 12 000COP to 20 000COP, two-man tent hire is 50 000COP, cabanas are 100 000COP and ecohabs start at 300 000COP.