With beautiful, windswept and unspoiled beaches, Tayrona is a must visit for nature lovers along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The national park gets its name from the Tairona indigenous culture, and the area is sacred to the indigenous tribes still living in the area. It is open to visitors most of the year and offers several good hikes along with the beautiful beaches. Read on for a complete travel guide to Tayrona National Park in Colombia.
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*Please note the park usually closes for a month at the end of January and into February, check before you plan your trip.
Why You Should Visit Tayrona
If you’re a nature and hiking fan or a beach fan or both, you have to visit Tayrona National Park during your time in Colombia. Even if you’re not the biggest hiking or camping fan, the hike to the most popular place to stay is about 2 hours of mostly easy going. You can also ride horses or take a boat in and out of the park.
While you can technically do a day trip using the boats or horses, you really should stay a couple nights. That way you can have some time to explore, enjoy some hiking, and see some of the different beaches.
The beautiful and mostly unspoiled beaches inside the park are the main attraction. There are a number of different beaches you can visit, and the backdrop of the mountains running into the sea is brethtaking!
Tayrona is a great chance to get away from it all for a few days, enjoy some great beaches, and do some hiking. It especially makes for a great stop sandwiched in between visits to Minca and Palomino.
Ready to go? Read on for a complete travel guide to Tayrona, Colombia including how to get there, what to do, where to stay, travel tips, and a packing list for Parque Tayrona.
Ultimate Travel Guide to Tayrona – Contents
- How to Get to Tayrona
- Visitor Info
- What to Do in Tayrona
- Where to Stay in Tayrona
- Travel Tips
- Packing List for Tayrona
How to Get to Tayrona
There are a few options to get to Tayrona. The easiest is to take a bus from Santa Marta. You can also get taxis or private cars, although prices are usually quite high. Additionally, you can take a speed boat from Taganga.
How to Get to Tayrona by Bus
The most popular entrance to the park, El Zaino, is located approximately an hour north of Santa Marta. You can get the bus from the market in downtown Santa Marta. Look for the buses that say Tayrona and Palomino.
The bus from Santa Marta costs 7,000 pesos (price last updated April 2019). There are different fares for how far you are going along the route, so be sure to tell the guy collecting the money you are going to Tayrona.
If you’re coming from Palomino or Riohacha, just hop on the bus headed towards Santa Marta and get out at the park entrance. The price from Palomino to Tayrona should be 3,000 pesos and from Riohacha 10,000 pesos.
Do expect the bus to get crowded, probably with some people carrying food or other goods. Our bus had bags of concrete and sacks of rice loaded on it. One guy even had a box of baby chicks.
How to Get to Tayrona by Boat
You can also take small speed boats to Tayrona. The boats leave from the town of Taganga to Cabo San Juan, the most popular place for staying inside the park. Taganga is just over a hill from Santa Marta. Check out our guide to Taganga if you want to spend a night there before or after your visit to Tayrona.
The boats leave at approximately 9 a.m.. The return trip leaves between 3 and 4 in the afternoon from Cabo San Juan.
One word of warning: I normally enjoy boats, but I did not enjoy the boat from Tayrona to Taganga. Maybe it was just a particularly rough day, but we were bouncing around and I took lots of waves to the face. Soaking wet and with a sore butt (I’m pretty sure I was bouncing a foot in the air off my seat), I was happy when it was over.
These operations are also questionably organized at best. While usually, I’m a fan of the less restrictive liability rules, in this case the safety risk seems not worth it. And it sounds like some have had even worse experiences. By the same token, lots of people take the boat every day, so presumably most of the time the trip is smoother.
Still, I would strongly recommend avoiding the boat entirely, but if you’re on a tight schedule and the seas don’t look choppy, then it I guess it can save you quite a bit of time. Just be prepared for a bouncy ride. Also please note, that the cost of the boat does not include the park entry fee or mandatory insurance. You will have to pay for those things when you arrive.
How to Get to Tayrona from Cartagena
You can get buses to Santa Marta at the main bus terminal. Berlinas and Marsol offer chartered van service for reasonable prices as well and are the recommended options. A taxi to the terminal will more than wipe out the savings on the cheaper bus ticket unless you’re a group of 3 or 4.
Berlinas charges 44,000 for buses from Cartagena to Santa Marta and leave every 40 minutes from 4:40 am to 6 pm (price last confirmed April 2019).
Marsol does have some buses that go directly to the park entrance, but only twice a day. From Cartagena to Santa Marta they have regular buses throughout the day for 42,000 pesos (price last confirmed April 2019)
My last few experiences with them have not been that good, so I’d recommend Berlinas. Both of their offices are a 5 minute taxi ride from the walled city.
Once in Santa Marta, follow the instructions above. One note, we thought it would be easier to get the bus to the park from Mamatoco, on the outskirts of the city. When I went several years back that was the main jumping off point to the park.
We were able to get the bus there, but it was already very crowded. Therefore, I recommend getting the bus in the city center.
The trip to Santa Marta takes about 4 hours from Cartagena. You will need at least 3 hours for transportation to the park and the hike in to the camp site. Therefore, make sure you start your trip to Tayrona from Cartagena early in the morning.
*You can check bus routes, times, prices and even book many buses in Colombia at www.redbus.co. Both Marsol and Berlinas are pretty responsive on their facebook pages which you can find here: Marsol and Berlinas.
Visitor Information for Tayrona
You do have to pay an admissions fee for Tayrona Park. The fee varies slightly depending on your nationality as well as the time of year you visit:
Entrance Fees for Tayrona Park:
*Last updated July 2019, check the park’s website to confirm the latest prices.
Normal Entrance Fees to Tayrona Park:
- Foreigners: 56,00 pesos (approx. 18 USD)
- Locals: 26,500 pesos
- Children Under 5 and Colombians over 65: free
- Locals aged 5-25: 20,500 pesos
*Note if you are a foreign resident of Colombia and have your Cédula (ID Card) or a citizen of one of the members of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), you qualify as a local.
Peak Season Entrance Fees for Tayrona Park:
- Foreigners: 66,000 pesos (approx. 22 USD)
- Locals: 31,000 pesos
- Children Under 5 and Colombians over 65: Free
- Locals aged 5-25: 22,500 pesos
- Note that peak season is:
- June 15 to July 15
- December 15 to the end of January
- The 10 days beginning on the Friday before the week of Easter
- The higher rates also apply to weekends with Monday holidays (on this calendar, the red dates show the Monday holidays for 2019)
It usually isn’t necessary to buy tickets for Tayrona ahead of time, but if you’re going during peak season, it probably isn’t a bad idea. The park does have a limited capacity and even if it doesn’t fill up, the lines can get long. You can buy tickets online at this link.
Insurance Requirement for Entrance to Tayrona Park
You must also buy mandatory medical emergency and evacuation insurance for each day you plan to be in the park. The insurance costs 2,500 pesos per day and offers coverage for up to 30 million pesos (about 10,000 USD). Find out more about the insurance at this link.
If you have organized your trip through an agency or as part of a tour, be sure to clarify if the insurance is (or isn’t) included. If it is, be sure to get a receipt or certificate.
Be wary of tour operators outside the entrance selling the insurance. They are probably legit, but why risk it when you can just buy it at the park ticket booth? Once in the park, if you decide to stay for more days, you can buy more days of coverage at Cabo San Juan. (That is also where you will buy it if you come on the boat).
After you enter, you can take a bus for 3,000 pesos to the parking lot and trail head. It’ll save you about half an hour.
What to Do in Tayrona
Enjoy the Beaches
There are a number of nice beaches in Tayrona. As you hike in, the first one you come to is Arrecifes. You cannot swim there. You’ll then pass several others, including La Piscina. You can swim there. Offshore rocks make for a natural swimming pool. It’s also a popular spot for snorkeling.
However, I think the beaches around Cabo San Juan are prettier. At Cabo, there’s a little bay with calm waters good for wading. On the other side of the rock, there’s a a nice stretch of beach as well.
If you continue beyond that beach and take a short walk through the forest, you’ll arrive to Playa Brava. Playa Brava is technically a nude beach, although most people were not actually in the nude when we were there.
The beach at Playa Brava is long and very pretty. The waves are strong though, and the currents can be dangerous, so it’s advised not to swim there. I was physically knocked over by the waves. Therefore, it’s probably best to stick to the beaches marked for swimming.
Hike to Pueblito
*Update: As of early 2019 Pueblito has been closed to visitors, reportedly permanently, at the request of the indigenous residents. So unfortunately, this no longer is one of the things to see in Tayrona at least for the time being. I will try to keep my eyes open and update if it reopens one day. In the meantime, you’ll just have to enjoy the beach (I know, it’s a tough life out there).
Located in the hills above Cabo is a tiny indigenous village. There you can see a few huts where some Kogi people live today. There are also remains of a larger settlement dating to before the Spanish conquest. The Tairona indigenous civilization was the most advanced in Colombia and the only to have built stone urban centers.
However, the ruins at Pueblito are not really that impressive. The real attraction is the hike up. Note we were told it was of moderate difficulty. For avid hikers that is probably the case, but we found it a bit closer to hard. There are a few tough inclines and you spend a fair amount of time climbing over boulders. I’d recommend not doing the hike alone as having someone to boost you up was definitely necessary in a few spots.
While the ruins themselves weren’t that cool, the hike was fun and enough of a challenge to feel like we had accomplished something. It takes about 2 and a half hours to get to Pueblito from Cabo. We actually chose to send our bags out on horses and hiked out from Pueblito to the entrance at Calabazo. That took about 2 and a half more hours.
There’s another longer hike called 9 Piedras that I have not done, but it is supposed to give some great views of the park.
Unplug and Get Away From It All
A couple days in Tayrona is a great way to disconnect. With no wi-fi and little to no cell service, you’ll have no choice but to stay off facebook and instagram or work email and just relax.
So spend some time enjoying the scenery on the hikes. Once you’ve worn yourself out, relax with a good book, get your tan on, and take a nap on the beach. In the evening, you can contemplate your existence and take advantage of the excellent star gazing.
Where to Stay in Tayrona
There are a number of fancy lodges and cabins available both inside and just outside the park. The most famous are the Ecohabs. Beautiful, they are also very pricey. Therefore, the most popular option, and my recommendation, for where to stay in Tayrona is Cabo San Juan del Guía.
Cabo San Juan – Most Popular Place to Stay
At Cabo San Juan, you can rent a tent, the space for your own tent, or a hammock. The hammocks are in a covered area, and there are a limited number of additional hammocks on top of a big rock overlooking the bay. There are also a limited number of small cabins.
Prices for Accommodations at Cabo San Juan del Guía:
- Hammock in the main area: 40,000 pesos (approx. 14 USD) per person.
- Hammock on top of the rock overlooking the bay: 50,000 pesos per person
- Tent Rental: 40,000 for one, 60,000 for a couple.
- With Your Own Tent: 20,000 per person
- Cabin Rentals: 200,000 pesos for double occupancy, 50,000 for additional guests.
- Prices last updated July 2019
Use of the bathrooms and showers are included. They are pretty decent for communal campsite showers, but you will definitely want a good set of flip flops.
There are also lockers, although you will need your own lock.
The on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner for fairly reasonable prices. The restaurant serves the typical fish plate as well as rice, chicken, and pasta dishes. There are vegetarian options. Expect to spend 20-40,000 pesos per meal.
There were also some fresh breads and sandwiches on sale that were really good for 5-7,000 pesos. You also have to try the bread at the Panaderia Bere on the hike in. The tomato, cheese, and basil ones are awesome, especially fresh out of the oven.
You can bring in food, but there is no kitchen and no fires at the camp site. There is also a little tienda that sells snacks and drinks. An Aguila ran 5,000 pesos when we were there.
Cell service was spotty at best and there was no wi-fi. There is a small cell charging station by the restaurant. Do be aware that there are no electrical hookups in the camping area.
*Find out more, including updated prices, for Cabo San Juan del Guía in Tayrona at their website.
Other Places to Stay inside Tayrona National Park
There are a handful of other small lodges and camp sites in Tayrona, although there’s not a ton of info on them online. Staying at Cabo San Juan is definitely the most common backpacker/camping option. Those with families or looking for a romantic escape might be interested in one of the more exclusive lodges inside or just outside the park below.
The aforementioned Ecohabs could be an option. Here are a few others that can be booked online, although they tend to fill up quick.
Hotel Jasayma – Located not far from the entrance to the park, this could be a good option for those looking to to have a home base closer the the entrance and with less crowds than those at Cabo San Juan, or simply those looking for a more hotel like atmosphere. Check it out on Booking.com.
Camping Castilletes – Even though it says camping in the name, the accommodations here also include group and family rooms. It also has a private beach, making a good option for those that want to be on the beach but have a basic hotel room. Check it out on Booking.com.
Other Places to Stay Outside Tayrona Park
If you’re looking for nicer accomodations, there are a number of good options located just outside the park that offers easy day time access while having more modern amenities than the accommodations in Tayrona itself.
Guesthouse Senda Casa – Featuring a gorgeous terrace and pool, the accomodations here include a family sized bungalow and private rooms. It is located just on the northern edge of the park, offering access to the beaches nearby. A great option for a romantic getaway. Check it out on Booking.com.
Quetzal Dorado Eco-Lodge – Also located just outside the park, this eco-lodge has pretty rooms as well as a small pool and sitting area with a view of the forest. There are family rooms as well as double rooms. Check it out on Booking.com.
Kantawa Hotel and Spa – If you’re looking for luxury while being connected with nature, look no farther. Kantawa has a pool, hot tubs, and lovely rooms. It is located near the entrance to the park at Calabazo. This would be perfect for couples looking for an exclusive and romantic atmosphere. Check it out on Booking.com.
Practical Travel Tips
- There are no ATMs in the park and cards are not accepted, so be sure to bring cash.
- If you’re going during the rainy season from October-December, be aware that the trail could be muddy. Also, be sure to stay off the horse path as it will be worse! (We made that mistake).
- You can get large jugs of water just outside the entrance of the park considerably cheaper than in the park (although you do have to carry them in).
- Bringing alcohol into the park is prohibited. Police sometimes search bags, sometimes don’t. We saw people with bottles of wine and whiskey. So it’s possible you could sneak it in, but be prepared to lose any you take.
- Don’t litter, remember the park is a sacred site for the indigenous communities!
- In 2018 and 2019, the park was closed for a month at the end of January at the request of the indigenous communities to allow the forest to rest and recuperate. Therefore, it is probably best to not plan a trip there in February.
Packing List for Tayrona, Colombia
You’re going to be hiking and beaching it, so pack comfortable clothes that you are ok getting dirty in. And also sweating in, as the climate is hot and humid.
Recomendations for Her:
- These tees are comfortable, cute, and comfortable.
- These Columbia Anytime Capris are light and dry quickly.
- This cute leaf print halter top bikini would be perfect for Tayrona.
- A good sarong not only works as a beach cover up, but can double as a beach towel and can even be tied up as a dress.
- Chaco’s Sandals are comfortable for all the walking you’ll be doing hiking in and out of Tayrona Park.
Recommendations for Him:
- Columbia’s Blood and Guts shirts not only have a killer name but wick away moisture and offer UPF sun protection, perfect for the sun and hiking of Tayrona.
- Their tees also wick away moisture and are very comfortable.
- These quick dry hiking shorts are light and offer several pockets.
- These APTRO board shorts with palm trees will go right with the beautiful beaches in Tayrona.
- Chaco’s Mens Sandals are also great for lots of walking.
Recommended Travel Gear to Pack for Tayrona:
- I love my Roam backpack that packs in to its front pocket (see review here). That makes it perfect to stash in a larger pack and use to carry your camera, book, a bottle of water, and whatever else you need to head to the beach or go hike.
- Speaking of larger packs, the Osprey Rook 65L is roomy and plenty comfortable for hiking, making a great larger pack to take with you to Tayrona and elsewhere in Colombia.
- If you want something that is carry on compliant, the Osprey Farpoint 40L is also a great option and has plenty of padding to make it easy to carry.
- There are lockers at Cabo San Juan which makes a good lock a handy accessory to have to keep things safe. This MasterLock has a code so you don’t have to worry about losing a key and is TSA compliant so you can use it on your bags when you fly too.
- A good travel towels is a must for Tayrona. These Rainleaf microfiber towels are easy to pack and can be used at the beach or the campsite showers.
- A good flashlight is a good idea to have along to make your way back to your tent or hammock late. This Maglite Mini is perfect and can be easily packed for travel.
- Finally, you’ll want some good shades for the beach. These RAWWOOD Bamboo frame sunglasses fit the bill for him or her. I recently got a pair of my own and love them (see review here).
Other Things to Pack for Tayrona:
- Sunscreen – You’ll want plenty of it as the Caribbean sun can be withering. Sunscreen tends to run more expensive in Colombia, so bringing some along is a good idea. I recommend Coppertone Sport, which holds up well to sweat and ocean.
- Bug Spray – The mosquitos can come out in droves at night time. If you bring it from abroad, I recommend OFF! Deep Woods (also available in towelettes) or check out OFF! Botanicals for an all natural option. If you want a sunscreen/repellent combo, check out Avon’s Skin so Soft Bug Guard. If you’re planning on camping, this spray can also treat your tent, hammock, or even your clothes to keep bugs way.
- Water Bottle – If you follow the advice above, and buy a big jug of water, you’ll want something smaller to refill as you go. I have a Takeya bottle I love and use everyday at my teaching job. It does keep things cold. For something easier to pack, check out this collapsable Nomader water bottle.
- First Aid Kit – Although there is a first aid station, a basic first aid kit isn’t a horrible idea to have with you in Tayrona. This one from Coleman is palm sized and comes with all the basics you’ll need to patch up any small cuts or scrapes.
- Travel Toilet Paper – The bathrooms at Cabo San Juan are pretty decent, but it’s never a bad idea to have some backup paper just in case. These travel tissues are easy to pack and you will be glad you have them if you need them.
- Stomach Remedy – Speaking of the bathroom, there’s nothing worse than getting a case of traveler’s diarrhea at a campsite. Therefore, you may want to bring along some Pepto tablets to help in the event that it strikes while in Tayrona.
Ready to Plan Your Trip to Tayrona National Park?
There you have it a complete travel guide to Colombia’s Tayrona National Park. I hope this helped you plan your trip. If you go, be sure to tell us how you enjoyed it in the comments below!
Cheers and Happy Exploring!
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Be sure to check out these guides to other destinations near Tayrona:
Travel Guide to Costeño Beach, a chilled out beach just past Tayrona
Travel Guide to Palomino, a backpacker haunt about an hour north
Travel Guide to Minca, a beautiful mountain town outside Santa Marta
Travel Guide to Cabo de la Vela, in the Guajira Peninsula
Travel Guide to Punta Gallinas, the farthest point north on the continent across the desert
Planning a trip to explore Cartagena?
Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena