With beautiful, windswept, 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 will be closed to visitors from January 28-February 28, 2019.
Why You Should Visit Tayrona
If you’re a nature and hiking fan or a beach fan or both, you have to visit Tayrona 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, including how to get there, accommodations, what to do, and practical tips on a visit.
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.
If you’re coming from Palomino or Riohacha, just hop on the bus headed towards Santa Marta and get out at the park entrance.
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.
I’m pretty sure we paid 7,000 pesos for the bus during our last visit in November 2018. There are different prices according to how far along the route you are going, so make sure you tell the bus attendant you are headed to Tayrona. They should also announce the stop when it’s time for you to get off.
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 bounced a foot in the air several times), 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 calm.
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.
Marsol does have some buses that go directly to the park entrance, but only twice a day. 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.
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:
Regular Entrance Fees for Tayrona Park:
- Foreigners: 53,500 pesos (approx. 18 USD)
- Locals: 24,000 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: 63,500 pesos (approx. 21 USD)
- Locals: 28,500 pesos
- Note that peak season is:
- June 15 to July 15
- December 15 to the end of January
- The higher rates also apply to weekends with Monday holidays (on this calendar, the red dates show the Monday holidays for 2019)
*Last updated Jan. 2019. You can check for updated prices for Tayrona Park at this link.
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.
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.
*You can check out other options in and around the park on booking.com here.
Accommodations at Cabo San Juan
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.
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.
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
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.
Practical Tips on a Visit to Tayrona
- 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).
- Take plenty of sunscreen. I recommend this Coppertone Sport, which should hold up well with all the walking you’ll be doing.
- Also, take insect repellent! I recommend Off! Deep Woods. If you’re buying locally, the Stay Off Amazonic is pretty good too and can be found at Colombian supermarkets.
- Bring a flashlight for walking around the campsite at night. I recommend this durable Mini-Maglite, perfect for travel. Also, this “solar puff,” an inflatable, solar powered lantern would be perfect for camping.
- Bring a lock for the lockers. Check out this perfect travel lock. It’s TSA approved so you can use it for your bag when you travel and has a combination so you don’t have to worry about losing a key.
- 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.