Camping in Tayrona, perched on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, has been the highlight of my travels in Colombia so far. It’s a gorgeous swath of jungle and beaches that’s totally removed from the real world. Like so many things in life though, it’s a reward you have to work for. It’s not easily accessible, but I kind of like it that way. All the sweat and tears makes the actual reward that much sweeter.
So here’s what you need to do:
Hike through the jungle
Tayrona has amazing beaches, but getting to them is a serious mission. First load yourself up with sunscreen, bug spray, food and water. From Santa Marta you need to take a public bus to the park entrance. After paying and admission fee of 35,000 pesos (~$18), you catch a second minibus for the 4 kilometer ride to the car park. After this, there’s not much 4 wheeled vehicles can do for you. You can rent a horse (pfft) but clearly the hardcore, backpacker-y thing to do is just start hiking.
Get covered in mud
If you are anything like me, it rains everywhere you go, all the time. This means the hiking path will consist entirely of mud and horse poop. It’s about 1000 degrees and you keep hearing what must be monkeys scurrying over head. Apparently Tayrona is also home to jaguars, but thankfully, you’re told, they only hunt at night.
After what feels like forever, finally reach the water.
Only you can’t swim on this beach. Arrecifes is a wide and beautiful beach with a vicious rip current that keeps visitors firmly on the stand. It makes for a pretty picnic and it’s here you’ll notice Tayrona’s characteristic giant boulders:
Hike some more
To get to the good beaches: the ones you can actually swim in, you will hike across Arrecife beach, ford a stream (which you later find out is home to crocodiles?!), scramble through more muddy jungle. At one point your shoe is sucked viciously into the mud and you start to worry that maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. But then…
Arrive at Cabo… and it will all be worth it.
By the end your shoulders will ache and your hair will be soaked with sweat, but once you arrive it’s all gravy. Cabo (full name: El Cabo San Juan del Guia) is the most popular beach with backpackers and it’s easy to see why. It’s basically a paradise with two beautiful beaches and not much else. It’s pretty much the perfect place to splash in the warm caribbean water, lie in the sand and relax.
Wait for Nightfall
After dinner (the park’s restaurant leaves something to desire but at least the beer is plentiful) lie on the beach and watch the full moon reflecting onto the still water. Marvel at the crisp clear stars in the sky (this city girl never gets over that).Spread out along the beach will be other groups of people with lanterns made of candles and milk cartons. Still feel like you are in your own world.
Later, go to sleep in a hammock. It’s a strange feeling at first, but rocking slowly to sleep as you watch the moon over palm trees through your mosquito netting has to be one of the finest ways to camp.
Our second day it poured rain, flash flood style and we shivered and sweated through a rough night. Due to sunburn and general fatigue we hired horses for the trek back (reconfirming my suspicion that I do not like horses). We finally left the park muddy, burned and exhausted but so very happy. Somehow the hard work makes the reward extra special. I’d trek through six jungles just for that moment, sitting under the stars, totally content with life.
Next time though, I’d wear better shoes.