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Six Steps to Bliss At Tayrona National Park

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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17 Responses to Six Steps to Bliss At Tayrona National Park

  1. Marsha November 23, 2011 at 8:40 AM #

    Color me a coward but between the jaguars and the crocodiles, I’m pretty sure I’m just going to have to live vicariously through your post, lol!

    • Steph November 23, 2011 at 5:48 PM #

      Haha, to be fair we didn’t spot either!

    • JD July 11, 2015 at 10:10 PM #

      Or you can do it the real easy way and ride the boats from Taganga up to the park. It’s about a 45 minute to 1 hour ride depending on the seas. It’s some really beautiful scenery on the way up too from the water side. It’s a little bit more expensive, so if your on a budget the jungle it is.

  2. Katie November 23, 2011 at 8:52 AM #

    What type of shoes did you wear?

    • Steph November 23, 2011 at 5:47 PM #

      Just regular old sneakers, although they got pretty beat up by the mud and rain.

  3. Tom November 23, 2011 at 10:21 AM #

    Horses are evil. This was hammered into me from a young age from me by my dad, and I agree – whenever we’d keep them on our farm, they’d always bully the cows. Twats.

    Anyways I’m digressing – that beach looks soooo relaxing, and I’ve always wanted to sleep in a hammock. The first time I got in one (on Turkey) it spun me out straight away…luckily nobody was there to witness it. But gently rocking to sleep in a hammock after a night of several beers on a beach…..ahhhhhhh jealous of you!

    Loving all your Colombia posts, keep them coming! Planning to hit up Cartagena or Medellin?? Or did you already and I’m just being forgetful? 🙂

    • Steph November 23, 2011 at 5:44 PM #

      Yeah I just don’t care much for horses. Particularly being on top of one- feels very out of control.

      I have been to both Cartagena and Medellin but haven’t gotten around to writing anything yet. Guess I need to up my game!

  4. ehalvey November 23, 2011 at 11:33 AM #

    Haha, so for some reason, I read the 6 steps like the lyrics of Like a Boss from the Lonely Island. Made it even more entertaining.

    • Steph November 23, 2011 at 5:43 PM #

      🙂

  5. Alex November 24, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

    You know, I have recently realized that crocodiles now top my list of Creatures I Am Terrified Of. Move over, sharks!

    So basically, I would have had a heart attack

    • Steph December 4, 2011 at 5:16 PM #

      I didn’t know until WAY after though- thank goodness! Crocodiles are scary.

  6. Jaime November 26, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

    Thank you so much for the info~ I will definitely be visiting here next year when in Colombia! 🙂

    • Steph December 4, 2011 at 5:09 PM #

      Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  7. Mark January 5, 2013 at 8:45 AM #

    Take the horses, an amazing part of the experience!

    But more importantly take a flashlight; we were lost on the beach after dinner, trying to get back in the dark and stumbled upon 4 v v large growling salt water crocs by the water. Real scary as the girls screamed and the boys froze.

    Again, part of the thrill. If you are vigilant, it’s heaven on earth.

  8. anewdayanewplace February 15, 2015 at 6:44 PM #

    I’m in Northern Colombia now and definitely agree, that the food is not a highlight. Do you think that it’s possible to stay nearby Tyrona and do a day hike there? Also, did you bring your own hammocks or is there a place you can rent them?

    • Steph February 16, 2015 at 3:46 PM #

      You can stay in Santa Marta and go for the day, but it will be a very long day. We were able to rent hammocks and didn’t bring any camping equipment with us at all.

  9. dave January 20, 2016 at 2:27 PM #

    Do not miss the walk up to Pueblito, quite possibly the most beautiful walk I have ever done. The destination itself is nothing special, but the walk there is truly wonderful

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