You may pinch yourself
when you wash up
on the stormy shore
of Tayrona National Park.
with perfect porcelain curves
and foreboding jungle cloaked hills
defy your perception of reality.
across turbulent water
in a tiny panga
or through the jungle
on the back of a weary horse.
Families pitch their tents under swaying palms
while backpackers curl in hammocks
suspended in forts overlooking the treacherous turquoise sea.
Fresh ceviche and whole fried fish come on platters
served by chatty Colombian sisters
beside crispy fried arepas
from beachfront food carts.
Shoreline stretches for miles
in utter isolation.
Swimming holes appear like oases
reprieve from the sweltering endless summer sun.
In this alternate reality
hammocks become homes
camps become communities
strangers become friends.
And outside of its jungle fortress
on the barren streets of Colombia
you will wonder
if this supernatural paradise
was nothing more
than an aguardiente dream.
How to Get to Tayrona National Park
There is no easy way to get into Tayrona National Park. This is one of the many things that makes it an adventure. The park entrance can be reached by road, but the beaches and camp grounds are far into the jungle accessible only by boat, foot, or horseback. My recommendation is to enter by boat to get to the campgrounds early when space is still available, then hike out to leave at your own pace and enjoy the jungle scenery.
Across the Sea
$20-30 depending on the size of your group
Departs Taganga 9:30am, returns to Taganga 3:30pm
The most direct way to reach the campgrounds in Tayrona National Park is to take a boat across the ocean from nearby Taganga which drops you directly at Cabo San Juan, the main campground. While this may be the most “convenient” and “direct” option it is not necessarily the most comfortable. Our voyage was incredibly rough, the motor stopped working several times in the open sea, and my friend actually got sick inside of her hat… which she proceeded to wear for the rest of our time in the park. However, we did arrive much faster and earlier than those who had taken the bus and hiked in.
Through the Jungle
$2-8 for bus or shuttle, then 1.5 hours of jungle hiking
Shuttles leave every morning at 9:30am, buses leave regularly
If you’re ready to sweat in the jungle, hike from the park entrance to your campground. Be prepared for heat and mud and wear good hiking shoes. Rent a horse to carry your body or your belongings for $18 each.
Where to Stay
You won’t find comfortable hotels or backpacker hostels in Tayrona National Park. Here accomodations are tents, hammocks, and amazingly beautiful and luxurious eco haubs. You can bring your own tent or hammock or rent one but be aware that accommodations fill quickly.
Cabo San Juan
This is the main beach and campground site. Boats arrive here from Taganga, otherwise it is a two hour hike from the park entrance. The location is convenient and social with soccer matches and nightly music, but it is also crowded and does not offer much solitude. The main draw for backpackers is the fort built on a rock overlooking the sea filled with hammocks to sleep in. These are taken fast so get on the list first thing in the morning.
The beaches and campgrounds at Bukaru are beautiful, quiet and remote. Strong currents, particularly at Arrecifes beach, make for a dangerous sea but La Piscina nearby is a lovely calm spot for swimmers. This is where I stayed and I loved it. I walked in the morning to La Piscina to swim and eat a a hot arepa.
Closest to the park entrance, Canaverel is the most convenient beach for those entering by foot. It has the only hotel in the park and is close to the most cafes and restaurants.
What to Eat
Restaurants in Tayrona National Park are expensive, mediocre, and unimaginative. You can expect to pay as much as $25 for a typical plate of fried fish with rice and salad. Cheap eats like fried arepas (the best are from the guy in front of La Piscina), watermelon slices, and ceviche are available for a couple of dollars but if you can handle the weight I recommend packing your own food.
What to Do
For more information, check out the Ultimate Guide to Tayrona National Park from Discovering Ice.