How To Visit Tayrona National Park In Colombia (And Have An Amazing Time!)

tayrona national park

Photos from around El Viajero Hostel, including the adorable hostel car, which I named Guac-y Monroe. Photos courtesy of Jessica Festa.

For many travelers to Colombia, a trip begins in Cartagena. This was the case for me, as well, and while the city has much to offer, I especially liked its day and weekend trip offerings.

If you have a few extra days in Cartagena, allot at least three to making the trip to Tayrona National Park (Parque Tayrona), located within Colombia’s northern Caribbean region. As a homebase in Cartagena, I recommend El Viajero Hostel, which has free wifi and breakfast, air conditioned dorms and private rooms, nightly activities like drinking games and dance classes, a bar, bike rentals, social spaces and a communal kitchen. It’s centrally located in Cartagena’s Old Town, allowing you to easily explore the city and beyond.

 

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Santa Marta

Before arriving to Tayrona, you should spend a night in Santa Marta so you’re not rushing to get to the park (plus, shuttles in Colombia rarely leave or arrive on time).

To get to Santa Marta you can take a shuttle with Marsol to Santa Marta. Tickets can be purchased straight from El Viajero Hostel for 42,000 Colombian Pesos (about $21 USD), and depending on the day will either pick you up from the hostel or you’ll walk about 15 minutes to their office. The journey takes about four hours in total, and allows you to snap some photos of places in Colombia you may not have visited otherwise.

Spend the night in Santa Marta — I recommend Maysaya Hostel starting at $12USD per night, which has cultural activities, two pools, and an amazing rooftop lounge and bar — and then get up early to reach Tayrona National Park. You’ll walk to the nearby Mercado and then turn down 11th to see different buses going to different places. Look for the one that says “Tayrona” in the windshield. The bus ride takes about 1-hour in total.

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The beginning of the hike to Cabo San Juan. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Packing Tips

Pack a weekend backpack (I use this one from Beside-U) for the trip and leave your luggage in El Viajero or Masaya’s storage room — both free of charge — as you won’t want to hike with a huge backpack. Make sure to allot room for water and food, as these can be expensive in the park. I personally also brought my GoPro (highly recommended for water activities!), iPod, notebook and pen, a sundress, towel, light blanket, bathing suit, two tanks, leggings, long sleeves and flip flops — plus sunscreen and toiletries. This was along with the sneakers, tank top and shorts that I wore. On the way hiking out, I left behind the towel, blanket and food to lighten my pack.

For safety, I don’t go anywhere without Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments (these have hidden interior pockets) and my Vigilant Personal Alarm.

Tayrona National Park Logistics

Once you reach the park, the entrance fee is about $19 USD + an optional but recommended $1 shuttle ride to the trailheads. From here, you can either hike two hours to the beachfront area, or hire a horse to ride or have it carry your stuff. There’s also a boat option that takes you to and from Cabo San Juan (the National Park’s most popular beach and camping area) and Taganga, a small fishing village near the park.

You’ll want to arrive to the beach as early as possible. Not all locations are created equal — some offer aerial water views from a deck — so get their early to get your choice of the best spot. Typically around noon-1pm is a safe arrival time. Lockers are available free-of-charge to store valuables and belongings when you’re out exploring or sleeping.

tayrona national park

A sunset view of the aerial hammocks. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

tayrona national park

A view of the aerial hammock hut, as seen from the hike in. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Accommodation

If you’ve got money to spend, the Ecohabs Tayrona provide comfortable beehive huts perched on the hillside and overlooking the water that offer the most comfortable experience in the park. The pro here is the ambience and the fact you get a bed, sea views, and access to a great restaurant, spa, Jacuzzi and the beautiful Caรฑaveral beach. Moreover, you’re located right near the entrance to the park, so no need to hike for hours with luggage. The con: the price. These huts will set you back $405 USD per night.

Budget travelers can instead opt for bringing their own tents, or renting tents or hammocks on the water — or even aerial hammocks on an elevated terrace on the water. Pure serenity. For these you’ll pay about 15,000 COP (about $8 USD) for DIY camping to 50,000 COP (about $25 USD) for a 2-person tent. I recommend the aerial hammocks, as they offer a nice breeze, aerial Caribbean views and a more peaceful ambiance then being huddled with the other travelers on the ground.

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Rock stairs make up a portion of the trail to the beach campsites. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

About Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park was created in 1964 by the Colombian Government to protect and promote local ecology and archeology. Home to everything from mangrove swamps to pristine beaches to lush jungle and beyond — not to mention native village ruins from before the Spanish Conquest, when the Tayrona indigenous peoples lived here. There’s certainly much to explore in this 15,000-hectare (37,067-acre) park, and you’ll leave with not only a great tan, but feeling rejuvenated, educated and fit (from all the hiking and swimming!).  Within the park, you’ll find 100+ mammals, 300+ bird species and 1,000+ marine species, to name a few. In terms of plants, you’ll find over 770 different species.

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Cartwheeling in Tayrona National Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

The Experience

Now to the good stuff — the experience. While the horseback ride can be fun for those who enjoy riding (and for those with a lot of gear), the hike is absolutely amazing. Every 10 minutes the scenery seems to change, shifting from jungle to beach to otherworldly boulders to fields of enormous plants that look like giant clovers. You’ll scramble up boulders, climb up and down stairs, take your shoes off to walk through sea water, and sometimes find yourself overlooking immaculate white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

If you’re like most travelers your destination will be Cabo San Juan, an idyllic beach with treehouse hammocks, tents and private accommodation — as well as a restaurant and dive and snorkel tour operator. Leave those laptops and iPads behind, as this tropical getaway comes without Wi-Fi. Instead, keep yourself occupied with swimming, snorkeling, hiking to beaches, boulder scrambling and making new friends over beers at the beach bar and midnight swims.

I opted for the aerial hammocks, just slightly more expensive than the hammocks on the ground with a better breeze and way nicer view. This area is a very social space, so no worries if you’re traveling solo. Just note that the only way up and down to these hammocks is by hiking up a short but steep path with uneven rocks steps. Keep this in mind if you’re not in peak physical condition or if you often find you’ve had one too many beers.

It’s also worth noting the bathrooms are about a 10 minute walk from the hammocks once you take into consideration climbing. That being said, the ocean is right nearby, and there’s a secluded outcropping coming off the aerial hammock area that many people use to do their business (#1 only!) in the middle of the night.

I want to touch again on what a great place this is for solo travelers. The hike in is well-traversed enough that you’ll feel safe, and once at the beach it’s a very social scene. In fact, as soon as I hopped in the warm Caribbean waters a guy named Tomas from Argentina swam over and offered me his goggles to check out the fish he’d seen. Moreover, when an iguana ambled into the hammock area the group quickly bonded while trying to capture photos of the cute creature.

tayrona national park

My hearty Churrasco at the restaurant on Cabo San Juan. $11 USD! Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

In the showers you’ll also have some social time.

You know that awkward moment when you walk into the wrong gender’s bathroom, maybe even catching a glimpse of something you shouldn’t? Well, you’ll do that here, only there’s no need to feel awkward, as you’re in the right place. The showers are co-ed, and while most of them have shower curtains, the dividers between each stall aren’t very high. Meaning if you’re uncomfortable with a stranger or the opposite sex seeing your naughty bits, wear a bathing suit in the shower.

From 6-9pm the scene becomes social as the evening bar and restaurant opens. Beer and red wine are the only drink options, which doesn’t matter because the focus is on socializing, anyway. One bottle of red wine later and myself and group of other travelers ended up playing a game of beach Man Hunt and laying in the sand giggling until 2am. Priceless.

If you’re spending two nights in the park — like I did — spend the next day snorkeling at La Piscina, a more tranquil and less populated beach with azure waters filled with tropical fish. You can book a guided snorkeling tour for 40,000 COP (about $20) or just go to the beach and enjoy it on your own. Additionally, there are loads of rock out-droppings to climb for photos, as well as an indigenous village if you access the Pueblito trail behind the toilets of Cabo San Juan. Note: This trail is yet albeit difficult with lots of bouldering and technical stretches. For something easier, hike to the other nearby beaches.

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Hiking along the beach in Tayrona National Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Tayrona National Park Trip Highlights

*The varied scenery and Caribbean Sea lookout points on the trail in.
*Trekking and climbing to Pueblito, indigenous ruins and village.
*Falling asleep to the sounds of crashing waves in an aerial hammock.
*The social atmosphere of Cabo San Juan and how easy it was to make new friends.
*Snorkeling at La Piscina Beach. I saw a sand shark, Sargent Majors and Blue Tangs, and am told you can often see sea turtles and blowfish, too.



Cost Breakdown:

Bus from Santa Marta to Tayrona: $6,000 pesos (about $3 USD)

Groceries for two nights for two people: $30 (bread, peanut butter, bananas, trail mix, apples, crackers, Chocolate, jerky, cereal, 8-1500 milliliter water bottles)

Food in the restaurant: While a typical meal in the restaurant is about $10, you can also find little street food-style stalls littered around the beach which are cheaper. Water bottles (1500 ml) are about $2.50.

Essentials: $6 (bug spray, sunscreen and plastic bags to keep gear dry in case of rain)

Park entrance: $38,000 (about $19) for general admission. Tip: if you have a student card bring it. Admission will be only $7500 (about $3.75).

Bus from entrance to the beginning of the beach trails: 2,000 COP (about $1 USD)

Horse ride (optional, we used for carrying our gear; if you have a lot of stuff it’s worth it as the hike is moderate-challenging): 18,000 COP (about $9)

Boat ride to and/or from the park and Taganga (optional): 45,000 COP (about $22).

Hammock: 20,000-25,000 ($10-$12 USD)

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Feet in the sand in Tayrona National Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Packing List:

For this trip you’ll want to pack as lightly as possible, as you’ll be trekking with your things.

For 2 nights/3 days I recommend packing:

*Long pants & long sleeves for sleeping
*A light sheet or blanket (or, my choice, a truly mutipurpose shawl scarf)
*Towel
*Toiletries
*Swim suit (I’m obsessed with Unique Vintage for cute bathing suits!)
*Goggles (to see the fish!)
*Bug spray (I love all-natural Aromaflage as it can be used as a unisex perfume too!)
*Sunscreen
*Small lock (the big ones won’t fit in the locker holes)
*Hiking shorts
*Three clean hiking/active shirts
*Sneakers
*Extra socks
*Flip flops
*One outfit to wear when not sweaty
*Wallet (cash, ID, credit card) and passport
*Toilet paper (they don’t supply it)
*Flashlight (I love Leschi Lantern & Flashlight as it’s tiny and can be mounted to use hands-free).

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Hiking abounds in Tayrona National Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Additional Notes:

*Sunscreen, water and bug spray will be the three most important items you pack, followed by sunglasses and your swimsuit.
*Don’t even think about trying to smuggle in drugs or alcohol, as police thoroughly check your bags at the park entrance.
*Bring some activities. While there is plenty to do — hiking, photography, swimming and socializing — you’ll be remote. Cards, books, a journal and games are all smart options for added entertainment.
*There are no water sport equipment rentals at the beach, so if you plan on snorkeling or body boarding bring your own equipment.

What tips would you add for those visiting Tayrona National Park? Please share in the comments below. 



36 Comments

  1. Hello Jessica, how are you?
    So you’ve given here very useful information about Tayrona Park…thanks a lot!! I would like to ask you just one thing: how did you reserve the hammocks in the park? we’re traveling in one week there and still we are clueless about how to reserve them! We’ve seen that there are a couple of campings where you can stay and from what I’ve read you chose to stay in San Juan (?). Was it good? sorry to bother you with these questions and thanks again for all the info!

    Take care,

    Monica

    1. @Monica: You’re not bothering me at all ๐Ÿ™‚ You can’t reserve in advance :/ So I recommend getting up early to begin your hike in (you can also take a horse ride). I arrived at Cabo San Juan around 1pm and was able to score the aerial hammocks. This is where I would highly recommend to stay. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Jessie

      1. Jessy,
        Your post on Tayrona is the most helpful. I may have booked my group for too many days there.
        Arriving at 2 Monday of January 2017 eparting at 2 Friday We rented a cabin at Areecifes inside the park. We are very athletic like to hike so what else besides what you recommend can we do with the additional time. Did I make a big mistake?

  2. Hi, came across this blog while researching for a trip my daughter and I are making to Colombia in January 2016. A question we had was about the Yellow Fever vaccination. Did you have one before traveling to this part of Colombia and were you asked about this when entering Tayrona?

    Thanks,
    Judy

  3. Hello, Jessica! Your blog is really so interesting, I’ve got very helpful information for my trip to Colombia in a week. Could you tell me, please, did you get a bug spray in Colombia? And which one did you choose? Thanks in advance)

    1. @Polly: Bug spray is a smart item! Unfortunately I cannot remember which kind I had. I would buy it in country and ask the locals or the pharmacist what kind is best. Also, After Bite is amazing for getting rid of itch!

  4. Hi Jessica!

    Great article. I saw you mentioned bringing in plastic bags to protect your things from the rain. I had read that plastic bags were banned in the park. What was your experience with this?

    And you said there are free lockers to store your stuff. Did you notice if they were only for people already renting a tent/hammock from the park, or can people bringing their own tent/hammock use them, as well?

    Thanks!

    1. @Emily: They do sometimes take the plastic away, though I got lucky. If you can bring another type of waterproof bag that would be ideal. I believe anyone can use the lockers. To be honest it’s just a room that’s not really monitored, though they lock it up at night ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Hi Jessie, but can you lock things in your own individual locker if you provide a padlock (such as an ipad or small laptop)?
        thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Thank you so much for writing about this! I’m planning to go to Tayrona in about a week on vacation with a close friend, and this guide relieves a lot of my anxiety. I’m super excited! I just have a few questions, if you don’t mind sharing…Was it really simple once you entered the park to figure out where to go? Are the trails pretty clear or is it easy to get lost? Did they give you a map when you entered the park or did you purchase one beforehand? Is it easy to figure out how to get from Cabo San Juan to La Piscina, and how long would you say that took you, if you can recall?

    1. @Arielle: Yes, it was simple. All well marked and you’ll know where to go. We didn’t need a map.

      Have a great time! Jealous you’re going. I want to go back!

  6. Jessie, my daughter and I are going to Cartagena May 23rd and I found your blog very helpful.
    I don’t know what to do about money.
    I have a visa and a master card. They are credit cards, I don’t have a debit card.
    Should I take a wad of U.S. cash? Will the vendors accept my cash? Can I change my cash into the local cash at a bank? Can I pay for much of my purchases with a credit card?
    Also, should we buy mosquito nets to take with us?
    We are planning to go to Tayrona Park to stay in the hammocks.
    Thank you

    1. @Steve: I didn’t bring a mosquito net. And you’ll be able to take US cash and convert it once there. I used local currency when there. You’ll have a blast!

  7. This post was so helpful! I will be in Cartagena next week and would love to take a trip to Tayrona. Just one question- how did you get back from Tayrona to Cartagena? I am planning on staying in the park for one night and coming back to Cartagena the next day if possible.

      1. Hi Jessie, this is really useful. What time did you get back into Santa Marta when returning? Did you have to leave early in the morning? Were you able to get a horse to carry your baggage on the way out? Thanks!

  8. Hi Jessie!

    I am going to Tayrona this Saturday with a big help from your blog. Thank you so much!
    Just a question: I am an exchange student here and I do not bring my passport all the time. I leave it in my house in Bucaramanga (Santander). Is bringing a passport necessary for this trip or did you just bring it because you are a traveler? I am planning to leave my passport in my house, that’s why. Also, are the mosquitos really that bad in the aerial hammocks, or can you get rid of them with the anti-mosquito lotion? I want to experience it but I’m scared to get sick, like my other international classmates did.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. @Pearl: Sorry for the delay! I would definitely bring mosquito spray and a blanket to ward them off. As for a passport, I don’t 100% remember if it was needed but something is telling me you should bring it in case. Would suck if you got there and couldn’t get in because of it. I remember there being a checkpoint where they may have checked it.

  9. Hey Jessie,
    This blog is fantastic!!! I’m doing some solo travel to Cartagena and planning on heading to Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona. Do you have any specific tips on solo travel in and around Parque Tayrona? I definitely plan to bring locks for my stuff and have traveled solo before so I am aware of the common sense stuff.

    Also – were you able to buy a small blanket & food at a grocer in Santa marta?

    1. @Brad: Glad you’re doing it! There’s def groceries in Santa Marta and I’d think you’d be able to buy a small blanket there. It’s modern. And no more tips than is in the post. I pretty much gave every tip I could think of ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Hello Jessie, I am planning to visit Tayrona park in march and found your post very useful! This is going to be my first time travelling solo in south america (did it once to Barcelona) and I decided to go to Tayrona since I’m in need of some time for myself away from home; however my parents are seriously questioning my decision to go to an island by myself and they are giving me cold feet. Did you the climb from the entrance to Cabo San Juan safe enough for a woman by herself? And what about walking around the beach? I would appreciate it a lot if you gave me a piece of your mind on this experience ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Hi Jessie, I read your page regarding Tayrona park and thanks for the tips. Planning to visit at the end of May. Would love to follow your suggestion of renting an Hammock for one night. Do I need to make a reservation for that? what if it rains do I have alternatives once I am there? Planning to reach the park with a rental car, will it be safe to leave it there unattended for 2 days? thank you so much for your help. ( feel free to add any suggestions) stefano

  12. Hi Jessie!
    Thank you for all this great information! My husband and I have 3 days and 2 nights for Tayrona (including traveling back and forth to Cartagena) and are opting on staying at a hotel/hostel close to the entrance gates (El Zaino). We get there (to the hotel/hostel )pretty late in the evening Day 1 and were planning on hiking to Cabo early the next day (Day 2) and then rent a horse back to the hotel the same evening. The next day (Day 3) we are going back to Cartagena but have the option of going back late. We would love to explore the surroundings a bit more and maybe go snorkeling and hike some more. Do you have any recommendations? Maybe go to Piscina and ask our hotel to let us take a shower before we go back to cartagena? Or are there any other good beaches around the entrance in El Zaino?

    1. @Angela: I’m honestly not too sure, as I spent time in the park then went back to Cartagena directly. If you head over to my sidebar though you’ll see the option to download a free 79-page South America travel guide. This will likely have more information on what you’re looking for!

  13. Hey Jessie! Awesome post! I have some questions I am hoping you can answer for me! So I booked a stay at Finca El Paraiso Parque Tayrona (Arrecifes Beach) and I am wondering what the best way to get there would be. I will be traveling with my 63 year old parents and they will have wheeling suitcases. Here are my questions! 1.) do you remember seeing any place at the start of parque tayrona where you can store your luggage? 2.) do you reckon horses would be able to carry wheeling suitcases – I saw in your post that you hired horses to carry your gear, but not sure if they were just backpacks… 3.) I’m wondering if taking the boat to Cabo San Juan and then walking from there is the best option…just hoping for your feedback on the little pickle I’m in! Thanks for any insight you can provide! xx a fellow travel blogger trying to travel with her parents, Wanderluluu

    1. @Lauren: So exciting you’re going! I’ll admit I wrote this post a few years back, so my memory isn’t 100% on this, but I think:

      1) I stored my luggage at my hostel in Santa Marta and then went back for it after camping in Tayrona. Maybe you can store it at your previous accommodation?

      2) I *believe* you can. You may just have to hire multiple horses if the load is too heavy.

      3) It’s a decently tough hike. I def remember being winded after, especially as I carried a decently heavy backpack. You may want to consider doing the horseback ride! My friend did it and loved it.

      Hope that helps! You’re going to have a blast. It’s so beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚

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