Tayrona National Park – a paradise all to ourselves

I had heard such good things about Tayrona National Park that it was great to be able to explore it with a good group, so soon after I arrived at the Caribbean Coast.

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A short bus ride from Santa Marta lies Tayrona National Park, a tropical paradise where the jungle runs right down to meet gorgeous Caribbean beaches. Despite how well-known this place is on the tourist trail it still feels quiet and relatively unspoiled. There are secluded beaches tucked around every corner and the only shame is the dangerous tides which stop people swimming at all but two beaches.

At 09:30, four of us set off together from Dreamer Hostel in a collectivo (shared taxi) to the entrance of Tayrona National Park. The ride cost $15.000COP per person and took less than an hour. We were dropped off at the entrance to the park where we received a long-winded explanation of what we could do from the man at the desk. This explanation also included accommodation so we paid attention to that.

There are three main cheaper places to stay unless you fancy forking out to stay in a thatched hut at EcoHabs. These are spread out along the coast and you can walk or take a horse.

Castilletes – less than 20 minutes walk

  • Hammock $25.000
  • Tent $30.000

Cañaveral – approximately 40 minutes walking

  • Hammock $30.000
  • Tent $35.000

Cabo de San Juan – approximately 2 hours walking

  • Hammock $40.000 – no mosquito net
  • Tent $45.000

You book and pay for your accommodation at the information desk and then you can either start walking from there (add almost an hour to your journey time) or you can hop into a shared bus that costs $3.000 per person and can drop you at either the entrance to Castilletes or a bit further along at the carpark.

We decided to stay at Castilletes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we were keen to see as much of the coastline as possible so we were able to arrive really early and drop off our bags to go on exploring and then spend the next day at the beaches further down. Secondly, Cabo San Juan charges more but doesn’t provide mosquito nets, which doesn’t seem like a good deal!

Our walk down to Castilletes was great! We saw some really industrious leaf-cutter ants, hauling a huge amount of leaves to feed the fungus that lives in the darkness in the depths of their nest. Then we got a great close-up encounter with some capuchin monkeys who were eating ripe mangoes from a huge tree just off the path.

We arrived at Castilletes and checked in to our hammocks for the night then dropped off most of our things and went for a wander along the beach. We had all the beaches to ourselves except for the pelicans swooping around in unison.

We found a cute little cove where the tide was coming in and I climbed up on the rocks until we had to leave or be stranded by the tide.

The beach called Piscinita was our eventual destination and when we arrived we jumped straight into the sea.

There was a little beach bar there and we grabbed a beer and relaxed until almost sunset and then we walked back through the jungle to our camp.

We ordered dinner and played games as it got dark and at times we were swarmed by huge noisy bugs. The food was simple and nice, I had chicken, salad and chips for $22.000COP and there were dishes ranging from $18.000 (pasta) to $35.000 (shrimp and fish dishes). The staff were funny too, the guy taking our orders, Javier, didn’t speak English so I was helping to translate for the others and Javier kept telling me how amazing my Spanish was and then every time he left the desk to do anything he would walk past us just to say my name and then vanish.

We had the company of a gorgeous dog that we decided looked like a hyena and Chris had a funny game of fetch with it. It felt super late when we went to bed but it was only about 10pm; that’s what happens when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

Our hammocks were comfy and it was nice to be safe from the bugs! Mine and Mairead’s hammocks were so close to each other that we were practically spooning all night but I still slept well after drifting off to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

We got up at a reasonable time and had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and arepas with a cup of milky coffee for $10.000COP. Then we slung on our packs and hit the dusty trail for our 2-hour walk through the jungle to reach Cabo San Juan. It was a scorching hot day and we were incredibly relieved to find a man selling ice-creams in a large shaded area about half way to the cape. We reached Cañaveral, the second settlement and stopped to eat lunch at the restaurant. The fried veggie rice was $18.000 and was delicious. From there we crossed the beach and found that it was safe enough to swim so we all jumped in.

One of the next beaches round was La Piscina, the best swimming beach in the area and it was amazing!!!

There is a natural rock barrier across the mouth of the cove so the stronger waves break there, leaving the water much calmer. There were loads of tropical fish and we could see them without a snorkel mask so we were just wading around after these fish for ages.

We headed on around to Cabo San Juan to book our boat ride out of the park (to a place called Taganga near Santa Marta). Tickets cost $55.000COP each and the ride is around 1:30 depending on the weather. Once we had our tickets we relaxed on the beach at San Juan. It was really busy here and the campsite is the biggest and most popular. We bought some pastries from a woman selling them from a cool box and the chocolate-filled bread was fantastic!!

There is only one/two boats per day leaving Cabo San Juan for Taganga at 16:30 but when we were there the boat had plenty of space. I suspect it does fill up often though, so I’m happy we booked our tickets by about 3pm.

The boat ride was an experience! The weather was absolutely fine and the boat was still being thrown around with spray totally covering us. There are two options here really – sit towards the front and stay dry but get seasick, or sit at the back, get soaked but probably don’t throw up. We went for the latter and it was more fun in a group than it would have been solo!

We arrived at Taganga, where we expected a port or a dock but instead had to jump into knee-deep water filled with all sorts of rubbish and wade up to the beach across rocky sand. But hey, we made it.

We walked to the main street and found some super cool beach bars gearing up for sunset and we grabbed some happy hour cocktails and were treated to the most spectacular sunset of my whole trip.

The others caught a taxi back to Santa Marta ($17.000) and I headed up to the dive shops to book a dive for the next day. Before heading to my hostel, Divanga. Luckily I met some people that were staying there and knew where it was because it was apparently important which route you take to get there as it’s a bit sketchy in the area.

On the way back to the hostel we stopped for dinner and we ended up as a nice group of 7 at a decent restaurant where I had delicious chicken, Thai rice and salad for $22.000.

Roberto, Sheena and I grabbed stuff for breakfast on the way back to the hostel as we had an early start for diving the next day then headed back to the hostel.

Divanga looks like a really cool place to stay. The roads on the way there are in unbelievably poor condition and the town doesn’t exactly feel like the safest place but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. But still, Divanga is like an oasis. The pool in the courtyard seems nice and there are hammocks and a couple of places to hang out. My room was really cool, the bunks were really high but the ladder was fine and the beds were sturdy. The guest kitchen was laughable though, only two bowls in total, so breakfast ended up being a bigger challenge than expected, but definitely worth it for granola, fruit and yogurt ready for my day of diving.

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