Tayrona National Park
The popular Tayrona Park lies at the Caribbean coast near Santa Marta in Colombia. It has some of South America's loveliest coastline. This little, delightful spot is located about 30 minutes from the city of Rodadero, with beautiful beaches, hammocks to rent for the night, food, water and surf (be careful, though; there is a strong riptide - experienced surfers only!). Additionally, you can get a guide to take you to a native village in the nearby mountains.
The concession of the Tayrona National Park was created in 1964 and it is located on the Caribbean Coast in the north of Colombia, only 34 km from the city of Santa Marta. it has not only an immense natural importance in this region, but it is also a cultural treasure. A long time ago, small groups of hunters and gatherers inhabited the park, and towards the VI and the VII century, both the coast and the mountain of the park were habited by the famous Tayrona tribe. You can admire their culture nowadays, because the Koguis, their direct descendants, as well as three other indigenous groups, still live in these areas and they maintain many of their traditions.
Flora and fauna
The park offers a big variety of Flora and Fauna because it includes two ecosystems between the mountain and the sea. It boasts fascinating wildlife including black howler and titi monkeys, red woodpeckers, iguanas, jaguars (which are rarely seen as they hunt at night), a variety of lizards, tropical marine life, and more than 400 species of birds, such as eagles, condors and the odd pet parrots kept at the restaurant at Arrecifes.
The vegetation is characterized by the ecological influence and the rain depending on the sector, from tropical dry forest to coral reefs.
The temperature varies betwen 25°C and 30°C, depending on the location and elevation. There are two rainy seasons from may to june and from september to november. The climate is temperate and hot.
Cañaveral is the only place which can be reached by car. Camping is possible. Nearby Aviatur offers pricey Ecocabanas with view of the Sea, the so called ecohabs for C$550,000 - C$646,000.
Arrecifes has 3 places which offer accommodations: At the pricey end Aviatur has Ecocabanas for C$300,000 but also allows camping. El Paraiso offers cabanas for C$100,000 and hammocks for C$12,000. Camping is also possible. A short walk further brings you to a place with reggae music that offers hammocks and camping. All three places offer food and sanitary services.
La Piscina is mostly a place to swim and hang out. It has no accommodations.
El Cabo is a campground and restaurant facing a pair of spectacular beaches separated by a rocky outcrop. You can either stay in hammocks (between C$15,000 and C$20,000) or in 2 person tents (which can be rented there for a total of C$50,000). There is also a two story wooden bungalow on the rocky point. This features two simple rooms with double beds on the top floor, and a bottom floor with premium hammock space for rent. All reservations must be made on site. Common toilets and showers are available.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at the restaurant, which is surprisingly good and affordable.
From Santa Marta take the bus from the corner of Calle 11 with Carrera 11. It leaves about every half hour and costs C$5,000. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the park entrance, it is about one hour and can't be missed. From the park entrance it is another 4 kilometres to Cañaveral. You can either walk, take a van for C$2,000 or try to hitch a ride. From the entrace to Arecifes is all in all a walk of about 1.5 hours, but you can see monkeys and other wildlife along the way if you walk.
A taxi from Santa Marta might be an alternative for groups of 3 or 4 persons.
With a large number of people it might work out cheaper to rent a boat from Santa Marta or Taganga. You get dropped off at one of the park's beaches and this way you avoid the entrance fee.
There are a few camping areas in front of the park entrance that charge approximately C$3,000 per tent. This is an alternative in case you cannot get into the park the same day of your arrival.
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The entrance fee is 35,000 COP for foreigners, 13,000 COP for Colombian citizens and 7,000 COP for students (you must bring student ID AND copy of passport to prove you are 25 or under) and children from the age of 5 to 12. Bags and personal belongings are checked at the park entrances.
Take lots of food and water with you, it's incredibly expensive inside the park compared to Colombian standards. For example a can of coke costs 3,000 COP, a beer 3,000 COP and a 5 liter bottle is 7,000 COP, although prices do vary from site to site (Cabo is a bit cheaper, Arecifes a bit more expensive since many more people stay there).
A jeep / vehicle can be caught from El Zaino entrance which will take you to the start of the walk / hiking trail. Mules / Donkeys can be hired to transport you and your lugagge to Arrecifes, but are mostly used for transporting groceries (fruit, food, drink and water) to the local restaurants in the park. The walk / hike to Arrecifes is about 45mins - 1 hour, depending on how much you stop to observe the local fauna and flora. It is recommended that hiking boots / trainers are worn for the duration of this walk, as it can get really muddy and slippery during the rainy season.
The walk / hike from Arrecifes to La Piscina is about 15 - 20 mins, the majority of the walk is along the beach and sea edge with some palm forested areas. The walk / hike from La Piscina to El Cabo is another 5 - 10 mins, but well worth it once you arrive.
A 3-5 hour uphill walk from El Cabo is El Pueblito. An archaeological site similar to Ciudad Perdida only much smaller in size. (11°19'0.92"N, 73°58'43.38"W)
From Arrecifes (11°18'51.23"N, 73°56'58.24"W), there is a 15 minute walk to the lagoon known as La Piscina (11°19'26.82"N, 73°57'33.01"W). A reef in front of the coast forms a natural swimming pool. It is safe to swim here.
Snorkeling at El Cabo is also a great pastime, provided the visibility is good. A variety of marine life including tropical fish can be seen nearer the rocks and on the reef further out into the ocean. It is recommended to bring one's own snorkeling gear.
Around El Cabo there are a number of gorgeous beaches within easy walking distance. Hanging out and being a beach bum for the day is advisable. There are also many trails to hike around Cabo, including up to the ruins of El Pueblito (an ~2-3 hour hike, lots of uphill).
Food in Tayrona is much more expensive than other places in Colombia. An average meal in the park can run between $10-25. A seafood centric menu, the costs of transporting ingredients to the park and marking up for tourists means eating on the beach ain't cheap.
Travelers can get food from the different native or local restaurants present in Arrecife, El Cabo and La Piscina. There is a variety of sea food, such as the tropical fish plate with rice and salad. Seafood dishes are also usually served with pataconés (fried plantain). Similar to bananas, plantains are usually firmer and not as sweet, with a neutral flavour like a potato. They are usually cut, fried and smashed into small pancake shapes, when they are fried again and served with food or as a snack on their own.
The local restaurants have a varied menu which includes breakfasts (with scrambled egg as the basis) seafood, meat (particularly steak and chicken), chips (papas fritas) and pastas. It is advisable to get in early, to avoid the disappoinment of being told the restaurant is out of the meal you requested. Meals are ordered and paid for before receipt.
The restaurant at Arrecifes sells delicious freshly squeezed juices. Try a fruit juice mix of 'lulo' (a fleshy yellow fruit indigenous to the Carribbean coast)and banana or maracuya (a local brand of grenadilla or passion fruit). Jenna On the hike from the entrance to Arreifes, there is a campsite just before you reach Arrecifes. Here they do fantastic bread with chocolate or dulce de leche (caramel) baked in and it only costs 2,000 COP
At Cañaveral there are the famous Ecohabs , luxury accommodation in small or big Huts from C$440,000/night/double occupation including taxes and breakfast.
From Cañaveral it's a 45 minute walk to Arrecifes. There are some restaurants and places to sleep here: the Aviatur place and two or three independently run.
From Cañaveral you can also go in the opposite direction, and instead of the ecohabs you will arrive to the beach of CastilletesCabana Tayrona, which is a beach without any crowds and you get a nice ensuite room for 60'000 per person.
A hammock costs C$6,000 per night and a cabaña for 2 costs C$100,000 (Finca Paraiso) or C$300,000 (Aviatur).
At the Aviatur camp site, price is C$11,000 p.P. (small kids free), renting a tent incl. 2 mats is C$15,000.
Another 30 minute walk is El Cabo. One of the most popular spots to stay the night. There are hammocks for rent (C$20.000 - C$22000, depending on whether its tourist season) and a camping area. There is also a restaurant, serving expensive but safe and tasty food. There is only electricity few hours a day and the bathrooms are basic. At night it might get busy which takes away the place charm, but at daytime you find most beaches almost deserted.
Las Pleyades offers also accommodation options outside the Tayrona National park at lower prices, but not more than 10 minutes by bus or car from the main entrance of Cañaveral or Pueblito in Calabazo.
One of the tourist's favourite cabanas next to the Tayrona Park is Finca Barlovento, with an amazing setting between the river and the Sea.
It is prohibited to swim in the sea near Arrecifes due to the danger of strong riptides.