Santa Marta is an ideal base for a Colombia vacation. Santa Marta is a city with a good selection of restaurants, shops and museums, and is a great jumping off point for Colombian adventures, and we are taking part. From Santa Marta, we took a day trip to Parque Tayrona.
What is Parque Tayrona?
Parque Tayrona, or Tayrona Park, is a large protected area on the Caribbean coastline in northern Colombia. Just over an hour drive from Santa Marta, it covers 150 square kilometers of rainforest, coastal lagoons, archaeological sites, and remote beaches.
I read about the park the first time I came to Colombia, and never made it there. This time, with the proximity to Santa Marta, I made sure we went to Parque Tayrona.
Getting to Parque Tayrona
We rented a car for two days: one for shopping in Baranquilla , and second for a day trip to Parque Tayrona. We got a pretty good deal on the car rental which came to about $25 a day including car wash. Yes, you have to return cars here washed like you have to return them with full gas tanks.
If you don’t have a car, there are all sorts of tours from Santa Marta to Tayrona, and a public bus which goes from the central bus area in town. There’s only one road that goes north from Santa Marta so you can’t miss the park, although you could miss the entrances. Aside from the main, furthest one, we didn’t see the other entrances along the way.
Arrival at Parque Tayrona
We drove all the way to the main entrance of Parque Tayrona, El Zaino, because supposedly it is the easier way to get to the park highlights: Pueblito and the Beach of Cabo San Juan.
Entry to Parque Tayrona
Once you arrive at the park, you have to pay entry in two different places. We paid a small fee at the outside booth which was some kind of insurance fee, and then, closer to the entrance we paid for each of us to drive into the park. Don’t quote me on this, but I think it came to somewhere around $45 USD altogether. We had to wear a bracelet showing we paid, although I have no idea how you could sneak into the park unless you are a ninja.
You pay by the day and some people choose to stay at one of the campsites, hotels, or hostels in the park. We were making a day trip to Parque Tayrona, and keep in mind if you stay in the park, you have to hike with your bag to the accommodation. We saw people dragging wheeled bags uphill through dirt and sand. If you’re staying a couple days it would be worth it, but not for one night in my opinion.
Hiking in Parque Tayrona
I read there was a hike to Pueblito, a cool archaeological site, and then to the beach. That was our plan for the day, but our plan was quickly dashed in the parking lot when a guide told us Pueblito was closed. I didn’t want to risk starting a 3 hour hike and finding him correct, so we gave up on that idea and decided to hike to the beach.
I like hiking, but this is a lot of work to get to a beach! The hike was through jungles, up and down a lot of hills, and then through sand and more sand. We got a workout in the Caribbean sun, and we also got to see some gorgeous scenery.
It took us two hours to get to a beach where we could bathe. There is a lot of coastline, but all the beaches were marked unsafe. Riptides don’t sound cool, so we avoided getting into the water until it was safe.
Finally, The Beach
Once we got to the beach, we could buy a beer, get in the water and relax.
It was a hot sunny day so getting in the ocean felt fantastic. The Caribbean water can be very refreshing this time of year.
You may be wondering about my outfit, as in, why I am wearing long pants in 30 degree weather? We were warned about mosquitos in the jungle so dressed appropriately. I also wore sneakers. The long pants did protect us from mosquitos, which we never saw, but that could be because we had bug spray and long pants on. The sneakers worked most of the time, when we hiked up hills and in mud and dirt in the jungle, but not so well on the sand. I don’t know what the ideal shoe is for hiking Parque Tayrona because it is so diverse.
After refreshing ourselves, we split a huge and delicious ceviche and relaxed for a bit before the hike back.
Other Things to Do On a Day Trip to Parque Tayrona
Hiking is the main activity in Parque Tayrona, because you have to hike to get anywhere. We did see men leading horses, and a couple of people riding them, so you can hire horses to take you where you want to go. I highly doubt it would be faster or more comfortable though unless you have problems that prevent you from hiking. Then you should look into the horse ride.
Along the hike, you might see monkeys – we did! We saw monkeys very early in the hike, in a wooded rainforest area. They were small and quite high in the trees, so the best way to spot them was to look for movement.
Other Things to Know About Parque Tayrona
You can buy food, juices, and beer in different places along the way. There are different levels of restaurant from hawkers with stands serving empanadas and ceviches, and bigger plates with fish and rice. Or you can opt to sit down at a full-service restaurant.
Supposedly you are not allowed to bring alcohol into the park even if you are staying overnight. I didn’t see anyone checking bags but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Definitely bring water with you. We each had a 1 liter bottle and drank all of it.
They say that nothing worth having comes easy, and that is true for the day trip to Parque Tayrona. We may not have done what we planned, but the journey is the point and it was a fun day! I’ll post about more of our Colombian adventures soon.