Tayrona National Park: Much More Than Beautiful Beaches

Tayrona National Park: Much More Than Beautiful Beaches

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Tayrona National Park, or Parque Nacional Tayrona as its called in Spanish, should be on any Colombian itinerary.  The protected area on Colombia’s northern coast spans 150 km2 of land, and 30km2 of ocean, providing lush forest, glorious coastline and pre-Hispanic history to explore.  Obviously, the beaches are stunning, but there is more to Tayrona than just the beaches, and I’d recommend at least a two-night stay to make the most of your time here.  And definitely stay overnight, to see a sunrise like the one above!

The Path to Tayrona Park
The Path to Tayrona Park

More than Just Beaches: The Hike Through Tayrona Park

Any trip to Tayrona begins with a rather sweaty, but interesting hike.  I am not a fast walker, and we took our time, enjoying the changing scenery and occasional glimpses of the shimmering blue sea!

The first part of the hike is up and down, sometimes walking along wooden footpaths, and sometimes clambering over rocks, as you make your way through the forest.  The path then levels out and is mostly shaded through the forests of palms and mysterious tunnels through mangroves.  Be sure to set out early though, as the heat and humidity remains, despite the shade!

One of the highlights of the hike for me was just before the Arrecifes camp, when we came across a Kogi man selling freshly squeezed orange juice which was one of the  best juices I have ever had!!  Tart, but cold and much needed after our hike.

Enjoy Parque Tayrona
Enjoy Parque Tayrona’s beaches: Cabo San Juan

Tayrona National Park: Explore the Beaches

I know I said Tayrona Park is more than beaches, but the beaches really are incredible!  Most people (myself included) tend to head straight to Cabo San Juan, and stay there.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but variety is the spice of life as they say, so take time to explore the other beaches and coves too.  Take heed of the signs, as some beaches aren’t suitable for swimming, but La Piscina is perfect for bathing, and you can join a tour for snorkelling here too.  It is also worth walking further along the coast from Cabo San Juan to enjoy quieter beaches, just watch for coconuts dropping from the palms above!

Beaches in Parque Nacional Tayrona National Park Colombia
Glorious Beaches in Parque Tayrona

Parque Nacional Tayrona: Get Back to Nature

There is still a special kind of magic in Tayrona, when you can find a quiet spot away from the other people, and re-connect with nature.  Gaze out to sea and watch the seagulls floating on the warm air, or a pelican diving for a meal amid the waves.  Or venture into the forest to hear the rustle of leaves as lizards scurry for cover, or the distant ghoulish cries of howler monkeys.

Close to the camp at Cabo San Juan you may also spot endangered cotton-top tamarins if you’re lucky, which sometimes can be seen from the path heading to El Pueblito.  During my time in the park, my friend & I saw a frog, a giant millipede, butterflies and a bat, as well as plenty of birds.  Watch the ocean long enough and you will catch a glimpse of fishes leaping out of the water; if you look hard enough there is plenty to see here!

Cotton-Top Tamarin in Parque Tayrona Park
Cotton-Top Tamarin in Tayrona Park.  photo credit: Jen Mulcaster

The Spiritual Side of Parque Tayrona

The Kogi people are descendants of the Tayrona, the indigenous inhabitants of this area.  The Kogi own the Park land, and tolerate the tourists, some offering orange juice, fresh coconuts or woven bags for sale.  We saw several Kogis during our stay in Tayrona, although they avoid the beaches you will often see them on the paths in the park. They have their distinctive traditional dress of a white tunic and trousers, wellies, and a hand-woven satchel.  All of them have long hair, usually tied back in a pony tail, and beautiful brown skin.

Tayrona park is often closed for a month every year, to allow the land to recover and to cleanse the park of the tourists’ negative spirits.  Unfortunately, as Parque Tayrona has gained in popularity over the last few years, the constant flow of tourists has left its mark on the land, and the sea.  It was less built up than I had expected, after witnessing the carnage at Playa Blanca with rows of restaurants and plastic seating and the inevitable build up of rubbish.  I was pleasantly surprised here, and I hope it stays this way, although there was still interference of humans visible everywhere – little bits of rubbish, and empty coconuts, but seemingly relatively low impact.  Although I don’t like to think of where the sewage goes!  Be careful to take all your rubbish with you, and leave the park as you would hope to find it.

Kogi Houses in Parque Nacional Tayrona National Park
Kogi Houses in Parque Nacional Tayrona

Culture & History in Tayrona Park: El Pueblito

El Pueblito is a Kogi settlement in the middle of the forest in Tayrona National Park.  It isn’t an easy hike, and although the trail is signed I still managed to get lost – if you feel like you may have strayed off the path you probably have, so go back and try again!   The trail starts of from the campsite at Cabo, along a flat path where plenty of colourful lizards play along the path.

The trail then enters the jungle, climbing upwards on stone ‘steps’ forming the path.  Soon you will be clambering over rocks, which is not the best idea to attempt alone unless you are suitably nimble – there were two of us and we needed to push each other up in places!  There is plenty of flora and fauna to be found along the path, and the screeches of howler monkeys could also be heard deeper in the forest, especially when we accidentally strayed off the path.

Terraces in Pueblito, Parque Tayrona Park
Terraces in Pueblito, Tayrona National Park

Unfortunately, our little detour added an extra hour onto our journey, and we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Pueblito.  I admit I was a little underwhelmed – do not expect Machu Picchu style ruins.  Instead you will find some terraces, and remains of circular houses, and steps leading to more of the same.  There are still houses where the Kogi people live, although they ask that you don’t take photographs.

For those who don’t have time in their itinerary for the Ciudad Perdida Trek from Santa Marta, this hike is a taster of what you can expect there.  It would have been more enjoyable for us had we not got lost, but if you have already been to Ciudad Perdida I wouldn’t recommend hiking to Pueblito unless you love walking in the jungle.

I spent 2 days and 2 nights in Parque Tayrona, and it really wasn’t enough – I would have loved an extra day!  The great news is that once you have paid for entry in the park you can stay as long as you like; just pay for your hammock, and enjoy!  Don’t forget to explore the rest of the park, not just the beaches.

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24 thoughts on “Tayrona National Park: Much More Than Beautiful Beaches

  1. Wow the beaches here look amazing. Your line about the dropping coconuts really made me laugh because that’s 100% something that would happen to me. “cause of death: fallen coconut” hahah. Sorry to hear the ruins were a bit underwhelming, but it still seems like you had a great trip!

  2. I loved my stay at Tayrona, and I agree, you definitely need to spend at least two nights, although it can get a pricey for a backpacker on a budget! When I was there, there was a bakery in the middle of the jungle that had the most amazing chocolate bread, any chance you saw it?

    1. Ooh I didn’t go to the bakery but I’m pretty sure the lady on the beach with the box full of bread was from there – I had a chocolate bread from her and it was delish!

  3. Sounds like an amazing place to visit and yes the beaches look great. The wildlife also sounds like a treat to witness along the way. I could imagine with the high humidity the OJ would taste amazing

    1. Uff Colombia is so much more than Narcos – I hope you get to visit & see the beaches, countryside & meet the awesome people too – you will love it for sure!!

  4. Wow, sure is a beautiful area and I love the fact that they close it for a month each year to let the land recover. The park would be especially interesting with the variety of wildlife there is to see. Sounds like a great idea for a vacation destination. Nice post.

    1. It is incredible, and I was lucky to go there just after it had re-opened – it is a good idea for them to close it but some backpackers missed out on going unfortunately because of that.

  5. That Tamarin is gorgeous, as are the beaches! Reminds me of Costa Rica. I’m keen beans to head further south when I head back to that part of the world…

  6. Sounds like this hike is quite the adventure. I am not an experienced hiker, so this one may be a bit tough for me. It’s great that Tayrona Park is closed for a month every year for recovery. Do they tell you in advance which month of the year that is?

    1. I don’t think they gave much notice this time, and actually researching a bit more I’m still not sure if it is every year or if that was a one-off. At least if you’re not keen on hiking you can borrow a horse 😀

  7. Tayrona National Park looks amazing. The beaches are of course beautiful, but what really appeals to me is hiking through the national park and seeing some of the local wildlife. I absolutely love Howler Monkeys, so it would be amazing to see some one day in the wild. The Cotton_top Tamarin is so cute!!

  8. Hi Claire,

    Loving that tamarin! I have to agree with Carrick too; big-time Billy Idol impersonator here. Or maybe BI impersonates tamarins since they were around first. I love the wildlife aspect of these spots, even though I’m a sucker for gorgeous beaches. Seeing these lovely animals makes my heart sing.

    Awesome pics!

    Ryan

    1. Haha yeah maybe he took his inspiration from their funky hair do 😀 The great thing about Tayrona is the combination of beaches & nature, such a special place!

  9. Hi Claire!

    Great post. We are working on visiting lots of US National Parks this year so this is right up our alley. I love the Tamarin up in the tree – reminds me of Billy Idol (chuckle). Peru and Machu Picchu is our next big adventure in March, so I’ll definitely be checking out the site for some inspiration and things to do!

    Safe travels

    -Carrick

    1. I love National Parks, they’re so important to preserve the incredible nature we have – all over the world! Machu Picchu is still one of my highlights of South America, get there for sunrise if you can!! There’s plenty of other posts on Peru too, if you need any specific tips just let me know! 😀

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