Tayrona National Park, or Parque Nacional Tayrona as it’s called in Spanish, is on the northern coast of Colombia, enjoying the heavenly warm seas of the Caribbean. In this practical guide to Tayrona National Park you’ll see how to get there, how the hike to the camps is, what to take & where to camp in Parque Tayrona. Tayrona is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, don’t miss it!
How to Get to Tayrona National Park
Santa Marta or Palomino make great bases to stay before and after your visit to Tayrona. I chose to stay in Santa Marta beforehand so I could leave my big rucksack there and travel to Tayrona with my small day pack, which is a great idea if you are backpacking. If at all possible, try not to take all your stuff with you, as hiking for 2 hours with 25kg of luggage is no-one’s idea of fun.
We stayed in the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta, which was awesome. They run one or two daily shuttles, depending on demand, that go direct from the hostel to the entrance of the park. Or you can take the public bus, which runs frequently between Santa Marta and Palomino, just ask the driver to stop at the El Zaíno entrance of the park. Go early during the day if you can, to avoid hiking in the midday sun, and to have plenty of time for a swim!
The shuttle bus from the Dreamer Hostel took around 45 minutes to an hour to arrive get to the Tayrona National Park entrance. At the entrance there are places to go to the bathroom (1000 pesos) or, if you can wait a while, they are free inside the park once you get to Arrecifes. You can also buy snacks, drinks and snorkelling gear at an elevated price but still cheaper than inside the park.
If you started your journey in Santa Marta, and want to continue on from Tayrona to Palomino you can flag down the public bus, or take an (overpriced) taxi.
Tayrona National Park Tickets
In peak season, including January, it is recommended to buy Tayrona National Park tickets in advance, as there are a limited number of people allowed inside the park. The only site I could find to buy Tayrona National Park tickets online was this one: http://www.parquetayrona.com.co/ . It is in Spanish but you should be ok with Google Translate, you simply select the zone (Taquilla Zaino is the usual entrance where we went in), the number of people and the date required. Print off your PDF tickets and take them with you on the day you chose.
In low season, you should be fine to buy tickets at the entrance, but get there as early as you can. Before buying your entry ticket, everyone has to watch a video about the Park (in Spanish with English subtitles), then the attendant will give you a voucher to allow you to purchase your ticket. The entrance fee is much higher for foreigners than it is for Colombians (I paid $42,000 pesos) and once you are inside the park you can stay as long as you like – but if you exit the park you will have to pay the entrance fee again to return.
After buying your ticket, guards at the entrance will search your bags – for alcohol and drugs which are both prohibited inside Tayrona National Park. There is beer available inside the park if you can’t bear an alcohol free stay, and obviously, drugs are illegal here as they are in the rest of Colombia so don’t bother!
The colectivo ride from the entrance to the beginning of the hike is definitely worth it for $3000 pesos, but after that, there are no more roads, so you have to continue on foot or hire a horse to ride. If you have a lot of camping gear you can also hire the horse to carry that for you! They cost $40,000 to Cabo San Juan, $30,000 to La Piscina or $20,000 to Arrecifes.
The Tayrona National Park Hike to the Camps
Be prepared to sweat! The hike is pleasant, but it gets hot and humid. The first camping point you come to are the ‘lodges’ which are expensive, and not near the beach. Arrecifes is next, which has camping, tents and hammocks to sleep in, which took us about an hour to get to. This part of the hike is up and down, some climbing over rocks, some walking along wooden footpaths. After Arrecifes the path evens out into a flat, sometimes sandy, path which is mostly shaded by the forests of palms and tunnels through mangroves.
One of the highlights of the Tayrona National Park hike for me was just before the Arrecifes camp when we came across a Kogi man selling freshly squeezed orange juice – best juice ever!! Tart, but cold and much needed after our hike.
Where to Camp in Tayrona National Park
You can camp at Arrecifes but beaches aren’t fit for swimming due to dangerous currents. There is a sign warning of the dangers, and confirming that more than 100 tourists have drowned there – don’t become another statistic. Better options come later, so I’d advise you to continue your hike!
Another 20 minutes’ hike later you will reach La Piscina. Translated as the Swimming Pool, as the name suggests you can swim here, grab some snacks and drinks, and even take a snorkelling tour. Keep going and, eventually, you will reach Cabo San Juan, which has the prettiest beaches, and is the most popular campsite. Here there are tents and hammocks to rent, or you can bring your own tent for camping.
When we arrived we were told we could only check in at 1.30pm, so prepare to queue in busy times. The best hammocks, up in the hut overlooking the beach are $25,000 a night, but these go first, and are often full with people staying for 2 nights. Normal hammocks in the ‘cow shed’ shelter in the middle of camp are $20,000 a night, and hiring a 2-man tent is $25,000 per person. The tents get very hot very quickly, and have dubious mattresses inside – I’d say the hammocks were the best option but there are no mosquito nets provided, so I’d recommend bringing your own if you don’t want to feed the pesky mozzies. We stayed for 2 nights, the first night in the cow shed, then in the morning we asked to upgrade to the beach hut. Waking up to the sound of the waves and a gorgeous sunrise was definitely worth it!
Safety & Security in Tayrona National Park
The only safety issues I came across were strong currents on some of the beaches, and problems with thieves at night. Pay attention to the safety notices before you swim, and don’t risk getting swept away in the dangerous beaches. When you go to sleep at night, keep a small bag with you in your hammock, preferably strapped to you, to keep your valuables safe. Someone we met had left everything in a bag below his hammock, and someone sneaked off with his cash and camera while he was sleeping, so do watch your stuff carefully.
What To Bring to Tayrona Park
You will need your passport to register to enter the park, and to reserve your hammock spot. Obviously out here there isn’t any internet and no phone signal, so if you have a separate camera you may not need to bring your phone.
Bring plenty of water with you as it’s expensive to buy inside the park, or a bottle with a water filter like the LifeStraw. There are showers and taps to wash your hands & clean teeth so you can fill up your filter bottle here.
Snacks are a good option too. Food here is OK, better than I had expected actually. In the morning there was a lady walking around with a box of freshly baked pastries, and the on-site restaurant offers food for breakfast, lunch & dinner, and juices. The price for the food wasn’t bad considering the location – spaghetti and tomato sauce for $10k pesos, chicken or meat with rice $18-20k pesos, and fish and prawn dishes around $25k.
Essential items are toilet roll, sunscreen and insect repellent – and a padlock for the lockers. Check the lockers carefully as some on the top level have open tops, and others have holes in, so choose your locker wisely.
If you plan to take Tayrona National Park hike to Pueblito (the indigenous settlement), bring closed-toe shoes or walking boots with you. Otherwise comfortable sandals for the hike to the camp site and flip flops are all you need.
If you like snorkelling, bring your own mask if you can. It is possible to rent sets here, or buy them at the entrance (although I’m not sure about the quality!). There is also a snorkelling tour that goes from La Piscina where there is coral and tons of fish, and you might also see turtles and rays if you are lucky. I didn’t do that tour, but others recommended it.
Do Not Bring:
Pets, surfboards, alcohol, drugs, musical instruments. Dogs are not allowed inside Tayrona National Park.
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Getting Back from Tayrona National Park
You can choose to get a boat back from Cabo San Juan to Taganga near Santa Marta. To get the boat from Taganga to Cabo San Juan it costs $50k pesos, or $45k to go back. It takes about 50 minutes according to the ticket sellers, and they are hawking tickets from all day at the beach, so you will find them easily!
For hiking back to the El Zaíno entrance, the footpath is officially open from 8am to 5pm, so make sure you leave enough time to get back before dark.
I walked the flat part of the path back to Arrecifes, and we called at La Piscina for orange juice and arepas for sustinence! If you are going to Pueblito I recommend not going on the day that you have to hike back to the entrance – you will be tired! We made that mistake, and I got a horse the rest of the way back from Arrecifes to the entrance, to cut out the hardest bit of the path.
You can learn more about the hike to el Pueblito here.
From the entrance to the park, you can take a bus back to Santa Marta, or continue on to Palomino, further along the coast. We were so exhausted we took a taxi to Palomino, often there are drivers hanging around outside.
Visiting Cartagena? I prefer to travel independently, but if you are looking for tours, check out these options from GetYourGuide:
Have you been to Tayrona National Park? Do you have any other tips to share? I’d love to hear them!
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