The Ultimate Guide to Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia

by Stephanie Walsh on August 11, 2012 · 46 comments

in Colombia, South America, Travels

Camping in Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia

Top Tips for Getting There, Saving Money, Camping and Making the Most of a Trip to Tayrona National Natural Park, Santa Marta, Colombia.

 
Welcome to ‘The Ultimate Guide to Tayrona National Natural Park‘. This is a fairly extensive and detailed post designed for those people who are planning a trip to Tayrona National Natural Park in Santa Marta, Colombia. We visited Tayrona in January 2012 and it has been one of the most beautiful and memorable places we have been on our travels around South America so far. There is really to consider when planning a camping trip to Tayrona. It is a fairly remote location so knowing how long you intend to stay, what you want to do while there and how much money to bring is crucial to your stress-free enjoyment of this incredible ecological destination along the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. This post should give you plenty of details about Tayrona so you know how to get there, how to save money while there, where to camp, what to do, what to bring, what not to bring and more!

Cabo San Juan de Guía, Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Cabo San Juan de Guía, Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Getting To Tayrona

From Santa Marta: From the mercado de Santa Marta, you can get a bus that will take you to the entrance of the Tayrona park for the equivalent of about $1-2 USD. If you get a taxi there, just ask them to take you to the mercado where the Tayrona buses depart. You will know you’re in the right place when you hear the bus workers shouting “Tayrona, Tayrona Tayrona”. Besides they will probably spot you long before you spot them, especially if you have any gear with you.

From The Park Entrance: Once dropped at the entrance, and after you have bought your ticket, I advise you get another bus (especially if you have heavy bags as its at least an hours additional walk) that will take you much deeper into the jungle. These buses are easy to find, about 20 metres from the entrance of the park. They take you to the furthest point that cars can go. Here is where one of the campsites is situated, close to Cañaveral beach. As Cañaveral is where the ecohabs are located, the surrounding facilities like restaurants tends to be expensive. The cost of the ecochabs are ridiculously expensive, ranging from $550,000 ( ($307 USD / 250 Euro) to $646,000 COP ($360 USD / 290 Euro) per night! Luckily for us mere budget backpackers, there are plenty of other options. 

So with that in mind, head to Cabo San Juan del Guia or Arrecifes beach where there are great camping sites.

Getting To The Campsites: Next…GET A HORSE…”what?! A horse?”, you ask. You’ll thank me later (hopefully). If you have heavy bags at all I cannot stress enough how valuable getting a horse is. There are two options for getting to Cabo San Juan or Arrecifes beach….walk it or ‘horse it’.

Loading up the horses for the 1.5 hour journey to the campsite in Tayrona

Loading up the horses for the 1.5 hour journey to the campsite

Getting to Tayrona is not simply a matter of showing up and entering. It took us two hours, through jungle, dirt tracks, rivers and up steep rocks to reach Cabo San Juan, the beach where we wanted to camp. On top of that we were carrying everything we owned, plus our camping gear, on our backs. So we rented a horse for about $32,000 COP ($18 USD / 15 Euro) to carry our things while we  chose to walk alongside the horse and our guide through the jungle. There’s no way we could have carried our backpacks, around 10 litres of water and our camping gear for 2 hours through the sweltering heat without those amazing horses! If you don’t have that much gear, you can skip the horses to save money but it is a fairly difficult and long trek.

On the way to the campsite and beach with our hired horses in Tayrona

On the way to the campsite and beach with our hired horses in Tayrona

Arrive Early: Another important thing to remember if you are planning on staying at Cabo San Juan or Arrecifes beach is to arrive as much before 3pm as possible. The Colombia sun is an unchanging reminder that you are almost in the equator as it sets and rises at the same time all year around. For someone who comes from a place where its dark by 4pm in Winter and 11pm in Summer, this was weird for me but the reliability of it means you always know its around 6:30pm in Colombia when the sun is setting.

A horse taking a break during the journey

A horse taking a break during the journey

With this in mind, and bearing in mind that it takes from 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the Cabo San Juan campsite from the point of Cañaveral (the place where you rent the horses and begin your walk), lots of the guides will not take you if you arrive after 3pm as the park closes at 5. We learned this the hard way. Understandably so, I wouldn’t want to be roaming around jungle, rivers and steep rocky mountains with a horse in the pitch black either.

 

Prices and Fees for Tayrona

The main complaint many people have about Parque Tayrona is that it is very expensive as you will see from the below cost breakdown. The accommodation, restaurants and entrance fee, all cost far more than the Colombian standards. However if you are prepared it doesn’t have to be very expensive. If you follow the tips in this post, a trip to Tayrona can also be an extremely cheap way to spend a few days in one of the most beautiful natural places in South America.

Entrance Fee: The entrance to the park is $35,000 COP ($20 USD / 16 Euro) for foreigners and $13,000 COP ($7 USD / 6 Euro) for local Colombians…a significant difference. Naturally it makes sense to spend a few days in Tayrona…the more the better, as it will justify the expensive entrance fee!

Accommodation Fee: Camping in Tayrona (with your own tent) is the cheapest option, costing $15,000 per person per night regardless of whether you are sharing the same tent or not. Renting a hammock costs between $15,000 COP ($8 USD / 6 Euro) and $20,000 COP ($11 USD / 9 Euro) depending on the season and location. Renting a 2 person tent costs $50,000 COP ($28 USD / 22 Euro) but they are not as nice and often of poor quality.

Our tent lit up at night in Tayrona

Our amazing REI tent lit up at night in Tayrona

Food Costs: Eating in the restaurants in Tayrona is very expensive and the food is not great. However, there are some great little places scattered through the park selling traditional Colombian food such as ‘arepas con huevos’, ceviche and freshly squeezed orange juice for a moderate price. A 1.5 litre bottle of water costs about $5,000 COP ($2.80 USD / 2.30Euro).

 

Where To Camp in Tayrona

There are a few options when it comes to accommodation in Tayrona National Park. We brought our own tent and camped at Cabo San Juan campsite, with a view of the amazing beach. We would recommend this campsite as the best but also the busiest with most people choosing to camp here due to the spectacular beaches so close to the campsite.

Setting up our tent in the busy Cabo San Juan campsite of Tayrona

Setting up our tent in the busy Cabo San Juan campsite of Tayrona

If you don’t want to carry a tent, or don’t own one there are plenty of other options:

  • Rent a Tent
  • Rent a Hammock
  • Rent an Eco-Hab
Hammocks are available for rent if you don't want to camp in Tayrona

Hammocks are available for rent if you don't want to camp in Tayrona

The main camping areas are: CañaveralBukaru, and Cabo San Juan del Guia. All of these campsites have food and sanitary facilities.

 

Cañaveral is the campsite that is first reached when you enter the park. It is reachable by car and it situated close to the ecohabs and a nice beach.

 

Bukaru is the next campsite and beach you reach when you start the 1.5 – 2 hour hike through the jungle. Bukaru campsite is much quieter than Cabo San Juan, however the beach is strictly off bounds for swimming. Please do not ignore the signs. The currents are extremely strong and dangerous and have claimed many lives of visitors to the park, including the life of a man while we were in Tayrona. Arrecifes beach is beautiful and very long, with fantastic views of the jungle and mountains behind it. There are other nearby beaches where swimming is allowed.
 
Bukaru campsite in Tayrona

Bukaru campsite in Tayrona

Cabo San Juan del Guia is the most popular beach and campsite. The campsite is located directly opposite two beaches, split in two by a jutting formation of rock between them. On top of the rocks lies a wooden beach-house which contains a two rooms for rent ann an area of hammocks which can be individually rented also. Cabo San Juan has a restaurant and a small store with limited selection of products. The showers are outdoor, open and unisex and the toilet facilities are basic and almost always have a queue in the high-season.
 
Cabo San Juan campsite, surrounded by palm trees and mountains

Cabo San Juan campsite, surrounded by palm trees and mountains

La Piscina is another beautiful beach, used mostly for swimming and snorkelling. There is no campsite located at this beach.
 
Map of Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia

Map of Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia

What To Bring to Tayrona

Water: Bring water…lots of water. Despite being surrounded by beautiful clean water, you’d be surprised how much it costs to buy water inside the grounds of Tayrona National Park. Allow for more than you would normally drink (in case you decide to stay longer, which I imagine will happen). Despite not being on an island, Tayrona gets its supplies for the camp shop from a boat that transports a limited amount of goods to each camp on a daily basis. Therefore, water is very expensive in Tayrona so if you want to keep to a low budget, avoid buying your water there. Instead make the extra effort to bring your own. You can buy 5 liters of water in Santa Marta for less than 1.5 liters of water inside Parque Tayrona. Ridiculous! Plus, the fact that you will probably drink about 2 litres of water a day in the heat means you will be spending a lot of money on water if you buy it at the park.
Important Note: You can’t bring plastic bags into the park so make sure to transfer those bags of water (which are very common in Colombia) into large plastic bottles WITH HANDLES before you enter the park, and please dispose of the plastic bags properly!

Food: Bring lots of camping food such as canned tuna, veg etc. Eating in the restaurant in Tayrona is super expensive and not great either. You will save a ton of money by being prepared and having picnics on any beach you want.

Light: Bring lamps/headlamps for the nighttime…you’ll be glad you had them when they saved you from tripping over the ropes of someones tent. Spare batteries might also be a good idea in case you decide to extend your stay. The electricity in Tayrona is limited. After a certain time (around 10 or 11 PM ) they electricity goes out. You are going to be glad you had those headlamps when you have to take a midnight trip to the toilets! There are areas where you can charge your phone and other electronics, usually located in the camp restaurant. Phone coverage is limited, but we found that the carriers Movistar and Comcel reach the campsite but just for phone calls. Naturally, there is no internet!

Toiletries Bring lots of sun cream and insect repellent…you are in a tropical jungle by the sea after all! Bad sun-burn and mosquito bites can ruin a trip. Make sure to also bring plenty of toilet roll as it is not provided in the public toilets.

Footwear: Bring good shoes, preferably hiking boots for the trek to the campsite and if you want to visit the ancient ruins of the town Pueblito which is a 2-3 hour steep hike up a rocky mountain. Flip-flops aren’t just for the beach…don’t forget to use them in the communal showers also for hygiene purposes.

On the hike to Pueblito in Tayrona

On the hike to Pueblito in Tayrona

Camera: Essential. You’ll want to remember this place.

Good Book/Kindle: Tayrona is a place to relax and unwind and not do much more than sit on the beach all day and then go sit on another beach all day. We got a lot of reading done in our 7 night stay in Tayrona.

Not a bad view…

Not a bad view…

Entertainment: The beauty of Tayrona is that you are going back to basics, with limited electricity, limited phone coverage, no internet or TV and completely cut off from the rest of the world. So you might want to bring something to entertain yourself during the days and nights, if you get bored of the beach. Playing cards were popular when we were there and are a great way to meet other travelers and create big group games. Of course, there is always the token guitar guy in these type of places to provide entertainment whenever you travel!

 

What Not To Bring to Tayrona

Too Much Clothes: You’re going to spend most of the time in your swimming gear anyway, save yourself the extra weight.

Plastic Bags: I mentioned this above, but the park does not allow you to enter with plastic bags. Make sure to transfer any water you have in plastic bags into plastic bottles before entering as the park security checks your bags at the entrance.

Alcohol: Don’t bother wasting your money and energy dragging a 12-pack of beer to the park, only for it to be refused at the entrance. Bringing alcohol to Tayrona is not allowed but don’t worry there is a plentiful supply available at the small stores in each camp. A beer costs around $5,000 COP ($2.80 USD / 2.30 Euro), so it is much more expensive than Colombian standards again.

Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona

Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona

 

What To Do in Tayrona

Hiking: The ruins of a small ancient town, known as ‘Pueblito’ (Little Town, ironically) is situated on top of the mountain behind the Cabo San Juan campsite. The entrance to the mountain is from the back of Cabo San Juan (beside the showers) and the hike takes about 2-3 hours up steep rocky paths where you will eventually find the small town at the top. The town is seen as a much smaller version of The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida), another, longer and more strenuous hike available from Santa Marta. This hike is definitely about the journey and not the destination as there is not much to see at the top. It’s probably worth it for the exercise though after a few days of lying around on the beach.

A small indigenous hut in Pueblito on top of the mountain, Tayrona

A small indigenous hut in Pueblito on top of the mountain, Tayrona

Snorkeling:  There are a few snorkeling options in Parque Tayrona. La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan both offer great spots for snorkeling, where you can explore the unique and protected coral of the Caribbean coast. Prices for renting snorkeling gear varies from vendor to vendor but you can often bargain for a good deal in the low season. A good option is to buy cheaper snorkel and goggles in Santa Marta before you arrive and bring it with you as they are expensive to rent in Tayrona.

Swimming: Of course, what else would you do when traveling to some of the best beaches in South America? Make sure to explore all of the many beaches as they all have different characteristics and swimming/sunbathing experiences. Make sure you do NOT swim in Arrecifes beach as it has extremely dangerous under-currents and is off-bounds for swimmers.

Views of the coastline of Tayrona

Views of the coastline of Tayrona

Nightly Music Entertainment: In the Cabo San Juan campsite, local musicians from the area would plat traditional ‘vallenato’ music for the tourists. The music and atmosphere at this is great but it doesn’t last long unless encouraged from the crowd. Of course, they are playing for tips, so give them something if you enjoyed the music. Another great reason to stay at the Cabo San Juan campsite!

Star-Gaze: The lack of lights in Tayrona at night means that, on a cloud-free night, the skies are spectacularly lit up with stars. Watch the moon gradually sink over the horizon out at sea and then gaze as the stars become brighter and brighter as the night goes on.

And Finally…Take a Deep Breath and Relax!

You’ve made it. Now go sit on your ass and enjoy life in paradise. :)

Views of Cabo San Juan de Guía beach, Tayrona

Views of Cabo San Juan de Guía beach, Tayrona

 

For pictures and stories from Tayrona, check out this post, our Facebook album or our Flickr set.

I hope that this post has been helpful for anyone planning a trip to Tayrona. If you have anymore questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments below. Likewise, if you’re back from a trip to Tayrona, I would also love to know what you thought of it!
 

 
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