Tayrona National Park

Cabo San Juan
Parque Tayrona
Parque Tayrona (photo: David Lee)

El Parque Natural Nacional de Tayrona on the Caribbean coast is one of the main attractions on the Colombian backpacker trail, and with good reason.

Located about 30 minutes outside of Santa Marta, one of the main towns on the coast, it provides a rare opportunity to get away from it all and escape to a tropical paradise for a few days.

Having National Park status since the 1970’s has protected Tayrona (the name comes from the local indigenous tribes who believed the area to be sacred) and here you’ll find none of the high-rise developments that are beginning to scar other areas of Colombia’s coastal regions.

Entrance to the park costs 34,000 COP for non-nationals and 12,000 COP for locals; from the main entrance a minibus will take you (for another 2,000 COP) to Canaveral where there is a campsite and some expensive eco-lodgings.

At this point, you find yourself in a jungle, surrounded by green on all sides, but not a beach in sight.

Arrecifes Beach
Arrecifes Beach (photo: David Lee)

For this, you have two options – hire a horse to take you and your stuff the 4km to the shore, or you put on your backpack, do your laces up, take a swig of water and walk.

It’s not a hard walk, but it can be a bit strenuous with a full load, and so it’s with great joy that you arrive at Arrecifes, the first beach you’ll come to.

If, at this point, you are expecting white sands, palm-fringed beaches and a crystal clear Caribbean, Arrecifes will be a disappointment.

The first sign you see warns you not to swim unless you wish to join the 200 people known to have drowned there; The Blue Lagoon this is not.

What it is, however, is one of the wildest and most beautiful beaches I’ve seen.

The sand is white and the backdrop is pure jungle and mountains rising high above.  The sea is littered with enormous house-sized boulders buffed glass-smooth over thousands of years by the water.

Once you pass Arrecifes (although you can stay there, either camping or in a hammock) the scenery becomes a little more as you were led to expect.

A 20-minute walk along the beach, scrambling over boulders, brings you to La Piscina, a long narrow beach protected from the worst of the waves by an offshore reef where it’s safe to swim and snorkel.

Cabo San Juan (photo: David Lee)
Cabo San Juan (photo: David Lee)

Another 20 minutes of walking, and you come to Cabo San Juan where there is a large campsite, restaurant and room for plenty of hammocks.

San Juan has two protected beaches of its own, on either side of a spit of land.

Beyond are two more, both larger, longer and wilder – the last one being a nudist beach and given its remoteness, you can return to Mother Nature and are unlikely to be disturbed by anyone save the occasional sand crab scuttling into its burrow.

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