Monday, March 23, 2015

Everything you need to know about going to Parque Tayrona

Destination Travel Guide To Parque Tayrona National Park, Magdalena, Colombia
If you've even contemplated going to Colombia, you will have seen or heard about Parque Tayrona.

The above photo of Cabo San Juan del Guía or photos of it from different (and better) angles, that conveniently have no people in the photos, is everywhere from the Colombian tourism board's publicity, the front cover of the Lonely Planet guide, travel blogs or no doubt, via word of mouth, you'd be hard pushed to have not heard or seen anything about it.

Even if you hadn't heard anything about Parque Tayrona before you got to Colombia, you will soon be well acquainted with the national park as travellers everywhere will be telling you all about Parque Tayrona.

So you've heard all the hype, your curiosity is peaked and you want to go. But before you go, you'd better prepare yourself, it's a bit of a trek to get there.

Before you go to Parque Tayrona

Trekking to Parque Tayrona isn't difficult, you just need a bit of advance planning.
Arrecifes beach

The majority of Parque Tayrona is only accessible by foot, so leave your big backpack at your hostel in Santa Marta and then take everything you need in a smaller backpack. Regardless of if you decide to do the 11/2-2 hours trek on foot or hop on a horse, you'll have to carry your stuff somewhere along the way. Make it easy on yourself and pack as light as possible.

That said, trying bring a big 5L bottle of water, whilst it's a pain to lug around a big bottle of water, you'll need to rehydrate loads and as everything is at a premium, you'll be paying double for your water ($4,000 COP for a 1L bottle).

Park entrance hours are 8am-5pm but get there before 3pm to ensure entry. If you can, get there for when the park opens before the majority of people arrive and it gets too hot and sticky to trek through the jungle.

In unspoilt paradise, there are no ATMs and you can only pay by card for food at Cabo San Juan del Guía, so save yourself the stress and withdraw more than enough money in Santa Marta for the duration of your stay in Parque Tayrona.

When packing remember plastic bags or alcohol aren't allowed into the park so make sure you leave them out of your rucksack because entrance staff will confiscate them.

Packing List for Parque Tayrona


What to Bring:

Shorts and a quick drying top (exercise tops are great) to trek in
Trainers for the trek in (you can bring hiking boots if you want but trainers are more than fine)
Flip flops
Swimwear
Light, loose clothing
Warm clothes for night time - I was seriously under-prepared for how cold it got. This is absolutely *essential* if you're sleeping in a hammock.
Sun cream
Insect Repellent
Torch
Camera
Toilet paper/tissues
Books
Pack of cards
Snacks - Cereal bars, dried fruit and nuts, sweets, fruit
Water - as much as you can manage without it weighing you down too much.

How to Get to Parque Tayrona

Cabo San Juan del Guia, Parque Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Cabo San Juan del Guía at dusk

You can get the bus from Santa Marta or Palomino and the journey will take about an hour costing $6,000 COP.

To get the bus from Santa Marta, you need to head up to the market on Calle 11 with Carrera 11. You'll know you've got the right place as you'll hear Tayrona shouted everywhere.

It's fairly straightforward from there.

From Palomino, you get the bus by the petrol station. Make sure you ask them to tell you when to get off because they'll carry on driving to Santa Marta (true story/it happened to me).

Entering the Park


The gates open at 8am so you can enter the park from then on until about 3pm.

*BEFORE YOU QUEUE* You must watch the presentation and get a ticket to prove you've done it before you queue. If you don't have the ticket and you queue, you'll be taken out to listen to it and have to queue once again.

The talk goes through all the dos and don'ts, most of which are straightforward, but here's the main ones:

DON'T swim on Arrecifes beach, the riptide is incredibly strong and people have drowned swimming there. Don't be part of the statistics.

DON'T decide to have a cheeky wander in the jungle at night. The park is home is to a variety of animals, such as snakes, monkeys and jaguars (Lions and tigers and bears, oh my), who stay out of the way during the day. When night falls, however, different story. A guy had to be airlifted to hospital just before I got there because he got bitten by a snake, walking the jungle path at night (true story).

DON'T get too close to the lagoons on Cañaveral and Arrecifes as they're home to resident caymans. Seeing as they can grow up to be 4 meters long, I don't fancy my chances and I doubt most would either.

Once you've watched the presentation, you'll be given the ticket and then you're free to queue.

Entrance fee for foreigners is $38,000 COP. If you're Colombian or if you're a foreign resident with a Cédula de Extranjería it's $15,000 COP and for students under 26 with valid student ID, it's $8,000 COP. So it's worth bringing your student ID or your Cédula de Extranjería if you have them.

Once you've paid, you're good to go.

The Trek


You can catch the buseta to the last possible point vehicles can go for $3000 COP. It's takes about 10-15 minutes and it takes 5 km off your walk.

Then you get dropped at the car park and you're free to roam the park. The path is fairly straightforward and well signposted so even those who are slightly lacking in the sense of direction department (ie. me) would struggle to get lost.

Trek to Parque Tayrona beaches.

If you fancy it, you can hire a horse to Arrecifes for about $18,000 COP if I remember correctly.

After a bit of hike uphill, you eventually get to the beaches and it's straight on along the beach from then on in.

You'll first hit Cañaveral, which is where the luxury eco-huts are based. Prices are pretty steep to stay here but this is the accommodation option with the most amenities available.

There are also camping sites in between Cañaveral and Arrecifes. Prices were about $15,000 COP for a hammock and $20,000 COP for a tent.

Arrecifes beach is one of the most beautiful beaches Parque Tayrona in Colombia has to offer.
Cañaveral Beach

Then you'll pass Arrecifes, which in my humble opinion, is the most beautiful beach. It's rugged, maybe not quite the idea you had of Parque Tayrona, but the beach that stretches out in front of you, goes on and on and on. Sadly you can't swim here but take the opportunity to dip your feet in to cool off after your uphill hike.

Next is La Piscinita where, you may be able to guess, you can swim. If you fancy a cheeky dip, go for it. But if you want to carry onto to San Juan del Guía, it's only another 10-15 minutes walk.

From above, Cabo San Juan del Guia in Parque Tayrona.
Cabo San Juan del Guía

San Juan del Guía is where the majority of the accommodation is based. You have the option of hammocks or tents. If you somehow know the right people, you can stay in the cabañas above the hammocks on the rocks.

To check-in for accommodation, you'll have to queue up to reserve at 2pm. People start queuing up at 1:30pm so if you want the hammocks on the rocks you better stake out your place in line early. A tent for two cost $50,000 COP per night. A hammock by the beach costs $20,000 COP per night and a hammock on the rocks costs $25,000 COP. If you're going to sleep in a hammock, bring warm clothes, it gets so breezy at night that I had to fashion a blanket out of my towel, it was that cold. The one upside of the sea breeze is the fact you won't need a mosquito net, but heed this advice - it gets chilly.

Eating in Parque Tayrona


As you've probably guessed, food is expensive in Tayrona and there's not the most exciting culinary offerings. Expect to pay around $12,000 COP for some basic pasta with tomato sauce and about $20,000 COP for grilled chicken, rice and salad.

You can bring noodles or pasta and ask for it to be cooked for you. You give them a tip (about $7,000 COP) and this is a great way to save a lot of money. I wish I had known about this before I went.

That said, you must get the bread that they sell on the beach. For $5,000 COP you get a bread stuffed with ham and cheese, cheese, tomato and basil, ham and it's a cheap and cheerful lunch. If you time it right you can get a freshly baked, warm chocolate bread and my god, it is so, so, so good.

You can also get your usual ice lollies and ice cold Aguilas on the beach too.

There's also a small shop that sells snacks and drinks too, but at an inflated price, so bring plenty of snacks and you should be good to go.

Things to Do in Parque Tayrona


La Piscinita Parque Tayrona, Magdalena, Colombia
Cove between La Pisicinita and Arrecifes

There's not a great amount to do in Parque Tayrona but that's the whole beauty of it. However, there are a few activities you can partake in whilst there:

Snorkelling in La Piscinita: Just off the shore of La Piscinita, there are some coral reefs to have a look at. You can rent equipment there at the beach.

Trek to Pueblito: If you really can't sit still for long, a hike up to the Tayrona indigenous village of Pueblito will do the trick. It takes about 2-3 hours hiking up hill and you'll reach the village at the top. You can do the trek to Pueblito as an alternative route to leave the park, going via the Calabazo entrance, which will take you about 4 hours to complete.

Flora and fauna tour: Before you start on your trek to the beaches, there's also the option of going on a wildlife tour on the Sendero de las Nueve Piedras path. Tours are offered by guides at the entrance costing around $15,000 COP.

Get up early: The magic of Parque Tayrona is slightly lost when you have to share it with everyone else. But if you get up early at the crack of dawn to explore the park, you realise its true beauty. I practically had the park to myself when I took the above picture (aside from my stray dog companion) and it was such a gorgeous moment that was hard to capture.

Otherwise, kick back, relax, get stuck into a good book and relax. Maybe get up and about and take a few cheeky photos. At night, there's not a huge amount to do, other than play a few games of cards and if you're lucky, do some stargazing too. That's the beauty of the simplicity of the place and that's the best way to enjoy Parque Tayrona.

Have you been to Parque Tayrona? What advice would you add?

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