Tayrona National Natural Parque tends to top the list when people are planning out the things that they want to see in Colombia.
Not only is it a total tourist attraction but it is also a huge draw of local visitors with many residents heading down to enjoy the various beaches on the weekends.
What makes Parque Tayrona unique is that in order to get to the more secluded beaches you either have to walk for a few hours, take a horse or take a boat straight in.
As the park is so large and there is a big walk involved, many travellers choose to stay in the park and camp.
There are many opportunities to comfortably camp within the park but it is also possible to get a great experience of the area in just one day.
So if you are deciding on whether camping or a day trip here is the option for you, here is the lowdown on both so you can plan your trip to Tayrona Park.
A Day Trip to Parque Tayrona
To get the most out of a day trip into Parque Tayrona, get up early and aim to be at the park before 9am. Also if you have time, try to go on a weekday as it gets significantly busier on weekends.
The best and most cost effective way to get to the park is by public bus from Santa Marta. These buses go from the centre every twenty minutes or so during the day and have numerous stops along the way so make sure to find the one closest to you.
From Santa Marta to the park by bus will cost under 8,000 COP ($2.50 USD or so) depending on where you get on. It takes about forty minutes to an hour to get to the park.
Once you arrive, ignore the various people trying to sell you transport and tours and head straight to the main ticket booth. Here you can purchase your day entrance ticket which cost us a whopping $52,000 (about $18 USD). From talking to other travellers, this price seems to fluctuate regularly (we went on a Saturday which could have increased our prices). In general expect to pay between 40,000 and 50,000 COP in entrance fees ($12 to $18 USD).
From here you can catch a bus into the park for about 3,000 COP ($1) to take you to the beginning of the trail to many of the popular beaches on route. Alternatively you walk along the road for about one hour.
While the trail can get busy, you can enjoy the well thought out walkway of bridges, rocks and enjoy stunning views over mountains and beaches.
Most people walk the two and a half hours to the main beach, Cabo san Juan. However, there are many quieter and equally pretty beaches on route including playa Arrefices and Playa La Piscina.
When you arrive to Cabo San Juan you can enjoy a meal in the restaurant (main dishes around 30,000 COP each or $10) or if you are on a budget, I would highly recommend the various ‘pans’ or breads on offer by vendors. You can enjoy a delicious tomato herb bread or a chocolate bread for just 7,000 ($2.30 USD) a piece. Delicious and filling!
After a few hours on the beach you have two options for exiting the park. You can walk back the route you came for two hours and exit the park by 5pm. You can then take the bus back into Santa Marta.
Or you can take a boat direct from the beach at Cabo San Juan to Taganga. This will set you back another 60,000 COP ($12 USD) but it is a fun (if a bit bumpy) journey with stunning views over the rest of the park.
From Taganga, the standard rate of a taxi back to Santa Marta (about a twenty minute drive) is 15,000 COP ($ 5 USD).
Camping in Parque Tayrona
For camping, leave your big backpack or luggage in your accommodation in Santa Marta. Hostels in particular are used to this and you should have no problem finding a place to leave your bags.
Getting to the park and paying in is similar to a day trip though you get more bang for your buck as your entrance fee will cover you to stay for as many nights as you like (most people stay one or two nights).
With camping, there is no need to book in advance, just show up and spaces are filled on a first come first serve basis (though I have never heard of anyone not getting a tent or hammock!).
If you bring your own tent, you will on average pay around 10,000 to 15,000 COP ($3-5 USD) to pitch your tent and use the site’s facilities. If you are renting a tent, it usually costs 15,000 to 25,000 ($5-10 USD). Hammocks weigh in at about 15,000 ($5 USD) though these prices vary slightly for different campsites (for example you may pay more to stay at the site at Cabo San Juan, the most popular beach).
Most sites have shower and toilet facilities as well as lockers for personal belongings. Tents that are rented are already pitched for you. Please note that wilderness camping (outside of campsites) is prohibited in the park.
There are numerous camping sites dotted along the walking route. If you don’t want to lug your camping gear for the two hour walk to the beaches and various camping spots, you could stay in the pretty campsite called Castilletes. You can take the bus from the entrance to here or walk for about forty minutes from the main entrance.
This is a large site on the beach allowing for a mix of rooms, hammock options and tents (you can rent tents instead of bringing your own). They have a barbecue area, functional toilets and shower area.
From here you are a stone’s through away from the walk into the other parts of the park.
If you want to be a bit closer to the action, you can head to the other popular beaches for camping on the walking route. The main areas for camping are at Playa La Piscina and Cabo San Juan itself.
La Piscina is definitely the quieter option of the two and appears to have a nicer, more spacious campsite but Cabo San Juan is considered the beach where all the action is (though it is significantly busier, things quiet down when day visitors leave around 4pm. You will then have the beach to yourself and other campers!)
From these campsites, you can continue walking from Cabo San Juan to more secluded areas of the park (an opportunity lost to day trippers).
Parque Tayrona is doable in one day and you will get a great experience of the park.
Camping is cost-effective and a great way to experience more of the park. You can choose to lie on the beach or walk to other more secluded beaches during the day (something you would not have the time to do if you were going only for one day).
All in all both ways are a great chance to see and bask in the beauty of this stunning park.
After you have trekked Parque Tayrona, why not take things up a notch with the infamous 4 day hike to La Ciudad Perdida. With pick-up for the trek from Santa Marta, it’s the perfect next destination on your Colombia Adventure.