Tayrona Park is one of the “must sees” of Colombia. A natural wonder where the jungle and mountains meet the ocean creating breath-taking views of beautiful coastlines, pristine beaches, and sweat-worthy hiking. The visual reward of the entire experience is beyond any picture you just google-imaged.
About six hours from Cartagena, Tayrona Park is one of the most popular Colombian national parks and is considered a cultural treasure. Before you make your travel plans, it is recommend to check the Colombian festivos dates as there are a limited number of people allowed in the park each day, and festivos are popular dates for visitors. Additionally, it is recommended to receive your yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days prior to your trip - this is a free service in Cartagena DADIS with your passport if you have enough time in Cartagena prior to your trip to Tayrona Park.
To help prepare you for a stress-free journey, we’ve laid out a few tips and tricks from locals and backpackers alike.
How to get from Cartagena to Tayrona Park
There are a few ways to get from Cartagena to Santa Marta and ultimately to Tayrona Park. The easiest option is booking a shuttle transfer in advance with Marsol. The van will pick you up from your hotel or Airbnb (depend on the neighborhood) and drop you off right at the park’s entrance. This will eliminate the bustle and confusion of being dropped off in Santa Marta and trying to navigate finding the local buses to get to the park all while carrying a few days worth of supplies.
If, however, you also prefer to see Santa Marta, you can take the bus into Santa Marta and take a local bus to Tayrona. To catch the local bus, you must go behind the Central Market (Mercado Central) where you will find buses that leave approximately every 30 minutes. For 7.000 pesos (us2.5), the bus will take you the hour journey to the main entrance. (Locals advice: if you get to the park entrance and they have already exceeded their daily capacity, stay on the bus and pay the additional $7.000 to go to Palomino beach. Another hour up the road, this beach is beautiful and a great place to swim).
Suggested Supplies (as minimal as possible)
A lock for the lockers (if you have a combination lock, that is probably best so you do not have to figure out where to store the key)
Snacks (we also brought peanut butter, jelly, and bread for a quick, easy, and satisfying meal so that we could save some money)
Water (we were also able to purchase 1 L of water on the hike in for $4.000, but did not find anyone selling water on the hike out. Keep in mind a 500ml bottle of water will run you $3.000 per bottle once you reach the beaches)
Minimal amounts of clothing - remember, you have to carry your backpack the entire way in
Hiking shoes and flip flops
Colombian pesos - credit cards are not accepted anywhere once inside the park
Snorkel gear (if you own your own)
Certificado de Fiebre amarilla (Yellow Fever Certificate)
Tayrona Park Entrance and Fees
The main park entrance (Canaveral) opens at 8 a.m. It is highly suggested to arrive right at 8 a.m. to ensure your entrance, and also to be one of the first at your beach to arrange your preferred sleeping arrangements (after a good day of hiking and swimming, you can enjoy relaxing with the breathtaking Colombian sunset, and spend the night).
Please remember to bring your passport or cedula as it is absolutely necessary to enter the park and secure a tent or hammock for the night. If you are not a Colombian citizen, expect to pay either $44.000 or $48.500 ($15-$17 USD) entrance fee, depending on the season.
Once you have paid and received your wristband, you have the option of walking to the where the trails begin (approx 45 mins - 1 hour) or taking a collectivo for $3.000. Considering the price and the lack of much to see along the route, the collectivo is the best option. (You’ll get enough walking in, don’t worry!)
Optional Scenic Views
When you are dropped off by the collectivos, the majority of the hikers will head straight for the trails to Cabo San Juan. If you want to see a lesser known hidden gem, head to the right as there is a quick 45 minute loop that has unbelievable views and virtually no other hikers. Route B is the recommended route; you’re likely to see a number of Blue Crabs, Hermit crabs and monkeys.
Recommended hiking, beach, overnight hiking options
Keep in mind, the park hours are from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. You are not permitted to walk around the park after 5 p.m. This means, on your final day in the park, please remember to give yourself ample time to reach the exit prior to closing.
The first beach and camping site you will encounter offers iconic scenery, however, know you cannot swim at this beach. Many opt to stay here for the night and hike to Cabo San Juan for a day trip to avoid the overnight crowds. If you did not bring your own tent, you can rent an Eco-Cabana at Aviatur for $300.000 ($102 USD), a cabana at El Paraiso for $100.000 ($34 USD) and hammocks for $12.000 ($4 USD) or walk a bit further to an unnamed area known for reggae music that offers hammocks. All three places offer food and bathrooms.
Located between Arrefices and Cabo San Juan, this is your first swimmable beach! Named because of a reef in front of the coast creating a natural swimming pool, the waves are light and ideal for children and snorkeling. Enjoy the less crowded sand and surf for a few hours before heading to Cabo San Juan or Arrecifes for the night. Keep in mind, this beach does not have accommodations for the night or bathrooms.
Cabo San Juan
The highlight of Tayrona park! This picturesque beauty is approximately 1.5-2.5 hours from the entrance depending on the route you take. Take the beautiful, but longer and a bit more difficult route on the way in, and walk the path the horses take on the way out. On the way in, once you reach Arrecifes beach, you will have the option of walking the remainder of the journey on the beach or continuing on the hiking trail. Continue on the trail as walking for 45 minutes on sand in the direct sun can be quite brutal.
Once you arrive, book your tent or hammock right away at the reception desk. A hammock for the evening will cost $25.000 ($9 USD) a night and a two-person tent will cost $30.000 ($10 USD) per person per night.
Be sure to check out the view from the iconic pavilion on the hill! If you plan to sleep in a hammock, ask reception if you can have one of the hammocks in the pavilion to sleep surrounded by crashing waves.
If hiking is not for you, you can also get to Cabo San Juan by boat - Boats leave daily from Taganga Beach between 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. Costing between $35.000 - $45.000 ($12-$15 USD), you will land at Cabo San Juan beach approximately one-hour after departure and pay the park entrance fee at the beach. This route is generally not recommended as you will miss the beautiful views during the hike and the waters are quite rough. It is, however, the quickest option so if you are only able to stay for the day, this may be ideal. Keep in mind, the last boat leaves Cabo San Juan around 4:30 p.m.
⚠ if you have planned to visit this place be aware of the closed every year from January 28 to February 28.
Nudist Beaches in Colombia
To get to this secluded and lesser utilized beach, follow the sandy path just west of the furthest beach cove of Cabo San Juan for about 10 minutes. Nudity is optional, so if you prefer to keep your suit on but don’t mind others around you sans swimsuit, enjoy swimming on a stunning stretch of beach with virtually no crowds!
A lesser known option that many locals consider their favorite beach, this option is a bit far and costs a bit more, but is well worth it. To begin, you need to take a cab (approximately $80.000 pesos or $27 USD) or bus to the Neguange park entrance 45 minutes from the main entrance. From there, if it is low season, you can take a moto-taxi from the Neguange entrance to the beach. Once you arrive at the beach, you will take a 7 minute boat ride to a beautiful and exclusive beach that only allows 200 people (including workers) per day.
La piscinita ecohabs
This is a small private beach that is owned by a hotel inside the park. If you would rather not hike and have the ability to stay here (approximately $409-415 USD per night), this is a beautiful option with a spa and wonderful (but pricey) restaurant. Ask the collectivo bus driver to drop you here and begin your vacation!
Unless you are traveling with small children or are unable to do the hike, it is highly discourage to use this option as you will, again, miss the beautiful views of the more rigorous hike, and the horses are abused. To take a horse both ways to Cabo San Juan will run you approximately, $80.000 ($27 USD).
Snorkeling in Tayrona
If you brought your own snorkel, the crystal clear waters in Tayrona Park are perfect for your exploration - La Piscina is a popular beach to see sea turtles, lobsters, blowfish, and other beautiful sea-life. Please keep in mind to only snorkel at beaches where swimming is permitted, be aware of rip currents, and do not go out to where the waves first break.
If you prefer a more guided experience or do not have your own gear, there is an option to go on a 2 hour guided snorkeling adventure from Cabo San Juan for $50.000 ($17 USD) (There are options at other beaches as well). You will take a short hike and quick boat ride to where there are reefs brimming with underwater wildlife. Keep in mind, this snorkeling involves deep waters - they will have a lesson prior to your adventure to teach you the best way to snorkel at these depths.
Food inside the park is delicious but keep in mind, prices will be a bit higher. It is recommended to enjoy a good balance of buying a few meals and packing other non-perishable options. Many of the beaches also sell non-perishable items such as tuna, crackers, and vienna sausages, as well.
Beer is sold at most beaches for between $4.000 - 4.500 ($1.50 USD). Keep in mind, you are not permitted to bring your own alcohol into the park.
Cabo San Juan has a limited number of lockers free for your use. Please bring your own lock to secure your items.
Please do your part to keep the park beautiful: do not litter, take out what you bring in, and stay on the trails.