Do not skip Tayrona National Park! If you are backpacking Colombia, or just heading to the coast for a short holiday be sure to spend at least a night or two in Tayrona camping. My advice would be to spend 3 or 4 days there chilling and enjoying the park. If you have really limited time, it is also possible to head there for a day trip. To help you make the most of your trip here is my complete guide to visiting Parque Tayrona.
Did You Get Travel Insurance Yet?
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything! Travel insurance has always been high my list of things to get before I travel but now more than ever its at the top of my list.
I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So when looking for travel insurance it’s important to check it covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, Hey Mondo, Passport Nomads, Safety Wing, and Travel Insurance Master all provide cover for this.
Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single trip cover, annual multi trip cover, and long term travel cover. You even have the option to start the cover when you are already on your trip, although you won’t be covered for the first 72 hours. For me my favourite feature is their app which offers you a 24/7 Dr chat and the ability to file a claim direct in the app.
Passport Nomads provides the most comprehensive cover for Digital Nomads. The game changer with them is that you have a red card and if you find yourself in need of medical care you just contact them and they will pre load your card with the funds to cover your treatment, meaning you won’t need to pay out of pocket and then put in a claim later.
Safety Wing is great value with monthly cover starting at $39. It’s super easy to use and it just renews each month. They have an excess of $250 and it’s simple to make a claim through their website. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy and I like that it renews on a monthly basis, so I don’t have to pay out a big lump sum up front.
I also use Travel Insurance Master for some short vacation type trips.
If you are doing shorter trips or an extended backpacking trip then Hey Mondo or Travel Insurance Master are the best option. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for Passport Nomads or SafetyWing.
Why visit Tayrona National Park?
The question should be, why not?! Unless of course, you hate the jungle, walking, beautiful beaches, rugged coastline or camping. Then you should probably give it a miss! Tayrona is beautiful! The beaches are stunning, plus there is no one grabbing your foot and trying to massage you (always a bonus in Colombia! if you have been to Playa Blanca you will know what I mean).
So, if you are looking to spend a few days out in nature, camping and spending time in the jungle or relaxing on the beach, Tayrona is the perfect place for you to chill for a few days.
Once you are in the park it is difficult to get signal so you are forced to take some time offline just to relax and enjoy being present in the moment. Although I did manage to upload a few images to my IG stories, for the most part, I was glad to be offline for a few days.
The beaches are some of the nicest I’ve been to in Colombia, the water is a bit too rough to swim in. In fact many of the beaches you are not allowed in the water, the ones that you are allowed in you can’t really swim as the sea is too rough. It’s great to paddle and cool off from the sun in though!
Things to see and do in Parque Tayrona
Ok, first things first. You have to hike quite a way through the jungle to even get to the campsite. So, keep that in mind when you are packing! I took only what I needed if you ask your previous hostel they will probably let you leave the rest of your things somewhere there. I have my own tent and took that and my sleeping bag too. It wasn’t too much weight and I was fine hiking to and from the campsite.
When you arrive, you will need to buy insurance when arriving at the park for 5mil COP per day. This is relatively new, but compulsory, and gives you a blue wristband to show you have paid (regardless of if you have your own insurance). Once you have bought your entrance tickets, and insurance (and booked a hammock/tent for the night if you did not bring your own, you can enter the park and take the shuttle up to the car park where the train begins. You can walk this, but honestly, I wouldn’t bother. It’s just a road with nothing to see and it will take you an hour. The bus is 5mil COP and saves you 55 minutes!
The trail into the park is really easy to follow. The first campsite you come to is Arrecifes. This should take around an hour (an hour and a half). If you want to keep going to the other campsite Cabo San Juan It is around another hour (an hour and a half max) from here. I have talked more about the campsites below.
Parque Tayrona Beaches
All of the good beaches that you can swim in are in between the two campsites Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan. Cabo San Juan is on the beach, whereas Arrecifes is just set back from a non-swimming beach. But it is just a 30-minute walk along the beach to La Picena and 40-minutes to Cabo Beach.
Parque Tayrona Hiking Trails
As well as the trek in and out of Tayrona there are several trails you can do if you don’t want to just chill on the beach all day.
The first one I would recommend is the hike to Palito. I LOVED this treck! If you have done the lost city then you might not be so impressed with Pablito itself. But the actual trek is so cool. Honestly, I felt like Tarzan clambering over rocks jumping off things and just generally feeling like a child! Most of the trail is just trying to climb up big boulders.
There is a sign to tell you to turn back if you like your shoes more than walking…totally true! Mine lasted halfway up and died haha.
Totally worth it!
It is an hour and a half up going at a steady pace and taking a few rest stops. I didn’t find the hike too physically demanding fitness-wise. But it is a bit difficult technically due to the big boulders you have to try and scramble over. If you have a walking stick take it!
The trail starts from the campsite at Cabo. Just ask someone to point you in the right direction. Once you get on the trail it is really easy to find as it is signposted all the way up.
I really liked this hike and I did it with my full pack on before we left the park. I had no choice in this as there was nowhere to store my bag! The walk is 1 hour in total if you take the longest route…although I felt it was quicker than 1 hour. It’s not a challenging walk and the views are stunning!
You will find the trailhead for this back at the main carpark. There is a big mao with 3 routes a,b, and c. I have no idea which route I took as the signage was so confusing! I think I took A and skipped on to B and C too!
But I found my way to the lookout and back… somehow!
Where to stay in Tayrona National Park
I stayed at the Don Pedro campsite. There are 2 Campsites at Arrecifes Tayrona one that is more expensive where you have nice bathrooms and grass to camp on (Bukaru). And one a little bit further away through a field where you camp on the dirt and have very basic facilities. But, it cost my 10mil per night per person to pitch my tent.
I actually liked this campsite though and as we were only there for 2 nights it saved us a few hours of walking with our gear!
There are lots of options for camping Tayrona. You can rent a tent or a hammock in Tayrona or pitch your own tent here. They have 1 inside shower and one outdoor shower and breakfast is available. If you want to eat in the evening you will need to bring your own food here. Alternatively, you can walk over to the ‘fancy’ campsite for a ‘fancy’ meal. This will set you back a good chunk of cash though with meals being around $30mil. If this is too much for you take a short walk along the beach to the next beach where there is a great restaurant where you can eat for around $15 mil. They also do breakfast starting at 7:30-8 am.
Cabo San Juan Parque Tayrona
If you have the stamina to keep going and you are planning on staying for 3+ nights camping in Tayrona it is worth continuing on to Cabo San Juan campsite as it is right on the beach and had many more facilities.
Cabo has 2 beaches, a reasonably priced restaurant, a small tienda, and ok bathrooms. They also have tents and hammocks for rent, or you can pitch your own tent. It is the better of the 3 campsites just because of the location and the facilities. So if you are going to be spending a few days in the park I would try to come here.
Cañaveral & Castilletes
Set in the east of the park. these sites don’t get so many visitors as the others. They are a lot closer to the entrance (ideal if you won’t want to walk too far) but have no swimming beaches. If you wanted to stay in one of the (very expensive) eco huts you will find them here.
If you aren’t up to the hike you can take a mule, or give them your bag and they will carry it for you. If you don’t take one from the car park there are places on the route where they wait for people who can’t walk any further. I’m not sure the cost as I didn’t use this service.
What to pack for Parque Tayrona
- Passport – You will need this to enter the park
- Enough clothes for each day and something comfortable to wear in the evenings and to sleep in.
- Flip flops
- Hiking sandals/ Hiking boots or sneakers with a good grip (that you don’t mind getting really muddy!)
- Bug spray
- Wash kit
- Quick-dry towel
- Sarong (to lay on the beach on)
- Battery pack
- Plenty of water (you can buy it in the park but it is expensive and I only found people selling small bottles)
- Food if you want to cook (recommended if you are on a budget. Our campsite had a kitchen we could use)
- Lots of snacks!
How to get to Tayrona National Park
Santa Marta to Parque Tayrona – head to the market and ask for the bus to Tayrona. It’s easy to find and the bus it white and green. The bus stop is around the corner and there is almost always a bus there with a queue of people. (If you are in a hostel further out, you can ask where to get the bus from and they will likely be able to tell you somewhere to wait near your hostel). The bus cost 8mil COP and you can tell them you want to stop at the El Zaino Entrance of Tayrona Park.
Palomino to Parque Tayrona – Take the bus from the main road to Santa Marta and ask to get off at Tayrona.
Travel by Boat from Taganga to Parque Tayrona– The cost of one was by boat is $50mil so this was over our budget. But I have heard amazing things about the boat ride. So if you can afford to, go for it! You can get a boat in the morning from Taganga. Just head to Taganga and ask around.
It is also possible to leave the park via boat to Taganga. You should find people selling the boat tickets at Cabo San Juan and they leave at 3pm and 4pm.
Day trip to Tayrona National Park
If you have a limited schedule, it is also possible to visit the park for one day from any of the surrounding areas.
If you stay in Santa Marta, you can get the bus to the park, as above, and I recommend getting the first bus at around 7am to ensure you make the most of your day.
Once you get to the main entrance, you will need to buy insurance (5mil COP) and entrance ticket (58mil COP) and then I recommend taking the minibus to the start of the hiking trails (5mil COP). The park opens at 8am and there will probably be a queue already once you get there.
Once you get to the start of the hiking trails, you can begin the hike through the park, heading towards Cabo San Juan. It is relatively simple to follow the route and it will lead you straight to Cabo in about 2 – 2.5 hours. There are several beaches along the way (as detailed above) so you can choose to stop and relax on a few of these, or head straight to Cabo and spend the whole day chilling there.
There are places to buy snacks, lunch and drinks, however it is cheaper to bring your own. The park closes at 5pm for day visitors, so bear this in mind as you will need to allow time to hike back to the entrance.
Alternatively, you can choose to get the boat to Taganga and then a bus from there back to Santa Marta (or wherever you are staying). This means you can stay for longer on the beach as the last boat leaves at 4pm. Be aware that this is quite a bumpy journey, however you see some amazing scenery.
It is quite an expensive option (80mil COP), however if you have the budget, want more time on the beach, or to avoid the hike back, this could be a good option.
Need to book transportation in Colombia?
I highly recommend booking all of your Colombia transportation with GuateGo. You can search for buses, shuttles, ferries, and Flights on their website. What I love most about them is their customer service. I know these guys personally from my time living in Guatemala and they really do look after their customers. So if anything happens and you get delayed and miss your bus, you can just call them and they are always there to help.
If you book through them you will pay a little more than if you book in person at the bus station. But it’s worth it for the ease and security in my opinion. Click here to search for transportation in Colombia.
Booking and Closures of Parque Tayrona
Before you go make sure you check their website. Tayron closes each year for a month, normally end of January/ February. December and January are the busiest months and I know people who couldn’t get in as all of the passes were sold out! So if you are traveling during these peak times then it is best to book your pass online to save disappointment!
I hope this is helpful if you are backpacking in Colombia be sure to check out my other guides!
If you are planning a trip to Colombia take a read of my other guides here.
Also, you can follow my 1-week, 2-week, and 3-week Itineraries for the Caribbean coast.
PS. After visiting Tayrona I highly recommend taking a trip to Minca for a few nights and then going to Palomino.
This post was proofread by Grammarly
Wednesday 2nd of February 2022
That's a rumor between travelers that you need to have the yellow fever vaccine before entering the park. Can you share your experience? Cos what I found it said "it is suggested". Thx.