Colombia’s Tayrona National Park

Map of Tayrona National Park outside Santa Marta, Colombia

Tayrona National Park (Parque Tayrona) is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia and also one of the most well-known National Parks in all of South America. Known for it’s beautiful Caribbean coastline that extend out from the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s a sweaty, 45-minute bus ride away from central Santa Marta.

Tayrona’s main entrance is pretty humble, while the entrance fee is anything but. Foreigners pay 34,000 COP (About $18 USD) where as Colombian citizens only pay 12,000 COP to enter the park. Okay, so that kind of sucks, especially since 95% of the park is privately owned, but I guess I can think of worse things to spend 20 bucks on.

Regardless, we paid our dues and jumped on a bus (2000 COP/each) to the mouth of the Arrecifes and Cabo de San Juan trail. From there we passed on renting horses and trekked the 45 minutes to Arrecifies beach on foot (It’s a 1.5 hours to Cabo de San Juan by horse).

A Jungle Trail in Tayrona National Park

The hike made for a great mid-morning workout as we traversed through the thick forest along the muddy dirt trails. Along the way I stopped in astonishment at my first ever Monkey in the wild sighting. There was 3 or 4 of them gracefully cruising around the tree-tops, chewing on leaves and flowers. We also spotted a bunch of colorful parrots blending into the jungle backdrop.

The last 10 minutes or so of the trek were filled with anticipation and excitement because we began to hear waves breaking against the shoreline. As the trail opens up and the amazing Caribbean coastline come into view we passed through a small campsite, general store and restaurant where you can rent tents, cabanas or hammocks for the night. From what I’ve read both the food and accommodations are pretty overpriced so we made our way straight down to the beach.

Arrecifies Beach Trail in Tayrona National Park

We found some much-needed shade to enjoy our packed lunch as little black crabs scampered up and down the rocks around us (we didn’t bring those). After exactly 30 minutes after I ate (like Grandma always said) I hit the waves to test out this epic riptide I kept hearing about. It was pretty strong and got the best of my swimsuit a few times but it didn’t keep me from body surfing for hours like a 15 year old as concerned foreigners watched from the shoreline. I don’t know if they were worried about the swimming conditions or at the fact that this 26 year old guy could be having so much fun in the water by himself.

The Beaches of Tayrona National Park

Either way, tired and pruned, I made my way back to the beach for some more coconut juggling practice as the afternoon breeze swept it. At about 4:30pm we called it a day and took the 45-minute trek down the trail to where the bus would take us the additional distance back to the main entrance. TIP: Instead of taking the bus back to the main entrance to take another bus back to Santa Marta (or two), there is usually a cab sitting there and it doesn’t cost much more to have him take you all the way back to Santa Marta (or El Rodadero in our case). 1/4 of the time for 1/4 more money.

Juggling Coconuts in Tayrona

The only thing that I was bummed about in regards to our trip to Santa Marta and Tayrona was that we didn’t have the time to do the 5-6 day trek to the Ciudad Perdida. I’m definitely going to find a way to go back and do this soon.


My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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