“I’m not going to Parque Tayrona because I’ve been to the San Blas islands and I’ve heard that the beaches are not as beautiful” said the tanned Australian girl to her friend as they stood chatting on the stairs at a popular backpacking hostel in Santa Marta. Her friend nodded in agreement and said that, although she hadn’t been to the San Blas islands herself, they probably were more beautiful and then they headed back into the bar to enjoy the cheap Vodka and Quattro cocktails on the first of two Happy Hour sessions.
I started to think about what I had just heard.
Travelling is a personal experience and everybody is entitled to travel their own way so I don’t wish to criticise her decisions, but why would you want to miss out on something just because you have been somewhere else that might be better? Why would you base your decisions solely on what other people have told you? And why wouldn’t you want to go and see for yourself?
Parque Tayrona is an hour away from Santa Marta and costs 5000 pesos ($2.71) on a local bus. The Australian girl could have visited for a single day, at very little cost, and then been able to say with confidence “I have been to Parque Tayrona but I think that the San Blas islands are more beautiful.” Surely, this is a better way to travel?
Two days later I took my first glance of the beaches at Parque Tayrona and I was blown away. My first thought was of the Australian girl and how much she had missed out. We had been walking for over an hour through thick jungle when we turned a corner and the full sweep of the first bay was revealed. I have seen beautiful beaches but never anything like this. In one panorama high mountain peaks—covered in thick verdant rainforest and swathed in mist—gave way to swaying palm trees, swampland and, finally, to the golden sands of the beach where house-sized boulders that look as if they have tumbled straight from the jungle, lay strewn on the shore. Stretching out to the horizon was the most azure sea I have ever seen, broken up only by the white froth of the large crashing waves at the reef beyond.
Yes, I have seen some beautiful beaches. But never one like this.
Parque Tayrona is a National Park on the Caribbean coast in the north of Colombia and it is very popular in January when many Colombians descend to the area to enjoy their holidays. It is a playground of sun, sea and copious amounts of rum. During this time the park gets very busy and limits the number of people inside. If you don’t get there early, you might not get in at all. The park opens at 8am and it is strongly advised that you get there for the opening if you wish to avoid long queues.
Once inside the park you can secure a hammock, a tent or even a private cabin. Many people take their own tent but I would only recommend this if you are planning to stay for longer than one night. Personally I would advise that you bring as little as possible and rent a tent. If you do not have your own tent then you will need to secure accommodation as soon as possible because things book up very fast. After you have paid the park fee of 35,000 pesos ($19), you can take a collectivo to the first beach (2,000 pesos), saving you an hour long walk. Then you can either ride a horse or walk along the coast to the beach of your choice. The walk will take you through stunning mountainous rainforest but take plenty of water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent with you as the walk is hot and sticky. The walk will take you a few hours.
The busiest camp site is Cabo de San Juan but the site was fully booked. We found accommodation at Arrecifes beach, a long sweeping bay with dangerous tides where swimming is not advised. La Piscina, a bay protected from the dangerous current by the reef, is only a 10 minute walk away. The campsites on the other beaches were full but Bukaru campsite had an available tent (including mattress) for a mere 45,000 pesos ($24). Just next to Bukaru campsite is a panaderia selling the biggest pan au chocolat I have ever seen for only 2,000 pesos, as food is generally very pricy in the park this is a bargain!
Parque Tayrona has other attractions beyond the beach but unfortunately we were short on time and could only spend one night but it is an experience I would highly recommend. When I have visited the San Blas islands in a week from now I will tell you which is more beautiful but I can’t imagine a beach more beautiful than this.
Know Before You Go:
- Take plenty of cash – there are no ATMs in the park. Lockers are provided at some, not all, campsites
- The park could request proof of Yellow Fever vaccination which must have been administered at least 10 days prior to your entrance to the park. Although the park might not check, you should be aware that the park is a Yellow Fever region. You can get the vaccination at Clinica Prado in Santa Marta
- You can take your own food to the park but alcohol might be confiscated