Tayrona National Park is a stunning 150 square kilometers of land and 30 square kilometers of sea set just 34km from Santa Marta in Colombia’s northern coastal department of Magdalena.
Famous for its biodiversity, varied climate, remarkable wildlife and beautiful beaches. Tayrona was established as a national park in 1969.
Tayrona National Park received nearly 300,000 visitors in 2015.
The Park has been a backpacker favorite for a long time.
The bus costs 7.000 pesos and takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour. You can get the bus from Santa Marta terminal or from behind the central market in Santa Marta. They leave roughly every half hour – ask at your hostel for exact times, as they may vary for holidays or weekends.
A taxi direct to the park costs about 80.000 – worth considering if you have big bags and a group of 3 or 4 people only.
If you’re coming from the other direction: just hail a bus heading in the direction of Santa Marta and they’ll drop you at the entrance. Depending on how far you are from the park, it should cost about 6/7.000 per hour to travel.
Some hotels and hostels will organize transfers. This is an expensive option at up to 50.000 per person – only worth doing if you’re traveling with older people perhaps.
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to cart your whole bag into the park. Any good hotel or hostel in Santa Marta will happily store the bulk of your luggage when you go to Tayrona so you can just pack the bare essentials and avoid sweating and struggling with a huge rucksack as you hike into the park.
So what to store in your bare-bones luggage? Here’s a key items list:
Light t-shirts and shirts, shorts (both regular and swimming), lightweight trousers and long-sleeved shirts for cooler evenings and mosquito avoidance, one thicker layer for potentially chilly nights, sandals or flip-flops, hiking shoes or boots if you plan on exploring inland (highly recommended) as it can get muddy after rain, some sort of hat to protect from the intense sun, beach towel.
Sun-cream (nice and strong; don’t underestimate the sun even on a cloudy day), bug spray (especially in the wet season), spare toilet paper (it never hurts!)
Plastic bags (these are banned from the park), alcohol (also banned).
Bring water, lots of water – they sell bottles in the park, but it’s pricey, so you’re better off buying a few big bottles and carrying them in; some biscuits and tinned foods like tuna (if you’re on a budget: food here can be expensive, so you can save some money on lunches and snacks this way).
A good torch for late-night bathroom visits, a travel pillow if you struggle to sleep without one, extra batteries for the camera, a couple of padlocks for the lockers and your tent.
This is Tayrona’s very own mini-Lost City trek, but much shorter and more manageable, and perfect for anyone with a little bit less time and an interest in history and culture. The hike begins behind the Cabo San Juan campsite and, after a short (10 minutes) flat section along a coconut lined path, climbs steeply uphill for much of the remainder of the hour-and-a-half walking time (this is a rough estimate – it’s about 2 1/2km total, but the heat and the uphill can slow it all down a bit).
The wildlife in Tayrona is one of its principal appeals to me: don’t get me wrong, I love a good beach… but I love seeing monkeys in the jungle about a billion times more! A small hike anywhere near a stream or freshwater source should reveal the tiny endemic poison dart frog species that calls Tayrona home: the Yellow-striped Poison Frog (Dendrobates truncatus). They are beautiful little frogs and quite common in the park: off the trails you can see tiny tadpoles in almost any puddle of water!
Tayrona National Park is a stunning part of an already stunning country.
However, visiting Tayrona, whilst easy enough to do, often prompts a lot of questions from first time visitors. Tayrona is a place to relax on the beach, but it’s also a national park to explore, full of wildlife and ancient ruins!
So read on for the complete guide and you will have an amazing experience in Tayrona!
Cabo San Juan: the most iconic Tayrona sleeping spot, this lovely (swimmable) beach to the west of the park offers accommodation in both hammocks and tents. It is also the busiest place to stay by far, particularly during Colombian national holidays and school breaks.
The famous hammock hut (pictured above) in Cabo is home to about 20 hammocks costing 25.000 per night. Word of warning: as beautiful as the spot looks, it gets really cold at night, and pretty windy too.
Checkout is at 2pm when you decide to leave. If you want a hammock in the hut you might have to put your name down before 11am for a space (and perhaps even wait a night during high season) – demand is high!
There are lockers available next to the restaurant, and electricity between 6-10pm as well. The restaurant offers meals between 10-25.000COP, of varying quality. There are also freshly squeezed fruit juices on site as well.
Cabo is basically split into 2 beaches, with the hut in the middle – try the smaller beach to the West: you can still swim but it tends to be a little quieter. Either way, during any visit to Tayrona, you are bound to spend some time here on Cabo San Juan beach.
When to visit this beach: Walk down (or wake up) in the morning, hike to Pueblito first thing, then return and spend a relaxing, swimming day here.
Can I swim here? – YES – Just don’t go too far out i.e. past the headland where the waves get really big and you’ll be fine.
Arrecifes is less popular than Cabo (possibly as you can’t swim here) but that’s no reason to dismiss it. I have stayed at Arrecifes campsites twice and preferred the experience to Cabo – fewer people, more central, and calmer. Plus, nowhere is excessively far to walk in Tayrona – the hike (either through the jungle or along beaches) to Cabo from Arrecifes takes less than an hour and horses are always available to rent for those with less stamina.
Hammocks or tents cost more or less the same here as in Cabo – expect to pay no more than 20.000 for either one. The main Arrecifes campsite is run by Aviatur and costs between 15-20.000 per night for tents or hammocks.
Another option is Bukaru campsite, which is smaller and privately run, costing much the same (but with room for negotiation during low season).
Arrecifes beach is located right next to one of the best accommodation areas in the park, but there’s more to this beach than just a place to lay your head. One of Tayrona’s longest stretches of beach, Arrecifes is the place to snap your classic Tayrona photo of several of the iconic boulders laying around like giant dinosaur eggs (which works scarily well in this Jurassic Park-like place), and the sunset and dusk here is perhaps the most beautiful in all of the park.
It’s a lovely place for a sunbathe, a game of football (it’s a long beach though, so don’t kick it too far!), a jog (if that’s your thing…), or a stroll. There is a pretty freshwater lagoon behind the beach, where caiman can occasionally be glimpsed, and the views over the jungle clad hills are something special.
When to visit this beach: dusk or dawn for a long stroll.
Can I swim here? – NO – this is arguably the most dangerous of Tayrona’s beaches, with plenty of warning signs posted along the beach. Do not swim here.
This is definitely the least visited area of Tayrona camping beaches, which is a shame as it is also set along arguably the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the park. Located to the east of the park, closer to the entrance, car-park and the Ecohabs, both Cañaveral and Castilletes are long, non-swimming beaches with large waves surrounded by palm trees and giant rocks (so far, so Tayrona, eh?!), with access to the lovely ‘9 Piedras’ hike along the eastern coast of the park.
The ‘9 Piedras’ or ‘Nine Stones’ hike is, like the Pueblito walk, connected to indigenous rituals and customs. In this case, the titular ‘9 stones’ refers to a series of remarkable, egg-like stones standing at points along the trail: these stones contain perfect, round holes, designed for observing the passage of the cosmos, possibly over 1000 years ago, by ancient indigenous groups.
Canaveral and Castilletes offers one of the loveliest walks you can do in Tayrona (and one of the least well-known).
is a long beach, but much narrower: palm trees, a thin strip of white sand and the turquoise ocean beyond: it’s the postcard-perfect Caribbean of your dreams. And it has relatively few visitors, so your Robinson Crusoe fantasies are less likely to be disturbed as well.
When to visit this beach: at the beginning or end of your trip to Tayrona – it’s the most easily accessible from the entrance/exit.
Can I swim here? – NO – much like Arrecifes, Cañaveral is pretty dangerous for a swim. Don’t take the risk: have a paddle instead.
The Ecohabs are the fancy option in Tayrona: these are the ones to stay in on family holidays/romantic getaways/lottery win celebration trips (delete as appropriate). In fairness, for people visiting from countries where the local currency is strong vs. the peso, the Ecohabs might not seem crazy expensive.
A 3-person cabin will set you back just over $100 per person depending on the season, with your breakfast and lunch included in the total. For the luxury element of your holiday in Colombia it could be worth looking into.
The selling point here is both luxury and location: at just 800m from the car-park, with access to two stunning beaches, and both the east and west of the park, the Ecohabs are certainly offering decent value for money if you aren’t on a budget. The restaurant is pretty pricey for dinner (but the food is excellent), and there is also a luxurious spa on the beach for a cheeky massage.
You might not have heard about this one … La Piscinita is the small, hidden cove that you can see from one of the rest stops on the entrance hike. It’s basically the private beach for the Ecohabs. There are some nice little tables with umbrellas, and a beach bar nearby.
You can also often swim here: there are lifeguards and red/green flags flying to indicate the safety of swimming based on the weather. This little beach is for a classier afternoon, should that be something you’re interested in.
Can I swim here? – YES – It’s the main attraction!
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