A weekend trip to parque Tayrona was one of the first things I did during my stay in Colombia. Up to then, I had only seen Cartagena with it’s beautiful old town and the Barrio I was living and working in, San Jose de los campanos, which was about the complete opposite of the gorgeous colonial style ciudad vieja!
So you can imagine, that I was really excited about seeing some more of Colombia and also, finally getting to see Colombia outside of cities. When I decided to do an internship in Colombia, I didn’t know a lot about it, neither did my family or most of my friends. Things like: Escobar, cartels, cocaine, murder, kidnapping and so on were on most of our minds, but besides of that, Colombia was a big mystery to us. With one exception, everybody I was talking to knew, that Colombias landscape had the reputation to be phenomenal. So, as you can imagine… I couldn’t wait to see it’s jungles, mountains, beaches, volcanos and rivers.
Me and a bunch of other interns started our trip to parque tayrona in the early morning, we took a bus from the bus terminal in Cartagena, since we didn’t have lots of money, we took one of those buses, the locals take when going from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The prices for these buses are far lower than the typical touristy ones (who would have thought so? ;P). By then, we all had some experiences with Colombian bus drivers and bus rides, so we weren’t surprised that the bus stopped every half an hour to let in vendors , who tried to sell their chicles ( gum), crackers, dried meat on sticks or even wall clocks ( no kidding) . Santa Marta which is the closest city to parque Tayrona, is about 220 kilometers away from Cartagena and it took us about four hours to get there. Arriving in Santa Marta around noon, we checked into our hostel and went to explore town. More about Santa Marta in another post.
The following morning, we had to get up really early, we took a bus from the Mercado the Santa Marta ( which at first sight, doesn’t look like there would be tourist buses stopping at all). The market is quite confusing and getting lost there pretty likely, but thankfully, Colombian bus drivers aren’t as quiet as Austrian ones, so you’ll hear them from afar, yelling “Tayrona, Tayrona, Tayrona” until the bus is full.
So we got dropped of at the entrance of the national park, which didn’t look like anything at all… just a hiking trail in the middle of the jungle. We weren’t quite sure if we were right, since we couldn’t spot the part of our crew who went on a second bus, but since we thought we end up meeting them at our destination anyway, we started walking. None of us had real hiking gear with them, one of us, a friend from Peru, even went in Flip Flops, so I guess you could say we were a bit naïve. The hike took us forever, we had to climb huge rocks and jump abysses, we walked through wild rivers and came across some were suspicious looking plantations. Since we thought the hike would be about 3 to four hours, we got kind of nervous when we, although hiking pretty fast, still didn’t see anything but wild jungle after more than 5 hours.
But no matter what, turning around was no option, so we kept going, came across an ancient little village, named pueblito and since at least one of us was smart enough to bring a map, we at least knew now , that we were still on a track. Not the one we were supposed to be on, but well…
We realized that we got dropped off at the wrong starting point, we didn’t walk the nice, coastline route, but the hardcore, rock climbing, jungle route. No wonder it took us far longer than we expected…
After about 7 hours of hiking we ended up at Cabo San Juan, the campsite we were supposed to get to a couple of hours ago. It was already late in the afternoon and there were no tents, hamacas (hammocks) or mats left for us. But at least we found the rest of our group; they were already at the beach for hours and had a nice, picturesque walk along the coast. We ended up enjoying the beach for a few hours, but soon realized, that we probably should look for a place to sleep before the sun went down, none of us had flashlights and walking through a pitch black jungle isn’t the best idea. After another hour of walking we came across a second camp site, we were lucky enough to get hold of a couple of tents and fell asleep pretty fast.
The next morning started pretty early again, we continued our hike through the national park, came across wild (!!) crocodiles, beautiful lonesome bays and white sand beaches. We stayed there for a couple of hours, drinking fresh smoothies and then, around noon, decided to start our way back out of the park. This time, we took the less straining route. After about 3 hours we reached the end of parque tayrona. Happy, tired and hungry, we entered the bus back to Santa Marta and even though we all had a beautiful time in the jungle, we were definitely looking forward to a real mattress and a shower in our hostel.
Thinking back to this adventurous weekend in parque tayrona, I am really proud of myself that I endured this massive hike (even more, because I wasn’t used to hiking at all) , I am so happy that I had the chance to see those beautiful beaches and all the wildlife, but I also know , that if I ever get back there, I will do some things different.
My tips for an awesome weekend-trip to parque tayrona:
- Make sure you know which route you are on. The one that looks shorter on the map, actually takes far more time, since you constantly walk up and down and climb rocks and so on.
- Bring enough water and bug spray
- Bring a flashlight
- Wear proper shoes
- Start really early. You should be at the campsite (Cabo San Juan del Guia – which is located at the best beach, or Arrecifes beach – the campsite we ended up at) before 3 pm. The sun sets pretty early in Colombia and you don’t want to walk through the jungle in the dark. Also… the campsites get booked out quickly and after hours of hiking you definitely want to sleep SOMEWHERE.
- Bring your own mats.
- Bring a lot of food and water – there are restaurants at every campsite, but the prices there are horrendous and the quality isn’t that good. (Smoothies are the exception! <3)
- If you are a student, definitely bring an international student card, you will save about half the price on the park entrance fee.
- Don’t bother bringing alcohol, you will have to hand it to the guards at the entrance.
- If you have a lot of things to carry, don’t hesitate and rent a horse or donkey (you’ll get the chance to do so at the entrance and also at the campsites) , walking without all of your camping gear, water and food is far more pleasant and you can actually enjoy the scenery.
Posted by Lisa