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Tayrona National Park and Santa Marta


Tairona Inca: Colombia and Peru in 2 Weeks
Day 3 and 4: Spending a day and night in Tayrona National Park and exploring Santa Marta.

Waking up in Cartagena and knowing our evening would be spent in Tayrona Park some 240 km away was a bit stressful. Especially as our plans were not concrete yet.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, I negotiated with the travel agent who agreed to provide a one way ride to Santa Mart for 450,000 pesos.

I checked out and then saw the small black Chevrolet that was to fit four passengers, two huge suitcases and four bags. We somehow managed to squeeze everything in.

We were in that sardine can for three hours as our driver blasted Colombian tunes and sped to Santa Marta. The driver only made one stop for the bathroom and ice cream.

We arrived at our hotel in downtown Santa Marta to store our luggage and pick up some supplies from the local supermarket. Then we hopped into a taxi to the park. We ate the roasted chicken we just bought in the forty-five minute 70,000 pesos ride over.

Tayrona National Natural Park

In 1864, 58 square miles (150 sq km) of Caribbean coast and tropical forest were designated a national park and protected area. This area use to be inhabited by the Tayrona tribe, hence the name.

Present day the park is known for some of the best beaches in Colombia and is the country’s second most visited park.

On arrival we found a excruciatingly long line to purchase tickets. All the registration was entered manually into a ledger at two windows by ticket sellers who couldn’t wait for their shift to be over. It took about forty-five minutes to sell 6 groups tickets.

The entrance for foreigners is 37,000 pesos.

Walking passed the gate a park ranger directed us to board a minivan to take us to the park’s parking (1,000 pesos). It was a bumpy 8 minute ride. 

Unloading from the packed minivan, we started our hike towards El Cabo San Juan, the last campsite and one of the most famous ones.

The hike took us passed many different beaches, forests and campsites. The park was packed with tourists mostly Colombians. Many were going in the opposite direction on the single lane path meaning a lot of waiting on the hike.

We got to the first campsite area after an hour or so. Then a random person who probably worked there told us it would take another hour to El Cabo and they probably won’t have rooms so we should stay there. Good try senor, but no.

We kept going and passed more beaches. It was starting to get dark which was worrisome as none of us had flashlights and walking the path would be difficult to say the least. 

Fortunately we made it before sunset but found the place extremely crowded. They ran out of cabins and hammocks, but thank goodness tents were still available or we would have had to hike all the way back in the dark.

We signed in and registered like in a hotel, passports and all. A staff member showed us where the tents were and set them up in what seemed like a prime location with a view of the beach near the restaurant.

We were relieved that everything worked out and went for a quick dip in the cooling sea.

Once the darkness took over the crowds made their way to the only lit area in the camp, the restaurant. We sat, ate, drank some celebratory beers and chat about the diversity of the crowd there.

After this long day of traveling we yearned to get some sleep. So we retired to our tents which we padded with our extra clothes (as no one brought a sleeping bag).

But sleep was not in store for us this night.

Music from the restaurant blasted throughout the night. I somehow drifted to sleep but then woke up around 2 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.

No wonder no one reserved these “prime” spots.

The worst part of the night was that there were only maybe five people still up listening to the music, while the rest of the camp was trying to sleep.

At 4 a.m. it finally stopped…

Unfortunately I was too awake to go back to sleep, so I got up right before sunrise to take some shots of the empty bay.

We spent the next morning relaxing and suntanning on the beach. One of the highlights of area is the hut on the rocky outcrop that offers panoramic views over both bays.

Later in the morning, we packed up and started a leisurely hike back. 

Lunch was taken at the bay “la piscina” at a small beachside restaurant. We indulged in some delicious Colombian steak and fish.

We continued our hike back, stopping to swim when we wanted. We took the beach path instead of the jungle, which was tiring from the sun.

After we exited, we jumped into a taxi back to the hotel.

We chilled around the small private pool on top floor of my suite and watched container ships maneuvering into the loading docks. 

Santa Marta

The city was founded in 1525 by Spanish explorers making it the oldest city in Colombia. It is a major port for the area and also a tourist destination.

We took a walk around the city in the evening and went to the old square where the Santa Marta Cathedral (La Casa del Farol) was located. The area was very quaint and reminded me of a small European town. Browsing the shops I had a chance to get my T-Shit of the Country.

For dinner we found a random restaurant, Lulo, that had the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten! Their local speciality of steak arepas was also amazing.

Back at the hotel, we had a couple of beers, before Nat and Ben left for a flight to Peru.

The next morning after breakfast, I caught a LAN flight to Bogota from the Santa Marta airport.

A tour of Colombia’s capital, Bogota is next!

David De Clercq

About David De Clercq

Founder and writer at World-Adventurer.com, David is on a mission to travel to every country in the world and has less than 10 countries left! He loves new adventures, unique cultures, historic landmarks, and luxurious hotels. Follow along as David shares a journey of a lifetime!