The idea of racing to get a camping spot in a hammock or inside a hardly-washed tent to spend an evening in Tayrona National Park was never particularly appealing to me. Although witnessing a sunrise and/or sunset on its magnificent beaches would be amazing, I decided that the conditions under which you spend the night were not appealing to me. So, along with a new friend, I daytripped to Tayrona National Park all in one day, and though it was a busy day, it can be done!
In Santa Marta, I stayed at a fabulous place called The Dreamer Hostel, which, while not in the city centre, is located five minutes walk from the Tayrona bus stop. The bus to Tayrona comes by every 20 minutes or so and cost (as of August 2016) 7000 pesos. It’s best to get as early a start as possible, so be on a bus before 9 at the latest. The bus ride to the main entrance of Tayrona National Park takes about 45 minutes.
Once you’ve arrived at the park entrance, you will be made to watch a video about the park (in Spanish) before you’re allowed to buy your entrance ticket and proceed into the park. The video is fairly useless and terrible quality and sort of bungs up the process, but rules are rules I guess? After the video, you get in line to buy your entrance ticket for the national park (which is valid for a couple of days, in case you do decide to camp overnight). The entrance ticket cost 42,000 pesos; make sure you have your passport or a photocopy of it because they will want to see a piece of ID from at least one person in your party.
After queuing for the entrance ticket, you will have to queue for the shuttle bus which takes you to the first camping area, which costs 2000 pesos. You could walk these 5 kilometers instead, but it’s a fruitless venture to save very little money, and takes more time than it’s worth. So join the queue and wait for the shuttle bus! The whole process of just getting into Tayrona Park, between the video, buying the ticket and waiting for the shuttle, was about 45 minutes – so the earlier you arrive, the better.
Hiking to the Beaches
When visiting Tayrona in a day, there are three beaches to see. The first, Arrecifes, is beautiful and deserted – for a reason. It’s not safe to swim in these waters (there’s even a sign warning gringos to “not be a part of the statistics”), but because no one lingers here for long, it’s a fairly peaceful place to stop for a water and snack break. The second, La Piscina, is safe for swimming and its floor is nice, soft sand, making it a pleasant place to cool off. The third is Cabo San Juan, which is generally considered the highlight, but I found that the excessive crowds here and the rocky bottom of the beach made it less preferable for swimming than La Piscina. The views at Cabo San Juan are gorgeous though, so it’s definitely worth the trek.
It takes about an hour to walk to Arrecifes, and from there another 30 minutes to La Piscina, and then another 30-40 minutes to Cabo San Juan. Since the park closes at 6 and you have to be on the last bus back to Santa Marta by 6:30, be mindful of how much time you spend at each beach. Especially at Cabo San Juan – there is a restaurant where you can eat, but the lines are atrociously long and could sudck too much time out of your day. Bring lots of snacks and water (since it’s hot and humid and you’ll be working really hard hiking) and avoid the long food lines (for not too appetizing-looking food at that). There’s a great juice spot shortly before La Piscina – I visited it twice once on the way to Cabo San Juan and once on the way back, it was so good and refreshing!
- Santa Marta isn’t the safest place in the world. Be mindful of how much cash and valuables you bring, specifically when you’re en route to and from the bus.
- I used an aquapack to keep my phone and money safe and waterproofed so I didn’t have to leave them on the beach while I was swimming. However, my friend did the same and her waterproofing failed, so her phone died. If you’re hiking with multiple people, maybe take turns watching each other’s belongings while each of you goes for a swim.
- Stay hydrated, wear lots of sunscreen and a hat, the sun and heat is intense!
- Wear good shoes for walking, but bring flip flops for when you get out of the water and have sandy feet. Some people choose to do the whole hike in sandals – if you’re comfortable in your sandals, do this, because it means less sandy socks!
- Stay mindful of the time so you don’t get stranded in the park!
- Sometimes the trail isn’t very well marked if you go off to enjoy a beach or grab some food – but there’s lots of locals and guides wandering around who can easily point you in the right direction.
- Enjoy the views and take lots of pictures!
While it’s a lot to tackle in a day, visiting Tayrona National Park without camping overnight is entirely possible, and the warm waters of the Caribbean, the hike through the jungle (you’ll see lots of lizards, maybe even anteaters or monkeys!), and the beautiful views make it a worthwhile day trip.