This park belongs to the Colombian people. Some are already dead. Some of us are still living. But most haven’t been born yet
- as seen on at board at the entrance of Tayrona NP
When I was researching how to visit Tayrona National Park in northern Colombia, I came across all sorts of varied info. While some fellow travel writers insisted that you must stay in the park for a few solid days in order to make the most of it, others advocated that a day trip is best. But everyone agreed on one thing: Tayrona National Park is a stunning place and it surely deserves to be visited!
Because we only had a few days in the area and we wanted to make it to other places too, we finally opted for a day visit. Some would call you crazy if you attempt to do all of this in just one day, but this is how you can visit Tayrona National Park in one day:
From the city of Santa Marta, you can take a bus to the entrance of the park. Go behind the Central Market (Mercado Central, in Spanish) and listen to the guys who advertise “Tayrona! Tayrona!!” near a few parked buses. The ride takes about 1,5 hours and it costs 6000 Colombian pesos (around USD3), while it also gives you a good opportunity for people watching as there are many locals who commute to the city and back to the countryside on this route.
Once in the park, you may have to wait in line to purchase your entrance ticket. The price is COP 38,000 (USD19) for foreigners and COP 14,000 (USD7) for Colombians. Whether you come for a day trip or wish to stay longer, the rate is always the same.
There are no vehicles inside the park. You may only take a ride until the first camping area, located about 5Km from the entrance – this would cost COP 2000 (USD1) and saves some serious time for those wishing to visit the park in just one day.
Cabo San Juan beach is considered the highlight of the park. So during a day trip, you goal may be making it there… but remember you still have to come back before dark and you must walk everywhere! Mules can be rented for the day if you are in the mood of burdening some other creature with your weight or stuff, but keep in mind that this will only save you a little time. If you have luggage, this may be recommended, but as the mule paths are different than the trekking ones in some parts of the park, you might miss on the scenic beauty of some stops on the way, and frankly, this is what this trip is all about in just one day.
The weather in Tayrona is hot and humid. Be ready to sweat and bring your own supplies of water for the way – shops and a few restaurants are only to be found in 3 points of the park, along with the camping facilities for those who wish to stay for longer.
The beautiful landscapes and inviting water will lure you into taking a refreshing dip in the sea, but beware!! Some of the beaches you will cross, like Arrecifes, are not safe for swimming. You will come across boards preventing you for doing so. There are rip tides in the area and many people have lost their lives here and like the signs in place say “do not be part of the statistics”.
Drama and heat aside, the trek along the well marked path in Tayrona is a very enjoyable one. It helps that most of the time you are under the shade and, when you are not, the stunning views make up for it.
In order to be back on the same day, you must keep in mind how long it takes to get somewhere in the park. Knowing this, you can plan how long your pauses at each beach (or other spots you like) can take.
Walking times inside Tayrona National Park are as follow:
- Entrance to Arrecifes – about 1 hr walk
- Arrecifes to Piscina – 20/30 minutes walk
- Piscina to Cabo San Juan – 15/20 mins walk
Although known as the prettiest area in the park, I can’t say Cabo San Juan was my absolute favorite. The double bay shape is indeed beautiful but, I guess no longer being a secret between travelers, the “crowds” do take away from the idyllic feeling.
Nevertheless, it is worth the trek. For the swimming possibilities, for the sake of chilling under the trees and to recharge energies with a chocolate bread – look for the lady with a cooler box in the sand. Such an affordable, yummy and much deserved treat!
From Cabo San Juan back to the camping area closer to the gate should take you a good couple of hours. From there, the last rides back to the entrance gate usually depart between 5.30pm and 6pm.
Once on the main road, you can head back to Santa Marta on buses that pass by and stop here briefly. There is a bus at 6pm and, on most days, another one at 6.30pm. I would recommend being there at 6pm, just in case!
Some buses with AC will announce trips to Santa Marta but they actually take passengers back to Taganga or Rodadero (touristic towns near by), for COP 12,000 (USD6). They can drop you in an area which is technically Santa Marta, but way outside the city center (taxis are available there). Make sure to take the correct bus to Santa Marta instead – that would be the “local”, non touristic bus. No AC, half the price, double the fun!
And this is how you can visit Tayrona National Park in one day.
With a little bit of rush involved, yes, but a lot of fun too!