Tayrona National Park is definitely one of the jewels of Colombia.
15.000 hectares of tropical forest and paradise beaches.
One of my favorite places in Colombia, really worth exploring.
This is one the new trendy cities in Colombia, slowly stealing the spotlight from Cartagena de Indias. I really like Santa Marta as it’s not as touristic as Cartagena, and therefore remains more authentic and less expensive. This is the starting place if you’re planning to go to Tayrona. I’d suggest staying one or two nights before leaving for the Park. The city has plenty to offer as far as hotels and restaurants are concerned.
Check the Cathedral, where you can try and find the urn with the Simon Bolivar remains. They’re hidden there somewhere since 1842. The “Parque de los Novios” (Lovers Park) is also a good idea for a visit and, if you have time, take a cab to the “Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino”. This is where Bolivar died in 1830. A really beautiful place, full of history.
Where to stay in Santa Marta
If you’re not really into big hotel chains, my first recommendation would be the Hotel Boutique Don Pepe. It belongs to the family of the famous singer Carlos Vives (shameless plug: I’ve shot most of the aerial shots for his latest music video with lots of other singers, but I’ll do another post about it, as it covers a lot of beautiful Colombian places). This Boutique Hotel is definitely one of the nicest in town, right in the middle of the old center and with a nice view of the city from the rooftop.
Next step on your way to Tayrona: the small coastal town of Taganga. Even though you could actually go straight from Santa Marta to Tayrona, I’d recommend spending a night in Taganga. You can go from there by boat to spend a day on one of the nearest beaches. Going out at night in Taganga is quite nice too, with a very festive atmosphere. A few nice bars and the typical Colombian “tiendas” (little grocery shops) where you can sit outside and have a few beers or aguardiente. Just be ready for the gigantic speakers playing reggaeton and latin music at full volume. I stayed at the hostel La Casa de Felipe. I really liked it, though it’s more for backpackers (good occasion to meet fellow travelers).
How to get to Tayrona
The simplest way to get there is to take a cab from Santa Marta (or Taganga) The journey will last about an hour and cost around 60.000 pesos.
Don’t forget this is a National Park. You’ll have to pay to get in and respect a few basic rules. In 2015, the entrance fee was about 40.000 pesos per adult (13-15 USD). Children pay only 8000 pesos.
The entrance is from 8am to 5pm and you’ll receive a short explanation by the forest guards upon entering.
More info on the official website (Spanish only for now)
Accommodation in the park
A few minutes after the entrance, you’ll get to an intersection. You’ll have two options:
1. To your left, the adventure awaits
Going down from the entrance to the beaches takes about an hour and can only done one way: walking. You can pay the local people to help you with your bag(s). They’ll put them on their mule and will arrive way before you do. The “Cabo San Juan” is one of the most famous beaches, often appearing in tourist guides. This is where you’ll find options to spend the night.
Just be aware that this side of the park is for the most adventurous, as you’ll have to sleep in a hammock or a tent. If this type of rudimentary camping is not your style, I’d suggest going for the second option: Cañaveral and its “ecohabs”.
2. To your right, comfort.
Another option, if adventure is not your stuff (or you just want to spend a good time without mess), the “Ecohabs” at the Cañaveral sector are available. I’ve had the chance to go there twice and it’s a real paradise (really good restaurant, great service, massage, spa, etc.) It’s one of the nicest places in Colombia. This is also one of the most expensive, the most affordable room starts at 338 USD per night.
More info: http://www.ecohabsantamarta.com/