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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

How to visit Tayrona National Park - Colombia

Updated: Dec 1, 2023


You see the photo on instagram - “what a stunning place!” - runs to check where it is and finds out it's in South America – "on my continent! In Colombia! Wow, even better, I can get a flight from Brazil to Colombia at a good price, and it's not an expensive country to visit."


In that millisecond everything was already defined: Colombia was set at the top of my travel wishlist, and Tayrona National Park was a mandatory stop on the itinerary.


Unspoiled rainforest, pristine beaches with white sand and turquoise sea, hiking trails through palm trees, wildlife, sun that shines all day long, lots of accommodation options, all less than an hour from the town of Santa Marta, on Colombia'a Caribbean coast.


Never heard of this paradise? Or have you been dreaming about a trip there for a while, you just need to know the 'how to'? So let's get down to business! Here I share all the details about how to visit Tayrona National Park in Colombia: how to go, when to go, where to stay, what to do and, most importantly, is it really worth going there?


 

OTHER POSTS ABOUT TRAVELING IN COLOMBIA

 
Rio Piedras meets the sea. Playa Los Naranjos, Santa Marta, Colombia
Rio Piedras, which defines the boundaries of Tayrona National Park


How to get to Tayrona National Park, Colombia


We were traveling through Colombia (here's our complete 12 day itinerary), we had already enjoyed a few days in Bogotá (click here to find out what to do in 3 days there) and Cartagena (here I share what to do in Cartagena, the most beautiful Caribbean town) – it was from Cartagena that we left by car towards Tayrona National Park.


There's no need for a car to get around in Cartagena, in fact, if you are staying in the historic area (Old Town), a car will only get in the way. Therefore, we got the rental car on our last day there. We rented at Alamo, close to Cartagena airport, and returned it at Santa Marta airport.


By airplane


The main international airport in Colombia is Bogotá (El Dorado International Airport - BOG), from which there are flights to several cities in the Americas and Europe. Avianca is the main Colombian airline, but there are other companies that operate international and national routes. In our case, we went from São Paulo to Bogotá with Avianca – the flight departure time is terrible, it is in the middle of the night, but that's what we got to do to go to a new destination 😉


From Bogotá it is necessary to take a domestic flight to Santa Marta (or face about 1,000 km of roads), a medium-sized town on the Caribbean coast. The airport is about 50km (31 miles) from the main entrance to Parque Tayrona. From what I've researched, on the date of this post, there are also flights to Santa Marta departing from Medellin, Cali and Pereira, as well as from Panama City.


On the way back, we returned the car at Santa Marta airport (Simón Bolívar International Airport – SMR) and flew to Bogotá with VivaAir (now bankrupt!) – at the time this post was published, Avianca, LATAM and Wingo also operated this route.


By car


Tayrona National Park is 250 km (155 miles)east of Cartagena. It took us about 4h30 hours, not counting the time we spent on our lunch stop. On the way, the road pass through Barranquilla, one of the biggest cities in Colombia, which has nothing worth noting for the ordinary tourist, other than the fact that it is Shakira's hometown.


Lunch was on Isla de Rosario (not to be confused with that Isla del Rosario near Cartagena, which I talk about in this post), at the rustic but delicious and beautifully located Restaurante Popeye El Marino – this restaurant is located in an area that seemed to us to be the most precarious all the way between Cartagena and Tayrona. Even so, if you are going to drive this way, it is worth stopping for lunch /snacks there.


Driving in colombia


Was it easy to drive through Colombia? Yes, we didn't have any problems.


From Cartagena to Parque Tayrona, there are paved single lane roads, generally well maintained and signposted. Traffic in towns/cities is a bit chaotic and disorganized, but nothing too different from other towns across Latin America.


two kids playing at the beach in a sunny afternoon - Playa Los Naranjos, Santa Marta, Colombia
Playa Los Naranjos - yes, we had the beach all to ourselves!


Where to stay in (or near) Tayrona National Park


The main city close to Tayrona National Park is Santa Marta, where there are several accommodation options for all styles and budgets. If you are staying in town, you can easily arrange a day-tour to visit the park - ask you hotel/hostel/Airbnb host or look for it on the internet.


From the downtown of Santa Marta to the first entrance to the Park is about 16 km (10 miles), or 30-40 minutes, and from there another 24 km (15 miles), or + 20-30 minutes, to the main entrance.


Although you can easily get to know the park while staying in Santa Marta, we wanted to enjoy the beach, the hotel, rest a little and appreciate the natural beauty of the region, so I looked for accomodation options close to the main park entrance.


Another popular option is to camp inside the park. There are campsites close to some beaches, and it is easy to find information about them on the internet.


Men with two kids walking on the beachLos Naranjos, no Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia
Playa Los Naranjos, opposite Casa Barlovento and Cabaña Maloka (Finca Barlovento)


Where we stayed


We stayed at Cabaña Maloka, which is one of the accommodation options within Finca Barlovento. Everything I may say about the location of this place will not be fair enough. It is located at the mouth of the Rio Piedras, which is the river that delimits the area of ​​Tayrona National Park, practically in front of Los Naranjos beach (another option in the complex, Casa Barlovento, is literally on the edge of the sea, built above the rocks where the waves break).


The inn itself is simple but comfortable and cozy. The balcony overlooking the river and the sea is sensational, the sunsets are incredible. The room is large and accommodated the four of us well. There is no hot water in the bathroom, which did not prove to be a problem as it is soooo hot in the area.


Sunset in Rio Piedras, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia

There is a restaurant on site, with tables on the same balcony, the food is great and the staff very attentive. We had dinner there every day, and we had lunch one day too, everything was delicious, the juices were wonderful. The pool is on a deck in the middle of the woods and there's a spa (which we didn't use). It is about a 5-minute drive from the Park's main entrance (El Zaino).


It was by far the best lodging experience of the trip, and one of the best we've had in recent times. If I ever return to Colombia, I will certainly be back to this inn.


NOTE This is not a sponsored post. I didn't earn anything for recommending this inn, and if you stay there I won't earn a penny. I recommend it because it is a spectacular place and we had a great experience.


Other options


Along the road that connects Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park, in the region of El Zaino, there are several accommodation options, and in Playa Los Naranjos as well, ranging from campsites to boutique hotels, passing through all price and comfort ranges.



How to visit Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Playa Arrecifes. Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia.

Playa Cañaveral, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colômbia.


If you like nature, hiking and adventure, and want to enjoy paradisiacal beaches, with white sand and turquoise sea, you will love Tayrona. The park ranges from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Caribbean coast, encompassing beaches, forests, desert areas and mountains. We only visited the areas close to the coast, but there is much more to discover there.


The main entrance to the park is El Zaino, in the eastern portion of the Park. There you pay the entrance fee - try to get there early, because there is usually a big line and, at least when we were there, there is a limit of daily visitors. It is important to find out about the park's opening and closing times, as they may vary throughout the year, and there are times when the park is closed. Here is the link to the Park's official website, which has a lot of useful information to plan the trip, including entrance fees and where to camp.


From there, a 4km stretch is covered by car, to a parking lot where there is some structure (bathroom, snack bar and shop). If you don't have a car, there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the entrance to the parking lot – it is worth taking the bus, as this route, in addition to being long, is not at all attractive.



From the parking lot, follow a beautiful hiking trail through the forest that leads to the beaches. It is not a difficult hike, part of it is on wooden walkways, but there are several up hills and down hills and many steps, in some parts you walk along soft sand, not to mention that it is a relatively long journey to reach the most beautiful and best swimming beaches. Our daughters, who were 9 and 10 at the time, complained a little along the way, but overall they did super well and made it to the end smiling.


We went along the trail to the beaches of Cañaveral (closed for swimming because it is the spawning season for sea turtles), Arrecifes, La Arenilla and La Piscina, the latter two great for swimming, we spent a good amount of time there just enjoying.

Then we headed to Cabo San Juan de Guía.


It took us about 8 hours to do this whole journey (round trip), including a stop to swim at three beaches – we spent about 2 hours each way. At Playa Arenilla, there were stalls selling juice, beer, and food, and at San Juan del Guía, there is a larger structure with a restaurant and restrooms. It's possible to camp on this beach, which must be amazing. Find out on the official Tayrona Park website.


Don't forget to take plenty of drinking water along the trail as there are no sources or places to buy it. Use plenty of sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes for the walk – preferably sneakers. I made the mistake of wearing my Havainas flip flops, which ended up getting ruined on the last beach, leaving me to walk all the way back barefoot!


kids playing in a blue water beach. Praia La Arenilla, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia
Playa La Arenilla, Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia.


The other entrance to the Park is on its west side (closest to Santa Marta), from where it is possible to go by car and then continue along a trail to the beaches of Guaiaca, 7 Olas and Cristal; you can also take a boat and go to other more distant beaches. We didn't get to explore this part of the Park (that's one more item on the list for the next trip to Colombia 😁).


If you prefer to go on an organized tour, there are several options departing from Santa Marta.


Sunset on Rio Piedras. Parque Nacional Tayrona, Colombia

The town of Santa Marta


On the last day, we left the hotel early for Santa Marta, where we took COVID tests (then still mandatory for entering the country of our destination) and got to know the town.


Although its seafront is pleasant for a walk, with a nice pier and some good dining options around, there is no major attraction in the town (if you have time, it may be worth visiting the local Museo del Oro). We had lunch there and headed to the airport.


From there, we flew to Bogotá and the next day, early on, we continued our trip to the USA.



Is it worth going there?


ABSOLUTELY!


Going to the Tayrona Park region was a choice we made among several other possible destinations in Colombia: we had four days available, we could have gone to Medellin, San Andrés, Valle del Cocora, or to any other destionation in that country - an amazing country that surprised us all the time, for its beauty and the hospitality of its people.


We chose Tayrona and we didn't regret it. On the contrary: of all the options we had, we are sure it was the best we could have chosen for those last days of the trip.


It was worth it, and a lot. Just writing this post makes me want to book a flight to Santa Marta...


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Visiting Tayrona National Park - How to get there, where to stay, what to do and much more

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