The Complete Guide to Tayrona – Part 1: How to get there & what to pack
In this 4 part series from See Colombia Travel we offer a complete, up-to-date guide to Tayrona National Park on Colombia’s stunning Caribbean coast – information about the park, getting there, what to pack, where to stay, safety and security etc. Hopefully this will help anyone wanting to visit Tayrona plan their visit accordingly and smoothly. In Part 1 we will look at the park itself, how to get there (including entrance fees accurate as of July 2015), and what to bring.
Tayrona National Park is one of the many jewels in Colombia’s (highly bejeweled) crown: a stunning 150 square kilometers of land and 30 square kilometers of sea set just 34km from Santa Marta in Colombia’s northern coastal department of Magdalena. Famous for its biodiversity, varied climate, remarkable wildlife and beautiful beaches, Tayrona was established as a national park in 1969, and is the second most visited Colombian national park after the Rosario and San Bernando Corals Natural National Park near Cartagena, with nearly 300,000 visitors in 2012.
The park has long been a backpacker favorite, but is increasingly attracting a wider range of visitors, as more and more Colombians and older travelers pay a visit to this stunning park. Visiting Tayrona is easy on paper, but there are a number of things to bear in mind when planning a trip to the park, which will be answered in this 4 part Colombian Travel Blog series.
I also cannot stress this enough: care for the park! The money visitors bring in is essential to maintaining the park, but visitors must retain a level of responsibility as well – don’t litter, try not to make excessive noise, and take out what you bring in. If everyone does this then the park can remain as beautiful as ever!
HOW TO GET TO TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
There are several ways to arrive at the entrance of Tayrona:
- Public bus from Santa Marta – the bus costs 7.000 pesos and takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour. You can get the bus from Santa Marta terminal or from behind the central market in Santa Marta. They leave roughly every half hour – ask at your hostel for exact times, as they may vary for holidays or weekends.
- Public bus from Riohacha or Palomino if you’re coming from the other direction: just hail a bus heading in the direction of Santa Marta and they’ll drop you at the entrance. Depending on how far you are from the park, it should cost about 6/7.000 per hour to travel.
- Taxi – a taxi direct to the park costs about 80.000 – worth considering if you have big bags and a group of 3/4 people only.
- Transfer – some hotels and hostels will organize transfers. This is an expensive option at up to 50.000 per person – only worth doing if you’re traveling with older people perhaps.
GETTING INTO TAYRONA
The main entrance to the park is Canaveral, where any bus to Tayrona will drop you unless otherwise requested – here you will find shops selling food and drink to take into the park, as well as the park’s office where you can pay your entrance fee and move on into the park itself. As of July 2015 the prices for entry were as follows:
Adult National or Foreign Resident in Colombia – 15.000
Child (5-12 – national or foreign) – 8.500
Student (National or foreign under 26) – 8.000 (you’re required to present documentation)
Adult foreigner – 39.500
Children under 5, all adults over 65, and all disabled people – Free of charge
Note: Holders of temporary cedulas from working in Colombia or visas do not count as the first price bracket – you are required to pay full price.
Before paying the fee at the kiosks you are required to have a small ticket affirming that you have listened to a short safety and rules presentation from a parks officer – previous visitors or non-Spanish speakers are sometime exempted from this; ask at the entrance.
Once you’ve paid (after showing your ID), you will be given a paper wristband to wear for the duration of your stay. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but keep it on: Tayrona is quite bureaucratically run – you don’t want be kicked out and pay again. Don’t worry, the band is very durable.
Once you’ve paid your entry you have 2 options: continue along the entrance road in the shuttle bus (or taxi if you came in one), or hike along it to the car-park area. The hike is very beautiful but can be a bit much in the heat, so see how you feel. The shuttle costs just 2.000 COP so it’s not going to break the bank. From the car-park you can either hire a horse (16.000 per person per section – so car-park to Arrecifes is 16.000, on to Cabo San Juan is another 16.000) or hike the 3.2km along a beautiful coastal jungle path to Arrecifes, the first camping and beach area. If you’ve packed smart (see below), the hike shouldn’t be too much trouble.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO TAYRONA
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to cart your whole bag into the park. Any good hotel or hostel in Santa Marta will happily store the bulk of your luggage when you go to Tayrona so you can just pack the bare essentials and avoid sweating and struggling with a huge rucksack as you hike into the park. So what to store in your bare-bones luggage? Here’s a key items list:
- Clothing: light t-shirts and shirts, shorts (both regular and swimming), lightweight trousers and long-sleeved shirts for cooler evenings and mosquito avoidance, one thicker layer for potentially chilly nights, sandals or flip-flops, hiking shoes or boots if you plan on exploring inland (highly recommended) as it can get muddy after rain, some sort of hat to protect from the intense sun, beach towel.
- Extra items: a good torch for late-night bathroom visits, a travel pillow if you struggle to sleep without one, extra batteries for the camera, a couple of padlocks for the lockers and your tent.
- Medical items: sun-cream (nice and strong; don’t underestimate the sun even on a cloudy day), bug spray (especially in the wet season), spare toilet paper (it never hurts!)
- Food and drink: bring water, lots of water – they sell bottles in the park, but it’s pricey, so you’re better off buying a few big bottles and carrying them in; some biscuits and tinned foods like tuna (if you’re on a budget: food here can be expensive, so you can save some money on lunches and snacks this way).
- DO NOT BRING: plastic bags (these are banned from the park), alcohol (also banned).
All of these items should easily fit into an overnight bag, and you can just carry the water and food in and then dispose of the rubbish (hygienically and environmentally please!) in the trash areas within the park.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the complete guide to Tayrona – Where to stay, accommodation and food costs, and safety and security tips.