Have you heard of the Tayrona National Park? I hadn’t until I discovered a tour of Colombia’s Caribbean coast – and now I want to share this beautiful part of the world with other travellers.
The beautiful Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia’s major attractions. The park is located east of the coastal town of Santa Marta in Colombia’s north, and is bordered by the Caribbean Sea.
Tayrona National Park features a wild and unique type of beauty along its hiking trails, which are fringed by forested areas, coconut palms and wild beaches.
The Cabo San Juan de Gaia trail
My visit to the Tayrona National Park took me onto the Cabo San Juan de Gaia trail – a scenic two-hour trail that takes you to two beautiful beaches separated by sand and a rock formation.
Entrance to the park is $A25.
The trail is of moderate difficulty – the first few kilometres features a series of wooden boardwalks with some uphill sections. Then the trail starts to get rocky with some sandy sections and tree roots to navigate as you wind past coconut palms, under overhanging trees, and past large boulders. Climb onto the boulders for great views over the park and ocean.
You will also cross several beaches to get to Cabo San Juan de Gaia, and in some places you may choose to take off your shoes to more easily cross the sand.
People of average fitness will easily complete the trail but be prepared for insects, humidity (you’ll sweat buckets so bring plenty of water) and hot sun in the exposed sections of the trail.
There’s lots of pretty views along the trail from rocky outcrops and beaches to keep your mind off the humidity, and also a chance to try fresh coconut water sold by the local indigenous people. The coconuts are sold by the track and the vendors will skilfully cut the tops off a coconut with a machete, insert a straw and there you have a refreshing coconut water drink. You may also be able to pull out the coconut to eat along the way.
There are also several vendors selling cold drinks and ice blocks along the track.
Once you reach Cabo San Juan de Gaia, settle down with a spot on the beach or in one of the restaurants and enjoy the views or opt for a swim. There is also a campsite here with toilet and shower facilities, or you can book a hammock to sleep on in the rotunda on the hill above the beach.
The rotunda also offers a pretty 360 degree view of the two beaches below. Make sure you head to the end of the second beach for a postcard view over both of the beaches.
Cabo San Juan de Gaia is a pretty and safe spot for swimming. Some of the other beaches in Tayrona National Park are too dangerous to swim at, but Cabo San Juan de Gaia is slightly protected – fringed by large boulders – and it’s relaxing to float in the gentle waves of the warm Caribbean Sea.
There are also a number of other walks spread throughout the Tayrona National Park – which extends 150 square kilometres.
Waterfalls and tubing
Not far from Tayrona National Park is a series of waterholes forming part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range – a highly biodiverse part of the world with hundreds of animal and plant species.
I went on a tour with Travesias Aventura and Naturaleza to hike to the Cascadas Quebrada Valencia waterfall and tube down a local river.
The Cascadas Quebrada Valencia Waterfall is an easy 20 minute walk in from the road (or you can take a horse for a few dollars) to a towering waterfall and a series of waterholes fed from the waterfall. At the time I visited, the waterfall was not much more than a trickle, but it was still nice to swim in one of the waterholes, but watch out for the iguanas that may be swimming with you.
If you’re good with heights and clambering up rocks, you can climb right up to the top of the rockface where the waterfall begins – it’s a bit of a workout but offers great views.
You can do the walk in flip flops if you want as it’s mostly flat and it makes it easy at the creek crossings. You should bring enclosed shoes with you though to get up the waterfall rockface.
Along the trail to the waterfall, you also have the opportunity to try popular Colombian snacks prepared by locals such as grilled plantain or arepas.
Ten minutes further on from the falls by public bus lies a small, calm river off the Mingueo-Santa Marta Road – a beautiful spot for some tubing.
My group was taken about a kilometre up river by boat and slowly floated back down the river. It was relaxing and fun with lots of laughs.
It was slow and the river is shallow, but I actually didn’t mind – it was my first time tubing in a river and I really enjoyed the activity.
If you’re looking for a relaxing place to stay close by the Cascadas Quebrada Valencia and Tayrona National Park, check out Posada Villa Margarita in Los Naranjos. The guesthouse is located about 5km from the Tayrona National Park. The guesthouse has lovely gardens, restaurant, relaxing outside dining area, and hammocks to laze around in and admire the stunning views in the area over banana plantations and coconut palms.
Things you should know:
- Bring lots of insect repellent and you might want to sleep in loose but long sleeved clothing – there’s lots of mosquitoes and midges around the Tayrona National Park area.
- US Dollars is not accepted along the Caribbean coast so you’ll need to exchange US Dollars for Columbian Pesos. A good rate is 3000 pesos per one US Dollar. If possible, try to give exact amount especially at restaurants – it can be challenging to get change back.
- It’s recommended not to drink the water in Columbia.
- Along Columbia’s Caribbean coast, not all hotels have hot water. If it’s a must for a hot shower, read hotel reviews before booking to find out if they have hot water or not.
- Several beaches in the Tayrona National Park are unsafe for swimming andwarning signs indicate those that are dangerous.
- Horses are a common way to get to some scenic parts of Colombia’s Caribbean coast if you are unable to hike in.
- Bring plenty of water when hiking in Tayrona National Park – especially if you’re planning to camp.