With our definitive guide to Tayrona National Park, you’ll find all the essential information to plan your visit to some of the best beaches you’ll find in Colombia.
You’ve probably already seen that picture a dozen times, or at least some variation of it. After all, as tourism to Colombia increases, so does Tayrona’s undisputed position as its poster child.
Because if you’re looking for a wonderful beach in Colombia, then you’ll find it here in Tayrona National Park (or Parque Tayrona). Actually, you’ll find several of them.
Yet despite being a near-permanent feature on almost all itineraries for Colombia, visiting Tayrona isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Ok, it literally IS a walk in the park, but many people are taken aback by how busy it can be, how much it can cost or be a little confused about what a visit to Tayrona actually entails. This means that for the same ‘first-timer’ mistakes are made over and over again, and many people leave feeling a little underwhelmed by the whole experience.
So, if you’re not sure if you’ll manage the jungle hike to the beaches, don’t know what to bring, have no idea where to stay in the park or how many days the whole things going to take you, then this personal guide to Tayrona National Park, created after our own visit, will give you all the answers!
Why Visit Tayrona National Park?
Because it’s got beaches like this.
Some of which you can actually swim in, which, if you’re reading this having already spent time along the Colombia Caribbean coast, you’ll realise is not always a given.
Throw in the fact that it’s all set within a lush, tropical national park with palm tree forests and secret trails, and it’s clear why Tayrona is viewed as something quite special. If you aren’t doing any other hiking whilst in Colombia or South America (like the Lost City Trek), then you will also enjoy the manageable but sweaty mandatory walks along the trails within the park and by the coastline, which are the only way - except by boat - to reach these beaches.
When’s The Best Time to Visit Tayrona?
In short, it’s always going to be busy and pretty crowded at various points on the trail and beaches (especially on weekends), but there are certain times of year where it will ramp up by a considerable amount. Colombians absolutely love their holidays in December and January, and a few nights at Tayrona is a very popular choice. During these high season months Tayrona will be at its fullest, possibly at capacity.
The weather in Colombia is a thing which really varies from region to region, but Tayrona is visited year-round by locals and travellers - though it’s clearly best enjoyed when the sun is shining.
However, many of you may have heard that Tayrona park closed completely in February 2018 and 2019? This is completely true, and it’s a practice that is likely to continue annually. The main reason is to allow the various ecosystems, flora, and fauna within the park to rest and replenish, particularly after those high season December and January crowds have taken their toll. A second reason is to allow the four indigenous groups - who have always called the park and the wider Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta home - to perform traditional cleaning rituals and ceremonies. We think this is an excellent and necessary initiative and hope it continues to be safeguarded in the face of rising tourism demand in Colombia.
For the traveller, it does however mean that you will not be able to step foot in Tayrona National Park in February, and the closure has previously included the last few days in January too (usually from the 28th). We met a lot of people on the road who didn’t know about this when planning their Colombia itinerary, and were hugely disappointed that they had to miss out on Tayrona - so plan ahead chicos!
Tayrona Park Opening Times | The entry gate is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, but last permitted entry is at 4 p.m. Tayrona is closed in February.
How Do You Get To Tayrona National Park?
The key to doing Tayrona well is to arrive early at the park entrance (between 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. is ideal) so that you don’t have to queue for too long, are guaranteed entry, beat the tour groups, and also ensure you have a bed for the night (more on that later).
Another reason for Tayrona’s massive growth in popularity is due to its proximity and ease of accessibility from the city of Santa Marta, only an hour away. However we think your best best to visit and really enjoy Tayrona at its best is to travel in the morning directly from Costeño or one of the various accommodations nearby the park.
We’ve outlined the various public transport options for how to get to Tayrona below so you can understand the times and costs associated with each. Note that going from Cartagena to Tayrona with public transport is not a sensible or desirable option, and is only realistic with a private transfer service.
If you prefer convenience rather than making your own way, it’s also possible to do a Tayrona tour from Santa Marta.
Bus from Santa Marta to Tayrona
If staying in the centre of Santa Marta, then head to the busy Central Market (Public Market Santa Marta on Google Maps) and you’ll find the bus departing from the corner of Calle 11 & Carrera 11. They have departures every 30 minutes starting at approx. 6 a.m, but if you can’t see it waiting then just ask a local to make sure you’re in the right spot as it can also leave by the corner of Calle 11 & Carrera 9 very close by. Even though the bus is likely to be full of gringos, just confirm with the driver that you want to be dropped off at the Tayrona entrance (sometimes referred to as El Zaino).
An alternative option if you’re staying in one of the several popular hostels outside the city centre is to take a taxi to the Santa Marta bus terminal (also on the city outskirts), hop on a bus to Riohacha or Maica and make sure it drops you off at the entrance. Hostel shuttles are also a popular option but obviously the convenience will cost you more.
Cost | 7,000 COP (£1.6 GBP / $2 USD) Time | 1 hour
Tip | If you are only going to Tayrona for a night or two and straight back to Santa Marta, then it’s a good idea to just store your backpacks at the free luggage storage provided by most hostels. Alternatively, if you’re wanting to explore Tayrona and then Palomino, it might not be the worst idea to leave some stuff behind in Santa Marta so you can travel light. The Dreamer Hostel and Masaya Hostel are two popular hostels in Santa Marta.
If you need more tips and suggestions for the city, then check out our guide on the best things to do in Santa Marta.
Boat from Taganga
We have travelled a lot in Colombia, but never made it to Taganga because it has a pretty terrible reputation these days (though it’s still cheap and popular for diving). However, as it’s only 15-minutes from Santa Marta many people still visit and then take the daily boat service which runs you to Tayrona.
The speedboats leave from the beach between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and drop you off at Cabo San Juan beach, rather than the entrance - this is why it remains such a popular, albeit expensive, option. Just try to keep your stuff dry on the way though!
Boats return from 4 - 4.30 p.m., and you’ll hear guys at the beach shouting out for passengers. Note that if you really want to take the boat, but don’t want to stay in Taganga, then it’s a really quick bus or taxi ride (less than 15 minutes) to the village from Santa Marta.
Cost | 50,000 COP one-way (£12 / $15.5) Time | 45 minutes
Moto-Taxi from Costeño
We did a lot of research into how to best fit in Tayrona to our two-month Colombia itinerary, and were delighted when we hit upon this option.
Costeño is basically a secluded beach with various backpacker hostels and a few resorts - and that’s about it. It’s great for some relaxation in somewhere less crowded than Palomino, whilst still having a chilled out social atmosphere. Its proximity to Tayrona also means it’s the perfect place to set off from and return to, especially if you’re going to be spending more time travelling along the Colombian coast rather than return to Santa Marta.
We stayed the night at La Brisa Tranquila (but we actually had our hearts set on Tayrona Tented Lodges, but it was sold out), left our bags and valuables there in lockers, then took a private moto-taxi in the morning from the hostel door to the Tayrona entrance. This meant we arrived at the entrance well before 8 a.m. with zero stress, and could take it easy getting some supplies and breakfast before going in.
Another popular option to stay at for a couple of nights before or after Tayrona is El Rio Hostel, which has won various awards, but is a little further down the road.
Cost | 10,000 COP per person (£2.3 / $3) Time | 15 minutes
Bus from Palomino
The final option is to have a few days or a week hanging out in the backpacker beach town of Palomino, and then take the morning bus from there to the entrance. However, depending on your direction of travel, many of you may end up going to Palomino after your time in Tayrona.
Find out information on the bus from Palomino and what to do there in our guide (to be published soon, promise!)
Cost | 7,000 COP per person (£1.6 / $2) Time | 45 minutes
What About On The Way Back?
Once you’ve left the park after your stay of one to three nights, you will have offers of private taxis and shuttles and moto-taxis, or you can simply wait for one of the regular buses back to Santa Marta or onward to Costeño or Palomino. Or you could decide that you don’t fancy the two-hour walk back to the main entrance, just hop on the boat to Taganga at 4 p.m. / 4.30 p.m. and taxi / bus back to Santa Marta.
Do You Need a Tayrona National Park Ticket?
However, the cost of entry to Tayrona is more than most budget backpackers think. In fact, on our first trip to Colombia in 2016 when we were on a really tight budget, we decided not to visit Tayrona and instead put the cash towards an adventure to La Guajira.
In March 2019, our single low-season entry ticket to Tayrona cost $53,500 (£13 / $16.5), but we expect it’s likely to increase year-on-year because they really can charge what they like given its popularity (for example, tickets back in 2016 cost $40,000 per person). A high season ticket costs 63,500 COP (£15 / $20).
Most people purchase their ticket at the park’s large and modern entrance at Zaino, which has various ticket booths. Doors open at 8 a.m., and it’s best to arrive around that time (or even a little earlier) to avoid the worst of the queues. We paid by card but always bring enough cash in case that’s not possible.
It is also now possible to buy Tayrona tickets online in advance on the official Tayrona website. The website is all in Spanish but it’s a simple enough process to follow - just make sure you select the ‘Taquilla Zaino’ option on the ‘Selecionne La Zona’ drop-down (note that we don’t know what option to use if you’re taking the Taganga boat and arriving directly on the beach) and enter the correct visit dates. There was a separate line at the entrance (marked ‘preventa’) so that people who had bought their ticket in advance didn’t have to wait with everyone else, but we would still recommend arriving earlier in the morning so that you can secure accommodation.
Whichever method you buy your tickets via, just don’t forget to bring your passport too. It is also recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever, but we were not asked to show our certificates (and very few people are it seems). If you don’t have the vaccination, we’ve heard you can actually get it for free in Bogota airport, and remember the vaccination is not simply to protect yourself but to also protect local populations who may be more vulnerable to certain diseases (you can be a carrier of yellow fever and pass it on without actually being affected by it).
You will receive a wristband as proof of purchase. The Tayrona tickets provide access to all public areas of the park and doesn’t have a time time, it is not however a multi-entry ticket and does not include any accommodation or transport within the park.
Please note that we were charged an extra 2,500 COP per person for ‘insurance and rescue’ at the ticket booth, which we didn’t need as we have our own comprehensive travel insurance, but there didn’t seem to be any option but to pay for it. Further research makes us believe that it’s mandatory, but we’re not sure if you’d have to pay it ‘per diem’ for longer stays.
Tickets for Colombians are much cheaper at 25,000 COP. Children under 4 years old enter for free.
What are the Best Beaches in Tayrona?
Not such a straight forward question.
Tayrona National Park encompasses a much wider area than the beaches and section that we and most other travellers visit during our time in Tayrona. The park is so vast at 150 square kilometres (58 sq mi). that the truth is simply that many of its most beautiful beaches are simply not found in or accessible from the main Zaino entrance; if they were, they’d probably be slightly less beautiful. Beaches likes Playa Cristal (which allows only 300 visitors per day), Neguanje, Playa Brava, and Playa 7 Olas look wonderful from the photos we’ve seen, but there’s a reason hardly anyone visits them.
But that certainly doesn’t mean you should be despondent, as several of the 6-7 beaches you’ll visit during your hike through the wild jungle are simply stunning. But take note, it is unsafe - and we mean seriously unsafe - to swim at several of the best beaches in Tayrona due to strong currents. As you will see when you visit there are numerous signs up saying that hundreds have died ignoring this warning, so please take heed.
These are the beaches most travellers will have the chance to visit when you’re in Tayrona:
Castilletes + Cañaveral | The two beaches border each other, but are quite close to the entrance of Tayrona and not on the main trail, so very few backpackers stop here. Instead, the long sandy stretches are actually more popular with holidaying Colombians. If you stay at Ecohabs or do the 9 Stones walk, then you will be close enough to visit however. Unsafe to swim (however there is a small section call La Piscinita where it’s possible).
Arrecifes | We didn’t really like this long and wild stretch of beach, one of the largest in Tayrona, but it’s still very pretty. This is a very short walk away from a large, good quality campsite - the first one you’ll stop at on your hike through the jungle. It is unsafe to swim here.
La Piscina | A little gem. It’s safe to swim and it’s a wonderful, calm space with far fewer crowds on the crescent shaped beach than at Cabo San Juan - the photo under the Why Visit Tayrona National Park? section above is of this beach. Not to be confused with ‘La Piscinita’!
Cabo San Juan | The most famous and the most popular beaches of Tayrona are here. As well as that famous double-mirror viewpoint, it’s got palm trees, it’s got soft pale sand, it’s got that Caribbean blue, and it’s got waters which are safe to swim in. This is the beach which most backpackers will sleep next to during their time in Tayrona, possibly even swinging in the sea breeze at the in-demand hammock hut atop the rocks.
Punta Piedra + Playa Nudista | A 10-15 minute walk from Cabo San Juan, these are relatively quiet as most people simply stop at the more famous beach. They are however absolutely lovely and worth walking to, especially to escape the crowds. Note that you can get nude here but many people don’t. Its waters are not recommended for swimming.
We’ve shared more information on which beaches are best to visit, and in what order, in our Two Days in Tayrona itinerary.
How Do You Get To The Beaches?
Walking and more walking!
After you purchase your ticket, you can either walk for 4kms from the entrance or take a small but regular shuttle bus to the main trail start point - don’t be a hero and just take the shuttle. The walk from the ticket office entrance is universally acknowledged as not very interesting and a bit of a waste of time and energy, so your best bet is to simply join the queue on the right hand side for the shuttle.
At 3,000 COP (£0.7 / $1) for the 10 minute ride, we thought they were great value but note it can be a tight squeeze once everyone’s inside.
After the shuttle drops you off, it’s a hot and sweaty walk for 50 minutes to 2 hours depending upon which beaches you want to hang out at or visit - we’ve given more detailed instructions on this walk and the distances involved in our Two Day Tayrona itinerary.
The walk itself is really not difficult, with the trail being signposted, well-trodden, and a mixture of dirt, rocks, and wooden platforms.
Tip | The is an alternative Tayrona entrance and exit point at Calabazo, but we don’t have any experience of walking it or travelling to it (let us know in the comments if you do). It’s accessible with the same bus from Santa Marta, and 10-15 minutes before Zaino. Note that, for exiting Tayrona, you will likely walk back along the same trail to the Zaino entrance for 2-2.5 hours and you have to time this to ensure you can catch the last shuttle bus - unfortunately we don’t know what time the service ends, but we’d guess it’s around 5.00 - 5.30 p.m.
How Many Nights Do You Need in Tayrona?
We think this is actually the most divisive, but most important issue, when it comes to how much you’ll actually enjoy Tayrona.
For us, a day trip to Tayrona really isn’t worth it. The entry cost means it’s a lot of cash out of your travel budget for only 5-6 hours in the park, the experience will be rushed, and it hugely adds to the overcrowding situation. Instead, if you really want to visit Tayrona but are short on time, then you would be much better choosing a visit of two days / one night (but that does come with its own issues…). This gives you nearly two full mornings and afternoons in Tayrona, and you can then easily travel back to Santa Marta or onward to Palomino etc once you’ve exited.
On our own visit to the park in mid-March, the crowds really did take us by surprise. We knew it would be busy, but we didn’t expect it to be that busy - transforming Cabo San Juan into a bit of a hell hole at times. Most of that first day, aside from the walk in through the tropical trees, was really not too enjoyable.
However, once the daytrippers dispersed back to Santa Marta or Taganga at 3.30 / 4 p.m., we started to fully appreciate how beautiful the beaches actually were here and the vibe became much better. At night, it becomes really social and chilled out - much more like how it used to be we imagine. And then, in the early morning as we walked from deserted beach to deserted beach with the crashing waves as our soundtrack, we felt a little of the magic which we thought had perhaps been lost from Tayrona forever.
But, as the accommodation is so basic (see the next section) and the afternoon crowds such an issue, we would have begrudged staying another night or longer. In fact, it would have made us quite miserable.
If this is your first time on Along Dusty Roads, then we should note at this point that we have travelled Latin America for 2.5 years in total (mostly on a really tight budget), and so this isn’t a case of two pampered travellers having a moan about minging toilets. Maybe it’s because we had recently enjoyed blissed out beach days on the Colombian islands of San Andres + Providencia, and so we didn’t appreciate the beautiful beaches of Tayrona as much as we could have?
Lots of young groups of mate-sipping Argentines and Uruguyans and those enjoy a hackneyed form of peaced-out hippydom (whilst they leave their cigarette butts scattered in the sand) would disagree with us about Tayrona. And, if you visit in low season and perhaps base yourself somewhere less popular than Cabo San Juan, you may have a much better impression. However, we feel it’s really important to share our honest opinion and set your expectations for Tayrona as it’s such a hyped destination amongst travel websites trying to sell tours or sell you a certain vision of Colombia (which is our favourite country in South America).
And so, we couldn’t have stayed in Tayrona for more than two days. If you’re a group of young travellers and willing to tolerate the hammocks at night and the crowds in the afternoon however, then you may absolutely love being here for a little bit longer. However, the main points to help reduce the number of people you’re sharing it with are:
Avoid December and January
Avoid weekends and public holidays
Make the most of the late afternoons and mornings without day-trippers and new arrivals
Further Reading | Our route and suggested stops in Tayrona.
Where Do You Stay?
Staying inside the park is by far the most popular option, but the first thing to know is that the accommodation in Tayrona National Park does sell out on a daily basis in high season; this is another reason why arriving at the entrance in the early morning is essential.
The second thing to know is that you’re 99% certain to be spending the night in a hammock or a rented tent - and that there are no hostels or hotels inside the park except Ecohabs. Lots of blogs and booking websites try to deceive people into booking accommodation for Tayrona which is actually outside the park - don’t fall for it!
The third thing? That the prices keep on increasing each year, even though the quality stays the same.
Lastly, wild camping is not permitted.
Before you reach the ticket booths, you’ll find several information points at the entrance and their main role appears to get your accommodation booking organised as well as explain the layout of the park. We did a lot of research beforehand and the consensus was that reserving and paying for your accommodation BEFORE you enter the park is now the best option - and so this is what we did. Usually we’d be really sceptical about this arrangement, but it was clear that it was a legit operation so we booked two hammocks for the night, paid the lady, and receive a receipt with our booking details to present at the campsite. Payments are made in cash by the way, so factor this in before you leave Santa Marta.
When we arrived at our accommodation in Cabo San Juan for the night, and people were being turned away as all the hammocks had already been reserved, we felt pretty vindicated.
Note that the majority of accommodation inside Tayrona park are not online and can’t be booked online.
Tayrona National Park Accommodation
So, it’s essential to have a good idea about which part of the park you’ll be staying in before you arrive and reserve your place before you enter.
The accommodation hubs (which are basically campsites) are quite far from eachother within the park, but all are relatively close to beaches and accessible via the main walking trail. All have a restaurant, toilets, showers, a small shop on site, and the limited hammock vs. tent option as your bed for the night. However, the main thing is to decide whether you want to be located slap bang in the middle of Tayrona’s best beaches, or are happy to stay somewhere less crowded but a decent walk away.
Your main Tayrona Park accommodation options are:
Castilletes | The shuttle bus driver will shout out for this, but it’s best to make sure he knows that you want to get dropped off here (he passes it before continuing on to Cañaveral). Camping and cabins here are a lot cheaper than other campsites and it’s a popular choice for Colombians, but it is quite a distance from the best beaches and safe swimming spots. You can however book in advance online for the main campsite - check availability and prices here.
Arrecife | We didn’t really like its long, wild, uncovered beach but the main campsite we visited on our way to see the beach was much larger and had much better, more modern facilities than Cabo San Juan (sorry we can’t remember the name, but its down as Zona Camping Sector Arrecifes Parque Nacional Tayrona on Google Maps!). Its also cheaper and less crowded than Cabo San Juan, but you’ll have to walk the trail for 20 - 60 mins to reach the best beaches. Passing the main camp and continuing on to the trail, there were then two smaller options which charged the same as San Juan but looked incredibly basic - only as a last resort we think. Sorry we can’t remember their names.
Cabo San Juan | The most popular campsite due to it proximity next to two lovely beaches which you can also swim at safely. Most backpackers will make a beeline for here, as we did, but just remember that it’s also the place that everyone else is heading to for their beach day in Tayrona. The prices at Cabo San Juan campsite were $40,000 (£9.5 / $12) for an outdoor hammock, 50,000 COP (£12 / $14) for the hammocks with a view (great location but would be very cold at night and far from toilets), a tent was 40,000 COP per person (£9.5 / $12), or a private shed (seriously) 200,000 COP (£47 / $61) for two people - that last price is not a typo.
Outside the Park | There are a whole bunch of option, where you can spend the night (or longer) before or after your visit to Tayrona - see an overview of all the accommodation options based outside Tayrona here. The one that we really wanted to stay at was Tayrona Tented Lodge but it was fully booked on our dates.
Please note that these are the prices we paid and wrote down in March 2019, but please let us know in the comments once they increase so we can keep the post updated for future travellers! If you’d like to know the prices before entering the park, then your best bet is to ask at one of the various information and pre-booking points at the park entrance - however we don’t know if pre-booking is possible (or necessary) for the sites outwith Cabo San Juan.
If you have alternative suggestions on where to stay in Tayrona, then feel free to let us know in the comments too.
Hammock vs. Tent?
The next big decision for your time in Tayrona, which will also shape the first big decision of how many nights to stay in the park, is whether you’re going to sleep in a tent or hammock. Some of the campsites do have a handful of those small shed-like cabins for extortionate prices, but the vast majority of you will have to choose between a tent or hammock. .
Now, we have slept in many many hammocks on our travels (including on the Lost City Trek and in La Guajira in Colombia), and so it’s safe to say that all the romanticism about doing it is now gone! However please don’t let our misanthropy put you off the more romantic adventure visions you have about it. The good news is that the hammocks we slept in were large, sturdy, and (relatively) comfortable. In San Juan (and also at Arrecifes) campsites, the cheaper hammocks are all strung up in two or three rows in an open-sided shed structure sleeping 40-50 people. At Cabo San Juan, we received a hammock number once we presented our payment receipt at the desk and this also included a locker.
Did we get a good night’s sleep? Nope. Was it as good a night’s sleep as we expected? Yep.
Alternatively, you can rent one of the many pre-erected tents (stop giggling at the back there) for around the same price or a little bit cheaper depending on your campsite. These didn’t appeal to us (until our night in the hammock) but if you’re here for more than one night, then the tent may be the better option. However, the consensus does seem to be that they’re not the best or cleanest. They come with mats and we understand that it’s possible to rent sleeping bags (yuck) if you don’t have your own or a sleeping bag liner. Otherwise, just improvise with your nightclothes, towels, and backpack!
If you’re travelling with your own tent, then you can pay to pitch it for cheaper at all the campsites.
What Do You Need To Bring / Pack?
Facilities are basic within the campsites, and you’ll be responsible for bringing the right stuff to tide you over whilst in the park. The absolute essentials, whether you’re coming for the day or longer, are:
Head torch - necessary for those toilet visits at night
Warm clothes - for the evening when it becomes chilly, especially if you’re in a hammock
Swim shorts / Bikini - you’re at the beach after all!
Travel towel - we use these by lifeventure which double up as a big beach towel too.
Padlock - the Cabo San Juan camp thankfully had small lockers to store valuables if you were staying in a hammock. We use this reliable 10-digit padlock
Plenty cash - there are no ATMs within the park or outside, so bring plenty to cover all eventualities and emergencies, and keep it safe. We’ve shared our total costs for visiting Tayrona later in the post.
Sandals / Flip-flops - for the beach, not the hike.
A book / playing cards (there ain’t no wifi here)
Toilet paper + hand sanitiser
Suncream - it’s hot.
Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, facewash. If you’re here for more than a few days, you can use the basic showers (or the sea).
Battery Pack - there are limited chargers available at the campsites, but you aren’t guaranteed a spot, electricity was only on from 6-10 p.m., and we’d be reluctant to leave our phones unattended here. The best solution is a lightweight battery pack, which is a standard piece of our travel tech.
Rainjacket / Packable poncho - check the weather before you visit though as it may not be necessary.
Any medication and first-aid that you require
All of this should go in your normal daypack, so pack light and pack smart.
For walking the trails in and around the park, we advise you 100% against flip-flops as it can be slippery on the rocks and mud, but neither would we recommend wearing your hiking boots. We left ours and our hiking poles back at the hostel in Costeño and just worse our Converse - trainers or hiking sandals will be just fine. It’s incredibly humid though, so be prepared to sweat and wear loose or high-wicking clothing.
What About My Valuables?
As we’ve mentioned, you shouldn’t take your big backpack to Tayrona. Instead, leave it at the free luggage storage at your hostel back in Santa Marta (The Dreamer hostel and Masaya are highly rated), Palomino, or one of the various accommodations around Tayrona. However, we never recommend leaving valuables in hostel luggage storage as they see a lot of foot traffic and aren’t that secure. La Guaca Hostel, just outside the city centre of Santa Marta, does however offer free lockers in addition where you can lock your valuables in securely with your own padlock - and La Brisa Tranquila at Costeño also has lockers in their luggage storage room.
In Tayrona, we thankfully also had small lockers (we’re not certain if people in tents get one) where we could store our cameras and bags, but you need your own padlock. As you’ll be carrying all your cash for the visit (and perhaps for the few days after it depending on your next destination), it’s best to keep this securely in the locker or on your person. Under no circumstances should you leave your bag or valuables unattended on the beach or in the restaurants however as there are so many people passing through them all and thefts do occur.
This 10-digit padlock is a good option to bring to South America.
What About Food + Water?
There are several restaurants in the park - located in or close to the accommodation hubs - which offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner but most people staying for a few days in the park (or on a tight budget) choose to also bring supplies for sandwiches and snacks with them.
If leaving from Santa Marta or elsewhere, it’s much cheaper to stock up food and water there rather than at the overpriced small shops outside the park entrance. We think there are some really basic cooking facilities at some of the campsites, but if it was us we’d just stick with sandwich ingredients, fruits, crisps, nuts etc (and keep your eyes out for lady who comes to Cabo San Juan twice in the afternoon to sell pretty great free sandwiches, including a tasty veggie option and pastries).
The restaurant at Cabo San Juan charged 7,000-15,000 COP (£1.6 - £3.5 / $2 - $4.6) for breakfast, and 18,000 - 40,000 COP (£4.3 - £9.6 / $5.5 - $12) for lunch and dinners (e.g. a basic pasta with sauce was the cheapest option at $16,000). Note that the restaurant shuts for a few hours in the afternoon after lunch, and people queue up as the dinner services starts in the evening. Waiting a while for your food to arrive isn’t uncommon.
In terms of water, we are huge proponents of trying to reduce our plastic usage at home and when we travel, and so packed our trusty Water-to-Go travel filter bottles for Tayrona. However, given the heat and as we were unsure of how many freshwater sources we’d have access to along the trails, we also bought and carried a 1.5 litre bottle with us on the way in. Staying hydrated in such humid conditions is key so bring plenty water on your first day, and don’t skimp on purchasing on the way out (2 litres per person per day is a good rule of thumb). It’s also possible to buy drinks (beer, gatorade, water, and soft drinks) at the campsites during the day and evening.
Please act responsibly with your litter and waste whilst you’re in Tayrona National Park, respecting the guidelines (even if so many people tragically don’t). It was very frustrating to see the disregard people had for the local nature and ecosystem, with cigarette butts and other bits of trash simply being discarded. Remember, this site is also genuinely sacred to the remaining indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, so stick to the trails permitted and respect it.
Is It Really as Expensive as I’ve Heard?
Obviously this depends on your travel budget and whether your visit to Tayrona is part of a short holiday to Colombia or a longer South America backpacking trip. As we mentioned, its relatively high cost stopped us from visiting back in 2016.
Given how popular the north of Colombia now is - and the increase in prices and visitors to Cartagena - it isn’t a surprise that the entry to Tayrona keeps on increasing. At 53,500 + 2,500 COP mandatory insurance, it’s clearly quite high and you need to spend two days in the park to justify it.
However the costs for food and drink inside the park weren’t actually as high as we had expected (as basic lunch or dinner for 18,000 - 30,000 COP is expensive for non-touristy parts of Colombia but not actually that bad relative to other spots). However, we actually went with the fresh sandwiches sold for 7,000 COP on the beach! Snacks and drink prices are clearly higher than you’d find at a shop down in Bogota, but they weren’t prohibitively expensive either, with beers at 5,000 COP (£1.2 / $1.5) and 1.5 bottles of water at 6,000 COP (£1.4 / $1.9).
The only gripe we’d have is that the accommodation is really basic and the price will only continue to increase given the park’s popularity and lack of competition between campsites (whilst conditions won’t improve proportionately).
To help you plan your Tayrona travel budget, we’ve outlined our total cost per person staying overnight in the cheap hammocks at Cabo San Juan (just note that we didn’t buy lunch, dinner, or breakfasts at the restaurants):
Costs Per Person
Moto-taxi from Costeño | $10,000
1 x Basic Breakfast | $8,000
The most expensive Colombian bananas ever | $4,000
1.5 litres of water | $5,000
1 x Tayrona Park Tickets + Mandatory Insurance | $56,000
2 x journeys on shuttle bus | $6,000
1 x orange juice on trail | $5,000
1 x cheap hammock at Cabo San Juan | $40,000
1 x vegetarian sandwich | $7,000
2 x bottles of Aguila | $10,000
1.5 litres of water | $6,000
Moto-taxi back to Costeño | $10,000
Total | 167,000 COP
(£40.5 / $52.5 / €47)
Are There Other Things To Do In Tayrona?
Tayrona is popular due to its beautiful beaches and the unique way to access them via forest trails - discovering or relaxing on the various beaches is always going to be the main reason people come here.
However, if you’re here for two days or longer then you may wish to add on a short hike to Pueblito which is a 500-year old village. The hike is well sign-posted, starts from Cabo San Juan, and takes 3-4 hours to walk in total. Another option is the Nine Piedras (Nine Stones) hike on a looped-trail.
Alternatively, you can go snorkelling and scuba diving from La Piscina whilst there are also horse excursions in the park (we are not fans of animal tourism, but at least these animals did look in excellent condition and appeared well treated).
So, Is Tayrona Worth It?
There’s no doubt that Tayrona once would have been a truly spectacular, secluded, and special place.
However, in our two days there, our overriding emotion was frustration and a bit of disappointment at just how crowded it was. Though it’s undeniably beautiful (that’s something that will never change) and does can still like a secluded paradise in parts and in moments, they really do need to get a handle on the number of people who can visit each day (i.e. reduce the numbers permitted) so that it can recover some of its sense of isolation and uniqueness.
So, we aren’t suggesting that you remove Tayrona from your itinerary, but just setting your expectations so that you can truly decide if you want to visit it whilst you’re in Colombia over other places on your list rather than simply following the crowd.