Monday, 8 December 2014

Relaxing on the beaches of Tayrona

Sunset in Tayrona

The Tayrona National Park is beautiful mix of dense jungle and pristine white beaches, bordering the clear waters of the Caribbean sea in north east Colombia. 

Unfortunately for us (and the trees), there had been very little rainfall 

in the months leading up to our visit, meaning that the park wasn't quite as verdant as it usually is. 

Yet, it was still more than stunning, and a great place to relax, sunbathe and soak in the sea.
Blue seas of the Caribbean

Getting there
From Taganga, where we were staying, it was easy to book ourselves on a tourist bus, which picked us up from our hostel. 

It stopped at the checkpoint into the park (where we had to pay an entrance fee) and then took us to the end of the road and to the start of the track into the park. 

Its important to make sure your transport is taking you past the checkpoint to the end of the road. Otherwise, its a boring hour walk along the tarmac, before you even start on the path to the beaches and into the park.

Walking to Cabo de San Juan
At the end of the road, you almost immediately come to the Tayrona Ecohabs at Canaveral beach. This is the most expensive accommodation in the park at around US$300 a night for a cabin sleeping 2-4 people. We walked on past to find the path towards the other beaches and camping grounds.

Apart from ruling out the ecohabs, we hadn't exactly decided where we would stay. We'd heard good things about Cabo de San Juan. We were told that of the beaches that were easily accessible and had facilities, it was the most beautiful. It was also the furthest away from the entrance. So our plan was to walk towards Cabo de San Juan, while checking out the other options on the way.

Past Canaveral, we found the well marked path and walked the 45 minutes up and down the boulder-ey path to arrive at the beach at Arrecifes. It is possible to camp or hire a hammock at the campsite next to the beach.

Arrecifes beach

The campsite looked nice and well set out, with a mouth-watering fresh juice bar. The beach was quite stunning - a long sweeping stretch of sand. However, the signs on the beach made it very clear that it was not safe to swim here. There was also very little shade. We decided to walk on through.

Treelined walkway

From Arrecifes, we walked for around 40 more minutes beside the sea to come to a couple of much smaller beaches where we could catch our breath. The beaches here were nice, but quite small and with no campsites. So after a little rest, it was another 20 minutes walk through the trees to Cabo de San Juan. 

And it was worth it! There are three beautiful interlinking bays at Cabo de San Juan with trees at the edges offering shade. It is also safe to go in the sea here when you need to cool off - perfect.
Sweeping bay

Staying in Cabo de San Juan
There a few different sleeping options at Cabo de San Juan. There are hammocks to rent both down by the beach and out on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. 

You can also rent a tent or bring your own hammock or tent. We'd recommend a hammock as it can get very hot in the tents. 

Crashing waves from the rocky outcrop, where you can get a hammock

To make sure you can get a hammock, you do need to arrive at the beach before 2pm when reception starts checking people in. A queue starts to form just after 1.30pm. 

Cabo de San Juan

The biggest demand is for the hammocks on the rocky outcrop because of the incredible views of the sea and coastline. Apparently, it can also get quite cold up there at night, so make sure you have something to cover your arms and your legs if want to stay there.

Walking to El Pueblito

On one of our days in the park, we followed the path behind the campsite up to the ruins of El Pueblito.

El Pueblito
El Pueblito itself is not particularly impressive, but we did enjoy the hike/scramble up there - particularly after all that lazing around on the beach. 

Walking back from El Pueblito
Its around a 2-3 hour hour walk up and a bit less to get back down again. There were people selling overpriced drinks at the top, so don't worry if you don't have enough water with you (but make sure you bring cash!). 

Pathway to El Pueblito
The path starts behind the showers in the Cabo de San Juan campsite and is pretty well marked. There were a few paths at the beginning where we weren't sure which way to go, but they all seemed to join up with one another, so its quite hard to get lost!

Animal spotting

We spotted a few lizards and frogs on our walk to Cabo de San Juan. However, as quite a lot of people do walk along this path, you do have to be quite quiet and really look out for them, if you want to see them.

Our best animal spotting was on the way up to El Pueblito, as its much quieter. I was particularly pleased to spot a family of monkeys.

But even if you spend your whole time in Tayrona lazing on the beach, you're sure to see something. This huge iguana was sunbathing with all the tourists the whole time we were there!

Eating and drinking
All of the information we read about going into Tayrona said food and drink is really expensive in the park and you should take as much as you can with you. While we'd agree that it is overpriced for Colombia, it really wasn't that bad. Sure, take some snacks with you to keep you going, particularly for the walk in, but taking in your own water for a few days is really going to weigh you down unnecessarily.

Mmmm Pan Tayrona
We particularly enjoyed the 'Caprese' Pan Tayrona, which was a warm bread stuffed with melted cheese, tomato and basil. The guy selling the Pan Tayrona arrived at Cabo de San Juan around midday every day.

Getting back to Taganga
All too quickly, it was time for us to retrace our steps and head back out of the park and find ourselves a bus back to Taganga. We hadn't booked on a specific minibus to get back, so we were a little worried about whether we'd find a space. 

However, when we got to the car park at Canaveral, there were lots of taxi drivers offering similar prices to the minibuses for our group of three (and leaving straightaway). So we hopped in taxi and were back in Taganga in no time at all.

The pathway is well marked
The other option is to get a boat from Cabo de San Juan to Taganga, which was a little bit pricier than our taxi. We decided to avoid the boat as we'd talked to people who'd boated in and said they'd got soaking wet, sunburnt and had felt really sick. 

So, we made a day of our walk back out, stopping at beaches along the way for a swim and a chill-out. 

What to take with you
For most of our time in the park we lived in our beachwear, so make sure you have your bikini/trunks with you, as well as whatever you might want to throw on to cover up a bit more.

In the evenings, it didn't really get cold. However, bring something that covers your arms and legs for the nighttime, particularly if you are lucky enough to get one of the hammocks out on the rocky outcrop.

For the walk in and the walk up to El Pueblito, I was grateful for my walking shoes. I saw others do both walks in flip flops and it did not look fun. I'd particularly recommend not doing the walk to 'El Pueblito' in flip flops.

Hard cash is essential, as you're not going to be paying for anything with plastic out here. We spent around £70 each for three days, two nights. This covered travel to and from the park, entrance to the park, two nights accommodation, lunch for two days and dinner for two nights, plus a few drinks in the evening.

There weren't too many mosquitos in the park and all the hammocks came with a mosquito net. However, our time in Tayrona wasn't completely mozzie free. The worst 'biting time' was around dusk when everyone was lining up for a shower. So do bring some spray!

You'll also need toilet paper and a torch!

Other tips and useful things to know

  • There is a locker room at the campsite in Cabo de San Juan. The lockers are free to use, as long as you have a small padlock and can find an empty locker.
  • Try to leave as much stuff as possible in your hostel at Santa Marta or Taganga. You don't need much with you in the park and you'll really notice any unnecessary extra weight on the walk on the way in (and out).
  • The showers in Cabo de San Juan are er... interesting. They are mixed gender and although there are cubicles, the walls between the cubicles don't go right to the ceiling, so you'll see the head of the person showering next to you. You do have to make an effort if you want to see anything else, but I still felt more comfortable showering in my bikini.
  • If you bring lots of stuff with you, you can hire horses to take your belongings (and you) to the campsite of your choice.

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