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The beaches of Tayrona shake you with drastic beauty, but visiting Tayrona National Park in one day trip can make you gasp out of frustration, as well. Go there for laidback beach hopping at one of the prettiest shorelines of Colombia, pre-Colombian ruins, and scenic trekking and horseback riding routes. Grab a map, mend the rules, rent a horse, and play a game of beach hopping with us!
Welcome to the Paradise of Ancient Tayrona People
Tayrona National Park appears as an ancient paradise that has been cloistered from the modern civilization. The curtain of lush coconut palms reveals the raging, azure Caribbean, which is tamed into lulling waves in some sheltered bays. Monumental boulders rhythm the coastline, casting shade for jazzy corals and playful fish. The spell of Tayrona National Park is deepened by stories of an ancient indigenous tribe, Tairona. Tayrona Indians inhabited this thick jungle in addition to their more famous terraced city, Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.
The ancient Tayrona people set sail from Cabo San Juan del Guia, after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills of Tayrona National Park
How to Plan Your Visit to Tayrona National Park and Avoid the Pitfalls
The first step of planning: decide how long to spend in Tayrona Nationa. If you’re just daytripping like us, look at the map of Tayrona Park and read further to decide which beaches and other spots to pick. If you feel the urge to visit Pueblito, make it your top priority and arrive at the gates of Tayrona when they open at 8AM. If you’d just like to spend a relaxed day trekking or horseback riding from a stunning beach to next, we’ve written this guide especially for you!
When leaving our hotel, we get an intriguing map of Tayrona National Park, which resembles old board games. Excited, I decide to call our day “the beach hopping Monopoly” since we decided to use horses to travel from one beach to another, crossing several properties, and aiming to visit the pre-Hispanic town of Pueblito. Later it turned out that Tayrona National Park offered a classic board game experience: we had to take our chances, speeding up but still failing to accomplish everything we had planned. Learn from our mistakes and plan carefully to maximize your chances to explore Tayrona.
Warning: Visiting Tayrona National Park in one day showcases the cons of Colombia
The queues can be intolerable, especially on weekends, and the backpacker vibe is loudly manifested at the most stunning beaches, such as Cabo San Juan del Guia. But if you know what to expect and plan accordingly, your visit to Tayrona National Park will still feel magical!
Wouldn't you love to find the secluded coves in Tayrona National Park?
How to Play Wisely at the Tayrona National Park Entrance
So let’s get into the beach hopping game and check out the rules to get out the most out of your visit to Tayrona National Park. In case you’re not interested in the rules at this point, jump over to the next chapter and start the game by renting a horse! Or if horses are not your thing, jump straight to our trekking guide section.
At the starting line, we’ll need to mend the official rules to get in the game more rapidly. Walk towards the entrance looking determined. Probably, you cannot avoid the first checkpoint, where your bag will be inspected. It’s not allowed to bring glass bottles or alcohol inside the park, dare you! Also, plastic bags are forbidden, so make sure you don’t carry any.
Put your firm face on and walk on, trying to sneak past the next park officers, who urge you to watch a lengthy film about the park. Once again, it’s hard to avoid the nuisance. Take a back seat and try to evaporate as soon as you can to find the best beaches before the masses arrive. We used an arriving group as our cover. Time is money if you have only one day in Tayrona National Park!
Now, proceed towards the ticket queue and hope for the best. We had to wait in line for one hour. Please try to avoid the rush by arriving in the entrance of Tayrona National Park as early as you can and visiting on the weekdays (make sure it’s not a national holiday, either). We arrived at 9.30 AM, whereas the gates open at 8 AM, and cursed vigorously sleeping in. However, we heard later that people, who arrived well before opening and watched the information film in the first group of the day, still had to wait 1,5 hours because the personnel came late and some people didn’t have their ID’s. Welcome to Colombia.
There are obvious management issues, but you can try to smooth things by holding your passport and entrance fee (43000 COP, about 15$) at hand. Please don’t ask any questions at the Tayrona ticket booth; there are plenty of guides and park officers hanging around the entrance, who can give more information about the park, routes, and sights – also in English.
Finally, with the national park tickets in your hand, proceed forward towards the vans, which carry visitors the 4 km leg to Cañaveral against the 3000 COP fee. Save your strength and skip an uninspiring, 1-hour walk by the paved road towards the shoreline of Tayrona. Cañaveral marks the first beach on your route, but if you have just one day in the park, hit the trail here and save swimming for better coves.
Rent Horses and Gallop to the Jungles of Tayrona
If you’re visiting Tayrona National Park in one day, I’d suggest covering some of the distance with horses. The same goes if you are planning to camp in Tayrona Park since you’ll have a lot to carry and need to hurry to get the best spot. I always play Monopoly with a horse token, so my opinion might be biased, but as you cannot take a car or plane inside the park, a horse is way better than just a wheelbarrow, though locals use them for transporting goods, as well.
Tip: the most beautiful beach in Tayrona, called Cabo San Juan del Guia, has only two double rooms which can’t be booked in advance. It’s well worth hurrying to get a private room!
Cañaveral is the best spot inside Tayrona National Park to rent horses. The stables are on the left from where the van drops you. You’ll also drive past a tiny square just before Cañaveral; we opted walking back a couple of hundred meters to pick our horses from there. The price is 40000 COP (about 14$) all the way to Cabo San Juan del Guia (one-way, per person). Just note that horses have a partly different route than hikers. Whereas the Tayrona’s hiking path hugs beach most of the time, horses go a bit deeper inland. I loved both sceneries, so I would recommend walking back to get the whole deal!
Is it Safe to Ride in Tayrona National Park?
You don’t have to be an experienced rider because the horses of Tayrona are reliable and know how to move on the challenging terrain. They won’t gallop unless you’ll encourage them to speed up. Still, you need to be prepared to ride up and down very steep hills, through narrow gorges between stones, and wooden bridges.
Everyone says that the horses know the route from Cañaveral to Cabo San Juan del Guia by heart, but we ended up taking the wrong turn more than once. But then again, we galloped and trotted so much that the horses probably didn’t feel to be on a traditional shift. If you ride calmly, the owner will walk with you showing the right route all the time.
To our experience, the horses won’t spook out if they see lizards or birds, so probably that’s the case with bigger wildlife, as well. To be honest, you have to be incredibly lucky to spot more than howler monkeys during your visit in Tayrona National Park. Of course, the chances are better if you stay overnight in Tayrona and take a night trek. Tayrona National Park is the last place on earth to see cotton-top tamarins, and in the shades of the jungle lurk also elusive jaguars and tiger cats (oncillas).
“Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders of Tayrona that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures.”
Trekking Guide: Find the Best Beaches in Tayrona National Park (With or Without Horses)
Leisure, one-hour jungle trek, or a slightly less with a horse, escorts you to Arricifes, which rates amongst the most gorgeous beaches inside Tayrona National Park. The rip current makes even swimming risky; more than 250 people have drowned here since locals started to count the deaths ten years back. The current pattern is difficult to read even for experienced swimmers and surfers.
If you are on horseback, the route won’t take you to the seafront. It pays to walk back since then you can hug the beach for almost the whole hike between Arricifes and your final destination, Cabo San Juan de Guia. Part of the walk is on the sand. The walking route from Cañaveral to Arricifes is also more picturesque, though slightly longer than the route for horses.
Arricifes has the best restaurants in the park. If you still haven’t tried limonada de coco, do it here! The first camping area is called Yuluka and the second El Paraiso; both have restaurants. The other end of the beach is called Bukaru.
From Arricifes, it’s a spellbinding 15-minute walk to La Piscina. The hiking path lingers by the beach and crosses a lush palm grove before reaching the calmest beach, La Piscina, which is Spanish for the pool.
La Piscina was my favorite beach in Tayrona National Park; it nourished my body and soul between the riding and hiking legs. Let your eyes rest on the sliding blend of the light blue ocean and sky, occasionally stopping to the austere boulders that rise from the lulling waves like giant shells of mystical, ancient creatures. Just looking around feels like meditating.
The lagoon of La Piscina is the best place in Tayrona National Park for snorkeling and swimming. Although we didn’t have much time to snorkel, we fully enjoyed floating beside the majestic boulders. The ocean is unbelievably clear, and sand is not as crowded as in Cabo San Juan del Guia, which is your last destination on this horseback riding and walking route. Trekking from La Piscina to Cabo takes only 15 minutes.
Cabo San Juan del Guia is the most beautiful beach in Tayrona National Park, but unfortunately somehow spoiled with a large camping ground, a huge restaurant, and a plethora of sun worshippers. Without the crowds, Cabo San Juan del Guia would be the ultimate paradise beach. Now you just have to see through the backpacker vibe and try to time-travel into the ancient times. Grab a beer from the stall beside the restaurant and sit on the sand, allowing the gentle breeze lull you into paradise mode.
Massive boulders guard the powdery sand, letting in the Caribbean Sea in the shades of turquoise and azul. El Cabo must have been the spot, where the ancient Tayrona people set sail after descending from Pueblito, their village up in the misty hills. They probably used to swim here to clean up the dust of hunting. I wonder if this spectacular beach has had even deeper meaning for the Tairona, maybe as a ritual place. Little is known about the habits of Chibcha Indians, who inhabited the area of Tayrona National Park more than 2000 years ago. There’s even evidence of human population dating back to 4000 BCE.
Massive boulders protect the beach of Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park
Trek to Pueblito Ruins From Cabo San Juan del Guia
If you’re spending the night in Tayrona National Park, please hike up to the ruins of Pueblito! The path leading to the mountains of Tayrona starts behind the camping area of Cabo San Juan del Guia. It’s a challenging two-hour trek upwards and one hour to descend, but you’ll be rewarded with small-scale pre-Hispanic ruins of the Tayrona village. Most of the town is buried beneath the vegetation, but there are some terraces, similar to those of Ciudad Perdida. On the way, you have good chances to spot wildlife, since a few people visit the site.
Unfortunately, we had to skip visiting Pueblito due to arriving too late to the trailhead. You should start the Pueblito hike before 2 PM to make it back during the daylight. We lost too much time at the entrance and took a couple of wrong turns with the horses. Although we tried to catch time at first, at halfway we made the decision of just enjoying the ride. If you have only one day in Tayrona National Park and plan to visit Pueblito, be sure to arrive before 8 AM.
Where to Stay in Tayrona National Park (Including Nearby Beaches)
The beaches in Tayrona National Park are arguably picture-perfect, but consequently, they are also full. Accommodation options in the national park are rather limited outside budget alternatives, camping, and very ripped down cottages. A couple of lovely lodges come with a hefty price tag, and you can’t still escape the crowds.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced boutique hotel at a deserted beach, you’ll have a couple of options outside Tayrona National Park, nearby the villages of Palomino, Buritaca, and Guachaca. After a thorough search, we found our match from La Mar de Bien, as we were looking for a small-scale boutique hotel with affordable prices, great meals, and a stunning beach. La Mar de Bien is the only hotel in the area with a pool – and it comes with massaging hydrothermals and hydrojets if you wish. It’s a green oasis of lush coconut palms and fruit trees just beside one of the most dramatic beaches we’ve seen. The best part is that you’ll have kilometers of sand just for yourself! During our endless beach walks, we encountered only a couple of other people. La Mar de Bien has only five rooms and one cottage, so book well in advance to ensure your ticket to paradise.
What Would I Change in Our Visit to Tayrona National Park?
Visiting Tayrona was fun for sure, but our day would have been even better with more careful planning. The biggest downfall was that we ran out of time. If we’d visit Tayrona National Park again, I’d arrive well before the gate opens at 8 AM and hope for better luck at the ticket booth.
Ultimately, I’d skip the rather hectic one-day trip and spend the night inside Tayrona National Park to guarantee enough time for snorkeling, visiting the ruins of Pueblito, witnessing one of these spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and having enough beach time. I would still stay at least a couple of nights just outside the park’s limits, at one of the gorgeous beaches near Palomino. All this would just require more time than we had on our Colombian tour.
Our visit to Tayrona National Park was definitely long and a bit tiring but blessed with otherworldly sceneries and great horseback riding paths. Everything didn’t turn out like planned, but in the end, we still grinned like winners. The spell of Tayrona National Park was too much to resist, despite the crowds and unfortunate chances.
La Mar de Bien hosted our stay nearby Tayrona National Park, but all opinions remain our own. We were visiting Tayrona National Park independently and at our own cost.
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