Paisa Tours: Guide to Medellin and Colombia


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North Colombia & Caribbean Coast:
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Park Tayrona


Tayrona National Park has, without doubt, some of the finest beaches in all of South America - this is a tropical paradise. It's hard to put into words quite how beautiful the empty beaches of Park Tayrona are - you'll have to visit. This is one of Colombia's real travel highlights - there are miles of unspoilt beautiful rainforest backed beaches - the only complaint might be that most are not safe for swimming.

There is only one high quality hotel in Park Tayrona (the luxury Eco-Habs), though there are various places for camping, and many sites offer hammocks for rent. Most of the campsites have small rustic cabanas that you might be able to stay in, if there is room upon your arrival. There's also a few great places to stay just outside of the Park (see the final section for details).

Note that technically you need a Yellow Fever certificate to enter Park Tayrona. In reality, this is very rarely requested at the Park entrance gate. If a Yellow Fever certificate is requested and you don't have one, try coming back the next day, or just take a boat from Taganga or Santa Marta and avoid the entrance check (though the boat will be expensive).

Canaveral & Eastern Park Tayrona

Canaveral, in Eastern Park Tayrona (see map), is the most frequently used, and convenient, access point - it's less than 1 hours travel by car / bus from Santa Marta or Taganga (a taxi costs 60,000 pesos). At Canaveral is the luxury Eco-Habs hotel (book through Aviatur, the travel agency who operate the hotel). This luxury spa hotel offers guests beautiful individual cabanas - make sure you request a room with an unobstructed sea view. Eco-Habs is expensive at 440,000 pesos per night for two people (2008 price) - though interestingly is is exactly the same price for a group of four people, and it's a special place to stay (indeed it's one of my favourite small luxury hotels in Colombia). There are some lovely beaches near Eco-Habs, and this section of Park Tayrona feels far more civilised than the beaches further West - there's excellent food and cocktails served by Eco-Habs on La Piscinita beach for example (relatively safe for swimming).

Camping can conveniently be done in this Eastern section of Park Tayrona - see www.campingtayrona.com (click their English language tab) for useful info on the park and prices.

Arrecifes (Eastern Park Tayrona)

Having arrived by taxi, or collectivo, at Canaveral, most visitors travel onwards to the campsites a short walk West of Canaveral. 45 minutes walk West is Arrecifes, the best base to explore Park Tayrona. Donkeys can help transport your bags to your campsite, though the fee is not particularly cheap. Walk a little further West (in the direction of Cabo San Juan) to find La Piscina beach, which is Tayrona's only truely safe beach for swimming.

Aviatur (who run the luxury EcoHabs hotel mentioned above) operate a campsite called Yuluka at Arrecifes, which also offers hammock spaces for 16,000 pesos - this is by a mile the best campsite in Park Tayrona - it's like luxury camping with boutique bathrooms. The restaurant here serves great food at totally reasonable prices - if camping were always like this, everyone would be a convert! See the Aviatur website, though little info is provided about the actual campsite.

If the Aviatur campsite is full, the second best camping option in Arrecifes is Finca El Paraiso - it's slightly cheaper, has a restaurant and is a little closer to the actual beach. A ten minute walk further West is Bukaru, a campsite run by the same people (Finca El Paraiso). Finca El Paraiso and Bukaru can be booked in advance through their office in Santa Marta (tel: 0057 5 431 3130, address is Carrera 7B No 28A-103, Santa Marta). If all others are full, you could try the third (final) camping option in Arrecifes - Finca Don Pedro, which is the most basic option, with a restaurant, and found a little before you arrive in Arrecifes (a 200 metre detour off the main trail).

Cabo San Juan (Eastern Park Tayrona)

You'll be lugging your bags with you unless you've help from a donkey, but a further 45 minutes walk West of Arrecifes is Cabo San Juan - another campsite and restaurant is present (called Camping Cabo San Juan). The campsite here is poorly managed, and the restaurant food rather dubious, however this is the most beautifully set campsite, and is also one of the cheapest accommodation options in the Park. The best hammock spaces are on top of the Mirador (the large rock in the middle of the beach). There's also a couple of simple cabanas that offer alternatives to hammocks here.During the Colombian high season (Christmas to mid January, Easter Week and mid June to mid July) it gets seriously busy at this campsite, and has a party atmosphere. Don't expect any peace and quiet during the high season at this campsite - considering that hundreds of people have to share a handful of showers and a small restaurant, the experience isn't for everyone. Stay at this campsite mid week in the low season, and it's a totally different, magical experience. For me, it's the most beautiful region of the Park - shame about the seasonal crowds!

Further West from Cabo San Juan one finds Park Tayrona's finest (empty) beaches - just follow the paths westwards to find 3 fantastic beaches. The last beach one can walk to is a nudist beach. Alternatively, as one leaves the campsite in the direction back to Canaveral (ie. East), follow the path immediately on the left as you exit the campsite, to find a tiny bay and beach a short walk away. Keep walking round the coast another five minutes and you'll find yourself at La Piscina beach - the largest, and most empty part of this beach, which is only accessible by this route. See the map (with guide) of Park Tayrona on the right for more information.

There's more than just beaches in Park Tayrona - walk a little inland to Pueblito, a small but fascinating indigenous village (the indigenous people in this region of Colombia are called the Tayrona Indians). From Pueblito, there's a trail through the jungle to Playa Brava, where you'll find the remotest campsite called Teyumakke (tel 0057 315 480 0241, email playabrava@gmail.com) - hammcoks, camping and a cabana are available here. You can walk here from Cabo San Juan, or get picked up with horses from Calabazo ( see the Park Tayrona map to the right - if coming from Santa Marta, you'll need to get off before El Zaino at Calabazo). This is a very remote part of the Park - great for adventurous travellers!

Western Park Tayrona

The Eastern section of Colombia's Tayrona National Park (Canaveral, Arrecifes and Cabo San Juan) is the most visited, most beautiful, and also most geared towards tourism, but the Western section provides an interesting alternative.

It's easy to arrange a boat tour from either Taganga or Santa Marta to visit the Western region of Park Tayrona, at a cost of approximately 300,000 pesos (US $150). The sea is usually extremely rough, and rather dangerous. There are a few campsites and restaurants in this region.

Furthest East from Taganga (but West of the region accessible from Arrecifes) is Playa Cristal (the bay near Bahia Cinto marked on the map), found in a large cove that is scattered with numerous other small beaches. The water is very calm here, unlike the rest of Park Tayrona, and there is also a spectacular salt plain. There is also a campsite - but there is no restaurant, or running water. Nonetheless this is a beautiful alternative to the more commonly visited camping zones further East, and there are various small beaches that can be walked to. Playa Cristal is accessed by boat only, though once you do arrive, those wishing to leave by land might be able to do so by following the trail to the main road to Santa Marta - it's a four hour walk to the road, where it's easy to pick up a bus.

Further West in Park Tayrona lies Playa Neguanje. This long beach can be accessed by road - collectivos depart daily from Santa Marta, or you can arrange a taxi. At Playa Neguanje there is a restaurant, as well as a camping zone, but again no running water. Neguanje is a large beach, but can get busy on weekends as it fills up with day trippers from Santa Marta.

Slightly further West from Neguaje is Villa Concha (marked Bahia Conca on the map), where again there is a camping zone, but with no facilities. Villa Concha can also be accessed by road from Santa Marta.

Here's a travel tip - check out Google Maps for detailed images of Park Tayrona - print them off before you visit, and use them to find some truely empty and idyllic beaches in Colombia.

Getting to Park Tayrona

The simplest way to travel to Park Tayrona is by Taxi - from Santa Marta or Taganga, the cost is about 60,000 pesos to Canaveral, from where you'll need to walk deeper into the Park. Alternatively, a direct bus to Canaveral departs daily at 10am from Hotel Miramar in Santa Marta. Finally, you can take any minibus headed towards Palomino, and get off at El Zaino, from where you can walk (50 mins) or easily hitch a lift to Canaveral. The last alternative is to come by boat from Taganga or Santa Marta (ask locally).

Accommodation just outside Park Tayrona

High quality accommodation inside the Park itself is very limited - all that exist are simple cabanas or the Eco-Habs hotel. Just outside the Park there are some other options though:

Playa Koralia - kind of a cross between a small boutique hotel and a jungle safari camp, the slightly hippy-ish Playa Koralia is just 20 minutes drive East of Park Tayrona. The hotel can arrange day trips to the Park everyday. There's no air-con at Koralia, and rooms and amenities are relatively rustic, plus there's a campsite for backpackers. This isn't for everyone - if you like nature and want to get away from everything you may love it, but this is definately not your typical beach side boutique hotel. You'll either love it or hate it!

Mendihuaca Resort - a reasonable option, though the food is very poor, just outside of the stunningly beautiful Park Tayrona. Gets lots of poor reviews.

Posadas Nativas - there's various Posadas Nativas (Natives homes) where you can stay just outside the park. You can stay with local indigenous Tayrona Indians, and explore the Park with them. This is a very different experience, and great for the more culturally minded. You can visit remote Kogi indigenous villages this way, as well as access the remotest of the beaches of Park Tayrona.


Colombia's Park Tayrona:
Park Tayrona, Colombia
Beaches of Colombia at Park Tayrona.

Park Tayrona
La Piscinita beach, near Eco-Habs hotel - click to enlarge this large image.


Playa Cristal - Park Tayrona
Playa Cristal - only accessible by boat. Western Park Tayrona is much more arid, and less rainforesty, than the Eastern section.


Map of Park Tayrona:
Park Tayrona Map
Park Tayrona should not be missed on your travels to Colombia.


Park Tayrona's beaches
Park Tayrona's hidden beaches - above is an edited Google satellite photo of Cabo San Juan and it's nearby beaches. Many of the beaches around Cabo San Juan are not accessible unless someone tells you how to get there. So print off the above image noting that X marks the spot of the Cabo San Juan campsite, whilst the red lines show footpaths. The point marked A is a tiny little beach that you have to pass through en route to B, one of the Parks best beaches. Beach B is great because it's long, beautiful, good for swimming (it's part of La Piscinita beach) and totally empty. You can see Beach B from the beach known as La Piscinita, however you can only access it from Beach A....C marks the spot of a cabana found on a little island - try to get a hammock space here for the best views of Cabo San Juan. There's lovely beaches either side of point C, though they're busier beaches as they're next to the campsite. You can follow the trail West to the unbelievably beautiful Beach D, and continue walking on to Beach E which continues for half a kilometre (not all is shown on this image). Beach E is wonderful too - very long and totally devoid of people other than the occassional nudist. I'd recommend you print this map and description if you plan on visiting Cabo San Juan.

Park Tayrona Video


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