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If you have seen a Colombia travel photo of a beautiful beach with gigantic boulders dotting it, you are likely looking at Playa Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park. This Park is the crown jewel of Colombian tourism for both local and foreign tourists and it should definitely be on your Colombia itinerary. The jungle flora and fauna are incredible, as are the many stunning beaches, many of which you can actually swim in (a rarity on the Caribbean Colombian coast).
About Tayrona National Park
Tayrona is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and accessed from Santa Marta, one hour away. Santa Marta is about 4-5 hours from Cartagena. It is one of 59 national parks in Colombia, stretching 150 square kilometers with a massive amount of ecological diversity, as the Sierra Nevado mountains decend into the ocean. Tayrona National Park in Columbia is massive, but only a small section of it is open to visitors. It is one of the most popular National Parks in Colombia, so it requires some planning before you visit.
Tayrona is the ancestral home of the indigenous Kogi people and the park closes for a few weeks multiple times a year at the request of the Kogi. In 2023, the closures were Feb 1-15, June 1-15, Oct 19-Nov 2.
Tayrona has a rainforest climate with high humidity so expect to sweat. Tayrona can be visited throughout the year, however it is incredibly busy in December and January when Colombians are on holiday. It is also much busier on weekends, so try to plan your visit for weekdays if you can. It is recommended that you have your Yellow Fever vaccine when visiting this area.
Visiting Tayrona National Park
When researching for our trip, we found a lot of outdated, pre-pandemic information and so we want to make sure you have the most recent 2023 information on Tayrona.
You can visit on a day trip to Tayrona National Park or you can spend a few days exploring the beautiful Tayrona National Park beaches and jungle. If you want to visit on a day trip, there are many hotels in Tayrona National Park that you can stay at located right outside the park entrance, allowing you to enter the park first thing in the morning to get the most out of your day. However, we chose to spend 3 days, 2 nights in the Park and were glad that we were able to savour our time there.
Tayrona Tips: Bring lots of cash - there are no ATMs anywhere near Tayrona There is no cell service in Tayrona Bring mosquito spray Drink lots of water
Tayrona National Park Hotels and Hostels
If you are looking for a Tayrona National Park Hotel near the entrances, here are our recommendations:
Quetzal Dorado Eco-Lodge (Mid-Range) – gorgeous property with sunset views, cozy cabins, great pool, delicious food, 25 min walk to the El Zaino entrance. They also have a family room. Click here to check the latest prices.
Eco Hostal Yuluka (Budget) – beautiful property with pool, free shuttle to El Zaino entrance, good restaurant, makes this an excellent value place to stay. Click here to check the latest prices.
Costeno Beach Hostel (Budget) – if you want to stay at the beach at budget prices, this uber popular hostel is the place. They have private rooms and dorms, a great pool, even a gym, and good restaurant and it is only a 7 minute bus ride from El Zaino. Book early because it sells out; we wanted to stay here, but it was all booked. Click here to check the latest prices.
Tayrona National Park Entrance Fee
The cost to enter Tayrona has gone up over the years and is 62,000 COP for foreigners in 2023, regardless of how long you spend in the Park. This increases to 73,500 COP in high season (December, January and public holidays). You will also need to buy insurance for 5,000 COP/day. In the past you have sometimes been able to purchase your ticket online on the National Park’s website, however as of Spring 2023, that option wasn’t available. I have heard you may be able to use credit cards for your ticket at the El Zaino entrance, but I wouldn’t count on it and would encourage you to have plenty of cash. In fact, once you leave Santa Marta, you won’t find an ATM in any of the main tourist sites (Minca, Palomino or Tayrona). Remember you will need your passport (or a copy of it) as required for any accomodation, tour or entry in Colombia. Colombia loves their wristbands and you will get wirstbands to wear for both your entrance ticket and insurance.
There are no hotels within the Park, but if you are wondering where to stay in Tayrona National Park, there are a few beaches that provide overnight accommodation in hammocks, tents or a few cabins. These don’t have to be organized in advance, although the Park and accommodation options can reach capacity if traveling during peak times, like some weekends, December/January and Semana Santa. We were able to find contact information for the accommodation providers and were able to book our hammocks ahead of time:
Playa Brava: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cabo San Juan: +57 3112589907 (WhatsApp)
Tayrona National Park Map
Which Tayrona Park Entrance Should You Use?
There are two entrances to Tayrona National Park and most visitors will use the main El Zaino entrance, which is the quickest and easiest way to access the famous Playa Cabo San Juan. From this entrance, the first 4 km of the walk is on a road and therefore it is recommended to pay the 5,000 COP for the shuttle to Playa Cañaveral. From there, it is a 6.25 km walk to Cabo San Juan (1.5 hours), however there are numerous beautiful beaches and spots to stop along the way. Many Colombians hire horses for this walk, so that is an option as well. The walk is mostly flat, although the heat and humidity can be a challenge.
We wanted to get away from the crowds, spend a few nights in Tayrona and do some hiking, so we chose to do a circular route entering the park from the other entrance, Calabazo and exiting via El Zaino. We would spend our first night at Playa Brava and our second night at Cabo San Juan. This is the perfect Tayrona itinerary for staying in Tayrona National Park because you get to experience all the highlights of the park, while also experiencing the quieter Calabazo area and Playa Bravo.
Entering Tayrona National Park at the Calabazo Entrance
The Calabazo entrance is located 10 km from El Zaino, towards Santa Marta and there really isn’t anything there to indicate it is an entrance, although it is marked on Google Maps. It is only open until the early afternoon and you will have some hiking to do, so don’t start too late in the day. When you get near the informal gate, you will likely be approached by a tour provider that can book you a hammock at Playa Brava. You can book your hammock with them or if you have booked in advance, continue past until you reach the building where you will pay for your entrance ticket and insurance and get your wrist bands.
The first 3-4 km is on a dirt road through farms and most people took mototaxis that were included with their hammock booking at the gate. We walked it – it is uphill and a nice walk. We even saw the small monkeys that are common in Tayrona. The trail to Playa Brava used to go to Pueblito, a settlement of the indigenious group, the Kogi, but has now been rerouted around it. There are signs to Playa Brava on the trail and we used the All Trails App to track our progress. We brought along sandwiches and stopped for a nice lunch by a river. It took us 3.5 hours to cover the 8.25 km from Calabazo to Playa Brava. The trail is definitely a hiking trail with some steep ups, made more difficult in the high humidity and is more challenging than the El Zaino-Cabo San Juan trail.
Playa Brava is a beautiful open green space with palms rising up and a deserted white sand beach. Unfortunately, the beach is dangerous for swimming, but it is great for relaxing after your hike. They have hammocks, eco-habs (basic cabins with a shared washroom) and more comfortable bungalows, all with ocean views. Click here for the best prices on the cabins and bungalows, which are perfect for couples or a family. They were all booked while we were there, so we stayed in the hammocks (bookable by email above).
Playa Brava is a quiet place and they were only about 20 other people at the beach while we were there. The restaurant serves meals and drinks and the food was quite good. Prices range from 20k for breakfast to 35-50k for dinner depending on if you have fish, meat or chicken. You can enjoy cold drinks, however, the only way to get water is by buying bottled water. Suprisingly, they do have wifi at Playa Brava for 2 hours/day. Spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the solitude.
Sleeping in the hammocks was a unique experience. They have mosquito nets and they provide you with a blanket, but you still want to dress in warm clothes. If you have a sleeping bag liner, bring it. It was great listening to the sounds of the waves as we fell asleep.
Day 2 – Playa Brava to Cabo San Juan
On day 2, have breakfast and set off early for the hike to Cabo San Juan. If you don’t have your hammocks booked, you will want to make sure you arrive in good time to make your booking. It was a sweaty walk through the jungle, before arriving at the Nudist Beach near Cabo San Juan. We continued on and as you crest a hill, Playa Cabo San Juan comes into view and it is magical. Even though I had seen so many photos, it was even more beautiful in real life. It was easy to see why this is an incredibly popular place. The hike from Playa Brava to Cabo San Juan was 6.7 km and took us about 2.5 hours.
Daytrippers and the boats that come in from Taganga, near Santa Marta arrive mid-morning, so if you stay over, the evenings and mornings are quieter. After the solitude of Playa Brava, this beach is positively hopping with people, a large cafeteria, a bar and a few beach shops selling drinks and snacks. There are tons of tents set up in an open field and two hammock spaces. There is a regular palapa near the tents with hammocks and there are hammocks on the mirador between the two Cabo San Juan beaches.
Where To Sleep at Cabo San Juan?
You have a choice of the tents or hammocks if you want to spend the night at Cabo San Juan. The tents have mattresses, so may be more comfortable, but also look sweltering sitting out in the sun. They cost 140,000 COP/tent or 70,000 COP for a smaller tent for one person.
The regular hammocks cost 40,000 COP/night and the mirador ones cost 60,000 COP. There are mostquito nets on the hammocks in the palapa, but not in the mirador because with the wind, you won’t encounter any mosquitos. You also don’t get a blanket here, so you really need to make sure you have warm clothes.
We chose the mirador hammocks and while it was a pretty spectacular place to sleep, it was hard to sleep. The wind is very strong and it gets quite cold,so we didn’t have the best night’s sleep, but was still a pretty fun location to spend the night.
The great thing about Cabo San Juan is that it is safe for swimming and there are even lifeguards. There are two parts to the beach, separated by the mirador and both have gorgeous views. Definitely walk up to the mirador for some of the best views in Tayrona.
We watched the sunset from the mirador and then ate dinner in the restaurant/cafeteria and it was okay, but nothing special. They do make good fruit juices and we definitely recommend them. You can also get icecream from the bar. There are flush toilets and cold showers. You can rent snorkel equipment, but I don’t think there would be much to see.
Day 3 – Cabo San Juan to El Zaino
On day 3 take advantage of the quiet beach to relax and take some photos before the day trippers arrive. The restaurant serves breakfast, which is mediocre, but is really your only option.
On the walk from Cabo San Juan to El Zaino, there are lots of beautiful beaches to stop at. Our favourite was La Piscina, a lovely protected bay for swimming, one of the best things to do in Tayrona National Park. Arrecifes beach is closer to the entrance and is another spectacular beach. There are a few different places here that offer hammocks, tents and basic cabins to stay in. There are also beachside “restaurants” set up where you can have a drink or meal.
The walk from Cabo San Juan to El Zaino is 6-10.5 km depending on if you catch the shuttle the last 4 km. We didn’t see the shuttle so ended up walking the whole 10.5 km, which took us about 2.5 hours plus stops.
Getting to Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is accessed from Santa Marta, which is connected to Colombia by air and bus. We took the bus from Cartagena, but we then flew to the Coffee Triangle from Santa Marta.
The public bus is easy to use. From Santa Marta to Tayrona: the bus leaves from the Santa Marta mercado regularly throughout the day and costs 8,000 COP for the 1 hour drive to Tayrona. Leave early in the morning because you want to arrive at the Tayrona entrances early. Alternatively, stay the night before at one of the Tayrona Park hotels or hostels near El Zaino.
You can also easily access Tayrona from nearby popular tourist places, like Minca (1.5 hours) and Palomino (1.5 hours).
What to do with your Bags?
If you are spending a few days in the Park, you won’t want to bring your large bags. The best way to do it is to book a hostel near the Tayrona entrances, spend a night there and then leave your bags there while you spend your time in the Park. All accommodation will provide luggage storage for guests. We were coming from Palomino (1.5 hour away) so had our big bags with us and were able to leave them at Manigua Tayrona Hostel, at the Calabazo entrance for 10,000 COP/bag/day. When we came out of the Park at El Zaino three days later, we just took the public bus to Calabazo (10 km) and then picked up our big bags and continued back on the bus to Santa Marta. It is easy to take the public bus that runs routinely between the entrances or you can also hire a mototaxi.