The jungle covered foothills of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta run straight into the Caribbean Sea in Tayrona National park. The dense jungle almost hides the amazing white sand beaches that line the shore.
Tayrona Park is most easily accessed from the coastal city of Santa Marta. We had heard rumours of how rough and dangerous it is in Santa Marta. Admittedly, it’s a little rough around the edges, but we didn’t have any concerns about our safety. Instead we found it to be a working-class town, with a lively tourist zone that had some of the best restaurants we found in Colombia. Santa Marta was an early Spanish Colonial town on the Caribbean Sea. Much of the old Spanish buildings today are either demolished or near ruins, but there are a few in pretty good shape.
Santa Marta is a favourite vacation destination for many Colombians. The waterfront has a long paved walkway that is full of Colombian tourists and food vendors. At the far end are tall new hotels favoured by Colombian tourists.
The next cove east of Santa Marta is the ramshackle beach town of Taganga. This fishing village now also has a few backpacker hostels and restaurants and offers cheap dive certification. We arrived at Taganga to catch a water taxi to our boat-access only idyllic beach in Tayrona National Park.
Tayrona National Park Beaches
We were warned that the boat ride to Tayrona would be bumpy, but we were not expecting the massive swells and giant waves that tossed around our little ‘speed’ boat with ease. Large waves pounded hard on the steep rocky cliffs making huge white sprays as our little boat motored by. Some people on the boat were afraid, while others were laughing. We were mostly yelling in pain as our lumbar discs compressed with each hard pound into the rough Caribbean Sea. Finally, we arrived in paradise. Wachakyta Resort is located in an idyllic cove, sheltered from the raging Caribbean Sea. It has a small sandy beach in front and lush jungle behind. We were to spend the next two days relaxing in paradise.
On the hill above the beach are two lookouts. We thought it would be an easy walk since we were told that there was a trail. What they didn’t say was that the trail is not maintained, and it has almost been taken over by the jungle. By the time we reached the final lookout we were covered in thorns and burs. At least we did find a nice view of another private cove with a perfect sandy beach. After being covered in scratches and mosquito bites, we decided against hiking the next day to another lookout. Instead, we’d relax on the beach like everyone else.
Cabo San Juan Beaches
A few coves away is a very popular area. Cabo San Juan and its string of beaches are some of the prettiest beaches anywhere. They are only accessed only by boat, horse or on-foot, but are still incredibly busy. We took a water-taxi from Wachakyta to visit this string of beaches before returning to Santa Marta. We thought the ride to our beach was rough, it was even worse getting to Cabo San Juan. We couldn’t wait to get off the boat to recover from whiplash.
The boat landed on a long stretch of sand with a dense jungle tight behind. At first we wondered why the beach was so quiet. After a short walk through the jungle we came to the main Cabo San Juan beach and found the reason that no one is at the other beach. Cabo San Juan is in a gorgeous bay with huge Fred Flintstone boulders providing the edges to a perfect cove with gorgeous white sand in between. The only thing to ruin the view were the hordes of people that came to spend the day.
Playa La Piscina
After spending time in Cabo San Juan, we hiked the 6 km coastal trek toward the bus stop at Zaine park gate. The trail passes more amazing beaches on its way in and out of Tayrona. Pool Beach (Playa La Piscina) is a lovely long beach protected by a tall reef which protects it from waves and the strong undertow which is very prevalent here. This is a quiet beach that is great for swimming.
The next beach we came to on the trail was Playa Arenilla. It’s a long white sand beach with strong waves. Swimming is allowed here, but the rip tide is quite strong. There are a few stalls selling lunch and drinks here.
The final beach, Arrecifes Playa, is now closed to the public. There have been over 200 deaths from its severe rip tides. The entry ways are boarded up and strong messages about the dangers are posted everywhere. There are cabanas and two campsites here to stay overnight. At Bukaru campsite you can rent a tent but at Don Pedro campsite you need to have your own tent.
After Areceifes the trail heads through the jungle until it reaches the park road. Shuttles take you 3 km to the Zaine park entrance at the highway where its very easy to catch a bus to Santa Marta or the other way to Palomino.
Gettting to Tayrona Park
Trekking – There are many buses feom Santa Marta and Palomno that pass the park’s entrances. To reach Cabo San Juan and the trek ask to be dropped off at Zaine Gate. From there a shuttle 3000 COP, 7 min, takes you to the start of the hike. It’s an easy walk along a wide trail that is mostly flat. You will pass by the above beaches on your way to Cabo San Juan (in reverse order). We didn’t stay overnight, but tents are available for rent at Cabo San Juan. It is not an ideal campsite though as approx. 100 tents are lined up, row after row with no room in between. There are also a few very rustic cabanas. All of these are only available on a first-come-first-served basis. The trek takes 1 ½ – 2 hours, 6km. When entering Tayrona from the highway, all of the beaches mentioned are are inside Tayrona Park and therefore require a park pass.
Water taxi – Water taxis leave Taganga at 10am for Cabo San Juan (1 hour +) stopping at Wachakyta Beach (45min). It’s a very rough boat ride and they may not travel if the ocean is too rough.
Park fee – As of Dec 2019, the entrance fee for foreigners is $63,500 COP which includes mandatory insurance. The fee is the same no matter how many days you are in the park. Bring your passport (not a copy). Tickets are purchased at the park gates if you arrive by land or on the beach if you arrive by boat.
NOTE: Tayrona National Park is closed every year from January 28th to February 28th
About Wachakyta Ecohostel
This boat access resort is ideal to get away from it all. Accommodations are sparse, but you don’t need much in paradise. They’re listed on Booking.com.
Coming Next: Cartagena
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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