Tayrona National Park is one of Colombia's most sought after destinations for backpackers and locals alike and with its pristine beaches, beautiful weather and jungle atmosphere its not hard to see why. From the town of Santa Marta, a seaside town only 34km away, you can take a local bus along the highway and get dropped off at the ticket office in El Zaino. Another option is to visit straight after a Lost City trek and just get the driver to drop you off at the booth on the way back to town.
This was the decision myself and a friend made, we were already soaked from rain and sweat and our clothes and general being were pretty horrifying so after four days of trekking we were pretty warmed up and ready for more.
After getting dropped off on the main road in the early afternoon, we had another congratulatory beer for our hiking endeavours before heading to the ticket office. Costs for foreigners are only a little more than locals which is a nice change but just before you get there you get your bags searched by police, not fond of drugs but for some other reason they are keen on taking your spirits off you, feeling bad for the poor buggers who lost out on their Johnny Walker whisky. Sure those guards will take good care of it though.
Once you have your ticket which consists of a wrist band and a receipt the length of your arm including all of your name and passport number, your options are to either walk an hour uphill to Cañaveral or wait for the bus to come and pick you up for 2000 pesos (60p). Think Ill just wait.
Not much to do at Cañaveral other than to get your bearings and start walking to Arrecifes, the first place along the trail worth staying at or at least visiting. The walk takes around an hour or so and is pretty easy, most of it is boardwalk with only elements of bouldering which actually takes you a little higher and gives beautiful views out into the ocean.
Again, not a whole lot going on at Arrecifes but with the light fading and neither of us having lights we were pretty limited in our options. A couple restaurants aside and a nice long beach with a dangerous riptide, there's not much to do here but considering how knackered we were it was probably for the best.
Tents are available for rent but hammocks are much cheaper at 12000 pesos. They come with a mozzie net but I cant say mine was quite up to scratch, waking up with 21 bites on just my left knee cap might just confirm this. Oh, and some numpty had my travel towel away, can't seem to hold on to anything here in the jungle as kept losing stuff on the Lost City trek too. Why couldn't they just take my sweaty, stinky Colombia top off my hands instead?
By this stage our body clocks were used to being up by 7am so we were up, breakfasted and ready to leave by 9, no need to be too hasty. We continued along the path but it soon became apparent that the path that lead parallel to the beach was having a massive laugh at our expense so the easiest way to navigate yourself is to just walk along the beach itself.
Within half an hour you'll find yourself at La Piscina, a stretch of beach where it is possible to enter the water as the rocks further out to sea contain the swell and current. Finally able to get in the water, I dived in and savoured the cool water on my body, only when I stood up for air I stamped on something sharp and immediately my foot started cramping and my whole leg experienced horrible pain.
Managed to hobble out of the water and after some quick deliberation we decided it might be best to find a local to have a gander at it so while Tom got help I laid out in the sun trying not to think about what it could be, bloody sea monsters. After a quick assessment some random local had it figured and came back with some soupy green, seedy concoction for me to drink, assuring us it was an antidote for the serpiente, not sure it was a snake though, surely it was much bigger. Quite possibly the most horrendous thing i have ever drunk but after 20 minutes of leg palpitations the pain went and within an hour I could walk again. Success, although we didn't fancy getting back in the water here.
Another 30 minutes down the road is Cabo San Juan, where we actually wanted to get to the night before. There's a little more going on here compared to Arrecifes with more places to stay and a restaurant in the centre with ample room to host plenty of people in the after hours, not only that but right on the door step are two beautiful beaches separated by a rocky outcrop where the sand is perfect, and you can go in the water and swim about a bit. Throwing caution to the wind and feeling a little crazy, I thought I would treat myself to a dip. Did I mention it is blazing hot in the tropics.
After some more average yet extortionately priced food, get used to that in the park, we headed up the trail which would take us to Pueblito, another old city in a similar vain to the Lost City we had just hiked to. Not as grand per see but meant to be worth a look. The walk is pretty tough with the bulk of it traversing boulders and all of it uphill, there are no refreshment stands along the way so bring enough water as it is pretty gruelling in the heat.
Once we gained the city, I can honestly say we were a little disappointed in what we saw. Besdies from a couple of old looking walls there was nothing to suggest that ancient civilisations may have once lived here, it was just a well maintained clearing in the jungle. From here to the main road was another two hours with the first being brutally uphill and just as we were about to lose all hope of some downhill action, the incline subsided and became a manageable descent. At the end of the trail, you come directly out to the main road from where it is possible to then catch a bus heading towards Santa Marta, and most importantly, a shower and a proper bed.