Our Trek to the Caribbean in Tayrona National Park

During our 3 months in South America, we hadn’t once been to a beach… until our trip to Tayrona!

We decided to do a day trip to Tayrona National Park while we were staying in Paso del Mango, only an hour from the park. A popular option is to stay overnight in the park at one of the campsites where you can hire a hammock or tent, but we decided just to do a day trip since we were staying pretty close by.

The park opens at 8am so being the keen-beans we are, we were right there by the entrance bang on 8am. There was a bit of an agenda behind getting there so early – not only did we want to make the most of the day, we also wanted to hike to the main beach at Cabo San Juan before it got too hot and humid. By the time we had queued, paid for our tickets, and got the colectivo bus to the start of the hike, it was about 9am and the humidity was starting to kick in. As we joined the trail, a park ranger warned us to watch out for the caimens. No joke.

The hike to the first beach, La Piscina, was nice and fairly uneventful – no caimen attacks and only mild sweating from the humidity. We also enjoyed the being in the shade of the forest canopy.

The only exciting bit was when we ended up crossing a river and the water was almost to our bums. Cue jokes about this being the bit in a David Attenborough documentary where the youngling is picked off by a hungry caimen… until we got to the other side and a local woman told us we shouldn’t be crossing that river because there are caimens in there. Jeezo that was a lucky escape on our part!!

Then came the crazy mud.

We started to pass people coming the other way with no shoes on and mud nearly up to their knees. Our goretex trainers had survived Iguazu Falls (just), surely we wouldn’t get that muddy?

Yes. Yes we would. We were almost swimming in the stuff it was that bad. The trainers were off and we were wading through knee-deep mud, cursing the people on horses who overtook us. Especially when the horses stopped to have a wee right in the mud we were busy wading through. Lovely. We just love walking in horse-wee mud.

Eventually we made it to Cabo San Juan. We’ve never been so happy to see the sea before! We were in the Caribbean!! The 2 and a half hour hike was worth it just for that first swim in the lovely warm water. Absolute bliss.

The beach was a bit smaller than we expected and pretty packed with people, so it wasn’t the paradise haven we wanted but it was still nice just to relax in the sun and swim.

Unfortunately the relaxing didn’t last long, we only had an hour before we needed to start the trek back. We thought we had been told by the park ranger at the entrance that the last colectivo bus heads back to the entrance at 3pm, so we needed to leave Cabo at 12:30pm to make it back in time.

So yeah we were gutted we only had an hour at the beach and the hike back through the mud wasn’t any easier the second time. We even tried to avoid a part of it by climbing up on to a higher bit of the trail, but it backfired when we literally had to absail down the muddiest rock EVER at the other end. There was a rope and everything to help, but with no shoes on it just became a crazy slide back on to the mud soup trail. Totally mental.

On the plus side, we managed to avoid the caimen-infested river. Because of course there was a path around it, that we definitely should have seen on the way there… but didn’t.

First highlight of the way back – coming across a local selling ice lollies. Oh my days, SO GOOD! After all that mud and the crazy heat, it was so good to have an ice lolly full of fake colouring and E-numbers.

Second highlight of the way back – seeing loads of monkeys up in the trees once we were back in the shady forest. Although a couple of them started throwing huge branches down on to the trail so we legged it out of there pretty quickly so we didn’t get caught in the firing line.

The story ends well. We made it back in time for the “last” colectivo at 3pm, so we were pretty chuffed with ourselves. Until that is, we found out that we had misheard the park ranger earlier – what he actually said was we needed to leave the beach at 3pm (with the last colectivo being at 5pm). *Shakes head at our stupid mistranslation*.

Our Top Tips

Tayrona is definitely worth a visit but learn from our mistakes! Here are our top tips for a stress-free visit.

  • Get there early! We’re glad we got there for the opening time. You can have more beach time and beat the heat on the way there.Take plenty of water and snacks. There are some cafes in the park but you can save some money if you take your own, and you need lots of water for the hike. Apart from that, be careful you don’t take too much stuff – you don’t want to be hiking for a full day with a big, heavy bag.
  • Don’t make our mistake and leave too early. When we visited, the last colectivo was at 5:00pm back to the main entrance, although double check this when you visit.
  • Unless you have waders or it hasn’t rained the day before, you’re probably going to get muddy. Hiking sandals may make the muddy trek easier and more comfortable, but from experience, flip flops didn’t help. You could also hire a horse at the start of the trail (not sure how much this is, we were quoted 70000 pesos or about £18 when we were heading back from Cabo San Juan) or just do what we did and embrace the mud!
  • If you have time, consider staying for 1 or 2 nights in the park. We heard that the tents get pretty hot and uncomfortable but if you arrive early, you can reserve a hammock. There are also more hikes that you can do within the park so you could do more exploring. In hindsight, we wish we had stayed over so we could have had more time to enjoy the park.
  • Stick to the trail and even if you see people ahead of you crossing through the river, go around it! Although we didn’t see any, there are caimens in the park.
  • Ticket prices are 44000 pesos in low season (£11) and 48000 pesos in high season (£12) if you’re just visiting for the day. These prices are a bit higher if you’re wanting to stay over in the park.
  • We got the bus from Bonda to Tayrona, which cost 9000 pesos (£2.25) each and took 35 minutes. There are also hostels very close to the park if you’d rather do that. Some hostels also offer free luggage storage of you want to leave your big bags while you stay over in the park.

Have you experienced the crazy mud at Tayrona? What are your top tips? We’d love to hear them and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for more travel photos!


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