One of the most beautiful natural areas in Colombia is Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. It sits just outside of Santa Marta, covering 150 km² of land and coastline with trails, incredible beaches, coral reefs, and several species of plants and animals.
It’s a little time consuming to do Tayrona by public transport from Santa Marta, but there are day tours that are offered. Some tours offer beach days, others offer a couple hours of hiking to a beach, and others yet offer only nature hikes. The beach tours available were Playa Cristal (no hiking), and La Piscina and Cabo San Juan del Guía (hiking). I’ve done both of them. It’s also possible to go by boat from Santa Marta or Taganga directly to some of the beaches for the day. The ride is very choppy and takes about 90 minutes.
Day Trip to Playa Cristal
My cousin Anna and I decided to take a beach tour to Playa Cristal that our hotel was able to arrange for us the night before. It cost us COP$85,000 each (as of December 2014), including transportation and the park entrance fee. We were picked up at 8:30AM from the hotel and transferred to a bigger bus at 9AM. From there, it was about an hour ride to the park entrance where our IDs were checked. Everyone was given a chance to buy souvenirs and use the bathrooms. Foreigners paid an entrance fee of COP$37,500 and Colombian nationals and residents pay COP$14,000.
15 minutes from the park entrance, we stopped at a lookout point called Siete Olas. It’s a cliff overlooking a beautiful bay. There’s a beach to one side that’s too rough to swim at.
Another half hour later down a bumpy road, we arrived at Neguanje. Here, we boarded a small boat that was to take us to our beach for the day, Playa Cristal. The ride took about 10 minutes.
Playa Cristal is a sandy beach with calm turquoise waters and coral reefs for anyone interested in snorkeling. It’s possible to rent snorkeling equipment at the beach and a small tent to keep your valuables.
A restaurant at the beach serves fish and meats. Anna and I had a very large and tasty local fish that came with coconut rice, salad, and patacón. It cost COP$45,000. The juice bar made fresh juices from many fruits I had never heard of. Each juice was COP$6,000.
At 3PM, our group was gathered together to take the boats back to the bus. We were returned to our hotel about two hours later. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable day and I would do it again.