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, but there are 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 did a beach only tour and a hiking tour. 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.
On my second visit to Tayrona with my girlfriend Marisol, we decided to do the hiking tour to La Piscina and Cabo San Juan. We went with Magic Tour Colombia. The price included admission to the park, a guide, and transportation. We were told to bring swimwear, sunscreen, and water. The price for us was COP$70,000 each because we have Colombian IDs, but it’s a bit more for foreigners.
We were picked up at our hotel at 8:30am and driven to the park. When we arrived, we signed in and went through security. We were then shown a short video about the park.
We jumped back on the bus and the guide gave us the rundown for the day as we headed for the starting point at Cañaveral. Basically, we were free to go at our own pace but had to be back at the starting point by 4:30 to head back to Santa Marta. He advised us that it would probably take about an hour and a half from the furthest beach on the trail, Cabo San Juan, so it would be good to start walking back by 3pm.
We started our hike at about 10am. The trail was very well marked and it was easy to walk through it. We were told to bring good walking shoes but it’s possible to do the hike in flip-flops.
Our first stop after hiking through the rain forest for 20 minutes was a viewpoint overlooking the coast.
As we continued along the path, the first beach we were able to walk on was Arrecifes. It’s a long stretch of powdery white sand but unsafe for swimming. There is a coral reef just offshore and the undertow is very strong.
Just past Arrecifes is the first swimmable beach on the trail, Arenillas. It’s surrounded by large boulders and bordered by a reef that breaks the waves.
15 minutes further down the path was La Piscina (The Pool). The beach got its name because of a natural swimming pool formed by the reef offshore, softening the waves and making it an easy place to swim. It’s a nice long stretch of beach but in some parts the waves reach right up to the forest, giving very little room to lay out. It’s probably the best beach to swim at on this trail.
About a half hour down a very muddy and sometimes slippery trail (it’s better without shoes!) is Cabo San Juan del Guía. This is by far the most scenic beach on the trail and quite possibly the entire park. Waves are a little strong but it’s a beautiful place to relax.
There are two parts to the beach separated by a sandbar and a hill of rocks. On the hill is a cabana with hammocks and a great view of both sections of the beach.
At the entrance to the beach is a restaurant and a campground for those who wish to stay overnight. It’s recommended to bring plenty of water if staying overnight.
At about 2pm we left Cabo San Juan and headed back to Arenillas for lunch. We had fried fish and fresh juice. It cost about COP$52,000 for the two of us.
After the lunch, we hiked back to the starting point to gather with the rest of the group. Our ride back to Santa Marta started at 4:30pm but was held up by terrible traffic. We finally arrived around 6pm.