Tourism and Tours

Tayrona National Park (Colombia) | A Natural Wonder of Colombia

When it comes to Latin America’s most famous national parks, Colombia’s idyllic Tayrona is one that is always mentioned. Renowned for its incredible coastline, Tayrona is located on the Caribbean coast close to Santa Marta and is home to some of Colombia’s best beaches.

Snorkelling and swimming are popular pastimes and the park also plays host to a fascinating variety of wildlife. Iguanas, condors and black howler monkeys are just a selection of the animals which call this area home.

December and January mark the high season and there are two rainy seasons: May – June and September – November. Generally, the temperatures sit between 25°C and 30°C year-round. Every February, the park closes to clean up from the high season and also to allow the local indigenous people time to perform important cleansing ceremonies and rituals.

  • Landmass: 150km²
  • Entrance fee: $16USD ($54,500COP) for foreign nationals
  • Best time to visit: December-January (Closed throughout Feb)

How to get to Tayrona National Park

The easiest way to get to Tayrona national park is via bus from Santa Marta. Ask the driver to drop you off at the park entrance but be warned, it is a fair walk to the beaches! Alternatively, you can travel here by boat from Taganga in the morning.

How to Get to Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park extends 85 km east along the coast of the small fishing village of Bahía de Taganga, near Santa Marta in the coastal area of Magdelena. There are several ways to get to the park. You can take the taxi from Santa Marta (although a pricey trip) or by boat from Taganga (20 minutes from Santa Marta by bus), which takes you to the Cabo San Juan entrance.

The easiest way, though, is to fly into Simón Bolívar International Airport in Santa Marta. Once you reach Santa Marta, getting to the park is very easy.  You can catch the bus, which leaves several times an hour from the Santa Marta bus terminal. The ride takes about an hour, so it can be done as a day-trip, but we would suggest spending several nights at the park to explore the many things Tayrona has to offer.

Tayrona National Park has something for everyone – whether you’re the nature lover, history junkie or avid swimmer. It’s where nature, archaeology and history meet. Let your imagination run wild and unearth all Tayrona has to give.

By Taxi

In my opinion, a taxi to the park is really expensive as it will cost between COP 80,000 and COP 100,000 ($16.50 to $21 USD) depending on your negotiation skills.

Go on a tour

If you are very limited on time and can only spend a day in Tayrona National Park, then I would recommend booking an organized day tour that departs from Santa Marta. This way, you waste less time on public transport, standing in line buying tickets, and reading a map to navigate around the tour.

You will start off with a jungle hike until you reach Arrecifes Beach – it’s large and beautiful but the currents are too dangerous to swim here but you can enjoy the scenery and take a rest for a little bit.

Then, you’ll spend the remainder of the day at San Juan Beach where you’ll eat a traditional Caribbean lunch and choose whether to relax, swim, or walk on the beach.

Weather in Tayrona National Park

Tayrona is a tropical rainforest and as such, it has hot and humid weather all year long never dipping below 73°F (23°C). The peak of the rainy season is from September to December with October having the highest average monthly rainfall.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the park during these months as the rainfall never lasts for too long at a time but things will be a little muddier and the road journey to and from the national park might be more difficult.

For the most part, there is not really a bad time of year to visit the park. If you are able to plan your visit for a dryer month it is recommended but I’m sure you can make the best of it either way!

However, you would also need to account for the fact that dryer seasons tend to be busier. So give yourself a good headstart when planning.

Also, keep watch of the holidays and dates surrounding Tayrona’s annual closures and reopenings (more on this below).

13 Tips for Tayrona National Park

  • You must buy Tayrona National Park medical insurance

This is a very new thing. Every person who wishes to enter Tayrona National Park is required to buy medical insurance from the park itself. It doesn’t matter if you already have your own medical insurance or not, if you want to go to Tayrona National Park you need to also purchase their insurance.

It’s not a big deal though, as it is only 5,000 COP ($1 USD) per person per day. So, if you’re spending the night in Tayrona National Park it’ll cost you 10,000 COP ($2 USD).

At the entrance gates (“El Zaino” is the name of the main entrance gate), you will be told to buy this medical insurance and once you’ve purchased it you will be given a wristband. Most commonly, a salesman will come up to you when you’re waiting in line to buy your entrance ticket.

The Tayrona National Park medical insurance must be purchased with cash only.

But what does it cover?

The fee you pay pays for medical support staff on the trail as well as the cost of evacuation should something tragic happen. For the $1.50 USD a day it’s a good safety net to have.

  • You might need to buy your entrance ticket online in advance

To enter Tayrona National Park you must buy an entrance ticket. For foreigners, it costs 57,500 COP ($12 USD) per person. There is a price increase to 68,000 ($14 USD) during high season (December to February) and during holidays (prices updated December 2022). The only problem is that they keep changing how and where you can buy this entrance ticket.

Back in the day, the only place to purchase your entrance ticket to Tayrona National Park was in person at the entrance gates. Then, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, they enforced a new rule which meant you had no choice but to buy your ticket online in advance.

This was a really annoying and confusing process for international visitors because you didn’t just buy the ticket online with a credit card, you actually had to physically go to a nominated bank and pay for it and then complete the transaction online.

However, after Tayrona National Park was closed during the month of February 2020 (as it is every year), and opened again in March the website to buy your entrance ticket wasn’t working. At this time they switched back to only purchasing your Tayrona National Park entrance tickets in person at the entrance gates. So when we visited, we were able to just buy our ticket at the entrance gate.

As of writing this now (updated Dec 2022), this is still the system they are using. However, I have a feeling it could change again very soon. My best advice is to ask the hotel you’re staying at before entering Tayrona National Park to find out the current rules for you. All hotels in and around Santa Marta should be well informed about Tayrona National Park rules.

  • Tayrona National Park is closed a few different times per year

You cannot visit Tayrona National Park at select times every year. In 2024, the closing dates are from February 1st to February 15th, June 1st to June 15th, and October 19th to November 2nd.

It is completely closed during these dates, so if you want to go to Tayrona, it’s important you keep this in mind and plan your travels accordingly.

This closure also means a couple of other things:

Tayrona National Park is ridiculously busy during the first week whenever the park reopens. Tourists wait around for Tayrona National Park to reopen, so the first few days it is open are some of the busiest of the entire year.

The last couple of days in January, May, and the second week of October are also busier than normal. People rush into the park to quickly see it before it closes on February 1st, June 1st, and October 19th.

The best way to prevent having to deal with these super busy periods is to plan your visit in advance and not during February, the end of January, or the beginning of March.

Note: There have been rumors that Tayrona National Park will start to close 2-3 months per year. While this hasn’t been implemented yet, it is something to watch out for in the coming years.

  • The line at the entrance gate can be very long

If you’re visiting during peak times (end of January, beginning of March, or over the Christmas and New Year period) you should really aim to be at the park entrance gates before 6:00 am. The gates officially open at 7 am (updated Dec 2022), but the line will be so long by then that you may have to wait for 1-2 hours to get in!

During all other times of the year, I would still recommend getting to Tayrona National Park as early as 6:30 am. The reason for this is that many people in large tour groups visit Tayrona on a day trip from Santa Marta. Most of these groups will show up between 8-10 am, so you need to get there before them!

In fact, because the park has shortened admission hours to be from 7 am to 12 pm (updated Dec 2022) there is an even smaller window for tourists to enter.

You must exit the park between the hours of 2 pm and 5 pm (updated Dec 2022).

In order to get to the park early, I personally recommend staying the night before at a hotel or hostel near the park entrance gates. This way, you can either walk to the gates first thing or take a moto-taxi.

  • It is totally possible to get a pristine beach all to yourself

he secret is that you need to stay the night in Tayrona National Park. The majority of people visit Tayrona on a day trip from Santa Marta. These people make the park very busy between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. But if you stay the night, you’re able to enjoy Tayrona during its most peaceful hours.

We got up early after spending the night in a hammock at Cabo San Juan (more on that below) and walked 20 minutes to the beach called La Piscina. This is my personal favorite beach in Tayraon National Park because the water is the calmest.

When we reached La Piscina there was not another person in sight. We had this entire beach to ourselves for nearly two hours. and even then, only a couple of other people arrived. It was so peaceful and a relaxing way to enjoy the morning before we had to leave Tayrona again.

  • Keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife

I truly think that one of the things about Tayrona National Park that doesn’t get highlighted enough is the wildlife. People rave about the jungle, pristine beaches, and overall impressive landscape. But to me, one of the best things about visiting Tayrona is the wildlife you can see!

My best advice is the walk slow, stay away from larger groups of people, and listen. You’ll likely hear monkeys and birds long before you see them. Once you hear them, take it slow and keep your eyes open.

  • No plastic bags are allowed in Tayrona National Park

Apparently, they have a rule against plastic bags in Tayrona National Park altogether. So, be sure not to bring any and make sure your water comes in a jug (plastic bottles are fine, just not bags because they get blown away and become litter.)

We highly recommend bringing 6 liters (almost 2 gallons) of water for two people for two days. It is very hot in the park and the water isn’t exactly cheap.

  • The Nudist Beach is not what you’d expect

Nudist Beach is where all of the boats bring day trippers, dropping them off and picking them up. I’m not sure about you, but for me personally, if I was going to enjoy a beach in the nude, I wouldn’t want it to be where hundreds of tourists are parading through all day long (including families with children.)

So basically, don’t let the Nudist Beach sales pitch be the reason you go to Tayrona. There are lots of good beaches in Tayrona, but to me, the Nudist Beach isn’t one of them.

I don’t recommend a driven day trip from Santa Marta

If you do want to visit Tayrona National Park on a day trip I highly recommend taking the speedboat from Taganga to Cabo San Juan (as opposed to a driven day trip.) This not only cuts off driving time, but it also takes away any mandatory hiking and waiting in line at the entrance gate.

The boat from Taganga (a small village only a 10-minute drive from Santa Marta) will take you directly to Cabo San Juan beach in Tayrona. From there you can relax for the entire day, or if you want, go for a hike to another beach such as La Piscina which is only 20 minutes away.

11. Bring your PASSPORT!

As a foreigner, you will need your passport to buy your entrance ticket and/or enter Tayrona National Park. A copy is fine but it must be clear and easy to read.

So, a copy of your passport at the very least or like us just bring your passport in a protective case.

Tip: If you’re spending the night at Cabo San Juan they have lockers you can use for free to lock up your passport and other valuables, you just need to bring your own little padlock.

12. Cash is king in Tayrona

This is another one we learned the hard way. You need cash if you want to buy practically anything in Tayrona National Park including food, drinks, accommodation (hammocks or tents at Cabo San Juan), medical insurance, water, the collectivo, and pretty much everything else.

There is no ATM near the El Zaino entrance gate so you need to take cash out of an ATM in Santa Marta before heading to Tayrona.

You can, however, pay for the entrance ticket with a credit or debit card. We also did find one restaurant within the park near La Piscina that actually accepted cards for payment. But with that said, it is common for the machine not to work so it is best to be prepared with heaps of cash on hand.

Money-saving Tip: BBVA is the name of a bank in Colombia and their ATMs do not charge any fee to withdraw cash. Many other banks charge upwards of 12,000 COP ($2.50 USD) just to withdraw cash, but BBVA does not.

You are not allowed to swim at most of the beaches

Many visitors to Tayrona National Park don’t know that many beaches prohibit swimming. There are signs posted warning you that swimming is absolutely not allowed at the majority of beaches in Tayrona National Park due to strong waves and currents that have taken many lives.

In fact, at all of the closest beaches to El Zaino entrance gate swimming is not allowed. This is why most people hike to Cabo San Juan, here you can swim in two different bays.

Personally, a beach called La Piscina is my favorite. At a decent pace, you can walk there from the entrance gate in about 1.5 hours. From Cabo San Juan, La Piscina is about a 20-minute walk away.

Where to Stay IN Tayrona National Park

  • Cabo San Juan

Some of the main reasons are because you can swim at the beach here and it is only a couple of minutes walk to some of the other best beaches. However, it is not a luxury option.

They do have lockers for your stuff (bring your own lock instead of buying one here), shared cold showers, electricity (limited plug-ins available from 6 pm to 10 pm), one restaurant, an ice cream vendor, and a small beach shop.

Only cash is accepted here.

Accommodation Options

Hammock – can be rented for COP 40,000 ($8.20 USD) on arrival at Cabo San Juan .

You can also reserve a hammock in advance to the left of the entrance gate El Zaino and it says “Cabo San Juan” on it. Due to the high demand for hammocks, I recommend reserving one at this booth so you don’t miss out.

Tent – the next budget option and costs COP 80,000 ($15.50 USD) per tent (they sleep up to 2 adults.) However, reviews say they are in bad condition, moldy, and really dirty during the rainy season. These can also be booked at the park entrance however they book less quickly than the hammocks.

With that said, during the dry season, the tents aren’t the worst option.

Cabin – More like small falling apart shacks. They cost COP 200,000 ($41 USD) for two people and another COP 50,000 ($10.30 USD) for an extra person. Definitely not worth the COP 200,000 at all if you ask me!

Please Note: You CANNOT book Cabo San Juan in advance online. If you want a guaranteed place to stay or are visiting in the peak season then you might want to stay somewhere else. No need to worry though, we’ve listed plenty of other great alternative options below! Otherwise, be sure to get to Tayrona early and book a tent or hammock at the booking desk at El Zaino entrance BEFORE you enter the national park.

Castilletes

A campground and hotel located right at the end of the road within Tayrona (also the start of the official trail.)

This is a great option for anybody who does not want to have to walk to where they will spend the night as you can catch the shuttle from El Zaino to Castilletes for only 3,000 COP ($0.60 USD) per person. This way, you don’t need to walk with your luggage!

The downside to Castilletes is that it is not near a beach where you can swim. The best swimming beaches (La Piscina and Cabo San Juan) are a 1.5-2 hour walk away. However, you could always drop your luggage and then go explore the other beaches for the day and return in the evening.

At Casitlletes you can choose to either camp in a tent or book a room. They have an onsite restaurant and are one of the nicer options within the park

One of the great things about Camping Castilletes is that you can book it in advance on booking.com! During the busy season, this is an excellent option to avoid disappointment.

Cañaveral

Accommodation Options

From where the shuttle drops you off within Tayrona National Park, Cañaveral is about a 30-minute walk through the jungle. It is located right on the coast and has stunning views but the beach is not swimmable. There is only a small little swimming area in which you can jump in for a dip.

Campground – Camping Cañaveral

An option for those wanting to camp.

Bungalow – Ecohabs

These are really nice bungalows and sleep up to 4 people. They also have the best restaurant in the entire park as well as a day spa.

Ecohabs is definitely the most luxurious option for accommodation in the park and as such, it often books up well in advance.

Note: You can eat at the Ecohabs restaurant even if you’re staying at Camping Cañaveral. It is only a short five-minute walk away as these two places to stay are right next to each other.

Arrecifes

Arrecifes is a beach closer to the park entrance (El Zaino) than Cabo San Juan. The beach is only a one-hour walk from the entrance, however, you CANNOT swim at the beach here due to extremely strong currents.

The benefit of staying at Arrecifes is that there are fewer people and it is less of a walk from the entrance (carrying your bags) than Cabo San Juan. It is still within walking distance of Cabo San Juan and other swimming beaches. This area provides a more relaxing atmosphere and would be nice for people staying more than one night or looking for a more relaxed stay.

Accommodation Options

At Arrecifes Beach there are a few different campsites to choose from, however, the most popular one (Don Pedro) has recently closed (as of March 2020!) Now, your options are either Cabanas Arrecifes or EcoCamping Lui.

Campgrounds

Cabanas Arrecifes offers 6 cabins that sleep up to 5 people. These cabins can be booked online in advance. They also offer camping options that are just booked on arrival.

ust a few minutes from Arrecifes beach is EcoCamping Lui. This place offers more budget-friendly accommodation but is not on the beach. You can bring your own tent, rent one of theirs, stay in a hammock, or a very basic cabin. You can try to book by contacting them directly.

Playa Brava

Playa Brava is a great place to stay if you want a quieter experience in Tayrona National Park or want to complete the entire loop (enter at Calabalzo and exit at El Zaino.)

The beach here is calm enough to swing and there is also some great snorkeling. Because of its remote location in relation to the other attractions in Tayrona, it is much quieter than the other places to stay.

The only downside to staying at Playa Brava is that it is quite a hike to get there. From Calabazo entrance, most people take around 3 hours, and from El Zaino expect to walk for about 5. If you want to walk the whole park you could enter at Calabazo, spend one night at Playa Brava, then one night at Cabo San Juan, and then finally leave from El Zaino. This would make for an ideal 3-day Tayrona hiking itinerary!

Accommodation Options

The only place to stay at Playa Brava is called Playa Brava Teyumakke. Here you can rent bungalows, hammocks, tents, or just campsites to set up your own. They also have a restaurant on-site and showers.

After Cabo San Juan, I think that Playa Brava is the next best place to stay in Tayrona National Park.

Tayrona Access Road

etween the El Zaino entrance gate and the beginning of the walking trail, there is a 7-kilometer (4.3 miles) stretch of road that has a couple of different hotels you can stay at.

The benefit of staying here (as opposed to somewhere just outside of the entrance gate) is that you don’t need to wait in line early at the entrance gate to start exploring. You could wake up and either walk or catch the shuttle to the hiking trail without needing to wait in line to buy your ticket at all!

These hotels are also considerably cheaper than the cabins and bungalows offered at Cañaveral or Arrecifes.

Accommodation Options

Hotels

Ecohotel Yachay Tayrona is one of the two hotels I would recommend located along this stretch of road in Tayrona. It’s a very beautiful property offering rooms and suites for reasonable prices.

The other good choice is a place called Hotel Jasayma Parque Tayrona and it is even cheaper! They have great reviews despite the facilities being somewhat basic. It is a quiet and smaller place to stay where you can get a good night’s rest before exploring

How Long Should I Stay in Tayrona National Park?

Spending more than one day at Tayrona National Park is ideal, so 1 or 2 nights would be enough. Any less and your trip would be rushed in my opinion!

Our 2 days at Tayrona National Park were perfect!

If you really like to hike and have enough time, you could spend 3 days and 2 nights. In this case, I would recommend entering at the Calabalzo entrance and then hiking to Playa Brava to spend the night at Playa Brava Teyumakke. The next day you could hike to Cabo San Juan and spend the night there before hiking out to the El Zaino entrance gate on your final day.

Tayrona National Park at a Glance

Tayrona was established as a national park in 1969 to protect and promote the ecology, archaeology and history of the area. The park is named after the ancient “Tairona” people who settled on the land thousands of years ago.

Tayrona houses some of Colombia’s most important archaeological sites and is home of the Kogi people, descendants of the Tairona tribe. The Kogi people live in the many straw-covered huts deep in the Sierra Nevadas, maintaining their way of life and living on the land of their ancestors.

10 Things to Do at Tayrona National Park

  • Swimming

You can’t leave Tayrona National Park without taking a dip on one of its famous swimmable beaches (due to the strong currents, many beaches are closed for swimmers). Swimming is one of the main reasons travellers from around the world come to Tayrona! Cabo San Juan is the most popular beach for its campgrounds and picturesque views. Alternatively, La Piscina also serves up great waters for swimming.

  • Star Gazing

Take an evening stroll down the beaches of Arrecifes and Cañaveral for smaller crowds and long stretches of sand. These beaches are perfect for laying down on the sand, waiting for the day’s dust to settle and watching as the stars come alive.

  • Scuba Diving

For the deep divers out there, Tayrona National Park has long been known as a destination to immerse yourself in underwater adventures. The waters are well protected from winds, generally calm and shallow, which makes it perfect for beginners to take their first dive. The more advanced areas tend to be deeper with stronger currents, making them ideal for drift diving. There are 22 dive sites in the park where you can explore the diverse sea life – including coral reefs, sunken ships, caves and a variety of marine ecosystems.

  • Snorkelling

Explore the blue Caribbean waters and try your hand at snorkelling. La Piscina beach is a perfect snorkelling option, with crystal clear waters full of vibrant sea life. Here you’ll find anemones, sand sharks, blowfish, Blue Tangs and (if you’re lucky) even sea turtles.

  • Spot the wildlife

If water isn’t your thing, enter the dense jungle trails and take a walk within Colombia’s most important ecosystem. Tayrona National Park is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. Thanks to Tayrona’s diverse landscape and biodiversity, the park is surrounded by tropical greenery where you can discover exotic species of all sorts like howler monkeys, the Andean Condor, caimans and even jaguars!

  • Hiking

There are quite a few established hikes within Tayrona National Park, many leading to the former Tairona settlement. The most famous trek is to Ciudad Perdida (also known as the Lost City), an ancient community that existed even before Machu Picchu! The 13-hectare archaeological site was the former home of more than 2,000 Tairona people. Reaching this ancient ruin takes an average of four to ten days. You’ll stop at the many indigenous villages along the way, hiking steep hills across riverbanks and finishing your expedition by climbing 1,200 stone steps to reach the peak of the Lost City.

Lighter hikes are also available. The hike to the remains of Pueblito is a popular one among travellers. The hike is well-preserved, flat and slightly uphill. It begins near Cabo San Juan.

  • Music at Night

Every night, local musicians gather around the Cabo San Juan campsite and perform traditional “vallenato” folk music. Sit back, relax and dance to the rhythms of Colombia. Enjoy the atmosphere and don’t forget to give a generous tip as a token of appreciation.

  •  Horseback Riding

Saddle up and horseback your way through the Colombian jungle! Besides walking, jumping on a horse is the best way to see the park. Cañaveral is the best spot in the park to rent horses as all the horses have a trained route they take. The journey will take you inland across bridges, gorges and trails deep into the Tayrona wilderness. From there, you can soak in the wildlife and listen to the monkeys swinging and birds chirping away.

  •  Camping

Bring a tent and camp at the park. Cabo San Juan is the most popular campsite with gorgeous views of the beach. If you prefer somewhere with fewer people, campsites are also available on the shores of Cañaveral or Bukaru.

Visit the Kogi Community

Discover culture, heritage and history among the original settlers of the land. The Kogi People carry years of culture, customs and tradition. The best way to meet members of the indigenous community is to take part in an official custom tour to El Pueblito. These tours are put together with consent from the Kogi community. A guide will take you along the roads leading to the site of Pueblito Chairama, an ancient settlement that belongs to the Kogi people. There, you will see remains of homes, bridges and drainage systems that once made up the village. You will also have a chance to meet the Kogi people, who will share and celebrate their way of life with you.

Where to Stay in Tayrona National Park

There are a few accommodation options in Tayrona National Park, suitable for every travel style and budget.

  • Hammocks

Sleep overlooking the ocean in the many hammocks available in the park. Just make sure to bring mosquito nets, as they’re not provided — and you’ll want to protect yourself from those pesky bites! Located in communal huts close to the beach, hammocks give you the chance to wake up to the sound of the waves and the sun rising behind the mountains.

  • Tent

On a budget? Rent a tent or bring your own! The most popular campsite in Tayrona National Park is on Cabo San Juan Beach. Basic facilities are available along with lockers to store your belongings. Make sure you arrive early to find a good spot.

  •  Hotel

For a more luxurious option, there are many hotels available in the park. You can opt for lodge-like rooming in bungalows, or consider staying in an Ecohab, which is a contemporary take on a traditional Tairona hut. The huts are made of wood and covered in palm leaves. They’re located among the trees, giving you a vast view of the ocean.