Located at the top of Colombia is one of its Caribbean jewels – Tayrona National Park. Travellers and locals flock here to immerse themselves in nature and simply disconnect and get away from it all.
We’d already spent a few days in Cartagena, which was officially our last stop in the country, but there was one final place we wanted to experience.
And this is it.
Many that travel here choose to stay inside the park where you can sleep in a musty hammock in a tightly-packed gazebo or in the jungle, a rented tent or one that you’ve brought, cabañas, or one of the top shelf eco-hub hotels with room rates to match.
It was none of the above, for us, as we decided to shack it up just beyond the park’s boundaries at Tayrona Tented Lodge at Costeño Beach.
The set-up is quite simple – 7 ‘tents’ that aren’t really tents at all; free-standing and nestled beneath coconut trees just metres from the Caribbean. They’re basically modern pre-fab huts topped with canvas.
A bed, or beds, internal bathroom, a fan, no air-con, no wifi. No hot water, either; but it isn’t really necessary in this very warm climate.
Poorly fitting insect screens on the front door allow many flying and crawling insects to enter the room at night, so if meeting the local nocturnal invertebrates appeals, bookmark this property. They’ll even crawl into the sack with you, which isn’t great fun for a non-entomologist like myself.
There’s an on-site restaurant where you can enjoy the inclusive breakfast, lunch and dinner, a few hammocks by the beach and that’s pretty much it.
La Brisa Tranquila.
If you crave something a little more than the simple meals given at the lodge, there’s always La Brisa Tranquila Beach Hostel, next door. It’s very much a backpacker set-up, but it has a better-equipped restaurant and varied menu, plenty of drinks to purchase, and something that many of us crave – free WIFI.
The downside to being located right next to La Brisa was the noise that came out of it. Thumping music until 4 am that simply couldn’t be avoided.
Great if you like that kind of thing, but if you’re wanting peace and quiet and a good night’s sleep, you simply won’t get it. Well, we didn’t, anyway.
Aside from that, Costeño Beach is a glorious place to chill. Hammocks swing in the breeze, there may be a bonfire in the evenings, a circle of stoners passing a spliff to one another and some magical sunsets to enjoy as your toes are sunk into the sand. It’s that kind of place.
Having based ourselves at Costeño Beach, Tayrona National Park was a day trip for us. It’s only about 5 km to the Zaino entrance from Costeño, but you do have to walk 25 minutes from the beach to the highway to get either a taxi, the bus or one of the waiting motorbike taxis (6,000 pesos for the bike), to get there.
One thing to note is that you need your passport to enter Tayrona National Park. Entrance to the park is 44,500 pesos for foreigners and a bargain 17,000 for locals. You’ve got to love being discriminated against for holding a foreign passport.
There are a few eateries and convenience stores around the entrance, so that’s your chance to stock up on water, snacks and whatever else you require for a days hiking.
There’s a mini-bus waiting just past the entrance which takes you into the park to the start of the trails. It only costs 3,000 pesos (maybe less than half for the locals) and is well-worth it. Walking from the entrance along the road to the trails only makes your day longer, and there’s nothing exciting to see, anyway.
Most people head to Cabo San Juan de Guia, a trek that lasts about 1½ hours. It can get pretty tiring and incredibly hot, so all I can say is take a few breaks here and there and keep hydrated.
Many of the beaches aren’t swimmable due to strong rips, but beaches like Cabo San Juan and La Pescina can be enjoyed without too much concern. That water is glorious!
There are a couple of cabaña-style restaurants before La Pescina that offer simple local fare like fried fish with rice, patacones and salad. Perfect to fuel up prior to shlepping all the way back to the park entrance to head back to Costeño Beach.
Expa SA colectivos run from Terminal de Transportes in Cartagena to Santa Marta’s Central de Transportes for 25,000 pesos per person. There are many companies that do the run and have regular departures. It takes 5½ hours.
We spent the night in Santa Marta to break up the journey. A taxi from Central de Transportes to downtown costs 8,000 pesos.
To get to Costeño Beach, head to the colectivo station by the market (check map for location) and get a colectivo to Tayrona. Cost is 7,000 pesos per person and it takes just over an hour to get there.
You need to ask the driver or cashier to let you off at the Costeño Beach turn-off. Then you can walk from the highway to the beach. It takes around 25 minutes to walk it.