Tayrona National Park, where the rocky Northern Colombian jungle meets gorgeous Caribbean beaches and the cost to get in will nearly bust an overlander’s daily budget. Our first day there we hiked and explored the many beaches at the park until our feet were sore and our thirst grew beyond comfortable levels from the intense heat. But, it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and well-tended parks in all the Americas!
Unfortunately, as an overlander, there are only a couple options if you want to stay with your rig within the park: the parking lot next to the trailhead or a parking lot at a camping area a couple kilometres away. Regardless, each day you need to walk in and out many kilometres along the trails and boardwalks that wind through palms and past ceiba trees to reach the beaches (except for a couple sandy spots near the entry that you can drive to). The unbelievably strong currents have earned the first few beaches you hike past bad reputations for taking lives so “Prohibido Nadar” (No Swimming) signs are blatantly placed in front ensuring you walk the extra 30-45 minutes to arrive at the swimmable beaches: La Piscina and Cabo San Juan. These beaches have offshore reefs curbing the swell and creating perfect swimming holes for parched hikers and overheating sunbathers.
Our first day at Tayrona we arrived around mid-morning to catch the tail-end of the obligatory video about the park (played every 15 minutes or so), hide the dog in the back, then pay our entry fees, the vehicle fee and the daily camping fees. We found a shady spot for the vehicles in the parking lot and quickly started making sandwiches when we heard our names being called across the dusty lot. After 7 months on the road, it was really odd. Who on earth could be calling our names here in Colombia? It was none other than the family we had met at our cliffside San Lorenzo camp!
We spent the afternoon hiking from beach to beach with them, cooling down at La Piscina and Cabo San Juan, and repeating the Colombian slang they were trying to teach us. By the time we made it back to our rigs, juemadre we were beat. Hugs were exchanged all around for several minutes before they piled in their vehicle to head home and we piled in ours to get some rest.
With a little more mechanical maintenance to do from our unexpected mountain 4×4 trip, I spent the wee hours of the next morning at Tayrona rolling around in the dirt and using whatever I could to get more height out of the jack while Penny fixed coffee and breakfast. By the time it was complete, I was too spent to hike deep into the park once again but Penny already had her bag packed. She headed back in to explore the far corners that we had missed the previous day.
Now, this park is large, it is a whopping 150 square kilometres. From the overlander’s camping area (aka the parking lot) it takes an hour to reach the first beach and over two to reach the swimmable ones. Then, once you’ve made it to Cabo San Juan, it takes another hour to make it to Pueblo, the small indigenous village deep in the park. And still, you’re just on the edges of this massive park. Of course, Penny ventured in all the way to Pueblo, a 3.5 hour hike through the jungle, past at least four beaches from our site and still needed to hike back out before dark.
Once she climbed back down the boulders from Pueblo to Playa Cabo San Juan, she offered the caballeros (cowboys) all the money she had on her for a horse. It was exactly half of what the going rate was. “Do you know how to ride?” they asked her, in Spanish. With a “si” they quickly saddled her up with a horse to take back to the stables. “Don’t worry, the horse knows the way”, they called out as she set off along the dusty jungle trail with howler monkeys making a ruckus in the canopy. She arrived back an hour later with a huge smile on her face and a ridiculous story of the horse running off on her when she’d hopped off to save her big sun hat!
Not too enamoured with the National Park’s parking lot we’d stayed in the night before, with no amenities nearby, we found a place down the road and still within the park for a few extra Colombian pesos. It was on the beach, complete with decent washrooms and showers and, with a little effort, they even let us park on the grass, just a few feet from the sand. We spent our last evening in the park watching the sun set over the Caribbean and playing games around a campfire on the beach. It was much, much better than that dusty parking lot.