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10 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting Cabo San Juan Tayrona

10 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting Cabo San Juan Tayrona

A complete travel guide featuring 10 things to know about visiting Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park, Colombia (Playa Cabo San Juan del Guía).

Tayrona National Park is a pristine chunk of protected tropical rainforest on Colombia’s northern Caribbean Coast. For many, this park is a must-stop on the Colombian travel route, offering plenty of amazing things to do from wildlife spotting to relaxing on tropical beaches.

If you ask anyone (especially the backpacker crowd) where to stay in Tayrona National Park, the first answer is usually to spend a night camping on Cabo San Juan beach! This is the most popular beach in Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, and arguably the most beautiful!

So, after exploring the park I’ve written this detailed travel guide to visit Cabo San Juan del Guía in Tayrona National Park. I’ll include all the information you need to know, including how to get here, where to stay, what to expect, and of course, 10 useful tips for visiting!

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

1. You Have to Hike Into Cabo San Juan

As you likely already know by now, in order to get to this beautiful place, you have to be prepared to hike in!

This is quite a long walk, taking around 2-3 hours typically (3.6 miles or 5.9km).

The hike is considered mild to moderate in difficulty but can get hot, especially if you're not experienced hiking in the tropics. Remember to bring your own water– there is no fresh water supply.

The trail winds its way up the coast, passing sections of exposed beaches, palm tree forests, and dense tropical forests. There's lots of wildlife on the way too, so keep an eye out for monkeys!

Tip: Since you have to hike in, I highly recommend not bringing a large backpack or suitacase with all your travel gear. Instead, leave this at your hostel in Santa Marta or Palomino. Masaya Hostel in Santa Marta and Dreamer in Palomino offer this.

Photographer in the jungle

2. You'll Need to Bring Your Own Water

In order to keep this beautiful destination clean, plastic is not permitted inside Tayrona National Park. This means finding plastic water bottles is difficult but also keeps them out of the Caribbean Sea!

As a result, if you're heading into Cabo San Juan Beach, you'll want to bring your own water. Just remember to pack them out!

Many travelers purchase large gallon bottles at the entrance to the park. However, I simply relied on my Grayl Purifying bottle to filter the water available at the campsite.

Read: Best Travel Water Bottle Filters

Hiking in tayrona national park

3. You Can Camp on Cabo San Juan Beach

Camping on Cabo San Juan is perhaps one of the biggest draws for many travelers. If you're thinking about camping, then it's good to know that you have the option to sleep in a tent or hammock.

The prices are as follows:

  • Hammock in the main camping area: 40,000 COP per hammock
  • Watchtower hammock: 50,000 COP per hammock
  • Tent site (bring your own tent): 20,000 COP per person
  • Tent in camping area: 40,000 COP per person
  • Private cabin: 200 000 COP for 2 people – there are only two cabins

If you're choosing a hammock, I highly recommend bringing insect repellent and your own mosquito nets.

There are basic toilet facilities (1,000 pesos to use them), as well as a cold, outdoor shower.

If you're going to camp, I recommend spending one-night camping and spending a full day at Cabo San Juan beach the next day. This will give you enough time to enjoy the area.

Camping tents at a complete travel guide featuring 10 things to know about visiting cabo san juan, tayrona national park, colombia playa cabo san juan del guía beach
Public tents
Camping on cabo san juan tayrona
Bring your own tent camping zone
Hammocks in tayrona
Hammock camping
Wooden lockers
Wooden lockers at the hammock site

4. Cabo San Juan is a Great Beach for Swimming in Tayrona

Perhaps the main reason why Cabo San Juan beach is so popular is that it's the safest in the area for swimming. This beach is in a semi-sheltered cove, resulting in less exposure to currents and large swell. There are also lifeguards on duty and a safety net strung through the crystal clear waters.

However, remember to always monitor conditions and don't swim anywhere unless you are confident in the water.

Cabo san juan tayrona beach

Yes, you might already know this, but Cabo San Juan is one of the most popular beaches in the region and by far the most popular in Tayrona National Park!

This is especially true in the peak season, where you'll want to avoid public holidays and even weekends if possible.

For those wanting to escape the crowds, consider camping on Playa Brava instead. This is a less-popular alternative and easily accessible from the Calabazo entrance.

Tip: The high season in Colombia runs between June to July and December to February.

Girl at cabo san juan beach

6. There's a Restaurant At the Beach

If you're worried about food when staying at Cabo San Juan beach, don't be! There's a large restaurant just a short walk from the shore offering big meals at reasonable prices.

There's also another small restaurant just a little further down, which mostly sells small snacks.

Restaurant at tayrona national park

7. Insurance is Compulsory

Tayrona medical insurance is compulsory, even if you have your own travel insurance.

Luckily, this isn't too expensive, at just 6,000 Colombian pesos per day. You'll pay this fee at the entrance to the park. I've been told that this fee used to be 2,500, so let's hope it doesn't keep doubling every few years!

Tayrona Entrance Tickets: Buy them directly at either El Zaino or Calabazo entrance. Cost is 62,000 COP, in the low season & increases to 73,500 COP in the peak season (December to January). You can pay this in cash or with a credit card at either gate.

Hiking near the coast of colombia

8. There are Lifeguards at the Beach

If you're worried about safety, it's good to know that there are lifeguards at the Cabo San Juan beach.

While I visited in the busy season, I was also told that they monitor this beach year-round and are there in the low season as well.

Cabo san juan del guia at sunset

Related: Palomino Beach - Everything You Need to Know

9. Cabo San Juan is Very Safe

Cabo San Juan del Guía is a very safe beach. Unlike in other parts of Colombia, crime is very uncommon here.

So, for nature lovers and photographers, walking around with a camera is completely fine. In fact, as you can probably see from the photos, I walked all around the park taking wildlife photos with a large camera and didn't have any issues!

Cabo san juan beach and palm trees

10. The Hike to El Pueblito is Closed

Unfortunately, this information wasn't available to me online when I visited. However, in 2018, the hike from Cabo San Juan beach to the indigenous village of El Pueblito closed. It still remains closed today. This is a sacred place and is now closed off from tourism.

This happened just prior to the events of 2020/2021 and was due to a request of the indigenous people living in the communities. While you can technically still hike from Cabo San Juan along the track towards Playa Brava, it's best to take the Calabazo entrance instead.

Horses at tayrona national park

Alternative Accommodation in Tayrona National Park

Most backpackers will tell you that you only need one or two nights of camping at Cabo San Juan Beach. However, I recommend spending at least a night in the jungle interior as well.

This will give you the best of both worlds, waking up to a beautiful sunrise over turquoise waters AND spending the night in the forest amongst rare and protected wildlife!

You don't need to book your camping in advance but I highly recommend booking accommodation in Tayrona National Park online as there aren't many options available. Here are my recommendations.

Ecohabs tayrona accommodation

1. Ecohabs Bamboo Eco

Beautiful Ecohabs (bamboo cabins) nestled in the deep jungles and surrounded by wildlife.

Bed in a hut in tayrona national park, mirador dento del parque tayrona

2. Mirador del Parque Budget

Budget option for staying inside Tayrona National park. Sleep in dorms or private jungle huts high on a hill overlooking the jungle canopy.

Ecolodge playa brava huts on the beach in tayrona national park, colombia

3. Ecolodge Playa Brava Beach Huts

Amazing beach huts located right on Playa Brava beach.

Tip: While you can also stay outside the entrance, it's worth booking accommodation inside the park since otherwise, you'll need to pay for multiple entrance tickets (which are expensive).

Bamboo huts in tayrona national park

Where is Cabo San Juan Beach

Cabo San Juan beach is located within Tayrona Park on the Caribbean Coast in Northern Colombia. You'll find it located beside other famous beaches including Playa La Piscina, and Playa Nudista (nudist beach).

Below is the exact location of Playa del Cabo to help you find it.

Cabo san juan map in tayrona national park

How to Get to Cabo San Juan Beach

To get to Cabo San Juan, there are two options, you can book an organized day trip from the city of Santa Marta, or get here independently. Below I'll break down each option in more detail.

Read: How to Get to Tayrona National Park

Option 1: Day Trip To Cabo San Juan Tayrona

If you're short on time, in a group of travelers, or perhaps simply just want the most convenient way to experience the best of Tayrona National Park on a day trip, then a private tour might be the best option for you.

There is one one-day trip that you can book online that includes return transport from Santa Marta, Taganga, Rodadero, Pozos Colorados, or Bello Horizonte. This day trip option includes a hiking guide through the park and all the way to Cabo San Juan Beach.

This is great value as all park admission fees (notoriously expensive) are included in the cost as well. Furthermore, you won't have to line up in the long lines at the park entrance.

Hiking in tayrona national park, colombia

Option 2: Independent Travel to Cabo San Juan with Public Transport

In order to get to this beautiful beach independently, you'll first have to make your way to the main entrance to Tayrona Natural National Park.

While there are two entry points, the main one is called El Zaino Entrance (Tayrona La Entrada Principal), which is the most convenient park entrance leading to Cabo San Juan Beach.

Zaino entrance to tayrona national park
El zaino entrance

Cheap Public Bus to the El Zaino Entrance

The best way (also cheapest) to get to the El Zaino Entrance is to take the local green bus running from the Santa Marta Public Market (Mercado Público de Santa Marta).

This bus runs every 30 minutes or so, starting from 8:00 am, and costs just 8,000 Colombian Pesos. Expect a journey of just over an hour from Santa Marta before stopping at a parking lot just outside the park.

When you're at Mercado Santa Marta, just ask any local for "Tayrona" and they'll point to the bus you need.

If you're coming from Minca, the colectivo takes you directly to the public market, where you hop off directly next to the Tayrona bus.

Marinka lower waterfall, colombia

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Green bus in santa marta
Green bus to tayrona

Coach Bus From Santa Marta Bus Station

For travelers looking to get to Cabo San Juan Beach and Tayrona National Park from other parts of Colombia, you also have the option to take a more expensive, but much more comfortable coach bus to the entrance.

This is a convenient option if you end up at the Santa Marta Bus Station (Terminal de Transportes de Santa Marta), which is approximately 20 minutes outside the actual city. However, if you're already in Santa Marta, or if you're coming from Minca or Palomino, this wouldn't make much sense.

For the rest of you, the best and safest bus company is called Brasilia, and you can book all your tickets in advance using the convenient Busbud website.

Tip: You can also arrange a private taxi from Santa Marta to Tayrona National Park, but expect to pay around 80,000 - 100,000 Colombian pesos for this.

El Zaino to Cabo San Juan Tayrona National Park

Once you arrive at the El Zaino entrance, you'll undoubtedly be greeted by several salespeople offering you accommodation in the park. If you're looking to camp on Cabo San Juan Tayrona, then it's actually easiest to just pay the camping fee here (since it's the same price anyway).

Afterward, travelers will also need to pay the Taryona entrance fee, which is currently 57,500 COP per person (seems to increase every year). Additionally, it is now a requirement to pay for Tayrona medical insurance at the entrance as well, which is 5,000 pesos per day. You can pay both of these fees with your credit card

Tip: There are no ATMs within the national park. So, make sure you bring enough cash with you to last the duration of the trip.

Once you're finally inside Tayrona Park, you can start the journey to Cabo San Juan. While you can walk from the entrance, the easiest way is to take the colectivo vans at the entrance to the start of the trail. This is 5,000 pesos per person and takes you all the way to the coast to the start of the trail.

Sign at the entrance to tayrona national park

In order to get to Cabo San Juan, you need to hike in. This is a very scenic trail but takes around 2 hours (9 kilometers or 5.5 miles), following a mostly-flat jungle track.

Along the way, you'll be granted loads of wildlife spotting opportunities and pass some more beautiful beaches, including Arrecifes, Playa Arenilla, and La Piscina beach.

This hike is very easy to follow and can even be slightly crowded. Since Cabo Beach is the most popular in the park, most people will be heading here.

Van in tayrona national park
Hiking trail to cabo san juan beach
Capuchin monkey in tayrona national park, colombia

More Colombia Travel Guides & Blogs

And, that's a wrap for this travel guide to Cabo San Juan del Guía Beach in Tayrona National Park, Colombia.

Below you'll find more Colombia travel guides and inspiration for backpacking in South America.

  • Medellín Travel Guide: Discover fun activities and top highlights in Medellín
  • San Andrés Island: Guide to Colombia's best Caribbean Island
  • Minca Travel Guide: Discover incredible hikes, beautiful fincas, epic jungle waterfalls, and all-around relaxing vibes.
  • Things to do in Guatapé: Travel to Colombia's most scenic Antioquian town, known for its vibrant streets, traditional street art, and the famous Piedra del Peñol.
Girl and sunset at coffee plantation in minca

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Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

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Thursday 9th of February 2023

Thanks for this. Very informative and well written article.