A complete and up-to-date travel guide featuring 15 awesome things to do in Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia. Includes information on how to get here, where to stay, what to do, what to bring, and how to plan your visit.
Tayrona National Park is a world-renowned natural paradise located on the Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia. Hoards of tourists flock to this park every year to witness its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, abundant wildlife, and stunning views of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range.
But, if you were like me and traveling around South America, you might initially be a little confused about how to actually plan a trip to Parque Tayrona.
That’s why, after spending a few days in this rich and unique place, I’ve formulated this travel guide featuring 15 things to do in Tayrona National Park. I’ve also included all the information you need to enjoy an epic experience in one of Colombia’s best regions.
- Quick Things to Know About Visiting Tayrona National Park
- Where is Tayrona National Park in Colombia?
- The Two Park Entrances
- How to Get to Tayrona National Park
- Arriving at El Zaino Tayrona National Park Entrance
- Where to Stay in Tayrona National Park
- Awesome Things to do in Tayrona National Park
- 1. Hike to the Beautiful Beaches
- 2. Spot Wildlife
- 3. Go Birding
- 4. Camp on Cabo San Juan
- 5. The 9 Piedras Hike
- 6. Visit The Nudist Beach (Playa Nudista)
- 7. Spot One of the Rarest Primate Species in the World
- 8. Walk Among the Palm Trees
- 9. Witness the Snow Capped Peaks of The Sierra Nevada Mountains
- 10. Take a Boat Ride
- 11. Camp on Playa Brava Instead
- 12. Enjoy Fresh Coconuts
- 13. Go Snorkeling
- 14. Sleep in a Hut in the Jungle
- 15. Make New Friends
- What About El Pueblito?
- Tayrona Packing List – What to Bring
- FAQs About Visiting Tayrona National Park
- Wildlife Photography from Parque Tayrona
- More Colombia Travel Guides
Quick Things to Know About Visiting Tayrona National Park
Before you dive into this Tayrona National Park travel guide, here are some quick things you need to know.
- Tayrona National Park is closed every February
- You can pay for your entrance ticket at the gate - you also need your passport at the entrance
- It's best to bring your own drinking water - I swear by my Grayl Purifier bottle and haven't purchased a plastic water bottle since buying it three years ago!
- Plastic bags are banned in Tayrona - don't bring any in
- There are no ATMs - bring enough cash
- You can camp on the beach or stay in cabañas - I have loads of recommendations below
- You can't swim at many of the beaches - strong currents and waves have resulted in many drownings in this park
- Tayrona NP Travel insurance is compulsory - don't worry this is just 5,000 COP per day at the entrance
- If you're camping, don't bring large backpacks - instead, leave them at your accommodation (Masaya Hostel in Santa Marta & Dreamer Hostel in Palomino allow you to do this).
- Tayrona Park gets real busy in high season - it's busiest in December & January and on weekends & public holidays
Where is Tayrona National Park in Colombia?
Tayrona National Park, or Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona in Spanish, is a 150 km² (60 mi²) protected area located in the Magdalena department on the northern Caribbean Coast of Colombia.
This coastal strip of tropical jungle, coral reefs, and pristine beaches is tucked between the sea and the Sierra Nevada mountains and accessible via highway 90 (Troncal del Caribe).
The closest city to Tayrona Park is Santa Marta, which is approximately 37 kilometers away (from the main entrance of El Zaino).
The Two Park Entrances
This park is quite large. So, before we dive into what to do in Tayrona National Park, it's important to know that there are actually two different entrances, each accommodating a different area of the park.
- El Zaino - the main entrance and best access point to Cabo San Juan Beach
- Calabazo - the secondary entrance providing the best access to Playa Brava Beach
The entrance fee (currently 57,500 COP), is the same at both gates, and you can pay this in cash or with a credit card.
Both entrances are located along the same road, with Calabazo being the closest to the city of Santa Marta. Below I'll go into more detail on how to get here.
How to Get to Tayrona National Park
In order to get to Tayrona National Park, it's best to first make your way to Santa Marta. Santa Marta has its own airport, and a popular bus transport hub connecting other cities in Colombia.
Once you make your way to Santa Marta, you'll have two main options to get to either entrance gate of Parque Tayrona.
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 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 long lines at the park entrance.
View more: Full-day Tayrona Park Excursion With Guide
Option 2: Independent Travel Using Public Transport
If you want to visit this National Park independently, then you can take either of the following public transport options:
- Cheap public bus from Santa Marta Mercado - best if you're already in Santa Marta or coming on the Colectivo from Palomino or Minca
- Coach bus from Santa Marta Bus Terminal - best if you're already coming into Santa Marta Bus Station on a coach from another Colombian city
- Taxi or private transport - a little expensive at around 80,000 Colombian pesos but can be cost-effective if shared
Cheap Public Bus to the El Zaino Entrance
The best way (also the 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.
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Coach Bus From Santa Marta Bus Station
For travelers looking to get to Tayrona National Park from other parts of Colombia like Cartagena or Medellín, 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.
Arriving at El Zaino Tayrona National Park Entrance
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, then it's actually easiest to just pay the camping fee here (since it's the same price inside the park anyway).
Afterward, travelers will also need to pay the Taryona National Park 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.
If you want to stock up on fruit, food, or water, you can do so just outside the entrance. Here, you'll also find a few local restaurants to grab a bite to eat as well.
Once you're finally inside Tayrona Park, you'll see a bunch of shared colectivo vans just past the entrance. These guys run back-and-forth transport trips to the end of this main road for 5,000 pesos.
Tip: for the best chance of spotting wildlife, including the very rare cotton-top tamarin, then you should know that this main road is actually the best place to do so! While most tourists take the colectivo, I was told this in advance, and this is where I spotted most of the monkeys, sloths, birds, and other animals you see in my photos on this blog.
Where to Stay 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 actually 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 Bamboo - beautiful Ecohabs (bamboo cabins) nestled in the deep jungles and surrounded by wildlife.
- Mirador del Parque - a 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 - 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).
Awesome Things to do in Tayrona National Park
Okay, now with the logistics out of the way, let's dive into this list of unmissable things to do in Tayrona National Park, Colombia!
1. Hike to the Beautiful Beaches
While I came to Tayrona for the wildlife, most visit for a chance to see its pristine beaches.
And, it's no wonder, since the beaches on the Tayrona Park coastline are undisputed as the most beautiful in Colombia.
Picture endless stretches of palm tree-lined white-sand beaches with crystal clear waters backing onto dense, tropical jungle. There are no roads connecting the beaches, meaning you'll have to get here on foot! Luckily, there's a long and well-established hiking trail running the length of the coast and connecting all the best beaches.
Some of the best include
- Cabo San Juan del Guía (most popular)
- Playa Brava (alternative camping beach via the Calabazo entrance)
- Playa Cristal
- Castilletes and Canaveral
- La Piscina
While there are many more picturesque beaches to visit here, you should know that many are not safe for swimming. That's because the strong currents and large swell that can occur on this stretch of coastline have led to several drownings in the past.
Make sure to monitor and follow the signs. Visitors will find large red "no swimming" signs throughout Parque Tayrona.
2. Spot Wildlife
For nature lovers, the absolute best thing to do in Tayrona National park is to go wildlife spotting!
This national park is extremely rich in biodiversity and is home to a wide range of mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles, some of which you'll find nowhere else on earth.
The main reason why I came to visit Tayrona National Park was for a chance to spot the elusive and extremely rare cotton-top Tamarin. This particular monkey is one of the most critically endangered primate species on earth and only lives in this tiny slice of forest in Northern Colombia.
More animals you can see in Parque Tayrona include:
In addition, here are some more interesting animals that I wasn't able to spot on my visit but roam the park
- Crab-eating fox
- Oncilla (Tigrillo)
- 350+ different bird species
3. Go Birding
Tayrona National Park is a birdwatcher's paradise.
With over 280 species of birds, it is one of the most biodiverse parks in Colombia. From colorful parrots like the Blue-headed Parrot to rare hummingbirds, spotting or photographing birds is one of the funnest things to do here!
Travelers and nature lovers will find birds all throughout the park, including on the nature trails, main roads, and beaches.
4. Camp on Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan is by far the most popular beach in Tayrona National Park, and it's easy to see why. The white sand and turquoise waters are simply breathtaking, and the beach is sheltered by a lush forest.
However, what really draws the crowds to Cabo San Juan is the opportunity to camp right on the beach. There are various options, from hammock camping to renting a tent, or just simply pay for a site and bring your own.
If you've got a bit of time in Tayrona Park, I'd recommend camping one night on the beach, then staying in one of the huts in the jungle. This gives you the best of both worlds, from watching the sunrise over the Caribbean sea from your tent to immersing yourself in the deep forests of Tayrona.
You'll find the camping area directly in front of the beach, and you can book your tent when you arrive at the park entrance or when you get to the beach.
Tip: Remember to bring your own mosquito nets!
About the Lost City Trek: The 4-day hike to Ciudad Perdida is by far one of the most amazing things you can do in Northern Colombia. If you're in the region, make sure to include this on your itinerary. You can find out more information and book your trek at GetYourGuide.
5. The 9 Piedras Hike
Looking for a short loop hiking trail in Tayrona National Park? Make sure to check out the 9 Piedras trail.
This is an approximately 1.15 mile (1.8 kilometer) track near Cañaveral and Arrecife.
9 Piedras translates to "9 stones", and the trail basically follows a path connecting nine large boulders that are culturally significant to indigenous groups in the region.
Since you'll detour off the main beach trail, this short hike offers an excellent opportunity to avoid the crowds and spot more unique wildlife. Along the path, you'll pass a large lagoon, where it's sometimes possible to spot alligators.
6. Visit The Nudist Beach (Playa Nudista)
If you stroll down the popular Colombian tourist beaches of Rodadero or Taganga, there's no doubt you'll be asked by tour operators to take a boat trip to the "nudist beach", or playa nudista.
I'm not sure why this is such a huge selling point, but in reality, the infamous "nudist beach" is far from a beach sprawling with naked bodies. In fact, this is one of the longest stretches of sand on the coast, and there's almost always nobody here.
Also, it's impossible to swim at this beach, since the currents and swell are quite dangerous. However, if you're hanging around crowded Cabo San Juan and wondering what to do to escape the chaos, simply walk the short 10-minute track to Playa Nudista for a relaxing vibe.
7. Spot One of the Rarest Primate Species in the World
Okay, you already know that Tayrona National Park is renowned for its pristine beaches, lush jungles, and abundant wildlife.
Visitors come from all over to experience the park's unique ecosystem, but one of the most unique things to do in Tayrona is to go on a monkey-spotting expedition. Deep within the park's jungle canopy lives one of the world's rarest primates, the cotton-top tamarin. This tiny monkey is endemic to the region and can be difficult to spot, but visitors who are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one are sure to never forget it.
As mentioned above, the best place to get a chance to see these monkeys is actually on the main road in! Instead of taking the shared colectivo van, walk the length of the road from the entrance. Move silently and keep your eyes peeled on the canopy for any movement.
8. Walk Among the Palm Trees
For many, an escape to the Caribbean is an elevating change from the hustle-and-bustle of city life. If this sounds like you, I'm sure you'll be stoked to hear that the beaches in Tayrona National Park are lined with beautiful coconut palms!
After camping on Cabo San Juan, get up early the next day and snap some awesome vacation photos under the beautiful palm trees on the way back to El Zaino!
9. Witness the Snow Capped Peaks of The Sierra Nevada Mountains
For me, one of the most amazing attractions in Tayrona National Park is the chance to witness the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The best time to see the mountains is early in the morning when they are illuminated by the rising sun. Visitors can hike to one of the many lookout points in the park, for stunning views of both the mountains and the coastline. Whatever you do, make sure you don't miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime experience
What you’re seeing is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which is the tallest coastal mountain range in the world. The highest peak, Pico Cristóbal Colón (Gonawindua), reaches a whopping 5,775 meters (18880 feet) above sea level.
10. Take a Boat Ride
If you're not yet in Tayrona Park but looking to visit on a day trip, then one of the best options is to jump on board a full-day sailing trip with Luis and his team!
While there are several boat trips departing for the famous Tayrona beaches from Santa Marta, Taganga, and Rodadero, this is by far the best.
Visitors will set sail for the natural park aboard a 17-meter (56-foot) sailing yacht. This trip is a small-group adventure, with just 25 maximum passengers. You'll get snorkeling equipment and lunch included as well!
11. Camp on Playa Brava Instead
As I quickly touched on above, Cabo San Juan beach is one of the most popular beaches in this Colombian National Park. For those who'd prefer a more chill experience, I have an alternative for you.
Instead of entering at the main El Zaino entrance, enter at Calabazo, which you will find just a little earlier on the road.
From here, it's the same deal. You can walk the length to the coast, or take a shared van to Playa Brava. This is a much quieter beach and also a great one for swimming.
Similar to Cabo San Juan, you can simply bring your own tent, or pay per night for a hammock or one of the existing tents. Alternatively, travelers will also find one of the best places to stay in Tayrona here, called Ecolodge Playa Brava.
12. Enjoy Fresh Coconuts
Among the most refreshing things to do in Tayrona National Park is to drink fresh coconuts! As you might expect, the park is full of coconut palms, which means the supply is never-ending.
However, I'm not sure how the locals feel about you climbing the palms to pluck your own. Instead, pay one of the indigenous community members who you'll see selling coconuts along the popular hiking trail to Cabo San Juan del Guia beach.
The going rate for these fresh drinking coconuts is just 5,000 pesos each, which is approximately $1.30 USD!
13. Go Snorkeling
As you can tell, there's absolutely no shortage of things to do in Tayrona National Park! Snorkeling is just one of the many activities on offer and can be a great place to spot a diverse range of marine life.
In fact, many people seem to forget the fact that the park contains a huge 30 square kilometers (12 mi²) of protected maritime area as well!
Of course, you'll need to get lucky and visit on a calm day for the best visibility. But, if you do, you swim amongst reef fish, turtles, and even dolphins.
Unfortunately, the seas were a little rough during my time exploring the park and therefore I don't have many great photos of the underwater scene.
14. Sleep in a Hut in the Jungle
Those that are short on time and wondering if they should camp or stay in the jungle, you've got a difficult decision to make. Again, I highly recommend trying to squeeze at least two nights to get the most out of the experience.
However, if I personally had to make a recommendation, I'd choose a jungle hut over beachside camping. That's because it's possible to camp on the beach in many destinations around Latin America. But, to be able to sleep in the middle of the jungle rainforest, surrounded by rare animals and tropical wildlife is a truly unique experience.
I chose to stay at the Mirador del Paraque, and I absolutely loved it. The owners have a long lineage in the area and are super friendly. The great part about this hut accommodation is that it's situated on top of a small hill. As the name suggests, this means guests will get to experience amazing views over the canopy and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
15. Make New Friends
Did you know that Tayrona National Park is one of the best places in Colombia for backpackers and adventure travelers to meet like-minded people? This is especially true if you decide to camp at one of the beaches.
At sunset and even into the night, there's usually a great vibe happening on the beach. So, grab a cerveza and enjoy!
What About El Pueblito?
If you read an older, outdated article about activities and things to do in Tayrona National Park, you'll often find a visit to El Pueblito listed.
However, the truth is that this small indigenous village and the archeological site have been closed since late 2018. This was a decision by the local authorities to protect the indigenous culture.
While you can still hike from Cabo San Juan beach to Playa Brava via El Pueblito, entering the small village is no longer permitted.
Tayrona Packing List - What to Bring
Wondering what essential items to bring to Tayrona National Natural Park? Below I've got you covered!
- Bug repellent (bug spray) - okay, this is probably the most important Tayrona travel tip. Bring bug repellent! I've stopped using deet and now swear by the natural alternative from Sallye Ander
- Bug cream - something to treat the inevitable bites. Again, the Sallye Ander cream helps reduce itching.
- Hat and sunscreen - I'm Aussie so I might be biased, but Blue Lizard makes the best natural sunscreen on earth.
- Grayl water purifier - No, you can't drink the tap water in Tayrona. Except if you have this water purifying bottle. I've used it all over the world (including tap water in India), and saved thousands of plastic bottles from landfill in the process.
- Camera or GoPro - this amazing biological park is totally safe, meaning you can have your camera out!.
- Travel quick-dry towel - a must have travel essential for quick-dry convenience
- Imodium - trust me, you might want to bring some, just in case.
- Headlamp or flashlight - useful for nightly expeditions to spot rare wildlife
- Flip Flops - embrace the beach life!
FAQs About Visiting Tayrona National Park
No, Tayrona is closed for the month of February every year.
This national park is named after the ancient “Tairona” people of Northern Colombia. These tribes settled this land thousands of years ago and its modern descendants are now the indigenous Kogi people.
I recommend staying at least two nights here. This way, you can camp one night on the beach, and stay in the jungle for another.
Bringing big heavy bags into the park is a big no-no! You'll have to do a lot of walking. Therefore, it's best to stash your bags at your accommodation in Santa Marta or Palomino.
Tayrona National Park is world-famous for its incredible Caribbean Beaches and its unique wildlife.
Tayrona Park is over 130 miles (200 kilometers+) from Cartagena. It takes at least 4-5 hours to get to the park by bus or car from your hotel in Cartagena. Alternatively, fly to the closest airport at Santa Marta
By now, you already know the answer– of course, it's worth visiting! In fact, it's one of the best places to visit in all of Colombia!
Wildlife Photography from Parque Tayrona
I hope you've enjoyed this travel guide! This is currently up-to-date and reflects accurate information. I'll continue to update this guide in the coming years so that my readers always have a reliable source of information for their adventures in Colombia and South America.
Before you go, here are some more examples of wildlife photography that I was able to capture on my trip.
More Colombia Travel Guides
And that's a wrap for this ultimate travel guide featuring 15 amazing things to do in Tayrona National Park, Colombia!
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