Located in northern Colombia in the state of Magdalena, Tayrona National Park (Parque Tayrona in Spanish) is a protected area of land and is a haven for beach lovers, hikers, and history buffs alike.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where Parque Tayrona is located, is home to the largest coastal peak in the world, and stretches right down to the Caribbean ocean. It shelters unique wildlife, indigenous communities, and breathtaking views.
If you are in the northern region of Colombia, Tayrona National Park is an absolute must-visit. There is so much to see and do in Tayrona, so it might initially feel overwhelming. But once you narrow your interests, you can easily plan the perfect trip to Tayrona. I’m here to help you do just that! Just continue reading to learn everything you need to know before visiting Tayrona National Park.
Make sure to also read my posts The Best Places To Visit In Colombia and A Great 2 Weeks In Colombia Itinerary.
Why Visit Tayrona National Park
Visiting Tayrona National Park is arguably one of the most beautiful experiences in all Colombia. People are drawn to Tayrona for many different reasons, but most go there to find relatively untouched beaches that are far from city noise or street traffic.
Parque Tayrona is also home unique wildlife, including the cotton-top tamarin (only found in this region in Colombia). It’s a great place to visit if you enjoy hiking, as there are lots of easy-to-moderate hikes through the remote jungle with beautiful ocean views.
Finally, Tayrona National Park is home to a local indigenous community that can give you a small glimpse into the lives of the locals.
So no matter what you are looking for, there is something in Tayrona to pique your interest. There is no better way to explore the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta than spending one, two, or more days in Tayrona National Park.
Let’s now check out the best things to do in Tayrona National Park.
What To See And Do In Tayrona National Park
Parque Tayrona is one of Colombia’s most visited destinations for a reason. Here are some of the things you can do to keep yourself busy while there.
If you are a beach-lover, there are multiple swimmable beaches for you. If you are a hiking enthusiast, there is plenty of unique jungle treks. If you are an animal lover, you can see some incredibly rare and wondrous plants and animals. If you are into camping and roughing it, you can easily spend days off the grid here.
Depending on what you are looking for, you want to begin your Tayrona adventure at the right entrance. Tayrona has multiple entries; some are better for beach access, while others are better for camping. I will explain more about the entrances below.
Check out Parque Tayrona beaches
There are many beaches in Parque Tayrona. Here I mention just a few of them!
The most famous beach is definitely Cabo San Juan. You’ll definitely will have seen photos of it when looking for information about the park. Located on the beach, right above a pretty rock formation, there’s a small hut with hammocks from where you can enjoy an incredible view. Water here is crystal clear and the marine life is thriving. It’s the most popular beach in the park though – so don’t be surprised if you find it crowded.
For a less crowded beach, you may want to check out Playa Brava, surrounded by thick jungle and easier to reach from the Calabazo entrance – you’ll need to hike through the jungle to get there.
One of the best beaches in Parque Tayrona if you like swimming is definitely Playa La Piscina – the name literally means swimming pool. It’s a nice beach with calm waters thanks to the presence of large rock formations that create a barrier that makes it ideal for swimming. It’s also a good spot for snorkeling.
Playa Arrecifes is a gorgeous, long sandy beach highly exposed to the wind. It’s never crowded – that’s because it’s actually not safe to swim there as there are caymans – but there is a swimming beach right after the lagoon.
All Parque Tayrona tours will visit its best beaches. You may want to consider this Parque Tayrona tour that departs from Santa Marta and includes a stop in Playa Brava, a walk along Playa Arrecife and a stop in Cabo San Juan.
Another option is this sailing trip that departs from Santa Marta and which stops at Bahia Concha too.
There are many easy hiking trails in Tayrona National Park. For each of them, it is recommended you wear hiking shoes (it can be very muddy and slippery and there are lots of bugs), wear a hat, sunblock and mosquito repellent, and carry lots of water.
First of all, you can walk the Cañaveral trail through the jungle and along the coast. This is a panoramic walk that will allow you to catch impressive coastal views that include Punta Castillete. Most of the trail is along a wooden trail, but where this is missing it’s actually very muddy.
One of the most popular trails is the 9 Piedras, which is located on the Castilletes area. The name of the trail is due to the nine perfectly egg-shaped stones located along the trail – apparently a way local indigenous communities used to count time.
This is a circular route of about 3.5 km (around 2.2 miles) that you can complete in about 1.5 hours and which goes through the jungle and affords you with incredible views of the ocean. If you are lucky, you may even be able to spot a bit of wildlife.
The most popular hike in Parque Tayrona is the one to Pueblito, a small but interesting archeological site that’s been almost entirely swallowed by the forest. You will find the beginning of the trail right behind the camping site at Cabo San Juan (more about that later). This is a more challenging hike (it’s mostly uphill) that will take you around 1.5 hours during which you’ll be walking through the jungle.
If you want to, you can actually continue hiking after Pueblito to reach Playa Brava.
Go snorkeling in Playa Cristal
If you enjoy snorkeling and marine life, look no further. Playa Cristal – also known as Playa del Muerto – is the best beach in Tayrona National Park for that. It’s around one hour walk from Cañaveral so you can easily get there even just for one day from Taganga and Santa Marta. Some guided tours also allow for a boat ride to reach the beach.
Look for the cotton-top tamarin
Cotton-top tamarins live in Tayrona National Park. These little monkeys are one of the rarest species of monkeys in the world. They can only be found in this region of Colombia and have an estimated population of 6,000.
We were particularly lucky during our visit as there were several families of cotton-top tamarins near our hostel in El Zaino, but we didn’t have so much luck spotting them elsewhere within the park.
We only spotted them on the dirt road leading from El Zaino’s entrance to Cañaveral. Most people take a tourist van from the entrance to the Cañaveral. However, if you have the time and energy, consider walking an hour and a half for a chance to spot some of the cotton-top tamarins.
What You Must Know Before Visiting Parque Tayrona
Best time to visit Tayrona National Park
The rainiest months in this part of Colombia are generally from May to October. However, rain isn’t your biggest concern here. It does rain throughout the year, so I wouldn’t recommend planning your trip around the rainy season.
Because tourists and locals flock to the national park during holidays and weekends, it can get overly crowded inside the park. You may want to plan your trip to avoid the peak tourist season.
September, October, and November are the quietest months for tourism, so it may be the best time to visit Tayrona National Park without crowds.
If you are only planning to spend a day there, no matter when you go, you will want to get to the park early in the morning to avoid the heat and humidity and give yourself plenty of time there.
Tayrona National Park official opening hours are from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, but gates open as early as 7:00 am and you should plan to be there no later than 6:00 am as there will be a line at the gate.
Keep in mind that you are allowed to enter the park until 12:00 pm, and you are expected to leave between 2:00 and 5:00 pm at the latest.
Tayrona National Park generally closes for one month a year, but this can change so you may want to visit the official website to double check. In 2023, the park will be closed from February 1st to February 15th, and June 1st to June 15th.
It was surprisingly quiet when we went to Tayrona National Park for four days leading up to Christmas. There were no lines and very few people on the trails. We drove by the park a week later and saw a line that stretched out a kilometer behind the main park entrance.
How long should you stay?
One of the best things about Tayrona National Park is the diversity between the three main entrances and the various treks. If you only have one day, you can still have an enjoyable time in the park. If you have several days, you can keep busy for your whole visit.
Most people only spend one or two days in Tayrona, which is plenty of time for a basic trip. However, if you can fit in four or five days, you can explore more in depth and truly enjoy the park and surrounding area.
Is Parque Tayrona safe?
Tayrona National Park is safe, but you should take the usual safety precautions when visiting. I have never heard of any robberies or negative encounters inside the park or in El Zaino. However, here are some simple pieces of advice to avoid any unwarranted events:
- Keep your belongings on you, or with a trusted friend, at all times.
- Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach (or anywhere else).
- Don’t wear flashy jewelry or possessions.
- Don’t bring in open fruits that could attract attention from monkeys or other animals.
We were in isolated areas for most of our hiking around Tayrona National Park. My only fear was a jaguar encounter. We did not see any jaguars, and locals who grew up in the area told us they were rare. Most people living in Tayrona National Park don’t see jaguars unless they go deep off the beaten path.
Tayrona National Park entrance fees
We visited Tayrona National Park in December 2022. The cost of a one-day entrance is 68,000 COP ($14.50 USD) plus a 10,000 COP ($2 USD) insurance charge. You can pay with cash or a card.
During low season, admission is 57,500 COP (little over $12 USD).
You will have to pay the entrance fee no matter which entrance you take. Because there is not a huge variety of restaurants or food options, the whole trip can be relatively expensive compared to other Colombian destinations. However, it is still affordable and worth the extra costs.
The entrance fee does increase every year. There are different prices during high and low seasons.
The four main entrances of Tayrona National Park
There are several entrances to Tayrona National Park. These entrances all have their advantages and disadvantages.
El Zaino is the most popular entrance to Tayrona National Park. You will find it an hour from Santa Marta, a few kilometers after Plaza Tayrona. Because this entrance is the most popular, it is also the most crowded.
El Zaino entrance is the easiest experience for those that don’t want to do a ton of hiking, don’t mind crowds, and want the most direct route to some of the best beaches in Tayrona.
Once you get there, you will pay your entrance fee and insurance, park officials will search your bag, and you can take a shared van to Cañaveral or walk along the dirt road.
El Calabazo is the “secret” entrance to Tayrona, making it the perfect choice for those trying to avoid crowds and who want a whole hiking experience.
El Calabazo is located on the same road as El Zaino, about ten kilometers before El Zaino’s entrance coming from Santa Marta. You can tell the bus driver to drop you off at “Entrada de El Calabazo” if you want to access from there.
From El Calabazo, you can hike a clear route through the jungle to Cabo San Juan and Playa Brava (known as the nudist beach in Parque Tayrona). The beginning of the hike isn’t easy and, depending on the rain, might be a little slippery. The loop will end at El Zaino entrance.
Starting at El Calabazo, follow the trail and the signs for “La Cima – Tayrona.” La Cima is a tiny camping-style hostel owned by a lovely local woman (with a fantastic viewpoint). This is the only stop for water in the first half of the hike.
After stopping at La Cima, follow the signs to “Playa Brava” or “Playa Cabo San Juan.” After you go for a swim and enjoy the beaches, you can continue down the well-traveled path to reach El Zaino entrance/exit.
It takes about three to four hours to hike from El Calabazo entrance to Playa Cabo San Juan. It takes two hours to hike from Playa Cabo San Juan to El Zaino entrance. Be sure you leave early in the morning and bring plenty of water and snacks to last the day. Once you near El Zaino entrance, there will be a lot of stops to buy water and snacks.
This entrance is not as well-known for travelers, so it shouldn’t be as busy.
Public transportation does not go to Palanga, so you must hire a taxi, rent a car, or take a boat to Playa Cristal, Gairaca Beach, or Neguanje Beach.
You cannot stay the night in Palanga, so if you plan to camp in Tayrona National Park, you will have to exit Palanga and re-enter through El Zaino or El Calabazo.
Cabo San Juan
If you are short on time or don’t love hiking, a speedboat to Cabo San Juan from Taganga is the easiest route.
The speedboat will drop you off at one of the most popular beaches in Tayrona National Park, which also happens to be near the most popular camping sites.
The boat ride should cost around 50,000 COP ($10 USD) one-way, and you will still have to pay the main park entrance fees upon arrival. Be aware that the boat ride can be somewhat treacherous as the waters are pretty rough near the park.
How to get to Parque Tayrona
Tayrona National Park is surprisingly easy to get to from several different points of interest. Santa Marta is the nearest city to Tayrona, but you can easily get there from Taganga, Minca, or Cartagena.
How to get from Santa Marta to Tayrona
Santa Marta and Taganga are located roughly 40 km (25 miles) from El Zaino (the main entrance of Tayrona) and it takes approximately an hour to get there.
A private transfer or taxi is the fastest way to get to El Zaino. A taxi ride should take about 45 minutes. You can expect to pay around 90,000 COP ($20 USD) for a one-way transfer.
You can also take a bus from Santa Marta Public Market (between Calle 11 and Carrera 9) to El Zaino. The bus ticket costs about 7,000 COP ($1.50 USD) and the ride takes about an hour.
You can easily catch the same bus going toward Santa Marta for your return trip. We picked up the bus on the side of the main road near El Zaino entrance of Parque Tayrona. The bus goes by every 20 minutes and will drop you off at the Public Market in Santa Marta.
How to get from Taganga to Tayrona
If you want to get to El Zaino or Calabazo (where you can find the best hiking trails), you will want to take a bus or taxi into Santa Marta to catch a bus going to Tayrona National Park.
However, you can also take a boat from Taganga to Cabo San Juan Beach in Tayrona National Park. This is the best option for day trips or those who want to avoid hiking. The boat ride takes about 45 minutes and costs 50,000 COP ($10 USD) one-way. The boats leave for Cabo San Juan between 9:00 am and 11:00 am and return to Taganga around 4:00 pm.
We did not take the boat as we did a lot of hiking in Tayrona National Park, but we did hear that the boat ride can be very bumpy and scary due to the rough waters near the park.
Head over to my post A Useful Guide To Taganga, Colombia.
How to get from Cartagena to Tayrona
If you are based in Cartagena, the easiest thing to do is get to Santa Marta and follow the directions above to get to El Zaino.
The trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta is about 225 km (140 miles) and takes about 5 hours. Your bus should drop you off in the Public Market, so you can easily grab another bus to Tayrona. It’s probably better you break off the journey in Santa Marta and plan to spend a night or two there before continuing to Parque Tayrona.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Cartagena.
The best Parque Tayrona tours
Visiting Parque Tayrona independently it totally doable, and you don’t really need a guided tour to explore. However, if you are short on time and only have one day you may want to consider one of the many Parque Tayrona tours that depart regularly from Santa Marta.
All tours will include some hiking and plenty of stops at the beach. You mainly have two options to consider:
This Parque Tayrona tour – it departs from Santa Marta and includes a stop in Playa Brava, a walk along Playa Arrecife and another stop in Cabo San Juan. It also provides hotel pick up and drop off and lasts around 9 hours.
Another option – though not the best in case you get sea sick – is this sailing trip that departs from Santa Marta and which stops at Bahia Concha too. In this case, you’ll have to make your way to the Marina for the boat departure. The tour lasts around 8 hours.
Where to stay in Tayrona National Park
Where you stay for your trip to Tayrona National Park will depend on how you plan to visit. I will review the most popular options for each style.
Staying inside Parque Tayrona
If you have a few days to spare and want to get lost in the wilderness, camping might be your best option. Tayrona National Park is well-known for its beautiful camping spots. They have well-managed and equipped camping areas for rent.
These are the most popular campsites in Tayrona National Park:
- Cabo San Juan
- Don Pedro Camping
- Castilletes Campsite
- Arrecifes Campsite
Each campsite offers space for your tent, hammocks, or prepared tents for rent. They are also all equipped with showers, toilets, restaurants, and sometimes WiFi.
You can choose to camp on your own, but you are only allowed to camp in the designated camping areas.
Most camping sites will also offer you the option of sleeping on a hammock, but contrary to what you may think this is a less than enjoyable experience.
First of all, hammocks aren’t nearly as comfortable as you may think – in fact, unless you are used to sleeping on your back, you will have some serious troubles falling asleep. They are all placed under a large roof, so you will be sleeping with a bunch of other people (who may snore, make noise, etc).
The hammocks location is never close to the beach – in fact, it will be on the inner bit of the campsite. Finally, while all hammocks have a mosquito net, bugs inevitably manage to get through.
If you’d rather stay somewhere a bit more comfortable that is still inside the park, you can opt to stay in one of the park’s eco-habs. These bungalow-style accommodation are suitable for up to four guests. There are 14 eco habs in Playa Cañaveral. Located near the eco habs you will find a restaurant and a spa too. You can review the rates on their official website.
El Zaino accommodation
A small village, called El Zaino is located between El Zaino entrance and El Calabazo entrance. This is where to stay in Tayrona National Park if you don’t want to spend the nights inside the park or if you want a few days to explore the surrounding area outside the national park too.
El Zaino is full of cute hostels located deep in the jungle and luxurious hotels situated around Tayrona National park. Here is a selection of places to stay:
SENDA KOGUIWA – One of the best places to stay in Tayrona National Park. You’ll have a massive room, access to a pool and a restaurant, and stunning views of the jungle.
QUETZAL DORADO ECO-LODGE – Similar to the place above but a bit cheaper, Quetzal Dorado has spacious, comfortable rooms all facing the jungle. Guest can also use the pool.
THE VALLEY TAYRONA HOSTEL – Travelers on a budget can opt for a dorm in this hostel beautifully immersed in nature.
We stayed at a hostel in El Zaino. It was about a 30-minute walk from the main road. We had to cross several rivers by rock-hopping or bridge crossings. Our stay added to the adventure and gave us the perfect reprieve outside the national park.
Santa Marta and Taganga
If you only have one day to visit Parque Tayrona, you might be better off staying in Santa Marta or Taganga (if you plan to visit by boat). Santa Marta is not the most impressive city in Colombia, but it is perfectly situated near many popular tourist attractions and destinations.
For a selection of hotels and hostels in Santa Marta, click here.
For the best places to stay in Taganga, click here.
Most hostels and hotels will store your big bags for you so that you can visit the park with just your essentials. The public bus will drop you right in front of the two recommended entrances, El Zaino or El Calabazo.
Where to eat in or near Tayrona National Park
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of restaurants or shops where you can buy food in Tayrona National Park or the surrounding area. However, almost all accommodations have restaurants and snacks available for purchase.
A little plaza in El Zaino called Plaza Tayrona has a few restaurants and small local stores.
What to pack when visiting Tayrona National Park
Park authorities search your bag at the entrance of Tayrona National Park and can be pretty strict about what you bring in.
You CANNOT bring any glass, plastic, cigarettes, lighters, or other unsolicited items. We were only checked at the El Zaino entrance, but it’s better to only bring the necessities. Here are some items you really should bring with you:
- Your camera: There is so much to see and do in Parque Tayrona, so bring your camera to capture incredible memories.
- Your passport: We were asked for our passports when purchasing our entrance tickets.
- Enough cash to last for your visit: Many places accept cards with an additional charge, and there are no ATMs in or near the national park.
- A good backpack: If you’re spending a day, or several days, in the park, you want a small hiking backpack to carry your supplies.
- Hiking clothes: It gets hot, so shorts and t-shirts are recommended.
- Light hiking boots or trail shoes.
- A swimsuit: There are so many places to swim in and near Tayrona, don’t forget this one.
- A quick dry towel.
- A backpack lock: If you plan to camp in the park, you can lock your bag for a little security.
- A raincoat in case of some rain.
- Sunglasses and a hat: Parts of the hikes are directly in the sun.
- Mosquito repellant.
- Flashlight or headlamp if you are camping.
Final Thoughts On Visiting Parque Tayrona
With enough preparation and planning, you can make your trip to Parque Tayrona absolutely unforgettable. There are plenty of hikes, unique views, cute animals, sunny beaches, and snorkeling to go around.
Have you been to Tayrona National Park? I would love to hear about your experience!
These other posts will be useful when planning a trip to Colombia
- 15 Best Things To Do In Santa Marta Colombia
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena: The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- The Best Day Trips From Cartagena
- A Guide To The Ciudad Perdida Trek: 18 Best Things To Know
- 12 Best Things To Do In Medellín, Colombia
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- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
- A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia
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