In this article:
- Tayrona National Park, located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, is one of the most popular national parks in the country due to its beautiful beaches and lush forests.
- Many people choose to enter through the El Zaino entrance and camp on the beach at Cabo San Juan. But I suggest entering through the Calabazo entrance and sleeping on Playa Brava.
- While the hiking is a bit challenging at times and the beach can be slightly buggy, camping in Tayrona National Park is one of the best nature-based activities that you can do in Colombia.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries globally. That’s partly thanks to the Colombian government, which made a point of protecting the country’s natural environments by creating protected lands.
The country has around 50 national parks to date, protecting about 15% of the total land in Colombia. And the character of these protected lands varies widely from Andean mountains to coral reefs to long stretches of desert to indigenous villages.
One of the most popular and well-known of these national parks is Tayrona National Park, located on the northern coast of the country.
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world, Tayrona National Park gives visitors the opportunity to walk through lush forests straight onto beautiful Caribbean beaches.
For those who want to take a short trip for the day, the beaches are easily accessible, which means you can take the whole family to the beach in the morning and make it out of the park by nightfall.
But if you really want to make the most out of your trip to Tayrona National Park, the best thing to do is to stay overnight.
I had the opportunity to camp in Tayrona National Park a few days before writing this article. After going through this experience, I can confidently say that it is something that I would recommend to anyone traveling through Colombia.
However, if you are going to stay overnight, there are some things you should be aware of to ensure that you have the best experience possible.
In this article, I’ll detail my experience of camping in the Tayrona National Park and explain the things that I could have done better to make my experience more comfortable. I’ll tell you which parts of the park I found the best and the ones that didn’t wow me as much.
Plus, I’ll show you some pictures of one of the most amazing places that I’ve visited in Colombia.
Getting to Tayrona National Park
If you’re going to Tayrona National Park, you’re going to need to find accommodation in the area directly around the park.
Some people choose to try to go to the park from the nearby city of Santa Marta to the west or from the beach town of Palomino to the east, but I wouldn’t suggest doing that because you’ll probably arrive at the park too late in the day to get a full experience.
My girlfriend and I chose to stay at Mama Tayrona Hostel, which is located right by one of the entrances to the park.
The room was affordable and had a great view of the park and a comfortable bed. The staff was very kind, they served three meals a day and drinks at night, and they even have a pool filled with water from the nearby river. We had a lovely time there.
Once at your hostel, prepare to wake up early in the morning to make your way to one of Tayrona National Park’s two entrances: El Zaino (the main entrance) or Calabazo (the smaller entrance).
If you’re just going for the day, I recommend going to the El Zaino entrance. If you plan on staying overnight, you should definitely go for the Calabazo entrance.
Camping in Tayrona National Park
The owner of our hostel suggested that, while most people choose to camp on the beach of Cabo San Juan (the beach with the pavilion on the rock that you see all over travel blogs), the better move was to sleep in one of the hammocks on Playa Brava.
Boy, am I glad that she told us that.
To get to Playa Brava, you have to enter Tayrona National Park through the Calabazo entrance, which is further to the west side of the park.
We took a motorbike taxi in the morning to the entrance and paid the fees. It cost about 70,000 Colombian pesos to enter the park (equal to about $17.20 USD) and about 20,000 Colombian pesos (about $4.90 USD) for the motorbike taxis.
To get to Playa Brava, you need to have the motorbikes drive you about 20 minutes into the park to the site of Pueblito.
I would not suggest walking this stretch of the park because it gets very steep at times and, honestly, it’s not all that pretty. Once you’re there, you have to follow the path on foot for about three hours before you reach Playa Brava.
The hike to Playa Brava is absolutely amazing. It leads you through a thick forest full of diverse flora.
As we were walking, we heard mantled howler monkeys wailing off in the distance, saw an abundance of butterflies, and even stopped to bathe in a small waterfall. We also only saw two other human beings the entire time, which made it feel like we were alone in pristine nature.
After about three hours of walking, the forest opens up to reveal stunning views of the ocean and the beach down below. It’s truly magical.
Once you descend to the beach, you’ll find a restaurant and campsite, which is the only option for accommodation at Playa Brava. You can rent a hammock for 40,000 pesos per night (about $9.80 USD) or you can go for a private cabana, which I believe sleeps about three or four people and costs 250,000 pesos per night (about $61.50 USD).
Regardless of where you sleep, make absolutely sure that you have bug spray, long sleeves, and long pants.
The bugs in Tayrona National Park do not mess around. As soon as the sun starts to go down, they will attack every inch of your body and leave you feeling like one big itch.
While the hammocks are equipped with mosquito nets, some bugs will inevitably make their way into your hammock unless you deter them with bug spray. I did not bring bug spray and I awoke the next morning absolutely covered in bites.
You do have the option to buy food and water at the campsite. It’s a little more expensive than in other parts of Colombia, but it’s good food and saves you from having to lug in packed food on your hike in.
Just note that they only accept cash, so make sure you bring plenty of pesos with you.
Hiking From Playa Brava to Cabo San Juan
I would highly recommend camping on Playa Brava instead of Cabo San Juan, particularly because Cabo San Juan is extremely overcrowded with tourists while Playa Brava is usually pretty much empty.
That said, seeing Cabo San Juan is still worth it. But, you should be ready to go on a rather challenging hike.
Getting from Playa Brava to Cabo San Juan will take you around 3 hours. However, the first hour or so of the hike is on a very steep incline and is quite tiring. After that, though, it’s very flat and relaxed.
While this hike is certainly not easy, it is extremely beautiful and diverse in terms of landscape. You’ll get to hike through a thick mountain forest and then descend and walk along the beach, all of which is very enjoyable.
If you’re doing this hike, make sure to stop at Playa Nudista along the way, the only nude beach in all of Colombia.
First of all, the beach itself is absolutely gorgeous. Second of all, you can say that you got in your birthday suit at the only nude beach in Colombia. Third, it’s usually very hot in Tayrona National Park and taking a dip at this beach is a great way to get a break from the heat.
From Playa Nudista, it only takes about 10 more minutes to get to Cabo San Juan. You should spend some time there, drink a beer or a cold juice, and get some lunch at the restaurant. This restaurant also only accepts cash, but there are vendors nearby who will give you cash for a small fee.
After you eat, take a dip in the water. Walk up to the pavilion on top of the rock and look out over the coastline. Then, it’s time to start hiking again to get out of Tayrona National Park before sundown.
Leaving Tayrona National Park
From Cabo San Juan, you can hike back to the El Zaino entrance on the other side of the park. This will take you about three hours as well, but the entire walk is very flat and easy to navigate.
In fact, we saw many people doing the walk barefoot. Along the way, you’ll see vendors selling coffee, water, juice, beer, and food. You’ll also probably find yourself surrounded by hordes of other tourists.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at a parking lot where they’ll offer to take you on a bus to the entrance for 5,000 pesos per person (about $1.25 USD). You should absolutely get on this bus. Otherwise, you’re going to add two hours to your hike, all of which will be on a not-so-pretty concrete road.
Once you exit the park, you should be able to easily find a motorbike taxi to take you back to your hostel. There are also some restaurants and convenience stores near the El Zaino entrance where you can grab some food before going back to your hostel.
In general, visiting Tayrona National Park was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences that I had during my two months in Colombia and I would recommend it to anyone who is planning to travel in the northern part of the country.
The way that the mountains meet the ocean is unlike any landscape that I’ve ever seen before. Playa Brava feels like a hidden paradise and has a calming influence that instantly washes away all stress.
The hikes through the forests are full of lush greenery and interesting creatures (including a lot of centipedes). The whole experience at Tayrona National Park was just really special and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.