Tayrona Park is one of Colombia’s most visited National Parks and it ranks #6 of the best things to see in Colombia according to Lonely Planet.
This kind of popularity made us not want to visit the park. In fact if a place is labeled a must see tourist spot that usually makes us want to avoid it. Sure there will be “something” great to see but you’ll have to fight crowds and touts to get a look. Not to mention how expensive it can be to to look at that “something”. But then my analytic brain starts to think, “We are here and there is a reason why everybody wants to see this “something”, we should check it out”. Opinions of friends and the masses online weigh in and then we’re conflicted. So we had a hard time committing to going to see the revered Parque De Tayrona.
As our time was almost up in Barranquilla the pressure began to build to decide are we going to go or not. We weighed the pros and cons and went back and forth. The park had been enthusiastically recommended by our Colombian friends in Canada and here in Barranquilla. “You have to go!” was their resounding response to our ambivalence. So we finally caved and planed a 3 day excursion to Taganga to visit Tayrona national park.
Having read about the park online we had some expectations as we set out on our hike through the park. These expectations were the beaches would be grande (huge) and the surf,rolling and rough. There would be lots of foreign tourists and campers inhabiting the park and everything to eat and drink inside the park would be expensive. The trail itself would be a bit challenging and the forest would be lush and teaming with life.
We also prepared ourselves for heat and a fair amount of complaining from Mak. We were hiking in to one of the swimming beaches and hoped the promise of playing in the sea would keep our 5 year old moving by his own power for the 2 and a half hour hike.
Very few things ended up being what we expected.
We had boarded a shuttle at the entrance of the park to get to the board walk to begin our hike. The shuttle waited near the entrance a while to fill up which it never did. We rode up to the start with 7 other hikers and set out. Our pace was slower due to our short legged family member so we lost sight of our small group pretty quick. We had expected throngs of hikers filling the trail to the beach. I had to ask my self “Where is everybody?” and decided we were starting the hike a little late in the morning everyone else must be at the beach already. We forged on unencumbered by camping gear and food for days as we only planned to stay the day.
The boardwalk ended and the trail narrowed, we climbed rocks and crossed wooden bridges over dried up creek beds.Our heads bobbing from our feet to the trees to spy a lizard or a monkey. We saw a few smaller lizards but surprise to us no monkeys or brightly colored birds and still no people. As a result it was so quiet, down right serene. There was absolutely no whining or complaining from any of us and it was an hour in!
Another surprise was how dry the forest was. A lot of leaves were brown and crunchy not at all the dense, lush jungle I had read about. The hike in was what I looked forward to the most. I had seen pictures of the forest so thick and green. Stories of butterflies and toucans that called the trail their home. There were none of those.
But as we approached the coast line the dry foliage was in stark contrast to the crashing surf we observed from a cliff on the trail. You could hear power behind the rolling waves and the primitive innocence of this stretch of coast took our breath away. In that moment it felt like we were the only people on earth.
That feeling, as we stood taking in view to the sea is what makes me glad we made the trip.
This was what we saw as we approached the first beach on our hike. There we only a few people in the distance. The vegetation became jungly and lush. All of the brown had turned riotous shades of vivid green.
Then the whining started, Makai had reached his limit for walking with no swimming. The heat was starting to be an issue as well.
When we arrived at this beach the people had moved on and we were the only people there. Mak’s whining couldn’t be heard over the crashing waves. It was actually peaceful, not a feeling I have enjoyed since coming to Colombia. This country is so alive and full of glorious chaotic passion for everything which, by the way, is great but not peaceful. So having this experience in Tayrona was like being teleported to another planet.
We walked on to the next beach which was no more crowded. I felt dumbfounded wandering the length of the Arrecifes beach. My jaw kept dropping as I looked from the crashing sea to the now lush jungle. I couldn’t believe how wide and clean and empty the beaches were. It was such a cool but strange feeling, like we had been dropped on a deserted island. There was no one just us and a snowy egret.
As we neared the end of the 2nd beach 3 people walked on where we had started. We checked a outcropping of the massive boulders that Tayrona is known for. Makai climbed up high, shook his fist at the sea and beat his little chest no doubt feeling like the king of the world walking so far to get to this point.
The beaches we had walked did not allow swimming which Mak found a tad frustrating as a 5 year old that just walked 2 and a half hours to swim in the sea. It was a bit to much of a tease for him. Very strong currents and crashing waves make it to dangerous for swimmers. Visitors have been killed trying to swim where it isn’t advised.
We did walk to the second swimming beach to enjoy the cool sea water. But not for long, hence no photos. The park closes at 5 so in order to make it back to the entrance in enough time we had to leave the beach at 3. We had about 50 minutes to swim. Which lucky for us was long enough to satisfy our frustrated little hiker. Maks spirits improved and remained high when we decided to spring for horses to take us back to the entrance. The ride back on the horses was a different route than the hike which gave us the opportunity to see some monkeys!
All and all very little was what we had expected Tayrona to be like. The 2 things we hate the most about touristy places, the crowds and the touts were not there. There really was very little complaining. Given the heat and distance walked we were impressed yet again with Makai’s ability to suck it up and keep on moving.
It was expensive though. The trip there totally blew our budget for the month. This was mainly due to the entrance fee, extra food and water in the park (we left our water bottle at the entrance when we first started out, costly mistake) and the cost to get from Taganga to the park and back again. Getting back to Taganga is another story all together. Oh, and it also involves another mistake on our part.
In the end we wished we had acted on our initial instincts and skipped Tayrona. But on the upside we did enjoy some special surprises on our day there which I am truly grateful for despite our reservations.