The 5 best things to do in Tayrona National Park (+map)

Tayrona National Park is one of the highlights of any Colombia trip. It is the perfect destination for making beautiful hikes, swimming on idyllic beaches, camping in unforgettable places and spotting exotic wildlife. The beautiful natural park of lush green hills and sandy beaches stretches along the northern coast of Colombia. The combination of the lush jungle and Caribbean coast makes it a unique place to visit. This blog provides a practical travel guide for visiting Tayrona National Park with everything you need to know beforehand!

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Tayrona National Park Map

Tayrona National Park Map by The Orange Backpack

Best things to do in Tayrona National Park

#1 Hiking in Tayrona

The park is huge and covers about 150 km². Visitors explore the park on foot, and hiking in the park is the best way to enjoy Tayrona.

Almost all visitors walk the same route: the trail from the main entrance El Zaino to the Cabo San Juan viewpoint on the beach. This trail takes about 2 hours (from the shuttle drop-off point, not from El Zaino) and combines lush jungle and beautiful sandy beaches. It is a fairly easy hike, after which you can relax on what is often called the most beautiful beach in Tayrona. The trail can get very busy.

That is why we’d recommend hiking further into the national park. If you continue hiking after visiting Cabo San Juan, you’ll notice much fewer other visitors. The hiking trails are a bit more challenging, but you will be rewarded with beautiful places that you almost have to yourself. A beautiful multi-day route would be to take the shuttle from El Zaino and hike via Cabo San Juan to the Playa Brava and then the second entrance Calabazo. You can do this in two days, although three days with two overnight stays in the park would be even better.

You might also want to consider further exploring the eastern part of the park, where the famous Cabo San Juan beach is located as well. There are many more hiking trails in this area as well, like the 9 Piedras Trail that starts at Canaveral and is a 3.5-kilometer loop.

Tayrona National Park

#2 Swimming and lounging on the beach

Tayrona is the perfect destination to alternate hiking with relaxing on the beach, because the park is not just known for its hiking trails, but also for its bounty beaches. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the water at all beaches, because of the strong and dangerous currents and waves. But there are plenty of beaches where you can take a dip in the sea. The perfect way to relax after a hike!

The most beautiful beaches of Tayrona:

#1 Cabo San Juan is the best-known and most popular beach of Tayrona. Most visitors only come to the park for a day and make the easy, relatively short hike from the main entrance to this beach. Visitors can also spend the night at this beach, which is a popular thing to do in Tayrona. At Cabo San Juan it is safe to swim.

#2 La Piscina translates to ‘the pool’, referring to the rocks in the water that form a kind of bath. You can swim here safely.

#3 Playa Brava is a little further from the main entrance El Zaino and more towards the entrance Calabazo. It is therefore a lot quieter. You can camp at the beach or stay in lovely cabins at the ecolodge. Unfortunately you cannot swim there.

#4 Arrefices is a lot quieter than, for example, Cabo San Juan, but it is an equally beautiful sandy beach. Unfortunately you cannot swim there though.

Tayrona National Park Colombia

#3 Wildlife spotting

Tayrona has a huge surface of about 150 km², so it will not surprise you that many wild animals live in this vast area. During your visit to Tayrona you will probably be able to spot many wild animals. You might not be able to see any jaguar, but there is a good chance that you will see monkeys, toucans, reptiles and tropical birds.

Tayrona National Park Wildlife

#4 Camping in Tayrona

In our opinion, staying in Tayrona is an essential part of a visit to the park. How often do you get to wake up in a hammock on a beautiful Caribbean beach?

By spending the night in the middle of the park you have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful place in peace. If you spend two or more days in the beautiful park, you can see much more of it than just the popular stretch between El Zaino and Cabo San Juan. Moreover, you also experience the park at the end and at the beginning of the day, when there are fewer visitors and the light is the most beautiful.

There are several campsites in the park, where most visitors spend the night back to basic in hammocks or tents. There are showers and toilets, but otherwise it is pretty basic. You can read more about the different campsites and accommodation options later in this blog.

Tayrona National Park

#5 Visit El Pueblito

In the western part of Tayrona National Park, more towards the Calabazo entrance, you will find El Pueblito (which translates to ‘Little Town’). The ruin village was once inhabited by the Tayrona, the indigenous people after whom the park is named. The village has terraces that are built in steps, making El Pueblito look a bit like a mini version of the well-known Ciudad Perdida.

If you hike from or to the Calabazo entrance, you will always pass El Pueblito. With a beautiful location on a mountain in the jungle, you’ll have to prepare for a somewhat tougher hike than, for example, the simple hike from El Zaino to Cabo San Juan. If it rains, it is not recommended to do this climb from Cabo San Juan.

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Spending the night in or near Tayrona?

You can spend the night in Tayrona’s park as well as in the jungle environment just outside the national park. We recommend that you do both. In our opinion, staying in Tayrona is an essential part of a visit to the park. If you spend two or more days in the beautiful park, you can see much more of it than just the popular stretch between El Zaino and Cabo San Juan. Moreover, you also experience the park at the end and at the beginning of the day, when there are fewer visitors and the light is the most beautiful.

We also recommend you find a place to stay near Tayrona for the night before and after your visit. That way you can start your visit to Tayrona National Park as early as possible and after the hiking days and back-to-basic sleeping places in the park you can relax in a lovely place to sleep. There are many beautiful hotels and hostels in the jungle near Tayrona.

Camping in Tayrona

The park has several options to stay. Do not expect comfort and luxury, because most places to stay only offer hammocks on the beach or basic tents and sanitary facilities in toilet blocks. While most travelers opt for this adventurous camping experience, there are now a few places to book jungle or beach cabins, such as the beautiful cabins at Playa Brava and the two Ecohabs.

#1 Cabo San Juan for the most popular place to sleep on what has been called the most beautiful beach in Tayrona. There are both hammocks and tents. The hammocks on the viewpoint itself are especially popular, but expect it to be quite windy here.

#2 Playa Brava for the only campsite where you also have beautiful beach huts in addition to hammocks. The lovely huts are part of the Ecolodge Playa Brava Teyumakke and you can book online in advance. As these are the only cabins in the park, booking well in advance is recommended. Playa Brava is a bit more remote than the other campsites in a part of the park where fewer visitors come. The campsite is closest to the second entrance, Calabazo.

#3 Camping Don Pedro for a campsite with both hammocks and tents. This campsite is the closest to the El Zaino entrance and is therefore quite popular. Unfortunately, the location is less idyllic, because you sleep in the jungle and not on the beach. The beach is about a 10-minute walk, but you can’t swim here due to the strong current.

#4 Castilletes for a beach campsite closest to the El Zaino entrance. Unfortunately, you cannot swim here because of the heavy waves. The campsite is not very busy and popular, as the location is very close to the entrance, even before the place where the shuttle drops you off. Yet this is a beautiful paradise, precisely because of that tranquility in combination with the beautiful beach location.

#5 Ecohabs Tequendama Tayrona for a more luxurious place to stay just steps from Canaveral Beach. The Ecohabs offers wooden huts with straw roofs, built against a green hill. There is a restaurant and free wifi, and the cabins have their own bathroom.

#6 Ecohabs Bamboo Tayrona for a more luxurious place to stay in the jungle not far from the El Zaino entrance. Guests stay in special A-shaped huts, made of natural materials, scattered throughout the jungle garden. Ecohabs Bamboo has the luxury of wifi, a restaurant and private bathrooms.

Unique hotels and hostels near Tayrona

We recommend booking a hostel or hotel near the entrance of Tayrona. Although it is possible to get to the park entrance from nearby destinations such as Santa Marta, Minca or Palomino by public transport, we can’t recommend this. Rather choose one of the beautiful beach hotels or jungle hostels in the area, so that you can be sure at the parking entrance at opening time (7 a.m. in high season and 8 a.m. in low season). Aside from that practical consideration, you will find truly wonderful places to stay near Tayrona.

#1 Eco Hostal Yuluka for a budget-friendly place to stay in a prime location 5 minutes from El Zaino, the main entrance to Tayrona. The hostel also offers a free shuttle to the entrance. Guests stay in a dormitory or in a private cabin. The lovely hostel is located in a tropical jungle area and has an outdoor pool with a slide.

#3 Senda Koguiwa for beautiful bungalows in the jungle 5 minutes from the main entrance El Zaino. The outdoor pool, exotic bungalows, jungle location and beautiful riverside setting make a stay at Senda Koguiwa an unforgettable experience. This is also reflected in the exceptionally high review ratings from hotel guests. Each room has air conditioning and a private bathroom, both of which are welcome luxuries before or after camping in Tayrona.

#3 Quetzal Dorado Eco Lodge for one of the most beautiful and best-reviewed places to stay near Tayrona. The rustic rooms and charming cabins blend perfectly with the exotic surroundings. Quetzal Dorado Eco Lodge offers phenomenal views of the national park mountains and has a year-round outdoor pool.

#4 The Journey Hostel for a budget-friendly hostel a fifteen-minute walk from El Zaino. The hostel has a beautiful jungle location, a swimming pool with a beautiful view and a restaurant with a bar. The rooms have a balcony and some have a sea view. There are both dormitories and private rooms.

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Practical information

Where is Tayrona National Park in Colombia?

Tayrona is a national park in northern Colombia on the Caribbean coast. The park is near many others tourist destinations in Colombia. The popular beach destination Palomino and the jungle of the famous Lost City Trek are both around the corner. Also jungle destination Minca, Santa Marta with its airport and the colorful Cartagena are located in this part of Colombia. Palomino is therefore almost always easy to fit into your Colombia travel itinerary.

Transport to Tayrona

Of all the tourist destinations in the north, Santa Marta is the most central city. From Santa Marta, a bus service goes east past Tayrona National Park to Palomino. The bus passes both the Calabazo and El Zaino entrances. If you are traveling to Palomino from, say, Cartagena or Minca, you will have to switch buses in Santa Marta. Due to the popularity of Tayrona, there is also the option of traveling directly to the park entrance from many tourist spots in the area by minivan, but of course at a higher price than the normal buses.

The two entrances to Tayrona

There are two entrances, Calabazo and the main entrance El Zaino, both of which are on the main highway from Santa Marta to the east. El Zaino is the most used national park entrance and we also recommend that you start there if you want to spend the night in the park. At El Zaino, you can book a place to stay in advance. That does mean that this entrance is the most popular and there can be quite a queue around opening time. The entrance fees at both entrances are the same.

Transportation in Tayrona

Guests explore Tayrona on foot and hiking is the best activity in the national park. Yet there are two parts where you can use a shuttle and we certainly recommend that.

From the main entrance El Zaino you can take a shuttle bus to the start of the hiking trails. We recommend doing this, as it saves you a boring one-hour walk. You can also take a motorcycle taxi from Calabazo to the starting point of the hiking trails, so you can skip the boring part of the trail here as well.

In addition, there is the option to get around by horse instead of walking yourself. We cannot recommend this. It is usually very hot in Tayrona, which can be quite hard on the horses. Also, as a tourist you never know whether animals are treated well and we are generally strongly against the use of animals as a tourist attraction. The trail from the point where the shuttle bus drops you off to Cabo San Juan is also short and easy enough to just walk by yourself.

The opening hours of the park

Tayrona National Park is open daily from 7am (high season) or 8am (low season) to 5pm. The current opening hours can be found on the official website. The last entrance is at 3 p.m., although this may be earlier when the maximum number of visitors has been reached.

We recommend that you visit the park immediately upon opening. Although you will not be the only one doing so and you will probably have to queue for your ticket, it is recommended to enter the park as early as possible. You then have as much time as possible in the park and you can avoid hiking in the heat of the day. But perhaps even more important is that there is a maximum number of visitors and you do not want to run the risk that this maximum has been reached.

Note: when the park is closed

Unfortunately, Tayrona is not open all year round. Because the area is a religious site for indigenous tribes, the park is closed for part of the year. The tribes can then perform their ceremonies in this area. The ecosystem of the natural park will also have the chance to recover from all visitors during the weeks the park is closed. Usually the park closes for three periods, the longest of which is in February. On the official website of Tayrona National Park you can find the current information about the closing period in February and on this unofficial website for the other two periods of the year.

We also advise you to not visit the national park during the busiest days. Colombians also like to visit their beautiful national park en masse. Therefore, take into account Colombian holidays, weekends and the holiday periods of December-January and June-July. You prefer to avoid these periods.

The ticket prices

Tayrona has different entrance fees. The cost for an adult foreigner is $73,500 in high season and $62,000 in low season. The current ticket prices for Tayrona can be found on the official website. In addition, a mandatory park insurance will be charged at the time of ticket purchase. It costs $5,000 per day. You pay separately for camping and food and drinks.

Make sure to bring your passport because you have to register with this at the entrance of the park. We’ve heard that a photo or copy of your passport is also sufficient, but we wouldn’t risk it ourselves.

Your entrance ticket to Tayrona is valid indefinitely, so you can stay in the park with it for as long as you want. If you spend the night in the park, you do not have to pay a ticket for each day separately. You do pay the insurance per day. You pay separately for the sleeping places. Bring enough cash for this, because there is no ATM in the park or in the area. Nowadays you can pay for your ticket by card (although you’ll often read outdated information saying this isn’t possible). You can reserve a place to sleep at the start of your visit at the El Zaino entrance.

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