M-m-m-my Tayrona!

Rainbow Whiptail @ Tayrona National Park

We stumbled down in the morning heat to the microbús station, grabbed our tickets and we were on the next bus to Santa Marta. Actually, we weren’t. We were on a bus to Baranquilla, where we were told that we would have to change min buses. Alice pressed the question as to how regular they were and would we need to change terminals etc, no the lady at the ticket booth said, you just get off and straight onto another minibus. As we bobbed along on the first bus it unfolded that we would apparently have a four hours to be able to change buses. This was not explained to us before we bought our tickets, or even before we had left the station. The bus driver “kindly” offered to drop us all off at the “other” bus station where there would be regular buses, but we all had to pay him (around $5 each). Everyone on the bus (mainly locals) were furious. Annoyed but in no great rush, we settled in for the journey that was sure to be amusing. It’s far too early in the morning to be getting conned.

We arrived in Barranquilla two hours later, and with some stern spanish and a lot of, “I know this is not your fault directly but the woman in Cartagena told us blah blah blah and you all work for the same company blah blah blah”, somehow Alice managed to get us and the French family of four behind us on the next shuttle leaving to Santa Marta in 45 minutes. Legend.

Sunset @ Santa Marta

Eventually arriving in Santa Marta, wedropped our bags off at hostel Mi Casa 18 and headed down to the beach. Santa Marta happens to be South America’s oldest city, and possibly one of the most unsightly. Hosting a nice enough beach front, all but ruined by the relentless sprawl of vendors, the beach is the main attraction here. After a short walk through the city centre, we were left somewhat unimpressed, but reassured in our decision to use it as a base for Tayrona National Park.

After a quick bite to eat in the street with the locals, we headed back to the hostel to pack and organise our trip into the, aforementioned, national park.

We headed out relatively early the next morning, a short walk to the “bus station” which was a lady, behind a foldaway table with a bus parked on the street. We jumped in and headed out on the two hour journey to Tayrona. We had left our main luggage at the hostel as we had planned to hike into the park, stay one night before hiking back out; and I’d be damned if I was about to carry my whole pack through that humid jungle.

Flying Pelicans @ Tayrona National Park

We had been advised to take the first “Secret” entrance into the park, to avoid the queue’s, unnecessary videos and a nicer, but way longer hike. Despite this, we opted for the shorter, more crowded hike for a few reasons, the most important one being the heat. We arrived at the main entrance and were surprised that the crowd wasn’t as huge as we had feared, we moved through to the gates pretty quickly and before we knew it were on our way. We were charged an inflated entrance rate as it was Colombian holidays and also charged a mystery 10,000 peso for park “insurance”. When we asked what this was they couldn’t answer and sent another staff member out to explain. He went on about if we had an accident in the park etc etc, we told them that’s what our travel insurance was for but the conversation went round and round and we finally asked whether it was mandatory to which he told us yes so we had no choice. We think it was a new thing and that’s why noone could really explain it properly.

Tayrona National Park is a jungle that hugs the coast line of the Caribbean. Despite the heat, humidity and hike, it has become a local and international favourite of Colombia’s National Parks. The scenery is vast, from beaches covered in historic culturally important boulders, to dense deep jungle as far and as high as you could see. It covers 12000 hectares of land and 3000 hectares of sea. Although there have been some ruins found, these are by far the last draw card within the jungle.

Golden Beaches @ La Piscina, Tayrona National Park

The main draws to this park for both locals and tourists are the beaches, but with some ferocious currents rattling down the coast, most of the beaches are not safe for swimming. This also means that the couple of beaches within in the park that are free from these currents, are inundated with tourists.

We decided to add a little extra hike to our hike in and did a loop to see some huge boulders. There were three options, we opted for the middle length one but ended up doing a figure of eight by mistake and did all three tracks. Alice was pleased with the detour as we saw a snake.

Boulders @ Tayrona National Park

After our boulder loop we headed further into the jungle for two to three hours of humid, sweaty hiking. We reached the campsite where we hired out a pre set-up tent, dumped our things and walked another 20 minutes on to one of the swimming beaches, La Piscina. Along the way we passed some local tribes that we didn’t know would be there, there is literally no information on any indigenous tribes or really any information on the park.

We later learnt that the “Kogi” people, descended from the “Tairona” people an ancient civilised people who built many stone structures and pathways. The Kogi are free to live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and keep their traditions. We saw lots of Kogi and they were all wearing white tunics and simple white trousers for the men. They all wear white which to them signifies the “Great Mother” and thus the purity of nature. They all also had very long hair and were so ethnically identical, without being rude it was quite difficult to tell whether they were male or female. They live in basic mud huts (which we did not see, we assumed they were further into the non tourist end of the jungle…) but we learnt that men live separately from the women and children. They have a kind of more modern view towards the sexes than you would perhaps expect, with non arranged marriages not being uncommon, they allow female priests and they condemn the mistreatment of women (how nice of them). That said however, they do have girls as young as 14 married with children and they aren’t a big fan of breaking arranged marriages. They also do not allow women into their holy building called a “Nuhue” as they believe women are more connected to the “Great Mother” anyway. At this point I would like to add that all the decisions and important discussions are made and had in the Nuhue’s where the women are banned.

Peakaboo! @ Tayrona National Park

When we arrived at the beach we felt a bit embarrassed as we found hoards of families who had carted cool boxes and babies through the same route we had just struggled through. We bumped into Marco and Lara the German couple on our San Blas tour (of course) who had taken the long “secret entrance” route, and they were stuffed! With nothing good to say about the longer route, we were happy with our decisions and threw ourselves in the water.

The water at first glance had specks of gold floating through, actually, at second glance, it did have gold specks! The water was the perfect temperature and the beach was the perfect place to be for the rest of the afternoon.

Big Waves Over Big Boulders @ Tayrona National Park

A few hours later that afternoon, we dodged the horses that were cantering past to carry all of the Colombians back (Colombians aren’t big hikers) and headed back to camp where we had outside showers that weren’t more than a hose sticking out of a wall before sitting down for dinner. The showers were actually a pretty awkward affair as they were cubicles right next to each other with open top and open bottom. They basically covered your middle. The only problem was I was a bit tall for them and Alice who showered after me had a bit of a crowd of people waiting who seemed to just watch.

Camping Don Pedro in Arrecifes was set back in the jungle. It was quiet and peaceful. We were surprised to find a tv in the eating area while dinner was being served, and even more surprised when some kids from the local tribe came and sat at one of the tables and watched the TV for hours.

Don Pedro Camp Spider @ Arrecifes, Tayrona National Park

The next morning we headed back to the beach early, enjoyed having the whole coastline to ourselves (and 6 others) for a couple hours before grabbing our gear and hiking back out.

The whole time we had been in the park we saw a few lizards, one snake, two monkeys and a whole bunch of tourists and locals on horses. Other than that, the wildlife was scarce, which is to be expected with the crowds I guess and is not the reason you go.

Rainbow Whiptail @ Tayrona National Park

Hiking back out was much easier, and our final farewell from Tayrona was a monkey who’s poo aim was 30cm short of Alice’s head.

Tayrona, not quite what we expected from the raving reviews but not dissapointing either. It is a beautiful place, but not something we would rush to stay longer or revisit. Off to grab our packs and head out to our next stop- Minca, back to birdwatching we go!

Nest @ Arrecifes, Tayrona National Park

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