Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
This park was once the territory of the Tayrona Indians as evidenced by the still clearly visible ruins at El Pueblito within the park. The park stretches for some 30km (18mi) along the Caribbean coast just North of Santa Marta and has some really beautiful spots to explore and plenty of spots to relax on white sandy beaches.
How to get there
The park’s main entrance is 35km from Santa Marta, about a 1 hour trip by local bus. Catch the bus from the market near the intersection of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 that leave every 30 minutes and cost 6,000pesos each ($3). At the entrance you will need to pay the 38,000 peso ($19) park fee. At this point you can walk the 4km (2.5mi) to Cañaveral or take a minivan shuttle for 2,000 pesos ($1) each.
Why did we go there?
The most popular thing to do on the backpacker trail is to hike roughly 7km (4mi) along a trail in the park along the beach and to the end where the beach of Cabo San Juan exists. Rodora had seen photo’s online and we knew we had to go.
Food and drink in the park
The entrance fee is valid for the time you stay in the park, so to make it worthwhile we’d already chosen to stay 2 nights. Accommodation is available at different points for different prices. If you have your own camping gear, then it’s even cheaper. We aren’t carrying any camping gear, so we chose to sleep in a hammock at Cabo San Juan (20,000 / $10 ea/pp/pn). The only problem with staying there is that food can be a little expensive due to it all being carried in on mules. A typical fried chicken meal was 15,000 / $7.50. There are no communal kitchen/cooking facilities there either along with no fresh water supply. This means you also need to carry in fresh water or buy that in the park which can get expensive. There is hot water available to buy so you can bring in two minute noodles.
Adventure in the park
We took the option of the shuttle to Cañaveral and went looking for the trail. At this point there are options for using horses/mules to carry your gear and I think even you to the next beach of Arecifes. We thought going towards the Eco-Habs was the right way for the beach trail, but quickly found out that we were wrong. Luckily we stumbled across a mango tree with ripe mangoes that we were able to grab about 6 of and eat later. After back tracking for 15 minutes to the main trail, we were finally on our way to Cabo San Juan.
The trail itself is quite well maintained with quite a few boardwalk sections.
The first section to Arecifes is about a 45-60 minute walk with a few steep and slightly tricky climbing bits that allow for some amazing viewpoints.
When we arrived at Arecifes we took the trail that goes through the forest. We didn’t know at the time, but there are two available trails here with the more scenic being along the beach. If you can’t find it, it’s worth asking as we took this trail on the way back and it’s much more scenic. The walk from Arecifes to Cabo San Juan is about another 30 minutes depending on how often you stop for photos.
We spent the afternoon chilling out on the beach and sleeping in the hammocks. A note for others, the hammocks didn’t have mosquito nets. We didn’t have too many problems with bugs, but you may want to make sure you have bug spray as a minimum.
The next day was again spent chilling out and exploring the nearby beaches. If you find the nearest beach at Cabo San Juan a little overcrowded like we did, you may want to continue down beyond the rocks to what was a pretty much deserted set of beaches.
Hiking to El Pueblito
On our last day Toby decided it was time for a hike in the morning before we headed back to Santa Marta. Rodora wasn’t interested in coming so Toby went by himself at 8am to beat the crowds and heat. The hike started off well by finding a Black and Green poison dart frog that enjoyed having it’s photo taken.
It’s a roughly 6km total hike there and back climbing from sea level to roughly 280m (920ft). The trail is quite well marked but can be difficult at times to climb under, through and around some really large boulders.
Getting there takes between 1 hour and 1hr 30min depending on photo and rest stops. Proper shoes are recommended as flip flops will make the hike fairly tough to complete without injury. There are signs at different points telling you how far you are (20%, 40%, 70% etc). Getting to the top is a relief and worth the effort as you can see from the photo.
The site itself is in a state of being rebuilt with new wooden structures being built on the old terraces.
On the way back, with it being mostly downhill you can move quite quickly. There were quite a few people coming up from Cabo San Juan wearing only simple swimwear and no water. At a couple of points there were some sounds of something large moving through the vegetation. Toby soon discovered a 6ft long Iguana on a lookout rock protecting his area.
Soon after Toby got lucky again by spotting a large adult Green Iguana who stopped just long enough for a photo.
We then had enough time to chill on the beach and Toby could work on his white sun tan.
After a quick lunch we then hiked our way back to the entrance and a return to Santa Marta for the night.
The wikitravel article also has a wealth of information:
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/