Parque Tayrona

Our next big adventure in Colombia was two nights/three days of hiking and relaxing in Parque Tayrona, a national park on the Caribbean coast that is made up of dense jungles and lined with pristine beaches. 

We started the trip with a one-night stay in the small city of Santa Marta, a popular jumping-off point for jungle and beach trips.  It’s a somewhat sketchy port town that once figured large in the Colombian drug trade, but recently has shown signs of revitalization. We had a good night there, taking in the town and watching the street life.  Every place we visited in Colombia was so different from the last.

The next morning, we took a wild ride from Santa Marta to Parque Tayrona, on a colectivo: a dilapidated van that is the primary form of public transportation in most cities in Colombia.  The doors and windows were missing, it felt about fifty years old, the driver went super fast through the hills, and we were packed in tight with people, potatoes, and chickens.  It was pretty awesome.  The one-hour ride passed many roadside vendors and informal housing.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

The colectivo dropped us off at the entrance to Parque Tayrona (Tayrona National Park). There, a military guard spoke to us for a while in Spanish.  We caught about 20 words out of a five-minute monologue.  Paid the park entrance fee and boarded another colectivo which took us about three miles into the park, the furthest that vehicles can go.  From there (where this photo was taken), we began to walk towards trails for the beaches.  We had heard it would be anywhere from 1 to 5 hours of hiking; it ended up being under 3 hours.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

The walk along the trail was alternately fun and exhausting.  The biggest mystery the whole time was not knowing how long it would take.  Part way there, we stopped at the first campground on the beach, Arricefes, but we knew we didn’t want to stay there.  We had read the Cabo San Juan, further along, was a more attractive place to stay, with better beaches.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

The hike was so hot, so humid, so muddy.  The trail wasn’t really well maintained and there were a lot of ups and downs.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

Tons of bugs, constantly droning.  And we saw a monkey and all sorts of exotic birds. Just as exciting, but not so pleasant, was the spiders and tarantulas!  Really, a giant furry black tarantula, Brady Bunch-style.  In a muddy swamp, a la Stand By Me, right when Andy lost a shoe. It wasn’t one of our better moments.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

But at last we arrived in paradise.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011
From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

It was so beautiful there.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

This was the hut on the beach that served meals, drinks, and snacks.  Around 5pm on our first day it began to rain, and everyone settled in under the hut to read, talk, eat, drink, play cards, and later, dance.  It was a diverse, fun, international crowd, about 30 people total, all staying at the campsite for the night.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

After the park employees were done serving (bad) food for dinner, they closed up the official park-run shop, pulled out coolers of beer and sold cans for a slight mark-up, (which was obviously they same beer they sold under the park during the day), turned on Colombian music, and danced.  These guys have the life.  I’m sure every night it’s the same scene; to think that so far away from all the stresses and worries of “real life”, every night, these guys are hanging out in paradise, just another day at work.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

The next morning we walked further away from the main beach at Cabo and found our own secluded paradise (until some other people followed us).  It was unbelievably hot and we were constantly in and out of the water.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

 

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011

After spending half the day on the beach, we made our way back to the other camp, Arricifes, for our second night.  The next day we had to leave the park early to catch our flight back in Santa Marta onto Medellin, so we knew we should camp closer to the park entrance.

This camp was cleaner and more modern (we slept in hammocks again, but had real bathrooms and showers), but the water wasn’t safe for swimming because of strong ripe tides, and it lacked the young, party atmosphere of Cabo.  I definitely recommend checking out both, depending on your interests.

From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 2011
From Santa Marta and Parque Nacional Tayrona – July 201

Sunsets were unreal, I felt like I was in Apocalypse Now.

On Thursday morning we got up early and hiked our way back to the park entrance, so dirty and sweaty and bug-bitten.  The heat and humidity was unreal, and after three days we were totally filthy…but it was also kind of fun to not have to worry about clothes or makeup or stupid stuff like that.  It felt like we were so far away from our normal lives, in a wonderful way.  That was what we really wanted out of Colombia, and we got it.

Leaving the park was another adventure.  It was too early in the morning for the collectivos to be running, so we were basically screwed.  But, we ended up being really lucky (typical of all of our transportation connections in Colombia – they always seemed to just work out for us).  There was a cab at the entrance who had dropped off two tourists just arriving.  There were two other people like us, also seeking to leave the park, and we had a very long conversation in Spanish with the cab driver, the two others (they were Colombian) about how to get the five of us to Santa Marta and how much it would all cost.  Lots and lots of confusing conversation in Spanish, and finally we all piled into the cab.  It was a wild ride again, back to Santa Marta, listening to the three Colombians chat in Spanish (occasionally about us – we could pick up a little).  The  other two leaving the park definitely didn’t seem they were just “vacationing” in the park like we were; Andy says they were doing “Colombian things”.  The driver also had to pay a bribe to a guard at one point.  It was one of those crazy situations that you get into that you would never do at home.  It all worked out and the cab driver even waited for us at our hostel while we got our backpacks, then took us on to the Santa Marta airport.

Parque Tayrona was probably my favorite part of the trip, because it was all so crazy and different.  Lots more photos are here.

Up next: our final destination in Colombia, Medellin: a modern, wealthy city with a violent past.

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