Santa Marta: Tayrona National Park

Published: April 23rd 2014
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We stepped off the plane and bang...we were smacked in the face with booming sun and 33 degrees of humid heat. Back in the heat, back to the beach and back in the land of the mozzies. We had arrived in Santa Marta and were quickly on our way to our hostel where we were greeted by our local hostel owner...Alan from Peckham! Not long after arriving, our minds had already switched to planning for the following day; a hike and over night stay in the Tayrona National Park. Famed for its beautiful Caribbean beaches, huge boulders and spectacular hiking trails through the nearby forested hills, we were certainly looking forward to getting there and chilling out (not so much the hiking though).

The following morning we were up and out the door by 8am, waiting by the side of the road to catch bus number one to the centre of Santa Marta, where we would be catching another bus to the entrance of the park. As usual, things didn't go quite to plan, as we were told by the bus conductor to get off the bus far too early, so therefore had to get on the next bus going

Gem on a huge rock at the end of the bay
the same way and pay all over again. This time, we got off at the correct stop! It was now time for bus number two; a one hour sweltering hot, bumpy bus ride which would take us all the way to the park entrance. The next bus went smoothly and we were at the gates before we knew it. It was now onto mode of transport number three; a clapped out old minibus which would take us from the park entrance to the start of the trail.

Off we went, already sweating from the numerous bus journeys and not really fancying the hike ahead, we plodded on. However, it did make a change to be hiking in flip flops and shorts instead of our hiking shoes and waterproofs! Along the way, we passed numerous view points providing panoramic vistas along the huge beaches and small quaint coves. With continual waves and a violent riptide continually battering the coastline in Tayrona, most of the beaches are strictly off limits to swimmers. Arrecifes beach in particular, has claimed the lives of more than 100 to stay we didn't dare to dip our toes in the water there.

Our target destination and the place we would be spending the night was called El Cabo. It was the final place on the trail and also the most visited due to its relatively tranquil waters for swimming, facilities, picturesque views and abundance of sleeping facilities. A couple of hours of sweaty hiking and we reached El Cabo. When we left Santa Marta earlier that morning, it was pure blue skies and baking hot. However, by early afternoon, the clouds had drawn in over Tayrona and it was blowing its notorious sea breeze straight into the national park.

Tayrona's picture-postcard view is of the beach in El Cabo, with the enormous house size boulders perched at either end of the cove and the palm trees leaning over the beach. Atop the largest of the two boulders is a large two storey circular wooden hut. The second floor of the hut holds two small bedrooms and the first floor has approximately 20 hammocks which can be rented for the night. Despite warnings of cold winds and having come packed with only beach ware and a thin shirt to stop the mozzies, the child within couldn't resist the novelty and we opted for a hammock each for the night. After all, how cold can it get when the lows are 25 degrees and it's the Caribbean Sea. Oh what a mistake that would turn out to be....

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out, playing about a thousand games of uno and having dinner before we turned in for the night. This is where it all began. As the breeze picked up further and the temperature began to drop, it soon became apparent exactly what they were warning us about. It wasn't so much the wind or air temperature alone, but the moisture that the wind picked up from the turbulent seas and carried in the air that caused the issue. With everything just slightly damp, there was no way of keeping warm. Despite both of us taking a 10mg Valium each to help us sleep, we barely managed to nod off at all. Frozen to the bone and shattered beyond belief, we peeled ourselves out of our hammocks and made our way off the rock and into the shelter to warm up. Having decided enough was enough, we made the decision to leave before breakfast and head back to civilisation.

Two hours of hiking and three busses later, we were back at our hostel in Santa Marta. Despite the Tayrona National Park clearly being a beautiful area and great place to visit, it just wasn't our couple of days. Furthermore, we can confidently say that we have slept in our first and last ever hammock...four legs and a mattress for us from now on!

All that was left for us in Santa Marta, was to fill up on the cheesiest, greasiest and dirtiest pizza we had ever eaten and to book our tickets to Cartagena for the following day.

After a much needed good nights sleep, we were soon on our way to our final destination in South America. Next stop...Cartagena.

Additional photos below
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Killer beachKiller beach
Killer beach

The infamous arrecefes beach which has killed over 100 people

23rd April 2014

Tayrona National Park is one the prettiest places i have ever visited. i can never forget beautiful Caribbean beaches, huge boulders and spectacular hiking trails through the nearby forested hills. your post was amazing i enjoyed reading it so much, thanks for sharing and nice photo collection Richard and Gemma :)

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