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Colombia: Best Beaches & Sleeping in Tayrona National Park

by on 18th February, 2022

Almost every traveller heading to Colombia will make Tayrona National Park’s beaches one of their must-see destinations.

Colombia’s Caribbean coast features postcard-perfect crystal waters and beautiful sandy beaches set among pristine tropical forests. This beach paradise is easily accessible from nearby Santa Marta.

For many, a day visit is not enough. Luckily, sleeping in Tayrona National Park is possible, too. There are hotels, camping, and hammock options. Be careful, though; the lapping of the waves and breathtaking beaches may lull you into lounging around longer in that hammock than you originally planned.

This guide will highlight the best Tayrona National Park beaches and practical information about where to stay and where you can swim.

Introduction to Tayrona National Park Beaches

Tayrona National Park, formed in 1969, is located in the far northeast of Colombia, just east of Barranquilla and close to the Venezuela border. Its protected areas cover 12,000 hectares of land and 3,000 hectares of marine zones.

Most people fly to Barranquilla or Santa Marta to access Tayrona National park or hike the nearby Lost City trek. Santa Marta lies around 25 miles (40km) from the park.

Four indigenous communities live within the park, the Kankuamo, Kogui, Wiwa and Arhuaco. Many of the walkways connecting the Tayrona National Park beaches are ancient paths. Visitors should remove rubbish — you cannot enter with plastic bags — and be respectful of the park’s cultural importance.

Swimming at Tayrona National Park Beaches

Colombia’s Caribbean beaches are not only famous for stunning sand and crystal waters. The coastline is riddled with treacherous and deadly currents that, despite the warnings, claim dozens of lives every year,

Be incredibly careful where you enter the sea at every Tayrona National Park beach you visit. People don’t heed the warning signs and underestimate the strength of the currents, with often tragic results. There are lifeguards in place to provide warnings on some beaches at some times of the year. Never bathe without knowing if it is safe, especially if you are not a strong or confident swimmer.

The Tayrona National Park Authorities give this outline advice for swimming. Always check locally and take into account weather and tidal conditions.

Swimming is possible in specific locations at these Tayrona National Park beaches:

  • Bahia Neguanje (only at specific points like Playa Cristal)
  • Cabo San Juan de Guia
  • Bahia Concha
  • La Piscina
  • Bahia Gayraca (accessible only by boat)

Never enter the water at:

  • Playa Cañaveral
  • Arreciefes
  • Almost every other beach you encounter

If in doubt, stay out.

The Best of Tayrona National Park’s Beaches

Here is a quick rundown of some of the best and most popular beaches in Tayrona National Park.

The first beaches are written in the order you will encounter them if you enter at the Zaino entrance in the east and walk west along the coastline.

Zaino — Arrecife — La Piscina — Caba de San Juan — Playa Brava

View from Cayo Cangruejo to Providencia

Arrecife

Arrecife offers terrific views and the perfect balance of white sand, blue seas, and verdant green forest as a backdrop.

You cannot swim at Arrecife, but the beach offers beautiful sunrises and a variety of cheap sleeping options like camping and hammocks.

La Piscina (or Piscinitas)

Just before you arrive at Cabo San Juan, you’ll pass La Piscina (swimming pool). Boulders and reefs protect this beach from the notorious currents.

Swimming and snorkelling are possible, making La Piscina an excellent stop, particularly if you want to avoid the crowds. There are no facilities here, and it’s a 90-120 minute walk from the Zaino entrance.

Cabo San Juan, Tayrona’s Most Famous Beach

Most people head to Cabo San Juan for its fantastic, double-sided beach and plentiful accommodation options.

Rocks protect the coastline from the strongest currents, and people bathe in the crystal waters here. It does get busy, so avoid weekends and peak periods, and the joy of waking up in this little slice of heaven makes it all worth it.

There’s a restaurant, toilets, showers, hammocks, and even a little shop. You can even reserve accommodation in advance online. Prepare for a 2-3 hour walk from the Zaino entrance or take a 1-hour boat ride from Taganga.

Playa Brava

Playa Brava takes a bit of effort to get to — it’s a 2-3 hour walk from Cabo San Juan or a 3-4 hour hike from the Calabazo entrance — but determination brings its rewards.

Fewer people make it to this large, white-sand beach dotted with palm trees. Playa Braza’s hotel offers sleeping options, including hammocks, tents, and cabins. There is also a restaurant.

 

The next two beaches are accessible by boat from Santa Marta or Taganga.

Playa Concha

Playa Concha is close to Santa Marta, just 30 minutes away by car, and therefore very popular with locals and visitors alike. The beach offers lovely views with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and a river flowing nearby.

There is a camping and hammocks zone. Day-trippers and overnighters sling their hammocks between the many trees providing shade on the shore.

Playa Cristal

Playa Cristal has white sand beaches, crystal-blue waters, and usually cold beers for sale, too. The beach can get crowded — there are limits on visitor numbers — and it’s great to visit during the week when it’s quieter.

Take a boat from Taganga (45 mins) or Bahia Neguanje (10mins) or a bus down a bumpy road from Bonda. Swimming is possible, and there are lots of brightly coloured fish to see if snorkelling.

Hammock and beach, Uruguay

Advice on Sleeping in Tayrona National Park

An overnight stay in Tayrona National Park is recommended. Avoid the crowded 10 am-3 pm hours when day-trippers from Santa Marta swell park numbers.

You cannot camp wherever you want, and you must stick to designated areas.

Cabo San Juan is the most popular place to stay, thanks to its gorgeous beach and bathing waters. It’s possible to book tents, camping spots, and hammocks online in advance, and there is a busy eatery.

Other accommodation options:

  • You can camp at Arrecife (no sea view) where there are restaurants and cabins, too.
  • There’s camping and a hammock area at Bahia Concha.
  • A farm at Bahia Castillete offers camping, rooms, and food.
  • Bahia Brava has camping, cabins, and a restaurant and access is with a guide only.
  • Camping at Cañaveral or bungalows at Ecohabs

Many hostels and hotel options outside Tayrona National Park are dotted along the Route 90 (Tronca del Caribe) access road.

Getting There: Access to Tayrona National Park

Colombia’s Route 90 (Tronca del Caribe) road snakes to the south of Tayrona National Park and is where most people enter. Zaino, to the east, is the main access point because it’s closest to popular beaches like Castilletes, Cañaveral, Arrecifes, and La Piscina. There are some hostels close to Zaino.

Calabazo, a bit further west, is also a good option due to its proximity to Cabo San Juan de la Guia and its amazing double beach. Everyone that wants to enjoy Tayrona National Park’s beaches must be prepared to walk on undulating paths, often in sweltering and humid weather.

Backpackers often stay at Taganga, a small town and a traveller’s hotspot, and catch a boat to Bahia Conche or other bays. Whichever way you approach the park, Foreign visitors pay a higher entrance fee than Colombians for access. You can sometimes buy this online or at the park entrance, but rules are constantly changing at Tayrona.

Take plenty of money — cash is king for permits, accommodation, food, and drinks — and you’ll need your passport or a good copy.

What Wildlife Can I See at Tayrona National Park?

Tayrona National Park is home to more than 100 mammals, including puma, monkeys, deer, and bats.

Much of the wildlife is shy and hides in the forest, but you may be lucky to spot howler or capuchin monkeys, condors, and white eagles. Over 300 bird species live in the park while dolphins and turtles frequent the waters.

Parrot at Tayrona Colombia

When to Visit Tayrona National Park and Its Beaches

Tayrona National Park’s peak seasons run:

  • December 1 to January 31.
  • Holy Week (Easter)
  • June 1-July 31
  • Holiday weekends

The park often closes for all of February. Always check if the park is open before travelling there because the indigenous communities shut Tayrona to visitors if numbers or nuisance are excessive. Overall visitor numbers are controlled and limited.

May, July, and September to October are the rainy months, albeit most showers or storms pass quickly. There are the fewest guests from September to November. The beaches are quieter, and finding accommodation and sleeping in Tayrona National Park is easier.

The resident communities also ask people “to enter the park in a calm way, leaving negative emotional charges and when leaving, thank the territory for the visit and the experiences they have lived.

The best of Tayrona National Park Beaches

Tayrona National Park’s beaches are among the best in the world. Very few places can offer Caribbean beaches with white sand, crystal waters, and verdant jungle replete with wildlife.

There are many accommodation options, and staying the night is recommended if you want to avoid the crowds. Hiking through shady forests adds to the experience.

Take great care with swimming and bathing, and your visit to Tayrona National Park will be an unforgettable one.

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