Sweating and Swimming in Tayrona Park, Colombia


Panting, sweating, occasionally swearing, we follow a meandering up and down jungle trail in Tayrona Park — on the outskirts of Santa Marta — to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. To our chagrin, insects and heat are constant companions. Tourism Tayrona Park.

Beach in Tayrona Park along the Caribbean Sea
Beach in Tayrona Park along the Caribbean Sea

Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

This area lies near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, highest coastal mountain range in the world. It is located about a one hour drive from the coastal city of Santa Marta.

Because the mountain range extends to the coast, the terrain is rough and uneven. Which also provides the possibility of creature encounters.

Tayrona Park

Tayrona is named for the indigenous people of the area. Since our exploration, the park has exploded in popularity because of its beautiful beaches and proximity to Santa Marta.

Hiking/walking through the jungle to the sea is half the fun — or half the battle — depending on your point of view.

Entrance to Tayrona Park
Entrance to Tayrona Park

Inside the Park

Once inside the park, a rickety collectivo takes you 20 minutes inside. Remainder of the way to the beach(es) is by foot, horse or donkey.

It took us one hour walking through the jungle to reach the first beach. Unfortunately, it is not suitable for swimming.

Another 40 minute walk along the coast is our true destination, La Piscina (the pool) Beach.

On the trail, a special monkey species

The titi monkey, a threatened species endemic to Colombia, roams in the park area. Luckily, not far from where we stood, we caught sight of the titi playing in the rustling branches of a nearby tree.

Many ants!

Large ones. Along the path. Fascinating to watch, the red leaf cutter ant is an industrious insect.

We studied a trail of them, busily carrying leaf pieces and twigs. The long line of ants with moving leaves in straight line precision extended out of sight into the jungle.

Leaf cutter ants
Leaf cutter ants at work

More creepy crawlers

Lucky us (ha!), we spied a large termite nest.

Plus, we noted other interesting crawling insects. Definitely belonging on the jungle floor. Not in our clothes or backpacks.

Most fortunate, however, were sightings of many colourful butterflies with beautiful markings. Some landed for an up close and personal experience.

termite nest
One of the many termite nests we saw

Other wildlife

We focused on the bright yellow bills of toucans caught in camouflage. Despite those distinguished beaks, toucans are difficult to spot among the ever-moving foliage.

We did glimpse an agouti (large rodent) creeping through the underbrush. Ears must be on high alert here.

Donkey droppings

As we toiled through the jungle underbrush to reach our beach destination, it was sometimes difficult to follow the trail.

 But when we spied donkey droppings, we knew we were on course.

 All park supplies are carried in by donkeys/pack horses – no available road or boat access.

Donkey trail with droppings
Donkey trail with droppings
Park supplies carried by donkeys and pack horses
Park supplies carried by donkeys and pack horses

The journey not the destination

We forded four streams to get to/from La Piscina. Fortunately, we met no snakes, crocs or leeches (at least on our trek).

Truly, this 1 1/2 hr plus hike is as much about the journey as the destination.

The Beach – but not this one

Finally, with itchy, damp skins due to profuse sweating, we welcomed the cooling breezes of the Caribbean Sea!

Too bad, though (sigh). This beach is not our destination. Too strong an undertow. Not recommended.

Then we see it. The sign to …

Beach at Tayrona Park
One of the many beaches in Tayrona Park along the Caribbean Sea

La Piscina (the pool)

La Piscina Beach is totally protected by a barrier reef, resulting in calm water. Perfect for swimming.

 After the long hike through the jungle and mangroves, we splashed with relief in the refreshing Caribbean Sea.

La Piscina - safe for swimming
La Piscina – safe for swimming

Valió la pena

And yes, the hike was worth it.

Map of Colombia showing Santa Marta
Map of Colombia showing Santa Marta

COVID update

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Music and Sights of Tayrona Park

Music and sights of the Tayrona people
Scenes of Tayrona Park

How to Get Here

From Bogota, take an hour flight to Santa Marta. A 1 hour (34km/21mi) taxi or bus ride east from Santa Marta will get you to the entrance of Tayrona Park. Transportation by boat is also available.

Where to Stay

There are many hotels in Santa Marta in all price ranges. Here is one

Travelled: Feburary, 2012

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