On my 2023 trip to South America I found a variety of different travel destinations. I enjoyed brewing coffee in Salento, was blown away by the history and the street art of Medellin and Bogota and finally made it up all the way north to the Caribbean Sea which offers stunning beaches, friendly people and some really cute little places to spend some time.
Colombia is huge. The bus system is really good - I would say you can compare it with European standard in some places. Unfortunately going from A to B in some areas is still a pain in the ass. You should consider taking some domestic flights to safe some time on your vacation or trip. In total I did fly 3 times domestic on this trip - the distances where just to long and I didn't want to waste any time. Although the prices for flights between the bigger cities are just crazy low.
So after my time in Medellin I decided to fly up north to a place called Santa Marta. This airport is at the gates to the Tayrona National Park and this is where I was heading next. The park is a protected area in the Colombian northern Caribbean region - you'll find golden sandy beaches, coconut trees all over and some thick rainforest you can explore on your own. The National Park is also home to some crazy Colombian wildlife.
santa marta to tayrona national park
After you grabbed your luggage at the airport there will be taxi drivers almost attacking you to get on their cabs. If your budget doesn't matter just hop on one of the rides, the prices are quite ok. I always love to go a little "low budget" so we checked out the local busses. There is a ride going from the Airport to a place called Taganga and from there you take another ride to the hotel or hostel you booked nearby Tayrona. I think the whole ride was 3 Euro per Person still took us around an hour. The locals busses are an adventure itself so you have to do it anyway - so give it a try - i guarantee you some laughs. There are no actual bus-stops on the road, so when you hop on the bus you tell the "assistant" where you wanna go. These guys are one of the most organized people I met. There are about 30 passengers on the ride and these guys remembers exactly where every person wants to go. The bus stops on the road in the middle of nowhere and you'll be dropped with your luggage just like that.
tayrona national park
If your time schedule is tight, you might want to figure out if you are more into beaches or would like to see more of the stunning rainforest up here. The park is enormous. You'll find two entrance gates both located on road 90 (the most northern road in all of Colombia). The gate closer to Santa Marta is "Calabazo Entrance". This one is leading you directly into the rainforest. It a good 2-3 hour hike all the way to "Pueblito" a little place in the jungle. There you have to decide whether you go and visit Playa Brava or keep going to the other beaches. Both directions will cost you another 2 hours.
Other possibility, you can enter the park at "El Zaino Gate" and walk all the way up to the waterfront to have a day in the sun. The beaches are really beautiful but really overrun with tourists. The walk is way easier than the one from Calabazo but in the end I guess entering in Calabazo will give you a better Tayrona-experience.
If you get the chance, try to find a hotel or hostel in between the two gates, so you can start early no matter which gate you are picking. I stayed in a place called "La Casablanca Tayrona House". Those people where really nice, good food, clean rooms and a huge pool where you can linger in the heat. I have to say, I never sweated more in my life than I did in northern Colombia. The head is killing - so you might want to make sure to have a pool with your accommodation.
We started our day really early, took a lot of water, grabbed our "hiking shoes" and walked to Calabazo Entrance. The fee was 13 Euro and a 2 Euro "Insurance fee" (what ever this might be) in 2023. At the gates there are some people offering you to take you to the first stop in the jungle by motorbike cause of the steep first part. We were being bad asses and refused to hope on the bikes. Well let's say we regretted it about 30 minutes later - the hike and the heat is really no joke, still the stuff you see on your way is amazing and breathtaking.
Our first stop led us to a tiny village in the jungle. A family was offering cold drinks and handcrafted memories to take home. Perfect timing for a little break - we found our breath again and kept on walking into the jungle.
Besides enormous rock forms and gigantic trees you'll find monkeys, tons of beautiful birds and if you get lucky even sloths on your way through the jungle to the beach. I took us almost 5 hours from the entrance gate to "Cabo San Juan de Guia". The hike was worth it, you walk out of the rainforest directly onto the beach of the Caribbean sea. What a moment.
From there you have two choices. One, hike all the way back to the same gate you came in or keep walking to do the whole round trip. I was already exhausted when we arrived at the beach but still thought: "Let's just do it!" So we decided to do the whole trip (I think in total it took us almost 12 hours).
You're about to see some really nice spots on the way to El Zaino gate, besides you'll finally find a place with where you can buy some water and get something to eat. Just another small advice: Make sure to bring a lot of water and enough stuff to eat on your hike. You'll be in the rainforest a long time and as you can guess there is no 7/11 or Starbucks waiting for you every 20 minutes.
Man, I miss this place. Palomino for me was just the perfect ending of this crazy trip to Colombia. Don't get me wrong I love running around and exploring new cities, hiking up hills, sweating in the deserts or discovering rainforests. Still I'm a huge fan of just living into the day. If you feel me, Palomino is the place you want to go.
There is just nothing you can do in Palomino and that's why this place is probably so nice. Everyone is super laid back and all the rush from the bigger cities like Bogota and Medellin is just blown away.
Take a bus or taxi further east on road 90. You'll pass huge banana plantation and will be driving along the beautiful coastline of the Caribbean sea till you reach a town with less than 4,000 inhabitants. Tuk-Tuk-drivers waiting on the main road to take you to your accommodation, I absolutely adore this feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.
I stayed at a place called "Casa Chapolin Boutique Guesthouse". A little paradise in paradise and again, super friendly staff amazing breakfast, nice, large clean rooms with the chance to sleep outside in your own hammock.
Pretty much all the hostels and hotels are close to the coastline. The beaches are really clean and offer tons of cool bars and restaurants where you can hang all day.
So like I said - this was just the perfect destination. Sleeping in, having great breakfast, walking to the beach, take a surf lesson, sleep again, have lunch, play with the dogs from the dog shelter, wait till happy hour is starting, have a few drinks and then have a nap in your hammock again.
5 things you don't wanna miss
- Take a busride in one of the crazy local busses
- See all kinds of wild animals in the National Park
- Visit some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see
- Enjoy fresh sea food in Palomino
- Let your soul dangle for a view days