Friday, May 27, 2016

Tayrona National Park, Colombia: A National Park Filled With Beaches and Jungles

From Medellín, I finally got myself onto a flight to the Northeast of the country, to a city called Santa Marta.  Santa Marta is a city often used as a jump-off point for some of the beautiful coastal cities in Colombia on the Caribbean.  Most notably, I was headed to Tayrona National Park.

What It's All About:
Tayrona National Park is a national park about 1.5 hours away from Santa Marta - on the coast, it's basically a national park filled with beaches and jungles.  I didn't even know national parks could be filled with such wonderful things.

The beach at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park

You can basically enter the park and take a number of trails - there's beaches that are popular to go to, and other ones, you can wander shortly off the beaten path and reach pristine, untouched, and totally secluded beaches.  One of the most popular beaches is called Cabo San Juan, where most backpackers go - there is a site here where you can stay overnight in a hammock on the beach, there's a self-contained restaurant and facilities, and the view is on. point.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Arrived in the evening to Santa Marta, where it was literally the hottest place I've ever been in my entire life. At 9pm. Unbeknownst to me, I had booked a room without A/C - even with the fan blowing full force onto me all night, I woke up dreaming I was inside a volcano.  However, at the hostel, I met Jason - he's from the U.S. (Colorado!) but has been living in Medellín and working for himself for the past six months. He was taking a trip to Tayrona the next day as well, so I tagged along with him.
  • The next morning, took a 1.5 hour bus to the national park entrance. Getting to Cabo San Juan involved a 2-hour hike through the jungle, which is also maybe the hottest I've ever been.  But the views were beautiful.

Twisty jungle hike in Tayrona

After crashing through the jungle for awhile, beach views!

Leaf cutter ants! There were insects and bugs everywhere. AND ALSO MONKEYS. ADORABLE TREE-JUMPING MONKEYS. Which I did not take any photos of because they were too small and far up the trees.

I kind of think all national parks should look like this

After a couple hours, we arrived at the campgrounds of Cabo San Juan! Here, you can choose to stay in hammocks (Pros: AWESOME & BALLER, Cons: mosquito heaven) or tents (Pros: no mosquitos, Cons: a billion degrees)

And here is the famous view from Cabo San Juan!  There are actually 16 hammocks available in the cabana on the tiny island you see in the photo above - you have to queue pretty early though, and priority is given to people who've stayed there the night before. So it's pretty much impossible to get one of these hammocks on your first night. Also, we met a girl who had stayed on it, and she said it was FREEZING at night from the sea breeze, and super damp as well.
Maybe one of those things that sounds cooler than it is (literally. zing.).

We did get in line early enough to get a hammock in the hammock hut though!  (these are usually the next to fill up, after hammock island).  

My hammock for the night!  I have to say, sleeping in a hammock near the beach is much less sexy than it sounds - my feet kept going numb because they were elevated, and it did get kind of cold (not to mention you're surrounded by 50 other people in hammocks). I basically slept in a fetal position all night.

View from the hammock hut -  I can kind of see the water!

After claiming our hammocks, Jason and I spent some time on the Cabo beach.

  • After hanging on Cabo beach for awhile, we decided to hike a little bit further north to find another beach. After 5 minutes on a little path lining the ocean, we seriously got to another beach that had NOBODY else on it. It was like our own personal secluded stretch of beach. 5 minutes away. Mind blown.

Our own private beach!

Jason and I on our private beach, NBD

The only downside of our private beach was that the waves were huge and looked like they could easily suck you in and drag you out to the ocean to drown. So we stayed on the beach and I did cartwheels, obvs.

Walking back to Cabo at dusk at the end of the day was also kind of magical

We walked up to the cabana on the island to watch the sunset. SERIOUSLY. MAGIC.

  • After it got dark, there really wasn't that much to do - there was a small cafe along the beach in Cabo where everyone ate all their meals, so we met some other backpackers and chatted into the night.  Also, as there are always downsides to paradise - there was no less than a zillion mosquitoes.  I seriously had to carry my bug spray to the showers and coat myself in it immediately after the water turned off.  Because then they appeared in full force.
  • The next morning, Jason and I hiked south instead of north, for about 20 minutes until we reached a beach called La Piscina (or "the swimming pool").  It was also blissfully secluded, and we spent the entire day on the beach, with only a handful of other people.  The waves were really small and adorable and wave-pool-like. And it was seriously as close to a perfect beach day as you can get.

La Piscina! Another perfect beach. And apparently there's tons and tons and tons more in this park
That is Jason, and this is our shady spot under a tree that we chilled under the whole day. I even polished off an entire book. PERF.

Tree branch chilling

  • Jason and I hiked out of Tayrona at the last possible second - the park closes at 5pm, so we hustled back on the hike to make it out and catch a shuttle back to Santa Marta.  On the way, we encountered tons of monkeys and horses (you can opt to ride a horse the entire way to/from the beach in case hiking in 150 degree weather isn't your thing).  We managed to arrive at the park entrance right as a bus was pulling up = success.  We got into Santa Marta early enough that we caught a private taxi to the city of Minca, which is about 45 minutes away (and it only cost $10 for the entire taxi ride! TAXIS IN COLOMBIA ARE SO CHEAP. AMAZING).  
  • Add Tayrona to your bucket list. Must visit.

The only casualty from our excursion?  Oh, only the most mosquito bites I've ever gotten in my entire life.  Even though I used an entire bottle of Off (and reapplied every hour), and even got desperate enough to borrow Jason's 100% DEET spray, which promptly melted the pattern off my flip-flops. If it's possible to get DEET/sunscreen blood poisoning, I definitely have it.  Yet my legs still got TORN. UP. You could seriously run your hands up and down my legs (mind out of gutter) and feel like you were reading Braille on my legs.

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