Arriving to Tayrona meant going through the craziest and most chaotic road trip since we started this little adventure.
The theory seemed pretty easy. Catch a bus in Cartagena to go to the bus terminal, there catch another one to Santa Marta, where we’d spend the night and the next morning we’d catch the bus direction Tayrona.
The bus terminal in Cartagena is almost an hour away ride from the city. This first bus happened to be the busiest bus ever. At one point, besides all the passengers, there were four sellers on the bus. So it happened that you could buy at the same time a liver cleanser, rat poison, some sort of snacks and different beverages. The snacks and the drinks I do get it, but I mean who, in the name of sanity, tries to sell rat poison or a liver cleanser on a bus? How does that even work? I mean, one just wakes up in the morning and goes: honey I got it! I know what I’m going to do to solve our problems, I’m going to sell rat poison / liver cleanser to the people on the bus!
It was nuts, but it’s exactly this craziness that makes me love this kind of trips, this surreal situations that here are just another day.
Once at the terminal, not even after setting a foot down the bus, a woman yelled at me: SANTA MARTA??? I nodded, and in less than a second she was already pushing us towards a bus that was already leaving. Another guy charged us for the ticket (20k each) and in a heartbeat we were already inside the bus.
After less than 45 minutes driving, the bus had to stop as the road was closed. There was a strike, and few tree logs blocked the road. Plenty of trucks were waiting on the side for the strikers to leave. So the plan was that we’d cross walking the barrier, and at the other side there would be a bus waiting for us to continue the trip.
The problem came the moment the new bus driver realized we were going to Santa Marta, and not to Barranquilla, which is half way to Santa Marta, were all the other passengers were going, and the lovely driver from the previous bus didn’t give him all our money, but only half of it, as if we were also going to Barranquilla. It was nice cause all the passengers started yelling to the driver: put them on a bus! They paid, so you have to be serious, put them on a bus to Santa Marta! The driver called the previous driver, and at one moment he even told him to get his ass on a bike and bring him the money. It was a funny moment but obviously he didn’t do that, so we were dropped off in Barranquilla. During the bus trip a woman that yelled a lot all the way, screamed at the driver to tell me the other driver’s name and phone number, the serial number of the other bus and the name of the exact point where we changed the bus. If she had been in our neck, i’m pretty sure she’d had murdered the driver and all his family as a revenge. She told me to go to the terminal in Barranquilla, look for the office of the other bus company and basically storm inside and don’t leave without a couple of tickets to Santa Marta. That was the plan. But then, the new driver decided to drop all passengers under a bridge, pretty far from the bus terminal where he was supposed to take us. Seems to be quite common that the driver decides where the bus has its final stop, specially with the little buses. So we would have to grab a taxi to the terminal. Another guy came to me and told me that it would be a waste of time and money, as I had no proof, no ticket, no receipt, nothing, so basically I would be one guy screaming in an office to get a free ticket. He told us that right next where we were standing, the buses to Santa Marta were passing,. He took us there, and in less than 5 minutes a bus came, we paid an extra 10k each, and finally we were on a bus to Santa Marta. The driver of this bus was so freaking nuts he even over took an ambulance that was going on an emergency service, cause obviously was driving too slow, not sure how we made it alive to Santa Marta. We spent the night there and the next morning took the bus to Tayrona.
There are 4 different entrances to the Park, we went to the one called El Zaino.
At the entrance, after having taken the little bus to the parking lot, the walking part begun. It’s 3,8km to the campsites.
Knowing that everything would come with a high price tag inside the park, at least for our pockets, we carried 10 liters of water and food for four days, besides our little bags with clothes and other stuff. It was hard, pretty damn hard. I thought I would sweat the 10 liters only to get to the camping, but after an hour an a half, we made it there. The path is very nice, and it goes inside the forest and also takes you to the beach, and you can start checking the amazing landscapes that will accompany you during all your stay. When we arrived, I went to ask for prices to the different campsites.
Before arriving to Camping Los Bermudez, while walking down a little bump, a big green snake started moving away. No, it wasn’t as large as an anaconda, but it sure made its good 1,5 meters. I freaked out, froze and felt really happy the snake took that direction instead of coming towards me. I asked at the campsite and they told me not to worry, that those are hunters, not dangerous. Ooooh well, hunters you say? Now why would I worry with such a friendly and cheerful name for these snakes eh? Apparently, the ones to be really afraid of are the smaller and dark ones.
May is the lowest season, but I didn’t expect that there would be so little people, specially cause we cached a long weekend, but that was really really good, and helped us enjoy the place even more.
The camping we took had this great outdoor shower. It was amazing to get inside and look around, a shower in the jungle, that’s the real deal!
In Tayrona, most of the beaches are not suitable for swimming, due to the strong currents, so to take a bath you can go to La Piscina (The Swimming pool), which is a 20 minutes walk from Arrecifes, or go to Cabo San Juan, which is the most popular place, and it takes around 40 minutes from Arrecifes.
Cabo is really nice indeed, but if you want to stay in there, you’ll pay a bit more than in Arrecifes, with the perk of being only few meters away from the beach. But I guess it gets pretty packed during high season.
Besides the beaches, there’s a hike to the indigenous village of Pueblito, built by the Kogui people, who supposedly descend from the indigenous tribe of the Tayrona people.
The hike is hard, it’s really damn hard actually, jumping from rock to rock, doing some climbing and it’s very steep most of the way. It’s supposed to take two hours from Arrecifes to make it up there. It’s 40 minutes to Cabo, where the path begins, and a bit more than an hour from there up. It took us three, and not because we move slow, but cause we got lost. At some point we took a wrong turn and ended up lost in the middle of the forest, not knowing where the hell were we or how to come back to the right path. It was stressful, frustrating and scary, as we were off the path in a forest where snakes, spiders, red ants and plenty of other delightful creatures live. We kept moving forward for around 30 minutes, until we reach a point were it was obvious we shouldn’t go any further, so we turned back. We wanted to undo our steps, but all the ways seemed the same, and obviously we started going back following a different path than the one that took us there. We climbed rocks, fell badly, got bitten by the damn ants, oh boy that stings!! But we managed to stay calm, knowing we had water and food with us. I screamed many times hoping some body would hear me, but nothing. And then, when we were going down some sort of path, which was obviously not the right one, a few meters up, I saw a girl walking, actually 4 girls and 1 guy, who even if they didn’t know it yet, were also lost. It was an amazing coincidence that we all found each other. For them, it worked out so that they wouldn’t continue the path they were going, which was the one we already took before, and for us, cause we could undo their steps and find the right path, which we finally did. Here’s the shinny and impossible to miss arrow that we didn’t see and made our day.
It’s funny this feeling of relief that we felt when meeting these guys, somehow you feel less lost being surrounded by more people. Maybe because statistically you have higher chances that someone in the group will have an idea that gets you out of there. Anyway, we found the path, and started going up again to Pueblito.
On the way, we met a couple who also got lost, and on their way they found another couple who spent the night in the mountain as they got lost and couldn’t find the path till the next morning. This same situation crossed my mind few times while we were lost, and it wasn’t a pleasant view. The most beautiful thing of Pueblito is the path to get there, even if you get lost. The village is also very nice, but not as impressive.
Going down it took us an hour to get to Cabo. It’s way faster when you are on the right path. Anyway, the last part of the way we did it with some rain, which is pretty dangerous when you have to jump between rocks, but fortunately the big rain waited til we were already down. We grabbed a beer and really enjoyed not having spent the night in the forest. This here shows the amusement Kasia went through during our hike to Pueblito, and the final arrival.
The way back to Arrecifes was crazy, a huge storm took place and the paths became rivers, we were all wet as if we had jumped into the sea, trying to get to our tent as soon as possible. I must admit though that this gave me the jungle-ish feeling I was looking forward to, and it felt really good to walk those 40 minutes with the sounds of the forest, the rain falling on us, the mud that covered our feet and the magical view of the beautiful jungle.
TIPS IF YOU GO THERE
Download the app called Maps.me It’s a great app that allows you to have offline maps of any given country. And as a plus, the route to Pueblito appears, so you can easily check if you got lost and go back to the right path. Yes, I would have loved to have it with us while doing the hike.
In the bus from Cartagena center to the bus terminal, make sure you don’t place your big bags in the seat next to yours, as if the bag occupies a seat, you’ll have to pay for it. So even if there’s no space to put the bag, better to have it on the floor than on a seat.
The entrance to the Tayrona National Park costs 42k, unless you are a student and under 26, which is the only case where you can get a discount if you are not a native.
If you go to Tayrona, don’t take the accommodation they offer you at the entrance, where 2 guys, that also give a very nice introduction to the park, try to sell you their respective campsites. Once you’ll be up you can get the same prices in these places, and much cheaper in other ones. If you have a tied budget, go to the one we went, Camping Los Bermudez, where if you come with your own tent, you pay 5k per person, but i’d definitely recommend you to go to Camping Don Pedro, it’s a really beautiful place, and you can get there the same price, or if you don’t have a tent you can get one for 10k per person. It has a great kitchen, where you can find a sink with running water and a light bulb, and the place is green and has a great view to the mountain. We discovered it as here were staying the Scottish couple (Jack and Lucy), with whom we were lucky to meet again in the park.
Once you pay the ticket, you can walk up 9km to Arrecifes, not recommended, or you can catch a bus for 3k per person that takes you to a parking lot. From there you only have to walk 3,8 km. If you carry a lot of weight, or simply feel lazy or just because you want to, you can rent a horse to carry your stuff and/or yourself. The Scottish couple managed to get a horse for 12k after a long negotiation, so you can take that as a good reference if you go during the low season.