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Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Amazon River, and full of countless other rivers, lakes and streams, Colombia has no shortage of places to get your feet wet. Mostly I love a good adventure vacation where I can raft down a river, swim in the Amazon, kayak on the Pacific Ocean or go caving. However, every once in awhile you just need a good beach vacation. Unfortunately short of leaving the mainland for San Andres Island, the beaches in Colombia leave something to be desired. Many of the public beaches get quite dirty, some of them filling with trash due to the tides, and even the nice ones are full of people trying to sell you something at any given moment. Not exactly relaxing.
However, this is not the case on the beaches of Parque Nacional Natural (PNN) Taryona. Perhaps Colombia's most famous, and certainly it's most strikingly beautiful, this national park is situated about an hour north (by bus, taxi or car) of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. The entire park stretches for 35 kilometers and covers over 12,000 hectares of land, but trust me you only need to see a small part of it in order to appreciate it as much as I do!
Catching a bus to the park from Santa Marta couldn't be easier, or if you prefer, catch a boat from Taganga and sail in. Once at the main gate of the park you will pay the entrance fee ($35,000 for foreigners as of April 2012) and then begin the relatively easy one hour hike into the park. About 30 minutes in the hike and you are greeted by gorgeous coastline as far as the eye can see, a great incentive for hiking the last bit to the beach.
Tayrona is definitely no place for a day trip (although if that is all the time you have, you shouldn't miss it!) since the entrance fee is a bit pricy and you will definitely want multiple days to explore all the different beaches. The two most common places to stay are at Arrecifes or Cabo San Juan beaches, and you can easily reserve tents or hammocks with some online research. Otherwise, just show up and get a hammock for the night so long as it is not a busy season!
My favorite place to stay is Arrecifies at either the Finca El Paraiso hammocks or hammocks run by the Colombia travel company Aviatur. After going a second time over Semana Santa I think I prefer Aviatur for their comfortable hammocks as well as individual lockers (with lock!) that come with each hammock, but both are great places to spend the night. Plus, who cares where you sleep when you wake up the ocean beckoning you to get out of bed and get into the sun???
A map displays the expansive coastline and numerous beaches within Tayrona.
Waves at Arrecifies Beach where you cannot swim due to the strong tide.
These huge rocks line the shore of the park as you walk from beach to beach.
A view of the first swimming beach, about 10-15 minutes walk down the coastline from Arrecifes.
View of one cove at Cabo San Juan, with the other hiding in the background. The hut on top of that hill has hammocks in it where you can spend the night and truly be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the Caribbean. AMAZING albeit possibly a bit chilly.
Some recommendations if you go, which you obviously must: