A weekend in Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

first beach
One of the first coastal views as you begin hiking towards the Tayrona beaches

I’ve missed my blog the past two weeks and I’m sorry there wasn’t anything new to read!  We are in the midst of a much welcomed marathon of visitors and this past week we were lucky to host one of Cody’s best friends, David, and his girlfriend, Jessi.  **Just to note, my posts will continue to be sporadic over the next couple of weeks.  Please bear with me as I enjoy myself!**  They spent a lovely ten or so days with us and we started off the visit by exploring a place we hadn’t yet had a chance to visit, Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park.

I can’t help but feel like every time I talk about one of our trips in Colombia I go on and on about how special and diverse this country is, but it’s true!  I have yet to visit somewhere in Colombia that reminds me of somewhere I’ve already been.  Santa Marta is situated on one of the most beautiful parts of the Atlantic coast and is unique because it’s the highest coastal mountain range in the world–the Sierra Nevadas butt right up against the sea.  Founded in 1525, Santa Marta was the first permanent settlement in Colombia and because of it’s location became a commercial hub and important part of Spanish colonization.  The city is also the place where Simón Bolívar, the liberator of South America, took his final breaths.

We arrived in Santa Marta on Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the hotel to change our clothes–there is a drastic weather difference between this place and Bogotá!  I have to give a shout out to our cab driver, who happened to love Guns ‘n’ Roses and even had his own cowbell (?!), which he happily tapped (using both hands!!) as he used his knee to steer past buses on blind turns.  One thing that struck me as strange as we were driving from the airport to our hotel in the colonial center was the stark, desert like landscape.  It was hot, dry and we saw more cacti than palm trees.  Because Tayrona is only 34km away, I was expecting the more tropical landscape that we’d see in the park.  I should have known that when it comes to biodiversity in this country, a lot can change in 34km.

houses sta marta
Houses and desert-y landscape on the way into Santa Marta
Santa Marta was HOT! So, fresh coconut water was in order. Once you finish, it takes about 30 seconds for the meat to be cut out for you to eat.

Santa Marta’s center has retained it’s colonial charm and we walked for a bit through the squares before settling along the edge to have a drink and people watch.  Unfortunately we were only in Santa Marta that day so we could maximize our time in Tayrona.

santa marta plaza
In the Parque de los Novios
santa marta alley
Wandering Santa Marta at night

Early the next morning we headed to our posada just outside of Tayrona National Park.  What was once the home of the Tayrona people is now a 12,000 hectare protected national park and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Colombia.  I read that the park can be ridiculously crowded so we were thankful to have two beautiful days exploring the park where we were often the only people on the beaches.  While we focused on the gorgeous beaches (and the rainforest you must hike through to get there), there is also cloud forest in the Sierra Nevadas and an arid ecosystem that was more like what we saw while driving through Santa Marta.  Just another note from our guidebook: at least 56 endangered species are living within the park–including jaguars and titi monkeys.  During our visit we saw gorgeous butterflies, lizards, tons of birds and even a capybara type rodent munching on leaves.

ecohab 2
Where we stayed, just outside of the park’s entrance


Once you enter the park you must hike about an hour or so to the first of the swimmable beaches.  The weather was amazingly gorgeous…and hot!   Because of strong currents, the first few beaches you hike past aren’t safe for swimming…in fact, the signs tell you how many people have drowned there!  It’s about 45 minutes from the entrance to Arrecifes, a beachside campground and good spot for a break.

first beach2
As you hike in, you can hear the ocean but can’t quite see it. At the top of a brutal hill, you’re rewarded with your first glimpse of the coastline.

playa arrecifes

Playa Arrecifes

About 20 minutes past Arrecifes is La Piscina (the pool), where we intended to spend our first day.  Well, we didn’t find it but we did stumble upon Cabo San Juan de la Guía, which is a beautiful cape with a long sandy stretch of beach.

cutting coconut
Of course we stopped for a coconut on the way…
Cutter Ants in action
Cabo San Juan de la Guía
At Cabo San Juan, you can sleep overnight in a rented hammock overlooking the water
from the cabana
From the cabana overlooking Cabo San Juan

On day two, we were determined to find La Piscina.  Now that we knew what to expect, the hike in went a little more quickly as well.  Instead of La Piscina, we found a little cove framed by massive rocks and palms.  We spent a good deal of the morning here, including a lunch of arepas stuffed with vegetables and cheese and some ceviche.

before piscina


Another ten minutes down the coast and we finally happened upon La Piscina.

photo 4

la piscina
All alone at La Piscina
Beautiful sunset as we were leaving the park

We heard from the posada owner that there was a river with a cool swimming hole nearby and decided to spend our last afternoon there.  I just had to share our photos because it was so beautiful and fun!

photo 8

photo 7


If you’d like to know more about where we stayed (Posadas Ecoturisticas Seineken), click here.

11 thoughts on “A weekend in Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

    1. It was stunning and we were so thankful for the opportunity to go (and with friends to boot!). Thank you for reading, Kyle! :-)

  1. That is just the coolest thing!! love the part about the cab driver, cowbell and driving with his knees! i would be dying! ;)

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