The plan was well thought out. It set us up for success. The only problem was it was poorly executed.
Tayrona National Park offers several beach areas to hang out and camp. The first beach is a 45 minute hike, the second was 70, and the third beach is two hours away. The 90 degree heat and jungle cover are a great motivation to start your trek early. The plan was to be out at the bus stop by 7:30am, grab the hour-long bus to the entrance of the park and be on the trial no later than 9am. That would put us arriving at our destination (Cabo San Juan – 2 hour hike) around 11am, laying out on the beach and cooling off in the ocean just as the heat really starts to roll in. That was the plan.
We weren’t able to get checked out and lock our bags up with the hostel until around 8am. We finally made it to the bus stop around 8:45am. This isn’t detrimental to our hope of beating the heat at all! Simply a minor, hour, set back. We waited for the bus on the side of the street exactly where the informational pamphlet in the hostel told us. The bus that goes to Tayrona only comes by every 37 minutes. What differentiates the bus we need from the other 200 zipping by? A little white card in the front that has its destination written on it. We were only there for about 10 minutes when a small unmarked white van rolled up packed full with tourists. He had about 12 seats and there had to be 16 people with bags filling up every seat and floor space available. The driver pulled over and asked if we were headed to Tayrona. The kid who was sitting on the floor next to the sliding door looked at the driver as if he were crazy and then back at us as if to say, “Please, oh fucking please, get the next bus.” Considering it was an hour and we would have had to literally ride on top of people, we decided to pass.
Another ten minutes passed and a taxi pulls up. He asks where we are going and we let him know Tayrona. He says he would be happy to take us. Had we not been warned at the hostel that a cab ride can run us about $70,000 COP (The bus is $5,000 each) we might have jumped in. I went back and forth with him in my broken Spanish explaining we only had $10,000. He said that would be fine and to hop in. The problem is Tayrona is a fairly large park and his interpretation of getting us to our destination and ours probably didn’t match up. Due to the fact that we can’t express exactly where we want to go and the forewarning about the cab we told him to beat it. After the full 37 minutes our bus approaches. We excitedly grab our bags and stick out our hand. The bus blows right by us without even slowing down. We looked at each other dumbfounded. “What the fuck?” Maybe it was full? We grovelled for a couple of minutes and continued to wait.
Another 37 minutes go by and we see our bus again. This time I make sure I look the driver in the eye and wave my hands blatantly. The bus whips past again without slowing. “Fuck this!” We were convinced there was a conspiracy against us. The word had been spread to not pick us up. Some kind of underground transportation mafia had decided to 86 us from getting to Tayrona. Sally mentions of a bus stop about 200 meters away. We decide to walk down and see if anyone can help us. A quick chat with the girl waiting on the bench and we find out that the Tayrona bus only stops at the bus stop. This is some pretty useful information considering every other bus we have ever caught in Colombia you wave down. We wait for a third 37 minutes and our bus comes to a gentle stop in front of us and we hop on. The incident gave us more than enough to talk about the first 20 minutes of the ride. How much time we wasted, how stupid we are, how stupid the bus system is, how stupid we are, and so on.
We finally get to the entrance of Tayrona National Park around noon. We pay the entrance fee and grab another bus for a couple thousand to take us 5k up the hill. On the short bus ride up, Sally met a Julie. Julie is an Aussie that quit her job in 2010 to do some travel and just hasn’t decided to stop yet. (A true inspiration) The soothing sound of English, the fact that Julie was on her own, and could translate, created a natural hiking group.
The three of us made our way along the trail. The start of the trail is shared by both hikers and those on horseback. So the first 15 minutes are spent looking down as opposed to absorbing your surroundings. Once the trails break into their separate directions I finally was able to take in the Colombian jungle that engulfed us. The trees were thick enough that you couldn’t make out the skyline and also killed any chance of a breeze making its way across your face. It wasn’t really the heat, the trail its self was fairly easy, it was the extra five liters of water, bottle of wine, and two bottles of rum in my bag that made it a little more sweaty then it needed to be.
The deep jungle trail was broken up nicely with cliff top views of the ocean and beach walks that allowed you to cool down and be reminded that there was a purpose behind this walk. We made it to Cabo in just about two hours. We strolled through the camp and debated our accommodation choices. There were two rows of hammocks (24 in total) under a thatched roof that were down close to the tent area. They had a fine powder dirt for a floor that jumped into the air every time a foot struck the ground. The tents that were for rent came with a sleeping pad and had to be positioned in the tent area. This was close to where the horses chilled out, the treeline, and bugs. The third option was a group of hammocks about 50 meters up on a group of boulders. They over looked the ocean and the breeze pushed away any thought of getting tagged by the mosquitos. We had read about these hammocks in Lonely Planet and knew to bring every piece of cold weather clothing we had incase we ended up “sleeping” there. They were damp and dirty, but by comparison the hands down best choice.
We chilled on the beach for the few hours of sunlight we had left, enjoyed our wine and rum chilling on the rocks, overlooking the ocean and enjoyed dinner with Julie. The hike, food, and booze had me ready for bed pretty early. We made our way up the rocks to our hammocks and bedded down for the night. The cool ocean breeze and the sound of waves crashing helped me fall asleep quickly (the bottle of wine and rum might have had a small part to play in that as well…?). It must have been less than three hours when my liquid in, needed to be liquid out. My plan to make my way back down to the ocean was foiled by the overwhelming smell of other travelers liquid out. It seems the idea of even taking TWO steps off the cement was out of the question for more than a few. Not me, I had fucking standards! I walked about ten steps before I handled my business.
The rest of the night was pretty much a battle with being uncomfortable, cold, and damp. I would look over at Sally and see she was in the same position. Just waiting for it to be daylight. We watched the sun come up from over the ocean. As light poured over the beach and jungle it almost made us forget about the last 8 hours of trying to sleep.
We hung out at camp for an hour or so then decided to start making our way back, stopping at La Piscina for a quick swim.
While waiting on the side of the road for the bus back to Santa Marta, we heard a voice behind us “Where did you get that Seahawks hat?”. Bret and I turned around and I replied, “Uh, Seattle”. We got chatting to Don and it turns out he lives in Capitol Hill, only ten blocks from where we lived. Small world!
The ride back to Santa Marta was fairly uneventful . . . until the bus broke down. Luckily we had a rough idea of where we were and it was only about a fifteen minute walk back to the hostel.
Our trip to Tayrona National Park was well worth the effort and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting this part of Colombia. The hike was fairly easy and enjoyable (even Bret was glad we did it) with some fantastic views along the way. Yes, the hammocks were uncomfortable and we didn’t get a lot of sleep but the experience of being fifty feet up, overlooking the ocean and waking up to the stunning sunrise more than compensated for it.
Tayrona National Park