Back to the Beach: Taganga and Tayrona National Park

I’m a city girl. I love the buzz of travelling to a new city, visiting culture spots like museums and galleries, spending time in good restaurants, cafes and bars, picking up some pretty souvenirs (usually jewellery!), and basically having lots of options to see and do whatever you want.

I once thought that I wasn’t a ‘beach person’, that my translucent/pink Irish skin was not conducive to any type of sunbathing, that sand and suncream don’t mix, and it’s just plain boring to lie there ‘doing nothing’.

Well, over the past few months spending a good chunk of my time on beaches, I think its safe to say that I am now a bona fide beach bum. Well, the Irish skin thing is still an issue and I seriously do not tan, but I’ve come to really appreciate a break away from bustling city life to peaceful sandy shores.

I think it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve been ‘re-learning’ (or maybe just learning?) how to really unwind, so therefore I’m  much happier to lie there on the sand and ‘do nothing’. Well, that, and reading, listening to music, talking to new friends, drinking freshly squeezed fruit juices, people watching and taking a dip in the sea to cool off…bliss!

Taganga was my second stop in Colombia, a couple of hours from Cartagena, past Santa Marta, it is a small fishing village-backpacker destination. I think that the place has changed a lot over the past few years as it has grown to accommodate tourists but it still maintains its charm and the people are friendly and welcoming. The chilled out Caribbean vibe is definitely alive and well!

There is a beach just off the main street in Taganga and another called Playa Blanca, a short five minute boat ride (6000 COP return) away from the main beach.

It was in Taganga that I discovered the most delicious fruit, lulo. It makes for the most amazing juice I have ever tasted! It is a fleshy yellow fruit indigenous to the Carribbean coast, slightly tangy but sugar can be added to balance out the acidity. I could not get enough of it! There are so many fruit juice stands all over Taganga and at the hostel I stayed at (Casa Felipe) they made a mean maracuja juice too.  Costing between 2500 and 3000 COP (about $1.50) each, you just can’t say no!

There are plenty of options to eat well in Taganga, lots of western food to cater for the backpacker crowds but also local fare as well. I took advantage of having access to the range of food available, and over the course of my four days there, enjoyed a baguette in Baguettes de Maria, fish taco with guacamole from a street food vendor on the main street, a chorizo burrito from a small roadside restaurant, falafel, and a delicious melanzane pizza at Pomodore Pizza.

After a few days chilling out at the beach in Taganga, I met a couple of people who were going to Tayrona National Park and we decided to take a trip out together. Myself, Martine and Travis took a shuttle bus from the hostel (18,000 COP each way) and after a pit-stop in Santa Marta to pick up supplies at the Exito supermarket (food is generally more expensive in the park), we arrived at the entrance to the park in about an hour and a half.

Tayrona National Natural Park is a protected area in the Caribbean region, beside the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The park is not just of great natural importance, it is also culturally significant in that the park was inhabited by small groups of hunter gatherers in the 6th and 7th century and the coast and mountain were inhabited by the Tayrona tribe. Koguis, direct descendants of the Tayrona tribe, as well as a number of other indigenous groups, still live here and maintain their traditions.

On arrival at the park, there is an entry fee of 37,800 COP and once we had paid this fee, we were brought further up through to the drop off point, where we begun an hour hike to the first of the beaches in the park. It is a beautiful hike through the park, shaded in most parts by trees and with stunning views across the Caribbean when the trail leads you onto the beach. It’s relatively easy but definitely worth leaving your big backpack behind (Casa Felipe stored mine for the two days), as you’re better off just having a daypack plus whatever supplies you need.

We arrived at the first beach, Arrecifes, and decided to stay at El Paraiso for the night. It is one of the quieter and less expensive spots – there are  a number of other places to stay on different beaches further along the coastline, namely San Juan de Cabo where every other backpacker seemed to go!

At 14,000 COP per night for a hammock we thought it was a good deal and actually ended up staying there both nights, a Colombian group had told us that the other places weren’t as nice and more expensive so we decided to take their advice and bed down there for the two nights. The food at the restaurant isn’t fantastic, and obviously is pricier than normal Colombian standards. The juices you can get here are absolutely delicious though and needless to say I enjoyed a fair few lulo juices! Supposedly it’s nice mixed with banana and maracuya (passion fruit) but I stuck with the pure version!

Sleeping in a hammock for the first time was definitely interesting! We were all very close together so you feel like you’re sleeping on top of each other. The weather was so warm at night that it was pleasant but I’m not sure how well I slept considering I was slightly anxious about falling out in the middle of the night! I’d definitely do it again, but possibly not for more than a couple of days at a time 🙂

Our two days in Tayrona Park were mainly spent being beach bums, taking walks along the coastline and discovering the other beaches. The tide at Arrecifes is far too strong to swim, there are signs everywhere warning not to swim and stating how many deaths have occurred in the past few years…scary. Further down the coast, there is a beach called La Piscina, and if you’ve not already guessed from the name, you can swim there! Cabo San Juan was a short hike away and we pretty much went straight through to the neighbouring beach which was very quiet and secluded – it’s supposedly a nudist beach, but we didn’t see anyone taking advantage of that! There are a number of vendors walking up and down the beaches throughout the day selling drinks and snacks, I tried the warm chocolate bread and it was absolutely delicious! However it did seem slightly odd to eat warm chocolate bread on the beach…

There is nothing much to do at night, and it’s lights out at around 10pm at El Paraiso. We took advantage of the early night and got some rest after our hectic days on the beach 😉 The hike back to the entrance the next day seemed much shorter and once we arrived there it was only a short wait for the shuttle back to Taganga. Having spent the past two nights getting to our hammock early, we were ready for some fun! There are a few good spots around Taganga for drinking and dancing, namely Sensation and Mirador. Sensation was a lot more western with plenty of dance music and cheesy pop, so we decided to move on to Mirador to practice some of our salsa moves…there were plenty of locals in both places and a good smattering of gringos but I definitely preferred Mirador, it also has a stunning view across the bay (as the name would suggest!).

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