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How to Get There & Where to Stay


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Parque Tayrona, Colombia wasn't what we were expecting. But maybe it was our own fault. Don't make the same mistakes as we did! Here's how to get to Parque Tayrona, tips for visiting, and where to stay.

I’m writing this from inside an open air hut. To my left, Lia is swaying on a hammock. Past her is a pool, complete with waterfall and slide. In front of me is our beautiful cabana nestled in foliage and trees. Around us we hear various birds, water trickling or splashing, and some mysterious animals we haven’t actually been able to see.

Surrounding us are stone walkways, huts, scuttling lizards, and so many shades of vibrant greens and earthy browns, it’s hard to believe this is anywhere near a city.

But we’re only about an hour outside of Santa Marta, Colombia, a bustling city that we passed right through on our way to paradisaical Eco Hostel Yuluka, just outside the entrance to Colombia’s famous Parque Tayrona.

Little did we know that we’d end up liking our hostel more than the tropical, remote beaches of Parque Tayrona.

Note to remember: If you are planning your trip for the start of the year please note that Parque Tayrona is closed from January 28 to February 28 at the request of the indigenous communities.

As usual, we made a bunch of rookie mistakes. Read our guide to Parque Tayrona to avoid making them yourself!

Psst: Planning a trip to Colombia? We’ve got a BUNCH of posts about Colombia that will help you plan your visit.

Cartagena Colombia Street
Just swishing my way through Cartagena in my favorite skirt ever! Psst: the skirt is from Amazon and you can buy it here and I highly recommend wearing it in all of your Cartagena photos.

How to Get from Cartagena to Parque Tayrona

Getting to Parque Tayrona from Cartagena was a bit of a challenge.

As I’ve mentioned in posts before, Lia plans, I execute. It usually works well, but I realized some of the information she had researched was a bit outdated and we needed to improvise. Not a problem. Navigation is something I’m pretty good at.

I didn’t want to be rushed, and we wanted to enjoy the hearty included breakfast, so we planned to wake up bright and early at 6:30am and pack up.

We rolled out of bed around 8:40am and barely made it to breakfast. I asked our hostel owner how to get to Parque Tayrona from Cartagena. He responded in English using his usual cadence of normal speed followed by super speed. “Oh man. To get there itistoofuckingeasy.”

Apparently, his definition of too fucking easy is different than mine.

As he casually explained about 7 different options, all of which went over my head, I latched onto the easiest one. But it would take cash. No problem. I googled where the closest ATM was: right around the corner. Getting cash would be toofuckingeasy.


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Google lied. A security guard told me (I think, my Spanish still isn’t very good) that I would need to walk through the mall, then through a plaza, then I’ll find Banco de Bogota.

Mind you, Cartagena is hot. Really hot. Air Conditioning is an expensive luxury in Colombia, so the mall was sweltering.

I crossed the plaza, feeling the sweat pour down my back. I reached the bank, grabbed the cash, hid it (safety first!), and walked back. When I returned, my loving wife kept her distance because I looked like a soaking wet ginger mop.

First, you need to get to Santa Marta

At around noon, we had finally packed up, paid for our room, and said goodbye. We hailed a taxi right outside the hostel and told the driver to go to the Berlinas Terminal in Marbella.

Berlinas is a big minibus company. We grabbed two tickets for Santa Marta for 80.000 COP (roughly $27).

After 30 minutes of stewing in my own sweat and talking to a guy backpacking from England, I was met with the sweet sweet embrace of A/C.

The 3-hour bus ride was not terribly relaxing though, since drivers in Colombia seem to treat double yellow lines and other road rules as suggestions or challenges.

  • Note: Since this first attempt, we’ve made the trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta several times – in fact, we have a post with step by step instructions. Read it here.


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Where to stay in Parque Tayrona
Our hostel, next to Parque Tayrona. Our cabana is on the right. The bar and restaurant looms above. And the higher you climb, the more incredible the view of the cloud forest-covered mountains behind you becomes…

How to Get from Santa Marta to Parque Tayrona

At this point, I knew we needed to get a bus at someplace called Mercado Publico destined for Palomino, a sun-soaked beach town that is located past Parque Tayrona, Colombia.

Where or what Mercado Publico is, I wasn’t sure, but a friendly armed police officer took pity on our broken Spanish and pointed us in the right direction.

I should mention that absolutely everyone we’ve encountered in Colombia thus far has been patient, kind, and helpful. Every time we got lost (which was many times), we asked someone else for help and were pointed in the right direction.

This entire country is filled with friendly and helpful people!


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We sat ourselves right next to the driver, in prime A/C range. Unfortunately, the driver couldn’t understand us. It was fine because we also couldn’t understand him.

Due to that oversight, 4 hours later we wound up dropped off somewhere in Santa Marta. He called it Centro. I called it lost.

After 20-30 minutes of wandering through crowded market streets and smelly alleys, weighed down by our packs and drenched in sweat (or, if you want to be optimistic, adventuring! exploring a new and totally unfamiliar place!), we finally reached Carrera 13 y Calle 11, where we were escorted into a bus.

I have no idea why the bus had chosen this particular intersection to be located, as it wasn’t a bus stop in the usual sense of the word. But wherever it was, it was the right bus (we could tell by the guy we followed that kept yelling “Palomino! Vamanos!”) and we boarded it.


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Later we would find out that this is how the Colombian bus system works: without rhyme or reason, and yet, it’ll take you anywhere you need to go.

Finally en route to Parque Tayrona

This bus took us a little north of an hour and costs us both only 14.000 COP (about $2.33 each), which was perfect for our budget and worth the trek to find it.

That said, you get what you pay for. I had re-drenched myself in sweat after walking 15 blocks, and of course, the bus had no A/C. I could feel myself slowly melding to the plastic seat in a horrifyingly sticky way.

Thankfully, Colombian buses do drive with all the windows and doors open, so when we eventually got on the highway I was granted a brief reprieve. I had to resist the urge to stick my head out the window like a dog.

Someone had told us to drop our bags by the door, which made us nervous, and street vendors and people asking for change would hop on and off, which made us more nervous.

I was tasked with keeping an eye on the bags, and alternated between that and watching Colombian music videos (which are THE BEST EVER, all of them include the word “corazon” 50 million times and frankly buses are worth the misery just so you can enjoy watching old men wearing traditional hats singing romantic cumbia in ridiculous videos that are probably less ridiculous if you’re fluent in Spanish, which we aren’t).


Travel Safety Tips: How to Protect Yourself and Prevent Theft while Traveling

The bus dropped us off with no stolen belongings at km 28, as we had requested (official bus stops apparently don’t exist in Colombia).

After 6 long hours of travel, we finally found Eco Hostel Yuluka.

The best hostel in Parque Tayrona Colombia
I know this is the feature picture, but I feel it deserves repetition. Did we mention the waterfall pool?!

Eco Hostel Yuluka: Paradise, TBH

Upon first walking into the walls surrounding the hostel, our jaws dropped. This place is amazing. It looks like paradise.

From the thatched roofs to the waterfall running into the pool and the stone walkways leading through the jungle to even more gorgeous cabanas, we were in heaven immediately.

THIS was costing us $12 a night?!! Colombia, you beautiful, wonderful country, you’ve outdone yourself again.

Checking into our 8-person dorm, we spent some time chatting with our dorm mates – the typical “where are you from? How long have you been travelling?” hostel chatter that, if you spend some time backpacking, you’ll come to know well.

The thatched hut cabana dorm room is air-conditioned, but is slightly open to the elements – so as we chatted, we furiously applied bug spray. Thankfully, Parque Tayrona is not malaria territory.

As we explored our new home for the next few days, we fell more and more in love.

Why we loved it so much

Eco Yuluka has a kitchen, laundry services, mango trees galore, and tons of wildlife to see – such as these crazy lizards that run on their hind legs like tiny velociraptors.

There are included towels and free breakfast. There are both hot and cold showers – though it’s blissfully not sweltering hot here, as we’d climbed up into some cloud forest-covered mountains, so a hot shower was actually welcome.

Honestly, I wish I was being paid to say this, but I’m not – we just loved this place like crazy and it’s one of our favorite hostels in Colombia.

The view from the hammock in Eco Hostel Yuluka’s on-site restaurant is a great place to watch the fog roll in over the mountains, or catch an incredible sunset.

Eco Hostel Yuluka has a restaurant on-site, and we soon found out that the food is fantastic and affordable. We had a filling dinner of bandeja paisa, a traditional Colombian “Countryman’s Platter”consisting of rice, beans, ground beef, chorizo, fried egg, sweet plantain, and cassava bread.

Along with our meal, we sipped fresh jugos naturales, which is like a milkshake made with the fruit of your choice – our favorite is maracuya, a kind of sweet passion fruit.

Our dinner cost just 18.000 COP ($6) and the juice about 4.000 COP (roughly $1.50) – perfect for our budget. The complimentary (FREE, you guys) breakfast was also delicious, and generous: 2 fried eggs, a sweet pancake with honey, fresh watermelon, and another jugo naturales made of tomato de arbol, which is sort of like a sweeter cranberry.

Did I mention Eco Hostel Yuluka cost us $12 a night each? Y’all, do yourself a favor and book a night or 3.

We loved Eco Hostel Yuluka so much, we decided to give up a night in Parque Tayrona for another one here. Lia and I spent the day swimming, reading, and working on the blog.

We needed a day of rest after yesterday’s stress.

Eco Hostel Yuluka near Parque Tayrona in Colombia

Parque Tayrona, Colombia

After relaxing and rejuvenating, it was time for the real reason we’d wandered all the way out to this otherwise random spot on a random road: Parque Tayrona.

Colombia’s most famous park gets rave reviews, and we were eager to experience it for ourselves.

Eco Hostel Yuluka is only a couple of miles away from the park entrance, and provides a free shuttle, plus bag storage during your trip. Our plan was to camp overnight in Parque Tayrona, head back to pick up our backpacks, and then trek back to Santa Marta.

Of course, that’s not how things panned out.

Blissfully unaware of the misery in our near future, we packed most of our belongings up in our backpacks, bringing a change of clothes, our food, and plenty of water in our day bags.

We said tearful goodbyes to Eco Hostel Yuluka and it’s shimmering waterfall pool and free breakfast (we miss it still) and boarded the shuttle for Parque Tayrona.

Entering Parque Tayrona

There is a clear entrance to Parque Tayrona: there’s a booth and a long line of people. It’s quite obvious that this is where the entrance is.

But pretty much everything after that is a guessing game.

We weren’t sure why we were standing in line, or what we needed to do to get into the park (pay a steep fee and show our passports, it turns out).

After this first line and paying our way, we were then herded along with a crowd to a little corral to watch an educational video – in rapid Spanish. I didn’t understand a word of it.

Fully educated, we were now released. Um, what now?

Turns out that the “Park Entrance” is just that: an entrance. The actual park is much further away.

You have a few options: pay for a van to take you the mile or so further into the park so you can start hiking, or walk … to the hike. Ugh. We paid for the van, grumbling about how quickly the cost of a day in Parque Tayrona was adding up.

A short van ride later, we reached another quandary: hike, or hire a horse?

Checking our remaining stores of cash, we were horrified to realize that we hadn’t brought enough … at all. Once we’d paid the steep entrance fee and the van fee, we had just enough cash to cover the campsite fee … not to mention the ride back home. Shit. We’d have to figure that out later.

In the meantime, we had no option. We had to hike.

Hiking to Parque Tayrona in Colombia
The hike into Parque Tayrona winds through a lush, dense forest. Don’t stray off the path! It’s a jungle out there. (Cue groans)

Hiking into Parque Tayrona

The hike started out innocently enough. There’s a well-maintained boardwalk, so that much of the walk is flat.

You wound through dense jungle, appreciating the view but becoming progressively more irritated by the crowd – this is not an isolated hike, as my photo might have you believe. There are hoardes of people, heading both ways on the path.

So for every moment you find yourself breathing deeply and appreciating life and all of its beauty, the next moment is spent awkwardly shuffling to one side so that a family of 6 and their 12 beach chairs and umbrellas can push past.

We took the crowds, in their various levels of beach casual dress, to be a good sign. There’s no way the hike, which we’d heard can take anything from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, could be terribly difficult if entire families were hiking to and from it carrying coolers and chairs, wearing nothing but wet bathing suits and flip flops.


I mean, that’s what you wear to walk to from the car to the beach in the USA. Not to hike for an hour through the jungle.



I don’t know what the Colombian beach-goers are made of, but it’s tougher stuff than the folks in Florida. After about half an hour of meandering boardwalk, the hike got tough.

We’re regular hikers back home in California, but we were missing one crucial element in our training: heat.

The jungle was stiflingly hot. It was like hiking through a sauna. We were soaked through and sticky with sweat.

Each of us were guzzling water from our 100-ounce CamelBak like crazy people. While Colombians trotted past us with ease, we lumbered slowly up the progressively steeper hills, gasping for breath.

We got a lot of pitying looks: it was like watching a chain smoker trying to complete a marathon. We were literal hot messes.

The campgrounds in Parque Tayrona. They're not fancy, but if you can get down with some rugged hammock camping, they're a great budget option for staying overnight in Parque Tayrona, Colombia.
The campgrounds in Parque Tayrona. They’re not fancy, but if you can get down with some rugged hammock camping, they’re a great budget option for staying overnight in Parque Tayrona, Colombia. Original photo credit: “Tayrona Park, Santa Marta, Colombia 08” (CC BY 2.0) by Ben Bowes

It’s further than we expected

Eventually, the forested hills gave way to sandy coastal scenery. We gulped the sea breeze in thankfully, taking long pauses to stop and appreciate the view.

The frothy sea led to green rolling hills, backed by – oh shit, are those thunder clouds?

Of course, the day we chose to come to Parque Tayrona and relax on the beach there would be a thunderstorm. With our luck, could we possibly expect anything different?

Still, we’d gotten this far. As we climbed down into the coastal brush, the dirt underfoot turned to sand. But not like, the packed solid sand you get on some hikes near San Francisco.

This was the kind of sand you get on the beach. Like, the kind that’s difficult to walk in and makes you feel like you’re trudging through a desert to your death. That kind of sand.

As our calves screamed in pain, we slowly lumbered towards the beach, expecting each turn to be our final destination.

Little did we know, we still had another hour to go.

Arriving at the Parque Tayrona Beaches

2 hours after we started hiking, we finally arrived at the first of Parque Tayrona’s 3 beaches: Arrecifes. But other than a few shabby, smelly horses and dirty campsites, there wasn’t much there.

So we trudged 20 more minutes to the second beach: La Piscina. 


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At this point, all we wanted to do was wash our sticky, sweaty bodies off in some cool ocean water. And so, although we had intended to visit the 3rd and most popular beach, El Cabo, we decided to skip the additional 20-minute hike.

Gratefully, we tossed our bags and dived into the welcoming waters of the Caribbean.

The water was warm and wonderful, and so welcome after our hike. But as we swam, it began to drizzle. Worried about our stuff, we hopped out and took shelter under a nearby tree.

It was at this point that we weighed our options: we had no money to stay overnight, it was raining, and frankly, we were dreading the long hike back.

Leaving Parque Tayrona

After maybe an hour in beautiful Parque Tayrona, we decided to leave.


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We turned around and hiked back in under 3 hours, lugging our bags. About halfway through the hike, we ran out of water: 100oz wasn’t enough for both of us, it turns out.

Thankfully, there was a vendor selling water at the insanely steep price of 5,000COP a bottle – there went half of the cash that we had left.

As we grumbled our way through the hike, we passed by some indigenous Tayrona Indians climbing trees to retrieve coconuts. These kids were scaling the trees like Spiderman: just jumping up them, on all 4’s, like it was nothing.

They had a little station set up where they were selling the fresh coconuts, cut open, to drink. I’m sure it would have been a delicious and welcome treat, if only we could afford it.

Still, it was awesome to see the natives who still inhabit these protected lands, and have for centuries. We would encounter the Tayrona Indians again later, in nearby Minca – and you can learn all about them on the Lost City hike aka La Ciudad Perdida, where you’ll discover their abandoned kingdom: the Machu Picchu of Colombia.


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By the end of our hike, we were broke, tired, and grumpy. We hopped into the first collectivo we found, who took us both to Eco Hostel Yuluka to get our bags, and then to the nearest ATM – in Santa Marta.

Instead of spending the night swaying in a hammock in Parque Tayrona, or at least back in our little Eco Hostel Yuluka paradise, we were stuck in Santa Marta for a night, where we had to scramble to find a hostel in an unfamiliar city at the last minute.

Not ideal.

But, of course, we managed: this was our first taste of Travel Magic. Things just magically work themselves out.

We may have been uncomfortable and unprepared, but we were fine in the end! After finally locating a hostel – using another hostel’s Wifi – we ended the night by downing a giant Colombian pizza (topped with fruit and meat, and washed down with a bubbly, cheap Aguila beer) and slept comfortably.

The next day we were off to explore Minca!

Tips for Visiting Parque Tayrona

Although we didn’t really enjoy our (short) time in Parque Tayrona, I can’t really say that we got the full Parque Tayrona experience.

We ran out of cash and couldn’t afford any of the amenities in the park, like the horseback rides, restaurants, hammocks, or campsites. I think we just didn’t budget for how expensive it was. Don’t make the same mistakes as we did.

Also, this is very important: as of 2017, the park closes seasonally at the request of the Tayrona Indians, an indigenous community still living in the National Park. Check before you visit that the park is still open, especially in February.

Here’s what you need to bring to Parque Tayrona. For more packing tips for Colombia, read our full guide to what to pack for Colombia here.

What to Bring to Parque Tayrona

  • A LOT of water. 100oz per person of purified drinking water, minimum. We have a Camelbak Hydration Pack that fits 100oz of water, snacks, AND has some room for gear, too. We purify all of our water with our handy Steri-Pen.
  • Sunscreen: even when it’s rainy or cloudy, you can still get burnt, particularly if you’re swimming! We strongly recommend a Reef-Safe biodegradable sunscreen, like this, to help preserve the marine life in the crystal clear waters of Parque Tayrona.
  • A comfortable daypack: One that you can carry for 2 or more hours without hating yourself. We brought a cheap duffel bag and an even cheaper daybag, and our backs/arms/shoulders were aching during the entire hike. We wish we would have brought our hydration pack or a packable backpack like this one instead.
  • Snacks: the food in the park is INCREDIBLY overpriced, so bring as much as you can to help mitigate that cost.
  • Bug Spray:  Don’t worry, this is a malaria-free zone. But it’s not a mosquito-free zone. We got bit up like crazy. We recommend covering every inch of your exposed body with Picaridin lotion, which we’ve found to be more effective and less irritating than bug sprays like Off or Deet. We also recommend spraying all of your clothes with Permethrin before your trip – it’s a skin-safe bug repellant that adheres to clothing for up to 6 months!
  • Clothes to Hike in: including shoes to hike in! I have no idea how everyone else was making do with shitty cheap flip-flops and jeans. But this was a HIKE, not a stroll, so be prepared!
  • Bathing Suit: Duh, this is the most important part, right? This is my favorite bathing suit in the entire world.
  • Towel: This is ours. There are no towels in Parque Tayrona, so you’ll need to bring your own. We recommend bringing a lightweight, quick-drying travel towel
  • Plenty of cash: Expect to pay probably $75 for an overnight in Parque Tayrona.  We brought like 100,000 COP total and ran out almost immediately. The entrance alone is 42,000COP each for foreigners. Then there’s the van (3,000COP), the horses (17,000COP), a campsite (25,000COP at El Cabo, the most popular spot), a meal (20,000COP) and so on. I’d recommend a minimum of 250,000COP … per person. And that doesn’t even take into account the cost to get back – our collectivo was something like 20,000 COP each.

How to Get to Parque Tayrona from Cartagena

Here’s a summary of how to get from Cartagena to Eco Hostel Yuluka, to Parque Tayrona.

  • From Cartagena, taxi to the Berlinas Bus Terminal (8.000 COP)
  • Grab a Berlinas bus to Santa Marta (40.000 COP each) – for more details, read this guide
  • Tell the driver you need to get to Cra. 13 y Cl. 11, Mercado Publico in Centro
  • Grab the Palomino bus and get off at km 28 (7.000 COP each)
  • Walk into paradise at Eco Hostel Yuluka
  • Take the free shuttle from Eco Hostel Yuluka to the entrance of Parque Tayrona!

Are you dying to visit the crystal clear waters of Parque Tayrona? Leave us a comment below!

Psst: Planning a trip to Colombia? We’ve got a BUNCH of posts about Colombia that will help you plan your visit.

If you are looking for more tour tips during your visit to Colombia the amazing guys over at ViaHero will connect you with a local person who will share all their juicy knowledge and help you plan your perfect itinerary. Check it out here.

xo Lia & Jeremy signature graphic


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Parque Tayrona, Colombia wasn't what we were expecting. But maybe it was our own fault. Don't make the same mistakes as we did! Here's how to get to Parque Tayrona, tips for visiting, and where to stay.

Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our travel tips resource page or our guide to planning a trip.

  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
  • Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Learn more here.
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
  • VPN Service: A VPN keeps your digital information (like website login details, bank info, etc) safe, even when you’re connected to an unsecured network while traveling. Plus, it lets you use Netflix & other streaming sites abroad! We use NordVPN. Use the code WANDERLUSTPROMO when you sign up!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!


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