Parque Tairona is a must-do any any tourist's Colombian punch-list.  Just a decade ago the domain of gun-wielding paramilitaries and guerrillas shooting it out over cocaine exporting routes, Tairona now is firmly within Colombia's ever-expanding green zone.  Located just forty-five minutes from Santa Marta/Taganga on the road to Riohacha and the Venezuelan border, it is Colombian tropical paradise.

From Santa Marta/Taganga, you can take a private taxi here for around $50.000 COP, or just take the bus from Santa Marta for only $8.000 COP. Every bus driver will know where the entrance is. Stop here, pay your entrance fee of around $40.000 COP, and then prepare for a busy day of walking and sight-seeing.


Colombia is renowned for its industrious and swarming leaf-cutter ants, who often form chains stretching dozens of meters long, and into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of ants.  They can carry hundreds of times their weight. Bring a camera, and be on the lookout for things that would normally be just out of sight, or slightly off the trail. You'll be amazed at what you can find in Parque Tairona with a little patience. It is a relatively long walk from the park entrance to Canaveral, the first beach, and quite a long walk to Cabo San Juan de la Guia, where you'll find the campground, restaurants, and tourist amenities. Parque Tairona offers horse rental for those who are not up for a 10km or 15km walk.

Canaveral is the first beach you'll reach heading north towards the Caribbean from the park entrance. Heed the prominently placed signs here, and don't tempt fate (or dar papaya as they say in Colombia) by attempting to swim. Hundreds of people have been dragged to their watery graves by treacherous undertow here. If you want to swim, in an hour you'll reach Cabo San Juan de la Guia, several kilometers west.

Along the coast in shallow waters you'll see massive boulders that were once worshiped by Colombian indigenous peoples. Head off to the left at Canaveral and you will find an amazing boulder island, fringed in greenery. You can spot great egrets all along the shoreline, where you'll find them diving for fish in the shallow estuaries along the coast.


Making your way west, you will hit Arrecifes, La Aranilla, and La Piscina.  You'll find a few ramshackle huts along the way selling water, juice, and seafood.  Everything in Parque Tairona, but more than anything the $250 a night "ecohabs", is overpriced, so be forewarned.  Bring in as much food and water as you can, but alcohol is not allowed. You and your bags will be thoroughly searched before you enter.

About five kilometers to the west, you will finally hit Cabo San Juan de la Guia, a truly luxurious place to swim. Here you'll find the park's restaurant.  It offers a range of Colombian and international food. Along the way keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels climbing tree trunks. At Cabo you have the choice of turning back towards the park entrance, or continuing on to Pueblito, an indigenous mountain top village. To be honest, Pueblito is a bit of a disappointment, although the climb is well worth the experience.

From Pueblito, you have the choice of retracing your steps, some 12 or 15km back to the park entrance.  Or, you can head on a different path continuing west, back towards the highway.  This is what I did. I arrived back at the highway just before dark.  Make sure you leave yourself enough time. All in all it was something of a 20km day, and a very grueling walk. With a little effort you can spot curious red flying-saucer shaped mushrooms growing on rotting logs.

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