Tayrona National Park is an idyllic place on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, but what for many is a relaxing beachside paradise, for me turned out to be an ordeal.
A FALSE START
The day I intended to travel to Tayrona National Park, the heavens opened. I’d only just returned from the epic Lost City trek and all of my clothes, which had just gone through the laundry, were drenched on the washing line. Unless I wanted to spend my time in Tayrona National Park naked, I would have to wait an extra day.
FROM TAGANGA TO TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
I made it to nearby Santa Marta without any mishaps, but things went downhill pretty fast from there. Popping into a local supermarket for some snacks, I had to queue for ages only to find that the products wouldn’t scan. The solution? To confiscate my purchases.
Empty handed, I spent a long time trying to locate the bus for El Zaino – the entrance to Tayrona National Park.
Finally on my way, as the bus approached Tayrona National Park, it was flagged down by police who proceeded to search the vehicle and request ID from every passenger. Some had to accompany them to the roadside for a grilling as the rest of us baked like potatoes in the blistering sun.
ARRIVING AT TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
The delay to our journey meant that there was a massive queue at the park entrance and matters weren’t helped by the painfully inept receptionist who was taking entry fee payments at a snail’s pace.
DON PEDRO CAMPSITE
A hot and humid 45-minute walk later, I arrived at my campsite – Don Pedro, near Arrecifes beach. Tents were a $12,000 COP, which seemed reasonable until I discovered the tarantula inside!
Although they let me move to another one, one of the young staff teased me incessantly until I checked out.
HASSLE ON THE BEACH
The worst was yet to come. As I set off for the beach in the hope of finding some fellow travellers to talk to, I met a local man on the path and he said he’d accompany me. I had no reason to suspect he meant any harm as I’d seen him before at my hostel in Taganga and knew he drove their direct bus to Tayrona National Park.
He told me he was heading back to Taganga soon but first we could get a beer from his friend. He’d been very civilised and I was enjoying the opportunity to practise Spanish, so I agreed. His friend sold us beers from a cool box outside his shack and my companion asked if he could stay the night.
Afterwards, we wandered a little further along the beach, where I expected to find signs of civilisation, but instead the area was virtually deserted.
It was here that things turned sinister. My companion started to teach me the Spanish words for various parts of the body, each of which he tried to touch. Then the one-liners started coming in quick succession.
‘You’re an angel sent down from heaven’
‘When I look into your eyes I can tell you have a good heart’
‘Do you like massages. You seem tense’
‘Put your hand on mine so we can compare the colour of our skin’
‘Let me read your palm… This line shows that we were meant to meet and be together’
Sensing his reluctance to back off, I told him I needed to get back to my campsite and started to walk back along the beach. He followed me, asking ‘Que pasa?’ and ‘Porque no?’. He tried to hold my hand and, at one point moved in to kiss me.
As we neared Don Pedro, daylight was fading and he used it as an excuse to ‘have to stay in my tent’. I insisted he borrow a torch from my campsite and finally brushed him off.
ROBBERY AT CABO SAN JUAN
Later, I discovered that the most sociable part of Tayrona National Park is much further along the beach at a place called Cabo San Juan. While the prospect of spending a night swinging from a hammock as the waves lap beneath your feet is pretty appealing, in reality, this campsite is a hot bed of drunken shenanigans and opportunistic theft.
My dry bag was stolen overnight. Although all it had contained was toiletries, Tayrona National Park is not the kind of place where you can replace these items.
RETURN TO TAGANGA
Having met some people for the return journey to Taganga, we splashed out on a shared cab for the final stretch from Santa Marta. It overheated and broke down.
That evening, after an amazing dinner at the Pachamama restaurant with new friends from my hostel, we headed to El Mirador nightclub and who should appear? Non other than my letchy beach companion!
Tayrona National Park would be a wonderful place given the right circumstances. It’s a good idea to travel there as part of a group and, if you are staying at one of the more remote campsites, to not stray too far along the beach by yourself as darkness is approaching. If you’re concerned, tell the staff where you’re going and how long you’ll be. Don’t go swimming by yourself as there are some serious rip currents in the area. And use the lockers provided at the campsites. Though small, it’s good to have the peace of mind that at least your most valuable items are secure.