I awoke very early to run errands and get all my stuff together for what I hoped would be an overnight visit to Parque Tayrona. According to the Lonely Planet, there was food available in the park, but I figured I had better take some provisions, just in case. Being Sunday morning, there wasn´t much to choose from except salchichas (vienna sausages) and mixed nuts and raisins from the minimart.
The park was about an hour outside of Santa Marta through beautiful scenery. The Sierra Nevada mountains go right up to the sea, so the ride alongside beautiful verdant green hills covered in palm trees and rainforest type vegetation was very scenic. The hostel down the street from the guest house where I was staying arranges shared taxis to the park, so I rode with two guys from Russia and a lovely young woman from Belgium, also traveling alone. We both commented how surprisingly safe we felt traveling through Colombia alone. The taxi took us just outside the entrance to the park…no automobiles beyond that point. I paid more for the entrance fee ($18) than I have any national park in my life, but it was such a beautiful, natural park that it was more than worth it.
From the entrance, it was an hour walk to the first town Arrecifas, or there was the option to go by horseback for about $7. Since I had a pack full of food and water, I opted to let the horse bear the burden on the way in, and walk back out when my pack was a bit lighter. It was fun riding horseback into the park, and there was much to see! A big alligator in a shallow river, several monkeys in the trees, a couple of iguana, and one brilliant blue Morpho butterfly, which I followed as far as my eye would take me.
Arrecifas had three types of accommodation on offer — Cabanas for $180 per night, tents for $20 per night, and hammocks for about $7 per night. The tent they had to offer was brand new, and still had the storage bag inside. It was really meant for two, but I splurged on the bigger tent to have more room. It had a really nice net screen for mosquitoes, yet I never saw a single mosquito the entire time I was there, I suspect thanks to the wind.
The older Colombian gentleman who rented it to me was less than five feet tall, brown, and wrinkled from the sun, but had a wide, near-toothless smile. He must have taken pity on me being what seemed like the oldest one in the campground, as he gave me THREE foam mattresses and a sheet. That, along with agreeing to keep an eye on my stuff while I swam earned him a nice tip. Later that night, he came over to tell me it was supposed to rain that night (it didn´t) and helped me move my tent under a palapa for the night. I fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, but was awakened halfway through the night by what sounded like someone rummaging through the trash can next to the palapa. I peeked through the tent flap and shined my flashlight, only to see it was a donkey, literally lifting the beer cans from the trash, one by one! I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 8:30am the next morning to the sound of a man walking through the campground with a styrofoam ice chest slung over his shoulder yelling, “PAN CALLIENTE con CHOCOLATE!,” or chocolate filled bread, hot out of the oven. I unzipped my tent flap, made my $1 purchase, then crawled back in for breakfast in bed!
Arrecifas had a gorgeous beach, but due to heavy currents, it was too dangerous for swimming, so I hiked about 30 minutes to the nearby beach, La Piscinas, or natural pool, a nice clear bay shielded by large rocks making it safe for swimming. Another 20 minutes down the hiking trail was Cabo San Juan de la Guia, a huge tent city with a volley ball court, restaurant, store, and even an infirmary. It is possible to reach this beach via boat from the fishing village of Tagunga, therefore it attracts many backpackers looking to circumvent the $18 park entrance fee. I was glad I had stayed at the quieter Arrecifas, as the end of the trail was too much for me with the smell of marijuana wafting through the campground, and a mass of sweaty humanity. I hiked back and had a nice ice cold shower in the campground concrete block showers with no roof, beneath the “peeping rooster” from the rooftop roost of the chicken coop next door.
The concession in Arrecifas was better equipped than I expected, so with a cute little outdoor restaurant in the campground. I had arroz con camarones, or rice with giant shrimp, and a couple of beers for about twelve bucks, not bad considering the remoteness of the location.
I made one more hike back down to La Piscina for a swim the next morning before my one hour trek out of the park. The water was cool enough to be refreshing, and so clear I could see my toes on the bottom. It felt so good to swim in the calm, beautiful water.
The hike back was challenging, but only because of the deep ruts on the path caused by the horse and donkey traffic. The tread on my well worn Chacos was nearly worn slick, making it difficult to walk along the sloped path without sliding down into the muddy ruts. After watching the horse and mule trains up and down the path, I decided an appropriate name for the path would have been “Horsesh*t Canyon Trail!”
With no shared taxi on the return, I took the bus back to Santa Marta, walked back through the market and Cathedral Square, making it back just in time a quick shower before racing down to the waterfront to catch my final Santa Marta sunset. It was beautiful, but made me a bit melancholy, as this is my last sunset over the ocean until who knows when?